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By The River's Dark

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Joseph comes back, like the puppy he is. The little lamb. The part of Jack's self that Jack isn't proud of--and how large that part is these days--enjoys the way he can make Joseph's eyes go worried, the pain that blooms in them. Jack is a gardener of those blooms, these days.

His uncle pressed the keys to this place into his hands the day before. "We all need a place to get away," he said, hand on Jack's shoulder, eyes knowing, but not too knowing.

No treasury money went to finance this; no one will ever know. He thanked Cross for this tiny piece of freedom and texted Joseph. No more than a terse message: Come, and the address. Joseph needs to remember he's expendable.

The apartment overlooks one of the rivers that protects and borders Shiloh. This one is broad and deep, edged with cliffs along the western shores. The lamps of smallholders wink from the stone faces, hardly visible above the reflected light of Shiloh. Barges and ferries ply the waters, strands of lights adorning their gunwales.

A dark shape stands between the balcony and the water. A hulking building, poorly lit. Jack saw it in the golden evening when he arrived here. Even sunset could not lend it beauty; it is square and brick and aggressively utilitarian--old barracks from when wars swept constantly over this land. His father wants to paper over that, but the signs remain. They will always remain.

"Jack, come inside," says Joseph. His voice is hesitant, even as he tries to command. Jack will hurt him tonight, not because he enjoys it, but because Joseph will let him, will come back no matter what. His little sheep.

Jack smirks at the idea of himself as a shepherd, but then his blood freezes. Shepherd. David Shepherd. Now he's here, in Jack's private nest. He's as eager to please as Joseph, and far more beautiful. Jack could take Joseph tonight and imagine it's David, but he knows without trying that the illusion will not hold. David would never bend to him as Joseph does.

"Coming," he says gruffly. Joseph is pathetically eager to have him back. He pretends not to wince when Jack hurts him. Jack pretends not to enjoy that.


It's a spring day. Jack knocks on David's door at ten AM. David blinks sleepily when he answers. Sleep fades his face to one hue--were it not for the yawn he would look more statue than man. Then he blinks and smiles, boy, man, again, breathtaking and exasperating.

"You're up early," he says, opening the door to let Jack in. "Or--don't tell me--you didn't go to sleep."

"Don't believe everything you read about me," Jack drawls.

David gives him that look, the one that says he doesn't quite believe all of Jack's bullshit, even if Jack wants to believe it himself. I don't, he thinks at David, letting their eye contact linger a moment too long, letting David see underneath. It's just another bluff, he tells himself. David wants to goodness in Jack, so Jack lets him see it. See something.

Some bird is chattering outside David's window. "Don't tell me you slept through that," says Jack.

David shrugs. "In the army, you get used to sleeping through anything. But you'd know that, sir."

Jack rolls his eyes. David's half smile tells him that "sir" was on purpose. A little attempt at teasing. Jack likes it--it's so innocent.

"As well as anyone," Jack agrees.

Jack looks around David's apartment. The piano takes up most of the available floor space. Aside from the bed, it's the only furnishing. There's a tiny kitchenette with a shower and toilet in a room hardly larger than a closet. David's toothbrush--red, well worn--is in a cup near the kitchen sink.

"It's not much . . ." David is saying.

"It's yours," says Jack, tilting his head. "That's something."

The silence--such as it is with the birds and the traffic, the voices from the street--widens into a gulf. David's discomfort is evident from the tension in his stance.



"Jack, it is an honor that you came to see me--"

"But what do I want?"

David smiles apologetically.

"To take you boating," says Jack. "My family has a yacht moored up on Victory Island. I have a car waiting downstairs. Have you ever been sailing?"

David shakes his head.

"Come on then, you'll like it."

David looks out the window all the way up to Victory Island. Jack tries to see what he sees: the gray cliffs across the water, white birds wheeling before them. The riverfront, one long bank of green where families picnic and girls--and some beautifully built men--skate and bicycle along the paved trail. Here and there a couple sits holding hands. It's still morning--too early for kissing couples--but they will be here later to watch the sun set.

The boat is already rigged, and there is staff to sail it, so Jack can do as much or little as he likes. Silas doesn't sail; he prefers his two feet steady on the ground. Like the old soldier he is, as he will tell anyone who asks, and many who don't. It was Jack's mother who taught him this, before she became too obsessed by appearances to spend time doing anything but orchestrating the royal comings and goings.

Well, it's the job of a prince to have expensive frivolous hobbies. The one job that doesn't feel like work.

Jack steers out of the crowded harbor and into the river, as the crew scurries to tighten ropes and raise the jib. David's face lights up when it fills with air and bellies out.

The wind coming off the water is painful in its chill, and the sun is so bright it stings Jack's eyes where it glints off the steel and glass of Silas's new city. The sun and wind and distance lend Shiloh a wholesome feeling it does not deserve. The wind blows the smell of trash away, the pollution, gives it instead the crisp clean scent of freshly aired laundry.

It's a lie. Shiloh is a whore for Silas just as she was a whore for Abbadon. And like a whore, she takes the name her master gives her. Wears paint for him.

Jack likes her better when she's sweating and reeking in the sultry days of summer. When the streets of the club district smell like the charnel houses they once were. The quaint cobblestones ran with so much blood that it still smells like a battle field in the heat of summer.

David's face is lifted against the wind, like a dog leaning out the window of a car. He is part of Shiloh's false face, so beautiful and brave, and every bit as fake. He just doesn't know it yet.

"How did you learn to do this?" David asks. He seems truly impressed, as he never was by the clubs and the girls.

"My mother," says Jack. "Her family made their money in shipping."

"Crossgen," says David flatly.

There's a story there, in his tone, one Jack isn't going to pursue. Probably nothing more than his sister filling David's pretty head with stories about Crossgen's perfidy. That's just her style, and listening is David's.

"Just so," says Jack. "Her father taught her, and she taught me."

"And one day you'll teach your son?" David asks.


David asks, and so Jack tells him: how the sails work, how to tack against the wind, how to tell port from starboard. "The earliest ships had a steering oar on the right, or the steering board."

"Steer-board," says David, fitting it together.

"They used to call port larboard. I don't know how that one changed."

The wind coming down the river is predictable, flowing north to south. If they stay out long enough, they can ride it the other direction with the setting sun.

They stay out longer than that. There's food on board for a week or more, and the first mate doubles as a cook. David and Jack drink hot toddies and bundle up in blankets after the sun sets.

"Thank you," says David, after the drinks have made his voice loose and easy.

Jack looks over at him. His face is lit only by the light from the cabin, but the shadows suit him as well as bright day does. "My pleasure," he says, with only a hint of the sarcasm he can't keep out of his voice. It's habit now; he means nothing by it.

David seems to know that. He wraps his finger around the warm mug and takes another sip of it, smiling at the taste. David knows how to enjoy his simple pleasures.

"Why me?" David asks. "Sometimes . . . sometimes I don't think you like me very much. I know I'm too simple for you and your friends."

"My friends," says Jack. He can't think right now of any of his friends here with him. His team--they love him because he commands them to, but they would love anyone with his name as much. And his girls and club boys--they are even worse. "Maybe so," says Jack. "But that's what I like about you." He suffers a guilty thought of Joseph. He never took Joseph sailing; that would have been granting him too much.

It's hard to tell in the dim light, but it looks like David's blushing. "I guess . . . I guess I'll try to stay that way then," he says.

Jack tosses back his drink in one swig. The bourbon and lemon burn his throat, but it's a pleasurable burn, like standing close to a warm fire. "Do," says Jack. "Yes, do."


David's star does dim as time goes on, but not as much as Rose predicted. Instead he becomes a fixture, like a member of the extended family. The gossip columns want to know where he's sitting, and what he's wearing. Rose gives up and starts telling them. And dressing him.

Jack takes him shopping for a summer weight tux. They could let the royal tailor measure David and make one for him, but Jack enjoys the opportunity to take David out and show him off. Rose gives her blessing--it will give the rags something pleasant and wholesome to write about.

"Last time you loaned me one of yours," says David when they walk onto the floor of Sebastian Brothers. It's not large, but it is exclusive, and it's been closed for them today. Outside a press of photographers hold their cameras up to the window, and try to get a glimpse. Inside, a few handpicked--Rose-picked--reporters circle David and Jack, snapping a picture every time either one of them takes a step.

Jack slings his arm over David's shoulder. "Last time I didn't think you'd stick around long enough to matter," he says. There's a tightening around David's mouth. Jack imagines he's swallowing down some idealistic speech that will remind Jack of his sister, something like, we all matter. It's a mark of how far David's come that he doesn't give it voice.

Sebastian Jr., son of one of the store's owners, lingers discreetly a couple paces behind as David rifles through suits. "I can't tell the difference," he says under his breath to Jack.

Jack snaps his fingers and Sebastian comes closer. "Measure him for a summer weight wool." He takes a step back from David and looks him up and down. David flushes and can't figure out where to look. "One button, I think. He has the figure for it." He smiles slightly. "Can't have us looking like twins."

David sighs gratefully when Sebastian pulls the curtains closed around the measuring room, but he's unselfconscious stripping down to boxers and shirttails.

Jack sits on a banquette and wishes for a glass of scotch. But it's too early, and there are photographers. If David weren't here, he would, but suddenly he doesn't want David as tarnished as he is. It's already happening, the dimming of David's luster.

"You're in front of cameras every day," says Jack.

"And I'm nervous every day," David answers.


Jack's uncle takes back the apartment after their little conspiracy falls apart. After Jack sabotages it. He should have expected it, but he still ends up at Joseph's apartment, swearing and slamming his hands against the wall.

Joseph stands back and watches. Giving Jack room is the best way for Joseph to avoid getting hurt--Jack's trained him well. "You can always come here," says Joseph.

"Fuck you, that's not the point." He picks up his jacket where he flung it over Joseph's couch. The couch is a dingy shade of mint green. Joseph could afford better, but he doesn't know any better, and tonight that, along with everything else, is making Jack furious.

"Don't follow me," he snarls, slamming the door in Joseph's face.

He doesn't know how David finds him later, slouched on the floor of an afterhours club. The feet of a few patrons are still visible in front of him, traipsing clumsy steps around the dance floor, but most of the others are like him, drunk and better off that way.

"You," says Jack stupidly, when he sees him. "How . . .?"

"Between your mother and your sister, you're . . . well, they watch out for you." David's face wears an odd mixture of affection and disgust. It makes Jack laugh, and he laughs out loud until he's coughing and then throwing up half of whatever he drank tonight.

"Don't you mean Thomasina?" Jack wipes his mouth on his sleeve. There's no way this suit will recover from tonight.

"You're too drunk to go home," says David firmly.

Jack laughs more. "Oh, they've seen worse. The tabloids will love it. They always do."

"Your mother won't, though."

"You don't know her as well as I do," Jack slurs. Suddenly he wants nothing more than to sleep. Why won't David just let him sleep here?

"I know mothers," David insists.

Jack wants to tell him his mother isn't like that, she spoon fed him ambition with his first solid food--or had the nanny do it--but his tongue won't obey him. He garbles something out, but David only helps him to his feet and out the door.

They take a taxi to David's tiny apartment. David lays him down on the bed and takes off Jack's shoes. The last thing Jack hears is he clink of the water glass David sets down on his bedside table for Jack.

Jack wakes when morning is barely more than a bluish hint around David's curtains. He's still drunk, but steady enough that he can find his way to the bathroom and heave up the water David fed him. He must have passed out with his head and arm resting on the toilet seat, because the next thing he knows, David is sitting beside him on the cold tile.

"Is it . . . Joseph?" David asks.

Jack suddenly feels sober as a preacher. "How--I don't know anyone . . . ." He trails off when David's eyes let him know how unconvincing he's being. "Hah. Princes are supposed to be able to lie."

"You do well enough," says David dryly.

"How do you know that name?" Jack asks, simply curious now. He can hear his mother's cool voice telling him, royalty has no secrets, except, of course, they all do.

"People like to tell me things." David holds out a wet cloth to Jack. He puts it on Jack's forehead, but he's so wrung out it makes him shiver.

"I'll bet they do," says Jack, teeth chattering.

David's brows draw together in concern. "I'll get you something."

He returns with a blanket and a mug of warm water with lemon. It goes down and stays down. "Is this because of Joseph?" he asks.

"That's personal," says Jack, drawing the blanket around him along with the shreds of his dignity.

"That's my only mug you're drinking out of. That's my toilet you're using as a headrest."

Jack glares at him, but that just makes his head hurt. "Sort of," he answers. "Not entirely. Don't tell anyone."

"I wouldn't," says David. Jack believes him.


David's a good enough sailor by August that they can go out without a crew, just the two of them. When David tells his father he gets a look, but Silas isn't going to accuse his perfect David of being into boys, even if his disappointment of a son is.

When they round the cliff that separates the river from open ocean, David looks back toward the Port of Prosperity. It glitters pink and gold on the horizon. It's industrial pollution that lends it those lovely colors.

"Do you miss it?" Jack asks.

"Not as much as I should," says David, half to himself. He has changed. Jack sees him almost every day, but even he can see it. David is more closed off. Those smiles that could turn night into day are rarer now. Jack blames his sister for doing this, but honesty compels him to admit some fault as well. Even someone like David cannot withstand their corruption.


In the fall, Jack meets someone else. Paul's severe good looks speak of Gath ancestry, but the soft parting of his lips owes nothing to that hard place.

Joseph is at the club the night Jack sees Paul. For a moment they are the only three in the room. Jack. Paul. David. Eye contact, then looking away. Meaningful looks, quirks of the head to determine time and place. Joseph's watches the silent negotiation, his eyes growing sad.

In Paul's tiny apartment, he bends and yields as easily as anyone Jack's ever had. With his dark hair, he reminds Jack of David not at all.


"Some vow," says David. He's enunciating his words very carefully, and standing upright with no support, but Jack can see that he's drunk, and not his usual friendly puppy drunk. "No men, no corruption, something like that."

"So she's a lesbian?" Jack smirks and tips a glass of scotch into his mouth. It goes down so fast he feels the burn in his stomach before he tastes the smoky finish. "My father would love that. I have it on good authority."

David's only response to that is to start rummaging behind the bar for more booze. Jack didn't know--hadn't let himself know--how deep David's feelings were for Michelle. Or maybe he's just disappointed he won't be another prince.

Outside the windows of Jack's living room, the lights of Shiloh glitter cruelly. David's eyes sweep over the view but then he stares back into the amber depths of his scotch.

Jack walks around the bar and guides David by the shoulders onto the couch. He sits down around the bend from him. "Tell me," he commands.

"You know it's been on again, off again. Or really off again, off again. But tonight she told me . . ."

"I told you before," says Jack. He leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees. "No one is ever good enough for her."

David shifts and his knee touches Jack's. David never touches him voluntarily; it's always the other way around, Jack taking the small liberties, guiding him through a crowded club, or under the yard onboard the yacht. Jack's first urge is to pull away.

"Do you think that's it?" David asks. He's drunk enough to put some space between himself and the pain, but Jack predicts a painful few weeks. It's the death of hope that really hurts.

Jack shrugs. "Who knows?"

David turns his glass in his hands then sets it down on the coffee table, still half full. He turns toward Jack, takes Jack's face in his hands and kisses him. It's both sloppy and tentative, and it tastes of scotch. At first Jack is too surprised to move, but then his usual instincts take over, and he's kissing David back, struggling with him for the control that David wants to take.

The faint sound David makes in his throat is what ends the kiss. It could be a sob, or a noise of pleasure, Jack can't be sure, but it brings him back to himself. "No," he says quietly. Then, more forcefully, "No. I'm not my sister."

David wears that wounded puppy look--the same look that in Joseph's eyes makes Jack want to kick him again, here makes Jack want to pull David to him and soothe the worry from his brow. Sappy fucker, he berates himself.

"I thought . . .," says David. His hands still linger on Jack's shoulders, one index finger on the margin between Jack's collar and the skin of his neck.

"You thought because I fuck boys I'd fuck you and make you forget about her?"

David's sheepish expression is all the yes Jack needs to see. "Fuck you. Fuck off and fuck you." He stands up. "It's bad enough being second prize with Silas, but you . . . I'll be his consolation prize, but I won't be yours. Get the fuck out of here."

David stands and gives Jack one regretful look before crossing the room and leaving. Jack wants to hate him. He imagines slamming his fist into David's perfect face, leaving it cracked and bloody. Disfigured even, like that boy in the club. The treasury had to pay for his plastic surgery. But the images have no savor. In them, David still wears that wounded expression, the one Jack still wants to make better.


They don't have time to dance awkwardly around each other, because the war with Gath flares up again, and Jack, newly promoted and decorated, goes to the front again, this time with David as his XO.

"He's proven he can take care of you," says Silas during their public leave-taking. He gives Jack a kiss on the cheek and shakes hands with David before a cadre of reporters follows Jack and David in the motorcade that takes them to their unit.

Michelle kissed David good bye. On the lips, mouths open, but no hunger, only farewell in the parting. Still, the memory doesn't make Jack feel better.

That night Jack's friends throw him a goodbye party, meaning to send him off to war hung over. He was the last time he shipped out, hung over, fucked and sucked dry, smiling dreamily about the memories as the truck bounced him over roads that hadn't been repaired since before the last war.

Tonight he takes David with him. "You need a goodbye too," he says. David gives him that look that says both more and less than words, but he goes along.

Miriel is blonde and long legged. Jack doesn't know her well; he doesn't trust her enough to invite her back for his mostly sexless sleepovers. He does know her well enough to whisper in her ear that she should introduce herself to David.

She does, long fingers on his chest as they dance. She whispers something in his ear--her lips shape Jack's name--and then David glances at him, questioning. Jack nods: yes, this, and we're friends again. David kisses her, less sloppy than the kiss he marked Jack with, more deliberate, and when the kiss is breaking, he looks up at Jack again. Jack nods again, this time approvingly. They are lovely and blond together, like a corn-fed god and goddess, her golden hair on his golden skin, warm and somehow pure, even in the club's cold, blue footlights.

There are cameras in the room David brings Miriel back to in the palace. While Jack's girls snore drunkenly in the bed, he watches David unzip Miriel's dress, watches her step out of it. His fingers never leave her skin as she kisses his neck, as she undoes the buttons of his shirt and pushes him back on the bed.

He rolls her over, so she's under him, and glances up at the knot in the wood where one of the cameras is hidden. It's just a moment, but it feels like eye contact, across floors and electrons. Jack quickly shuts off the video. His shoulders hurt where he's pressing back against the wood of his chair.

You can have him, a part of him whispers. Does it matter if he only wants you for your family?


They're deployed back along the same stretch of ground where Jack was captured before. In the trucks on the way to the front, Jack looks out the window. It's barely fall yet. The air has no more than the first blush of winter in its breath. The trees should still wear their garments of red and gold, but they are bare, dead from too many wars passing over their land.

Jack steals a glance at David, who sits next to him in the back seat of their Jeep. His eyes are sad and serious, looking at those dead trees. "My family has an orchard," he says, although military discipline should require him to wait for Jack to speak first. "Apples are ripe this time of year. You pick them all day and when you're tired and cold you have hot apple cider." He presses his lips together. "You should come visit sometime. You'd like it."

It's a hand extended, this invitation. Jack sees how easy it would be to crush David's hope, like stubbing out a cigarette. Jack smiles quickly, and if it feels insincere, it's only because Jack's forgotten how to return David's warm, hesitant smile with what it deserves. "I will," he says. "If we get out of this alive."

"Oh, we will," says David. "God isn't done with us yet."

"You sound like my father."

David fixes him with a serious expression. "You couldn't give me a greater compliment than that."

The further north they drive, the more the color bleeds from the landscape. Shiloh doesn't always seem to remember how close it is to this war. Even when the noise of shelling echoed through the city, people turned up their radios, revved their engines, shut their doors, and poured another drink. Jack did it too.

"Did you have fun last night?" he asks.

David makes a face, like what do you think? "Mary's nice."

"Miriel," Jack corrects.

David shrugs and Jack hits him on the shoulder, laughing. "You're learning."

David won't laugh along with him. "No. I'm not." Then, more quietly, "And I don't think you like it any more than I do."


Jack's been promoted to command four times as many men as he did the last time he was in battle. Perhaps his father thinks he'll be safer if he's not personally leading raids against the Gath. Men with more years of military experience than Jack has been alive surround him, to make sure he makes the right choices, but in the end the command is his.

Jack treads carefully now, making small careful advances. Nothing to get himself noticed and taken. Nothing to get him brought up on charges.

David fits in far better in high command than Jack would have predicted. For all that he still pretends to be a simple farm-boy, he has a sense about strategy that astounds Jack.

He and Jack look over the radar map of the area of operation, at a line of Gath tanks and the probable location of lines of soldiers. "This is the weak spot," says Jack, pointing at where the lines seem to thin. David twists a dial on the display and it brings up a schematic of the terrain.

"It's a valley," he says. "It's a trap."

"And I thought I had a devious mind." Jack looks at him. David's brow is furrowed in thought. "Why?"

"It's what I would do. Lure the enemy through a choke point and cut them off."

"They can't hide from our radar," says Adon, one of Jack's advisors.

David turns another dial on the display, working it back in time until the blips of tanks appear again, flanking the valley. "Did they just disappear?" he asks.

"They must have moved." Adon points to a tank division further back, too many dots together to be separated into distinct vehicles by the software.

David turns to Jack. "Request permission to take recon scouts over these hills to make sure."

It's full dark now, and bitterly cold with no living things to trap the heat. Gath and Gilboa have fought over this land so many times there is hardly anything left to dispute.

"We'll need them to scout the dawn assault," says Adon.

"If David is right, there won't be a dawn assault," Jack counters. He stares at Adon until he backs down.

David leads the mission himself. Jack watches through infrared goggles as David scrambles up the bare rocks that overlook the valley. He moves differently in the field than he does in the palace, or through the crowded clubs where Jack has taken him. He is a consummate soldier--not in the solid, unflappable way that Silas was and still is--David is a predator, as graceful and fearless as he was when he stood up to the Goliath tank, or waved the flag of truce at the Gath.

Then he is gone, over the ridge, and all Jack has left of him is the low murmurs that pass between him and the reconnaissance team, the military jargon that still seems like a foreign language to Jack. He can watch the tiny blue lights of their tracking chips trace across the map of the AO. The voices fall silent, but the lights keep on moving, bunching and spreading as they cross different ground.

They should be overlooking the valley now. Jack waits for the signal that they have found, or failed to find the trap that David anticipated. And then the lights start going out.


Later they will tell Jack that he went pale. That he spoke no words, but simply picked up a rifle and walked out into the dark. He doesn't remember it like that later. He does remember the rifle. He remembers giving orders that were drowned out by screaming. All of that must have been in his head.

He remembers praying for David. He remembers wanting David not to be dead more than he's ever wanted anything in his life, more than the first boy he kissed, or the last, more, even, than his father's approval.

In the gritty, gray dawn light Jack finds David half buried under rubble, the tracking chip in his hat smashed, probably by one of his own men to save him. "They can track our beacons," David chokes out as soon as he sees Jack. Jack feels that familiar creeping detachment that clouds his emotions when David is around. Once he thought that was contempt, but now he wonders if that contempt was some kind of self-protection. Because when it's gone there is this: he wants David to be alive, and to need him the way Jack does.

It's that detachment that allows Jack to stand up rather than stupidly kissing David's forehead, and brushing the rock-dust from his corn-silk skin so it looks alive again. It allows him to stand up and tell the men brave and loyal enough to follow him here to this graveyard to pick David up and bring him to the medical tent.

Jack walks by David's side as they transport him on a stretcher. "They're all dead or captured," David says and then he's babbling in debrief form, as if he's been practicing it in his head while he lay there overnight.

Jack's adjutant has his recorder on so they can transcribe this and share the intelligence. Even with God-knows-what internal injuries David had the presence of mind to make mental notes for this report: it was a trap, for tanks or foot soldiers, or anyone foolish enough to cross the Gath perimeter. Gath has their seven reconnaissance scouts now, and torturers to get plans and codes from them. And worst of all, Gath can trace every tracking chip put in every Gilboan tank, jeep or soldier's uniform.

After spilling as much information as he can, David goes silent and his eyes close. Just as Jack is about to shake him awake, he opens his corn-flower eyes and smiles that sweet farm-boy smile. "You saved me this time," he says.


The medics tell Jack that David is suffering nothing worse than shock and dehydration. He has a slight concussion, but he's back at Jack's side as soon as he can stand.

The very air in the Gilboan camp is tense that day as the company waits for the other shoe to drop. Soldiers speak in terse whispers, and if a voice is raised in momentary good spirits, it quiets quickly. They retune the frequency on all their tracking chips, but it may not be enough.

David's different too, or maybe it's just that Jack feels differently toward him. There's a connection strung between them, more than there was before, a life for a life, and instead of making them even, it feels to Jack, in his more maudlin moments, that they owe each other even more now.

He catches David studying him when David thinks Jack isn't looking. What do you see? he wants to ask, but he doesn't dare. Once he was content to let everyone think the worst of him, but no longer.

They plan the rescue attempt together, but General Abner allows neither of them to carry out the mission. David is too fragile; Jack to valuable. Still, they watch the map as the tiny blue dots of their forces surround the tent where the recon scouts are held.

Jack looks up at David far too often, reminding himself that this time those dots don't include him--this time those dots are others, precious still, but not as much as David.

And then their eyes meet. They haven't since David's rescue. And, truth be told, even before that, when Jack met someone's eyes, it was because he wanted to gauge their weakness or watch their will crumple under his. Some time ago he learned not to meet David's. He doesn't want David's submission, and without that drive, he doesn't want to look at all.

But now he does look, across a map where his men could by dying, the tide of war turning against them, and he smiles, and David flushes, and looks away. And Jack knows. Knows that when he gets David back to Shiloh and privacy, he'll chart David's skin with lips and fingers, and make David gasp under him. Here there's no privacy, and anyway, Jack doesn't want it like that, no quick, mutual combat jack smothering each other's gasps as the tanks roll by. He wants to wake up in David's tiny apartment, in sheets smelling of him, with time to do it all again.

David's mouth quirks up as he steals another glance. This doesn't need monarch butterflies to be a clear sign.


The rescue is a qualified success. Some of the recon scouts broke, more secrets spilled, more Gath advantage. Two of the rescuers died in the attempt.

Silas sends a terse message of congratulations and thanksgiving for the lives and secrets that still remain. It's perfectly correct, and for once Jack doesn't want more.

After that they work even better together, although David's low, competent voice, explaining maneuvers has an effect on Jack that makes concentrating difficult. He can't tell if he has the same effect, but one day David brushes by him outside the officer's mess. It's close quarters, and after dark--easy to melt into the shadows.

"I wish . . ." David breathes into the darkness.

"Me too," says Jack. Their hands touch as they move away from each other in opposite directions.


They return to Shiloh for the parade. There's nothing much to celebrate except a winter cease fire, same as every winter before when the fighting was not hot enough to sustain the conflict through the dark months. No one wants to fight in the cold, and neither side will have the advantage. Both Gath and Gilboa string razor wire and place mines. Poor soldiers in watchtowers will guard this barren stretch of land while the architects of this war huddle inside until the snowstorms pass or a shot breaks the peace.

Winter grips Shiloh less tightly than it does the border hills, but the streets are slushy with melting snow, and it drips from the trees that line the streets into Jack's uniform as he rides in the open top car and waves to the crowd.

That night he and Jack are seated next to each other. They laugh and toast. Jack dances with his sister. David dances with the Queen.

"He's good for you," says Michelle. She's a stiff dancer, but Jack's a good leader. He can feel the tension in her back ebbing slightly as the song goes on.

"He wanted to be good for you." Jack might turn that into a prurient joke, but he doesn't have the will for it. He's feeling magnanimous today.

She makes a moue and looks away. "I--"

"Don't worry about it." He says it to end her discomfort but also to stop her line of thought. What if she's changed her mind? What if she felt as Jack did when the news of David's escape reached her?

He spins her off to Silas's waiting arms, and finds David watching him. Watching him, not her. He smiles, and watches David's lips move in the same smile. "What do you say we get out of here?" he asks.

David's apartment is no nicer than Jack remembered, and it smells stale after four months away. The top of the piano is dusty. "Do you really--" David blurts out just as Jack says, "Are you sure?"

Then they're kissing, this time flavored with rich port, but not drunken. This time David's lips are sure and firm on his.

Jack undoes David's tuxedo, and his hands are shaking. "This is your summer weight. You need a winter suit," says Jack nonsensically. David kisses him again, taking Jack's face in his hands.

"I really did corrupt you," Jack murmurs against his mouth. "I didn't mean to."

David looks at him, a smile, half-knowing, half-innocent, playing on his lips. "Yes, you did. I didn't mind."

David kisses Jack like he's not the prince, no mixture of worship and fear. No studied apathy either, just warmth blooming into heat. Jack's more skilled with formalwear than David, or at least less frightened of it. He pulls off David's tie, pulls open his shirt so the tuxedo tacks go flying. He'll buy David more if he needs it. He'll buy David a closet bigger than this apartment full of beautiful suits.

Well, maybe a little fear. David's fingers are shaking on Jack's buttons as he tries to unfasten them. Jack pulls David's hand to his chest, tips his head back, and smirks. "Scared?" he asks.

"A little," David admits.

"Don't worry," says Jack, pulling David's fingers up to his lips. "I've done this before."

They wrestle for who's on top, but David allows Jack to win. Jack opens David's shirt so he can trace the flat panes of David's chest and watch the skin pucker when he brushes his finger over a nipple. David looks up at him, eyes wide and trusting, mouth open in anticipation.

David's hard and more than ready, pressing against Jack's thigh through the dark, too-thin wool. Jack undoes his belt and pulls David's trousers off, then does the same for his. David looks surprised, but he reaches between Jack's legs and wraps his hand around Jack's cock readily enough.

"Tell me what to do," says David.

"Oh, you're doing fine," Jack tries to make the words a purr, but it's ruined by the gasp that David's cool fingers draw out of him.

I don't fuck on the first date, Jack used to say, because fucking them always meant they wanted to come back. They thought it meant something, or Jack owed them something. And if they fucked him, it was worse, like they thought it meant they'd inherit the kingdom. But tonight Jack wants to break all his rules.

He finds the lube and a condom in the inside pocket of his jacket where it's discarded on the floor. He puts some on his fingers and works a finger inside himself as he straddles David. It's an awkward angle but he's trained himself to open easily. Whore. Greedy hole, one of his boyfriends called him. He does like to be filled up, whatever he can, whenever he finds someone he tells himself he can trust enough. Or alone, when he can trust only himself.

"Let me," says David, shaking Jack out of those memories. So Jack shows him. David grows even harder as he pushes his fingers into Jack. "You like that?" he asks, breathless.

"Yes," Jack sighs. David sits up and uses his other hand to pull Jack's face to his again, tongue opening Jack's mouth as his fingers push in.

"I want you inside me," says Jack when they pull apart.

David can't get the condom on fast enough. He fumbles with the wrapper until Jack helps him, smoothing it down the length of him. Jack positions himself above and sinks down onto David's cock until it's all the way in, stretching and filling him. David half sits up and rocks into him, mouth open, hand grabbing for the parts of Jack that he can reach: back, neck, arm, trying to pull them closer, until his face contorts and he comes.

Jack grasps his own cock and makes himself come a scant minute later, then collapses against David's chest. It's damp with sweat and David's heart hammers against his.

"Was that . . . ?" David asks.

"Good? Yeah, it was," Jack answers.

David looks stupidly pleased. "Yeah, it was." He nuzzles Jack's neck. "I want to do it again."

Jack rolls off of him. "Not tonight, honey, my ass is sore," he says.

"That's not what I meant," says David. Jack turns away, but not before seeing a moment of hurt in David's expression before he stands to go and clean himself up.

When he comes back to bed Jack is lying facing away from him. David wraps his arms around Jack and kisses the back of his neck, murmuring apologies that Jack ignores, but he does allow himself to be kissed. There's a distance between them that there hasn't been since the rescue, and Jack knows it's his fault.

David falls into a quiet sleep, holding Jack to him. Once his breathing evens out, Jack pulls himself from David's grasp. He should leave. David wanted to dip his toe--or his dick, rather--into the sea of corruption that Jack represents, but he won't stay now that he's tasted it. Not unless he needs a fuck or an easy blowjob. Jack's seen it before.

But he listens to David's breathing rather than getting up and leaving, and when he opens his eyes again, it's morning.

Jack lies on his back in the cotton sheets, breathing in David's warm, fresh scent and tries not to dread the moment David wakes and remembers what he's done. What they've done. Straight boy panic--Jack's well versed in its forms and variations--it's why he should have left last night. He doesn't want to see it turn David's face away from him even for a moment.

If there's going to be any pain between them, Jack wants to be the one to cause it.

The sheets sigh and rustle as David stirs. "Are you awake?" he asks softly.

"Yes," says Jack.

"Good." David rolls over on his side and props his head up on his elbow. "Because everything you did to me last night, I want to do to you this morning."

Jack tries to let his usual detachment protect him from the surge of joy David's words bring, but the veil won't come. Instead, Jack kisses him, morning breath and all, and pulls David up on top of him.