by Renée-chan

Startled blink. Richard took a deep breath, struggling to get his -- for once -- raging emotions under control. Finally giving in to failure, he exploded with, "How can you two agree with each other??"

Alex and Calynn shared a glance. Calynn's spoke of long suffering. Alex's spoke of even longer suffering. Both glances could be translated as: 'He just doesn't get it. That's... so sad.' In a deranged sort of way it was like having both of his lost siblings returned. Alex had that effect on people. Whenever the twins were separated, they would each pick some likely person and turn them into a replacement for whichever twin was missing, as though neither one could act without a mirror. Normally, Richard found it cute and more than a little fascinating, but right now it was just damned annoying! Especially since Alex seemed to have picked his wife this time around... Richard growled, "And stop looking at each other!"

When the pair turned that twinned glance on him, he blushed, "OK. That wasn't what I meant." Taking another deep breath, Richard tried again, "The point is... you're sworn enemies. Alex, you work for the Dragon. The Dragon is trying to conquer Zanas. Calynn is the queen of Zanas. Calynn wants to torture you for information about the Dragon's company."

Pause for another few breaths before the frustration got the better of him again, "And you bloody agree with her????" Richard slumped down in his chair and dropped his head into his hands with a moan, "I don't get it. I just... don't get it."

After another shared glance, Alex decided to take the initiative. He tentatively placed a hand on his brother's shoulder, "Richard... It isn't that I want her to torture me. Believe me, I like my skin intact just as much as the next person. I simply understand how this works. Rules of war, Richard. Anything and everything goes, if it gets you what you want. If our positions were reversed, I'd feel exactly as she does... and I have."

Richard looked up at him, deep brown eyes full of worry and no small amount of fear, "I just found you. I don't want to lose you, again. I don't want you at odds with my wife. I want out of this whole damned mess! And instead of helping me, you're agreeing with Calynn that you should be locked up and treated like any common prisoner!"

Calynn chose that moment to involve herself in the conversation. Stepping up next to her husband she spoke in a tone of wry amusement, "Richard, let me assure you that I am fully aware that the Dragon's Second is no common prisoner. I acknowledge, too, that this situation is unique. That's why Alex is here and not still cooling his heals in the dungeon with the rest of his men."

A small smile broke across Alex's lips, one of true humor rather than the bitter, often self-directed ones he'd worn before now. It looked uncomfortable, as though Alex's face were no longer used to such innocent joy. "Richard, it's a discussion of abstracts. Because the Queen and I both understand and respect the rules of war, I can trust that she won't harm me without cause, she can trust that my men will in fact behave as I asked them to, and we can discuss terms of a potential ceasefire in a calm and rational manner. Because of this unique situation, I can trust that the blanket of immunity that Calynn has bestowed upon me will extend to my men, she can trust that I won't take advantage of the freedom she has allowed me, and we can both look past our own positions long enough to recognize a kindred spirit and enjoy a philosophical discussion."

Poor Richard only looked even more confused. He looked up to meet Alex's eyes, hardly daring to hope that this meant what he thought it did. Alex's bright blue eyes, for the first time since this surreal day began, told him all the truth he needed. They displayed what his lips could not. Full of amusement and edged by a teasing glint that Richard had sorely missed, they told him that there was still something of the little brother he loved buried in the hardened soldier that Alex had become.

Calynn took pity on him and dropped a gentle kiss onto his lips. Leaf green eyes dancing, she delivered the punchline, "It means, oh husband mine, that I've finally found a member of your family that I can tolerate!"

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