CHAPTER FOUR - RULES
Bane led Nick down a short hall to his study. The door was ajar. Even though it was June, he had a fire going as Moon Shadow was cold inside even on the warmest of days, let alone a cool evening like that night. Candlelight provided the only other illumination.
Bane didn’t look back at the young man as he strode over to the high-backed chair by the fire and languidly sat down. He stretched out with his tigerish grace. He didn’t offer Nick a seat, but instead watched the young man out of hooded eyes.
Nick stood awkwardly in the doorway. His blue eyes flickered over the room’s interior as if trying to glean something about its owner from the contents. What did he make of the many worn, leather-bound books that lined the walls? Did he rightly guess that Bane found more comfort in books than in people? And what did he think of the sleek laptop that glowed softly on the desk that sat alongside stacks of journals filled with his precise penmanship? Nick couldn’t know that Bane still hand wrote out everything, because when he was growing up there were no such things as computers. They had not even been a gleam in someone’s eyes.
And what did Nick think of the Siberian Tiger’s pelt that adorned the floor by his feet, its glass eyes gleaming and bared teeth growling at the snapping fire? Nick’s gaze dropped to it and a slight ripple of disgust crossed that lovely face. Clearly, his guest did not like hunting. How ironic that Nick didn’t know this pelt had nothing to do with celebrating the destruction of this brilliant beast, but as a reminder of Bane’s own past arrogance and the pain he had caused. It was also a reminder of what he truly was inside.
A beast. That is what I am. And I have brought this beautiful young man here, putting both of us in danger.
Bane pushed away that thought. It sounded too much like what Omar would say. Except his Sikh servant would go on to claim that Bane had brought Nick here because of his beauty and maybe even because of the danger it posed. Omar would claim that he was starved for company, but more importantly, for love, for the love that would supposedly free him of his curse. But Bane thought that ridiculous. Love was an illusion. A cruel one at that built on hormones that soon faded. True love was necessary to break the curse that he was under.
But true love does not exist.
And he had not brought Nick here to disprove that simple statement of fact. Nick’s presence here was to punish the Fairfax family, nothing more than that. Nick was lovely to look at, but there were many lovely things in his home like paintings and vases. Nick though had a mouth and opinions that made him less beautiful than those objects.
Bane refused to acknowledge Omar’s phantom voice floating through his mind and asking him why this particular punishment involved having Nick live with him for a year. Couldn’t he have required the young man simply to work at his home during the day and leave at night? Wouldn’t that have been safer for all involved? Especially when the full moon came and his curse became active?
“Well, what did you want to talk about? What are these rules?” Nick truculently asked, thrusting his chin out and interrupting Bane’s thoughts.
“Shut the door,” Bane said.
He did not want Omar to watch them or overhear what he was to say. He could see the Sikh in the hallway, mysteriously dusting a perfectly clean vase with assiduous attention. If Bane had pointed out the fact that Omar had a perfect view into the study from his dusting position, this fact would have been scoffed at by the Sikh, but it would have been quite true nonetheless. Bane snorted softly.
Omar had already made clear to him his extreme distaste for this ‘internship’. Bane indulged the Sikh, allowing Omar to give him his views on various matters as Omar was as close to family as anyone could be to Bane and very wise about many matters, but Bane would not be gainsaid in this. He saw Omar shake his head and heard him sigh as the door shut with an audible click as the lock caught. Nick continued to stand by the door though, not coming near him. Bane felt his chest tighten.
What do I expect? He dislikes me intensely and what I am about to do will not endear me to him more. But it must be done.
Yet still the slight hurt remained. It aggravated Bane all the more and hardened his heart for what his next betrayal.
“May I see your phone?” Bane extended one hand towards the young man.
Nick frowned. His lush lips pulled down at the corners as he stared at Bane’s well-manicured hand. “What for?”
Bane saw how his simple use of the word ‘please’ moved the young man. That was unexpected. He thought that Nick would be used to people being polite because of his wealth and status and inured to the power of it. Perhaps that was the case, or maybe Nick hadn’t expected such niceties from Bane since his language had been anything but polite since he and Nick had met.
“I still want to know why.” The young man fished out the phone from his tight jean’s back pocket and handed it over.
Bane put the phone into his top desk drawer, turning the brass key and locking it away. He then placed the key in his pants pocket, well out of Nick’s reach.
“What the hell?” Nick shouted. “What are you doing? Give me my phone back!”
“What is in there?” Bane gestured towards the duffel, ignoring the young man’s squawks.
“Give me back my god damned phone!”
“No. What is in your bag?”
They had a stare down. Nick was the first to look away. He shook his head, a kind of wild shock written large in his face that Bane had taken his phone and refused to return it.
“You’re crazy, you know? I want my phone back or I’m leaving!” Nick shouted, his free hand fisting at his side while he shifted his duffel so that it was half-hidden behind one of his long muscular legs, as if that would keep the contents from Bane.
Bane picked up the glass of Scotch he had abandoned when the young man had arrived. He took a large swallow, relishing the burn as it ran down his throat. It made it easier to ignore the fleeting tightness in his chest at the thought of Nick actually walking away from him right then and there. He had gotten the young man here, which was more than he had truly expected. He didn’t want to lose now.
Lose? Lose what? Lose him? He means nothing. I could call and have a dozen more beautiful than him lifting their asses in the air. What does he mean compared to them? Nothing at all.
“I don’t see you leaving,” Bane said with a wave of his hand.
There was a beat of silence, but then Nick asked, his voice strained, “What about my family?”
“What about them?” He took another large swallow of peaty Scotch while he stared into the fire instead of at the lovely young man with the worried face opposite him.
“If I leave will you still give them the chance to get back their business?”
“No.” That word fell like a stone into a still pond between them.
Nick let out a soft, bitter laugh and ran a hand through his short blond hair. “You’re – this is – why are you doing this? Do you want to keep me captive here? What do you want from me?”
There was a hint of fear in Nick’s voice that caused Bane to freeze. “You are not a prisoner. But there are rules. My privacy is sacrosanct to me. I do not wish it violated.” He flicked his hand towards the desk. “Such gadgets allow such violations easily with little thought by the doer. You will be allowed to use the phone -- in my presence -- once a week to call your father.”
Nick’s mouth opened and shut like a goldfish’s. “Once a week just to call Dad?”
“Don’t you want to keep in touch with your loving family?” Bane smirked. “Or at least make sure that they are making your time worth the effort?”
“My father will do his best for you. He likes making money. He’ll make you a ton,” Nick said. “I’m not worried about that.”
Money is not everything. I wonder if he will realize that before the end of the year?
“So what are you worried about?” Bane asked.
Nick ran a hand through his hair. It stuck up rather adorably. “I have friends who I have to talk to.”
“You have to?”
“I want to,” Nick corrected, grinding his teeth as he glared at Bane’s pedantic correction. “Actually, no, I have to talk to them. They’ll worry about me if I don’t check in.”
“We will arrange a time for you to contact them as well – in my presence.” Bane told himself that he could have cared less about Nick disparaging him to his undoubtedly equally rich and useless friends and that this restriction was based purely on making sure the young man did not see anything he shouldn’t and report on it. But still he felt that phantom pain at the thought of Nick’s sweet pink mouth spitting out epithets with his name attached. He added, “Need I remind you that you are here to work not to engage in conversations with your friends?”
“Am I working 24/7?” Nick challenged. “Are you going to give me time to pee and eat? Or will I have to catch both on the run? What about sleeping? Will I be allowed to sleep?”
Bane scowled at the young man. “You will be given appropriate rest periods and nutrition.”
“How kind of you! I am so grateful for your thoughtfulness!” Nick scoffed and tossed his handsome head.
“You will not be allowed to be lazy and self-indulgent though,” Bane’s voice rose slightly, aggravated at the young man’s dismissive tone.
Nick let out a laugh. “I’m guessing that you don’t have many friends if you think talking to them is ‘lazy and self-indulgent’.”
Bane went silent for a moment at that well-aimed jab. He had no friends. How could he? Time traveled on, but he did not. He looked the same as he had when the curse first fell upon him. Ageless so that its torment could be visited upon him for eternity. All he had to do was look into the mirror at his unchanged face with the horrible scars and he would be remembered of all he had done. He finished his drink while Nick looked surprising discomfited at his ‘win’ against Bane. It was almost as if he felt badly for Bane, but then the young man hardened his expression as his eyes darted to the locked drawer that contained his phone.
“Now, the bag. What is in it?” Bane asked.
Nick’s blue eyes narrowed. He would not be so trusting as he was with the phone. “My clothes. Why?”
“No computer? No camera?” Bane asked. There was the slightest flicker of concern in Nick’s eyes when he said ‘camera’ so Bane knew the young man had one. That needed to be rectified. “Give me your camera.”
“You’re not taking my stuff. It’s my stuff.” Nick’s eyes snapped with indignation and the slightest bit of alarm. Did the camera mean so much?
Bane stood back up and walked over to the young man, crowding him against the door. He was familiar with using his larger size to intimidate others. Nick’s back thumped against the door even as he tried to look unimpressed. The young man was half a head shorter than he was. But he made up for it in spunk. His breathing though had quickened and his nostrils were flaring like a horse’s did when it was afraid. But Nick kept his gaze steadily on Bane’s face and a tight hold on his bag.
Bane leaned down so that his eyes were mere inches from Nick’s. He could see the flecks of darker blue in them as well as hints of silver. He caught the young man’s scent: clean and woodsy like the forest after a rain. He stopped himself from leaning down lower to nuzzle the soft flesh beneath Nick’s ear. But he found himself unwilling to draw all the way back.
“You have a camera in your bag. Give it to me,” Bane whispered.
“No,” Nick said just as softly.
“I will not have you taking pictures of me and mine –”
“It’s for my art!” Nick cried. He shoved Bane back with surprising power and sidestepped around the older man. He kept a few feet distance between them.
Bane slowly circled the young man. The beast inside of him delighted in the nervous twitches of Nick’s shoulders. He sensed that Bane was more than he seemed but Nick didn’t know -- couldn’t even imagine -- what Bane was really. He knew he should stop this, pull back and calm down, but Nick’s pushing him away had set something off in him.
“Your art?” Bane taunted. “You are an artist? Really?”
Was Nick some kind of dilettante rich boy artist? His daddy’s friends buying his prints and promptly tossing them into a dark corner once the sale was complete? But there was the faint memory of Bane’s mother painting in the long India afternoons that intruded on his cruel thoughts. He remembered how her eyes came alive when she was in the middle of a painting, eager but anxious, to show the finished product to him and his father. But then Bane remembered just as clearly watching the light fade out of her eyes when his father disparaged her hard work with a few dismissive words. But Nick was nothing like Bane’s mother. He wasn’t a true artist. He was undoubtedly just trying to avoid the responsibility of earning a living.
“I’m a photographer,” Nick said, but there was a slight uncertainty in his eyes that wasn’t there when he had talked of other things. It was almost as if it was something that was close to his heart and he wasn’t sure if he deserved that title.
“Again, you are here to work not engage in foolish pastimes,” Bane said.
Nick let out a sharp laugh. “God, now you sound like my father!”
Bane stiffened. “He doesn’t approve of you taking pictures?”
“He doesn’t approve of anything except making money! I was going there tonight to – look, it doesn’t matter. But …” A wild light entered Nick’s eyes. “I can’t give it up! You can’t ask me to. It would be like cutting off my limbs to give up my camera. I don’t expect you to understand why, but you have to believe me.”
Bane stared down into that lovely face and did believe. But there was a problem. He could not risk Nick photographing him when he was changed, when the curse transformed him into a beast.
“It is impossible,” Bane murmured.
Nick reached for him. It was so unexpected that Bane froze as that hand rested for a second on his shoulder before fluttering away. “I wouldn’t violate your privacy! I would ask before I took a picture of anything! I could -- could document the transformation of Moon Shadow!”
“You’re planning on redoing the house, right? Omar told me he thought I would be working in the garden. I could take before, during and after pictures,” Nick suggested. His face was taut with emotion, more emotion than even the taking of the phone had brought.
He could have the camera during the day, but not at night and not at all around the full moon. It could be done. I would then have a history of Moon Shadow, too. If he is any good ...
“Please,” Nick begged.
Those luminous blue eyes gazed up at him, pupils wide and dark like the sea and Bane found himself relenting and withdrawing himself physically from the young man. He retreated back to his chair and poured himself more Scotch with a surprisingly trembling hand. He downed half the glass and immediately wished he hadn’t. Alcohol did not harden his heart. It only made him soft and lonely. He set the glass down unfinished. He would not look at Nick as he spoke.
“I will allow you to have the camera at certain times – after your work is done – but I must see every picture you take. You do not have permission to take pictures of anything you like. You must check with me first,” Bane said.
Nick’s shoulders relaxed. “Right. No problem. I -- I go crazy when I can’t work.”
Another flash of memory of his mother as she sat unseeing in the mental institution after his cursed nature made itself known to her when he had lost control and killed his father. Her easel and paints had sat in the corner untouched for the rest of her life. His actions had killed her spirit.
“You need to give me your camera now though. I will take good care of it. If you work well, you may be allowed to take some pictures tomorrow,” Bane said. He quickly shut his lips as he was suddenly sure he would offer more to the young man than he should.
Nick put his duffel down on the ground. He kneeled beside it and unzipped it. The scent of him and clean clothes rose up from the open bag and filled Bane’s study. He knew Nick’s scent would be in his nose all night. An unsurprising wave of heat went through him. He gripped the arms of his chair and held himself still. He would not lean down and lick a stripe down the back of Nick’s neck. He would not nuzzle Nick’s fine blond hair. He would not push the young man onto his back and ravage him. He would sit and do nothing else.
Nick gently, almost reverently, pulled out a camera in a black leather case. Bane knew nothing of cameras, but he was sure it was expensive, but he was suddenly sure that the worth of it to Nick had nothing to do with its price tag. Nick reluctantly held it out to Bane. For one moment, Bane imagined how they must look at that moment: Nick on his knees, arms outstretched with the camera in his hands, as if offering it as sacrifice to his feudal lord.
Not anymore! The estate and title can never be mine. Not when I am a beast. It would dishonor my whole family for me to take over.
Bane took the camera from Nick more harshly than intended and the young man winced as it was handled so roughly. Bane made sure to place it carefully down on his desk.
“I will keep it safe,” Bane repeated.
Nick nodded slowly. He repacked his clothes, straightening out the simple t-shirts, shorts and a few pairs of jeans. Bane frowned as he took in the casual contents. Clearly, there were no suits in the bag.
“You do not have any evening wear,” Bane said more than asked.
Nick zipped up the duffel and stood up. “Uhm, no. I’m a college student and I thought I was going to be living at my friend’s place for the summer.”
“We dress for dinner here,” Bane said.
“You mean like suits and stuff?” Nick’s eyes widened.
“Yes,” Bane answered.
“You want me to wear a suit and have dinner with you every night?” Nick asked slowly as if he wanted to make sure that he understood Bane.
“I do. It is expected. Do you have suits at home?” Bane asked.
“Maybe one or two. I don’t know if they even fit,” Nick said with a shrug. “I’m sure I have some slacks and a nice shirt or something.”
“Suit coats are required. You will need them. I shall have my tailor come and –”
“You’re going to have your tailor make me clothes?” Nick’s eyebrows rose up into his hairline.
“I will not have you wearing ratty t-shirts and too tight jeans.” Bane tipped his head to Nick’s current apparel.
“My jeans are not too tight. They’re perfect,” Nick argued.
Bane bit back any further remarks as he found himself focusing too avidly on how the jeans encased Nick’s long, muscular legs and pert ass.
“What’s going to happen at these dinners?” Nick asked.
“We will eat.”
“You want us to talk during these dinners, too?” Nick was really grinning at that moment.
“Only if you have something worthwhile saying. Otherwise silence will be preferable,” Bane retorted.
“I do not think you do.”
“And will these dinners be lit by candlelight?” Nick asked.
“I enjoy the softer light candles give.” Bane frowned then, realizing he was walking straight into a trap.
Nick bit his lower lip as if stifling a laugh. “Oh, okay.”
“What?” Bane snapped.
“You want us to have romantic, candlelight dinners together where we dress up in our best clothes. That doesn’t sound at all odd for intern and employer to you?”
Bane had not intended the scenario to be romantic. Not consciously. It was how he always had dinner. The fact that he would now be sharing it with someone was irrelevant. It might even be annoying and less pleasurable than being by himself.
“There is no romance between us, Mr. Fairfax. As I have made clear, I have no desire to bed you. And your constant assertions otherwise make me quite sure you wish my thoughts were different on the matter.” Bane scowled at him though there was that slight trill of heat in his loins.
Nick’s cheeks colored, but he didn’t look away as he said, enunciating every word, “You’ve made me your indentured servant for a year. You’re threatening my family with destruction. You’ve taken my phone and camera away from me, making me a virtual prisoner here. I can assure you, Bane, that I want nothing at all from you but for this year to be over as quickly as possible.”
Again there was a stare down, but this time it was Bane who looked away. It was not foolish, useless guilt. It was not him cringing from how hard and wrong those facts sounded being laid out like that. Not at all.
Bane shouted, “Omar!”
The door to the study was immediately opened, which confirmed Bane’s suspicion that the Sikh had been listening at the door the whole time.
“Yes, sir?” Omar asked.
“Take Mr. Fairfax to his room,” Bane instructed curtly.
Omar nodded and reached for Nick’s bag. Nick fended him off. “Oh, that’s okay, Omar, I’ve got it. No worries.”
“It is not a problem at all, Nick. I am eager to show you to your room. It has a beautiful view of the rose garden out back,” Omar said.
“The rose garden?” Bane straightened up, anger flaring his nostrils. That was not the room that he had instructed Omar to prepare for Nick. The young man’s room was supposed to be on the side of the house overlooking the garage. “I told you to put him on the west side room, Omar.”
“Oh, sir, I am so sorry, but I must not have heard you. You know how my hearing is,” Omar said with a shrug.
“Yes, selective,” Bane growled. The room that Omar must have chosen was the one just a few doors down from his own. What was his servant thinking?
“I have already prepared the room. The other is not fit for habitation,” Omar said breezily. “It must be fated to be his.”
Bane scowled at him. “I see.”
“You will, sir. I promise that you will.” Omar bowed before picking up Nick’s bag and leading the beautiful young man from Bane’s sight.