Jack awoke with Alex in his arms. There was no more ugly lust in him, it had cooled as the room had with the breeze. He lay holding his brother and being held by him for a while. Would that I could die in this moment, he thought. I would let my soul fly into nowhere to keep this moment untainted by the hideousness that the future must hold.
Vaguely recalling that he did not deserve such an easy fate, nor even this embrace, Jack crawled out of bed shamefaced. He washed and dressed, then went about packing for London. He had come too close to hurting Alex with his base nature last night, and the sooner he left him, the better.
“Why are you packing?” Alex asked when he awoke. He stretched and yawned, his silken black hair all askew. “Where are you going, Johnny?”
“Away, to London.”
“For what purpose?”
“To live,” Jack said, unable to look at him. “There is nothing left for me in Sussex, and father yesterday informed me that he will no longer suffer my presence.”
“I was distraught, he was displeased, and we argued,” Jack said. “The details do not matter. I must go, and it is time that I go, anyway.”
“I shall miss you very much, Jack.”
“Yes, but you are almost a man, and will be busy with your own life soon,” Jack said. “Edward will find a wife soon, and you will find a career, and I … I will live in London.”
“I wish you well, brother.”
“I deserve less, but thank you, Alex.”
Alex came over to him and put a hand on his arm. Jack looked at him, exhausted from emotion. His skin was still very warm, and he thought that he might be fevered still.
“I will always love you, Jonathan,” Alex said. “Wherever life takes us, never doubt it. Now come, you're not well, and father cannot begrudge you breakfast. Let the servants pack, and come eat with me, brother.”
“You make me feel the child between us,” Jack sighed. “How are you so wise, Alex?”
“Love teaches wisdom. Come with me.”
If I never hear of love again, Jack thought wearily, I will be able to live content.
By that evening, the choicest sum of Jack's worldly possessions were packed upon a carriage. He disliked riding as a passenger, but the bruises his father's caning had given him were livid and painful. Only Alexander and Edward were outside in the calm night to see him off: Denys refused to see him, and their mother had already said a wan goodbye inside.
“I do not like this,” Edward said. “Must you travel so late? And you're fevered, Jack. Stay a day or so.”
“No, I will not see another sunrise in Sussex,” Jack said. “I cannot.”
Edward shook his hand heartily. “I wish you luck, then, brother, and health.”
“As do I,” Alex said.
“Thank you, Edward, Alexander,” Jack said. He paused, still holding Edward's hand. “Edward, I am sorry.”
“Sorry? For what?”
“For all of everything that I have done, and all of everything that I am,” Jack said. “We should have been closer. We would have been, if I had never begrudged you your strength, your seniority, and a thousand other petty things. Forgive me, Edward.”
“I've already forgiven you, Jonathan,” Edward said. “But if you need to hear it, then I forgive you over again. I love you, I am your brother.”
Jack surprised him with a short embrace, and then gave Alex a rather longer one. They had no more words to share, they had shared many and more. Alex bid him farewell, and Jack squeezed his shoulder. Then, he climbed into the carriage.
I will never be a part of that house again, Jack thought as he watched his home and family grow distant. For the one failing, for the one shame, I am exiled. Not the shame of murder, that was only a symptom of my true unnatural shame, the shame of wanting men as men should want women.
Jack sighed, but he was too tired to be truly melancholy. What was done was done, and there was no reason to spend the rest of his life mourning it. He was now apart, alone, truly outside all.
In the end, perhaps it all turned out for the best, Jack reflected.I was too complacent to live at home, in Sussex where my preferences would not be so easy to hide. I had been lucky these past years in keeping my secrets, but my luck would have run out eventually. London will shelter me well from prying eyes, there I can live and sin in peace. Alex and Edward will be none the wiser of my murder, and I am free of Lady Charlotte and father and all of it. It was not a clean break, but it was a total one. Now I am only my own, least until I find someone to love. Until I find … a man to love.
Freely plotting such an illicit love gave Jack a thrill, and he smiled. His father would never dare try to marry him to a woman, knowing what he had done to Lady Charlotte Arnsbury. He was free to find pleasure in a city of guilty pleasures, and there was no one to judge him for it.
I am free, he thought. God help me, I'm finally free to do as I will.
So musing upon his blood-bought freedom, Jack Randall sat back, and looked ahead to London.