"Stay," Joseph whispered in a voice rough from sleep. He pulled one hand out from under the covers to reach for Jack, catching his wrist.
Jack allowed it for a moment before pulling away. "I can't," he whispered back. Purposefully, he walked across the room to pick his shirt up from where it lay in a faint beam of light coming through the curtains.
Joseph shifted his body so he could prop himself up on his elbows. "So, they're shipping you right to the front?"
"My first command." Jack finished buttoning his shirt and reached for the jacket he'd tossed carelessly on the desk chair a few short hours before.
Joseph sat up the rest of the way, wrapping his arms around the covers over his knees. "I was just going to tell you to be careful."
Jack's smile was cocky as he shrugged on his jacket. "I'm always careful."
Snorting, Joseph shook his head. Soberly, then, he said, "I'm serious, Jack."
"Too serious," Jack agreed, striding back to the bed to sit face to face with his lover. With a lascivious grin, he grabbed the back of Joseph's head to pull him in for a bruising kiss. When they parted for breath, he whispered, "I'll be careful."
"Come back to me," Joseph pleaded softly.
Jack didn't answer this time. Anything he said would be a lie. He was in way too deep, and he knew that even if he weren't being sent to war, he would have to end this. No matter how much he wanted it, he couldn't have it. So, instead of words, he offered one more kiss, then rose, stroking Joseph's cheek gently as he did so.
Finally, he left the room without ever looking back.
* * *
It took less than five minutes for him to pluck a twink from the dance floor and pull him into the back room. Less than two minutes after that, he was pounding the twink into the wall.
It was the best he'd felt in weeks.
The plan had been to come home a hero. Instead, he had come home injured and a common country boy was the hero.
On his first day back at the residence after several excruciating days in the royal infirmary, he was asked to give David, the hero, a tour. In its place, Jack gave him a tux and a tailor, then watched as David was feted by Gilboa's elite, his own accomplishments swept to the side.
He stayed as long as he needed to for the sake of propriety, then he slipped out, enlisting his driver to take him to his favorite club. He needed to get out of his head for a while. Even if it was only a brief while.
When he was done with the twink, he sent him back to the dance floor, not sparing him another thought. He didn't even care that the twink was probably already bragging to his friends about being taken to the back room by the crown prince.
Jack slowly worked his way through the crowd and up the stairs to the VIP loft. From above, he allowed himself to be mesmerized by all the beautiful people dancing below.
One particular boy caught his eye. He was dancing right in the center of the floor with an unremarkable tall blonde girl. The boy was taller than the girl and had thick, wavy dark hair that hung just to his ears. He was lean, but sturdy, and even from his perch high above the floor, Jack could tell that was handsome. And also familiar.
Unbidden came the name. Joseph. That's who the boy resembled. Joseph whom he had not seen in two years. Joseph who he had not contacted since his return. Joseph who he had to put out of his mind if he intended to be king. And he intended to be king. Even if leaving Joseph behind left a hole in his heart.
Shaking off the melancholy, Jack looked back down at the dance floor. This time, he scanned the crowd for possibilities. From past experience, he knew there were reporters prowling the club, eager to catch one of Gilboa's upper crust in a compromising position. He would be happy to oblige them.
He headed back down to the main level and threw an arm around the first blonde girl he saw, wrapping the other around her brunette friend's shoulder.
"Want to be famous?" he whispered in the blonde's ear.
The press of her lips on his told him she did.
* * *
First Night did not matter. What mattered was this. Pounding music, pretty people, admiring glances from everyone whose gaze he met. All of it was perfectly designed to make him forget, help him to bury the pain. The pain of being looked over, the pain of missing the one person he found hardest to forget, the pain of living.
It would have been a lie if he'd said he didn't enjoy the shocked looks that occasionally passed across the country boy's face at things he saw at the party. Jack made sure only the hottest girls surrounded them, and that the drinks flowed one after the other. David seemed impressed, and his men seemed happy. All was well. The fattiest tuna indeed.
Then Joseph showed up.
David and his friends seemed only slightly confused by Jack's sudden suggestion of a change in venue. Once they were at the club and Claudia worked her magic, they seemed absolutely fine with their new location.
Then Joseph showed up again.
Having Joseph thrown out was easy. The roiling emotions which followed were not. So he allowed someone to try to beat them out of him, then he drank until he didn't feel anything more.
By the next morning, he didn't remember many of the events of the previous night. The memories which did remain were ones he wished had not. The look on Joseph's face when he was thrown out of the club, Joseph's voice uttering words Jack didn't need rattling around in his head--yet did, over and over and over--and the pain in his chest so deep not even the wounds from a fist fight could mask it.
He sent his spy out to leak the photos, and he sent Claudia and her friend packing. Leaving him alone. Always alone.
He allowed it all back in. The words, the looks, the pain. He knew he deserved nothing less.
* * *
Again, he was not the hero. Again, his life had been saved against his will. He was beginning to think that God had truly forsaken him.
Well, two could play that game.
Jack found the boy at a club he visited less frequently. He was tall, blond, young, and very flexible. Jack discovered just how flexible when he brought the boy home, not to his apartment, but to his rooms at the residence. He tested the boy's flexibility into the wee small hours of the night. They passed out sprawled side by side on Jack's king size bed, and when the sun rose, bathing them in warm morning light, the boy tried to slip away.
"No," Jack said, struggling to wake completely. "Stay for breakfast."
The boy stopped in the midst of pulling his tight black pants back on and twisted back to look at Jack. "Are you joking?"
Jack shook his head and smirked. "No. Come to breakfast. Meet the King and Queen."
The boy shrugged. "Sure."
Jack offered his shower to the boy, then took a turn himself. While Jack showered, the boy fetched his clothes from the various spots in the room where Jack had shed them the night before, then he watched Jack pick out his own clothes. Once they were both ready to face the day, Jack led the way to the kitchen.
When they walked in, Silas was at the stove, and Rose and Michelle were at the table sipping tea. Jack strode over to the table and took an apple from the fruit bowl in the middle and polished it a little on his chest before taking a bite.
Rose shifted her gaze from Jack to the boy, then back, a slightly perplexed look on her face. "Good morning, Jack."
"Good morning," Jack said through his bite of apple.
There was a long pause during which the noises from the stove stopped and Michelle and Rose stared at Jack as if he'd grown a second head.
Pointedly, finally, Rose asked, "And this is…?"
"Oh! This is…." He thought hard for a moment before turning to the boy. "What was your name again?"
The boy smiled, seemingly unbothered by Jack's lapse in memory. "Lucas."
Jack turned back to Rose. "This is my friend Lucas. Lucas, my mother, the Queen, Rose Benjamin." He gestured behind them. "My father, the King, Silas Benjamin." He turned back toward the table. "And this is my sister, Michelle."
"Nice to meet you all," Lucas said, his tone utterly sincere.
"So, what's for breakfast?" Jack asked nonchalantly.
"A word, Jack." It was not a question; Silas was already heading out of the kitchen into the hall.
Jack followed his father into the anteroom next the kitchen.
Silas turned on Jack the minute he was through the door. "What do you think you're doing?"
"I'm just inviting a friend to breakfast."
Silas blew out a frustrated breath. "You never just do anything. What is this about?"
"He was here at breakfast time, and I decided to invite him to breakfast. Is that a sin?"
Silas's face turned a dangerous shade of red. "The reason he was here is a sin. I thought we talked about this."
"I'm in my house. Am I not allowed to be myself in my house?"
"Son, you're not that stupid."
"I have company." Jack began to turn back toward the door.
Silas grabbed Jack's upper arm and said nothing until he and Jack were eye to eye. "I want him out, Jack. I want him out now."
"Or?" Silas's face grew even darker, his grip on Jack's arm even tighter. "This house will no longer be yours." This house, this crown, this country.
"You'll banish me." It was not a question. Jack knew his father never spoke lightly, never said a word he didn’t mean.
"Get him out of my house. Now."
"Fine," Jack ground out between clenched teeth. When he pulled on his arm, Silas let it go. Jack walked out of the room ahead of his father and back into the kitchen.
Lucas was, by now, sitting at the table with Rose and Michelle, and someone had gotten him a piece of toast and a cup of either tea or coffee. No one was speaking. Michelle looked, as always, like she was lost in her own thoughts, no doubt dreaming of David. Rose, unsurprisingly, was looking at Lucas like he was a bug she would like nothing more than to crush. Silas resumed his place at the stove, watching Jack like a hawk.
Jack cleared his throat. "Lucas." Lucas looked up at Jack with those beautiful blue eyes which had drawn Jack to him in the first place. "It's time to go."
"But…." Whatever Lucas had been going to say died when Jack raised his eyebrows meaningfully and shook his head very slightly.
"It's time to go," he repeated firmly.
Lucas put down his half-eaten toast and followed as Jack led the way to the kitchen door. When they arrived, Jack stopped Lucas from going through the doorway. After willfully meeting his father's gaze, assuring they were being watched, Jack kissed Lucas, hooking his tongue around the boy's several times before releasing him.
Lucas was still obviously reeling from the kiss when Jack put his hand on his back. "Here, let me show you out."
For the first time in Jack's life, the burn of Silas's glare felt good. Jack would make his mark. One way or the other.
* * *
"Be anyone you want."
The older woman's statement begged a question. Who was he? He was a crown prince in danger of losing his crown. He was a son and a brother, but a disappointment to his father and mother, and an obstacle to his sister. He was a conniver, had been all his life. On his best days, he was a soldier, ready to die for his country. On his worst, he was a masochist, ready to die. He was a lover to many, but in his heart, he only wanted to be lover to one.
This blackout was an opportunity. He knew where he wanted to go. Let someone else find Michelle. She was probably with David anyhow, and she could hardly be safer in that case. And his father had hundreds there to help celebrate his birthday. He would never be missed. Decided, he rose from the steps of the brownstone and walked silently away from the sound of Lucinda calling his name.
His destination was not exactly nearby, but he made the journey as quickly as he could. He found he didn't need the flashlight very much. The moon lit the path he took quite generously. The closer he got to his goal, the swifter his steps. As he approached the bank of row houses, Jack saw him.
The moon bathed his features in cool blue light, accentuating his handsomeness. His eyes, cobalt in daylight, were iridescent now, as he stood on the stoop of his building, waiting, like everyone, for the power to come back on. Jack had never seen a more welcome sight.
Joseph took a step back as he realized who approached. "I don't want any trouble."
He must have seen something in Jack's eyes, though, and he stepped back down. Jack put a hand on Joseph's shoulder and leaned in. At the touch of Joseph's lips on his, everything--the pain, the guilt, the anger--melted away. Jack may not have known exactly who he was, but, in that moment, he knew what he was. He was content.
End (18 December 2011)