A/N: A bit milder than I hoped, but still... he's gone!
Thanks to all my readers and reviewers!
Arriving back at her study, not caring that she had left Jack back in the garden and probably been seen returning alone, Clarisse sank down behind her desk with a heavy sigh, her nerves frayed and her heart aching at the scene she had just left behind, mortified that Jack had felt free to proposition her and sad that he would inevitably be transferred or, more likely, fired.
She was dreading telling her husband- he was going to be more than furious, he could possibly turn physical with the other man- but she couldn't let this go... she thought she had handled it the best way she could, but she wasn't entirely sure he wouldn't try again...but she couldn't hide this from Joseph, her conscience and heart wouldn't let her, but despite the face she hadn't encouraged him, she couldn't help but feel disloyal and guilty.
She was still a little flustered when her meeting began a little later, but the meeting itself and it's dull subject soothed her and she forgot, for a time, what had happened. When the meeting ended, however, and she was alone in her study, the facade crumbled, everything returning to her in a rush, and Clarisse was grateful to rest her head on her desk and begin to sob.
She was vaguely aware of someone knocking on the door only minutes later, before Emily's voice called out:
"Mummy? Can I come in? Mama, are you there?" but, for the first time in her youngest daughter's life, Clarisse ignored her calls and continued crying, her head in her arms.
The next thing she knew, she must have fallen asleep, as she felt someone gently touch her shoulder and she leapt out of her chair in fright, hoping that Jack hadn't come back for a second attempt, but just as she was about to turn defensive, Clarisse realized that it was Joseph standing opposite her in the darkening room, Joseph who had woken her.
"Clarisse... sweetheart?" he said cautiously, shocked at the defensive expression on her face as well as the stance she had adopted and realized he had seen this reaction before... three or four months after their wedding, they had gone to Rupert's birthday and both a drunken Rupert and Arthur Mabrey had hit on her... now, he had to wonder who had done this to her again to make her so jumpy and defensive... if it was Jack, his hands curled into fists at the thought, before he realized she had been crying.
"I'm sorry... I didn't realize what time it was..."
"Em told me she was knocking on the study door for ages but you didn't answer..."
"I was in here but I just didn't want to answer... I should go and see her..." she started to brush past him to head towards the door but he stopped her with a firm grip on her arm.
"She'll be fine until tomorrow- the children are all camping out in the twins room... and they understand they won't see you tonight."
"I want to see them... they're OUR children!" she snapped and Joseph was surprised at the vehmenence of her words but nevertheless he stood firm.
"No, they'll be fine for tonight... now let's go upstairs, dinner is waiting for you and then..." she trailed off- while he had been hoping for a romantic evening with her, he could see that something was bothering her and he was determined to find out all about it.
She finally began to relax after she showered, changed and had something to eat, but Joseph could see that she was still upset about something, so he waited until she had finished her tea and had settled back on the sofa before he decided to broach the subject.
"How was your meeting?" he began after a moment- it wouldn't do to interrogate her immediately.
"Oh...it was fine," she said quietly- to be honest, she had been only going through the motions and could barely recall what the meeting was about.
"I decided to stay afterwards and do some paperwork... I guess I must have caught up on it... I didn't mean to ignore Emily..."
"She wasn't upset, she just figured you weren't there... but Clarisse..." he edged closer to her. "What happened after you left here this afternoon? You were so happy when I saw you ….. what's bothering you, sweetheart?"
Clarisse's eyes filled with tears as she again remembered WHY she had been so upset and had ignored her daughter.
"Please, dearest..." he beseeched her and she continued to look away from him before taking a deep breath in and turning to meet his concerned brown eyes.
"I don't know how to say this... Jack kissed me," she said softly before there was a long silence, tension slowly seeping into the room with them and between them, before he finally said, looking down at his hands:
"It was only for a microsecond, and I pushed him away just as quickly and then slapped him..." before she proceeded to tell him the rest of the story, not leaving anything out-she didn't dare, not with her husband..
Once she had finished her tale, there was another long awkward silence between them and Clarisse felt compelled to add:
"I know I blurred the boundaries by encouraging a friendship, and I'm sorry that I did that now... I was vulnerable when I did that, but it's not an excuse, I'm not excusing myself from this... this is all my fault."
"Did you want him to kiss you?" Joe asked in a soft voice, still not looking at her, and his wife was horrified, although she did understand why he had asked her that.
"Absolutely not!" she said vehmently. "Only one man is allowed to kiss me and he's sitting next to me."
"Good," he said firmly, a small grim smile appearing on his face.
"But I am truly sorry for all of this... I never dreamed he would try something like this..." before she trailed off as he finally looked at her, his eyes clear and free of condemnation and patted her hand.
"It's alright, I believe you... I never doubted you for a second," he sighed then as he looked away, his mind whirling at what Clarisse had told him and what he now had to do.
"I don't know what to do now..." she said after a moment. "I suggested that he arrange to be transferred to..."
"That's not possible, sweetheart, not after what happened this afternoon and not after what I have suspected has been building for a long time- he can't be allowed anywhere near you and I don't trust him not to try again... you do understand, don't you?"
"Yes," she nodded almost eagerly, keen for him to understand that she valued their marriage and family over anything else- her friendship with Jack faded in to the mists of time, never to be remembered or recalled... he had been wonderful when she had needed him, especially just before the twins were born- Joseph had been a wreck, jumping almost every time she moved, but Jack had been non judgemental and sympathetic... it was a pity that it had all been a lie, a lie to try and trap her...but now if he had to go, he had to go- she had to keep Joseph and her family...
"I'm sorry... this is all my fault..." she began, but before she could say anything more, he moved so close to her and cupped her face in her hands, his eyes burning with emotion, so much so that she couldn't move or breathe- despite his gentle manner around her and the family, he was still a strong and powerful man.
"You don't need to apologize again, none of this was your fault and I don't want to hear you say that again over this... do you understand me?" he said fiercely and she gave a tiny nod of assent as they stared at each other for a long, tension filled moment before Joseph leaned over and kissed her, a kiss so ferocious yet so passionate that Clarisse could literally feel her toes curl as she wrapped her arms around her neck and cling to him, not wanting to let go as he wrapped her into a bear hug.
Their romantic evening wasn't quite as either of them had expected- both were desperate to prove to the other that nothing had changed between them, and that desperation seeped into their kisses, but they were both content, slightly breathless, when they finally lay in bed, side by side.
"Are you sore anywhere?" she asked as she ran gentle fingers down his bare chest, feeling the scar on his side and he smiled.
"No, I'm fine... more than fine," he said gently, running his hand down her bare back. "I've missed this, though..."
"I've missed this too," she said quietly, her thoughts briefly resting on Jack and the scene this afternoon. "I just want you to know that I would NEVER have considered Jack's proposition... I only want to be with you."
"I know that," his voice was soft and understanding. "I've never doubted you or your feelings for me... but you DO understand my position? I CANNOT trust him around you or the children anymore..."
"Yes, I do and I think you should do what you have to... I thought I could have done it, but I think what you think is best... you do what you need to do."
"I will," he vowed as he pulled her closer, his arms curling around her protectively- she was HIS, just as he was hers and he wanted Jack to realize that- he had attempted to steal his wife away and Joseph would never forget that...
"Just remind me never to annoy you to the extent that you would hit me!" she teased gently and she chuckled a little abashedly, the sound lightening his heart and he couldn't resist kissing her again, this time with less ferocity but just as much passion...
Clarisse was still asleep when Joseph rose the following morning and he was glad- he wanted this Jack situation dealt with as soon as possible so he and Clarisse could get on with their lives. Thankfully, John, his HOS, was alone in the security room when Joseph strode in (he still had a slight limp but he was determined to overcome it before he was seen in public again) and while he hadn't heard the full story, he admitted that he had seen the Queen return to the palace alone and visibly upset. He quickly grasped the gravity of the situation and fully understood his boss's plan.
"Would you like me to do it for you, Your Majesty?" he offered, knowing that his boss's temper, in this instance, could be more than a little fiery.
"No, this is something I should do myself, but thank you for the offer... although I think it would be wise if you and someone else were present."
"Sure," the other man agreed, with a twinge of regret- Jack had been a much valued, hard working member of the team, but he had definitely crossed the line in attempting to proposition the Queen and His Majesty was doing the right thing in order to protect his wife, family and, in the long term, the country.
Joseph was already seated at his desk when John brought Jack and Phillip, the second witness, into the room, and the atmosphere immediately turned icy as the two competitors for Clarisse's heart faced each other.
"I understand you and Her Majesty had a slight altercation yesterday," Joseph began pleasantly, hoping that this would go smoothly, but just the very sight of the man who had tried to steal Clarisse away made his blood boil again.
"What did she tell you?" Jack looked wary- he was three years older than his monarch, but the younger man WAS the most powerful man in the world and quite physically fit, despite the shooting- he could see why Clarisse would be attracted to him, yet he still thought she would be better off with him.
"She told me the truth and everything- you kissed her, albiet very, very briefly, and then tried to convince her to leave me and her children... is that correct?"
"Yes sir," he said politely, but the words dripped with sarcasm.
"Is there any reason why you would do something like that?"
"With no disrespect to you, Your Majesty, I feel that Her Majesty... Clarisse," he couldn't resist saying her name, getting a perverse thrill out of seeing His Majesty's eyes flash angrily. "...would be better suited to a life outside the palace."
"And her children... do you think she would have left them... or I would have let them anywhere near you?"
"She could have taken them... she is their mother..."
"Careful, Bonnell," John stepped in as Joseph seemed momentarily speechless. "You do realize that you are in the midst of a very serious discussion with His Majesty...this is no time to be smart."
"I'm just stating what I think... I think she would be better off out of public life..."
"Don't you dare..." Joseph suddenly growled. "Don't you DARE make assumptions about my wife and what YOU feel she dserves... you may have been her bodyguard for 14years, and while I'll admit that you have been kind to her over the years, it doesn't excuse the fact that you were PROPOSITIONING her!"
"I think that you have brainwashed her to believe that she is happiest here and that she belongs with you... I don't think knows what she wants," Jack persisted with his beliefs, but even John could see that his thoughts were irrational and Her Majesty wouldn't ever consider any of that.
"Bonnell!" he warned again but he was ignored as the two men glared at each other- the one whom she wanted to be with, and the man who wanted her away from the royal life...
"So," Jack continued. "Am I here for a slap on the wrist?" he asked insolently, infuriating Joseph even more but he knew that he was in the right and that he would win this battle.
"Not exactly...by the way, did you have anything to do with the press knowing that Her Majesty was at the boys school a year or so earlier... are you partly responsible for the press intrusion?"
"No!"" Jack snapped after a moment, looking suitably outraged but the reponse had been a little too slow for Joseph's satisfaction, as well as the way his eyes didn't meet Joseph's when he responded, confirming Joseph's suspicions that he had been part of it but he would never be able to prove it. "I was there to PROTECT her, not cause any more problems!"
"I see," Joseph looked down at his desk for a moment before looking back at him, his eyes calm but cold. "I can see by your file that you have been a dedicated bodyguard for eighteen years, and I do appreciate the lengths you have gone to to keep my wife and family protected..."
"It was my job."
"I know that, and I'm sure that you will be able to get another job anywhere else but I'm afraid that this week will be your last week here."
"WHAT?" the older man looked shocked. "You can't be serious...I only kissed her...I can work somewhere else..."
"You ONLY kissed her?"" Joseph suddenly roared, his patience at an end as he stood up and glared down at him, his fists clenched, itching to knock him out for everything he had done or tried to do over the years, but he sensibly realized that it wouldn't be the right thing to do. " You only KISSED HER? My WIFE and your Queen?You have been lusting after my wife for the past sixteen years! I know, I've always known..." he added as Jack's face went white at the realization.
"You were WAITING for your time, like a spider on it's prey and you only did it now because I'm still recovering from that shooting! You have been waiting for this for a long time, and I, as a man, have been waiting for you to make a move...but now that you have... you CANNOT STAY here, I don't trust you to be anywhere near my wife and family!"
"But... but..." Jack's cool demeanour was gone- he was at risk of losing his job and losing any access to the Queen, even if she didn't want him.
"No buts, this is it... I'm sorry Jack, but you have to go and if you go quietly, we will give you a severence package... unfortunately, the palace will not be able to provide any reference," John said calmly as Joseph continued to glare coldly at him.
"You're very lucky you're getting off this easy..." Joseph said in a dangerously soft voice before he walked around his desk and past the cowering man towards the door, turnin before he reached there.
"I want you out by the end of the week... and John, make sure he understands that his confidentiality agreement is for life...no, if you'll excuse me, I have other things to do..."before he strode out of the room, closing the door firmly behind him and he leant against the door frame for a moment, drained by the experience, slightly sympathetic towards the man but, mainly, relieved... Jack was gone, gone, GONE!.