It had started last night, after dinner Rose had taken Lucinda into a private drawing room and told her to take a seat. That was the first warning, that Rose was offering her tea, pouring the service for her instead of asking Lu to do it or getting a servant in the room. It was an awkward affair, Rose’s perfectly manicured hands flitting at Lu’s eye level as the queen set up the tea cups and the pot on the tray.
Something had gone wrong at Port Prosperity. Lu wasn’t stupid, despite what Rose thought of her. As she was handed the piping hot tea, she smiled sweetly, thanking the queen as she took the china. She raised the delicate cup to her mouth to take a small sip from the tea, burning her tongue in the process but keeping her sweet smile on her face. The Queen, Lu was sure, thought that she had something to do with whatever trouble Jack had gotten into up north - as if Jack told her anything.
It was a shame that Rose underestimated her, but it was the only advantage Lu had. It was no shock that the Queen was incapable of imagining that the girl in front of her could go against her wishes in any manner. So Lu stayed innocent. She kept her dresses pressed, her hair combed, her ankles crossed. And when Rose spoke at all about Jack, Lu blushed, looked down at the carpet and tried to imagine what on earth could have gone wrong in Port Prosperity. What the hell had Jack done this time?
“I thought it was a diplomatic mission.” (look up, eyes wide, don’t overdo it.) “Has something gone wrong?”
Jack felt his headache increasing the closer the cavalcade got to Shiloh. Port Prosperity had been sunny when he left, which stung at his eyes when David had opened the curtains, as though the bright sun would cure them rather than remind them of the empty bottles they’d dumped unceremoniously into the recycling bin that David had observed, with a hungover sardonic tone Jack hadn’t ever heard from him before, would probably just get dumped into the garbage anyway.
The blond soldier had dropped him off a block away from where he’d picked him up. The prince was missing his jacket and his wallet, some buttons from his wrinkled shirt, though he’d gained a bruise under his eye and a tender spot on the side of his head. He’d been surprised how difficult it had been to talk David into it; he couldn’t imagine that the other man didn’t want to hit him, beat him. The bruise was barely there, would heal in a day or two; it was apparently all the cruelty David Shepherd could muster, and only in the service of a believable story of a mugging while Jack had stepped out for some air. And who’d believe it, except for that bruise.
No one mentioned the smell of liquor Jack imagined must just be rising off him as he dozed in the warm backseat of the long, official car. He shrugged off questions and the offer of a well-meaning soldier to get him a doctor. He concentrated on the sound of his shoes on the marble staircase as he made his way back to his suite of rooms. He didn’t know or care if Lucinda would be there, didn’t care about the two guards walking behind him (two? was that necessary?). He didn’t glance at them as he pushed the door open and walked straight to the bathroom, running a hot shower and losing himself under the water for long enough to forget that he was home.
Lu was in the sitting area when she heard the doors open and close. Sitting on the couch she shifted, pulled down the fabric of her skirt and watched the door to their bedroom, hoping it would open. Nothing. The water turned on and Lu looked away from the light blue door, shifted on the couch and took a deep breath, staring at the weave on the carpet. At least he was back and operating under his own steam. That had to count for something.
Her hand trembling slightly, she closed the book on her lap, putting it on the table in front of her. The room was too big for just her, the apartments were too small for two of them. Standing up, she shifted, pulling her robe closed and tying the front as she walked through the door into the bedroom. The water was the loudest thing in the apartment as she slowly padded to the door of the en suite bathroom. Taking a deep breath she knocked on the door, watching the steam seep under the door.
“Jack?” Her voice was soft. “Are you doing alright?”
Quiet as her voice was, Jack heard it. As though he had a special channel, reserved just for her; her voice pierced through the sound of the shower and his own thoughts. His dark head was bowed under the water, both hands on his head. His eyes were already closed and he squeezed them closed tighter. There was no real answer for her. Was he alright? Some things were better now. He had a plan; the flash drive was sitting on the edge of the counter, waiting for him to hold in his hand again, a tangible proof that the last two days had happened, hadn’t just been a dream while he lay at the edge of the bed away from the warm reach of the woman now calling his name at the door.
No answer. Lu closed her eyes and glanced to the side, her arm dropping slowly from the door. She doubted that he hadn’t heard her - she had surely enunciated clearly. A small flush crept up the back of her neck as she realized he was ignoring her.
He let the silence stretch out between them, picturing her standing there. He knew she’d wait. She always waited. He’d known her to fall asleep outside that door, while he’d leaned against the wall and let the shower run as he texted with David, smiling to himself when he read that final ‘Be good, Jack.’ His smile had faltered as he nudged her awake, watching her stumble to bed.
The prince had no smile now as he turned off the water; it was started to cool down anyway.
“I’m fine, Lulu.” His voice was harsh in his own ears, loud enough to be heard through the door. “I’ll be out in a minute. Go to bed.” Jack grabbed a towel and rubbed himself dry, still standing in the shower, then wrapped it around his waist. He grabbed onto the flash drive, tucking it safely against the palm of his hand. Opening his hand for a minute, he looked down at the innocuous-looking device against the scars. He leaned down to gather up the clothes he’d been wearing, then dropped them again. He was a prince, damn it. Someone else could clean up his clothes.
Go to bed. A short order after a long weekend. Lu rested her head against the door and took a deep breath, trying to figure out if Jack meant anything more by that, if he was angry or upset or just annoyed.
“I’m going to stay up a bit.” She said, brushing her knuckles against the door before standing up straighter and pulling her robe a little tighter across herself. “I have some tea. If you want it.” Pausing for a few more seconds, she waited at the door, watching the unresponsive wooden frame before taking another step back, turning away. Lu pushed her hair behind her ear, resisting the urge to run into the sitting room, away from Jack, away from the silence that he refused to break. She forced herself to walk calmly, gently pushing the door open and disappearing behind it.
Jack closed his fist around the drive again; it was slightly cool in his overwarm hand. Tea. He took a deep breath, walking over to the bathroom door and opening it slowly, fighting the sudden impulse to shove it open and potentially hit her, the dark haired wisp of a girl he could almost feel pressing her ear to the door to catch any secret, hidden sounds he could make.
He was surprised when she wasn’t there. The steam rushed out of the room, dissipating almost immediately; he shivered slightly when the cooler air of the outer room hit his still damp skin. The prince glanced over, noting the bedroom door ajar and knowing she was in there waiting for him. His steps were slower as he reached the door, knocking once before opening the door and walking in; he was careful to close it behind himself, hearing the quiet latching as the only sound in the room. Jack didn’t look to see where Lucinda was in the room, going over to his walk in closet to find a sweater and relatively worn pajama pants. He wasn’t a prince in bed. Before dressing quickly, Jack hid the flash drive from David back behind the rolls of tee shirts he no longer wore. He’d find a better place in the morning, but for now that would have to do. As he re-accustomed himself to being home, he could smell the faint perfume Lu wore and what was likely the tea she was drinking. Taking a deep breath, he walked out of the closet into the bedroom proper, feeling his face already slightly stony.