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Strangers to the Fire

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Jack comes to in darkness. The first thing he’s aware of is a voice. Soft, warm, comforting, but lost in the black. Jack’s smothering, hot, head pounding as he raises it. A bag over his head, rank and smelling of piss, adhered to his face by blood and sweat. White spots dance in his vision. He can’t breathe, he can’t breathe, and the pain lances through his head till he thinks he’ll vomit. Of course he’d choke to death on the puke if he did, a hilariously pathetic end.

But the voice is still there beside him, reassuring, distinct. A strong hand rests on his neck. The voice is speaking to him. “Hold still, sir, we’re gonna get you out of here.” Jack doesn’t remember where here is right now, but all right. It sounds like a really good idea. The voice keeps up a stream of reassuring patter while they cut his bonds and lift him up. “Can you stand up?” the voice asks. He hisses out a yes. The fire races through his skull, down into his jaw, his spine. Then there are bright lights and they’re diving forward, when something hard--an RPG tube or the stock of a rifle, maybe--hits Jack right on top of the wound and he howls in agony.

They pull him up and he stumbles forward, unable to stand on his own power. As they make it to the lookout he pitches forward into the dirt. Someone says, “Shit. He’s taking down the fucking Goliath,” as the world goes dark around him. These new voices aren’t as pleasant as that of his rescuer.

When he comes to again, there’s a light shining directly in his right eye. The medic asks him about fingers. They rebandage his head wound. He’s very tired, and they put him on the bench of a truck so he can lie down. The motion nauseates him, so Jack wraps his arm around the slat and a metal bar to stay as still as possible, breathes in and out, in and out, keeps his eye closed.

Once the nausea abates, Jack becomes aware of a hand on his shoulder, gentle pressure. And that voice, that voice: not deep, but rich and low. He likes that voice. “You’ll be okay. We’re heading to the hospital. They’ll get you fixed up in no time.” He opens his eye, but all he sees is blond hair, pale skin, no distinct features because the man’s backlit and Jack’s vision is fuzzy. Jack licks his lips, tries to open his mouth. Then the man with the voice is gone, and his father takes his hand, touching his face. He decides it’s a good time to sleep.

 

They keep him overnight for observation as the king returns to court. Jack would much prefer to stay here near the front than go home to Altar Mansion, but his father has spoken--the helicopter will pick him up soon regardless of what he wants. Leaving his unit smacks of cowardice, the special privilege he’s fought against so long. He needs to be with his men, for their sake as well as his own. Such heavy losses leave a gaping hole, fracturing their cohesion. And Jack needs to know why it happened; he can’t properly debrief at home or investigate why his call for overwatch was ignored.

He slowly pulls on his clean fatigues, careful not to move too quickly. On the TV, his father drones on about the rescue, about retaliation from Gath. He stops and listens when they name his rescuer. David Shepherd, a private in a different unit. His father is praising Shepherd’s courage and thanking him for coming to the aid of his son.

Jack sits on the edge of the bed to pull on his boots and rolls his aching eyes as his father peacocks for the cameras, trying to whip up a new frenzy of hatred for Gath. The door opens, but it’s not the doctor. The man with blond hair, the voice, asks, “Permission to enter, sir?” and Jack smiles. Silas must have brought him along and then just dumped him here. He starts a salute but Jack waves him off.

“There’s no need for that,” he says. “Please come in,” and Jack gets his first good look at his rescuer--of course he has to be handsome on top of everything. Shepherd stands at parade rest. “Don’t think of me as an officer right now. Just think of me as a friend, one who owes you a great debt.” He steps forward and clasps David’s wrist; David returns the gesture and they look at each other for probably longer than they should. His eyes shine with a clarity of purpose that’s discomfiting. “Do you have a way back to your unit?”

“The king thought I might like a good night’s sleep away from the lines. I’m headed back in a minute.” David smiles sheepishly. It’s hopelessly endearing. “How’s your head, sir?”

“I can count the correct number of fingers now, so I’m told I’m fine. Though getting clocked with your rifle or the RPG, whatever was in your pack when we hit the dirt, set me back a bit.” He means it as a jest, but Shepherd’s face crumbles.

“I’m sorry! I didn’t realize I did that, God, I’m so sorry,” he stammers as his cheeks turn crimson. “I can’t believe I did that.”

“I wasn’t trying to shame you, truly. It was funny to me. Not at the time, of course. And you needed it to take out that tank.” He smiles and motions for Shepherd to sit on the chair in the corner. “Why did you do it? The rescue, I mean. You disobeyed orders and singlehandedly took on a line of Goliath tanks for a couple of hostages, it defies belief.” Silas said Shepherd wasn’t even aware the prince was one of the hostages, so it couldn’t have been the hope of a reward from the crown.

Shepherd shakes his head. “I think you’d just laugh if I told you.”

Jack raises his eyebrows, widens his eyes. “I won’t.”

Shepherd scrutinizes him, tilts his head. “I...I felt like God wanted me to do it. That He was saying it would be wrong to take no action.”

So he truly didn’t do it to curry royal favor, or for money, or for a chance at the spotlight. Jack’s fascinated. Can anyone really be that humble? “My father believes he communes with God on a regular basis. You two should get along splendidly.” Or Silas will see Shepherd as a threat and have him eliminated, one of the two.

“I don’t know that I commune with Him. It’s the first time I ever felt that way. You’ve never had that feeling?” Shepherd’s stare is hot, as if banked embers glow under his cool blue eyes. He’s assessing Jack, and Jack decides he almost likes it.

“On princely matters, He’s woefully silent.” David ducks his head, and Jack smiles. “Well. I’m headed off home for the time being. But when you come to court, we’ll talk more, yes?”

“Court?” Shepherd gapes at him and stands up.

“A banquet in your honor, of course. You can’t rescue the prince without royal rewards.” He stares at Jack. Handsome David with a mouth so generous and round. Shoulders and hands that speak of physical labor and hard-earned strength. And the voice like honey. Jack is beguiled, slipping at the edge of the rabbit hole.

“I did what anyone would do. I don’t deserve any...rewards.” The earnestness on his face almost makes Jack laugh, except that it makes him want to put a reassuring hand on his shoulder more.

So he does, stepping forward and closing his fingers around the curve of David’s shoulder. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s the least we can do.” To touch him is electric, and Jack knows he’s in danger now. He half expects a butterfly to come through the window and light on David’s head.

 

Private David Shepherd, he finds, is as close to being perfect as a human can be--dedicated seventh son, loving brother, musically adept, a mechanic and farmer both before enlisting in the army. Good marks in school. Beloved of all his compatriots. He should be more than a mere private judging by his excellent service record, Jack thinks, but his natural humility and close family relationships have probably kept him from moving up and away from his brother, also an excellent soldier. The more he learns, the more of a conundrum Shepherd becomes--why he’d risk court-martial on a dangerous solo mission to save soldiers he didn’t know, simply on a hunch God had wanted it that way. Jack’s not used to selflessness.

Jack’s not used to nerves, either, but he prowls Altar Mansion like a hungry panther in anticipation of Shepherd’s arrival. Silas will get his use out of the boy, then send him back to where he came from with a pat on the back and a “thank you for your service.” If Jack has a use for David, though, he doesn’t yet know--but he yearns to find out.

When David finally arrives, Jack greets him with an embrace, startling both himself and David. He hasn’t embraced anyone besides Michelle since he was a boy. “It’s nice to see you again,” Jack says, and finds he means it, as if David’s sincerity has rubbed off on him. “Has anyone briefed you on tonight?”

“Thomasina gave me a rundown on some of the events. And etiquette, at least a little of that. I’m a bit out of my element here,” he says.

“That’s my function,” Jack says and cups his elbow, leading him forward. “I’ll give you the grand tour and take you behind the scenes. But you’re not going to wear that.” Jack casts a disdainful eye at David’s uniform. “Let’s get you one of my suits.”

“But you’re taller than me,” David says.

Jack pats his elbow. “That’s why the tailor will come with it.”

“There’s a tailor here?” He shakes his head in disbelief. “No, what am I saying, of course there is.” His befuddlement makes Jack want to kiss him. This is very, very dangerous, and Jack shivers with forbidden desire.

“Have they got you situated in the guest quarters?” David nods. “Let’s get you fitted first, then.”

The conversation is light, both of them carefully avoiding topics like the ambush or the funerals for Jack’s lost men that have consumed his recent days. Jack is rarely interested in anyone’s life story, but he likes hearing that voice describe a family, a boyhood on a farm. He tries not to watch as David strips down to his boxer briefs and undershirt, but when he’s undressed, Jack meets his eyes in the mirror. The embers catch fire now, burning hot and blue. David shrugs on the shirt and the jacket the tailor hands him, pulls on the trousers, watching Jack the whole time. The way his Adam’s apple bobs betrays his interest.

He’s an enlisted man, Jack reminds himself, man being the most operative word here. You’re an officer. You can’t do this. It doesn’t tamp down the heat that coils through his belly. David keeps calling him sir, as if it helps him maintain distance, and Jack thinks it might be a good idea to let him. Jack takes him on a tour through the mansion, through Unity Hall, until it’s time to get dressed for dinner.

Jack’s careful throughout dinner and into the reception. They pose for photographs together, and he stands just behind David during his interview so the spotlight is on his rescuer. David seems awed by the king, but Jack’s practiced distance around his father is comfortable routine and seems to help David relax a little.

Sometimes, lately, Jack feels an ice-cold certainty that Silas knows he’s gay, and he wonders if the king can see something kindling between him and David with his eagle’s eye for weakness. But Jack shakes it off. His cynicism needn’t infect David’s sunny optimism, which Jack finds charming if a little backward.

There are surprises during the reception. David answers sharp questions from the press with an aplomb that took Jack years to master; he clearly knows Reverend Samuels, and that distresses Silas in a way that Jack has rarely seen--and Jack desperately wants to know what that’s about; he pockets phone numbers from various women who obviously hope to seduce the hero, and Jack begins to doubt the validity of his earlier flirtation. Jack’s not the type to read these situations wrong, but maybe his skill at hiding himself has blinded him to what men like David really want from him.

Halfway through the reception, though, David seems to vanish and Jack goes looking for him. It isn’t until he hears the piano in the sitting room carrying sweetly down the hall that he finds David. He’s intent, his fingers moving with grace and skill across the keyboard. Jack stands in the doorway, rapt, admiring the way David’s lashes fan over his cheekbones as he closes his eyes to play, the way the lights gild his skin and hair. When he nears the end of the piece, Jack steps forward. “That piano was a gift from the prime minister of Austeria,” he says. “It rarely gets played. Never so beautifully, certainly.”

David ducks his head, his cheeks coloring. Compliments appear to be his undoing. “This piano is a Broadwood Grand. It was built the same year that Liszt wrote that piece. The closest I’ve ever come to one is a picture on the Internet.” Jack stares into his drink, swirls the whiskey around. He’s not sure what he loves the sound of more--David’s voice or his playing. No, definitely his voice. He’s thought of it many times in the dark.

“Are you hiding from your own reception? You’re the belle of the ball, you know. People will notice.” He leans his hip against the curve of the piano. The whiskey has given him just enough of a buzz that he’s considering throwing caution to the wind and touching David’s mouth. Or his hair, or something, anything.

“It’s overwhelming. I don’t know how you do it.”

“This helps,” Jack says and raises his drink. “A few more hours and it will all be over. Your coach will turn back into a pumpkin and these social climbers into mice.”

“But you’ll still be Prince Charming.” David’s smile has a wicked edge as he steals Jack’s drink from his hand, downs the rest of the whiskey, and licks his lips. Good God. “You’re stunning,” David says. “I know you must hear that all the time, but it doesn’t make it any less true.”

Jack reaches down and threads his fingers through David’s hair, loosening the waves that are combed down flat against his skull. He’s prettier with his hair mussed. David leans his head back into Jack’s palm, lips parting as his eyes close. He’s a picture of wanton beauty, and Jack can’t resist anymore. He leans down and kisses that exquisite mouth. David stands and pushes the bench back, never taking his mouth away from Jack’s, a soft groan escaping his throat that goes right to Jack’s dick and sparks up through his belly.

David pushes him against the piano, grinding his hips against Jack’s, his hardness growing as they kiss. “Jack,” David whispers against his mouth, the first time he’s called Jack by his name. He’s never enjoyed the sound of his nickname until David breathes it against his lips.

“So that’s what it takes to stop you from calling me ‘sir.’” He’s always disdained sentiment, yet he wants to murmur sweet nothings in David’s ear.

David’s boyish grin both irritates and delights him; he licks along David’s lower lip, takes it between his teeth.

The blood pounds in his ears, in his cock, and David’s pushing him back, his warm, strong hands moving up under his shirt. Jack slides his hand over David’s erection, gloating at the way he shivers. As he tries to steady himself, his hand hits the keys, the noise abruptly bringing him out of his lustful fog.

Jack pulls away from David’s mouth and puts three fingers to his lips, pressing. “David,” he says, clearing his throat, but David sucks his fingers into his mouth and he’s lost again. The texture of David’s tongue against the pads of his fingertips boils his blood; he’s sweating now along his hairline, his spine.

This fire between them will burn them both alive if he doesn’t smother it fast.

“Not here,” Jack croaks, finally finding the words and pushing against David’s chest. “Not now.” David might not be under his command, but Jack knows the regulations against fraternization and he knows what happens to homosexuals. Nor would the loss of the crown be worth a quick fuck with the golden boy.

But oh, how he wants it.

“When, then?” David asks. “Where?”

“I’ll be ruined. They’ll tear you to shreds.” He steps away and passes a hand through his hair, fixes his shirt, tugs his jacket down.

“Is this why you play the partying bad boy? Throw them off the scent?” He didn’t expect David to have bitterness in him, he seems far too sweet, but that beautiful voice is so cutting and his posture defensive. So maybe he is just a star-fucker after all, Jack thinks, as uncharitable as always. But then David softens, his edges melting away, and Jack thinks, God help me, I could fall in love.

“To survive, you adapt to the surroundings.” It’s what Jack tells himself, anyway, when he looks in the mirror.

“You go back first,” Jack says. “They’ll have noticed your absence before mine. Fix your hair.” He raises his chin. “And don’t forget, my sister is first on your dance card.”

David nods and smooths his hair back, squares his shoulders, and heads back to the reception. Jack doesn’t return to the party; he goes to his rooms, still hard, desire still burning in his blood. He rarely stays here anymore even when he’s on furlough, but he thought it would be pleasant to be near David when he visited. He turns on the shower and jerks himself off under nearly scalding water, as if it will scour away the stain of what he is.

 

David’s still here in the morning when he’s summoned to breakfast by Jack’s father. There’s a peculiar light in Silas’s eyes when he tells David that he’s giving him a commission to second lieutenant, and making him the military press liaison under Jack’s tutelage. “Watch my son, and learn from the best,” Silas says, smirking as he puts scrambled eggs, extra butter, on Jack’s plate. Michelle glances back and forth between their father and David. She knows as well as Jack that Silas is plotting something, with David as a pawn--but neither of them can see past the first few moves on his chessboard, they are always outmatched.

Jack stares at his eggs. His father should want him to return to the front, to ensure that his reputation still shines. Instead he’s giving Jack the best, softest, position in the military and seconding David to him, keeping Jack away from the brass in the field. This isn’t the first time Jack’s been aware that something is wrong here, but it’s the strongest hint he’s had so far that Silas is up to something regarding Jack’s service. He wonders if this is connected to Ephram Samuels somehow, since David clearly knew the prophet. Silas would fear that, especially with he and Samuels having broken their covenant. It’s easy to see conspiracies throughout court, but this one is nearly a blinking neon sign.

David’s dear, bashful discomfort makes Jack smile. “Sir,” David says haltingly, “if I may, why would you want me in this position? I’m a private, I don’t know anything about serving as a spokesman for...anything, really.”

“You have a gift with people, and I think that gift is a benefit to the kingdom,” Silas says, thus ending the conversation. At least David is smart enough not to try to refuse the commission.

Jack takes David with him to put on his uniform, and David follows along like the cocker spaniel he is. They stop and get the day’s updates from the front, and Jack goes over what they’ll say in the briefing. Thomasina will find David an apartment in the city while they work. But when they’re in front of the reporters, someone asks, “Captain Benjamin, what about the rumors that there might be a hearing into negligence on your part for the ambush?” As Jack grinds his teeth and considers what to say, David leans into the microphone and says, “Captain Benjamin's only involvement in the ambush was as a victim. He has the respect of every man in his command. Any failure was at the TOC, not in the field. Men lost their lives and the captain almost lost his. Try to show some respect.” They stare at each other across the dais.

He rounds on David when they’re alone in the press office at Unity Hall. “You should not have done that. It was--impertinent.” Every word feels small in his mouth, silly, as if he’s a little boy throwing a tantrum. “You have a habit of disobeying orders and ignoring protocol. Ignoring rank. That may have been to my benefit once, but don’t think it gives you license.”

“Sir.” David stands at attention, looking past Jack’s shoulder. He pouts so prettily. “I apologize, sir.” No I’m still finding my footing, no I got caught up in the moment. That’s another thing about David, he takes responsibility. He’ll never last here.

Jack quivers, either from desire or rage, he’s not sure, maybe both. He takes David’s chin in his hand. “I have an apartment on the west side,” he says, and David finally looks him square in the eye, knowing, accepting. He nods once.

“Your boy was rather remarkable on his first outing,” Silas says as he catches him in the hall. Thomasina pretends not to listen.

“He’s a puppy,” Jack says, and lets his father thread his arm through his as they walk toward the steps of Unity Plaza. “He’ll learn after he gets his nose rubbed in it a few times.” But all at once Jack knows that Silas knows. He wants Jack to debauch David, and see the pair of them thrown in the gutter in disgrace. The king hopes to kill two birds with one stone--which means David is a threat to him. Suddenly David is infinitely more appealing than he already was. And Jack wants to protect him more than ever.

 

Jack’s lying on the sofa when David finds his way into the apartment, bringing a bottle of wine--good wine, at that, so he’s not quite the hick Jack has pegged him for. “Did they find you a place?” Jack asks, opening the bottle.

“Yeah. It’s tinier than my bedroom back home. This city.” He shrugs. Not everyone sees the beauty in Shiloh, Jack knows. To someone like David it must seem squalid and oppressive. But David casts his eye around Jack’s apartment and raises his eyebrows in approval. “You’re different around your father.” There’s no judgment, of course, but his meaning is clear.

“I have a lot of sharp edges when I’m home.” Jack shakes his head. David loves his king and Jack doesn’t want to spoil that or sour the good things in David. “This isn’t where I want to be. I’m a soldier, it’s the only place I can be myself. I should be back in the field.” Jack says it like a confession, like shame, stinging his throat. “They may yet bring me up on charges.”

“What happened?” David asks for the first time, as if it only just occurred to him Jack could have done something wrong. Jack drinks his wine and tells him the story as David watches him, concerned, tragic. He cares too much and it will be his undoing.

“That must have been horrible for you, to feel like you were responsible,” David says, and walks around the counter. “Attending all those funerals.” Jack backs up. He can’t have David feeling sorry for him, not about this. Not about anything; it gives him too much power.

“Let’s go out,” Jack says, and grabs jacket and keys, flicks his hand at the door. He wants to lose himself in more drink, drugs, getting off in some dark corner with someone he won’t have to look at the next day, but David grabs his arm before he can.

“No.” He’s firm, annoyed, a steely infantryman, and it makes Jack’s cock twitch. “You told me about your apartment for a reason. You shared this confession for a reason. You trust me enough, you can let me be this for you, too.” He drops to his knees in front of Jack, puts his hands on his hips, thumbs teasing around Jack’s cock.

“I’m not good for you. Or anyone else, for that matter.”

“Let me be the judge of that.”

“God,” Jack breathes as David unzips his fly, reaches inside his pants, and pulls his cock out, moist breath breezing over it. His mouth is wet and hot and he licks and sucks Jack like a pro. Jack’s leaning back against the counter, the cold marble that presses against his skin the only thing keeping him from coming in David’s mouth. “Stop,” he says, with every ounce of strength he has. David pulls away and leans back on his heels, wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, and gazes up at Jack from under his lashes with eyes the pallid, hazy blue of a summer evening.

Jack drops to his knees in front of David, running his thumb along David’s reddened lips, tucks himself, still hard, back inside his pants. “This...this fire that’s between us. I don’t recognize it, but I know it’s dangerous. I’m a stranger to these feelings. Are you?” He’s never cared before, couldn’t afford to.

“There were girlfriends here and there. I didn’t know I was...wired this way, not until the army, there was a fellow in my unit.” David seems pained by this, and Jack caresses his face. “I’m no stranger to this, but I didn’t recognize it, either, until I met you.”

David stares at him the way he did after the press briefing, knowing, accepting. Jack has never seen that look before on any of his lovers, not even Joseph. This is what his hands have tried to grasp since he knew what desire was, the prayer his burning mouth has longed to say. He kisses David, tastes himself on his lips, Jack’s whole body feverish and quivering with need.

“Have you ever been fucked?” Jack asks, his voice cracking.

“Not yet. I want to, though. For you. What’s it like?” he asks, curious and eager, kissing Jack some more.

“Tighter than with a woman, so much tighter, the feeling is--if you’re...wired that way, it’s so much more exciting. It hurts at first, sometimes, then you’re kind of numb, and then if you ride with it, it’s amazing. You’ll be lit up inside, filled. Do you still want to try it?”

David’s already panting for it, and he nods, licks his lips. Jack takes his hand and laces his fingers with David’s, pulls him upstairs where he has lube and condoms. David’s watching him with wide eyes, sweat beaded on his forehead, his upper lip, and Jack licks the sweat away as he takes David’s shirt off, undoes his jeans and slides his underwear off. His body is lovely as he stands there silhouetted against the city lights, hard cock nested in pale brown hair and already slick with his need, and Jack’s mouth waters.

Jack puts lube inside David, rolls the condom over his aching cock and adds more lube. He’s used to frantic fucking, getting what he wants as fast as he can, but Jack hopes this will be good for David. They lie on their sides and he pushes David’s leg forward, easing into him, teasing at his nipple. Jack takes his time so David can adjust, lets him set the rhythm even though Jack’s almost begging for more now, and then suddenly David’s into it, pushing back against him, making noises low in his throat. That voice, Jack sighs to himself, that voice, warm honey to his ears and the more noise David makes, the more sparks fly along his spine, in his balls, until he comes, his body pressed up tight and damp with sweat against David’s muscled back. As his thrusts slow he wraps his hand around David’s cock, spreads the slickness over it, up and down, whispering endearments against his neck until he feels David spilling over his hand.

David reaches up and links his fingers with Jack’s where his other hand is settled on the back of his neck. “You liked that,” Jack says.

“Yes.” David rolls over and carefully takes the condom off him, disposes of it, gently cleans them both up. There’s something about the act that’s disturbingly intimate, more so than Jack’s ever allowed from a lover. David stares into his eyes, challenging him to back away, and he can’t. Jack allows himself to stay here next to him, lets David look at what he is. He needs David to see him and to love him anyways.

Jack wakes David in the morning before dawn with his lips wrapped around his cock. David’s disoriented at first, but when he’s aware that he’s already hard in Jack’s mouth he laughs and moans. The sound of his voice makes Jack want to take him apart. David kicks his heels weakly into the sheets, then suddenly pushes Jack sideways and turns on his side. “I want to finish what I started last night,” he says, and leans on his elbow to take Jack’s cock in his mouth. Jack blinks in surprise; it’s been a long time since he’s 69ed with anyone and it takes him a few minutes to get back into the rhythm and focus on anything other than what David’s doing with his mouth and his fingers, or the hand that caresses Jack’s thigh and up between his legs. The sounds David makes as he sucks and licks and slurps, the low rumble in his chest, send Jack over the edge too quickly, but David greedily sucks him dry. “Don’t stop,” David moans, as if Jack could or would. He hums his assent, digging fingers into David’s ass. Jack is an expert at this and he wants nothing more than to wring every ounce of pleasure from David that he can, letting David fuck his mouth. The curses and blasphemies David moans when he writhes and comes make Jack laugh even as David floods his mouth.

David does the same thing afterward: tenderly cleans them both up with loving hands, then pulls the shades on the window. The bed is disgusting with semen and sweat, but Jack doesn’t care, he’s sated and...happy. David lies down with his head on Jack’s stomach and Jack winds his fingers through his hair. “You seemed so sweet and innocent when I met you.”

David scoffs. “I’m no saint.” He turns his head into Jack’s hand, kisses his palm. “I’m not brave, either. After I got you out, I was pinned down by the Goliath. I was going to surrender myself, I was giving up my gun when the grenade exploded. All this time I’ve been a fraud. So you see, I’m not what everyone thinks I am.”

Jack traces David’s profile, holds his hand to the side of his face, stroking his cheek. “You’re not what you think you are, either.”

So this is what trust is, Jack thinks. This is what it’s like when someone needs you. He could get used to it.

 

The weeks roll past, and David doesn’t leave him. Jack has the piano brought to his apartment, since they’re there most nights. David plays for Jack and Jack alone. Sometimes when he can’t sleep David will go downstairs, sitting there in his underwear, lost in the music, like a beautiful moving statue of marble. Jack wraps himself in a sheet and sits on the floor behind him, resting his head against the small of David’s back, feeling the notes through David’s skin and muscle and bone.

David grudgingly accompanies him to clubs, keeping up appearances as Jack warns him they must, but his bad-boy act has diminished considerably. The sex is always amazing, but after clubbing, David becomes hungry and possessive, which thrills Jack. Yet he finds himself more and more content to cocoon himself with David, just the two of them alone against the world.

Silas, Jack's uncle, his mother, Reverend Samuels, Abner, even Michelle all remark on how this posting has changed Jack, matured him, as if David has nothing to do with it. Jack’s desire for the crown has also diminished, which Silas treats with suspicion.

But Jack is restless, worried. They’re both soldiers, he and David, as much as they wish for peace, as much as they want other things from their futures. There’s talk of an accord, thanks to David, but they’ll still need troops along the borderlands for the foreseeable future. They can come back, David as his adjutant, perhaps, though Jack wonders if David could ever be happy at court.

Jack may have changed, but he’s not the only one who has. These old men are afraid. There is a poison in this court, it’s bubbling up around them and its odor permeates the rooms and hallways. David is the reason the cauldron’s being stirred, and Jack wants to rescue him from it, the same way David rescued Jack from Gath.

“I want to return to the front. I want you to come with me. They need good leaders, and we’re doing nothing here.” Jack doesn’t want to tell David about his uncle sniffing around with talk of unseating Silas, the suspicious glint in the king’s eyes and the hope he knows Silas nurtures that somehow David and Jack will destroy each other through their perversion. There are more secrets than ever. David isn’t safe.

One day after the press briefing, Jack pins a first lieutenant's star onto David’s uniform as they stroll the garden. He’ll lead a platoon in Jack’s company, he hopes. “You’ll come with me?” he asks, and risks a kiss.

David’s smile is answer enough, but he gives Jack the gift of his voice. “Wherever you go, I’ll go too. You have but to ask. It will be good to be back with them. I really want to see my brother again and take care of him if I can.” He touches Jack's chest. “I know you're trying to protect me. I don't know what from, but maybe you'll tell me when we get there." The fire still burns hot between them, too hot for Jack to measure. Maybe it will consume them both, he doesn’t care. For now, it’s beautiful to look at.