"Are we eating in the study again?" Steve asked. "I still don't think I'm ready for company quite yet."
"I understand, my Lord. I'll see to it that lunch is brought here."
"Of course, my Lord." Marcellus bowed and headed for the door.
"Oh, wait." Marcellus stopped and Steve drew nearer to him. Something had been bothering him all day, and he hadn't had the guts to ask so far. However, the emergency point was drawing near and he couldn't afford to wait any longer. "I, uh... I need to use the bathroom," he said softly.
"You wish to take another bath?"
"No, no. I... um..."
"Oh," Marcellus said, noticing the direction of Steve's glance. "You mean the head? Why didn't you say so?" Steve shrugged, hoping it was a rhetorical question. Marcellus opened the door for Steve and gestured toward the left. "Go right ahead," he said. "I'll just meet you in the study."
"Okay, great." Marcellus bowed and Steve turned and started walking slowly down the hall. He glanced behind him and watched Marcellus until he disappeared down the far staircase. Then he looked at the row of doors. There were five to the right of his room. "Great." Steve went to the first door and tapped a couple of times.
"Enter." Steve opened the door to see a boy of about seventeen sitting on a small bench, reading a book. There was nothing else in the small room except a table with a basin, a pitcher and a tray with soap and towels on it. Might be the right place. Steve cleared his throat and the boy looked up. His eyes widened and he hopped up, tossed the book to the bench and bowed deeply. "Forgive me, Sire. I didn't - you don't usually knock."
"Don't sweat it," Steve said.
"Don't worry about it," Steve amended.
"Ah." The boy walked backwards to a door opposite the entrance and held it open. Steve looked into the second room. It was about the same size as the first, pleasantly decorated, with a tiled floor and scenic paintings on the walls. There were two pieces of furniture. One was a tall wooden chair with a plush back, hard seat, and a cabinet underneath instead of legs. The other piece of furniture was a table with a pile of paper napkins on it. In the far right corner of the room was a plain pitcher, the purpose of which, Steve couldn't guess. Steve walked closer to the chair and took a better look. He now saw that the seat had a panel on it. He lifted it to reveal a very familiar sight. "A toilet!"
"Er... yes, Your Majesty."
Steve turned to face the boy, who was still there, holding the door open. "Don't pay any attention to me, son," he said. "I'm having a strange day."
"Yes, Your Majesty. Do you require anything else?"
"No, thanks," Steve said. The boy bowed and closed the door. Mouth shut, Steve. Shut. Steve disentangled himself from his tights and used the remarkably clean and comfortable toilet. It smelled slightly of disinfectant and lemons, and the chair's plush back was extremely cozy. He sat there for several moments, just enjoying the solitude - the lack of pressure from having to keep up this pretense of being a king. Finally, he used a couple of the napkins - softer than any toilet paper he'd yet used - and left the "head." The boy, now standing beside the table in the other room, bowed and picked up a glass vial similar to the ones the attendants had used in Steve's bath. The boy looked expectantly at Steve. After a moment, Steve shook his head and cupped his hands in front of the kid. The young attendant poured a small amount of soap into Steve's hands, then poured water over Steve's hands while he washed. Steve dried his hands on the towel the boy provided, then smiled. "Thank you."
"You're welcome, Sire," he said. "I hope your day improves."
"Thanks very much," Steve said with a smile. The boy bowed again and held the door open. Steve stepped out, then glanced behind him. The boy was already half way back to the actual bathroom. Steve watched him pick up the plain pitcher he'd seen and open a trap door in the floor underneath it. Then the boy opened the cabinet under the toilet and pull out a large metal basin with wide edges. He carefully poured the contents of the tray down through the trap door, wiped the tray clean with some napkins which he tossed down the chute as well. He poured a little of the contents of the pitcher into the tray, put it back in the cabinet and went back to the front room to wash his hands. Steve shook his head, marveling at the whole process. At least they're clean around here.
Steve returned to the study to wait for Marcellus. He passed the time by looking out the window. He had an excellent view of the garden and he decided to take this opportunity to study the maze. Maybe if he figured it out up here, he could remember next time he went inside. After a while, Steve heard the doors open. Marcellus came in, followed by eight attendants. Two held the breakfast table between them, two brought chairs, and the rest all carried heavy-looking trays. Everyone bowed to Steve. Then the attendants started setting things up, and Marcellus came over to the window. "Enjoying your view?"
"Very much so," Steve said. "So what's on the menu for lunch?"
"Grilled tuna in lemon sauce, I believe," Marcellus replied.
"Mmm. Sounds delicious."
"The catch was apparently quite good this time," Marcellus said. He glanced toward the attendants. "I think they're ready."
Steve took the seat one of the attendants held out for him. The two who'd carried the table in excused themselves, and the others set trays in front of the two nobles. Lunch was a two-course meal. There were grapes and orange slices with a sweet dip first, then the tuna, along with more seaweed and tortillas. Steve choked down his salt water toast again, then dug in with fervor. The seaweed was still weird, so he ate it first to get it out of the way. Everything else was excellent. The fish tasted very fresh - which he supposed it must be since he didn't imagine there was much in the way of refrigeration these days. In a few minutes, Steve had cleaned his plate.
Marcellus, who was only half way through with his meal, looked at Steve incredulously. "I take it you're feeling better, Sire," he said.
Steve grinned sheepishly. "I guess the cold water did me good."
"I'm glad to hear it, Sire. I'm sure Princess Annette will be pleased as well."
"I'm sure she will," Steve said, a sinking feeling in his stomach.
"I've already arranged for dinner to be brought here, but if you like, we can invite her."
"That's not necessary," Steve said, trying not to sound too eager. "You've already got everything set up. There's no need to change it now."
"Very well, Sire." Marcellus had a small smile on his face. Clearly, he wasn't disappointed. They chatted for a while about pleasantly neutral subjects that Steve managed to fake his way through with ease. When Marcellus had finished eating, they went back to the bedroom. The four pages were still there, sitting cross-legged on the floor with their fans lying across their laps. They were fast asleep - heads resting on their hands. "You forgot to dismiss them," Marcellus said, sounding amazed.
Steve felt awful. "How stupid of me," he said in a stage whisper. "Look at them, the poor little things."
"It's all right," Marcellus said. "Obviously, you were still tired." Marcellus walked to the nearest page, a dark-haired child in a green outfit. "Wake up," he said gently, touching the child's shoulder. "Wake up, Maria."
"Maria?!" Steve cried. He regretted it immediately, because all the pages jumped and were immediately awake, and Marcellus looked at him as if to say, "Of course, Maria. Who else would it be?" Steve couldn't think of a good excuse for his outburst, so he just shrugged apologetically and said nothing. The pages all jumped to their feet and bowed, first to Steve, then to Marcellus.
"I'm... we... we're s-sorry, Your Majesty," the one called Maria said.
"We didn't mean to fall asleep," the Native-American looking one said nervously.
"It's all right, Swan Feather," Marcellus said. Another girl, Steve thought. Now that he was paying closer attention, he could see that while the two girls had the same hair cut as the other two, their hair was slightly longer. "I don't think we need to mention any of this to your masters, do you?" Marcellus asked.
The pages all smiled, greatly relieved. "No, Your Highness," they said.
"Now. Maria, Swan Feather, I want you to send up some attendants to clear away His Majesty's lunch. Peter and Francisco," he said to the blond and the second dark-haired page. "I want you to send up four more fanners. Then the four of you may take your lunch."
"Thank you, Your Highness," they said, bowing. Then they bowed to Steve again and backed out of the room. As Marcellus closed the door, Steve could hear one of the children say, "He's nice."
Steve shook his head. "I can't believe I did that. I feel like such an idiot."
"Don't mind it, my love," Marcellus said, guiding Steve to a chair. "You just need a day or two to recover. You'll be fine.
"Thank you, Marcellus. Your reassurances mean a lot to me."
Marcellus smiled. "You're welcome, of course, my love."
Steve leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. This charade was extremely difficult to keep up, and Steve didn't know how long he could go on with it. Every little thing was a reminder of how easy it would be for someone to find him out. He had to get home and soon. But he had no idea how. He didn't even know what to try. He sighed heavily. Then suddenly, he felt cool fingers on his temples, massaging gently. Without thinking, Steve grinned and let out an appreciative groan. He started when he caught himself enjoying the massage a little too much. "Did I hurt you?" Marcellus asked worriedly.
"No, no," Steve said. "I was just... falling asleep."
"Hmm. I may be taxing you too much today."
"No, I'm all right. It just felt very comfortable, that's all. But perhaps you should stop the massage now. I wouldn't want to be caught at a disadvantage like the pages were."
"All right, my love," Marcellus said. "Would you like that promised rematch now?"
"Yes, definitely!" Marcellus dragged the game over. While they were setting up their pieces, the four new fanners came in. This time, there were two that looked Portuguese and two that might have been of African descent. The two dark children, while their hair was naturally not as straight as the others, did not seem to be exempt from the pageboy hair cut. Their hair was done in individual braids, parted to fall on either side of their faces and cut just like the other pages he'd seen. Steve looked closely at them and this time he could tell that the three in blue were boys, while the one in green must be a girl. Strange, he thought. They don't seem to have gender restrictions, or even racial restrictions. But they don't seem to have child labor laws either. Steve shook his head. Either the history books were a little off when it came to the reality of Medieval times, or this place was father removed from his own home than he thought.
The fanners bowed and took their positions. Then an attendant came in and poured Steve some water. Steve took a sip and, since he knew there was no point in arguing about the fanners, turned his full attention back to the board game. Marcellus let him go first again, and they played for the rest of the evening. Steve lost three times, then they had to stop for dinner. Steve and Marcellus sat down to baked salmon, more fresh fruit, a large compliment of rolls and a bowl of sweet corn meal and fresh corn mixed together for dessert. Marcellus marveled once again at how quickly Steve ate everything. "It's good," Steve said by way of explanation.
Marcellus grinned. "I'm glad to see that you seem to be feeling better," he said. "Do you think it will be all right for me to visit you later tonight?"
"Sure," Steve said, thinking it an odd question. Marcellus had been with him all day. Why was he asking for permission now? Steve figured it must be because if he weren't feeling well, he would want to go to sleep early. After Marcellus finished eating, they played one more game of Armada, which Steve won. Marcellus excused himself after allowing Steve to gloat for several minutes. When he was gone, Steve told the fanners and the attendant to go.
Left to his own devices for a while, Steve stood up and started to pace. "How? How can I get out of here?" He paced the floor for a full hour, wracking his brains for ideas. He came up with several, but he had to veto each one of them immediately for one reason or another. The problem was that he had no idea what had caused him to travel through time, or whatever. So he had no idea how to reverse the process. I can't just sit around and wait for some cosmic somebody to figure out that they've made a mistake. But what else can I do? When no viable solutions were forthcoming, Steve flopped down in front of King Stephen's desk. "Dammit!" he cried, slamming his fist on the desk in frustration. He sat with his head in his hands, gazing at the scattered papers on the desk without really seeing them. After a few minutes, he started to pay attention to what he was seeing. The handwriting on the papers was almost exactly like his own. It was so close, in fact, that Steve figured the slight differences could be attributed to the fact that the words were written using a quill instead of a regular pen. Steve found it mildly unnerving to see his own handwriting, and knowing he hadn't written it. In a moment, he was even more unsettled. The sheet read:
Foolish heart, hear me calling
Stop before you start falling
Foolish heart, heed my warning
You have erred before Do no err any more.
You've been wrong before. Don't be wrong anymore.
Steve stopped reading and gaped at the paper, a violent feeling of jealousy overtaking him. This was his song. His! How dare someone else write these words and claim them for their own? Steve was about to rip the manuscript to shreds, but he stopped himself. That's not fair, he thought. It's not fair and it's not right. Besides, he thought, putting the paper back on the desk. It's not really someone else, is it? He's me. King Stephen really is me! Freaky!! Steve sat staring at the page for a few more moments, trying to grasp the concept of another human being living in such a different time and place, but being enough like him to have the same handwriting and to write the same songs.
Steve got up from the desk and went to the book case. He pulled out a book that looked like it might be useful - An Abbreviated Genealogy of the Royal Family. Steve opened the book and found a huge, multi-page, incredibly complex looking family tree. They call this abbreviated? Steve skipped to the end, looking for his name. At last he found the current king, about two thirds of the way through the book. The rest of the pages were blank, presumably to leave room for future generations. Steve studied the page, trying to make sense of all the names and lines and how they were related. He was confused to find that the king didn't seem to have any brothers. There were no dates in the book to tell when anyone had been born, or when they'd died. Maybe that's why it's "abbreviated". Steve frowned. But if I don't have any brothers, what the heck is the deal with this prince running around with my face? Steve studied the book some more, and eventually came upon Marcellus' name. Steve stared at the book, tracing the lines up with his finger like a kid figuring out a maze. Finally, he found that his line and Marcellus' line met three generations up. Cousins, he thought. Distant cousins. The fact that King Stephen wasn't having a of love affair with his brother made Steve feel a little better about his situation. Still, it was a love affair with a man. And that man seemed to have known him since they were children. How long could Steve hope to fool him?
Steve tried to study the genealogy some more in case Marcellus, or someone else for that matter, asked him questions about a family member, but it just gave him a headache. He put the book away and went over to one of the windows. The sills were large and there was a window seat, which he happily took advantage of. He sat there watching the people go by until it grew dark. Slowly, lights began to twinkle, as lamp-lighters went about their duties. Steve smiled and thought about Lights. "I wish I was home." Steve watched the twinkling skyline a little longer. Then he started to feel sleepy. Vaguely wondering why Marcellus hadn't shown up as he said he would, Steve stripped down to his underpants. He didn't know where his nightgown was kept, but it wasn't particularly cold and he had plenty of blankets. He lay down in the ridiculously comfortable bed and drifted off to sleep.
Steve was awakened by the sound of his bedroom door opening. He looked toward the sound. "Who's there?"
"It's only me, my love." Marcellus. Steve relaxed a little. Then he immediately grew nervous again when Marcellus made no attempt to light any lamps. Instead, he came straight to the bed, took off the robe he was wearing and climbed in. Steve's nervousness turned into full blown panic when Marcellus drew close to him - so close that Steve could feel his entire body lying alongside his own. His entire, naked body.
Oh God. Oh God. Oh God. The mantra repeated itself over and over again, as Steve's mind presented him with a slew of worries. Oh God. How can I do this? I can't have sex with a man! Oh God! I can't! What can I do? I can't turn him away. It'll look suspicious. Oh God. But if I do have sex with him, he'll definitely be able to tell I'm not the real king. Dammit! Either way, I'm screwed. Oh God!
Meanwhile, Marcellus had put an arm around Steve's chest. He dew his face closer and whispered in Steve's ear. "Are you all right, my love?"
The whispered words sent shivers down Steve's spine. "I'm f-fine," he stammered.
"Mmmmmm," Marcellus purred. "Good."
Oh God. Steve shuddered, his ear tingling from Marcellus' throaty whisper. Then, to his utter shock, his body started to move without his consent. His hips began pumping slowly up and down, sending him into another stream of alarmed thoughts. Oh my God! What am I doing? I can't do this!! What am I doing?? Completely ignoring Steve's panicked mind, his hips continued to pulse. Marcellus purred again and gently kissed Steve's neck. Steve shuddered again, more violently this time, and a groan of pleasure escaped his lips. As Marcellus traced his tongue in lazy circles on Steve's neck, all further mental protests fled to the back of his mind. His hips were pumping much more urgently now, and he let out short gasps and moans of pleasure despite his best efforts to suppress them. Marcellus continued to kiss and lick him, moving over his collarbone, then down his chest. As Marcellus neared his waist, Steve started to breathe much faster, inching nervously up the bed. Marcellus paid no mind, stroking Steve's hips and teasing him with his tongue.
Finally, the inevitable happened. Marcellus took hold of Steve's underpants and slowly pulled them off. Steve tried to edge away, but only ended up making it easier for Marcellus to get the pants off. When they were gone, Marcellus came back and started paying attention to Steve's hardening member. Steve shouted and gripped the bedclothes tightly as Marcellus lazily trailed his tongue up and down it. "Oh God. Oh God! Oh God!"
Suddenly, Marcellus stopped. "Stephen? You're speaking English again."
"Don't stop!" Steve screamed, not giving a damn what language he was speaking.
Marcellus must have decided that Steve wasn't suffering from any fever but the one Marcellus himself was causing, because he immediately went back to what he was doing. He moved his tongue up and down Steve's shaft slowly, without any regard to the urgency of Steve's cries. When Steve's thrusting got too violent, Marcellus merely applied his full weight to Steve's legs, effectively pinning him to the bed. Steve whimpered, but Marcellus ignored that, too, and kept right on licking.
Steve's ragged breaths came faster and faster now, and his plaintive cries grew louder and more desperate. Just when he thought he wouldn't be able to stand Marcellus' teasing for one more second, the young man took Steve's member into is mouth, covering him completely in a warm, wet sheath. Steve's unintelligible cries of pleasure could probably be heard throughout the palace, but he didn't care. He couldn't. What with Marcellus' sucking and tongue-swirling, along with the roving hands that teased Steve's nipples and awakened other hyper-sensitive parts of his body, all rational thought was driven from Steve's mind. All he wanted was for the sensations to continue. For several, unbearably glorious minutes, they did. Then, at last, Steve came, with a scream that could have shattered glass.
Satisfied at last, Steve lay on his back, sweating and unable to stop his body from shaking. Marcellus lay down beside him, also trembling and drenched with sweat. He wrapped an arm around Steve's waist, rested his head on Steve's shoulder and sighed. After a few minutes, he asked softly, "Are you thirsty, my love?"
Steve nodded, then remembered that they were in a dark room. "Yes," he said dryly. Marcellus got up and Steve heard the sound of flowing water. In a moment, Marcellus was pressing a glass to his hand. Steve sat up and drained half the glass. He offered the rest to Marcellus, who took it willingly. Steve lay back down and Marcellus lay behind him, spooning him. "Good night, my love," Marcellus whispered.
"Good night, sweetheart," Steve replied, blatantly ignoring the alarm bells that railed at how easily he'd just said those words. All his paranoid thoughts threatened to resurface, but he shut them out. For now, all he wanted to do was lay in Marcellus' arms and bask in the comforting idea that someone loved him. He knew Marcellus didn't really love him, but after what they'd just done, it was easy enough to pretend. Steve snuggled deeper into Marcellus' arms and fell asleep.