"Negotiations" took a couple of hours. Not that much actual negotiating was happening. Karl laid down the rules, Josef and the other boys lounged around looking menacing and the Royal family fought a hopeless rearguard action until about 3am, when the King finally gave up and agreed to everything.
The Royal Wedding was scheduled for two days later. Long enough to give it a veneer of respectability; there would be time to organise bunting and silk dresses and flowers and everyone of any importance in the Kingdom would be there. Soon enough that neither the King not the Princess could have any realistic hope of reprieve. Signatures acquired on documents, official press statements made, Leonardo securely incarcerated and it was finally time to go home.
A manically high Karl led them dancing through the quiet streets, jubilant. Bins got kicked over, windows broken. Gabs skewered an unwary cat with a neat cast of his bootknife, slit its throat to stop it screaming. The town's humans had more sense than to show themselves.
Josef was tired and appallingly anxious. Breaking things was some temporary relief; he picked up a stone, took out a street light. The others joined in and for most of the half mile out so to Karl's place they took it in turns to hurl cobbles upwards, jeering each time someone- usually Stefan- missed, and leaving darkness in their wake. For a few minutes it seemed like everything might still be OK.
Then they reached the manor gates.
"Who's coming in?" Stefan asked Karl. They stayed en masse, sometimes; there was more space in Karl's spare rooms than in their own building. But though Karl wanted them a unit and close to him in daytime, the night was usually a different matter. Invites-orders- came in ones and twos.
"All of you, for the next couple of nights. Someone out there might just be desperate enough to try something. All," he paused, looked at Josef, "five of you."
The boys quietened. Mikael was standing next to Josef, shifted away.
"Get the staff to fix you some food and beds. Sleep off the vodka tomorrow morning, no drills. Tonight was some fucking weird shit, boys, but we won."
Grins back, for that. And for the promised break: Josef for one was bone-weary, and hungry with it. Karl hadn't finished, though.
He nodded, heart sinking, walked away from the others without a glance back to see if they watched him go.
Karl was a long time coming up to his room. Josef stood, shifting his feet occasionally on the thick pile carpet, looking around at the heavy brocade furnishings. Eventually the boss walked in without a glance at him, stripped his black jacket and shirt off and tossed them over a chair. Half naked, he washed his face and arms in the sink, then rolled smoothly onto the bed and contemplated Josef.
"What the fuck am I meant to do with you?"
Josef assumed an answer wasn't expected. He stood at attention, waiting.
"How long you been here now?"
"Five weeks. How many men have you killed for me?"
Josef did a quick tally. "Six on my own, another two with the others. Another two probably died later. Ten?"
"You enjoy it?"
Josef had no idea what the correct answer was, so he fell back on the truth. "I like being good at what I do. Getting more skilled- that's satisfying. Actually killing- that's work. It's not fun."
"Right." Karl kicked his boots off. "You were doing OK. You work hard, you learn fast, you follow orders, you don't lose control. I had no problem with you until two days ago. Now, I have to discipline Stefan for lying about beating you up, Vlad decides you're challenging him and he runs off and gets himself killed, Gabriel watches you like fucking Christmas has come early, and you quarrel with Mika. Mikael, for fuck's sake. No-one else gets under Mika's fucking skin, cept you. Going to pick a fight with Rikard next, collect the set?"
"I didn't pick any fights," Josef said plaintively. "Things just happened."
"What's fucking happened, Joe, is that you have made a right fucking mess of my people. Vlad wasn't the smartest fucker and he could be a vindictive son of a bitch but he knew his fucking job and he had enough fucking sense to keep in with the seniors. You capable of that, Josef?"
"I am trying. Honestly." He met Karl's flat stare.
"No, you're not. You've been stomping around full of "don't touch me" fucking righteousness since the boys laid into your precious hide."
Josef had to defend himself. "I don't want to get walked over, is all. I let it all pass, what happens next time?"
"Oh, you're getting walked over all right, Joe, and you're sulking like a bloody girl about it. You didn't watch Vlad's back and I can't trust you to watch Stefan's or Mika's. I ought to put you down now before the rot goes any further."
Which was clear enough, what stakes Josef was arguing for. He took a deep breath.
"I can fix this, Karl. Give me a chance. I was wrong, but I can fix it."
"How're you going to do that, then?" Karl's eyes were cold. Josef had no real idea.
"I guess I'll talk to them," he tried.
Karl shook his head. "No-one wants to listen to you right now."
"You could talk to them. Tell them."
"Tell them what, Josef? What's your fucking message?"
Josef tried to figure out the common thread in everything that Karl had said. "That I'm junior. That I've got respect for them. They're the pack and I'm part of it."
Karl smiled, satisfied, "Knew you were smart, when you forget to be so motherfucking stupid. Take your shirt off."
As Josef was unbuttoning the sweat stained garment Karl climbed off the bed and opened a drawer.
"Were you planning on spending the night anywhere in particular, Josef?"
"Gabs said to come to him. If I'm free, of course." He was watching the short whip now in Karl's hands, heart racing.
"You got a problem with that?"
"Good. You start off with Stefan, you go down in strict seniority order, you end up with Gabs. Turn round."
Five burning strokes laid across his bruised skin. As punishment went Josef guessed it was pretty nominal. When it was done he reached for his shirt but Karl stopped him.
"Boys should see that. I doubt if any of them have any use for your clothes tonight anyway. Tomorrow they tell me if they think you're worth keeping. You've got one night to sort this. Go on. Scat."
Two minutes later Josef was knocking on Stefan's door, heart in his mouth. Stefan pulled it open, stared at him, clearly just woken.
"What the fuck do you want, Josef?"
Josef resisted the urge to launch into an explanation. They wouldn't listen, Karl had said. He pushed past Stefan, politely, dropped to his knees on the carpet.
"You're senior, Stefan. You got a use for me, anything, tonight."
Stefan walked round behind him, silent. Eventually he spoke,
"I got worse than that from Karl, because of you."
That was not in Josef's view even remotely his fault. He stayed quiet, head bowed.
"Mind you I probably earned it. You any good at blow jobs?"
"I guess. You want?"
Stefan wrinkled his nose, shook his head. "God no! Bunch of perverts, you lot. Just checking. Get up, get out." And, as Josef climbed to his feet, "We're good."
Josef nodded, grateful.
Mikael berated him at length about the mess he'd got into. Josef listened, knees chafing on the rug, agreed. Promised to take notice next time he got good advice. Mika finally shook his head.
"Still off to Gabs tonight?"
"After Rikard, yes."
"Huh. Well, you'd better get going then. I told you we'd have a bed and the whole night next time. Don't make a liar out of me."
Rikard looked thoroughly discomforted by the whole thing. "I got no problems with us, Joe. Can I please get back to sleep now?"
The sky was light by the time Josef knocked on the last door.
"Come in." Gabs was sitting on the bed, naked. All muscle; Josef had seen it all in training, saw it afresh now. He wondered whether he should kneel. Telling Gabriel he could do what he liked seemed a little superfluous.
"You did Rikard quick." Of course the boys had been talking.
"He wanted to sleep."
"Yeah. Sounds like him. You here because Karl told you to?"
Josef straightened his spine, head up. "I said I'd come."
Blue eyes regarded him. "You did. Do I get the full grovelling act?"
"If you want."
He smiled at that, first time. "Nah. Anyone touch you tonight?"
"Other than this?" Josef reached round to brush fingertips over his inflamed back. "No."
"Good." Gabriel's hand dropped between his own legs, rubbed lightly. Josef tried not to stare.
"Juggler, huh? Most stuff's at home, but we can improvise."
Josef's mouth was dry. "OK."
Gabriel picked up his knife and ripped a strip off the sheet he was sitting on. "Here."
Josef took it, smoothed it out between thumb and finger.
He tied the band neatly around his head, tugging the knot tight, skin prickling. The room seemed colder now that he couldn't see. He and Gabriel were pack, he told himself.
The mouth hard on his was completely unexpected. Gabriel's hands cupped around the back of his skull, holding his head in place. He opened up to the forceful tongue, feeling the shiver down his spine, his balls tightening. He'd thought men didn't kiss each other. Neither Karl nor Mika had shown any interest in anything but their cocks. His own hands curled around the man's waist, moved lower, but Gabriel pulled away before he could reach anything interesting.
Josef was rather proud of the hardness of his erection. Gabs wouldn't think him intimidated, or reluctant. Far from it. He stood blind and naked, anticipating.
A hand ran slowly up his cock, squeezing along every inch, and he suppressed a gasp.
"Not that easy." Gabriel's low voice sounded amused. The sound of a key turning; the opposite direction from the corridor, and a hint of fresh air. This room would open onto the long first floor balcony at the rear of the house. Josef tilted his head, listening to the dawn birds.
He headed towards the voice, hands spread in front of him. The frame of a door and the next step was out onto tiles. He lowered his hands to find the balustrade in front of him, rested his palms on the flat marble.
"You stand up on that?"
The balustrade was a good eight inches wide, and flat. Normally he could run along it. With his eyes covered... not run, but standing would be easy enough. He pulled himself up to kneel on it, not needing sight to know the blank space beneath him, then up and sideways on, his toes and the balls of his feet flexing against the cold marble.
He could hear Gabriel shift around in front of him. Warm hands touched his feet, lightly, stroked his ankles. Josef spread his arms a little wider in response. Fingers shivered up his calves, pressed harder against the inside of his thighs and he swayed slightly, caught himself. If he lost his balance Gabs would grab him. Probably. If he protested, Gabriel would stop. He really didn't want Gabriel to stop.
Because there was the touch on his balls that he'd been anticipating, the slide of fingers up his cock, dizzying up here where he couldn't afford dizziness. "Fuck" he muttered, concentrating on the marble under his feet, the tiny shifts of his weight back into alignment. He could do this, override the sensations with a juggler's focus, and he did it, right up to when Gabs abandoned the play of sure fingers in favour of an all-out assault.
"Fuck!" Breathless and overwhelmed, his focus shattered, for a second he no longer knew whether he was upright or not, just that the mouth around his cock was hot and wet and working him in exactly the right places. Another second and he'd reorientated, caught his balance again, adrenalin coursing. Knowing exactly where Gabriel's head was gave him the security of a known grab hold point; he could start to relax, really enjoy it.
His voice was almost a wail as Gabriel pulled away. "Don't stop!"
"Wait." Then footfalls away from him and silence. A couple of minutes later Gabriel's voice from behind him. "Hands behind your back."
"I can't do both," he said, very reluctantly. Blindfold, pinioned and trying to stand still; he couldn't be sure of it. He hated to say no to Gabs, particularly right now, but he wanted to fall fifteen feet blind even less.
"OK. Hands first and I'll take the blindfold off."
For a moment he thought about taking the strip off his eyes first, to be certain, but this wasn't about certainty. This was about offering his wrists to be bound behind him, rapid and forceful, with barely a couple of seconds to doubt before the band was yanked off his eyes.
Now he could see. A significant way down to the grass on one side, two feet to the tiled balcony floor on the other. He twisted round so that he could spread his feet a little, could jump forward onto the right side if necessary. Balance was more difficult than with the blindfold but at least he could see the dangers now.
Not all he could see. His own erection, flushed and damp, and Gabriel's shorter thick cock up at what from his limited experience seemed an impressive angle. Gabs was smiling, watching his look.
"What do you want me to do to you now, Joe?"
God, that voice. And that question. With the memory of the man's hot mouth still making his cock ache; the answer was obvious. Because fuck knows if it would ever get offered again.
Josef took a breath, trying not to shake. "Kiss me again."
He must have overstepped some sort of mark, because the smile instantly disappeared. Shit. It didn't get any better when Gabriel switched from scowl to snort of amusement.
"You did ask!" Josef said, indignantly.
"Fuck no, not laughing at you, man! Just remembering Mika fussing around you like one hard shag would shatter you to pieces. But you're having the time of your life, aren't you?"
Josef hadn't thought of it quite that way, having being mostly concerned with not falling off, but the man had a point. Gabriel's games might be dangerous but his touch was electric. This was better than Karl, better than Mikael. Better than women.
"Maybe," he prevaricated. "Kiss me again and I'll decide."
This time they stood together on the wide rail, Gab's fingers tight on Josef's bruised hips, his own hands still tied behind his bleeding back. The dawn had given way to proper daytime and Josef could hear a lawnmower coughing into life. He turned his head to see a bit of the lawn. No-one there, yet. Please God let the others sleep in. And Karl.
Then he forgot them, because Gabriel was kissing him again, their bodies touching everywhere from thighs to mouth, and all he wanted was more. He was pretty sure that the noises he was making were undignified, and God he wanted his hands back but everything else was close to perfect. Except for the fifteen foot drop of course. Gabs might as well have been on solid ground for all the notice he was taking of their surroundings.
"Still sore?" Gabriel had pulled back.
He wasn't going to stop now. "No. It's fine."
"Huh." Hands slid across his arse, pulled him apart. A finger pushed firmly inside him and he convulsed about the sheer agony.
"Liar. You're fucking bruised to hell, Joe. I can't believe I let fucking Mikael have you first. Fucking senior shit. I should have fought him for it."
"Yeah. Cos more fighting would have made Karl even happier." Josef commented, sourly. That finger had hurt and he didn't know if either of them were going to get off if Gabs couldn't fuck him.
Gabriel scowled at him again, fingers tightening around Josef's rear as he started rutting harder against Josef's bare stomach. "If Karl's all over your back it's your own fucking fault, Joe."
"'s Vlad's," Josef muttered. Staggered backwards, barely keeping his footing, from a shove to the chest. "Hey!"
"You wouldn't put out for him. Why he hit you." A statement.
"Evil tempered bastard. Why should I?" Another push. "Fuck, Gabriel, don't! Rikard doesn't, why the hell should I?"
Gabriel was cold. "Had been me, you'd have been bleeding. And Karl would have turned a blind eye next day too."
He shoved Josef again, backing him precariously along the balustrade."Play favourites when you've been here longer than five minutes, Joe. You don't rub anyone's fucking nose in "everyone but you" and not expect trouble. Understand?"
"Yeah." When Gabriel was pissed off, you didn't argue. Josef couldn't help a small complaint, or possibly explanation. "Wasn't like this in the Army."
"Fucking right it wasn't." This time Gabriel's hands pulled Josef back towards him. "Karl's rules; just him and us and you got no choice about him. This set-up's a world of fucking trouble if you play it stupid." His erection pushed hard into Josef's stomach. "Tris got killed back last autumn. First two replacements didn’t make the grade. You're third and you're balanced on the fucking edge. Don't expect anyone to catch you, Josef."
Josef was pushed backwards, hard. He retreated a couple of steps, was shoved again, and again, staggering back step after step, no time to regain his balance. Push after push, three or four feet every time. One foot slid over the edge of the marble and Josef's heart stopped, but Gabriel didn't; another shove to his chest and Josef twisted, trying to swivel back from the edge on his one remaining foot, toppled backwards and crashed off the railing onto the balcony floor. His shoulder hit tiles first and then the back of his head impacted with a sickening jolt. He lay still, eyes closed, half stunned.
A door sliding. "What the fuck is going on?"
"Joe fell off." Gabriel didn't sound particularly apologetic. "Got any lube, boss?"
"Josef?" Karl's voice was sharp. "Josef! He hit his head, Gabs?"
Josef dragged his eyes open. "'m OK."
He really wasn't. His shoulder, still pulled back by the rope around his wrists, hurt like hell, his head felt like his brains had been jolted out of it, and the stripes across his back were burning fierce. But if Karl thought him weak... Josef tried to roll onto his side, managed only to scrape his back further as nausea rose.
"You been trying to kill him?" The question was flat.
"Just having a bit of fun." Gabriel's hands dragged Josef over by the damaged shoulder. Josef might have passed out slightly because next thing he knew his arms were loose and the pain in his shoulder was slightly less. Shakily, he brought his hands underneath himself, pushed himself up onto his knees, then collapsed forward and threw up.
"Concussion." Karl said. "Get him inside."
"I can take him back..."
"There's a bed six feet away. Put him on it."
Bleeding into Karl's coverlet, head thudding, Josef could do little else but listen.
"You tied his fucking hands, Gabriel, got him up there. Did you fucking push him off as well?"
Gabriel's deep voice. "I wasn't going to let him fall the wrong side, Boss. Was only a couple of feet down. He landed bad, is all. Bad luck."
"What you got against him, Gabs? This about Vladimir?"
"No!" Gabriel's voice stronger, in protest. "Boy's worth a dozen of Vlad. He's just figuring things out. I was making a fucking point, is all."
"And your dick had nothing to do with it?"
Gabriel snorted. "Should have seen his. He fucking loved it. Till he hit his head. You know I always keep to the rules, Karl, but you gotta admit none of the others are much fun. I’ve been waiting for this.”
"Second time in two fucking days you've half-killed him, Gabriel. I'm on the point of getting everything I have worked for all my fucking life and you're breaking my fucking tools. I needed six of you tomorrow and now I've got four. I've got no time for this. You don't touch him again until I say otherwise."
"You got something else to say?"
"Who screws who's always been our business, Boss." Rumbling, discontented. "Mika's had him."
"Fucking hell, Gabriel, what has got into you? You fucking arguing with me about this?" Karl’s voice held disbelief and a hint of anger.
"Just saying. Bit rough on the boy, with no-one but Mika, I got no-one to fuck but Mika too. Going to make things awkward. But you make the rules, boss."
"I'm beginning to fucking wonder if I do. Get the others in here. Now."
As the door closed Karl's face appeared over Josef. "You awake?"
"Yeah," He managed to push himself up to sit against the back of the bed.
Karl shook his head. "I am completely fucking baffled about what to do about you, Joe. What were you doing up on that fucking railing anyway?"
"We were just screwing around. Kissing, mainly."
" Really?" Karl looked sceptical. "He didn't fuck you?"
"He said I was too sore. Guess we'd have done something, but I fell."
"No wonder he's pissed. You want him to leave you alone?"
"Fuck, no!" Josef said with feeling. "I want to finish this up. Soon as my sodding head stops hurting."
Karl stared at him for a moment or two. "You made up with the others?"
"Mikael got anything to complain about?"
"Mika'll get what he wants. I got no problem with that."
"You got a problem with me, Joe?"
"Fuck, no. You're the boss. I'm good with whatever."
"OK. On your feet."
Josef managed that somehow against the screaming protest from the back of his skull. Karl didn't seem to mind that he was holding onto the bedpost, still naked, when the others came in.
Karl didn't give them time to ask questions. "Stefan. Josef in or out?"
Stefan looked at Josef briefly, seriously, them back to Karl. "In. But he needs to remember his place."
"In." The look he gave Josef was all worry.
Gabriel's eyes caught Josef's, and he seemed to pause for far too long. "In. And I intend to be."
"You left him like this!" Mika snarled. "Keep your fucking perversions away from him in future, Gabs or we'll see you never get a turn."
"Boys!" Karl's voice was sharp. "I have spent far too much fucking time on this tonight already. Josef, you have a problem with any of the boys, you talk to Stefan, get it sorted. That's an order. Stefan, this is your fucking shit to deal with, not mine. Deal with it. Mika, keep your fucking nose out of Gabriel's business. Gabs, I pay Joe to work for me, not to fuck you. You do anything again that stops him working, there will be real trouble. All that understood?"
Nods all round.
"Good. Gabriel, take him back to your room. Carefully; boy's still concussed. Don't let him sleep. Get the doctor to sit in with him when you’re done. Rest of you, find some breakfast. We’ve still got some serious shit going on, remember?”
Josef collapsed thankfully on Gabriel’s bed. The walk down the corridor had been difficult.
“Here.” He sipped the proffered glass of water, took a deep breath. Gabriel was frowning again.
“Boss doesn’t usually change his mind that fast. What did you say?”
Josef struggled to get his thoughts together. “Said I wanted this, that’s all.”
“Huh. You look like hell. I’m not going to sit here and hold your fucking hand, you know.”
Josef managed a smile at that. “Got Mika for that.”
The frown deepened. “He’s just looking out for you.”
“I know that.” Josef was slightly surprised. “I like Mika. I just don’t need looking out for.”
“I pushed you off that rail.” Gabriel reminded him.
“I fell badly. Bad luck, you said.”
“You believe that?”
Josef tried to shrug, winced in pain. “Does it matter? I’m here.” His eyes closed, suddenly exhausted.
“Don’t sleep.” Gabriel’s weight hit the bed beside him. Josef felt too heavy to respond.
“Wake up!” A sharp pain in his neck; Gabs had bitten him.
“Ow! OK. I’m awake!” He wasn’t, not really, but maybe Gabs would let up.
“Bed’s too comfortable. Outside.”
“What?” His head hurt and he still felt sick. The bed felt like the best thing that had happened to him for ages. But Gabriel was dragging him off it, out to the balcony again. “You want me to climb up there again?” Didn’t seem like a good idea to him.
“You can’t even stand!” Gabs was scathing. “Going to be lying down.”
Josef let himself be tugged up against the balustrade, pushed to sit on it. Even in his increasingly dazed state he wasn’t sure this was a good idea. “I fall, Karl’s pissed.”
“You can’t fall. Not unless I do, and I’ve got more fucking sense than that. Lie down.”
Lying down sounded good, even on the cold hard marble, even with his back sore. Josef did so.
“Now, you awake enough to suck some dick?”
“Sure,” he said, agreeably, closed his eyes. Gabriel bit him again.
“So I’m going to have to do all the fucking work. You owe me for this, Joe. You start snoring halfway through, I will kill you.”
There was a warm body directly above him, hands pulling his knees up and apart and a hot tongue investigating his genitals. It was very pleasant, he thought, dropping back into a doze.
Fuck! His arse was on fire! A satisfied voice from down by his thighs, “Thought that would wake you. Going to keep this finger here, stop you drifting off. Any time you want to reciprocate, go ahead.”
Gabriel's heavy cock was in his face, rubbing against it, balls soft against his forehead. Gabriel's mouth had taken him in, finger twitching occasionally to keep the bruising sharp. Josef was more awake now; he tried running his tongue over what he could reach, bringing his hands round to grip the man's arse.
Grabs shifted up a little, pushing his cock into Josef's willing mouth, and yes, that was all pretty good, apart from the nausea. Josef did his best, and at the other end Gabs was doing considerably better and that finger was starting to feel pretty good. Getting close; he started bucking his hips up, hunting more friction, and Gabs responded by going harder and faster on his cock until he came in flashing lights and his head thudding.
Too faint to move, he lay there with his mouth still full of twitching flesh.
"Sod this." Gabriel pulled free, climbed over him, reinserted himself, this time with wiry hair pressed against Josef's face and thighs on either side of his head. Now every time he thrust Josef got a throatful of hard erection, which was either going to kill him off or was hot as hell or possibly both; he was out of air with the threat of vomit choking him and about to start seriously struggling when Gabs pulled back and he felt warm ejaculate across one cheek.
"For fucks sake, Gabs! Take it indoors, will you?" A voice from the lawn; Stefan, Josef thought.
"Had to keep him awake," Gabriel called back. "What's for breakfast?"
"It's all gone."
"Better fucking well not be. Down in five."
Josef had rolled off the balustrade, was throwing up the watery remains of what was left in his stomach onto the balcony. A warm hand landed on his shoulder.
"Sure," he managed, retched again. "Good. Get your breakfast."
"Throwing up; that's the knock to the head." Gabriel didn't sound entirely sure of himself. Josef thought he'd better do something. He spat out the last mouthful of sick.
"Get me water?"
Gabriel fetched the glass from the bedroom.
"Thanks." He rinsed out his mouth, spat, then drank the rest and stood up, rather wobbily, wrapped his arms around Gabriel's neck and kissed him. Whoops from the lawn below; seemed the others had joined Stefan. Josef had to break for air almost immediately; gasping and dizzy, he stuck two fingers up at the spectators, felt Gabriel, pressed against him, laugh.
"Come down for breakfast, Joe. You don't want to be stuck up here with the fucking doctor all day. Boys will keep an eye on you. Can trust us."
And for the first time since he arrived, Josef thought he probably could.