Courtney wanted to spend more time in bed than she was allowed. Her head was thumping, and her heart was hurting. The thought of having to face a day, any day, overwhelmed her with dread.
It had been two weeks. Two weeks of meetings and plans. Two weeks of words spoken that meant nothing. Two weeks of doing too much and not doing enough at all.
Courtney had sat through a lot, learnt a lot while paying very little attention. Her mind was anywhere but on the job.
Two weeks without her father. Two weeks of helping restore her Kingdom.
And just two days ago Courtney had made her life-changing broadcast.
Bridgette slid into the bed beside Courtney as softly as she could manage, not wanting to disturb her friend, but Courtney was awake already. She had slept fitfully again, plagued with nightmares of glass bottles and rolling eyes.
"You're doing the right thing," Bridgette assured her, smoothing one hand down Courtney's hair.
"I know," Courtney mumbled in reply.
They laid in silence until the knock on the door sounded, signalling they needed to start getting ready for today's big day.
Bridgette helped Courtney get out of bed, holding her hands and guiding her into the bathroom. She helped her wash and dry her hair, freeing it of the days-old tangles they couldn't hide in updos anymore.
They sat together at Courtney's vanity, watching their reflections with sad smiles.
One of the first things Courtney had wanted as Queen was a retraining of the guards. Manhandling without cause was not acceptable, and Courtney was reminded of that every time she looked at her friend. The bruises on Bridgette's arms had mostly faded away, leaving just a few yellow patches that were easily covered up.
Bridgette helped Courtney with her make-up before applying her own.
There were two dresses hung up on the mobile hanger beside them.
Courtney had opted for a soft yellow gown, close-fitted and almost floor-length, giving her enough room not to trip on the material while her head wasn't in the game.
Bridgette was borrowing one of Courtney's simpler gowns in a baby blue with a matching pair of glass heels.
They got dressed together in silence, helping with buttons and stubborn fabric.
Bridgette helped twist Courtney's hair into a graceful knot, careful to smooth down any strays.
Courtney watched herself in the mirror, her eyes wistful as she remembered the last time Bridgette had helped her get ready for such an important event.
Her 18th birthday ball seemed like years ago, not weeks. The grandeur of the party had blinded Courtney, just as she had felt her whole life. Looking back, she realised how much she had missed; growing up in the shelter of her palace, never seeing things as they truly were. The Courtney from her birthday was not the same Courtney she saw in the mirror today.
A second knock sounded at the door, but Geoff didn't wait for a response before sticking his head into the room. He had his traditional goofy grin on his face and Courtney could see Bridgette's smile grow in her reflection.
"Wow," he exclaimed, stepping fully into the room. "How did I get so lucky as to escort two beautiful women downstairs." He himself was dressed in more formal wear than Courtney had believed he owned. His naval jacket reflected his eyes and as Bridgette took his arm, Courtney's heart settled for the first time in weeks.
She stood up and walked over to him, looping herself through his outstretched arm.
The three of them walked through the familiar hallways. Courtney held her breath, pushing back the memories. She couldn't let herself cry just yet.
They made it downstairs without a hitch, despite Courtney wondering how many times she was going to fall down the staircase and ruin the day.
They were met with sweet music floating through the air and distant chatter of people starting to gather for the ceremony.
The thought of interacting with more people made Courtney's stomach flip, but she straightened her back and widened her smile. She had spent a long time letting her Kingdom down; she wasn't going to do it again.
"There's someone who wanted to see you," Geoff whispered in her ear.
Courtney looked up to him, confused.
Geoff nodded his head behind Bridgette, where Courtney couldn't see. He released her arm and walked his lady towards the throne room, ready to take their seats.
Courtney wandered down the hallway, following the path she had frequented a lot in recent days.
A short way down she found the balcony doors to be wide opened and the white curtains were tied back to protect from the wind.
She took a moment to steady herself before stepping out into the daylight. The Kingdom wasn't visible from this balcony, but she could see the palace gardens stretching out in all its greenery.
Duncan stood, leaning against the marble wall for support. He wore his usual black shirt and black pants, but without his hooded jacket and facemask.
Courtney held back her gasp and instead whispered, "You're up."
She stared at him from across the space, taking in his face and his body. He looked the same as Courtney imagined him in her head before the beating from the guards. They hadn't seen each other in two long weeks since Duncan had been whisked to medical after nearly collapsing and Courtney had been too busy with her duties to find a spare moment to visit him. She didn't know if he wanted her to visit him. The thought had played in the back of her mind, but things weren't the same right now as they had been on his ship.
"They told me to take it easy," Duncan shrugged. "But I wanted to see you before I left."
"You're leaving?" Courtney asked.
"I have things I need to do." Duncan stared at her. "Places to be, people to see," he joked, but Courtney didn't laugh.
She held herself tall, taking a few steps towards him. To her surprise, he held out his hands, and she took them gratefully, letting him pull her close. She rested her head on his shoulder, feeling his chest rising beneath her own.
"I wish I could go with you," she said earnestly, already missing her Captains cabin aboard.
"We'll meet again, my darling Princess," he whispered back, placing a gentle kiss to the side of her head.
Courtney sighed. "You don't have to call me that, I'm not a Princess anymore."
Duncan snorted. "You're still a pain in my ass though."
Courtney pulled her head back, looking up at him. She could see the lines on his face and the scar across his nose, taking her home.
She leaned up first, but he quickly bowed his head, catching their lips together in goodbye. Courtney ran her hands through his hair and Duncan's arms moved around her back, pulling her even closer.
"When will I see you again?" Courtney asked, eyes half-closed.
"Keep your eyes on the stars, Princess," he replied. "I'm always there."
Duncan stepped away first with a final kiss on her forehead.
Courtney didn't want to watch him go, wanting to let him slip away without a sound, but at the last moment she called out his name, turning to face him one last time.
"Do you only take payment in gold?" She asked, toying with the ring on her finger.
Duncan raised a curious eyebrow. "What are you paying me for?"
"You murdered my uncle, remember? I believe you're still owed payment."
To her surprise, Duncan laughed, shaking his head at her silly words.
Courtney held herself tall, biting her lip. She slipped the diamond ring from her finger, tossing it at Duncan. He caught it in one hand, holding it up to the light. The stone reflected rainbows of light across the empty balcony, dancing their way between the pair.
"Pawn it, or keep it," Courtney shrugged. "Thank you."
Duncan slipped away quietly, and Courtney held herself back from following.
She stayed on the balcony much longer than she should have, staring down at the palace gardens below. But it was time, she had to go.
Inside the throne room was a crowd of people she both knew and didn't. This kind of event had been broadcast in the past, shown on screens across the Kingdom for everyone to view. It had been Uncle Thomas' idea to invite the people of their Kingdom into the palace for the first time, allowing them to be part of this moment in their history.
"Are you ready?" Uncle Thomas asked from beside her, squeezing her hand in comfort. They stood together just outside of the door, watched carefully by their guards.
Courtney nodded her head and let go of his hand, not needing his guidance for this moment. This is what felt right for her.
She walked down the aisle gracefully, smiling towards her people with a kindness she hoped they would see. So many small faces gleamed back up at her, grinning toothy smiles and waving so delicately. Their parents were more unsure, but not unfriendly. The next few years were going to be a big turn around for everyone, one that the people were looking forward to seeing.
Courtney reached the alter and took her place in the centre, gesturing to the band to halt playing.
"It's my pleasure to welcome you all here into my home for an event that is going to mark history for our planet of Neifion today," Courtney spoke with ease in a clear tone that she had been raised to use, reciting a speech she had rehearsed endlessly over the past two days since her most recent announcement. "I would like to thank you all for your patience and understanding as we here in the palace trying to find our footing in this new environment, in this new world that we are trying to push forward. These last two weeks have left me with a lot to contemplate and I believe what we have planned in the future can help benefit us all greatly. I would like to thank you all for your cooperation and understanding since my last broadcast, announcing my abdication from the throne. At this time, I truly believe it is what is best for our Kingdom when moving forward. And now I ask you to please rise," Courtney gestured her hands to the crowd. "As I proudly present to you all, Thomas Edward Tiberius, the third, King of Neifion."
A/N: Chills. Literal chills.
And tears. This has been a long journey and I'm sad to see it end!
Small surprise, I have started planning a part 2! Yay! However, it's not going very well at the moment, I'm a lil bit stuck and will definitely need some time to unstick, but hopefully, in the not so distant future, we can revisit this world.
In the meantime, I am very grateful to everyone who read this story and enjoyed the journey alongside me. I'm hoping to have a few more stories out in the upcoming weeks (possibly months, we'll see how this lockdown goes) and I hope you all enjoy those as well!
Thank you for sticking around and allowing me to indulge in the world that is Total Drama fanfiction all over again.