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When David opens the door, Jack looks up with a sharp smile. “So, the prodigal soldier returns.” He spreads his arms. “Do you bring the king’s wrath upon me once more?”

David clears his throat. “The king is dead,” he says.

Jack looks at him, a small twitch in his cheek. “About time,” he says carelessly. “So tell me, then, who’s the new king? Can’t be me, I’ve too much dishonor on my head.”

David shifts his gaze sideways so he doesn’t have to meet Jack’s eyes directly. “The people—” he starts.

Jack holds up a hand, and then throws his head back and start to laugh. “Fuck me,” he says. “It’s you, isn’t it. The golden boy, crowned by the hand of people and god himself.”

“Jack—”

But Jack’s still laughing, high and shrill. “After everything I’ve done, of course it’d be you.” He slides off the bed. “Shall I kneel, your highness?”

“Don’t,” David says hurriedly. “I didn’t come here for that.”

“What does my king demand of me?” Jack inclines his head, no longer laughing but still with a strange smile on his lips.

“I.” David touches the buttons on his sleeves and tries to say the words in the right order. “There’s a cabinet position for you, if you want.”

Jack looks at him like he’s mad and bursts into laughter again. “If only I knew it’d be so easy,” he hiccups out, his hand on his forehead. “Fucking hell.”

David waits, but when Jack’s laughter dies down he doesn’t say anything else, just looks at him with dark eyes. “So,” he shifts on his feet, “is that a yes?”

“God, you’re absolutely insane,” Jack says, his hands flying out wildly. “I cannot believe — yes, David. Yes.”

“Okay.” David lets out a breath and doesn’t bother suppressing his smile. “Good.”

———

Jack sends Lucinda away with a ring off his finger. She slips it into her pocket and kisses him on the cheek, walks away with her head held high.

“She deserved something better,” Jack says dispassionately, watching her slide into a cab. “But then she fell in love with me.”

David doesn’t know how to answer that. He imagines going through all that Lucinda’s suffered.

People endure much for the sake of love.

“You didn’t love her?” he asks.

“No.” Jack doesn’t hesitate. “At first, I didn’t even like her.”

David can understand, in an abstract way, a tie made for the sake of politics; but he cannot, try as he might, believe in it. Jack sounds like he’d never even thought of marrying for love.

It makes his chest go tight, just thinking about it.

“You can still live here,” he tells Jack, for the lack of anything else to say. “It’s still — I mean, it’s your home.”

Jack turns on him with a twisted smile. “You have a strange definition of home,” he says.

“Jack—”

“Thank you for the offer, David,” Jack says, snapping out the name impatiently. “But it’s not necessary.”

There’s a headache building behind David’s eyes. He lets his breath out in a sigh. “The first cabinet meeting’s tomorrow,” he says. “I’ll see you there, then.”

“I suppose you will,” Jack nods once, sharply. Then he turns and saunters away, his hands in his pockets.

There’s a reason why David had wanted Jack in the meeting, but for the life of him he can’t remember it.

———

Before he slips into bed, David looks at the ring on his finger.

It’s still early days yet, and David merely a fledgling king. It won’t be safe for Michelle to come back for a long time.

He suddenly misses her fiercely. He rubs the band with his thumb and imagines it’s her hand on his.

———

Jack is good at politics.

That’s the first thing David remembers when he sits down at the table. He’s breathed politics from his birth, loves it in a twisted way that David can never do.

The second thing, the most valuable thing, is that Jack is not in awe of David. Other people look at him as if they can see the mark of God upon his head. Jack gives David a shrug and drums his fingers on the table.

The others are huddled across from Jack as if he’s dangerous. Jack looks uncaring but there’s a tension to his jaw.

It’s not right. David pulls his chair across the floor and deliberately drops into it next to Jack.

“What’s first on the agenda?” he asks. He looks straight ahead but he feels Jack’s presence, hot like a physical thing at his side.

———

“These are my children,” Rose Benjamin says. “Do not play games with their lives.”

“I’m not— I’m not,” David says, blinking. “Rose, I promise you, this is not a game.”

She stares at him for a moment. Then her shoulders slump. “No, you wouldn’t,” she murmurs. “Why did you invite Jack into your cabinet?”

Good reasons, solid reasons lie on David’s tongue, but what he says is, “It was the right thing to do.”

He had felt the ring of it in his bones, the bright certainty that came to him in moments, and he’d followed. He sees no reason to regret it.

Rose looks at him like he’s something unusual — not with surprise, but with fascination. “All my life, and I’ve never seen anything like you,” she says, her head slowly shaking. “Who are you, David Shepherd?”

David laughs lightly, uncomfortable under her gaze. “I’m just one person, ma’am,” he tells her. “The country needs all of us.”

Rose gives him a distant smile. “Perhaps,” she says, softly. David thinks maybe he’s not meant to hear it. “Oh, but Jack.”

———

David finds Jack in one of the rooms, sprawled on a sofa and drinking wine out of the bottle. Jack looks up, and his mouth is soft but his words are still sharp.

“Your highness,” Jack says with an elaborate salute. “Apologies, I’m making a mess.”

“Don’t — don’t do that,” David says, shifting on his feet. “You haven’t done anything wrong.”

Jack giggles, suddenly. “Really,” he says. “I betrayed my father, my king, and my country in an attempt to gain power for myself and failed. Miserably.”

David sits down on the opposite end of the sofa. “It was mostly your uncle.”

“Oh yes, another sin to add to the list: being pathetically taken in by my uncle.”

By the end Jack nearly sounds regretful. David reaches out and takes the bottle from Jack’s hand.

Jack grins in shocked delight when he raises the bottle to his own lips. “Really now,” he says, eyes bright. “Drinking with the pariah.”

“I could do with a drink,” David admits.

“Really.” The word is drawn out, low. “What have you got to be worried about?”

“Michelle.”

The name seems to sober up Jack immediately. “Yes, where is she? Shouldn’t she be the rock at your side, raising your beautiful children?”

David manages not to flinch at the word “children”, but only just. “She doesn’t want to come back,” he says. “Says it’s too dangerous.”

“Michelle’s never been a coward,” Jack says. There’s a vicious twist to the last word.

“Maybe she found someone else,” David says.

Jack’s laughing again. “Someone else as God-touched? I think not.”

“Maybe she found God.”

“Well,” Jack says, with a look that’s almost pitying, “can’t compete with that.”

“I shouldn’t even be talking about this,” David says, and passes the bottle back.

“No,” Jack agrees easily. “Go to bed, David.”

He hasn’t drunk much, but he still feels unmoored when he stands up. He starts his way back towards his room.

Behind him, Jack says, quietly, “Michelle is a fool.”

———

The next time, David brings the wine — a peace offering of a sort.

“This is good,” Jack says, an eyebrow raised high. “I’m impressed. Your majesty.”

The last words are tacked on deliberately, and David sighs. “Don’t,” he says. “It’s just David.”

“All right, David,” Jack says quietly. “Let’s not waste the wine, shall we.”

They drink in silence for a while. The wine warms up David’s bones, and he’s loose-limbed and pleasantly buzzing when Jack speaks next.

“How did Silas die?” he says, and that’s how David knows Jack is very drunk.

David takes the glass away from Jack’s hands and places it on the ground. “I—” he hesitates, even though he’d thought he’d made his peace with it. “I killed him.” he exhales, short. “I’m sorry.”

Jack looks at him for a long time. There’s a flush across his face and his eyes are very bright.

Then he laughs. “Why are you sorry?” he says, clasping a hand over David’s knee. “Bastard deserved it.”

“He was your father,” David says steadily. “So I’m sorry. Even if — even if you hated him.”

“All right, be sorry, then,” Jack says. He laughs again, low. “Maybe one of us should be.”

———

Michelle writes to him.

This is what God intended for us, she says. I’m sorry, David.

David looks down at his hand. Slowly, he twists the ring off his finger.

———

Jack notices. Of course Jack notices.

“God’s a little capricious, don’t you think?” He nods at David’s left hand. “He giveth, He taketh away — wish He’d make up His mind, really.”

“It’s not like that,” David says out of instinct more than anything. He’s tired.

“It’s exactly like that,” Jack says. “So Michelle’s found God more to her taste than you. You’re not the only one.”

Jack sounds faintly bitter. David wonders what it was like to grow up as Silas’s son, with God a palpable presence in the household.

David sighs and curls his hand shut so he won’t be tempted to rub it. “It’s for the best,” he says. “It must be.”

Jack lets out a light laugh. “You know what,” he says, half in wonder, “I really do think you believe that.”

David looks at him. “I’ve never lied to you.”

Jack stares back, eyes half-shut. "No,” he says, slow, quiet. “You haven’t.”

———

“I want to send ambassadors to Gath,” David says.

“Sir, I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” his Minister of War says, eyebrows furrowed. “After the incident at Port Prosperity, we are, effectively, back at war with Gath.”

“We shouldn’t be,” David says. “I want to fix this.”

His cabinet strenuously opposes the idea. The only one on David’s side is Jack.

“I agree with the king,” Jack says, loud and clear. “Now that CrossGen has stopped funding the war, I doubt Gath wants to continue the war, either.”

Jack picks apart objections, one by one. David watches him work, marvels at the clarity of his words.

———

“Jack,” David says afterwards. “You didn’t have to — thank you.”

Jack looks at him, his head tilted to one side. “No need,” he says slowly. “Isn’t that’s why you wanted me?”

“No,” David says, startled. “I — I wanted you to do what you thought was best.”

“Well,” and Jack looks thoughtful, “maybe I did.”

———

He knows that people are suspicious of Jack, maybe even rightly so — but his heart is telling him something different.

———

“You’re brilliant at it, you know,” David tells Jack in a fit of fondness. “Politics.”

“I know,” Jack says. He doesn’t bother to pretend any modesty. “I learned—” his voice goes sober, “I learned from the best. I just never had God on my side.”

“And now?” David asks. He means it lightly but it comes out a touch too serious.

“I’ve been—recruited,” Jack says, a little distastefully. “To God’s side. There’s a difference.”

———

It’s raining when David finds his way to Jack’s apartment. It’s a small place, located high above.

Jack could afford better. David knows that.

“Michelle was pregnant,” he says when Jack opens the door a crack.

Jack stares at him through the gap for a moment. Then he sighs and straightens up. “You’d better come in, then,” he says.

The walls of the apartment are bare. David looks around for signs of Jack in the furnishings, his belongings, and finds precious little.

Jack points David to the sofa and rummages for glasses.

“Why do you live here?” David asks mindlessly. “It’s so — different. From before.”

“Maybe that’s why,” Jack says.

“Do you know, I thought you were happy,” David says, softly, like an apology. “You were the prince. You had everything.”

“Not everything,” Jack says. He passes David a glass of wine and sits down next to him with another in hand.

Jack doesn’t make him talk, or ask any questions. He just sits there and listens to David fumble over his words.

“She says the child has a future outside Gilboa,” David says. “I believe her.” And then he lets out a short laugh. “Is this what it’s like? To be a playing piece?”

Jack smiles, briefly.

David feels half asleep. There’s warmth along the length of his side where Jack is pressed against him, a comforting presence.

Then Jack slides to the floor, between the vee of David’s legs, and splays a hand on the inside of his thigh.

David says, blinking, “What.”

“Shut up, David,” Jack says. His other hand is on David’s belt buckle, pulling, insistent; David watches, dream-like, as Jack pulls his pants open.

David remembers First Night, Jack taking him out. He feels like he did back then, like he’s floating high off the ground, like everything is a little bit strange, a little unreal.

Jack’s lashes are dark against his cheek, and his mouth —

His mouth is around David’s cock.

David bites down all his words and tips his head back. He stares at the ceiling as Jack swallows him down, more and more, until he hits the tight tunnel of Jack’s throat.

David doesn’t last very long. He comes and he’s shaking, like he’s gone through something brutal.

Jack wipes his mouth with the back of one hand. “Go home, David,” he says. His words come out in a rasp and David stares at the red of his mouth. “Sleep.”

———

David goes home, but he doesn’t sleep. He looks in the mirror and wonders if anything about him is different.

His reflection looks back, wide-eyed but familiar.

———

At the next cabinet meeting, Jack acts exactly the same. David smiles at him and watches a faint look of surprise slide over Jack’s face.

———

It becomes a habit, drinking with Jack in the palace after dark. David finds himself looking forward to it.

“They don’t trust me,” Jack says, lazily sipping at his whiskey. “They’re right.”

“You’ve proven yourself,” David protests. “Every single day.”

Jack laughs. “Only you would think that’s enough.” He suddenly puts his glass down and looks at David.

It’s uncomfortable, being under that gaze. Jack is looking at him like there’s nothing else that matters.

“Why do you say things like that?” David asks, slowly. “Like I’m — I’m not different, Jack. I’m just a normal person.”

“A normal person would have had me killed,” Jack says, then waves a hand when David opens his mouth. “A normal person would never have been king. A smart person would have had me killed. Neither one of them would be drinking with me. For all you know, I might have poisoned it.”

David looks down at the glass in his hand. He deliberately keeps eye contact with Jack as he raises it to his mouth and swallows.

Jack lets out an exasperated sigh, and then reaches out to take David’s glass. David watches him tip his head back, watches the line of his throat quiver.

And suddenly Jack is dropping to the floor on his knees. He nudges David’s knees apart with one hand and keeps advancing, reaching out to undo David’s fly.

“Jack,” David says. His voice sounds high, thin.

Jack doesn’t say anything before he swallows him down. David tries not to make a noise and curls his hands into the flesh of his thighs as Jack moves, takes him down right into his throat.

Afterwards, Jack tucks him back in carefully, smoothing his shirt over the buckle of his belt. “It’s late,” he says, and stands up. “Good night, David.”

———

David doesn’t know what Jack wants from him. If he wants anything from him.

Jack never does anything without a purpose, but David doesn’t know how to figure it out.

———

Jack comes into the palace with a handkerchief held to his nose and a slowly blackening eye.

“Who did this?” David asks.

“It’s not important,” Jack says.

David reaches up to wipe away a smear of blood from Jack’s cheek. Jack doesn’t flinch; he holds himself very still.

“Tell me,” David insists. “I’ll—”

“You won’t do anything,” Jack says, sharp. “I told you it’s not important.”

“Jack,” David says, feeling helpless.

“David,” Jack mimics. “So I’m not the country’s favorite person. Why does it matter?”

“It matters to me,” David says. “You — matter.”

Jack grins, crooked. “How did you ever become king?” he asks, wondering and just a little fond.

“God,” David tells him, and watches Jack tip his head back in laughter.

———

The ambassadors from Gath bring back conditions upon conditions. David watches the cabinet try to wrangle them into order.

Jack is the first into the room in the mornings and last to leave at night. His face grows thinner, lined with exhaustion.

———

Sunday morning David wakes up on a sofa. There’s a cramp in his neck and his legs are aching.

Jack is still sleeping next to him. His head is tilted back and his tie has got loose over the night — David can see his pulse beating in the triangle of skin at his throat.

Asleep, Jack looks years younger. His face is smooth and his mouth is soft, relaxed; his eyelashes flutter slightly as he breathes.

Something about him makes David’s breath catch in his chest. For a moment, all he can do is watch the rise and fall of Jack’s chest.

The moment passes. David gets up and grabs a blanket out of one of the spare bedrooms.

He tucks the blanket around Jack’s shoulders, gently. Jack doesn’t wake up, just keeps breathing, slowly.

———

“After the treaty is signed, you should go to the country,” David suggests. “Somewhere away from here.”

“Ah, finally sending me away,” Jack says. “You should have done it months ago.”

“No, not — no,” David says. He fiddles with his sleeve, doesn’t look up. “Do you really think I’d do that?”

It takes Jack a moment to reply. “No, you wouldn’t, would you. You’re not the type to send people into exile.”

“I’d want you to come back,” David says firmly. “I just. It’d be selfish of me to keep you here. You deserve a break, Jack.”

When David raises his head Jack is smiling. It’s small and unpracticed — David’s not sure he’s ever seen Jack genuinely smile before.

“I do, do I?” Jack says. “All right. Maybe I will.”

———

Jack doesn’t tell him he’s leaving. David finds out when he doesn’t show up for the meeting on Monday and his secretary tells him that Jack’s gone on vacation.

He runs all the way to Jack’s apartment, and finds him with a bag slung over his shoulder hailing a cab.

“I just —” David says between labored breaths, “I wanted to say good-bye.”

“Oh.” Jack looks at him, his hands tight around the strap of his bag. “I’m touched.”

David smiles despite Jack’s sharp words. He steps forward, puts his hands on Jack’s shoulders and pulls him into a hug.

Jack is stiff in his arms for a moment before he goes soft, his exhales wet against David’s neck. “You’re making a spectacle, David,” he says, but he doesn’t move from where he’s pressed against David’s chest.

“I don’t care,” David says. “Don’t be a stranger, Jack.”

He straightens up, but it’s hard to let go of Jack’s shoulders. When he does at last, he stays and watches Jack slide into the cab.

“Sir?” someone is saying into his ear. “Your majesty, the briefing—”

“It can wait,” David says absently, still looking at the cab pulling away.

———

It’s late at night when a call comes through on David’s phone.

“I cannot believe you lived on an actual farm,” Jack says without even a preamble. David feels a delighted grin curving at his mouth, a thing he couldn’t stop even if he tried.

“You knew that,” he points out. He kicks off his shoes and settles into bed. “You called me a farm boy. More than once.”

“It was an expression,” the reply comes at once. “I didn’t realize — look at this. You can see corn. From the kitchen window.”

“Are you — are you at my house?”

“It’s not, anymore,” Jack says. “I would’ve thought they would have turned it into a museum or something. Turns out it’s up for rent.”

The idea of Jack on a farm makes David smile. “Well, if that’s how you want to spend your vacation,” he allows. “Tell me about the corn.”

It’s spring. David can imagine the corn sprouting up, soft green and delicate. He settles back with the phone cradled against his shoulder and listens to the sound of Jack’s voice.

———

Jack texts him a couple of days later. Should I get a cow?

David laughs so hard he startles his staff and can’t stop smiling for hours.

———

The thing is. He thinks he misses Jack, like he used to miss Michelle, but of course that’s not the same because he’d loved Michelle and Jack is—

———

Jack’s supposed to be gone for two weeks. Nine days in, David ditches security and drives up to Port Prosperity.

He finds Jack in the field. He’s got his shirt off and the sun’s up high; Jack’s shoulders are lightly tanned and freckled. David leans on a post and watches him work, and feels something come together in himself.

It takes a moment for Jack to look up, and then he’s traipsing over, frowning against the sun.

“David,” he says. “Why are you—”

David reaches out and kisses him.

Jack makes a surprised noise; David licks along his mouth, his hands spread along the cage of Jack’s ribs.

“You don’t,” Jack mumbles, taking a step back. “David,” he says. “If you want — let me suck you off, okay, you don’t need to—”

“Jack,” David says. He reaches out, touches the curve of Jack’s cheek. “I’m not — you don’t have to do that,” he says. “I wanted to see you.”

“Oh,” Jack says. He looks down at the ground, then back up. “I could blow you anyway,” he says, starting to grin a little. “I’m rather good at it.”

David laughs, high and bright. “Come here,” he says, very tender. “You are ridiculous.”

And then they’re kissing again. Jack presses into him, hot and frantic, and David — David cradles the points of Jack’s hips, feels Jack hard against his thigh. Jack’s hands are curled in David’s shirt and David’s laying him down gently on the turned over soil, feeling his heartbeat pulse in his throat.

Jack is beautiful when he comes, his eyes shut and his teeth pressing into his bottom lip.

“Stay here,” David murmurs into Jack’s shoulder. “Don’t come back to Shiloh.”

Something is tickling his shoulder blade — David stays very still as Jack reaches out a hand, watches a butterfly flutter onto his outstretched finger.

“It seems God agrees with you,” Jack says, dry. “He wants me to stop politicking, I see.”

“Or maybe He just wants you to be happy,” David says, pressing kisses to the hollow of Jack’s throat. “He and I want the same thing, for once.”

Jack’s eyes are wet when David looks up, but his mouth is curved up. “All my life, I’ve wanted grace,” he says, a little choked. “And it turns out all I needed was you.”

David kisses him, again and again until the ache under his breastbone is gone. The butterfly soars up into the sun.

 

EPILOGUE

Jack’s in the barn, fixing up a tractor. David stands in the doorway, looks at Jack’s hands and the slide of muscle underneath his shirt.

“God, I want you.” The words come out without thought, before he has a chance to swallow them down. Jack turns and raises an eyebrow at him.

David feels his ears going hot but he refuses to look away. “I want you,” he says again. “In my mouth.”

Jack’s mouth curves up into a surprised little smile, and that’s what does it, prompts David to grasp at Jack’s hips and drop to his knees.

Jack’s cock is already half-hard, straining at his pants — David undoes his fly with suddenly clumsy hands and carefully takes him into his mouth.

David closes his eyes. Jack is hot and heavy in his mouth, and he makes a soft little noise when David licks along his length. Jack’s hands are in David’s hair, cradling his head, and he says—

He says, “David,” a little broken — like he’s flying apart, like he’s coming undone, and David’s his only anchor.

So David holds him tight as he sucks him down, and when Jack finally comes David looks up at him, stroking the skin over his hipbone, and slowly lets him down onto the ground.

“You really—” Jack says, wonderingly, “You just. God.”

“I love you,” David says, filled with sudden fondness. “Jack.”

Jack buries his face in David’s shoulder. He’s murmuring something David can’t quite make out, but he doesn’t have to hear it to know.