A/N: Here is the FINAL part of the 3-part conclusion. Now, it's time to get back on track with the other WIP's. I have enjoyed writing this story, and it's predecessor 'Captivated' more than I can begin to express. I do hope you have enjoyed it too. Thank you so much for reading, and your support. It is greatly appreciated! :)
Brian looked dispassionately at the man kneeling before him. He wanted this meeting over in the quickest possible manner. The longer he remained in Michael's presence, the more inclined he would be to cruelty. As he had already made his mind up regarding Michael's judgment, he didn't want to be deterred from delivering it.
A large part of his decision had been based on his meeting with Ben earlier. He had been pleased with that outcome. Knowing that Ben intended to stay in his service in Brakania regardless of what Michael's future would be made this much simpler. The last thing he wanted was to lose Ben. He was a trusted member of his staff, and he possessed compassion as well. Men like Ben didn't come around every day. Michael was a fool not to have realized that in time.
"Rise," Brian commanded authoritatively. His eyes flickered to Samuel standing guard at the door. "Leave us, Samuel. This won't take long."
Samuel bowed to the waist. As curious as he was about the outcome of this meeting - he really didn't want to be here, either. He felt a conflict... and that was something that was unacceptable in his duty to the King. His bottom line was always simple - regardless how he felt about the King's decisions; past, present, or future... he always adhered to them. "As you wish, Your Highness."
Brian waited until the door enclosed them in privacy before he spoke, "Sit down, Michael."
"Thank you, my King..." Michael whispered, still unable to keep the awe from his voice within the King's presence. He knew his life was in this man's hands... and yet, he still couldn't be unaffected by everything that defined King Brahim. Ben had been correct. He had never gotten over his fixation on Brahim. Michael wondered if he ever would. Perhaps his punishment would help in determining that.
"No..." he hissed. "I am about to change that reality, Michael. You are not going to be under my rule for much longer. Therefore, I am NOT your King. The sight of you fills me with rage, and total revulsion. The sooner you are gone from my lands, and my family in particular - the more relaxed I will feel!"
"Your Highness..." Michael whispered in a forlorn and fearful voice, "I never meant any harm to you. I - I just wanted-"
Brian's menacing glare immediately silenced Michael's pathetic entreaty. "You only wanted to destroy my marriage! Even after the first attempt - still you didn't learn! I have never given you any sort of encouragement regarding a personal involvement between me and you. Ever! Do try and dispute that - if you dare!"
"No, Your Highness. You never encouraged me in any way." Michael's heart continued to race, but it wasn't in the normal way when in this man's presence - this time it was based on fear. There wasn't a doubt in his mind that he was about to be exiled again... but, he wasn't certain that the King wouldn't change his mind and execute him instead. He remembered the coldness that surrounded King Brahim when he'd approached Lindsay. Love and his new responsibility had changed the formerly spoiled Prince. Michael knew he'd be wise to remember that.
"I don't wish to waste my valuable time debating any of this with you. I have far more pressing matters." Brian's eyes bored into Michael's, assessing every response. Giving the provocation, he would alter his decision in an instant. His leniency was based on the fact that Michael most likely ended up in saving Justin's life. Despite his involvement with Lindsay, he couldn't ignore the fact that Michael's cooperation had greatly improved their odds of success. Then, there was Ben. Despite how he had washed his hands of Michael completely, Brian knew Ben still cared about this undeserving man. He had suffered enough at the selfish whims of his former lover. Brian intended to see that came to an end.
Michael nodded. "I understand that, Sire. I won't protest any decision you make."
"Very good." Brian didn't add that Michael didn't have a choice in that; he really didn't see the need for that pointless reminder. "I am not going to either execute or imprison you. Your saving grace is that you came to the right decisions when the time was critical. However, that doesn't absolve you, either."
Exile, Michael thought to himself. Just as he had thought... but it could have been so much worse. He was afraid to hear the terms of his banishment. For some reason, he feared it would be more involved than the first time. "Thank you, Your Majesty."
"Allow me to finish..." Brian returned in irritation. He didn't need Michael thanking him. In truth, he didn't want to hear a word coming from his deceptive mouth. "You are exiled for the rest of your life. That banishment will not be lifted. Ever! If you ever manage entry into my country again, it will be classified as treason. I will have you immediately executed. Do you understand?"
Michael fought back the tears that pounded against the back of his eyelids. "Yes..." he responded hollowly. "I understand completely, Your Highness."
"Good," Brian clipped out impatiently. "Your bags are being packed as we speak. You will be taken to the airport and flown to the destination of your choice. I will not assist you further than that." Brian's eyes continued to drill into Michael's saddened, yet resigned expression. "It's sad really, Michael. You've given me no choice other than a full banishment. If you had learned your lesson the first time, things might have gone differently. However, this is how it must be."
"I have only myself to blame, Sire. I know that now." He bit his lip uncertainly before making what would be his last request of his beautiful King. "While they are preparing for my departure, would it be permissible if I walked the grounds - one last time; of course, under surveillance-"
Brian paused for a moment of thought. He didn't really see the harm. As he was meeting with Daphne in her rooms directly after this horrid one ended, neither he or Justin ran the risk of encountering this disagreeable man ever again. "I will tell the guards." He picked up his phone, alerting Samuel to his preferences, his eyes on Michael's passive expression the entire time. Replacing the phone, Brian told him, "You may go now. I won't see you again; however, I hope you use this opportunity to begin a more productive life."
"I will, Your Highness. I can promise you that." He rose to his feet, bowing to the waist, before rising again. "I'll return to America. There are many opportunities there."
Nodding, Brian agreed. "Yes, there are. Goodbye Michael."
Michael looked at Brahim only briefly, before he whispered his own farewell. It truly was over now, much more than the last time. Perhaps it was for the best. A fresh start away from both the beautiful King, and his ex-lover. Maybe he could finally put his past hopes, dreams, and more importantly, his mistakes behind him. "Goodbye, King Brahim. Thank you again for your generosity."
Inclining his head, Brian watched as Michael virtually fled from the room; his eyes narrowed as he watched Samuel stepping inside. A slight smirk curved his lips. "Something on your mind, Samuel?"
"Uhhhh, well... I was wondering..." Samuel flushed; he was never tongue-tied, not even with King Brahim. This was utterly humiliating. His flush deepened when a boisterous laugh escaped Brahim. "It's nothing, Sire. Perhaps I should join the guards watching over Michael."
"No, you won't." Brian's tone didn't leave any room for negotiation. "You are my personal guard - no one else's. Isn't that correct?"
He nodded his head emphatically. "It is, Sire... and a pleasure it is." How diplomatic he had become during his service. He verbalized the right words... but they both knew it was just lip service. There had been far too many times when his position was far from pleasurable... and he was certain there would be many more in his tenure with the King.
"Cut the bullshit, Samuel. It's just me and you here now." Brian shook his head irritably. "Walk with me. I am to be meeting with Daphne and Justin."
"Of course, Your Highness." Samuel didn't ask the question he was burning to ask. He wanted to know about Michael. Why he wasn't so sure... well, perhaps he was. Although, he didn't want to admit that to himself... or anyone else.
They had walked just a short way down the corridor, heading in the direction of Daphne's suite of rooms, when Brian easily said, "So... the playing field is all clear now."
Samuel groaned. Hell and damnation. King Brahim always saw everything. "Playing field?" he parroted in pretended ignorance.
"Hmmmmm. Yes." Brian effected the air of distraction, and yet, his mind was fully attentive to his private guard that walked next to him. Suddenly, he stilled his steps, knowing Samuel would be duty bound to do the same. A knowing glint sparkled in his eyes. "Michael is leaving Brakania within the hour - never to return. Ben is staying." A slow smirk spread across Brian's lips. "Interesting... isn't it?"
It only took an instant for Samuel to lose his normally rock-solid composure. "Your Highness... I have no idea what this is about. Never at any time have I been the slightest bit inappropriate with Benjamin!"
"Yes, sadly I know." Brian began walking again, his eyes slanting to watch the still less than composed Samuel walking with him. "You want to, though. Go on... admit it. Go for what you want, Samuel. I have a feeling with some patience you just might get it."
Samuel was about to answer, when the man in question stepped from Daphne's room. He gasped, when Brian gave him an elbow in the side. He kept his eyes averted... there was no way he could look at either of them. His eyes downcast, Samuel asked, "Shall I join you inside, Your Highness?"
"That won't be necessary, Samuel." He waved Ben off as he proceeded to bow to him. Sometimes he hated that custom with certain members of his staff. Ben and Samuel were more like extended members of the family. It never felt right having them so subservient. He greeted Ben, before he arched his brow, looking back and forth between the two perfectly toned men. He couldn't fathom the idea that he was now playing matchmaker. It was unbelievable. In his days in America - before meeting Justin - he would have taken these two home with him and fucked the shit out of them. However, not any longer. His husband had spoiled him for any other man from the moment he set eyes on him.
Ben looked at the King in suspicion. Something was off with his entire demeanor. But what? "Your Highness, is there something I can do?"
"For me? Not presently, Ben. However, you could go back to my office with Samuel. Since you are staying there are things he should brief you on." Brian cast a pointed look at Samuel. "Now would be an excellent time to discuss anything relevant."
Samuel flushed, knowing exactly what his King was doing. Was he brave enough to make a move? And, if he did... how would Ben respond?
Before anyone could respond the door to Daphne's room opened again. Salah peered out, his eyes narrowing on the mischievous look on his grandson's face. Noticing the uncommon anxiety on Samuel's face, Salah quickly connected the dots. He wasn't blind either. He had known for a long time how Samuel felt about Benjamin. His none so subtle grandson had apparently moved things along. Shaking his head in wonder at how much Brahim had changed, he urged him inside. "Brahim, come inside. Daphne has something she'd like to tell you."
Nodding, Brahim followed him into the room; his attention quickly pulled from his most valued guards. He hoped this was good news. On the way back to the palace, Justin had mentioned that Daphne spoke of leaving. He hoped that was no longer the case - not only for Justin's sake, but for the babies as well. Stepping up to Daphne's bedside, he kissed her warmly on the cheek, before bestowing an open-mouthed kiss on his husband's lips - one that was far shorter in duration than he would have liked. "How are we feeling, little Momma?"
"Much better, Brian." Daphne had a beaming smile, much different than the last time she had seen these two men together. "I made a decision... and I wanted to discuss it with you. Actually, I need your approval on it."
Justin bounced up and down on his heels. "It's the best news ever. I know you'll love it..."
Brian smiled affectionately at his exuberant husband. One thing was for certain; whether he loved what Daphne had to say or not, Justin was in favor of it. That would mean he would be as well - perhaps not immediately, but in due course. Justin's enthusiasm was far too contagious. "Please tell me." He raised a sardonic brow as he glanced at Justin. "Quickly too... before Justin bursts at the seams."
Daphne sat up straighter in the bed. "I had initially told Justin I wanted to leave after the doctor cleared me. Well... I never really wanted that. I - I just thought it was best for everyone."
"Best? You are still their mother, Daphne. I want my children to have a full life. They will have that only if you stay with us." Brian sat next to Daphne on the bed, his hand reaching out to squeeze hers tightly. "I can tell you've thought about this a great deal. Tell me exactly what you want... and I'll work towards making it happen."
Salah stood back at a distance, watching it all come together. He knew what Daphne had discussed with Justin, and he couldn't be more in favor of her idea. He had never been more excited to see one come to fruition. There wasn't a doubt in his mind - this would be the best for his precious great-grandchildren. And, that was what mattered to him the most. As unobtrusively as possible he slipped from the room. Everything was well in hand here.
Justin bit at his lip to stop himself from telling Brian everything. This was Daphne's idea... and her life. It needed to come from her. He was just so excited about it... and the future. Never had it seemed more bright.
"Well, I've always wanted to be a teacher. I still want to leave... but only to earn my teaching degree." She looked back and forth between Justin and Brian, never doubting for an instant that the babies would have the best possible life and care within this loving family. "When I come back, I'd like to teach them personally. That is, unless you would rather send them to school here."
"No. They will be schooled from home until they reach the college level. It is for their protection." Brian's voice was firm in that decision. A smile broke out across his lips, before he told her, "Well, I think that's a great idea... but, you don't have to leave for that. You can go to school in Brakania."
Daphne shook her head. "No, I want to do it in America... if that's alright. I moved here in such a rush after your wedding. I didn't get a chance to really say goodbye to all my friends and family. I'd like to take the time to do that before making Brakania my permanent home."
Justin moved to sit next to her on the other side of the bed, a beaming smile on his lips. "I think it sounds wonderful. And, nothing could be better for our children. Don't you agree, Brian?"
Brian nodded, his eyes drifting to that heart-stopping smile on Justin's lips. He would probably agree to anything that came at the end of that smile. "Yes, I do." He returned his attention to Daphne, all the plans aligning in his mind. "All expenses will be paid. As soon as you select a school, I will make certain you are accepted."
At Daphne's dubious look, Justin told her, "Don't doubt him. The man can move mountains. Really. If you want into Harvard that's where you'll be."
Rolling his eyes, Brian mock-whispered, "He exaggerates. However, you can go wherever you like... and come back to us when finished. We will have your rooms - ready and waiting at any time."
"About that... I'd like to go back to the cottage - if that's okay." Reaching out, she squeezed both of their hands, before explaining, "I do want my own place... and I also want you to have your privacy. As the cottage is on the grounds, I'd be close."
"Daph, our house is immense. You don't need to give us space-" Justin protested, while knowing by the determined glint in Daphne's eyes - he would get absolutely nowhere.
Brian nodded his head. "He is right. You can have your own wing in this house - if you like."
"No, I fell in love with that cottage as soon as you moved me in there." She crinkled up her nose. "I hated moving into this grand palace."
"Okay then." Brian was always reminded how Daphne and Justin could be so close, and so much alike. Both possessed a stubbornness that was almost unshakable. "As soon as you have fully recovered, we will look into proper schools for you." Brian exchanged a loving look with his husband; his heart clearly on display for who was in all ways that counted - the other part of himself. "I'm glad you're staying, Daphne. I can never repay you for what you've done for our family."
Daphne grinned from ear to ear. "You're so wrong, Brian. Every day I see the two of you together, I am reminded of all the good things in life. True love exists, in its purest and most simplistic form. I see it every time the two of you look at each other. It gives me such hope for our world." She looked back and forth between them, only then realizing Salah had slipped from the room. Always discreet was the elder El Khadir. Daphne knew no other family could fill her with such a sense of belonging as this one.
Moments later, Brian and Justin slipped from Daphne's room, their hearts filled with hope and love for a bright future. They didn't stop walking until they reached the nursery. Brian gestured for the guards to depart; he pulled Justin into his arms once they were gone, his lips falling onto his husband's with love pouring from his mouth into Justin's. The kiss was brief, and yet, it was full of promise, and a commitment that had no need to be put into words... and yet, Brian felt the need to say the words that now came so much easier for him. "I love this family we have built together... but most of all, I love you, Justin. Always and forever."
Justin almost staggered under the emotion in Brian's eyes. Always and forever. Yes, that was an offer he wouldn't refuse. "I love you, Brian. Forever is the perfect place for a new beginning."
Slipping into the nursery, they held hands as they watched the peaceful infants sleeping. They each smiled as they came to the same realization. Love and compromise had given them all the chance for a perfect world - at least as perfect as life would allow it to be.
They could each rejoice in one simple fact - their kingdom was no longer divided.