The click of the lock behind Thomasina is quieter than it has any right to be. Jack closes his eyes and in the space of a breath, Lucinda asks softly, "Jack?"
The temptation to snap is fierce. But just as he draws the air to do so, he hears Michelle's disappointed assertion that he could have been better than Silas. He feels that split second when he actually considered giving them the order to shoot his mother. He sees the devotion to what is right in David's eyes even as he was behind bars, protecting the very man who put him there.
It occurs to him that of the few choices he has left, he is about to make the most crucial one. He can be a thing without family, country or conscience, or he can be a man. It takes him longer to decide than it would a better man, but Jack does not imagine himself righteous, nor has he ever.
When he opens his eyes and turns, he answers in a soft tone as well. "You should think twice before dating a traitor, evidently.”
Surprisingly, she holds his gaze as she says, "Traitor." It's not a question, but it's also not an accusation. She swallows. "But…but I do not want to give my baby to your parents."
He blinks. He should know by now that he underestimates her, her substance, her fierce devotion to her desires. "No. No, I won't—"
She cuts him off, as though she never paused. "So that makes me a traitor, too, doesn't it?"
And, well, now that she mentions it, it just might.
In the first month, Jack learns that Lucinda isn't stupid: she's paralyzingly shy. When she allows herself to feel comfortable she's good at all kinds of number games and puzzles. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of classic mystery novels and early Motown R&B. She's not witty, but she laughs at his jokes, and she doesn't have it in her to be cruel, even when Jack thinks she probably should be.
He likes brushing out her hair and braiding it into pigtails. The first time she sits still for him to do so, she turns around when he's done and he frowns. She smacks his arm, not even hard enough for him to really notice and says, "Well you're the one who did it that way."
He shakes his head. "No—I. How old are you, exactly?"
She hasn't worn makeup in a while and in yoga pants and a loose t-shirt, one pigtail hanging over her shoulder and the other tossed back, she looks all of fifteen. She frowns in return. "Twenty."
Something in Jack's expression must give away the punch of guilt he feels, because she smiles, bright and painfully sweet. "But hey, I've never had a friend who would braid my hair before."
Somewhere in the third month, he tells her, "I'm sorry."
She rolls her eyes. "We've been through this. It's not like I didn't stand on the dais. I'm—"
"No," he holds up a hand. "No, not—not about that."
He grimaces and says, "For thinking you were an object of convenience. For never even considering that there was more inside you than the bargaining chip we all used."
"Oh," she says again, and laughs, waving a hand. "Nobody really thinks there's much going on with me. Side effect of incapacitating social anxiety, and all that."
"That doesn't excuse it."
She shrugs. "My family loves me. I figured, you know, once you got to know me, maybe you'd…" She makes a rolling motion with her hand and blushes, looking down. Bringing her gaze up again, she smiles, and if there's a little bit of a twitch to it, it's still one of the bravest things Jack has ever seen. And Jack has seen David Shepherd in action on numerous occasions.
Her voice is mostly even as she says, "But I'm not quite your type."
Jack has hated his urges because of the judgment they have brought upon him, because of the sinner they cast him as, because of the disappointment they have engendered in his family. He has never hated them as much as he does in this moment, when he can give her nothing. "I wish, Lulu—"
She blinks at that, and frowns. "No."
"What? No what?"
"Maybe, I mean, yes, I'd want it if that was who you were. But I don't want to change you for me, not even that part. G-d made you as you are, and you're, well, you’re the best friend I've ever had. If I change something about you, something inside you, then you're not anymore, not really. You're just some fantasy or, I don't even know. But you're not my Jack."
"Even if we are in this room forever, and I can give you nothing?"
She shakes her head. "You can’t give me sexual attraction, Jack. You give me everything else I want, even the extra strawberries at breakfast, which I know are your favorite and cook sends up for you."
He wants to say, "I love you," only it feels like betrayal, since he never managed to say it to Joseph. He wants to say, "You are my best friend, too."
In the end it is her, unsurprisingly, who is strong enough to say, "I love you," and all Jack can do is cradle her against his chest, and swear to G-d that he will allow nothing to happen to her.
The knowledge of her awareness is like the first lancing of a wound, but there is still disinfecting to be done. He talks—and she listens, and laughs, and cries—of Joseph for days, until forcing words past his throat hurts, and still he cannot stop.
He tells her about the scar from chicken pox right above Joseph's belly button, and how terrible he was at every card game known to man. He tells her how brilliant Joseph was at machines, how he could fix anything with mechanical parts. He tells her about Joseph's fantastic jokes and terrible sense of timing. He tells her about Joseph's gentleness and his braveness.
He tells her he killed Joseph and that his death was all for nothing.
And for the first time, he cries until he cannot produce tears, screams and throws his mother's vases at the walls, scores his fingernails into his skin until Lucinda makes him stop. She holds him in his sleep and sings off-key lullabies when he wakes from nightmares. She sits by him as he grieves, and after a few weeks, he comes out on the other side, ready to breathe again.
In the seventh month, the King becomes impatient. The guard who usually brings their meals instead brings Lucinda's youngest brother with a gun to his head. The boy is maybe thirteen, and Jack can smell the acrid scent of urine, but to his credit, he's staring ahead, not crying. Lucinda starts to say the boy's name, but she bites the word back, swallows it, not taking her eyes off of him.
The guard explains calmly, "You have twenty minutes to attempt to create an heir for the King. After that, I will shoot the boy, and bring in her next sibling. One by one, I will bring her family to her—"
"Enough," Jack growls. He crosses to the boy and crouches down so that he does not tower over him. Lucinda has told him so much of her family, of their bonds, their love. "Kade, yes?"
The boy gives a nervous nod. Jack says, "You're being very brave and everything is going to be fine, but I need you to close your eyes, and keep them closed until I tell you otherwise. Can you do that for me?"
Kade's swallow is audible, but he shuts his eyes. Jack crosses to where Lucinda is sitting on the bed. She's shaking, and he knows that twenty minutes is not enough to calm her, to use his endless practice at appearances for something good for once. He herds her onto the bed, pulling down her pants even as he murmurs, "Sh, sh. It'll be all right."
He kisses her. He puts every ounce of love he has for her into it, and if there's no spark in him, there is at least a low-burning flame of another sort. She digs her fingernails into his arms and he knows she's unaware, would be horrified, but he needs the pain--it anchors him.
He keeps kissing her and thinks of Joseph, of their first nights together, some of the sting gone from it now that he has mourned. It is not easy. He can feel her fear. It's not of him, he knows, but it's hard at some level to actually recognize that, when this is going to hurt. He puts his hand between them, stroking her carefully, doing his best to get her to relax, to welcome him.
When it is clear that’s not going to happen, Jack looks at the soldier and says, "At least give us some lube.” He shoves his pride down. “Please."
The soldier smirks at him and tightens his grip on Kade. "Fourteen minutes."
Barely managing to hold onto his erection past the swirl of terror in the air, Lucinda's obvious lack of readiness, and the soldier's clear pleasure in watching, Jack spits on his hand, and gets himself as wet as he can manage. It is not very much.
He tries to go slowly, but she cants her hips up, burying him in her and arching in a scream as she does so. Her, "I'm okay, it's okay, Jack, it's okay," is not at all convincing, not knowing her, not feeling the way her muscles strain under him.
He might be shaking now, too, he can't quite tell who is who anymore. He pulls her back into the kiss, because it is the only way he can think of to let her know it is him, that if nothing else, they are in this together. She gasps, "Kade, hurry, Jack, Kade."
He mutters nonsense reassurance against her skin even as he does as she asks, slamming into her, sucking up her cries, trying to imagine they are cries of pleasure, trying to imagine a deeper voice, anything, anything that will make him come.
After what feels like an eternity his orgasm hits, sharp and more biological function than pleasure. He removes himself from her as carefully as he can manage and looks over at the guard, who glances casually at his watch. "Twenty-three seconds to go. Well done, Prince Charming."
Lucinda pulls the covers over her legs and mumbles. "Kade, Kade honey, you can—you can open your eyes." She takes a breath, makes sure her voice is even when she says, "Everything's all right."
He opens his eyes and Jack can read the boy's knowledge of the lie in them, but he just offers his sister a shaky smile, a sign that he is willing to listen and believe if she wants him to. The soldier jerks the boy from the room and two seconds after the slam and lock of the door, Lucinda breaks into sobs.
Jack lets the worst of it pass, not sure if touching her will only make it worse. When he senses she can answer, he asks, "Can I help you to the shower?"
She sniffles and nods, and when he pulls her from the bed, she melts into him, placing all her trust in his steadiness. Like everything about her, it is humbling.
Once in the shower, under the too-hot water, both of them still shivering, Jack says, "I'm—"
"I swear to everything holy and true, Jonathan Benjamin, if you apologize for that, I will never speak to you again, no matter how long we are held in this room with no one but each other for company."
He believes her. She's never threatened him before, but if Jack knows anything, it is how to read a threat. Also, he’s found she’s not one for idle threats. He says, "I don't know what to say."
"Tell me—tell me I won't have a baby." Her voice cracks on the last word, but she stays standing.
He takes a breath, then another. "You won't. You won't, and if you do, I won't let them take it."
She laughs and he hates it, because it's not her real laugh, it's a placeholder for panic. "Liar."
"Yes," he agrees.
She traces the marks left by her fingernails on his upper biceps. "Lie to me some more, please."
It is the first time it happens. But Lucinda gets her period two weeks later, so it is not the last. Far from it, the instances become more regular.
Despite Jack's prayers, despite his attempts to bargain that he will take her of his own volition—refused summarily by the King, as evidently Jack had his chance—despite everything, it never gets easier. At times it is perhaps worse. Depending on the guard who is sent, on whether he or she brings friends. Every once in a rare while they will have one who shows mercy, who throws them a sample pack of lube, or gives Jack a chance to arouse Lucinda. Of course, by the time that happens, it's impossible, her awareness of a nightmare being repeated too high to overcome.
Once, Kade is sick with the flu, coughing and incapable of breathing almost the entire time and Jack can barely concentrate past the sound, nearly goes out of his mind with the fear that he will fail her, fail Kade, fail all of them.
Lucinda, though, never turns her back on him, never allows him to apologize. The third time he tries, she apologizes in return and Jack brings up everything he's eaten ever in his life.
In the tenth month, she conceives, only to bleed the cells and matter that would have become a child out four weeks later, moaning in sickness and fear and loss. For nearly two weeks after he has to coax her to eat. He's not even sure she feels it when they make him force himself on her in the second week.
He tells her his pretty lies after each session, and she curls up in his arms and pretends to believe.
Then, a year after Lucinda was locked in Jack's tomb, Michelle reappears and manages to sneak inside their quarters. She looks tired, and somehow softer, and there's an aura around her that Jack would call a sign if he wasn't all too aware G-d doesn't show him signs. Her expression is wary, though, and even knowing he deserves that, it makes it hard to breathe. He manages, "'Shelly."
He didn’t actually plan to use his childhood nickname for her, but having done it feels right. Some of the wariness in her eyes seeps away and she half-smiles. "Jackie."
Lucinda, who's been reading tucked away in the nest she's made of the walk-in closet, wanders in still in her pajamas and with her hair a mess and stops dead in her tracks. Her mouth opens a couple of times and shuts just as quickly. Jack realizes he's forgotten about the anxiety, forgotten who she is when it's not just the two of them in a conversation. He moves to tuck her into his side and says, "Hey there, Lulu."
She moves in as close as she can get, keeping her eyes on Michelle. "Your highness?"
Michelle's gaze flickers over the two of them, confused. After a moment she shakes her head, and most of the wariness has been replaced by a sort of sadness. "Michelle. Just—just Michelle, Miss Wolfson."
Jack strokes Lucinda's lower back and says as gently as he can, "Mrs. Benjamin. They had us legally married to ensure the legitimacy of any possible issue."
Lucinda offers a hesitant, "I like Luci."
The tips of Michelle's lips curl upward. "That's pretty. Luci."
It was what her brothers and sisters called her. He kisses the top of her head. Refocusing on Michelle he asks, "Are you well?"
She nods slowly. "I am. Are—" She looks between them and does not finish the question. She bites her bottom lip. "I have to go. The guards will be back momentarily. I'll come again. Is there—tell me there is something I can do."
Jack whispers to Lucinda, "She could carry a letter to your family."
She stills for a moment, clearly considering it, but in the end, she shakes her head. "Too much risk. I'm certain we'll see Kade soon enough." There's resignation in the statement. "He can at least let them know I'm alive."
Michelle asks, "Is there something else you would have them know?"
Lucinda straightens a bit, still leaning into Jack, but giving herself a bit more space, more presence. "As—as bad as things are, I have family here, too."
With one last glance between the two of them, and a smile Jack still associates with wonder and innocence, Michelle nods. "Until the next time."
The guards, when they come next, come without Kade, and in force. They have Jack and Lucinda separated before either of them even comprehends that something different is happening. One of the guards takes the butt of his rifle to Lucinda's stomach and she goes white, clearly tries doubling over despite being held upright.
Jack loses it for a moment, trying to reach her, only coming back when the arm one of the guards is holding twists too far up behind him and snaps. The pain brings him down enough to focus, but he still doesn't understand what the fuck is going on when they ask, "Where are they?"
"Who?" Both of them ask it, gasps from each of them.
The guard who likes beating on tiny women, evidently, backhands Lucinda. She draws her bottom lip under her teeth and doesn't make a sound. The guard snarls. "Don't play games with us."
Jack thinks, because he doesn't doubt they will continue hurting her. Him they have to be a little careful with, nothing fatal, but they can marry him to anyone with the right bloodline and keep at this. There's been a time or two when Jack's been na´ve, but this is not one of them. And he's never been stupid.
"Where are they?" is repeated, this time with more force, with a backhand to the other side of Lucinda's face.
They. He tries, "We've been here, you know we've been—" he cuts off as they wrench the broken arm, and comes back to find them training a gun on Lucinda's stomach. He's seen people die of gut wounds before.
It's either desperation or luck that makes things snap into focus for Jack, but he will take it. No Kade. They're here without Kade. They're looking for Lucinda's family. And the timing, Michelle's return, it's not a coincidence, Jack knows too damn well nothing works like that.
Which is a problem, because he cannot—will not—give up Michelle, give up Lucinda's family. She wouldn't even want him to, not if they kill her for it and the thought brings him nearly to full panic. He can’t do this without her.
He focuses on her, trying to find a way out, a solution. He decided not to run, once, and he's wondering, if maybe he should have, if it would have kept her safe. Then almost laughs at himself. Of course it would not have.
The guard crashes the butt of the rifle against her ribs and Jack hears the crack. She screams and goes limp, her eyes rolling back. He tries another desperate, "We don't know what you're asking, we don't—"
Another guard comes and wakes her with a pail of water, ice still in it, one of the cubes hitting with enough force to tear the skin of her jaw. She wakes scared and disoriented and it is only when Jack says, "Lu, hey, hey Lu," that she finds him with her eyes and breathes.
They go back to beating on her: a displaced shoulder here, unpulled punches to her kidneys there. At some point, they decide their method isn't working. Four of them bring Jack to the ground, spread-eagle, the pressure on the broken arm enough to make him heave. He doesn't remember much after they start using the cattle prod.
He awakens still on the floor. When he opens his eyes, Lucinda's across from him. Her eyes are closed, but she's breathing. It's something. Her inhalations are shallow, though, and he's worried about internal damage.
Slowly, he manages to use his good arm to get to a sitting position. He pulls her head into his lap as best he can, and for the first time in as long as he can remember, prays with everything he has in him.
Maybe G-d answers, because Michelle returns. But then again, Michelle said she would, and that's Michelle all over. Her eyes widen the second she slips into the room and Jack could almost smile at the way she still never expects the worst of people. She sits down at his side but does not touch him, and he is grateful. He doubts there is anywhere that would not hurt.
He asks, quietly, "Are they safe?"
Her nod is sharp, definite, and he breathes a sigh of relief. Then he takes another breath and tells her, in no uncertain terms, "You have to get her out of here."
Lucinda hasn't woken in nearly twelve hours by his count. She needs medical help, and he's well aware that no amount of begging is going to get her what she needs. Michelle shakes her head. "He'll kill you."
"No." Jack has thought this through. "No. He needs a legitimate heir." It lies unspoken, will never be spoken by Jack, that Michelle is not a viable candidate for that, according to the doctors. "And he wants me to suffer. I'll be fine."
She all-but rolls her eyes at him. He tilts his head. "I'll be alive. And she'll be safe. With her family. And I need that, Shelly."
It is a long moment before Michelle dips her head and says, "Very well."
"Thank you." His relief is practically a living thing inside him, so fierce he barely feels the bite of fear underneath, the terror of doing this alone.
"We're coming for you, though. As soon as we can, we're coming back for you."
The pronoun rolls through Jack's head. He snaps his gaze to her, and she smiles, a quiet answer to the question in his eyes. David's out there. And she knows where he is.
Whoever Michelle has working with her, they're good, and they've clearly got some kind of divine favor working for them, because Lucinda disappears from the most heavily guarded room in the most heavily guarded castle in the world within three hours of Jack's request. It happens so quickly and subtly that he actually sleeps through it, waking alone.
It is discovered shortly thereafter, of course. A physician is sent to him. The arm, to be set correctly, will need to be rebroken.
For a drug to kill the pain, he need only answer a few questions.
He takes the less painful option and keeps his mouth shut.
He sleeps a lot. It's easier than being awake. When he's awake he thinks of things he wants to tell Lucinda, of the just-perfect heat of her when they would curl up together and read or just talk. Asleep the worst he can experience is nightmares. He has no question which he prefers.
He must stop eating, because at some point they hold a gun to his head. When that doesn't work, they pin him down and force feed him, massaging his throat so what they push in will go down. After that, he eats.
Time stops meaning anything, so he has no idea how much of it has passed when he is sent his new ‘bride,’ a widow in her late twenties. She reminds him of Katrina, but more willing to lie down and roll over for his parents.
He doesn't know, doesn't think to struggle when they strip him, tie him to the bed. There's no threat forcing him to perform.
His lovely ‘wife’ lubes up a vibrator and slides it gently inside him, working until she finds the right spot. And then it is only a matter of time and biological imperative before she can straddle his thighs and ride him to completion. He slumps against the bonds when she is finished.
She allows him half an hour before starting again. And an hour after the second time. On the fourth forced orgasm, he breaks, loses all sense of self, and begs for it to stop. To his surprise, she leaves off, collecting her things and the guards, and exiting the room.
Of course, she returns two days later. This time Jack struggles. He doesn't win.
Sleep abandons him. When it comes at all, it is filled with the sound of Lucinda's screams, the feel of blood seeping into the skin of his hands. He strips the bed of its sheets and twists them into rope, but they are confiscated before he can figure out where he might hang them, what might take his weight.
He breaks the mirror in the bathroom, but someone must hear the shatter, because they stop him just after he has managed to breach his skin. They take all the breakables, and anything that might be sharpened, including his toothbrush and the wire hangers.
Jack's not a quitter, but for the moment, he's stumped as to what to do next.
Michelle returns, this time with guards in her wake, keeping watch. Processing thoughts has become a monumental effort, and when he first sees this, Jack stops breathing. Michelle puts a palm to his chest and says, "Hey."
And then he laughs, the situation catching up with him. Michelle frowns, which is fair, because he can hear the hysterical edge of his amusement. "Only you," he tells her.
A regular Trojan horse, is Michelle, sweeping Silas's support right out from under him, inside his own walls, and with not a shot fired. She kisses his forehead, swiping his too-long hair back. They haven't cut it since the incident with the mirror. He has a beard, too. Lucinda would laugh and tell him it was unbecoming.
Michelle whispers, "No, Jack. Not just me."
Two nights later, only hours after his newest bride has left and Jack is curled up in Lucinda’s old corner of the closet, one of the guards Michelle has cajoled to the side of the angels comes for him. He hands Jack a gun. Not for the first time, Jack is glad he taught himself how to shoot with both hands; his dominant arm is still in a cast.
The guard asks him, “Can you run if necessary?”
By all physical standards, the answer is no. Jack nods. “I’ll be right behind you.”
They make it to the back entrance for the servants before all hell breaks loose. The guards trying to recapture him are handicapped in that they cannot kill him. He is handicapped in that he is weak and exhausted. He shoots carefully, one bullet for each target, until he is out of ammunition, at which point he has more cover, allies coming out of the woodwork, almost literally.
The original guard who came to retrieve Jack is working to get him out the door, where they are greeted by more gunfire, as well as more of Michelle and David’s followers. Jack runs, as promised, he runs, but he is hit in the shoulder blade all the same and goes down for a moment.
Someone--not his original guard, Jack has lost track of him--hauls him up and they keep going, keep going, keep going.
Jack does not make it to wherever their destination is. Maybe he is not meant to, not trusted with the information, but it doesn’t matter, he’s physically incapable of moving any further by the time he drops to the ground. The bullet wound is still bleeding, and he has eaten, but not well, for weeks and weeks now. His arm has not completely healed and evidence of his most recent beating mark him stem to stern.
He has the sense of being scooped up, of someone calling him by the military rank he once held. He says, “Thank you.”
After that, he must lose consciousness, as he remembers nothing.
At first, he thinks he is hallucinating. There’s too much pain for him to be dead, but Lucinda’s body--he would know the feel of her wrapped around him under any circumstance--is soft and warm against his, and he feels safe in a way he hasn’t, not since being taken hostage, maybe not even before that.
He murmurs, “Hey Lulu,” almost in spite of himself. He doesn’t want this dream or illusion or whatever it is to end. But he also wants to hear her voice.
“‘Bout time you woke up, lazy,” she responds, laughter in her voice.
He opens his eyes. The room they’re in is small and dark, almost as if it is underground. Perhaps it is. He has no idea where he might be. “You really here?”
She wiggles up so she’s looking him in the eyes. Her cheekbones are a little too sharp, but otherwise she appears well. Her smile is breathtaking. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m here and so are you.”
“Where is here?”
“David and Michelle’s Home for Wayward Rebels. How’s that for treason, huh?”
His smile starts way down, maybe even past his gut, in his toes. “I think we both get gold stars.”