Word Count: 23,000+
Rating: NC-17/ Mature Content
Summary: Eureka plunges into a dark fairytale world where its citizens must figure out the curse of the Red Witch and break the spell in order to get back to their lives. Written for the Marshal Science August Challenge and Musingdarkly/Becca who wanted "anything, hot smut would be a plus".
Chapter 3: Taburnus Diem
Jack woke up to sunshine filtering in enough to bathe the room in a soft, warm light and the chirping of birds outside in the forest. Finding the room empty, he stood up and stretched. His clothes had been folded neatly on the side table. Jack picked them up and headed for the shower.
With no interruption this time, he finished quickly and made his way into the main room to find it empty as well. His stomach growled and seeing no other choice he went outside the cabin to see if he could tell where everyone had gone to.
“Hello,” he called out at first, but remembering how dangerous these woods could be, he held his tongue as he circled the building. Finding no one, he stopped and listened. Suddenly Fargo’s voice drifted up from down one of the trails. Jack walked quietly in that direction when Stark’s sudden presence startled him into shouting.
“Do you have to sneak up on me like that?”
“What are you doing outside of the cabin?” Stark asked as if Jack had done something deeply wrong.
“Trying to figure out where everyone went. You didn’t exactly leave a note,” Jack said before catching onto the reason for Stark’s accusatory tone.
“You thought I was trying to run away.”
“No,” Jack said, as much to his surprise as anyone else’s. “I’m not running away.”
“Everyone alright?” Taggart asked, walking up the trail with Fargo fast behind him, carrying a bucket. His voice still held a bit of the wolf in it and his eyes were yellow, but he seemed more restrained. The thick fur that had covered him the other night remained.
“Yeah,” Jack answered. “Just a little hungry.”
“Well we caught some fish,” Fargo replied and then lifted his bucket in demonstration, “but anything else will have to wait until we get into town.”
“We should be there by nightfall and the inn will have food,” Stark added and then put a possessive hand on Jack’s back, guiding him back up to the cabin.
They walked nearly all day, but did not encounter any trolls or werewolves or other weird creatures – besides Taggart of course. In spite of the occasional rumbling in his stomach, Jack was grateful for the little things.
The forest even grew lighter.
At midday, they came upon a small stream, nothing big, but enough to cool off in, and true to Starks prediction, they arrived in town just as the sun was setting.
The town of Eureka bustled with all sorts of people, but their clean and neat appearance contrasted sharply with Jack and Fargo’s threadbare garments and sweaty state. Stark and Taggart stood out even more with wildness radiating out from them. Most of the people in the streets gave their group a wide berth.
The inn the others spoke of, Tabernus Diem, was located right in the heart of Eureka and a lively, round man welcomed them in.
“Good evening boys, what can I get you?” he seemed to say as if by rote, then took a double take at Taggart.
“It’s alright, he won’t hurt anyone,” Jack explained quickly, heading off any panic.
The Innkeeper then took note of Jack with eyes that grew wide. “Oh my, you’re not from around here, are you?”
“We’re taking him to the Queen first thing tomorrow,” Stark spoke before Jack could. “We’ll need shelter for the night and food.”
“Sure, no problem,” the Innkeeper bustled behind his counter to retrieve a key with a number on it. “Would you like to get cleaned up first?”
“Yes,” Jack answered before Stark could. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” the lively man seemed to warm up to Jack’s friendlier demeanor and handed him the room key. “We’ve got a decent amount of supplies here, so I can make you just about anything you’d like for dinner. Really anything. I love cooking and so enjoy a challenge. Most people around here are pretty settled in their ways and it’s always the same old boring fare. So what can I make you?”
Jack’s mind blanked at the onslaught. He blinked and then looked around at what the other customers were eating. A handsome, dark haired young man winked at him and held up his plate, obviously listening to their conversation.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” Jack blurted out and the stranger smiled wide at him and waggled his eyebrows.
Vincent paled and Jack could hear Stark started growling softly behind him.
“You want a grilled cheese sandwich?” Vincent asked in disbelief.
“And soup,” Jack added. “Something warm – surprise me.”
Vincent turned away, not bothering to take anyone else’s order and clearly annoyed with Jack response.
“I didn’t tell you what I want,” Taggart protested, raising his voice.
“Something bleeding and barely warmed,” Vincent countered before ducking into the kitchen.
“Well yeah,” Taggart replied to no one in particular.
The handsome stranger had wondered over towards Jack in the mean time and held out his hand. “I’m Zane.”
“Jack,” he replied and shook Zane’s hand, smiling. He glanced over to Stark, who clearly wasn’t smiling, but rather looking at Zane as if he were the Red Witch in disguise. Jack released Zane’s hand and gave him an apologetic look. “I’m new here.”
“I figured as much. I haven’t seen you before and in a town like Eureka, you pretty much get to know everyone. You want to join me for dinner.”
“I'd love to, just let my companions and I get settled in first.”
Zane smiled brilliantly. “I'll see you then.”
Jack turned to find three very sour expressions staring back at him. “On second thought, I'll...um...get back to you,” he called out to Zane across the room and gave him an apologetic shrug.
“I can't stand that guy,” Fargo said dully, but didn't elaborate any further.
Taggart nodded in agreement, but Stark only stared at Jack as if he'd somehow wronged him again.
“What?” Jack asked in frustration. “What did I do this time?”
Stark looked like he was going to answer, but stopped himself short and held out a hand.
“The key,” Fargo spoke for Stark, shaking his head at Jack.
“Oh, right.” Jack handed over their room key. Stark took it and strode away from him, heading up the stairs in the back of the Inn, followed closely by Fargo, then Taggart. Jack rubbed the back of his neck and climbed the stairs behind them.
There wasn't much to unpack, so each member of their group took turns cleaning up in the shared bathroom. When they finally descended back down into the dining area of the Inn, Jack felt a little better despite Stark aloofness. He felt even better when Vincent had their dinner waiting for them, warm and smelling delicious.
Jack tucked into his meal, moaning at the first incredible taste of the soup. He wasn't sure exactly what it was, but there was beef, vegetables and some kind of rich flavor to the thick broth which he'd ever tasted before. The cheese sandwich was perfect and the tall beer Vincent had poured for him rounded off his dinner excellently. He was so enthralled with his meal, that he barely noticed Taggart's savage ripping apart of meat – almost.
“That's disgusting,” Fargo commented over his plate of grilled chicken.
“It's the wolf,” Stark replied sagely in between neat bites of his vegetables and sgreens, however his expression showed his agreement with Fargo's assessment.
Jack noted the blood dripping down Taggart's chin. “When Vincent said barely warmed, he wasn't kidding, was he?”
“Everything alright here?” a busty tavern wench saddled up next to Jack and wrested a hand on the back of his chair. “Can I get you anything?”
Jack turned to find milky white cleavage inches from his face. He made an effort to look up. “Maybe some more napkins.”
She winked at him. “I'll get you a towel.”
Jack glanced back over at Taggart, happily gnawing on a bone. “That would probably work better.”
“And anything for you boys?” she asked Fargo and Stark.
“Ketchup,” Fargo replied. Stark nodded his head, once again looking annoyed.
“And you Jack,” she said in a husky voice as she traced a finger down the side of his face before resting her hand on his shoulder. “Anything I can get you?”
Jack swallowed and shook his head.
“My name's Callie,” she practically purred.
“That's nice,” he replied, sneaking a pleading glance at Stark for help, who only smirked and politely sipped his water. She looked at him as if awaiting a specific reply.
“It's a nice name,” Jack reiterated, not knowing what else to say.
“Well, if there's anything you need from me, you just let me know,” she told him before withdrawing to go check on a neighboring table.
“Friendly girl,” Jack commented before digging back into his dinner.
“She likes to be spanked in public,” Fargo answered matter of factly.
Jack choked on his food. Stark laughed softly at him, but took pity on Jack enough to hand him some water and pat his back a couple of times.
“I didn't need to know that,” Jack replied once he could. “Really didn't need to know that.” He moved his chair closer to the table and closer to Stark, whose patting had turned into gently rubbing.
Stark seemed to relax a little after that, but kept his arm casually draped over Jack's shoulders. They stayed in the main dining area of Tabernus Diem and as the evening wore on, Jack discovered that the town of Eureka considered public spanking to be a quite appropriate for an evening's entertainment.
“It's why she works here,” Fargo told Jack with a wiggle of his brows.
Another crack sounded as Callie received a final paddle from a customer Jack had yet to meet.
“Alright ladies and gentlemen,” Vincent announced cheerfully, “I know there are some eager audience members waiting for their punishment out there.”
Jack's eyebrows went up and his eyes tracked to a plain looking man who stood up, knocking his chair backwards and looking around with a watchful eye as if making sure he beat out anyone else.
“Larry!” Vincent announced with a lascivious grin. “We all know you could use a sound spanking.”
“Or flogging,” Fargo muttered just loud enough for everyone at the table to hear.
Stark's foot snaked behind Jack's foot as he pressed up against him tightly. Larry started to unbuckle his pants. Jack leaned in to whisper in Stark's ear, “Want to go upstairs?”
“I thought you'd never ask.”
They scooted their chairs back so quickly, they almost knocked them over.
“You two leaving?” Taggart asked with concern.
“I'm kind of tired from all the walking and I've got a big day tomorrow with the Queen and all,” Jack explained as Stark took his hand and slowly, but surely, dragged him towards the stairs, “but you guys should stay and have fun.”
Jack sort of bounced a little when he sat on the bed. He leaned back on his hands and looked Stark up and down, admiring the bare skin and tight fit of the leather pants. “You were jealous tonight,” he teased.
Stark smirked. “Was I?”
“And what would I have to be jealous of?”
He considered Jack's suggestion, wearing a contemplative look as he unfastened his trousers. Jack's mouth went dry. “Nope. I have no interest in Zane. Nothing to be jealous of there.”
“And Callie,” Jack continued while his eyes followed Stark's movements.
Stark grinned. “I'm really not jealous of Callie.”
Jack's eyes lingered on Stark's naked form before looking back up and into his eyes. “You didn't like them being friendly with me.”
“Friendly,” he approached Jack until he stood right in front of him. “Hmm.”
Jack sat up a little straighter and stroked the crease between Stark's hip and groin with the back of his fingers. He leaned forward and traced it again with his tongue.
“Friendly,” Jack muttered between kissing his way up Stark's stomach.
“No,” Stark declared. “Their friendliness didn't bother me in the least.”
Jack stopped what he was doing to look up at Stark's face. “Ok then,” he said before bolting up and deftly dodging around Stark, “I think I should go be friendly with them some more.”
Stark grabbed Jack's arm and pulled him back over in front of him. “You're not going anywhere.”
“What? You think you have some sort of claim on me?”
Jack had meant it to be a teasing statement, but Nathan's eyes flashed dark and he reached up to stroke Jack's neck.
Jack swallowed hard, suddenly angry. “You think that's what's keeping me here?”
“No,” Stark's voice took on an edge, “if it wasn't for the curse on this town, I'm sure you'd be long gone now - out seeking your fortune.”
“And you'd be just a lonely man who couldn't keep anyone around because you shut them out,” Jack countered and then paused for a moment. “Oh wait...you still are,” he added before pulling away and leaving the room with a slam of the door.
He stood in the hallway for a couple of minutes, half expecting Stark to come charging after him.
It didn't happen.
Jack eyed the stairs, reluctant to go back down for fear of what he'd find. This was the strangest place he’d ever been in.
“Trouble in paradise?” Zane commented from across the hall and a couple of doors down.
“What makes you say that?”
Zane laughed and looked at him, then the closed door behind Jack, and then back at him.
“I don't want to talk about it.”
“Want a drink?”
“Oh yeah,” his eyes flashed back to the stairs, but a startlingly loud moan made him back up the other direction.
“They're probably getting ready to go into full blown orgy mode right about now,” Zane explained.
“This town's weird. You know that, right?”
Zane laughed again and nodded. “I've got some whiskey in my room.”
Jack looked at him, then back at his own closed door and then back at Zane. “I'm not going to sleep with you.”
“Which is why I'm inviting you in,” Zane stage whispered in a mock secretive voice.
Jack considered his options for a moment before relenting. “Just a couple of drinks.”
A bottle and a half between the two of them later Jack was vaguely away that he was three sheets to the wind. He could no longer stand for very long without falling over, so he sat on one of the twin beds occupying the room with his back against the headboard while Zane sat in a similar position on the other bed. He'd long given up the idea of going back to his own room.
“So what's this Queen like?” Jack slurred with his eyes closed.
“Hot,” Zane answered succinctly.
Jack would have rolled his eyes if it didn't require that he open them. “Women aren't hot. They're sweet or sophisticated or delicate. Not hot. At least not to me.”
“That's probably why you're having sex with a guy.”
“Yeah.” Jack slunk down on the bed some more. “That's new,” he added.
Jack squinted his eyes and rolled his head enough to the side to see Zane looking at him intently. “Yeah, I think. I don’t remember much about what happened before I woke up in the forest by Taggart’s cabin, but it feels new.”
“I know what you mean. There’s stuff that goes on here that feels out of place, but you know is suppose’ to be happening a certain way.”
“Like the spanking?”
“I didn't mean to start sleeping with Stark, I was in the woods trying to find a way out and it just sort of happened,” he confessed.
“Stark? That's his name?”
“Nah, he won’t tell me his name. Stark's just what I call him,” Jack explained. “What do you call him?”
Jack sniggered. “Must be why he's so fond of you.”
“He likes me,” Zane insisted with a lazy drawl. “I'm the Hero. It's what I do and everyone likes me.”
“Fargo and Taggart don't.”
“The Queen,” he explained. “I'm her favorite and they both wish she liked them more.”
That jogged Jack's memory back to his original question. “So what's she like?”
“Beautiful, powerful,” Zane's face sort of lit up and he smiled a little. “Smart and clever. She seems hard on the outside, but she's really kind and gentle once you get to know her.”
The conversation drifted off and the next thing Jack knew morning sunshine was making the room entirely too bright for someone with a headache as bad as his.
“If you're going to be sick, aim for the bucket in the corner,” Zane advised in a cheerful voice Jack was quickly growing to resent.
“Why aren't you feeling like crap?”
Zane pointed to a glass full of think green liquid perched on the side table next to Jack. “Vincent's magical hangover cure. It's worth its weight in gold.”
It looked like someone blended up moss and poured it into a drinking glass. Jack's stomach turned at the thought of drinking it. He closed his eyes again. “Any other alternative?”
“Suffer your fate like a man.”
Jack opened his eyes again and looked over at Zane tying up his boots and moving without the need to puke. He levered himself up and downed the hangover remedy as quickly as he could, flinching at the taste, but swallowing anyway.
“There's some water,” Zane said as Jack reached for the other glass on the table and used the water to wash the bitter taste out of his mouth. “You better get cleaned up before we go to see the Queen.”
“We? You're going with us?”
Zane smiled rakishly. “I never miss the opportunity to see Her Majesty.”