Important Emotions Sometimes Feel Selfish, but That Doesn’t Make Them Wrong
Daniel sat in the middle of the slaves’ room—his room, now, it was only his room—and wondered why it was so fucking big.
It had nothing in it anymore; Hugh, Simon and Marcus’s stuff was all gone, so it was just Daniel’s stupid clothes scattered around. They’d been piled in one corner, but he’d unpiled them to make the room look fuller. The games and books, pillows and blankets too, he’d strewn them around the room like they always were, even though he had nobody to play games with and he didn’t need that many pillows and blankets. He could sleep just fine on the floor.
He was being fucking stupid and he knew it. He hardly slept in this stupid room anyway, he shared Theodore’s bed most nights. Marcus hadn’t even fucking moved out. Benedict had given him a bedroom just upstairs, because people got bedrooms and Marcus was a person now.
And Hugh and Simon hadn’t even moved that far away. Hugh was down the fucking road. Daniel still had Ozzy. He was being fucking stupid and he knew that, which was why he was in here instead of with any of them or with Theodore, because the absolute worst thing that could happen that hasn’t already happened would be if any of them saw how upset he was over something that didn’t fucking matter.
He sighed so that he didn’t break anything, because it mattered a lot. It mattered a lot to Daniel. He’d lost all his friends and even if they were all in arm’s reach, he’d lost them forever and they didn’t even know it. Because they were different now. The one thing that had been the same about them was gone and now there was no reason for them to care about him. They’d gotten what he could give them and now they didn’t need him anymore.
Daniel had never had friends as a kid and he’d never had to wonder why. He’d been small and scrawny and annoying and so people would stick around just long enough for him to do them favours, and then leave. It had been foolish of him to think that anything had changed. Fucking…
Benedict knocked on the door. “Daniel? Are you ready?”
Daniel shook his head, but the door was shut. “No,” he muttered.
The door opened, and Benedict sighed. “Daniel. Why have you made such an ungodly mess?”
“It’s my room,” Daniel said, looking away, hugging his knees. “Who’s going to complain?”
“I am. Have you even begun to pack?” Benedict came into the room and picked up a shirt, which he started to fold.
Daniel started folding clothes too. It wasn’t Benedict he was mad at. “No. I’m not going with him.”
“The master has made it plain he wishes you to attend.”
“Yeah, well he’s used up all of his good will for the year,” Daniel said, aggressively folding some pants and then scowling when they looked wrong. Why did he even own pants? What good were pants for a slave? “I’m not like you, Benedict. I can’t just be happy following his orders no matter what he does to me.”
Theodore was leaving today to go to the big royal wedding in the capital. In the end he’d accepted Cyrus’s offer of a magic portal to send him there, mostly to avoid a weeks-long carriage ride, but then he wanted to go a week early so he could do whatever rich people did in the capital. Make more money, probably.
“I think, Daniel, that you know that isn’t what he expects,” Benedict said, calmly making a pile of Daniel’s clothes.
Daniel started putting all the stones back in their box. “Of course it is. He wants me to just waste my whole life sitting here in his stupid house watching him do whatever he wants over and over and over again.”
Nodding once, Benedict began folding a blanket. “That’s simply not true.”
Daniel couldn’t make the stones all fit in the stupid box. Hugh had always been able to make them fit. “Of course it is. It worked on you and he thinks it’ll work on me too. There’s nothing we can do to change it or him and trying is just stupid. I’m not that stupid.”
Daniel was exactly that stupid. He just wanted Benedict to go the fuck away and let him fix this his own way.
“It isn’t about stupidity, Daniel,” Benedict said, folding shirts now.
“Well, what’s it about, then?” Daniel demanded, feeling his chest swell in rage as he tried to force the stones into the box. “What’s it about that made you stay here for your whole life pining after someone who’s never going to love you? Why do you love someone who does nothing but hurt you? What’s wrong with you that you’d just stay and let him keep hurting you over and over and over like this? Why are you so…fucking…stupid?” Every other stone was happy, but he couldn’t get the last two stupid fucking things into the stupid fucking box.
Benedict sighed. “Daniel, you may say as many hurtful things as you like. I know you don’t mean them.”
“I mean them. You’re stupid. You’re wasting your life. He’s never going to love you. And if you really loved him like you think you do, you’d have stopped him by now. You wouldn’t just let him keep doing whatever he wants. You wouldn’t…” What wouldn’t he do? “You wouldn’t stay. And I’m not going to stay either. If he takes me south he’ll have no legal recourse to get me back when I run away.”
“We both know, Daniel, that no matter how upset you are, you don’t really plan to run away.” Benedict sounded so fucking calm.
“I’m not upset.”
“You’re crying, Daniel.”
“Just because I can’t fit the fucking…stones in the stupid…”
Suddenly Benedict was behind him, almost but not quite bringing his chest against Daniel’s back. He reached his arms around, placing his hands over Daniel’s and rubbing small circles with his thumbs. When Daniel’s knuckles turned pink again, his hand was gently lifted, and together they rotated the most stubborn stone until it slotted into its place. When that one was where it belonged, the last one was easy, and Daniel closed the lid himself before collapsing to the floor.
Daniel sobbed, clutching the box to his chest. Stones was the only game he was good at. He didn’t have anyone to play with anymore. They’d never wanted to play with him anyway because he always won. He’d tried so hard to be good at cards because that was more fun for all of them, but he sucked so bad at it, and so they had played stones with him, sometimes.
Benedict sat on the floor beside him, cross-legged. “You needn’t be ashamed of being sad.”
Daniel shook his head. “It was the happiest day of all their lives and I almost ruined it by being so stupid,” he choked.
“I don’t believe you came close to ruining anything,” Benedict assured him. He didn’t touch Daniel again. “But even if you were concerned about their reactions in the moment, there is nobody here but me. Important emotions sometimes feel selfish, but that doesn’t make them wrong.”
Of course it fucking did. The only times his emotions hadn’t hurt him were when they’d hurt other people, so what the hell did they matter against the weight of all his friends’ freedom? “I feel like he did it to hurt me,” Daniel whispered, shaking all over. “He pretended it was about them, but he took away everything I cared about and he did it on purpose.”
“Yes,” said Benedict, making Daniel look up. Daniel had expected him to deny it. “I don’t know that it’s fair to say he didn’t care about them. I believe that was part of it. But there is no doubt that he knew it would hurt you and chose to do it anyway. There is no doubt that he knew you would be upset and that he chose not to warn you in advance.”
Daniel nodded, knuckles white on the box of stones. “Why did he do that?” he asked, voice cracking. “What did I do to him? I know…I know I’m not a nice person, but what did I do to him?”
“You didn’t do anything to him. He did it to you because he loves you.”
Daniel’s laugh was the ugliest sound he’d ever heard. “Sure, yeah, that explains it. Just like he loved you.”
“I am serious. Theodore doesn’t know how to love people without hurting them. Everyone he loves leaves him, and so he hurts them so that they have a reason to.”
Daniel looked at Benedict, whose face was dead fucking serious. “So…what, this is him asking me to leave?”
“No.” Benedict picked up some socks and folded them. “It is him begging you to stay.”
The stones box was heavy, so Daniel put it away in its place against the wall. He picked up all the pillows and stacked them in their place, and put away the rest of the games. Benedict had finished with his clothes, and they were way better folded than Daniel could have done, of course.
“Why does he think that would work?” he asked, desperately. “It’s never worked on anyone else, right?” He looked up at Benedict, wincing.
“No,” said Benedict, unflappable. “Never on anyone else. But he hopes it will.”
“That doesn’t make it okay,” Daniel said, to the clean floor. “Even if you’re right, he doesn’t get to say he loves me and get forgiven for everything he does.”
“That’s correct,” Benedict agreed. Now he was packing some of Daniel’s clothes into a bag. “He doesn’t. His behaviour is unacceptable and someone must make him understand that. Nobody has ever been in a position to do that before. Not since Ian. Not, I believe, even Ian.”
“And you think I can do that?” Daniel couldn’t even convince Theodore to stop saying ‘what’ like it had an extra letter in it. “You think a stupid little boy could do it when even you couldn’t manage it?”
“I think that you love him too, and so you will try.” Benedict handed him his bag.
The room was cavernously quiet. Daniel took the bag. “It’s not fair,” he told Benedict.
“Love never is.” He said it so simply. Like it was so obvious, it barely mattered. “Next time you are afraid of appearing selfish, come and see me.”
Why? But Daniel nodded. “I’m always selfish. But next time I’m afraid of it, I will.”
“Don’t think walking out of the room will protect you from being corrected. You are not selfish nearly often enough, Daniel. Even at your most hurt, you hold back. It is one of your greatest flaws.”
Daniel leaned back around the door to look at Benedict. “I’ll see you when I get back. Sorry about…the mess.”
“Always remember that I have cleaned up worse. The master awaits you in the west sitting room.”
Daniel nodded, and headed off. The house felt quiet, still. Which was stupid. The hallways were practically always empty. Hugh and Simon hadn’t made that much noise, and Cyrus and his harem hadn’t hung out in the hallways. Daniel was just being stupid.
The door to the west sitting room was open, and Daniel went inside. Theodore was standing in front of a window, back to the door. “You’re late, Daniel,” he said, tone cold. “I’d feared you weren’t coming.”
“Save it, you have better reasons to be afraid of me.”
Something shifted in Theodore’s stance, and he turned around. He looked wary. Good. “Is that lone bag all you intend to bring?”
It was more than big enough. Benedict had even packed Daniel’s best knives. “Not all of us need a whole carriage just for our stuff. Which is going to fit through the portal how, again?”
“Anything can fit with enough oil,” said Ozzy, from behind Daniel. “Hey.”
“Hey. You’re coming?” Of course he was coming, Daniel realized. He was still being stupid. Daniel had work in the capital. People to kill. Ozzy was supposed to supervise, or something.
“Obviously,” Ozzy said, slapping Daniel’s ass. Then he put some paper in Daniel’s hand.
“I already have…”
“I know.” Ozzy’s voice was flat. “Open it later when we’re alone. No offence, Master, it’s not that I don’t trust you.”
“You mustn’t call me that in the capital,” Theodore warned Ozzy. “It won’t be taken well.”
“Nah, he’s going to call you Daddy.” That was Marcus, which surprised Daniel. Daniel shied away, just a little beside the doorframe. “We already worked it out.”
“That is…highly inappropriate.”
Marcus smiled, kissed Ozzy’s temple. He was wearing a red and black outfit with a low neckline that Daniel had never seen before. It fit him really well. “Only if you plan to fuck him. Hey, Daniel. How are you?” His voice got softer.
Daniel made himself smile, wishing it didn’t feel like tearing open a wound. “Fine. How are you?”
“I’m good. I’m coming with you.”
“Marcus, this isn’t a vacation.”
“For you, sure,” said Marcus. He shrugged. “But I can go wherever I want, and I’ve always wanted to see the capital. Just because I’m not invited to the wedding doesn’t mean I can’t visit a new place.”
He thought he was helping. He thought that coming with them would make it easier for Daniel. But it would be better if he stayed here, so that both of them could get used to being apart before they inevitably stopped being friends.
But Daniel didn’t say that. Because he didn’t want to stop being friends with Marcus. And, and what he wanted mattered. Besides, they loved the same people.
Some of the same people. Daniel went over to Theodore, took his hand. “Get over it,” he advised. “You’re not in charge. Not here, and definitely not on this mission. I’m not invited to the wedding either, so I may as well have someone to hang out with while you’re off polishing the king’s dick or whatever. This whole trip isn’t going to be boring, right?”
“I daresay parts of it will be stimulating,” Theodore said. He sounded a little confused still, but he’d always been a bit slow.
Daniel rolled his eyes. “Yes, yes, we’ll have sex, whatever. I hope you at least know how to play stones to pass the time while Ozzy and Marcus are making out…”
Every single word, every single step of this was hurting Daniel. And maybe it has been stupid not to admit that, but it was still necessary. Because if he was going to be truly selfish, then this wasn’t about making sure he didn’t hurt right now. It was about making Theodore understand he had to stop hurting Daniel from now on.
And that started with making it clear to him that he’d better be fucking begging for Daniel to stay every single day for the rest of their lives.