Copyright © 2016, Marie Medina
Jareth rolled to his side in the lush grass. He loved the feel of each blade brushing his cheek, and he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Magic swelled up around him, and he thought of Marcus. The next day they would begin Jareth’s training, and Jareth already felt his body tightening at the idea of being so close to the other man. He opened his eyes and looked up at the clouds floating by slowly above him. He ought to see Marcus as a father figure, but he didn’t. He hadn’t for years. Telling others that hadn’t been an option, though, given Marcus’s feelings about the royal family, not to mention Marcus’s actions in the mortal world. And the fact that Marcus didn’t seem to see Jareth as a potential romantic partner. Yet despite that, Marcus was the only person who didn’t view Jareth as someone who needed to be taken care of.
Jareth loved that.
Jareth felt someone approaching, and he looked up to see his best friend Merry coming toward him, a grin on her face. He sat up and crossed his legs beneath him as she flopped down on the grass beside him, her golden curls bouncing as she did so.
“Pretty soon you’re going to have to break it to your family that we aren’t an item,” Merry said.
Jareth sighed and ran his fingers over the grass in front of him before folding his hands in his lap. “I sort of already did. Erik figured it out at the party at the antique store. And I don’t think he’s the only one. Gran can be pretty observant.”
“Observant? Try omniscient,” Merry said with a laugh.
Jareth picked at his nails and didn’t look up. “Everyone’s going to freak out. I’m surprised Erik hasn’t gone to his father yet.”
“The king can’t tell you who to be with. And he wouldn’t do it even if he could,” Merry said.
Jareth lifted his gaze. “But it’s not just anyone. It’s Marcus.”
“Who is technically a royal in-law now. What’s the fuss? He’s not hurting anyone. That stuff with drugs and guns and smuggling or whatever scares me, but he doesn’t do that anymore. You said you found out he was one of your real dad’s best friends. And he helped you when you were growing up.”
“Doesn’t make everyone see him as a good man, though.”
Merry sighed, the sound wistful. “You’re the best judge of character I know. You loving him means he has to be a good man, deep down.”
“You told anyone?” Jareth asked. He trusted Merry, yet he knew it would be harder for her to keep his secret now that he would be spending more time with Marcus. She seemed to be assuming this was the start of happily ever after. He couldn’t share her optimism, no matter how much he longed to do so.
“I’ve told Mal that you like someone. He still has a little crush on you so I wanted him to hear it from me first.”
“What?” Jareth’s stomach tightened. He and Mal hadn’t been together that long, and it had been over between them for months.
“Don’t worry. He knows you two aren’t meant to be, but you have to admit you’re the sweetest, nicest, and handsomest fairie around.”
Merry tilted her head and smiled. “You ever met anyone who didn’t like you?”
“I’m friendly. People are friendly back when you’re nice to them.” Jareth shrugged. “I’m nothing special.”
“Mal would disagree. And I would, too.”
“Everyone is about something.”
What she’d said about Mal worried him a bit. “But he’s not still interested, is he?”
“No, but he may be protective. He was sad when you two ended it, even though he knew it was for the best. He tried to hide it from me, but I could tell he wasn’t happy.”
Jareth wanted to be angry with Merry for not telling him about this, but worry over Mal helped him push it away. “You’ve never said this before. Was he hurt? I thought it was just sex. I mean, not that it didn’t mean anything…” Jareth trailed off.
Merry frowned as she seemed to consider his question. “Not upset. Just, you know, sad.” She pushed her breath out in a huff. “Don’t look so friggin’ stricken.”
“What?” Jareth chewed his lip. “Stricken?”
“Yeah. You look like someone just punched you in the gut.” She rolled her eyes. “Go talk to him. He’s at home, I think. In the back garden.”
“And what do I say? Just blurt out that I’m going to be spending tomorrow with the man I’m crazy about and wanted to clear the air?” Jareth scanned the horizon, having a hard time focusing his gaze on anything as he resumed picking at his nails. His mother would smack his hands if she caught him doing that.
Jareth shook his head and got to his feet. “No. I’m going to apologize. I had no idea us breaking up had this kind of effect.”
Merry jumped up and put her hands on her hips. “You’re making too much of what I said. All I meant was that he might be a little protective because he cares for you. He is still your friend, after all. But with you in a tizzy there’s nothing to be done but let you go talk to him.” She lifted one arm and pointed. “Go on. Silly men.”
“In a tizzy? Silly?” He gaped at her. “I’m worried about someone I care about.”
“Yeah, but you’re still being silly in my book. Being clueless for months and then wanting to have a long talk out of the blue. Silly.”
Jareth started to walk away but stopped himself. “This got anything to do with that guy you met? The one Gran has you watching?” There was a mortal who worked as a magician in England, and apparently he’d been manifesting some real powers lately. He had only a little fairie blood, but his unconscious powers pointed to it being from a very powerful source. Merry had been spending more and more time watching him, and she’d been far too quiet about him. Jareth hadn’t missed how odd she sometimes acted when she came back from the mortal world.
Merry’s eyes narrowed. “It has to do with you and my brother.” She pointed again. “Go.”
Jareth literally bit his tongue and walked away. If he pressured Merry about her love life, she’d keep pushing him about his, so he decided to go directly to Mal instead.
At least Mal wouldn’t slug him. Merry looked ready to do just that as he glanced back at her.
Instead of magically transporting himself, Jareth walked to the house where Merry and her brother lived. He didn’t know what to say to Mal. When they’d decided to end things, Mal had been so casual and calm. Jareth remembered being anxious at the time, and now he wondered if Mal had tried to act nonchalant and unaffected for Jareth’s benefit. That bothered him. He loved Mal very much, even though it was only as a friend.
He did find Mal in the backyard cleaning out one of the rabbit hutches. Pausing at the gate, Jareth watched Mal’s golden curls bouncing and glistening in the sun. Mal and Merry had beautiful hair. Jareth’s was almost the same color, perhaps a shade lighter, but it had always been straight and limp no matter what length he wore it at. He pushed the strands behind his ears as he moved into the backyard.
Mal looked up then. And smiled. “Hey, Jareth.”
Jareth smiled back, suddenly noticing that Mal still said his name very softly, the way he had when they were together. “Hey.”
Mal raised his eyebrows when Jareth didn’t say anything else. “What’s up?”
“I was talking with Merry, and she said something that made me … I don’t know. Worry.”
Concern spread over Mal’s face, and he stood to his feet and came closer, wiping his hands on his pants. “What?”
“She implied you still … care about me. In a certain way.”
Mal smiled, but his eyes softened. “What can I say? It’s hard not to miss amazing sex with a wonderful man. Even if it isn’t love.”
“Exactly. That’s what we said. We weren’t in love. Nothing had grown between us.”
Mal stepped closer. “Because it takes two people to be in love. We have to meet halfway for something to grow between us.” He shrugged one shoulder. “I knew you weren’t falling for me. Knew better than to try to force it.”
“But why didn’t you say anything?” Jareth said, his voice sharper than he’d intended.
Mal’s smile faded completely as he said, “Because you’re so damn sweet. You’d have stayed with me to avoid hurting me. I don’t want that.”
“No, I wouldn’t have done that.”
“Yeah, you would’ve. And I didn’t want that because you felt no spark. I knew it. Felt it. We’d have ended up unhappy.”
“But didn’t I deserve to know how you really felt?”
That answer stung in a way Jareth couldn’t explain. “You guess?”
Mal sighed. “Merry says there’s someone you care about. I always knew there was someone tugging at your heart. I think I know who, but I didn’t pressure Merry.”
Jareth felt his face burning as he met Mal’s gaze. “I never thought he’d even look twice at me. Not that way. What was the point in hoping?”
“Are you serious? It’s really him?” Mal asked, his dark eyes going hard as flint.
“Marcus,” Mal whispered.
Jareth nodded. “That’s another thing. I knew everyone would be like this.”
Mal reached out and took him by the chin. “Because you’re too good for him. Far too good for him. Too sweet for someone so cold and cruel.”
“He’s not like that. He was hurt.”
“Gil’s mother. Moira. She broke his heart.”
“That’s no excuse.”
“I’m not saying it is. But he does some things to protect himself. He even tried to keep his own son at arm’s length.”
“And you want to be with someone like that?”
He’s changed. “Mal…”
Mal stroked Jareth’s cheek. “I want to protect you so much. I’ll beat him senseless if he hurts you.”
“Don’t say things like that. I don’t like to think about you doing those kinds of things. He’d never hurt me.”
Mal softened a bit. “You may be right. Anyone who could hurt you would have to be a complete monster.” His thumb ran over Jareth’s lower lip. “He does seem to love his son. Now, at least.”
Jareth moved his head to try to pull from Mal’s grip. Mal dragged him close and kissed him gently. “If he does hurt you,” he whispered against Jareth’s lips, “you can come to me as a friend.”
The embrace Mal held him in didn’t feel like the kind two friends shared. “He won’t.”
“I’m not talking about sex. I’m talking about your heart.” Mal let his hand drop. “Please say we’re still friends.”
“Of course we are.” Yet as he said the words, he knew this conversation had changed something between them. He’d have to be careful from now on when it came to Mal. Mal’s entire demeanor had changed once they’d started talking about Marcus.
Mal took another step back. “And tell Merry to quit meddling. She had no right to upset you.”
“I’m not made of glass. When will you all get that?”
Mal chuckled. “The way we fucked you should know I don’t think you’re made of glass.”
“Will we stay friends if something does grow between me and Marcus?” Jareth reached out with his powers to try to sense how Mal felt.
Mal flinched. “Don’t.”
“What?” Jareth asked, surprised he’d been caught. Mal had never been able to sense him doing so before.
“Don’t try to connect with me. It’s too much.”
“Too intimate. Okay? I’m not saying I’m in love with you. Or that I’m upset. But I still care for you. I’d probably be enough of a fool to try again if I had the chance.”
“I’m sorry. I got used to reaching out to you like that without asking permission.”
“It’s fine.” He shoved his hands in his back pockets. “Jareth, I will always be your friend. No matter who you’re with or what you do. I promise.”
“Good. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me. I’m gonna be keeping an eye on you. And him.”
“It might not matter. He’s just gonna teach me to fight.”
“That fucker’s smart. He can read people with a glance. You’ve hidden it fine so far, I guess, but you two alone? He’s gonna notice.”
“And he’ll probably let me down easy. He doesn’t see me that way.”
Mal gave Jareth a long look up and down. “I doubt that. But I’m dead serious. If he takes advantage of how you feel about him just to fuck you and then brush you off, he’s going to be in trouble. I’ll probably have to stand in line to beat him.”
Jareth knew it came from a good place, but he couldn’t stand the protectiveness. “I’m glad I’m so loved, but I’m serious. I’m old enough and strong enough that I don’t need anyone to protect me. Merry has really helped me control my powers. I’m steadier. Stronger. I don’t fuck stuff up the way I used to. I can handle anything and anyone that might mean me harm.”
Mal held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Hey, I get it. I’m sorry. You gonna get mad at me for caring?”
“No, but I don’t want coddling. I want … respect. When I was a kid, Marcus told me how powerful I was. Said it was why everyone was so afraid when I lost control of a spell and all that.”
“You are powerful.” His gaze softened, and in a quieter voice, he added, “I remember how it felt when we made love.”
Jareth’s stomach gave a little flutter, and his throat tightened. Mal had never called it making love before. “Then trust that I can take care of myself.”
Mal stared for a moment before nodding. “Okay. Forgive my foolish heart.” He came closer and kissed Jareth’s temple. As he moved back to the rabbit hutch, he grinned. “Still gonna be nosy. You can’t stop me. I’ll go to your Gran if you do.”
Jareth groaned. “All right. Anything but that. She’s stayed out of it so far.”
“Does she know?”
Jareth raised one eyebrow. “You’ve met her, right?”
“Forget I asked.”
As Jareth went home, he tried to forget his encounter with Mal. To banish the feeling of the other man’s kiss. Guilt tugged at his heart, but he felt no desire to be with Mal again. His thoughts slowly turned toward Marcus, and he went straight to his room in hopes of avoiding his mother. His entire family would be involved soon enough, and he wasn’t yet ready to deal with that.
* * * *
Marcus woke up feeling anxious. He stretched in bed and discovered that he was hopelessly tangled in the sheets. He’d slept fitfully, and he kicked at the sheets in frustration to try to dislodge himself. Everything had been fine until Erik had, in a very protective and almost threatening manner, told Marcus about Jareth’s supposed feelings for him. Marcus hadn’t been able to concentrate on much else since then, though it hadn’t even been two weeks. It still seemed completely absurd to him. Why would anyone so sweet and happy want to have anything more than a distant friendship with him? Marcus couldn’t help continuing to think there had one way or another been some kind of misunderstanding. Jareth saw him as a father figure, if he saw him as anything at all besides a man who’d done terrible things and been punished by the king. It had been hundreds of years since Marcus had spent any real time with Jareth. How could the younger man have those kinds of feelings for him in the first place?
He rose from bed and let the knotted sheets fall to the floor. At a royal family gathering that Marcus had only attended at his son Gil’s insistence, Jareth had approached him. Marcus had tensed at first, but Jareth hadn’t said or done anything to indicate he felt the way Erik said he did. He’d asked Marcus to train him in combat, the way he was training other fairies. He’d also asked if Marcus could help him in honing his powers, the way he had when Jareth was younger. Marcus had agreed despite his surprise, and after finally clearing his schedule, they’d be starting today. He stripped off his clothes and got in the shower, his agitation annoying him. Part of him wanted it to all be a big mix up. A relationship with Jareth would be far too complicated.
The other part? Marcus groaned as he pulled the shower curtain into place, his cock already hard. He’d never once before considered Jareth as a sexual partner, but now the idea had been put in his head he couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful the younger man was. He had expressive green eyes that sparkled when he laughed or smiled and golden hair that fell gently around his open, handsome face. He had a slim yet muscular body and, Marcus had recently realized, the fullest, most kissable lips he’d ever seen. Marcus squeezed his cock before massaging his balls. Odd as it felt to masturbate while thinking of Jareth—though he’d already done it twice—it seemed safer than spending the day with Jareth with all of this desire pent up inside of him.
Marcus closed his eyes and made quick work of bringing himself to completion. He felt dizzy and leaned against the shower wall as he came, his own moans echoing as he wondered what it would be like to make Jareth come, how amazing it would be to feel the younger man trembling in his arms and clinging to him as the pleasure arced between them.
That idea startled him. He was usually more focused on himself and what it would be like to come into, or onto, someone. Never since Moira—the woman who had never loved him or their son—had he thought of his partner’s pleasure. But for the past few days he’d found himself wondering what Jareth liked, what aroused him.
How beautiful he would be when he came.
Marcus had fucked dozens of beautiful women and quite a few equally stunning men as well. Yet there could be no comparison. He’d loved Moira with all of his heart, but the idea of being with her ever again repulsed him, even as a slight tightening of his chest told him she would always hold a tiny part of his heart. He hated that he had loved her so completely and made such a fool of himself countless times, though being with her had given him Gil. Despite that, he couldn’t help resenting the way she’d scarred him. Changed him. Very nearly destroyed him. Marcus knew he’d be able to please any lover, but actually falling in love again?
It simply wasn’t possible, and the sooner Jareth saw that the better.
They’d be alone for their training, so it would give them the chance to talk freely and openly. Jareth tended to be chatty, so perhaps Marcus could lead the conversation to the right subjects. One way or another, he had to scare Jareth off without actually having to reject him. He didn’t know if he’d be able to go through with that, knowing how it would hurt Jareth. Being with one so powerful would be far too great of a temptation, as well as a torment since Marcus’s own powers were bound. He’d resigned himself to his punishment, but that didn’t mean he had to like it. To this day Marcus didn’t fully understand why Jareth at times lost control of his powers. He actually thought Jareth might be more powerful than the king when it came right down to it. He’d more than once wondered if that was why the royal family treated Jareth as if something was wrong with him. Keeping him afraid of using his powers would be an easy way to keep them under control. As much as everyone loved Jareth, Marcus knew that keeping such a powerful fairie in check would be a top priority for the royals.
He’d never voiced the idea that the king or others were manipulating Jareth because one thing always sent a hint of doubt running through him. Jareth was, without doubt, the kindest and sweetest being to ever live. He laughed at his own thoughts as he got out of the shower, but it was true. Jareth never could and never would harm another. He’d always been selfless and giving, and love and kindness seemed to define his very nature.
Sweet. The word kept coming back to Marcus over and over again. There was an undeniable sweetness to Jareth that drew Marcus and made him protective, even possessive now that he’d started to look at Jareth in this new light. If Jareth really did care for him and want to be with him, it would be far too easy for Marcus to accept that love, the kind of love he’d never imagined for himself.
But that kind of love would be too pure and innocent to really survive a relationship with Marcus. He knew that, repeated it to himself as he looked in the mirror and then turned away to dry his hair. His love would prove poisonous to Jareth, who needed light and happiness and positivity to feed off, not Marcus’s sarcasm and brooding wit and often cutting words. Being with Jareth would be like putting a flower that needed lots of sunlight in a dank, windowless basement. Unhappiness would slowly seep in, and Marcus couldn’t allow that. He wouldn’t allow that.
Marcus finished drying his hair and slowly got dressed, choosing black sweatpants and a gray t-shirt. At first, he’d thought he would miss the expensive suits and handmade shoes he’d grown used to in the mortal world, as he’d always loved fine clothes ever since he’d been made aware of his fairie blood and Turned over eight hundred years ago, but he’d actually adjusted quite well to wearing more comfortable modern clothes. He thought back to his parents, who had been so poor before their true heritage had been revealed to them. They’d all reveled in their good fortune when they’d learned of their fairie blood and been welcomed into the realm of Arundel. But he pushed thoughts of them away. The reigning king of the fairies back then had let Marcus’s parents die in a mortal war through his own foolish inaction, the first of many black marks against the royal family.
He sighed as he grabbed a pair of athletic shoes and made his way downstairs. With his son Gil married to one of the princes, Marcus had already entangled himself with the royals more than he’d ever wished to. He did like Asyan, the present king, more than he once had, but he still felt like an outsider.
And honestly, he liked it that way … most of the time.
Marcus sat on a bench just outside the back door and put his shoes on, fidgeting with his socks a bit as they bunched up, and then he leaned back and looked around as a cool breeze swept by. He liked living alone, liked being alone. There was absolutely nothing wrong with being single, being solitary and independent.
Marcus looked to the side and saw Gil approaching. His son was the only person, aside from the king, Marcus could still make a magical connection with since his trial and the binding of his magical powers. They could communicate with their minds, and usually Marcus could sense his son approaching. But today he hadn’t sensed anything. “Good morning, Gil.”
Gil came over and sat beside him on the bench. “Everything all right? I’ve been knocking for a few minutes. I could sense you were here so I came around back. I was kinda worried.”
“Sorry. Bit distracted today, I guess.”
Gil gave him a once over. “Got some training to do?”
“Yes, but just one pupil today.”
Gil paused, probably waiting for him to elaborate. When Marcus said nothing, Gil asked, “Someone special?”
“You could say that.” Marcus cleared his throat and crossed his arms, taking his gaze away from his son. “Jareth wants to learn to fight.”
“Jareth? He’d make excuses for a bear if it sliced him open. He apologizes to other people when they bump into him. I can’t imagine him fighting anyone.”
“One reason I’m so glad he’s expressed the desire. He sees that we can’t just sit on our asses and depend on magic.”
Gil frowned. “Sorry.”
Confused, Marcus looked over at Gil. “Sorry? Why are you saying that?”
Gil smirked at him and shook his head slowly. “The way you just snapped at me. You must be distracted.”
“I didn’t snap at—” Marcus cut himself off, realizing how harsh his tone sounded. Had he snapped at Gil? He couldn’t be sure. “I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.”
“Everything okay?” Gil asked as he put his arm behind Marcus on the bench. “Are you nervous about working with Jareth or what?”
“No.” Marcus let his breath out slowly. “For the past week or so since Jareth asked me, I’ve been thinking. You haven’t even known him that long, yet you’ve fallen into the same pattern as everyone else. Jareth is not stupid. And he’s not a child. He’s not going to break. Or do anything bad.”
“I don’t think anything like that, dad.”
“You just asked if I was nervous about working with him. You all think him innocent and naïve. Not good enough, not strong enough. Likely to mess things up.”
“I’m telling you I don’t think anything bad about Jareth. Not at all. Why are you being like this? I only asked that question because you’re acting weird. I meant because he’s the king’s nephew. Nothing to do with his powers.”
Marcus paused. He couldn’t think of any way of defending himself.
Gil sighed, sounding annoyed as he did so. “I’m glad he’s coming here today because you spend too much time alone. You brood over everything. Everyone loves Jareth. No one thinks ill of him.”
“I’m not talking about people thinking ill of him or not liking him. You said yourself he helped you when you first came here and began using your powers. That he understood your struggles as you tried to control them. Don’t you get what I’m saying?”
“Yes. But you aren’t listening. I’ve talked to Lucian and others about it before. I agree that they do treat Jareth as if something is wrong with him. I’m telling you I don’t think that way or feel that way. I had trouble controlling my magic, and he was great to talk to. He understood the way no one else did. Do you understand? We agree. Completely. We aren’t fighting about how I view Jareth. Right here and now, I’m reacting to how snappish and defensive you’re being.” Gil studied him. “There’s more to this somehow.”
Marcus licked his lips as he unfolded his arms and sat forward. “Maybe, um … maybe I wasn’t listening to you just now. I’m not quite myself today.”
“I love Jareth. He’s wonderful. He was so kind to me when I came here. So patient. He understood what I was going through the way no one else did. His powers are amazing, and yeah, he has issues once in a while. But he’s not as dangerous as they all think he is. I trusted him, and I’m so glad I did.”
Listening to Gil made Marcus’s chest feel tight. Jareth had been very kind to Gil, and Marcus had never expressed his appreciation. “I’m glad you did as well. I’ve known him since he was a child. You couldn’t ask for a better friend.”
“I could say the same to you. He’d be a great influence on you. I’d love to see you two become closer. I bet he could even make you smile more often.”
Gil’s remarks were innocent, of course, but Marcus’s mind wandered. He hadn’t realized how much until he noticed Gil was staring at him. He tried to clear his thoughts, but it seemed it was too late.
Gil cleared his throat. “Dad?”
There was no way to avoid it now. “Yeah?”
“Did I just sense, uh, what I think I did?”
Marcus met his son’s gaze. “What do you think you sensed?”
“Rather warm and fuzzy feelings. Very … explicit … uh, rumblings.”
Marcus sighed, though he almost wanted to laugh at the way Gil had chosen to phrase what he’d felt, and then he stood up. “You felt my attraction to Jareth. So what?” He went to stand on the edge of the porch. “You like men. You know how good looking he is. It’s no big deal.”
“But I didn’t sense simple attraction. All kinds of feelings washed over me a moment ago.” Gil came to stand beside him. “We’ve been wondering about Jareth disappearing lately. Are you two fucking?”
Marcus stiffened and looked over at his son. “Excuse me?”
“Jareth’s been acting odd. And everyone thought he and Merry were together, but they aren’t. Lucian and I have speculated. It would make sense.”
Marcus turned to face Gil better. “Jareth has been disappearing? Or do you mean you just haven’t had an easy time finding him?”
“I mean he goes off alone more. It would make sense if he was with you. I get that he might feel awkward telling his mom or Asyan.”
“I was his birth father’s friend. A very close one. But I guess you didn’t know that. I’m not one to hide and have secret affairs.”
“Then you two aren’t together?”
“No. Not that it’s anyone else’s business. If we were together I’d be damned if I let anyone tell us we couldn’t be.”
Gil blinked. “You like him? Love him?”
Marcus groaned and looked around to make sure they were alone. “Go talk to Erik. I’m done with this conversation.”
“What do you mean?”
Marcus turned away again. “Erik warned me to be careful with Jareth. Not to hurt him. According to Erik, Jareth has very strong feelings for me. Seems absurd to me.”
“Absurd? Why? Because you’re the unredeemable villain?”
“Stop putting words in my mouth, please. And like I said, go talk to Erik. Jareth will be here soon.”
Gil went silent a long time, but then he reached out and touched Marcus’s arm. “I’d love to see you happy, and I love Jareth. It’s hard to picture you two together, but if he does have feelings for you … well, why not?”
“I’m poison, Gil. Look what I did to you.”
“And we got past it. Don’t push him away. I felt so much wash over me. You don’t just think he’s fuckable. You … value him.” He gave Marcus a long look, almost as if he wasn’t sure he wanted to go on. “Cherish him, I’d say,” he finally added in a softer voice.
Cherish. That word felt far too accurate. Marcus didn’t want to talk about this anymore, not right now, and especially not with the one person who knew him so well that he could easily bash through all of his defenses. Marcus started to speak, but he looked up and saw Jareth walking toward them. “And he’s here. Please go, all right? We can talk later.”
“Okay.” Gil eyed him a moment, but then he seemed to relax. “But let me say hello. That fine?”
“Yeah, it would be weird for you to run off, I suppose.”
They both walked down the steps and into the back garden, which they had planted by hand themselves. Marcus looked around at the simple landscaping, anything to avoid looking at Jareth. He crossed his arms to keep from fidgeting as Gil waved and shouted a cheery greeting. Marcus couldn’t help looking up to see Jareth’s response.
Jareth’s face lit up at the sight of Gil, and as Marcus watched Jareth approach, he felt a little tug at his heart and realized he was in trouble like he never had been before.
* * * *
Jareth had been looking forward to being alone with Marcus, yet seeing Gil made him happy. It might keep these first few moments from being awkward and could help him work out his last little bit of nervousness. He definitely worried his feelings for Marcus were far too obvious, especially since Erik had figured things out so easily.
“Hi, Gil. How are you?” Jareth said once he finally reached them.
“I’m good. How are you?” Gil asked, eyeing him for a moment.
“Great. About to find out how out of shape I am, though,” he replied, laughing. He pressed his lips together because the sound had come out far too loud, at least to him. Jareth wondered if he’d come too early or interrupted something. Gil didn’t quite seem himself, despite his initial warm greeting.
To Jareth’s relief, Gil smiled at him. “I’m sure dad will go easy on you. It’s your first day.”
“Going easy isn’t going to help anyone. I’m doing this to make people face reality. You never know what life might throw at you,” Marcus said, his tone stern and hard.
Gil cast his father an odd glance, and Jareth wondered if they’d been fighting. He knew their relationship had been troubled for a long time, but he’d hoped the worst of it was long past. The months since the trial seemed to have helped them heal, at least based on what Jareth had seen and what Gil had told him. Never know what life might throw at you? Jareth could relate to that as the butterflies gathered in his stomach again. Even with Gil standing right there, Jareth longed to stand closer to Marcus. Though he knew his feelings had grown gradually, he felt like his need for the older man had come upon him rather suddenly.
Trying to fall in with Marcus’s attitude, Jareth said, “He’s right. I learned to swim because your dad tossed me into the water. Learned to find my way home from anywhere because he left me somewhere I’d never been before. And I learned to make a flame out of nothing when he locked me in a dark room.”
Gil blinked. “What? He did all that to you?” He looked back and forth between them with wide eyes. “When you were a child?”
“Yeah. Sometimes tough love is what … uh … you need.” Instead of making things less awkward, Gil’s presence seemed to be making things worse. Tough love? Why did I say that? Sure won’t help him stop seeing me as a child.
Marcus scowled at the ground and then steadied his gaze on Gil. “Quit making it sound like I threw him off a cliff and expected him to fly. I was always right there ready to help him if something bad actually happened. I would never have abandoned him or left him helpless.”
Gil looked at both of them again, his expression slightly abashed. “Sorry. I guess I never thought much about how fairie children are taught. Sounds a little scary to me.”
Jareth smiled, feeling a bit of the tension ebb away. “I was a special case, but yeah. We’re given problems and told to solve them. I needed your dad because my parents weren’t very strong. My mom didn’t get a big portion of the royal gifts, you could say, and my real father was never very powerful magically. Clever and resourceful, but nothing like Asyan or my Gran. When I began having issues, they worried they couldn’t guide me properly.”
“Oh,” Gil said.
Jareth shrugged one shoulder. “It happens. You never know how magic will flow through you until you begin using it.”
Gil nodded. “I’ll let you two get down to it.” He lifted a hand and added, “Catch you later.” He turned very quickly and hurried off.
Jareth chewed his lip as he watched Gil go. Had it bothered Gil to hear how much fatherly attention Marcus had given him? Jareth hoped not. He found Marcus staring at his lips when he turned back. Licking his lower lip where he’d worried the flesh almost to the point of bleeding, he said, “Sorry if I interrupted something.”
“Nonsense. Gil just popped by.” Marcus eyed his clothes. Jareth had chosen old jeans and a faded blue t-shirt. “Are you ready to start?”
“Sure. I’m up for anything.”
Marcus narrowed his eyes a bit but soon nodded. “Good. I won’t go easy on you.” He cleared his throat. “You remember all those things I did?”
“Of course. My parents … well, you paid so much more attention to me, but without worrying every moment.”
“You felt neglected? I’d almost say they smothered you.”
Jareth shook his head. “They protected me. Way too much. You did me so much good.”
Marcus seemed surprised by that statement, his eyes unblinking. “I’m glad you feel that way.”
Silence fell, and Marcus looked off into the distance. When he looked back, he said, “I’ve never said how much I appreciate you being Gil’s friend. He’s so powerful, and I know he was scared. Since I was locked up part of the time, I’m glad he had you to talk to. It was good for him to have someone besides Lucian. You understand what it’s like to try to control your powers with everyone hovering over you and wondering what will happen.”
Jareth smiled. “I was happy to. Gil’s wonderful.” He walked closer, though not as close as he wanted to. “I know you had problems, but you have every right to be proud of the man he is.”
Marcus laughed, though the sound held little humor. “I had nothing to do with that. He raised himself. I was a terrible father.” He shook his head slowly. “Another reason I’m glad he met you. Being my son probably only made adjusting here worse. I’m sure some worried he’d be like me.”
“Maybe, but that’s their problem. You had to provide for him alone. You did better than some do.”
“I gave him money instead of love.”
“You were hurting,” Jareth said, the words spoken softly, almost under his breath.
“What did you say?” Marcus asked.
Jareth met his gaze. He felt sure Marcus had heard him. “A child is a constant reminder of the person you made that child with. When my dad died, sometimes mom would cry just looking at me.” He shifted his stance. “You were hurting, Marcus.”
Marcus came very close to him. “Has anyone ever told you how … empathetic you are? How kind and sweet?”
Jareth blinked. “I’ve been told I’m sweet and kind, yeah. I try to treat others the way I want to be treated.”
Marcus searched his face, and Jareth wondered what was going on. Marcus looked like he was about to kiss him. Or was Jareth just imagining that because he wanted it? Either way, it didn’t happen. Marcus simply held his gaze a few moments longer, but Jareth felt as if he’d been kissed when Marcus stepped back. Even without his powers, Marcus’s presence had seemed to engulf Jareth. “You are sweet. In a way that makes me fear for you. It would be so easy for someone to hurt you.”
“Hurt me?” Where is this coming from? Jareth couldn’t help wondering if someone had objected to Marcus teaching him to fight. Or if they worried Marcus might try to get him to use his powers, since Marcus’s were bound indefinitely. His mother had seemed to approve, still caring for Marcus in her own way despite her objections to some of his activities in the mortal world. Asyan had been fine with it as well. Could it have been his grandmother? Or one of his cousins? Meddling was the family hobby, after all, and he was just as guilty as everyone else at times. He’d certainly gotten involved in everyone else’s love lives more than once.
Marcus nodded but didn’t elaborate.
He didn’t know how to start, but his mind went back to Gil and his slightly off behavior. “Were you and Gil fighting? You seem distracted.”
Marcus laughed softly. “I am. A bit. But it’s fine. And no, we weren’t fighting. Just talking.” He put his hand on Jareth’s shoulder and squeezed, the contact sending a jolt through Jareth. “I’m glad you’re here. I care for you, Jareth. And not just because your father was my friend.”
“I know you do.” Jareth licked his lips. “I know everyone thinks I’m naïve. Fears for me, like you said. But I’m—”
Marcus silenced him by tightening his grip. “No. I don’t see you the way others do. You’re very powerful, and they treat you like a child. I want to see you reach your full potential in every way. I know you can do it.”
Jareth folded his arms, confused. “Then what did you mean when you said you fear for me?”
“I mean that you’re tenderhearted. I can be abrasive. Don’t let me get to you. If I’m harsh, it’s for your own good.”
Jareth relaxed at those words. “Is that all? It’s fine. I want you to treat me like everyone else. I know you do it for my own good. I’m here to learn, and I can take criticism. You’d never be cruel to me or hurt me on purpose.”
Marcus loosened his grip. “No. I wouldn’t.” He let go and backed up, walking around Jareth. “Were you just joking about being out of shape? You seem to have a good bit of lean muscle to you.”
Jareth hoped the heat on his cheeks was just the sun’s rays warming him. Nothing had gone as he’d envisioned so far, and now Marcus was looking much too closely at his body. “I walk and swim a lot. But I’m not that strong.”
“Strength is always good, but it’s not everything. Technique can help you compensate.” He walked around Jareth one more time. “We’re going to start with hand-to-hand stuff. I do want to work on your powers as well. Even though mine are bound, I can still guide you as I once did. Help you if you open yourself to me.”
Jareth met Marcus’s gaze, so many questions on his lips. That last sentence kept repeating in his mind. “I trust you. I’ll do anything you say.”
Marcus sucked in his bottom lip and seemed to be thinking about something. Almost a minute passed before he resumed. “Good. I hear from Gil that you rarely have issues these days.”
Jareth nodded. “But I never want to stop improving. My uncle and grandmother are so powerful. And they always seem to know exactly how to handle any situation. I’d like to be like them.”
“Hmmm.” Marcus rubbed the back of his neck, frowning. His brows came together a moment before he relaxed. “Let’s get this over with before we begin. You read my confession and attended my trial. You seemed very solemn throughout it. Is there anything about me you’re not comfortable with? You’ve seemed different since my return.”
“Different?” His heart skipped a beat at the confirmation that his behavior had been noted by Marcus.
“Yeah. Jumpy. You seem to avoid me.”
“I haven’t meant to.” He couldn’t exactly explain his behavior, not yet. When Marcus had been in the mortal world, it had been easy not to think about him too often. Jareth had, over the years, had a few lovers, but never had he felt so drawn to someone, so concerned what the other person thought and felt. Marcus’s return had knocked Jareth for a loop he hadn’t been prepared for. Not at all.
Marcus looked almost sad as he asked, “So, is there anything bothering you?”
Jareth swallowed. “Yeah, but it’s not what you think.”
“Humor me,” Marcus said, a slight smile curving his lips.
Jareth couldn’t confess—Marcus would probably laugh or refuse to train him—but there was one thing he did want to get off his chest. “I don’t like how you push everyone away and want to be seen as, I don’t know, bad. Evil. You aren’t. No one who was truly bad could be as patient as you were with me when I was young. Or put up with a group of people you don’t really like for your son’s sake.”
“Yes, I can tell you’ve spent lots of time with Gil,” Marcus said dryly, a smirk on his face.
It angered Jareth that Marcus had reacted in a way that reinforced what Jareth had just said. “Don’t joke and push me away! This is exactly what I mean!”
Marcus looked up, seeming startled. “I’m not pushing you away. It was just an observation.”
Jareth bit his lip again. “Sorry.”
“No need to apologize. I’ll keep what you said in mind.” He cleared his throat, looking down at the ground a long time. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath and then shook himself. When he focused on Jareth, he said, “Try to attack me. Something simple. Just try to come at me. Jump on me or something. As if I’ve said or done something to make you angry.”
Sure, that’s easy, trying to jump on a man I’m attracted to. But Jareth nodded and shook his limbs out. He circled Marcus a bit and lunged toward him. Marcus dodged him easily. Jareth stumbled a bit and almost fell, but then he turned back. He tried again, but Marcus evaded him. Another try yielded the same results. Jareth circled quickly and ran at Marcus, only to end up on the ground. Marcus held up one hand.
“I’m going to turn away and walk a few feet. Take your time and come at me as quietly as you can,” Marcus said. He extended one hand to help Jareth up.
Jareth accepted it, his skin tingling as the warmth of Marcus’s strong hand engulfed his. “You don’t have to make it easier. I doubt I’ll ever have to sneak up on anyone. If I’m fighting someone, it’ll be head on,” Jareth said, reluctantly letting go of Marcus’s hand.
Marcus tilted his head. “How do you know how or when you’ll ever need to do any of this? I want you ready for anything and everything.”
Words drifted through Jareth’s consciousness, and he froze. The declaration had been in Marcus’s voice, and since he was concentrating on Marcus so much, it seemed likely he’d tapped into his mind.
But I’ll kill anyone who so much as touches you. Had Marcus actually thought that? Did he really feel that way?
Jareth shook himself. “Okay, let’s go.”
Marcus narrowed his eyes but still turned away. He walked a few feet and then changed direction a bit. Jareth had worn a pretty old pair of running shoes, so he was actually able to be fairly quiet. Marcus had no powers, save the ability to call out to the king or his son mentally.
And yet Marcus turned at exactly the right moment and flipped Jareth over his body, throwing him to the grass. He straddled Jareth and grabbed both of his wrists, pinning him down. He’d knocked the breath out of Jareth, who gasped for air.
“Try to get me off you,” Marcus ordered.
Jareth’s first instinct was to buck his hips up, but the very idea had his body reacting. Instead he tried to free his hands. He got his right hand free and pushed at Marcus. When Jareth got up the nerve to try to punch Marcus, the other man deflected the blow with ease. He couldn’t get him to budge, so instead he tried to flip their positions. Jareth bent his legs and tried to roll them, and he got about halfway before Marcus bore down on him.
“Keep fighting. I can gauge how strong you are,” Marcus said. “Note your instincts.”
Jareth wondered if his self-consciousness and second guessing would throw that off. He also worried Marcus would soon find out how hard his cock could get in a matter of seconds. He’d imagined them sparring with wooden swords or something, not rolling around on the grass with their bodies pressed close. Jareth got his other arm free, but then Marcus captured both wrists in one hand. He held one finger from his other hand to Jareth’s throat.
“If I had a knife, you’d be dead. Or I could snap your neck, break some of your other bones maybe.” Marcus leaned in closer. “Do anything I wanted.”
Those words took on a completely different meaning for Jareth, and he fought back a shiver. “That’s why I’m here,” Jareth said. “To learn what to do.”
“Show me how strong your powers are. Throw me off with magic,” Marcus said.
Jareth worried he would hurt Marcus, but then again, Marcus had just flipped him over his body and pinned him down. Jareth had said he trusted him, and he needed to prove it. He thought about simply transporting himself out from under Marcus, but instead he obeyed the exact order and threw Marcus off him using magic. The older man went flying about three feet and landed on his ass. Marcus looked at him and took a deep breath.
“More powerful than I remember. Much more,” Marcus said.
Jareth sat up and got to his knees. “You okay?”
Marcus smiled. “Yes. I’m fine.” He stood up and extended his hand to Jareth. “Come on. Again.”
Jareth took Marcus’s hand and rose, feeling his power rising at the man’s touch. When fairies made physical contact, power could rise and flow between them. The power intensified if the fairies had a strong bond, or if the contact was sexual. He knew Marcus wouldn’t feel it quite the same with his powers bound, but perhaps that was for the best given the way Jareth’s heart raced at Marcus’s touch.