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The Dangers of Internet Fame

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There was something about being an internet personality that Jack loved; and there was something about exploring haunted, decrepit places even more. He loved delving into their histories, unraveling the ball of their past and delighting in both new and old architecture. His followers shared his enthusiasm, and he was surprised when people were willing to sit through half an hour of a one-sided conversation about old castles and how to combat drafts. The whole experience was wild.

As he was a vlogger (and an influential one, at that) people would flood his inbox and comments section with suggestions of where he should explore next. He typically tossed out anything particularly new that had been abandoned, even though a fair number of people asked him to break in to abandoned shopping malls and stores left to rot by bankrupt companies. No, Jack always looked for things from farther back.

Which is why it was different when his followers started clamouring about an old citadel that stood alone atop of a rugged mountain top; it was rumoured to stretch back for a thousand years, at least, built from stone and mortar with high towers that yawned toward the sky with conical, pointed roofs. It’d caught Jack’s attention immediately.

Along with the rumour of its age came the rumour that it was cursed. Or haunted. One or the other. Jack wasn’t entirely sure what people truly considered it to be, but he did know one thing: the people who went in, never came out. People cited disappearances from years back, and it had Jack wondering why he hadn’t heard of it until now.

Regardless, it was exactly what Jack was looking for. And he was definitely going to go.

“That thing looks ten times scarier up close,” Jack muttered into his microphone; the building was set deep into the mountains, just as the rumours had said. And it was just as large, though the words hadn’t nearly done it justice. He turned to look at the little robot hovering at his shoulder. He’d brought Gizmo out when he’d found the overgrown trail, giving a rudimentary lesson on the citadel as well as an introduction to castle architecture through the ages. He’d add in small sketches later.

Gizmo beeped at him and Jack gave the robot a small nod. “We’re going in there,” he muttered. “You aren’t scared, are you?” He didn’t get a response. “Of course you aren’t. Your nerves are made of steel, aren’t they, buddy? For the record, I’m not scared either. The most we’ll find in there is some old bones, I think.”

Jack also had a gun, for safety; he didn’t think there’d be any wildlife within the citadel walls, but it didn’t hurt to be prepared. Not that his viewers knew he had it. He kept it out of sight, so that it was never in their minds. It was always in the back of his, though. A comforting thought.

“Now, I know you’re probably all wondering how I’m keeping my skin so pale; well, folks, it’s not a secret. I’m albino—but I’m not quite as sensitive to the sun as others.” He stepped over a large, waterlogged pothole in the middle of the forgotten trail. “I do have an intensive skin care routine, however. I wear hats, long sleeves.” He held up an arm to show off the white one he was wearing today. “I don’t go out between eleven and three, unless I have to. Yes, that counts in winter. Oh, and of course, sunblock. Sunblock, sunblock, sunblock. Otherwise my face will turn the same colour as my hair.”

Jack went up and over a fallen log. He stumbled on the other side, but quickly caught himself before he went face-first into the mud. It was hot, wet, and unpleasant. Jack hated it; but his hate was drowned out by the idea of reaching this castle, tucked away from everything. No doubt nature had made a bid to take it back, which would make for incredible opening footage.

He was in the middle of a rant about nail polish brands, when he saw it; a gasp left him, and he felt as if all air had been punched from his chest. It’d taken two hours of sweaty, physically challenging hiking to make it, but there it stood in all its glory. The unnamed citadel, standing straight and tall and proud. The stones were weathered, telling of its ages like the rings on a tree stump. But it was in no way broken down or overtaken by ivy or moss.

At least from where Jack was standing.

“Gizmo, are you getting this?” Gizmo beeped cheerfully and zipped up into the air to get a better shot of it. “This is incredible. Absolutely—I am so glad I brought my sleeping bag. We’re going to have to spend the night out here.” After a moment of two, Gizmo came floating back down, facing Jack straight on.

Jack informed the audience of his plan to stay the night, marvelling at the sheer size of the building. Any worry was swept away in his glee. It would take another hour, at least, to make it down to the front steps. But his strength and energy seemed restored at the sight of the monstrosity. The rest of the trip would be easy.

“Look at these dope-ass statues,” Jack muttered as he came closer; the statues in question were carved from what looked to be solid stone. Sparkling, clear crystals were placed in the carefully shaped eye sockets of ferocious, primal dragons. He ran his fingers over the top of one of them and it felt as smooth and slick as granite.

“Whoever owned this place must’ve been rich as all get out,” Jack murmured. It was with the utmost reverence and care that he touched the statues—who knew how old they were? And, as a general rule, he didn’t fuck with things that were over a hundred years older than he was. He was cursed enough as it was.

All dialogue stopped as Jack continued forward, watching in awe at spruce trees, at least fifty feet tall, sprouted up around his pathway. They looked like solitary watchmen, each one with beady eyes and prickly, needled branches ready to tear a man to pieces. Jack loved them.

The path he was taking opened up into a clearing. Jack paused, keeping his eyes on the rounded cobblestone entrance up to the stone steps. His mind took in the sight of well cared for, polished white brick. There were no weeds or disruptive tree roots.

“Fuck,” Jack muttered. “I guess someone comes out here from the government and takes care of this place. Kind of gives it less of the spooky haunted feel.” He knelt down and ran his hands over the bricks. That wasn’t going to stop him. He didn’t care if this thing was the next Rose Red, he was going to find his way inside.

“Folks, this place is gorgeous,” Jack said to Gizmo, who was hovering silently beside him as he walked. There was no need to rush now. “There is an enormous fountain over here, obviously broken but in great shape.” He pointed to a large fountain right in front of him, between the steps and the door.

A huge dragon lay in the middle of a stone pool; a coloured pearl sat clutched in its claws, and its mouth was wrenched open in a terrifying roar. The fangs looked ready to bite off the head of anyone who got too close to its prize.

“I could honestly move in here tomorrow, the aesthetic is just…” Jack brought his fingers up to his mouth and did his best rendition of a chef kiss. “It looks like someone just bundled up everything I love in houses and dropped it here in my favourite location. The middle of nowhere.”

He stepped up to the fountain and stared at the dragon. “Hi there, big guy. I’m not going to take your pearl, I promise.” He put his hands on his hips and gave it a smile. “Though I am going to say, you are one very handsome sculpture. You ever think of doing modelling? You’d do great. You could just eat everyone else.”

Jack laughed at his own joke, and was happy when Gizmo joined in, beeping and bouncing in the air. “Come on, Giz. Let’s walk around the back, see what we can find before we try getting inside.”

Going around the side of the building had them coming upon a sitting area. Stone benches sat around yet another fountain, and while it still had a dragon, this one was curled, sleeping around a pearl similar to the other.

“Do you think there’s a whole series? Wouldn’t that be a super cool find?” Jack asked out loud. He ran his hand along the rim of the fountain, and then pulled away with a sense of… something. It was close to being watched, but more like being hunted. He willed himself to calm down. He was at an abandoned castle in the middle of nowhere. It was normal to feel odd.

“The heebie jeebies are settling in,” he teased. He turned away from the fountain and headed toward the front door. Jack’s pack was becoming a tad heavy, and if he was going to stay the night, he needed to set up. “We’re going to get set up and settled in, maybe rattle some old bones—and I’ll check back in with you. Or maybe not.” He winked at the camera. “What is life without uncertainty?”

Gizmo clicked, turning off the recording. He zoomed around Jack’s head, off to shoot some footage of the other fountain while Jack climbed the too-big steps. He’d be back when Jack went to open the door.

“God, I really could live here,” he murmured to himself as he made his way to the top. The large double doors beckoned to him like a siren, and he was unable to deny the call. They were carved from a dark wood, and had a set of large, golden knockers. Both were polished, the rings held between tooth-laden mouths and angry snarls. “More dragon motif. Loving it.”

There was a happy beeping alerting Jack that Gizmo was back and ready for action. “Hey there, little buddy. Can you believe this place?” He pressed his fingers against the door. An unknown emotion rose up in him when he saw the near-black wood so starkly contrasted against his skin. He had to swallow down the choked, almost tearful sound that wanted to croak out of his mouth. Jack had to shake his head and stomp a foot to ground himself.

“Okay, alright, let’s go inside. And hope the spiders don’t get us.” He wiggled his fingers at Gizmo, knowing he sounded more than a bit sad. Gizmo beeped and hummed alongside him as he went inside.

If Jack had been breathless before, it was nothing in comparison to now. The large windows he’d seen from the outside poured natural light onto the stone flooring—a vibrant, woven, runner rug stretched from the door to the beginning of the steps. It was oddly impeccable.

“Should I… should I take off my shoes?” Jack asked out loud. “I feel rude walking on this with my shoes on. But the floor is pretty cold.” He waited in the doorway for a moment before nodding. “No one’s home, I guess. And runner rugs are made for walking on, even if they’re suspiciously pretty.”

Jack cleared his throat. “Hello? I beg your pardon, but I’m… I’m sort of an investigator? Not the paranormal kind, so I’m not going to go around asking you questions. But I do want to ask your permission—I just want to come in and have a look around. This place is gorgeous, and I can already tell it has an incredible sense of architecture.”

He paused, listening. When nothing but the quiet whisper of wind through stone greeted him, he took a careful step forward. And then another. The door didn’t slam shut and no ghost appeared before him, so he assumed himself safe. Jack took a moment to close the door behind him—he wasn’t raised in a barn, after all.

“You can already tell that these pillars are of the classic, Corinthian order.” Jack pointed up at the ceiling, surprised at how well-lit the area was. Gizmo ascended to show off the detailing. Jack tugged out his phone and watched his screen light up to show him what Gizmo saw. “Corinthian order is the most ornate of the three classical Greek orders of pillars. And if we we look to both my left and right.” Gizmo swung to both, slow and careful. “You can see that behind these pillars are tall, arched windows.”

Jack began to walk over to one of them. “They’re high enough off the ground—in fact, this entire citadel is on a very tall base—that you can’t peek in from what would’ve been a courtyard or a place to entertain guests. But the master of the manor could look down on you. Literally.” He was at the window ledge now, looking down through it. “Now, you’re probably wondering why a citadel in the mountains has these large windows. It has to be cold, right? Right and wrong. You see, glass was expensive and honestly an ill-fit for castles.”

“So, instead of glass, a lot of people would have horn window coverings. What this means is that you’d take horns and soak them in water for just about three months; and then you would flatten and stretch them to let light in. Over time, these coverings can easily give way, leaving these windows open to provide the beautiful light we see now.”

And it really was beautiful light. He felt like he was almost in the castle of a cursed princess, beautiful and spelled to remain that way until her curse was broken. But Jack knew that it was just an old, stone building that had withstood the test of time.

“I don’t have the time to explore everything,” Jack said with a huff. “But I think we can get a pretty good feel of this place, huh Giz? We’ve got several wings, but I’m more interested about what’s in there. ” Jack pointed at the door directly in front of them. It was as ornately carved as the front door, and was up the short set of stairs. “If Kingdom Hearts taught me anything, that’s a ballroom. And if Bleach taught me anything, it’s a throne room. I can dig either, to be honest.”

Gizmo didn’t have much input on that, simply waiting for some order or another. Jack snorted and continued forward. Up the stairs and to the grand door awaiting him; flowers were carved into the door, each petal delicate and soft. They looked almost like roses.

With a careful push, the doors opened—Jack startled back at how easy it was, but then crept forward to peer inside. It was dark, in this room. Dark enough that Jack fished out for his flashlight and Gizmo’s flashlight turned on. His illuminated the room much better than Jack’s, though he refused to put it away.

Black wood shone underneath Jack’s feet, stretching to every corner of the rounded room; more pillars spouted out of the ground and tucked themselves firmly against the ceiling. In the centre of the room, lit by Gizmo’s light, was a throne made of stone. It looked domineering and assertive, screaming its dominance with its jagged edges and hard, rounded armrests.

Jack wanted to sit in it. The urge was overwhelming. He shrugged his backpack off and carefully rested it against the wall. Gizmo beeped up above him. The noise grounded Jack and pulled him away from his overpowering curiosity. He looked up at Gizmo, who was just… hovering in the air.

“Oh, yeah, uh.” Jack rubbed at the back of his neck, a little ashamed. Sometimes, he would be mesmerised by the history surrounding him. Other times, his inner child demanded him do things befitting, well, a child. Luckily no one was around to see it, and he controlled what videos were posted to his channel. Nobody wanted to see a grown man dance around at the sight of a hundred year old statue. “This is obviously a throne made of stone—I’m not sure what kind.”

He turned around to rustle through his pack; he found the book he was looking for and hauled it out. It was a guide to the local plants and animals in the area that he’d picked up at a local rest stop. It wasn’t in English, but his kanji was sufficient—he had grown up in China, after all.

“Let’s see if they have anything about local rock deposits around here.”

Normally Jack would just Google the stone later, but he was itching to know more. He flipped through the index, and then the pages, but found nothing. And then he flipped through them once more, slightly bummed. But he still moved forward, approaching the throne.

“It doesn’t really match anything that I’ve seen before,” Jack muttered. He put the book down at the foot of the throne. He ascended the small stairs in front of it. Jack considered sitting in it once more, furtively looking around as if someone was watching. He almost laughed at himself with this—there was no one here. Only him, unless someone else decided the long trip was worth it. Which, given the rumours, was unlikely.

“It looks uncomfortable,” Jack muttered quietly. That didn’t stop him from slowly sinking down onto it. The stone was hard and unyielding and Jack let out a quiet huff: definitely uncomfortable. The armrests were far enough from the centre of the seat that only Jack’s longest fingers could reach them. “I don’t feel like this was used that often. Or at least, not for long periods of time.”

He leaned back, fully, and withdrew his hands to himself. Jack let his eyes slip closed, and a smile overtook his face. “Imagine some emo warlord just sitting in here, brooding. Alone. Very Beauty and the Beast like.” Jack relaxed his shoulders, wincing when they knocked against more stone.

A sudden noise had Jack jerking up out of the seat; it sounded like something crashing—a great booming, like thunder. Without thinking, Jack was up and out of the throne and darting across the room. Gizmo beeped and followed behind as he grabbed his bag and shrugged it over his shoulders. He was running on blind panic, heart thudding beneath his breastbone and body struggling to adjust to being active once again.

Jack was barely out of the throne room when he found himself on the floor, winded and unsure of what had just happened. He skidded across the smooth stone floor and rolled once or twice, losing his backpack in the process. Jack rolled onto his stomach, clutching at his side. He gasped and greedily drew in deep breaths. A security guard. Someone from town—the sound had been the doors slamming open. He’d been caught. He’d never see home again—

“Pretty little thing.” The words were chilling and they sent Jack’s heart into his stomach, where it fluttered weakly. He curled into himself more, the desire for this to be a bad dream sudden and enough to make him sob. “Interesting little thing.”

“Please, oh my God, I’m sorry, I… I don’t know who or what you are, but I’m sorry.” Jack was shuddering now. Pain was smarting where he’d landed roughly, namely his back. A sudden softness was touching his face and he quickly came to realise they were… fingers. Caressing his cheek. Tracing his jaw bone.

“You will stay.”

Jack jerked as he was pulled up and into thick, burly arms. Adrenaline suddenly overwhelmed him and the pain dulled, briefly—he instantly began to thrash, much to his captor’s surprise. Without further ado, Jack was shifted from a bridal carry to over the person’s shoulder. Jack immediately began to rail on their back, kicking his feet uselessly as he was carried off; Gizmo was nowhere to be seen, and his flashlight had broken in the fall. He couldn’t see anything.

“Let me go, you bastard,” Jack demanded in a shriek. “You can’t just kidnap people. Let me go, or I… I…” He didn’t know what he’d do. But he would do something. He just let out a frustrated scream.

“What will you do?” The amusement was there. Now that Jack could hear the voice clearer, now that it wasn’t hissing like some dollar store movie villain, he would pin it as a male voice. Deep and low, rushing forward like water over river stones. “You are in no shape to fight me, and you are… intriguing. You will stay, as my guest, until I decide to release you.” At this, Jack’s struggles increased, and he wiggled fruitlessly. “But if you continue this racket, I will deem you unworthy of my time, and I will kill you instead.”

Jack froze at the threat. The arm around his middle gave a squeeze, and he swallowed. He did his best to go limp, trying to think his way out of this. He’d been kidnapped by some weird guy in the mountains. A nice-smelling guy in the mountains, but a weird one all the same. The castle was big. He could make a run for it, when the coast was clear. It was after he got out that would be the problem. There was only one trail, and it was still easy to follow.

His planning was interrupted by the sound of a door squeaking open. Light filled Jack’s gaze, sudden and soft. He blinked, trying to adjust quickly. Before he could, he was tossed onto a thick, soft comforter. Jack let out a small squeak as he bounced on it—he was then up and pressing himself against the wall on the opposite side, taking in his captor for the first time.

If there was one thing Jack was sure of, he was certainly male. Broad-chested with long, dark hair flowing down his back. Immaculate. Poisonous yellow eyes peered at him, pupils slit like an aggravated cat. The man was all muscle, that was obvious, even though he wore a disgustingly pretentious dragon robe. A robe meant for an emperor, not some creepy guy living in an abandoned castle.

“You may call me Chase,” he greeted. It was cool and lacked any recognisable inflection. Jack swallowed. His body was trembling, every inch of him on high alert. He didn’t want to be here. He wanted to be home, in his safe apartment, binge watching Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Chase became impatient. He took a careful, measure step forward, eyes flashing. “What is your name, mortal?”

“Uh, I… Jack. Jack Spicer?” Jack spat his name out like it was a question, like he was unsure of who he was. And in the moment, he wasn’t sure. “I don’t know what you want, but you don’t want to do this. I’m not really that interesting, I swear. I just want to go home.”

“This is your home now,” Chase replied as if it were obvious. “Welcome. You have trekked a long way here, and you will change and rest now.” He picked up Jack’s back and gave it a thoughtful hum. “Not these.” He tossed the bag across the room, and Jack heard the laptop inside die with a sickening crunch. He wanted to reach out for it, to scream, but instead he stayed frozen. Stuck.

Chase walked away, though it wasn’t too far. Only to a small armoire a few feet away; he dwarfed it easily, and Jack wondered what it would be like standing next to the man. Compared to Jack’s measly five-two, the man was a giant at six-foot something. While he rustled through clothing, Jack let his eyes wander around the room. Candles were lit on a nearby desk—they looked to be burning, but not melting. They gave a dim glow to the room, nothing impressive. Nothing like the power of a flashlight.

The walls were decorated in tapestries, each one telling a different story. Jack couldn’t read them from where he was, and he wasn’t eager to do so.

“Here. Change.” A robe was thrown on the bed and Jack yelped and skittered away from it. Chase looked less than impressed as he came back over; he didn’t stand in front of the bed, however. Instead, he took a seat at the desk and turned away from Jack. “Change, and then sleep. We have much to discuss in the morning.”

“You have to let me go,” Jack demanded, though his voice was a whisper. Tears were threatening his eyes. He propelled himself forward, nearly toppling off the bed. With little grace, he was up and headed toward the door. Chase didn’t move.

“The door will not open for you. Not without my permission,” Chase said. He sounded almost annoyed. Jack tried the door, and honestly began to cry when it wouldn’t give under his weight. He tugged and twisted, turned and wrenched, but it did nothing. He was about to shoulder the door when he was picked up yet again, by the waist.

Jack flailed and sobbed, unsure of what else he could do. Once again he was deposited on the bed.

“You will change, or I will change you,” Chase warned. He picked up the robe and thrust it at Jack, who took it shakily. Chase then returned to his desk. Turned away from Jack. Jack didn’t know if it was some fucked-up way of giving him modesty, but it didn’t change the fact that he’d just been kidnapped. Kidnapped on his own expedition in a citadel that people never came back from.

Jack slowly and shakily pulled off his clothes. He didn’t want to find out what Chase could do if he really became angry. He made sure to fold his clothing carefully and lay them over the end of the bed; it was truly an impressive bed and Jack had to wonder why it was pressed so tightly to the wall. Once the robe was in place and a new round of tears started, Chase looked back at him.

“Stop your snivelling,” Chase grunted. He was up and out of his seat. Jack let out a panicked shriek as Chase came near, tugging off his own layers. “I’m not going to bed a tiny little thing like you. You are mine, and currently the most volatile piece of my hoard. You will stay here, with me, until you calm down.”

“Until you brainwash me?” Jack asked. His voice was pitchy and afraid, he knew it was. “Don’t come near me.” He kicked at Chase, who seemed thoroughly unamused by his stubbornness. “This has to be some kind of nightmare. I must’ve fallen asleep.” Jack pressed his hands to his face, trying to wake himself. Trying to blot out the monster on the other side of them.

“I said I am not going to bed you,” Chase repeated. “There’s no need for this fear.” The bed shifted with an abnormally heavy weight and another sob left Jack. Chase scoffed; thick fingers wrapped around his wrists and pulled them apart. Jack squeaked and closed his eyes. He was getting light-headed with his fear.

Hot breath ghosted over his cheeks and a sharp whimper left him. “Are you hungry? Is that why you whine so?” Chase gave Jack’s wrists a squeeze. Jack shook his head, sobbing out words that weren’t words, pleas that were too waterlogged with tears to be understood. A forehead pressed to his, deliriously hot. “Come now, mortal, I have little time to comfort you.”

“Please let me go.”

“I do not let my treasures go,” Chase informed him dryly. He tugged Jack’s wrists, pulling him down toward the bed. “If you are not hungry, you will sleep. I will watch over you.” Jack went without a fight, suddenly exhausted; a headache was blossoming in his forehead from his crying. One of his hands were let go, only for a strong arm to wrap around him and tug him close. The smell of brimstone filled his nose and he coughed.

He smacked his free hand weakly against Chase’s chest. Chase didn’t retaliate, didn’t move. Jack sobbed again, and his other hand was released. Chase combed back his hair with a careful touch. His face was pushed further against Chase’s clothed chest. He struggled for a moment, but exhaustion and fear won out, sending him spiraling toward sleep.

 

When Jack woke up, he was surprisingly alone. The candle on the desk was out, though the room held an otherworldly glow. He found himself still wrapped in the robe, and weighed down by a thick quilt that kept him adequately warm. On the table was a plate, covered by a thin square of muslin. A note was carefully placed on top of it—Jack couldn’t read it from where he was, but he could tell that the handwriting was elegant and curled at the edges. A goblet of some sort was set nearby, golden and heavily gemmed.

He slowly pulled himself from the bed, only now realising how large the robe was on him. It must’ve belonged to the Chase fellow who’d kidnapped him, who was holding him against his will; it made Jack sick to his stomach, but his own clothes were missing. And he preferred the robe to walking around naked.

Jack’s legs were shaky as he stood, and then walked, over to the desk.

Eat.

It was a single word. A command. Jack carefully peeled the muslin back, surprised at the warmth that radiated from the plate. And then by the contents themself. Chicken drumsticks, crispy and well seasoned, mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, and a hearty helping of mixed, steamed vegetables. A set of cutlery was stashed neatly to the side.

“Poison?” Jack wondered out loud. He reached for the goblet and stared at the contents suspiciously. Something thick and red lingered inside, but there was no doubt that Chase had left it for him. It was chilled under Jack’s fingers, a direct opposite of the food. He considered abandoning the meal for a moment, but his stomach let out a loud rumble or protest.

Jack carefully pulled the chair out and took a seat. It was about as comfy as a wooden chair could be. He then picked up the carefully rolled silverware, filled with apprehension. He sent a quick prayer to whomever was listening, unrolled his utensils, and then dug in.

The food was amazing. There was no other way to put it. The chicken was melt-in-your-mouth good, the potatoes were of an almost sinful buttery consistency, and Jack didn’t even have to choke the vegetables down. A quick sip from the goblet revealed watered-down wine. He considered the consequences of continuing to drink it, but decided to drink it all the same.

“I see you have regained your senses.”

Chase’s voice came as a surprise, and Jack nearly spit his next sip out across the desk. He swallowed instead, though it was painful and forced. He cowered in his chair as Chase walked up to him, redressed in something equally as regal as before. His hands were gloved, and under his arm was a multitude of hangers.

If he noticed how nervous Jack was, he paid no attention to it. Chase instead grabbed one of the first hangers and held it out to Jack. “Change. I care not if you lounge around half-naked, but I need to see if these fit.”

“Why are you doing this?” Jack asked, voice shaky. “What do you want from me?”

“I want you to change,” Chase replied dryly. “I suppose I’ve an answer for your first question, however.” He walked over to Jack, the clothing still offered to him. “Put this on, and I will give you said answer.”

Jack carefully took the clothing, but froze when he realised that Chase was still staring at him. He cleared his throat, which only earned him a raised eyebrow.

“I am not going to turn my back on you. There is clean underwear in there as well—these will do for now, until you get a proper bath. Now, hurry. I’ve little patience for any games you might think of playing.” Chase was all business, and Jack didn’t want to risk his wrath. In the new lighting, he seemed twice as big. Twice as terrifying.

Jack turned from him as he changed. He couldn’t face him. As the clothes slid over him, he shuddered; not because they were cold, no. They were warm. Like they’d been freshly pulled from the dryer. He yelped when hands placed themselves on his hips. He tried to dart forward, but a hand clamped down on his shoulder.

“They’re a tad big,” Chase muttered as he pinched at the clothing, ignoring Jack’s stuttered cries. His fingers slipped upward, almost tickling Jack’s side. “Hm. You are much smaller than I thought.” And then the hands left him. Jack curled forward, hugging himself. He twisted around to stare at Chase with horror, though the disinterest in his gaze had him relaxing the tiniest of bits.

“This castle is mine,” Chase told him, folding his arms behind his back. “I have lived here for over fifteen hundred years—society bores me, and the men and women who clamber into my room typically bore me even more. And yet you...” He cocked his head to the side. Chase paced forward, steps even and sure. “...You spark a curiosity in me. That is why I am doing this. That is why I have added you to my hoard.”

Jack swallowed. “A hoard? Like a dragon hoard?”

Chase smiled then, and it had Jack regretting his question. It was all impossibly sharp fangs. His body screamed predator. “Exactly. You belong to me now, I have decided so.” Chase was within inches of him now, the smile fading back into a look of indifference.

“That… that sounds a lot like you did this because you just… you just felt like it. You just wanted to.”

“That’s correct,” Chase responded, sounding mildly pleased that Jack understood. “The quicker you behave, the quicker you will adjust to your life here.”

“I don’t want to adjust to life here. I want to go home.” Jack wanted to yell it, but all that came out was a near-tearful whisper. Chase huffed, and he rose a single hand to wipe at Jack’s watering eyes. Jack flinched away.

“You belong to me,” Chase repeated, as if that changed anything. “And you will stay.”

 

The next few weeks were stressful, though similar enough that Jack’s life settled into a pattern. His first meal of the day would await him when he’d wake up, and then Chase would come keep him company until lunch, and then dinner—and then he’d be tucked into bed. He was shown where the bathroom was, or what Chase considered the bathroom to be. There was a deepset tub for bathing, with water from a bubbling spring that never seemed to end. Jack wasn’t even sure that the water was warm underneath the castle, and that it wasn’t just some… some magic that Chase claimed to possess.

As he calmed down, Chase showed him more and more of the wing they were in. A solarium. A breakfast room. A dining room (where he proceeded to take his lunch and dinner thereafter). A library with more books than Jack had ever seen in his life. When he’d seen the library, that was the first time that Chase touched him without the intent to move him, or check on his condition.

It was just his fingers, lightly brushing his shoulder—his hair was growing, now that he didn’t get it meticulously trimmed. It seemed to fascinate Chase in that moment, and he carefully slipped his hands through the crimson strands. Jack’s heat beat faster than it ever had before, using his ribs as if they were a set of drums. The touch was gentle, careful—and over before Jack could ask about it.

“Sit.”

The command came later that day, when they were in the solarium. Jack was staring up at the mountains surrounding the castle, even higher than the building. His heart fluttered at the idea of leaving, of escaping. But he had to wonder about what was really out there for him. Student loans? Shitty Christmas dinners with parents that couldn’t look him in the eye? Sure, being kidnapped and held captive by some inhuman (supposedly inhuman) fuck was fucked up. And he really didn’t like it. But besides his vlogging, there really wasn’t much waiting for him.

“Sit?” Jack asked, turning to face Chase. Chase nodded and pointed to a low stool. “What are you planning?” He made sure that his suspicion was known, though Chase seemed unaffected.

“I said sit, Jack.” Chase patted the stool. Jack frowned and grumbled as he made his way over; Chase ignored him. Once Jack had sat, he found those thick, gentle fingers combing through his hair. “You have an odd beauty about you.”

It was a compliment. Jack jerked upright, though not away from Chase’s hands.

“But it can be improved.” The hands left for a moment, sweeping Jack’s hair out of the way. He then returned and Jack shuddered as a heavy, cold necklace was fixed around his neck. Another followed, and then another—his hands were taken up next, and he watched, mesmerised, as each one was adorned with a heavy ring. Chase turned his hands this way and that, watching them glint in the light.

“What’s all this?” Jack croaked.

Chase was combing his hands through Jack’s hair again, and then lifted it. His breath puffed against the side of his neck. “You’ve your ears pierced, yes?” he asked. His fingers came up and gently pinched and rolled at Jack’s earlobe. Jack gave a quick nod. “Good. I would hate to have to have done them myself.”

“You wouldn’t have laid a goddamn hand on my ears. I’ll bite your nose off,” Jack snapped in return. Chase chuckled—a sound that Jack was hearing more and more often lately.

“Perhaps not. Are you allergic to gold?” He tapped Jack’s earlobe. Jack shook his head. “Good. I prefer gold.” Jack didn’t have to ask what was going on. Soon, a pair of heavy, dangling earrings were slipped into his ears. Chase batted at them playfully, getting Jack to snort and turn his head away.

Chase rounded Jack to look him over. Jack crossed his arms over his chest as he did so.

“Much better,” Chase praised. He looked troubled however. “It is always good to see my treasures together. Not that you wear all of them at once, but I’m sure we will work through them.” He stepped forward and his hands were playing with Jack’s hair once again. “There’s something missing, here.”

“A moral code?”

Once again, Chase chuckled. “No. Your hair. It needs to be adorned as well. But not here.” Jack got up from the stool, grunting at the added weight around his neck. Chase offered a hand, and Jack eyed it warily before letting Chase lead him back to the bedroom. His gut was twisting this way and that, but in the worst of ways. He felt dolled up for a reason. And oddly enough, he liked that reason.

This wasn’t good.

They were back to their shared bedroom before Jack could overthink it. Chase sat down first, and bid Jack to sit in front of him. Jack looked at him nervously, but carefully took a seat in front of him all the same; the heat of Chase’s chest radiated through his clothes.

“I will wind gold through your hair. And perhaps silver, too,” Chase murmured thoughtfully. “I will have take it out before your bath, of course, but then we can change them out. Every situation has its silver lining.” He was so close that his words rumbled through Jack’s body; he tucked his hands between his knees and stared down at the floor, incapable of coherent speech.

Chase began work at once, and Jack wondered where he’d gotten the bits and baubles he now possessed. He hadn’t brought them with him, and his outfit had no pockets; the more that Jack lived in this godforsaken citadel, the more he came to believe that Chase truly was a dragon of sorts, using ancient magic to bring it to life. It reminded him a little too much of Rose Red, what with all the missing people over the years. Then again, if Chase was a dragon, he could’ve just eaten them. He could just eat him.

“Jack,” Chase whispered his name. Jack tilted his head up to look at Chase. Chase’s hand was careful as it laid itself against Jack’s throat, forcing him to stay still. Chase stared into Jack’s eyes, as if searching for something. Jack swallowed and then offered a timid smile.

“What’s wrong?” Jack asked in just as soft a whisper. Chase’s eyes drifted down to Jack’s lips, and Jack’s heart stuttered in his chest. “Chase?”

“Little treasure,” Chase murmured softly, drawing his fingers down Jack’s throat. Jack’s adam’s apple jumped. The touch had Jack feeling so much more sensitive than he had before. His nerves lit up, tingled with the cautious fingers. “You are mine.”

Jack cocked an eyebrow, but didn’t have time for a question—because Chase was kissing him. His lips were warm, almost blazingly hot against his. It was like kissing the sun. Before Jack knew it, he was reaching up and wrapping an arm around Chase’s neck, clutching at his hair. The jewellery wound into his hair clinked together like champagne glasses and Jack’s eyes slid shut. Jack’s arms were like an affirmation, a green light.

“I knew you were mine,” Chase purred against Jack’s mouth. He licked at Jack’s lips, and then parted them. Jack grunted as his mouth was captured again, the kiss equally as sweet as the one before. “The moment you walked through my gates, with nothing but curiosity, I knew that you would have to stay.” His hands smoothed down Jack’s sides, though it was barely felt. Jack’s head was swimming, chest heaving with panted breaths.

“You will stay.”