Brendon didn't pay the letter any attention. It had caught his eye, with the red seal of wax, but whatever it was, it was addressed to his father.
When Brendon was called into his father's study a short time later, however, he was man enough to admit that he was slightly nervous. "Yes, Father?"
Brendon noted with surprise that also his mother was in the room, although she rarely spent any time in his father's study. "The affairs of men hold no interest for me," she always said.
"Please sit down, Brendon, we have delightful news for you."
Brendon carefully sat down on one of the dark chairs. His mother smiled at him; his father was holding a letter and looking at it intently.
"We're very pleased that George Ross has accepted you as betrothed to his only son."
Brendon did not find this bit of news as delightful as his parents. His heart sank. He had wanted to marry for love, ever since he had read a book which put the ill-fated idea into his mind. Although he had known that his parents had been searching for a match for him, Brendon hadn't been sure if they were ready to go through with it. As the youngest child, he'd always had something of a special position--special enough, he'd hoped, to lay down his own conditions for a match.
Brendon looked up at his mother and forced his face into a smile. "I'm glad to hear," he said.
His father nodded. "This betrothal means a lot to our family--and theirs," he said. "To join our good name with Ross's--they're a family of commoners. But you know about our situation... and Ross is willing to pay for the wedding, and he's offered a generous betrothal gift."
Brendon swallowed. His parents had been very relieved when Kara had found a suitor willing to take her. There had been hushed whispers that they might lose the house to pay for the wedding. That this Ross was willing to take on all the expenses was more than Brendon could reject. "I'll accept," he said quietly.
"Excellent!" His father sounded pleased and--Brendon couldn't deny it--relieved. "I'll send word right away and arrange a meeting in the city."
"The city?" Brendon had only been to the big city a few times, as most of his parents' business took place in the country.
"Yes. Ross owns several mansions there; he offered to let us use one as a guest house."
"Isn't that fabulous?" Brendon's mother was smiling, but Brendon couldn't scrounge up much enjoyment at the thought of moving to the loud and dirty city.
"Yes, it is," Brendon said nevertheless. At least, he thought, he still had the advantage of being the first betrothal. He would take his place as the primary partner of this Ross boy and be head of the household with him. His parents, although they weren't without fault, had never allowed any of their children to marry under their worth. The second betrothal and third partner in the marriage didn't wield any power and their opinion was considered inconsequential for important matters. Brendon had already experienced what these spouses had to endure--it made him uncomfortable when everyone ignored Leila, Kara's husband's second wife, at family gatherings, or how Michael's first wife Charlotte mocked his second wife Nina.
"Ah, she spends too much time with the children," Charlotte said often. "Don't listen to her, she's not well-read in these matters."
Brendon had wondered how Nina was supposed to read any books, when she had to take care of Michael's children--her own two and the one Charlotte had given birth to. Nina was a sweet and warm woman, always with a smile on her lips and never angry at the children, even when she was exhausted. Brendon liked to sit with her and the children, telling them fairytales and singing songs from old.
In a few cold, lonely nights Brendon had lain awake and wondered what made Nina different from Charlotte--but the question only applied to his brother's wives. Brendon could see why Kara's husband had obviously chosen her to be his first instead of Leila. She was a smart, capable woman, knowledgeable and quick-witted. Brendon had hardly exchanged a word with Leila in their two years of marriage, as she was always sat in the corner, alone, looking down at the floor.
Brendon had tried his parents to explain it to him, once, but it hadn't--Brendon should have known there wasn't any point in asking his parents. It seemed to mean even more to them than the scriptures: there was no being second-best for a Urie. Even though it had almost cost them Kyla's betrothal and their family home.
That, at least, nobody could take away from Brendon--although he was not convinced that the result was worth the effort. He thought of the dozens of suitors asking for Kyla's hand, who were sent away because they were wooing her as second wife. Everything just because his parents couldn't stand the thought of not being supreme, because an old man, a priest, was telling them it was their duty and right to rule.
Brendon couldn't help himself and he glanced at the empty corner of the sitting room, where their upright piano had stood. The loss of it still smarted Brendon, his fingers itching with the need to play. He didn't think that what they'd had to give up was in any way worth the tiny bit of pleasure his parents derived from being able to say that all their children were well-matched and, oh, they were also all first partners.
As his parents were discussing the logistics of arranging a visit to the city to discuss the match with Mr Ross, Brendon looked out of the window. The trees were swaying in the gentle breeze outside. He thought it was time for another stealth visit to old Mr Jameson down by the church. Mr Jameson owned a beautifully kept old piano, and he enjoyed having Brendon play for him. Brendon's parents looked down on Mr Jameson--he was just a poor cobbler, his hands tanned like the leather he had used to make shoes all his life.
Yes, Brendon thought, he should go and visit Mr Jameson. Maybe he would even teach Brendon another dirty song, full of words that made Brendon blush, but also filled him with a desire that he could only quench at night.
His parents would just insist that Brendon ask the priest, if Brendon mentioned his desire to play. He suspected that it was partly guilt that made them so stubborn in the matter of letting Brendon play. Out of all his siblings, only Brendon had taken to the piano, and he had begged and pleaded for weeks with them to please not sell the piano. But to no avail--they had sold it and Brendon had spent the entirety of Kyla's wedding staring at her new dress, wondering how a piano and a flouncy monstrosity like that could possibly have the same worth.
Brendon used the first chance to steal away. After dinner was the best time, learned in many years of escaping his family home. His father was busy dealing with letters and his mother was working on her mending or knitting. These days, the majority of her work was mending.
Mr Jameson was, predictably, smoking his pipe and enjoying an ale. Brendon knew that Sally, the daughter of the Millers, who owned both the mill and the pub, brought him a fresh bottle each day.
"Ah, dear boy!" Mr Jameson laughed and, despite his current brooding, Brendon had to smile with him. "I wondered when you'd come by again. It's been almost a week."
Brendon ducked his head. "Kara's youngest was sick," he said. "I couldn't steal away."
Mr Jameson pointed his pipe at Brendon and winked at him. "Excuses."
Brendon offered Mr Jameson his arm and the old man leaned on him heavily as they went into the sitting room.
Their current arrangement served to make them both happy, and that was the justification Brendon used for going against his parents' wishes that he not visit Mr Jameson. They'd made up contrived reasons--he was too low class, bad company, he drank and smoked. Brendon found that Mr Jameson had a warm and open heart--it had been Mr Jameson who offered Brendon the use of his piano, inherited from his parents, long loved and carefully maintained. He'd offered Brendon to taste his pipe and also the ale, that much was true, but Brendon had found both things to be despicable in taste. The tobacco smoke had made him cough so hard his eyes watered, and the strange taste in his mouth only disappeared after taking a gulp from the offered ale, which Brendon had almost spit out for its bitter taste. He had grimaced and Mr Jameson had laughed.
"They're an acquired taste," he'd said.
But those had been his only attempts at corrupting Brendon, and in truth Brendon found Mr Jameson quite enjoyable after he'd finished his ale and when he was on his second pipe. "The only luxuries I can afford, my son," Mr Jameson always said when he took a long drag from his pipe.
He had known Brendon's mother when she had been young and her parents and he could tell many stories that Brendon's parents would've been aghast to know he'd heard.
Brendon felt a sense of peace coming over him as he sat down at the piano. He carefully pulled up the cover from the keys. The first time he'd come in, he'd been amazed that Mr Jameson had never seen fit to sell it.
"Nah, boy," Mr Jameson had said. "It ain't worth much, but it's given me many fun-filled hours."
But now only sad songs came to Brendon's mind.
"You don't seem quite like yourself today, boy," Mr Jameson said from his usual observation point, his old rocking chair.
"My parents have found a match for me," Brendon said quietly.
Mr Jameson blew a smoke ring and muttered. "Yes, I've heard that they've finally found someone to take you on," he said. "The talk's been all over town. They're in quite a hurry to get rid of you."
"I--" Brendon shook his head. "They're not trying to--get rid of us."
"Then why aren't you happy about your match? Who is she?"
"It's a boy," Brendon said. "He lives in the city."
"Does this boy of yours have a name?"
"Ross." Brendon played a scale, just to have something to do with his hands. The music felt like a release, even though it was such a simple thing.
Brendon startled. "I don't know," he said. "They--they didn't tell me his first name." Brendon looked up, directly into Mr Jameson's gentle, understanding eyes and the entire ridiculousness of the situation barged down on Brendon. He started to laugh. "You're right," he said between gulps of air, "they're trying to get rid of me. They didn't even tell me his name."
Brendon hardly heard Mr Jameson shuffle over and almost jumped up when he sat down next to Brendon on the tiny piano bench. He let Mr Jameson hold him while his laughter turned into sobs.
"I wish they weren't so fixated on marrying us off," Brendon said.
"They must have a reason," Mr Jameson said.
"Yes," Brendon whispered. He knew that the reason his parents didn't want him to visit Mr Jameson because they didn't want any gossip--they had sold their own piano and now their son roamed through the neighbourhood, playing other people's pianos. In a way, it vindicated Brendon in going behind their backs. If they wanted to avoid gossip, they shouldn't have sold the piano. There must have been another way to pay for the wedding, surely. They didn't own as much land as their forefathers had--a result of too many sons vying for their shares of the inheritance--but they were still well-off.
Mr Jameson prodded Brendon's arm. "I figured you'd be happy to have a reason to leave this town," he said.
"But it's all I've ever known." Brendon shook his head. "I feel scared," he said.
"Aren't we all, son," Mr Jameson said. "And now play me a happy song." He smiled softly. "I will miss you when you're gone."
Brendon smiled back. "You will still have me long enough," he said. "First we have to meet the prospective match and then we'll decide on a date. I won't be gone tomorrow."
Mr Jameson grinned. "Then play me a happy song now," he said.
"The one with the mermaid?"
"Only if you dare to sing it."
Brendon laughed and launched into the very raunchy tale of the mermaid and the ship of sailors that follows her around. He sang all the dirty words extra loudly, revelling in the jolts they gave him.
Brendon decided to visit Mr Jameson every day now, or as many as he could manage. Mr Jameson had to teach him all of the songs he didn't know yet, after all.
The city was just as Brendon remembered it from his last visit many years ago--loud and dirty and full of people. He felt the familiar clench of unrest and unease. At times he wanted to leap into the masses, experience new things and talk to whoever lent him an ear, but other times Brendon was afraid of the unknown. He had known the names of every person in their town, small as it had been. It was unthinkable to achieve that even for just a quarter of the city.
Brendon chided himself. He was tired, exhausted from travelling, but now the carriage was rolling through the city streets, straight to the house George Ross had generously allowed them to stay in. It irked Brendon, being so reliant on a stranger's kindness. The man himself had been very generous in all their dealings to a degree that wasn't simple hospitality anymore. George Ross seemed determined to swing Brendon's parents' opinion in his favour.
Brendon thought bitterly that he needn't try so hard. His parents were already enraptured and, of course, it only took a short while for them to consider it their due. The Uries had a long history, with many illustrious personalities, and although they had been on the decline in recent times, their name was still worth gold to some.
"George Ross is a very smart man," Brendon's father had said the previous night over dinner. "He knows that he needs to convince us. The Uries haven't lost their relevance yet."
Brendon found the thought of being wooed in this style less than gratifying. Being chosen for his name and his name alone was about as far as Brendon could get away from marrying out of love.
They stopped. "We have arrived, sirs and madam," their coachmen said.
As Brendon stepped out of the carriage after his mother, he was immediately taken in by the gorgeous house in front of them. "And this is just for guests?" he asked his mother.
"Hush, my dear," she replied.
The house was splendid. As Brendon sat in the luxurious sitting room, he admired the wood panelling and the rows of books filling the shelves. If this was what the Rosses had in store for their guests, he wondered, what was their actual mansion like, the one they lived in?
"When will we meet them?" Brendon asked his father. He had been expecting someone to welcome them, but only the servants had been around.
"Tomorrow afternoon, for tea," his father replied. He smiled at Brendon. "Just have patience, you will meet your betrothed soon enough."
"Yes, father." Brendon idly perused one of the books, picked at random. He was nervous, afraid of making a bad impression. His father's words had sent a shiver over his skin, but not due to anticipation. Brendon thought it was much too soon--hadn't the reception letter just arrived? In truth, it had been weeks since Brendon first learned about this betrothal, but time had flown by. Brendon had spent these weeks visiting Mr Jameson and revisiting all his old playing grounds, a last goodbye to the place where he'd grown up. Although there had been the necessary preparations, it hadn't felt real yet. His parents arguing about getting Brendon a new suit for the wedding and what to include in his trousseau--it had all happened outside of Brendon's perception, even when his parents had asked him if he preferred this or that. It wasn't real.
Now that he was here in the city, only a mere twenty hours away from meeting the man he was going to spend the rest of his life with, Brendon felt that he hadn't had enough time to prepare himself.
Brendon hardly slept that night, his mind awash with emotions and random thoughts. He couldn't settle down, and neither did his mind. What if this Ryan Ross turned out to be awful? What if his father expected more from Brendon and rejected him now? What if, if, if ...
When the sun started rising, Brendon was glad for the chance to abort all attempts at sleeping. His dreams had been wild and fearful, and Brendon rather wanted to face this day with his head held high.
He didn't feel quite so determined and courageous by the time the carriage showed up. The ride was longer than Brendon had expected--Brendon suspected that he hadn't quite understood the expanse of the city. As Brendon counted the steps the horses took, he couldn't help himself but compare them to their town. Now, here, that was the distance between his parents' house and the town center. Then to the library. Finally they spanned the length of their town, but they hadn't yet arrived.
Brendon was taken by a sudden bout of fear. He had to live here, how was he going to find his way around? He'd tried following the directions, but they'd turned left and right so often that he'd lost count early on. How was he supposed to not get lost in this maze of streets?
And then they finally arrived. They were led into the front hall where a distinguished older man and a thin young man were waiting.
"Ah, Lord and Lady Urie," the older gentleman said. "I am pleased to receive you in my humble halls."
Humble was not a word Brendon would have used to describe this mansion. If he'd thought their town house was splendid, there were no words for this. Marble and gold everywhere. It didn't seem right, though, Brendon thought. Something was off, like ... there was too much of it.
"We are happy to be here," Brendon heard his father reply. "My dear Mr Ross, it is just our pleasure to be here."
The older Mr Ross smiled toothily and pointed them down the hall. "Shall we now have our tea?"
"We'd be delighted," Brendon's mother said.
Neither Ryan nor Brendon said anything, although Brendon noticed Ryan glancing at him. Ryan was well-dressed, in clothes that fit him well, although they were odd of colour. He was pretty, although a tad too thin. Brendon immediately felt drawn him and was startled to realise this. But for some reason--there was something in the way Ryan held himself that made Brendon curious about him.
They sat in the sitting room while tea was served. The scones were delicious and Brendon decided that he could live here. As long as the cook decided to stay.
Brendon was reaching for another scone when he noticed his mother's disapproving look, and he quickly drew his hand back.
Mr Ross laughed. "Oh, please don't hold back," he said. "It's nice to see a young man with a healthy appetite." He gave his son a sidelong glance. Ryan, Brendon had noticed, had only eaten a tiny cookie and instead had just drunk a large amount of tea.
Brendon now felt compelled to take the scone, but it didn't taste as good as the other one.
"I assume you're content with the terms?" Mr Ross took a sip of his tea. "My lawyers amended the contract as you wished."
"Of course, of course," Brendon's father said. Brendon felt a pang in his chest. Talking of the betrothal contract made everything seem so final, although Brendon had been aware of the different versions circulating between his father's study and the city.
Ryan looked up, right at Brendon. He smirked. "I'm pleased to hear that."
His father chuckled. "You must know that Ryan has become a bit impatient to marry already."
Brendon's father smiled. "Brendon, too, is looking forward to the joining ceremony."
Brendon put on a brave smile. It was only half a lie--Brendon wasn't very enthusiastic about the wedding, but he'd obey his parents' wishes. He was hoping they'd just get it over with, so Brendon could find his new place in the Ross family.
Mr Ross chuckled again. "Ah, to be young again," he said. "Don't worry, now that all the issues with the contract are resolved, we'll be able to set a date very soon."
"When shall we sign the contract?" Brendon's father asked.
"I have the copies in my study," Mr Ross said. "Shall we do it right now?"
Brendon stared at his scone, his appetite gone. Out of the corners of his eyes, he could see his father nod and get up. "I find it's easiest to deal with business matters up front," he said.
Mr Ross grinned, but it didn't look nice. Ryan snorted quietly, and Brendon felt confused. "Well, I wouldn't want to make you wait any longer," Ross said.
After their fathers had left, the atmosphere in the room turned awkward. Brendon wanted to look Ryan, ask him what he thought about their engagement, but he didn't know how to talk to Ryan. Brendon was usually good at talking to strangers--there weren't many people in his town he didn't know and Brendon immediately took to any strangers coming through. But Ryan seemed so aloof and detached that Brendon didn't know where to start. Ryan had hardly talked at all during tea and it was weird that this was the person Brendon was supposed to spend the rest of his life with.
Brendon's mother smiled. "I'm so happy that we've managed to agree on the terms."
"Yes," Ryan answered. "But--"
Whatever Ryan had intended to say, Brendon would never know, as right then there was a knock on the door and another young man came in without waiting for an answer. Brendon frowned at his cheek and indecent behaviour, but Ryan didn't seem to mind. Indeed, Ryan perked up when he caught sight of the man.
"I'm sorry for being so late," the man said. "There was a minor kerfuffle with the new shipment."
"Spencer! Oh, you haven't missed anything," Ryan said. "Lady Urie, this is my fiancé Spencer Smith."
"I'm pleased to meet you," Brendon's mother said.
Brendon was petrified. "Your--fiancé?"
Spencer threw Brendon a quick, unreadable look. Ryan just shrugged. Brendon's mother put her hand on Brendon's arm and squeezed once, gently, in warning. Brendon forced himself to take a deep breath and forced himself to smile. From the look on Spencer's face, it probably resembled more a grimace than an actual smile.
"Sit down," Ryan said to Spencer.
"But your father--"
"He and Mr Urie have gone to sign the contract," Ryan said. "I don't think they'll be back any time soon, considering my father's habits."
"I see." Spencer smiled at Brendon and his mother. "I'm glad to finally meet you," he said. "Ryan and I have been waiting a long time for this day."
"Oh," Brendon said. He felt wrong-footed--what was he supposed to say to Spencer, whose existence he hadn't even known about until five minutes ago? "I'm, uh, pleased to hear that."
Spencer smiled at Brendon and simultaneously managed to ... do something, as Ryan jumped a bit and sat up straight. Spencer hadn't even seemed to move at all. Brendon recognised the ability from one of his sisters-in-law--his brother had a habit of becoming too familiar with people too soon, and she often had to stop him from spilling too much sensitive information.
"How was your trip?"
"It went very well," Brendon's mother replied. Brendon let her take over the small talk. Spencer and she seemed entirely happy to have the conversation all by themselves, as Ryan leaned back in his chair and didn't offer any comments, either.
Brendon secretly breathed a sigh of relief when his father came back with Mr Ross.
"Ah, Spencer has arrived," Mr Ross said. "How about the shipment?"
"All problems could be resolved," Spencer said. "The merchant in question has been removed from our lists, though, as this wasn't the first shipment without error."
"I see, I see."
"So you are Mr Smith?" Brendon's father asked.
"Yes." Spencer shook Brendon's father's hand. "I have already apologised to your wife and son about my tardiness."
"Oh, no, please don't. Business matters always come first."
Spencer nodded and sat back down.
"So the contract's been settled then?" Ryan asked. He was looking at Brendon, who felt uncomfortably put on display.
"Yes," Ross said.
"Father," Brendon said quietly, but his father didn't pay him any attention.
"You must excuse my son," Mr Ross said. "You have to know he's been waiting for a second betrothal for almost a year, and Spencer and he are most impatient to get married already." Brendon couldn't read the way Mr Ross looked at his son, even less so because Ryan was grinning like the cat that got the cream.
"Oh, young love," Brendon's father said, like he hadn't even heard the most important part of what Mr Ross had said.
Brendon was confused--if Ryan and Spencer had already been engaged for a year, how would Brendon figure into that constellation? From the way Spencer seemed to be so intimately familiar with not only the Ross family, but also their business, Brendon thought it unlikely that Ryan wouldn't put Spencer first, but--Brendon's father wouldn't allow it. He hadn't allowed it when Mr Dufresne had wanted to marry Kyla as second wife, and for a long time it had seemed like Kyla would not marry at all after that incident.
"So we will see you tomorrow evening at supper," Mr Ross said.
"To set the date," Brendon's mother said, and Brendon realised he had missed out on a good part of the conversation around him. He looked up to find Spencer looking away quickly, but Ryan kept his eyes trained on Brendon. Ryan raised his eyebrows and Brendon had the strange sensation as if Ryan were able to read his mind. He quickly pushed away all thoughts, trained his face into a polite mien and smiled.
Saying goodbye was awkward, as Brendon felt suddenly shy around Ryan. He shook Ryan's hand and thought, and you're going to be my husband, but there was no surge of happiness. Instead, Brendon felt caged and uncomfortable. Spencer's shake was much warmer and he smiled at Brendon, which only confused him more.
In Brendon's experience, the first and second betrothed more often shared a rivalry than they were friends. If two people were vying for only one person's attention, conflict could not be avoided--but Spencer didn't behave that way. In fact, he pulled Brendon in for a quick hug, which was entirely unexpected. Ryan had kept himself aloof, distanced even to his father who'd sat right next to him, but Spencer radiated a tangible physicality that went straight to Brendon's groin. "I'll be looking forward to seeing you again, Brendon Urie," Spencer whispered.
Brendon nodded weakly. "Tomorrow," he said. Spencer's laughter rolled like honey over Brendon's skin and--these were bad thoughts, he told himself sternly, trying to calm his body down. He couldn't--not Spencer--not Ryan's second.
But Spencer smiled in a way that seemed to say that they could and--what if Spencer was actually the one to decide that? Brendon shivered, but the thought was more pleasing than it was disgusting. Brendon pretended to be cold and put on his coat while he was trying to sort out his thoughts. He knew his priest's opinion on relationships between the second and third partner: they weren't to be tolerated at all, as they didn't fit into the inner workings of marriage. But Brendon disagreed with the priest and his parents on a daily basis, why should he take issue with that?
The what if stuck with Brendon, though. He couldn't shake the image of seeing Spencer and Ryan so comfortable with each other--the way Ryan had tolerated Spencer to be close to him, the way they'd talked, Mr Ross saying they've been waiting for a year for a third to complete their betrothal party ...
Brendon only waited until they were seated in the carriage and a few streets away before he spoke up. "Father, I'm afraid I do have one question to ask."
Brendon's father hummed. "What is it, my son?"
Brendon hesitated, unsure. He couldn't imagine it, but Ryan and Spencer ... "I--I am Ryan's first betrothed, am I not?"
Brendon's mother stilled in her seat and looked out of the window. His father sighed loudly. "You shouldn't care about those things."
Brendon's chest became tight, as if an invisible vice was wound tightly around him. Breathing was difficult. He reminded himself that he didn't actually care, and yet he couldn't stop himself from speaking up once more. "But, Father--"
"It does not matter, Brendon," his father said. "You are to marry this boy--whether as his first or second, it does not matter."
"No, it does!" Brendon sat up straight and realised his entire body was shaking. He was angry, he thought. Angry and betrayed. He'd lost his piano to Kyla's wedding because his parents hadn't accepted any of the other suitors who'd demanded less of a trousseau. "This is so shameful, Father."
"It'll be a shame you'll have to bear."
"No." Brendon gulped in a deep breath. He didn't want this, and his parents hadn't ever forced any of his siblings--at least, not that Brendon knew of. The wish to throw their own beliefs back at them increased. Brendon had let them take away his piano so they could hold on to what they thought was important. Mr Jameson's words rose unbidden in his mind.
They're trying to get rid of you..
"I wish to break off the engagement."
"Brendon," his mother said quietly and sadly. She sighed and took his hand. "It is too late."
"No, no, you have to go back and say--"
"No, Brendon." His father's voice was startlingly loud in the small carriage, full and booming. Brendon knew this tone of voice and he knew there was no reasoning with it. "The contract is signed, and it doesn't matter whether this boy is going to marry you first or second, or whether he is even going to look at you once you're in his home. You will marry him."
"But why? I don't understand." Brendon hated the way he sounded--small and lost, like a child. He wished he could give his anger a voice, scream and yell, but the carriage seemed to grow smaller and smaller around him and he could feel all his anger evaporate into thin air.
His parents shared a look, and Brendon's father sighed again. "We cannot afford to break off this engagement."
"But the contract--"
"This is not about the contract, Brendon. This is about the dowry."
"But I don't have any," Brendon said.
"I know." His father, for the first time, looked old and haggard. "It is our fault, not yours, but especially since Ross does not only accept you without you bringing a large dowry into this marriage, but since he also offers us compensation for losing you from our household, we cannot refuse him. And now the contract is signed."
"We could have found someone else," Brendon said quietly. "Or I wouldn't have to marry at all. I could, I could help on the farm." But he thought of Spencer looking at him, of Ryan looking at Spencer.
"No, Brendon," his mother said. "We tried. There's no one else."
Brendon looked at his mother, then at his father. Both were avoiding his eyes, and this more than anything else finally made Brendon realise that they were serious. "Oh," he said and turned to look out of the window. It was already dark, and men were going around, lighting the street lamps. It was so different from what Brendon knew, it seemed like he wasn't even in the same country anymore.
"Why didn't you tell me?" The question slipped out of Brendon's mouth before he could stop himself. What smarted worse than the idea of being second-best was that his parents had known. They had let him continue in his wrong assumption that Brendon was going to be the first betrothal, even though they had known better. Brendon had often wanted to ask who Ryan was courting for his second partner--some men preferred to have members of both sexes in their beds. Brendon had wondered how Ryan wanted to solve the issue of an heir, now that he had chosen Brendon as his first, but asking had meant to acknowledge how radically his life was going to change and Brendon had preferred to ignore the matter. Now he was stuck with the question of if his parents would have lied to him, had he asked.
"We didn't want to upset you," his father said.
Brendon was angry and he gripped the edge of the seat tightly. "I would have been prepared," he said. "I would have known what to expect." I would have rejected him, Brendon thought. I would have made you reject the offer and continue searching. I wouldn't have accepted.
Would you? a tiny voice said inside Brendon's head. It sounded suspiciously like Mr Jameson after his ale. Would you have rejected your chance to leave because of a belief you don't even share?
"Brendon, we didn't have any choice."
"You had a choice for Kyla," Brendon said. It was easy to take his parents' words, things they'd said time and again, and throw them back into their faces. "All my siblings are first in their marriage, and only I, I'm going to be--" Brendon broke off.
"I talked at length to Mr Ross," his father said. "It seems his son believes that all partners in marriage should be equal."
Brendon laughed darkly. "And how is that supposed to work?" He felt conflicted that he could slip into this persona and behave like his parents had taught him. In truth, he was fascinated by their equality beliefs, so different from what he was used to. It gave him a glimmer of hope.
His father shrugged. "I don't know, but you will find out."
Brendon swallowed. He hadn't ever heard of three equal partners--it must be some new nonsense from the city, thought up by bored gentlemen and ladies who didn't have any real other concerns. In Brendon's experience, arranged marriages tended to revolve around the person who could afford to have two betrothals. He'd seen it happen with his siblings--Kara's husband was the son of a neighbouring duke. Brendon hadn't expected that he himself would be the center of the arrangement--not with the way his parents were hard up for money. But he couldn't think of any way to relate to Spencer. He was only betrothed to Ryan, even if they would all three be standing in front of the priest to say their pledges.
It was the end of the conversation, as they arrived at the house. Brendon begged an early leave from his parents, and they let him go without objections.
In his room, Brendon sat down on his bed and stared at his hands. They were shaking, even though they were lying on his lap. He pressed them firmly against his thighs, but that only made the shaking spread to his entire body, until he was barely holding himself upright. He was so angry he could hardly breathe--but he was also sad and disappointed. He felt his parents had betrayed him--by lying and omitting, they'd let him believe ... Oh, he'd been so stupid.
Brendon had come to the city expecting... he didn't know. He had spent most of his time carefully not thinking too much about the city and the Ross family, so there were no expectations beyond what Brendon was used to from idle daydreams, those general ideas how his life was going to pan out. Brendon was going to marry, and he would, of course, be the first betrothed. They would lead their business together, and whenever his husband would attend to his second betrothed, Brendon would look away. The rest was fuzzy. That had been the vision his parents had instilled in him, one they had reinforced time and again with his siblings.
Although Brendon didn't think the third partner should be treated badly, he hadn't expected to be relegated to the second rank, of being the less-important partner. He thought of the way Ryan had lit up when Spencer had entered the room, of their familiarity--of course Ryan would treasure Spencer, who had known him all his life, more than Brendon. Why should Brendon, who Ryan didn't know at all, mean more to him than his life-long friend?
Brendon pressed his hands against his eyes, trying to stop the burning in his eyes. He was being stupid, he thought. If their talk of equality was to be believed, neither Ryan nor Spencer put much store into who was first, second or third. Partnership was the word Brendon's father had said disparagingly. No, the only people who still cared about numbers were his own parents.
That his parents had lied to him smarted worse than everything else. Brendon could have coped, he thought, with not assuming the position his parents had always told him he would. They'd wanted him to do and be so many things Brendon felt he was not fit for, it would have been easy to add be second to believe in their beliefs and act like a nobleman. But they had lied to him. How could they have?
There was a knock on his door, but Brendon ignored it. His chest hurt from the screams he wasn't releasing, his head was pounding and his eyes were burning with repressed tears. He decidedly did not feel like company. He let himself fall backwards on the bed and wished whoever was at the door away.
The door was opened quietly. "Brendon?" his mother asked.
Brendon squeezed his eyes shut and hoped she would go.
"Oh, child," his mother said. She closed the door and Brendon felt her sit down next to him. She wrapped her arms around him and pulled him up and tightly against herself. "Please don't take it so hard."
"But, Mother--" Brendon said. "This wasn't, it's not."
"I know," she said. "I'm sorry that we had to deceive you, but we couldn't afford to lose this offer."
Brendon sat up straight, leaning away from his mother, and looked at her. It was scary to see her appear so old. Brendon wondered whether he just hadn't noticed the wrinkles lining her eyes and mouth, deep and mournful. "What, what do you mean?"
She smiled sadly. "When Matthew married, your father had to borrow some money. We have to pay it back soon, or we'll lose the house."
Brendon was stunned speechless for a moment. "The house?" He thought of his room, the sitting room where his mother would always write her correspondence, the kitchen that was always filled with the nicest smells. "But--when Michael got married?"
Michael was his oldest brother. If this was true, then his parents had been in debt for many, many years.
"Yes," his mother said. "Unfortunately the dowries weren't enough to cover the costs and so ..." She sighed.
Brendon couldn't believe that they had kept this a secret for so long. All his siblings and Brendon had always thought that their parents were, if not exactly wealthy, at least well off enough to care for all of them.
His mother kissed his temple. "I'm sorry to have deceived you, but it was for the good of all of us."
Yes, Brendon thought after she left, but what about me?
It was another night of restless sleep, of dreams full of anxiety and anger that left Brendon shaken and short-tempered. He wasn't looking forward to going back to the Ross manor this afternoon, and even less after his parents were discussing possible dates over breakfast.
"We should have the wedding this month," his father said.
"No, we can't do that," his mother said. "Next month is much more suitable to travelling. Remember, Kara has just had another child; she won't be able to travel such a long distance so soon."
"You are right. Also, it might seem indecent to have the wedding too soon."
Brendon poked his porridge. It had smelled delicious when he'd sat down at the table, but now it turned to mud in his mouth. "Next month sounds good," he offered, fully aware that he didn't give the impression of being happy about it.
His parents paused, but didn't comment. For a moment, Brendon was so angry that he wanted to stand up and yell at them. This was his life they were selling off. They should at least acknowledge him and let him have a say.
"I hope they won't want to wait for much longer," Brendon's father said. "Given Ryan's long betrothal to this Spencer boy, I think his father will be glad to finally see him married."
He pointedly didn't look at Brendon, but Brendon understood anyway. Brendon wasn't of importance here. It left him in a sad mood which he couldn't shake all day. He still felt morose when they got out of the carriage at the Ross manor. At least the cake was bound to be very good today.
This time Spencer was already there, along with an older couple who turned out to be Spencer's parents.
"We are delighted to meet you," Spencer's father said.
His mother smiled at Brendon. "We've only heard good things about you."
Brendon smiled back--it was impossible not to, because she seemed sincerely happy for him, and Brendon couldn't bring himself to say that they didn't know him well enough yet to know his faults. Although he did wonder what good things Spencer had been able to say about Brendon--they'd only met the day before and Brendon didn't think he'd talked enough to Spencer to leave a lasting impression.
"It's our pleasure, too." Brendon's father put his hand on Brendon's shoulder, the very image of a proud father. "It is a fine match we have found for our son."
Spencer's mother laughed. "Don't be too rash," she said and winked at Brendon. "You don't know which faults they keep hidden."
Brendon immediately liked her, and the fact that his father stilled and tensed up at her words only made him like her more.
"Oh, I'm sure I'll find out about them soon enough," Brendon said, smiling at Mrs Smith. "I hear that's what the wedding night is for."
Spencer's father chuckled. "Yes, you'll fit right in with them," he said, and it took Brendon a moment to realise that the warm, weird sensation he was feeling was pride and a flicker of hope. He didn't, however, miss the flicker of irritation on his parents' faces. Talk like that was taboo at home. Brendon smiled broadly at the Smiths and thought at his parents, You reap what you sow. His parents wouldn't reproach him openly, not in front of the people who could solve their financial problems.
Brendon figured that they should expect him to exact a bit of revenge. If his parents were willing to give him to the first person to offer a good bargain, they would have to deal with Brendon cheerfully crossing any and all boundaries as he saw fit to.
Although Brendon's parents were impatient, the Smiths postponed talking about the date until after tea. "I find it's such a drain on the conversation--talking about business, I mean," Spencer's mother says. "I'd much prefer to hear more about Brendon."
Brendon also much preferred to talk about anything but when life as he knew it was going to end, so he cheerfully told Mrs Smith everything about his home town. Although he'd often felt suffocated by their small-minded town, he now felt nostalgic and even missed it, already he hadn't actually left yet. Next to him, his parents shifted from time to time, but Brendon didn't let them bother it and embellished his stories even more. Ryan and Spencer's reactions turned out to be more disruptive.
"... and that's when we found the foal in the field," Brendon finished his tale, making both Spencer and his mother laugh loudly. Brendon thought he could get used to hearing Spencer laugh.
"In the field?" Ryan didn't sound any different than he'd done all day, his voice was smooth and calm, but there was something off.
"Yes," Brendon said slowly. He felt a sense of dread, although he couldn't tell why.
Ryan smirked. "Well, that is certainly that won't happen to you here," he said. "There are very few fields here."
Brendon looked down at his plate and took a careful sip of tea. Ryan's response astonished him--up to this point Ryan had acted favourably toward Brendon and his sudden criticism was both unexpected and out of place, he thought.
"Ryan," Spencer said, a tiny bit of warning.
Ryan shrugged. He exchanged a look with Spencer, and again Brendon had the feeling that he'd just been part of a conversation he couldn't understand. Spencer seemed open and accessible at first glance, but there was more to him than could be seen. Ryan remained an enigma with his bored glances and monotonous speech. It intrigued Brendon, though, to poke at their shells and figure out how their minds worked. He hoped that he instilled at least a little bit of curiosity in them.
"You must excuse them," Spencer's mother said. She sent a clearly chastising look at Ryan, who looked a bit taken aback. "They certainly have never handled a foal."
Brendon smiled at her, but he couldn't get his old cheerfulness back. Ryan's comment had only served to make Brendon more aware how different he was from them and how little he did fit in here. He tried to see his tale from an outside perspective--and thought that he must come across rather as a country bumpkin than an educated nobleman. No wonder Brendon's tutors had despaired over him. He'd only ever been interested in music. "Well, I don't think there are many opportunities to chase foals in the city."
Spencer's mother put her hand over Brendon's and squeezed gently. "I think you'll find that the skills you need for chasing foals will turn out to be useful no matter what the environment."
Brendon smiled and hoped she was right. He was relieved when Mr Ross spoke up and everyone's attention focused on him.
"I think we've spent enough time dillydallying. It's time to talk about business."
Brendon felt his stomach sink. He didn't think that anyone cared about his opinion. But as it turned out, he was wrong.
Brendon's father nodded. "Yes, I agree."
"Have you already considered any dates?" Spencer's father asked.
"We would like next month," Brendon's father said. "We find it's well suited for travelling."
Mrs Smith nodded. "We would much prefer it, too."
Brendon stared at his hands and only half-listened to the conversation, since he didn't have any say in the decision. He wished it was already over--it only reinforced the feeling of being a puppet in his parents' plans. He startled when he heard someone speak his name.
"Brendon, what do you think?"
Brendon looked up at Mr Smith who was looking at him and smiling. "Pardon me?"
"The date," Mr Smith said gently.
"Oh," Brendon said.
"It's the 15th," Spencer said. He was looking at Brendon and frowned slightly. Brendon couldn't stand to look at him, so he made sure to smile at Mrs Smith when he answered her.
"It's, yes, that's, I like it."
Spencer's mother sent Brendon a look that clearly said she didn't believe him.
"Well, we've already agreed," Brendon's father said.
"Yes, but we believe that the opinion of the young people in question should matter," Mr Smith said.
Brendon's parents did not look impressed. Indeed, they looked rather put out. Brendon could see his father's eyes hardening and hurriedly spoke to prevent an argument. Of all things, he thought the date was a rather silly thing to argue about. "I'm fine with it," he said. "The 15th is a good date."
"Then it's decided," Mr Ross said. "The wedding ceremony will take place on the 15th of next month."
Brendon smiled, but he didn't feel very happy. A death sentence couldn't have felt more final. There was a tiny part of him, however, that fluttered in excitement.
"When you come into town next time, you'll have to come over for tea," Spencer's mother said when they took their leave. "I can't wait to see you again for the fitting."
"Thank you, Mrs Smith," Brendon's mother said. Her smile didn't reach her eyes, though, and she had a tight grip on Brendon's arm, almost hard enough to hurt.
Brendon was sad--he'd grown instantly fond of Mrs Smith and her attempts to include Brendon. He liked her easy way of talking, although he knew that this was the exact thing that made his mother abhor Mrs Smith. His mother had grown more and more distantly polite toward the Smiths, and Brendon had had a hard time preventing himself from rolling his eyes. It was rather obvious that his parents favoured Mr Ross--a fact that made Brendon uncomfortable. The Smiths were much more likeable.
Brendon smiled at Mrs Smith. "We'd be delighted to accept your generous offer," he said, despite his mother clenching down on his arm in warning. Brendon was supposed to spend the week prior to the wedding in the city, accompanied by his mother. He wanted to have at least one thing to look forward to.
Mrs Smith smiled widely. She seemed rather amused. "I'll make sure to tell our cook to prepare scones for that day," she said.
It startled a laugh out of Brendon, and he flushed when he realised that both Spencer and Ryan were looking at him. Ryan was smirking, as if he were secretly heckling, but Spencer seemed ... interested. He eyed Brendon and grinned. "We'll be looking forward to seeing you again," Spencer said, and the tone of his voice made Brendon's heart beat faster. He sounded like he actually wanted to see Brendon again.
Brendon smiled at them. "In three weeks," he said. Spencer smiled back and nodded.
That day, Brendon left the Ross manor in a good mood. It didn't last long. His parents, as Brendon had already figured out, were not impressed by the Smiths and they used the carriage ride to vent their feelings.
"What vulgar people!" Brendon's mother exclaimed.
"I agree, my dear," Brendon's father agreed. "It's very obvious that there's no gentry in their lines."
Brendon suppressed a sigh. "But, Father, today one's standing does not exclusively depend on one's ancestry. The Smiths seemed like very nice people."
"My dear son," his father said, "they are very nice vulgar people--they are not good company for people like us."
Brendon stared. He didn't know what to say. He had to bite his tongue not to fling their words back at them--they weren't good company, but apparently they were good enough to marry into.
"Their opinions are so rude and indecent. They spoke to us like we were commoners, too," his mother added.
Brendon didn't point out that, superficially, they looked much more like common people than both the Smiths and the Rosses. Brendon had secretly admired Spencer's jacket, with its high collar and fanciful embroidery. Brendon's best clothes looked liked rags in comparison.
Brendon's father sighed. "If we didn't need their money..." He trailed off.
"We can continue to look for someone else," Brendon suggested. His anger was turning into confusion, as he'd thought his parents were at least content with the choice they'd made for him. If no one felt comfortable that Brendon was going to marry a nouveau-riche, who'd become wealthy by trading and other business, well, why had they chosen one then?
"No, we cannot," his father said harshly. "And you'd better get used to your situation. The contract is signed, everything's arranged."
"But you're not--"
"It doesn't matter." His father was almost yelling. "You will marry this boy, and I will not hear any more objections."
Brendon forced himself to nod. "Yes, Father, as you say."
This evening was their last in the town house and Brendon used it to excuse himself early. They were scheduled to leave early in the morning and the trip to the Uries' home town was anything but comfortable.
Brendon did not sleep well again that night, too many thoughts running rampant in his mind. His parents' decision became more and more curious, the more Brendon learned. They chose Mr Ross, although they detested his "kind". They agreed to Brendon being the third partner, although all his life they'd preached to Brendon that he was destined to be more.
If money led one to make such decisions, against firmly held beliefs, Brendon wasn't sure he would like to have any money. Mr Jameson seemed happy enough, with just enough to make ends meet.
Brendon slumped down in their carriage and hoped that those nights weren't exemplary for the city. He was used to birds chirping, the wind in the trees and foxes yowling in the night--all familiar noises that had often soothed him into sleep. The noise of horse carriages at all times of day and night, the lack of natural noises... Brendon had to get used to it first.
Brendon looked out of the window, and when they passed the city gates, he whispered, "Goodbye." Three weeks until Brendon would pass those gates again and would here to stay.
Brendon's heart hurt as they left the city behind. It hurt all the way to their town and even more when they reached their house.
His heart was destined to hurt for those three long weeks leading up to his final trip to the city. Three long weeks, which seemed to pass in an instant. It was part wistfulness for his old life and part longing for his new life in the city.
Brendon's siblings were just as taken aback as Brendon was as they heard about the exact conditions of Brendon's betrothal. Only Michael seemed to know the seriousness of their financial situation. He took Brendon aside on that first evening back.
"I want you to know that I think you're doing something very brave," Michael said.
Brendon shrugged. "But I don't have any choice," he said. He didn't think he was being brave, as that would imply Brendon was going to do something he loathed, when in fact he had started looking forward to the city, if not actual married life. That, he figured, would come in due time.
Michael smiled. "I know," he said. "I tried to talk to Father when he first mentioned this Mr Ross and his offer, but he wouldn't budge. But you are taking this situation much better than I thought." He pulled Brendon in for a hug. Brendon had always been the youngest, the neediest for physical contact, and Brendon knew that Michael did it more for Brendon's comfort than his own.
Brendon sighed against Michael's shoulder and held on tightly. He didn't know how to tell Michael that it wasn't as awful as everyone was making it out to be. Charlotte had loudly exclaimed that she could have never endured such a terrible fate while Nina was in the room, tending to their children. It had made Brendon bristle, but everyone had thought he was angry about the way he was treated instead of how they treated their third partners. No, Brendon thought, they wouldn't understand.
"You are still brave in accepting and bearing your fate without fuss," Michael said. "I'm proud of you and I hope this Ross person will recognise your value and appreciate you like you deserve."
Brendon hugged back tightly. "Thank you," he said, for lack of anything else.
Michael's words didn't leave Brendon's mind. They all thought he was being noble in the face of a terrible ordeal and it almost made Brendon want to laugh. But he based all his assumptions that he wouldn't be treated like Nina or Leila on part of a conversation he hadn't even participated in fully. What if their talk of equality really was just that--talk and nothing more?
It unsettled Brendon--enough that he was quiet for the rest of the evening. Even in bed he couldn't stop thinking about it.
Brendon turned from one side to the other. He hoped Ryan wouldn't see him as inferior--and that Spencer wouldn't think of Brendon as a rival.
Brendon closed his eyes. It was easy to recall Spencer's smile, bright and full of warmth. Brendon could see Ryan's fingers wrapped around his tea cup, holding it carefully.
Brendon's cock stirred. Brendon hesitated to touch himself. He felt awkward thinking about them in this way--but, then, they were going to be married, weren't they?
He resolutely shoved his hand into his underwear. His parents were convinced that this was a sin, but Brendon had long ago discovered that nothing relaxed him faster and better than touching himself.
Brendon pictured Spencer, laughing, his eyes shining, and the warm shiver the sound had sent over Brendon's skin the first he'd heard Spencer laugh. Ryan was leaning close in Brendon's imagination, whispering something into Spencer's ear--and then Spencer looked at Brendon, with that mischievous face.
Brendon stroked himself leisurely--except it wasn't himself, it was Ryan, those long, lean fingers wrapped around--Brendon gasped and pressed his face against his pillow to muffle himself.
He blinked his eyes open slowly, surprised at how fast he'd come. He was covered in goose bumps and every muscle felt like pudding.
Brendon's eyes closed of their own accord and Brendon let himself sink into sleep.
His last thought before falling fully asleep was that if this was wrong, Brendon didn't want to be right.
A few days later his parents sent Brendon to their town's tailor. "We will have to have it refit in the city," his mother said. "But Mrs Simmons has known you all your life and there's nobody who'll be quicker in sewing a suit for you than her."
Brendon chose a dark grey for his suit instead of the usual black. His parents wouldn't be very excited, but Brendon was still exacting revenge where he could.
"It suits your eyes," Mrs Simmons noted as she measured him again. "Oh, now I will have made all the wedding clothes for all your siblings and you."
She smiled, but Brendon had to work hard at responding in kind. "It must feel like a rite of passage to you," he said. "Now you won't have to sew any fancy dress for us anymore. You must be glad."
Mrs Simmons shook her head. "No, I'm not," she said. "It does indeed feel like something's ending. I never thought any of you would leave this town."
Brendon looked down. "I have to go where there are suitors for me," he said. He was still torn between abject horror of leaving everything he'd ever known and exhilaration about all the new things he'd be able to discover in town.
"I know." Mrs Simmons didn't look at Brendon, but he suddenly had the feeling that his parents' precarious financial situation was not as well-kept a secret as his parents would like.
In fact, it seemed like everyone knew--no matter who Brendon talked to, they all had the same look in their eyes: pity. It irked Brendon, and he took to saying that he was looking forward to the city. It only made everything worse, as people looked at him smiling and Brendon could read in their eyes how sad they were for him.
The weeks passed quickly, as Brendon packed up the few belongings he was going to take with him. He only owned very few things, as most of the books belonged to his parents. It turned out so little in the end that Brendon felt almost ashamed. Ryan, he thought, surely couldn't fit all his clothes into just two chests.
His only reprieve was his afternoons with Mr Jameson--and those with Tom. Mr Jameson had listened to Brendon rave about his betrothal.
"Aren't you glad?" Mr Jameson asked.
"Why should I be?" Brendon said. "My parents, they--I don't know what they were thinking."
"Leave your parents out of it for a moment, boy." Mr Jameson stomped his walking stick against the floor. "They matched you up with two men. Does that please you?"
"That's not the point," Brendon protested.
Mr Jameson snorted. "Only months ago you were sitting here in that very place, and how afraid you were they would force you into a marriage like Michael's. Have you ever actually kissed a girl?"
"Yes," Brendon said defiantly. He'd kissed Sally once, on a dare.
Mr Jameson just gave Brendon a look. "But you haven't ever desired one."
Brendon leaned against his piano and sighed. He'd never made a secret of his proclivities in front of Mr Jameson--the old chap was the only one Brendon felt like he could really talk to. "No."
Mr Jameson stomped his stick again. "So are you pleased?"
"I--don't know," Brendon said. "I'm. I think so? Maybe. I'm not sure they knew that--about Spencer."
"Oh, believe me, they knew," Mr Jameson said. "When there are contracts involved, they knew."
Brendon rubbed his face. "I'm relieved," he said. "I expected at first to be matched with one woman and now it's--" He sighed.
"Have you told your boy?"
"He's not my boy," Brendon said softly. Whatever Tom was to him, it had been clear from the beginning that Tom wasn't Brendon's. He was their neighbours' farm boy and he hadn't ever pretended to Brendon that their relationship was exclusive.
"Have you told him?"
"I will today," Brendon said. He'd been afraid of telling Tom, of ending what was between them. It was familiar and comfortable.
Mr Jameson got up and put his hand on Brendon's arm. "Then you should leave now, my dear boy," he said. "It won't do to keep him waiting."
"Tom?" Brendon called into the barn.
"Up here," was the answer. Brendon climbed up the steep ladder to the hayloft, where Tom had already spread out a blanket.
"Hi," Brendon said softly.
"Hey." Tom pulled Brendon close and kissed him. Brendon felt the tight knot of anxiety inside his chest relax, as Tom held him and pushed his tongue into Brendon's mouth.
Maybe it was a cowardly decision, but Brendon let Tom open his pants. If this was the last time they would be together like this, Brendon wanted all of it.
Tom's calluses were rough against Brendon's skin as Tom fisted Brendon's cock and jerked him off.
"Tom," Brendon whispered, and he groaned when Tom gently bit his lip.
"Do me," Tom said and that was something Brendon could do. Tom's pants were easy to open, just a simple bowstring keeping them up. Tom wasn't quite hard yet and Brendon rubbed his fingers softly over Tom's balls, pushing at that place Tom liked.
Tom leaned his head back and groaned. "Brendon, harder," he said and Brendon obeyed. Tom flicked his finger over the head of Brendon's cock in a move that made Brendon want to come right now.
It didn't take much longer for him to come, and he let himself slide down onto the blanket with a sigh. Tom followed, pushing their pants out of the way, and rubbed himself against Brendon's thigh, until he spilled over Brendon's groin.
"I'm going to miss you," Tom said, as they lay on the blanket side by side a few minutes later.
Brendon felt guilty. He liked Tom, and he should have told him much earlier. But he'd thought that Tom would stop their encounters--as he'd done with other people who left. Brendon took too much pleasure and comfort from their tumbles in the hay to give them up so easily.
"I'm sorry," Brendon said.
"Don't be, I knew it was gonna happen," Tom said. He rolled back on top of Brendon and kissed him. "But I know how you can make it up to me."
That Brendon didn't have a problem with.
Soon Mrs Simmons called Brendon to try on the trousers; then the shirt, brand new and white; last, the jacket. Brendon stood in front of the mirror where he'd looked at himself so many times, wearing his wedding clothes, and all his insecurities came back to hound him. Would Spencer and Ryan really accept him as equal, when he barely owned anything of his own? Putting on his wedding suit suddenly made things feel final--as if all his earlier contemplations and preparations had just been idle daydreams.
"I will miss you," Brendon told Mrs Simmons, smiling to overplay his sadness. She was a fine woman who'd always been nothing but polite and gentle. He really was going to miss her. "Who will sew my clothes now?"
"Oh, Mr Brendon," she said. "There are dozens of good tailors and seamstresses in the city."
"But none of them will know where not to touch me because I'm ticklish," Brendon said, smiling.
She smiled. "They will learn."
Brendon's last night arrived much too fast. There was no feast, just a simple supper, as his mother had decided they would leave early. His siblings had dropped by all day to say their goodbyes, and leaving weighed heavy on Brendon's heart, no matter how promising moving to the city seemed.
"I'm going to miss you," he told Kara, who smiled.
"I can't imagine you not being here," she replied. "You must write--I want long letters about everything that happens to you--and write often!"
"I will write," Brendon promised. It felt strange to leave them all behind here and to imagine he wouldn't live here anymore. Brendon was scared now--his parents and siblings were close-minded, but they were his family who'd always protected and taken care of him. How would he do without them?
Brendon wondered how long it would take Spencer and Ryan to learn Brendon's unspoken cues, to see when Brendon was sad or angry--and how long it would take Brendon to figure out their behaviour, their little tells and signs.
"It's late," his mother said after Michael, the last of his siblings to visit, had left. "We must leave early tomorrow."
"Yes, Mother." Brendon took his time getting ready for bed. He was painfully aware that each action was the last one of its kind. After he had put on his sleep clothes, he looked out of his window for a long time. Although he was tired, he didn't feel like going to sleep just yet. His head was too full with thoughts, and it took him some time to settle down. He didn't want to touch himself, as he usually took care of his bed linens himself afterwards. He couldn't imagine leaving his mess behind for someone else to clean up.
The next morning dawned bright and early. The sun was shining, which stood in odd contrast to the way Brendon felt sad and reluctant to leave. His mother didn't leave him much time to dawdle, though.
"It'll take us five hours to reach the city," she said. "We mustn't lose time by idly lounging around."
Much too soon for Brendon's liking, the carriage was ready. The chests were stowed away and soon it was time to say goodbye to his father.
"We will see you next week," his mother said. "Take care."
"I'll look forward to the wedding," Brendon's father said. "Brendon, please be good."
"I will," Brendon said. It was all he said to his father before they left. There wasn't anything more he wanted to say. His father had been very distant in the last few weeks.
His mother touched Brendon's elbow. "It's time to leave," she said.
Brendon nodded. "I know."
As the carriage pulled away from the house, Brendon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Life, as he knew it, was over. Mixed in with his sadness and his fear, there was that flicker of excitement. His new life in the city was about to start and Brendon didn't know what it held in store for him.
Mr Ross had arranged for Brendon and his mother to stay in the townhouse again, and it was nice to be in a familiar environment. It provided a sharp contrast to all the other changes in Brendon's life.
"This morning we have an appointment with Mr Ross's tailor," Brendon's mother informed him over breakfast. "Be ready at 10 o'clock."
Brendon carefully carried his wedding clothes downstairs. He loved the fabric--it was light and soft to the touch. Brendon thought it was a waste to just wear the suit once. When he said as much to his mother, she laughed.
"Brendon, dear, I'm sure life in the city will provide many opportunities for you to wear nice clothes. And I believe that Ross is capable of buying you new clothes whenever you want them."
Brendon surely hoped so. He was certain that Ryan would have many invitations to answer, but traditionally it was Spencer's place at his side, not Brendon's. As so many other things, it hinged on how serious Spencer and Ryan were about them being all equal partners--if so, Brendon might very well be able to attend an event.
The tailors' shop was much bigger than Mrs Simmons little house and it was four times as busy.
Brendon's mother walked in without a second glance. "Brendon Urie," she told the closest tailor. "We're here for the fitting."
"Ah, the Ross wedding," the tailor said. "Just a minute, ma'am."
Brendon felt awkward as they were led past the other clients, some of which looked at them very curiously. The tailor opened the door to a small room in the back. Two beautiful suits were propped up on dress forms.
"The master will be with you shortly," the tailor said and left.
"Nice staff," Brendon's mother said. "Mrs Simmons surely could learn something from them."
Brendon thought of Mrs Simmons, how she had always offered him tea and cake, even though everyone knew she could hardly get by on what little she earned, widowed and with three children to feed. He remembered her wrapping Brendon up in a blanket once in winter, when Brendon had desperately needed a warmer coat. It had been ice cold in her little shop and yet she had rather that Brendon was warm.
Brendon turned to the suits. They were made of a much more ornate fabric than Brendon's suit, which was a plain grey cotton. The hems and collars on both suits were embroidered, in different colours, but matching each other. Whoever got to wear these clothes, Brendon decided, was very lucky.
Just then the master tailor breezed in. "Good morning, ma'am," he said, "and young sir. My name's Thompson. It's a pleasure to welcome you in my shop."
"We are delighted to be here," Brendon's mother said. "I believe Mr Ross has informed you of all the necessary work?"
"Yes, indeed, he has," Thompson said. "May I just take your son's measurements?"
"Of course." Brendon's mother stepped aside.
Brendon clutched his wedding suit to his chest, only to remember that he shouldn't. "This is my suit," he told Thompson. "There's only little work left."
"Sure, sure," Thompson said.
Brendon gave him the clothes reluctantly, which surprised him. He couldn't quite tell why, but there was something in the way Thompson looked at him that grated on his nerves. Looking around, Brendon felt intimidated by the obviously very expensive clothes around them. Mrs Simmons was a good seamstress and did her work well and carefully, but the richness of the fabrics surrounding them was as foreign to Brendon as the city itself.
Brendon's mother leaned in close. "I believe Mr Ross has informed you about the terms of our visit?"
"Of course," Thompson said absentmindedly as he kneed in front of Brendon and measured his inseam. "The costs for the suit will be added to Mr Ross's bill. Young Misters Ross and Smith are scheduled for a fitting this afternoon. May I be so forward to suggest that you attend as well?"
"That can be arranged," Brendon's mother said.
Brendon felt anxiety rise and wrap itself around his chest like a vice. It was only a week until the ceremony, but the thought of spending time with Ryan and Spencer, of being alone with them, even if it was in a public setting such as the tailor's shop, was scary. Brendon felt a weird shyness around his betrothed. He wondered what they should talk about--he didn't know them well enough yet, and after their last encounter Brendon was anxious not to appear like a country bumpkin. Brendon and Ryan shared very different backgrounds and Brendon wasn't at all convinced that he'd made such a favourable impression on them after all. He didn't know whether they would be glad to see him there.
It didn't matter, as nobody asked Brendon about his opinion. His mother blithely said yes without even glancing at Brendon.
"We will see you again at two o'clock this afternoon," Thompson said.
"I bid you a good day until then," Brendon's mother said. "Come on, Brendon, we still have a few errands to run."
The errands consisted of visiting a jewellery shop. "We can't have your wedding ring fall off," his mother said and directed Brendon to sit down.
Brendon didn't know what to expect, but the ring was surprisingly simple. It was just a thin band of gold, but it seemed to weigh a ton once it was on Brendon's finger.
"Will the ring be finished in time?" Brendon's mother asked.
"Of course, ma'am," the goldsmith said. "This is why Mr Ross asked me to prepare the third band already."
Brendon shrank back into the chair. His mother was being rude, and it was an unusual attitude for her. He wanted to chastise her in the shopkeeper's stead, but bit back the words. They were in such a hurry to have him wed they weren't paying any attention to the details. Mr Ross, Brendon thought darkly, had prepared the ring--meaning he had paid for it. It left an acid taste in his mouth that didn't go away all afternoon.
From there on, they visited a succession of shops. Brendon's mother seemed to become increasingly happier, but Brendon's mood mirrored hers on the negative scale. In each shop, it was the same spiel--his mother would ask for an order to be completed, Mr Ross would pay the bill, everything would be done in time for the wedding. If his parents' intention had been to make Brendon feel like a good cow, sold for the best price, they were certainly succeeding.
It resulted in Brendon entering the tailor's shop with more than just a little trepidation. All his anticipation of meeting Ryan and Spencer again had been blown away bit by bit, each bill that was taken care of Ryan's father a punch in the stomach. It might be called charity, but Brendon didn't know Mr Ross well enough yet to give any statements about his generosity--it didn't feel like Ross did it out of magnanimity. In any case, it left Brendon in a mulish mood.
"Ah, Mr Urie!" Thompson immediately appeared at Brendon's side. "I see your mother is not with you anymore?"
"No," Brendon said. He was a tad relieved that his mother had chosen to return home instead of coming with him. At least she wasn't going to stand in the room, chaperoning and sending Brendon increasingly upset looks as he babbled and rambled. "It is just me."
Thompson smiled. His attitude was much different now that Brendon's mother wasn't there with him. Brendon couldn't blame it--his mother's behaviour had been quite disgruntling, even if it was said that city people were accustomed to impoliteness. "Young Misters Ross and Smith have already arrived; they are waiting in the back room. Allow me to lead the way."
Brendon thought it strange, as he'd only been in that room a few hours ago. It was a sharp contrast to Mrs Simmons, who'd occasionally had moved his measuring appointments to her kitchen because she had to check up on her bread.
Ryan was sitting on the chaise longue in the room, looking around in a bored manner. His eyes only rested on Brendon for a few seconds before he took to studying the sewing tools on a nearby table.
Brendon's heart fell. If Ryan didn't want to talk to him already now ...
"Good day, Brendon," Spencer said. He smiled at Brendon, as if he wanted to make up for Ryan's coldness. "We were looking forward to seeing you again."
"Good day, Spencer." Brendon smiled. He would gladly take Spencer's attempts at polite conversation.
"How was your trip to the city?"
"Long, I suppose," Ryan said. His voice was smooth, monotonous, disinterested.
"Ryan," Spencer said. His voice was the complete opposite, sharp and with just a hint of emotion. Brendon could see why Ryan would like Spencer. Brendon certainly started to like him, too.
"No, no," Brendon hurried to say, "it was indeed a long trip. It, uh."
Ryan yawned. "Well, I'm sorry to interrupt this scintillating conversation, but now that all parties are present, we should move on to the reason for our being here."
"Indeed, sirs," Thompson said. He pointed to a folding screen in the corner. "Mr Ross, if you would go first, please?"
"I should think, Thompson, that you should know by now how to tailor my pants," Ryan said while he was getting up. "I don't see why I always need adjustments."
"I'm sorry, Mr Ross," Thompson said.
Spencer lightly touched Brendon's arm. Brendon looked at him, surprised, but Spencer was grinning. "It's because Ryan has gained weight in the last few weeks," Spencer whispered. "He just doesn't want to believe it."
Brendon couldn't suppress a giggle.
"I heard that," Ryan said, but he didn't sound particularly upset. Actually, he didn't sound like anything at all.
Brendon returned Spencer's smile. "Well, his cook is very good," he said.
Spencer laughed. Brendon found the pleasant sound put him at ease, which was welcome. Brendon had too many unpleasant surprises that day, so it was a relief that not everything turned out to be as difficult as it sometimes seemed to Brendon.
Unfortunately, the day had still some bad things in store for Brendon.
"Mr Smith, if you may go now?" Thompson asked.
Both Spencer and Brendon turned to the folding screen to look at Ryan. Brendon's smile fell off his face as he saw that Ryan was wearing one of the ornate suits he'd admired earlier. When he looked at Spencer, he found him taking the other suit with him to get changed.
"Oh, these are your wedding suits?" Brendon asked softly. He thought of his own suit--it was beautiful and he loved it, but it was also simple and not a measure as intricate as these.
"Of course," Ryan said. He picked at his sleeve, frowning. "These will do."
The fabric alone was worth more than Brendon's entire wardrobe. Brendon didn't think that Ryan would be very impressed by Brendon's suit and he couldn't help but feel a bit ashamed.
Spencer disappeared behind the screen, and Brendon felt fear seize him. Now he would be forced to make conversation with Ryan and he didn't know which topics were of any interest or importance to Ryan. Spencer had made it easy for Brendon, but Ryan didn't seem in a very talkative mood today.
But Ryan didn't move away from the screen, he waited next to it and stepped behind it just after Spencer. There was hushed talking, and then Spencer said, quietly, but clearly audible, "No, not here, Ryan."
There was a sigh, presumably coming from Ryan. Thompson smiled at Brendon and winked. "Don't mind them, that folding screen has been used for many a tussle."
Brendon smiled weakly. It was probably unseemly to want to join them behind the screen and ... tussle with them. He pushed the thought out of his mind. It was neither the right time nor the right place for contemplations like these, no matter how soon or not they were going to be married people.
Ryan stepped into the middle of the room. "Well, apparently we're building anticipation for the wedding night now," he said. Brendon shivered at the idea of the wedding night. He'd heard whispers and had a vague understanding of how they would--but he was still in the brightly lit tailor's shop and should rather think about other, less ... engaging topics.
"Mr Ross, if you're inclined to step up on here..." Thompson led Ryan to a small pedestal and he started to work on Ryan's pants, pinning material up here and there.
Brendon watched him work and startled badly when Spencer tapped his shoulder. "I'm sorry, I should've spoken up," Spencer said. "You may get changed now."
Brendon put on his own suit with trepidation. He stroked the creases down with his hand and took a deep breath before stepping out behind the screen. The suit was still amazing and the best piece of clothing Brendon had ever owned. He held his head up high. It didn't matter how beautiful Ryan and Spencer's suits were, this was his and he would wear it proudly.
His resolve lasted exactly until Ryan caught sight of him.
"Excuse me, but what is that?" Ryan wasn't apologetic in the least, he was outright staring at Brendon. "Is that supposed to be your wedding suit?"
"Yes," Brendon said, much sharper than he'd intended. "This is the design and fabric we picked out."
"Thompson," Ryan said at once, "you have to fix this."
"Ryan," Spencer said, but Ryan wouldn't let him continue.
"No, I'm not getting married next to that thing." He turned to Thompson. "Do you still have the other fabrics, the ones that match our suits?"
"Yes, sir, I do." Thompson got up and left the room.
Brendon was so furious he couldn't speak.
"I can't believe your parents thought this fit for the wedding," Ryan said. He moved closer to Brendon, eyeing him critically. "Father assured me that they were informed about our choices for the suit. It's very inconsiderate of them to do this against our wishes."
Brendon gulped in a breath. "Inconsiderate?"
Ryan waved his hand lazily. "Well, now Thompson has to create something that matches our suits. We can't get married looking all different. I won't ever be able to show my face again in the club."
"That is what you're worried about?" Brendon felt his anger collapse in itself. Ryan only cared about his own standing in society. Brendon glanced at Spencer who looked partly furious and partly resigned at Ryan.
"Where did you even get that? Did some ragwoman leave it in the gutter?" Ryan looked Brendon up and down in a way that made Brendon feel small and dirty.
"Mrs Simpson sewed it," he heard himself say, as if he were very far away. "She's done all my clothes, of course she sewed my wedding suit."
"Your parents paid money for this? It's hard to believe."
"Ryan," Spencer said sharply. "Don't be like that."
"Then how should I be?" The look Ryan shot Brendon was equal parts contempt and pity. "Tell me, Brendon, how would you like me to be?"
"Nice," was the first word that came to mind.
Ryan looked like Brendon had physically slapped him and recoiled. "Why should I be nice to you?"
"Stop it, right now," Spencer said. He stepped between Brendon and Ryan. "Be nice," he said and to Brendon's surprise, Ryan deflated and shrugged.
"Very well, I'm sorry for being in such a bad mood." Ryan turned away.
Brendon stared at the floor, fingers cramped tightly into the fabric of his suit, hopelessly creasing it. Thompson would need to work hard at getting the fabric smooth again, Brendon thought. He jumped when Spencer touched the back of his hand. He let Spencer gently pull his fingers away from the fabric. Spencer's hands were soft and dry, and Brendon thought that they were very nice.
"Please don't pay any attention to Ryan," Spencer said. "He had some bad news today and he's been in a despicable mood all day. And all the stress from preparing the wedding." He smiled at Brendon and it seemed genuine. "He's not as prickly as he would like to believe."
Brendon nodded, but the bitter taste in his mouth stayed.
Thompson returned with three rolls of fabric, all different variations of the fabric that made up Ryan's and Spencer's suit. "We chose the colours to match their natural colouring," Thompson said. "I think this one would suit you best." It was dark grey, darker than Brendon's original suit, with the same elaborate, beautiful embroidery.
"It's very beautiful," Brendon said, but he felt ashamed. Mrs Simpson had worked so hard and now all her work was for nothing. Brendon thought he was betraying her by ordering a new suit behind her back.
"That will do," Ryan said. He barely glanced at the fabric.
"Excuse us for a moment," Spencer said to Thompson and Brendon. He pulled Ryan behind the folding screen and another hushed conversation took place--a much angrier one than the earlier one, though.
Thompson held out the fabric to Brendon who took with shaking hands. "I will need some more measurements," he said.
As Brendon stood on the pedestal, Thompson leaned in close. "Sir," he said softly, "it won't take much effort to finish this suit."
Thompson smiled. "Mr Ross won't know," he said.
"Thank you," Brendon whispered.
By the time Spencer and Ryan reappeared, Thompson had fixed Brendon's pants and sleeves. "We can do the collar later," he whispered.
Brendon nodded. He took great care not to look at either Ryan or Spencer.
"I'm ready now," Ryan said. He didn't acknowledge Brendon in any manner, but Spencer touched Brendon's hand.
"I'm sorry," Spencer said. Brendon put on a brave smile.
"Mr Urie, sir, I will need you to come in for an additional fitting tomorrow," Thompson said.
Brendon nodded. "I will come," he said.
If his parents noticed Brendon being especially quiet that evening, they didn't mention it. His mother just sighed when Brendon told them about having to go in the next day again.
"Ah, yes, Ross mentioned the suits in one of his letters," she said. "They are awfully concerned about fashion here. It will be a nice change from the town." She didn't wonder what would happen with Brendon's old suit.
The next few days flew by, filled with appointment after appointment. Not only Brendon's suit was deemed inappropriate, but also Brendon's haircut. This time Brendon's mother expressed her displeasure and his father arranged for Brendon to see the Rosses' barber.
To Brendon's surprise, Spencer was there, too. "My mother will not let me get married with hair that touches my collar," Spencer said.
Brendon laughed. He envied Spencer for his ability to put people at ease. Brendon wished he could do the same.
"I hope Ryan hasn't upset you too much," Spencer said later. "He--sometimes he forgets to contemplate which effect his words can have."
"I'm fine," Brendon said softly. In truth, he was more worried about the wedding than ever. Brendon had expected Spencer to ignore him, to be mean and condescending--that Ryan had turned out to disapprove of everything Brendon did, but that Spencer was the one to make an effort so that everyone got along was more than just a simple surprise. Brendon didn't know how to deal with it at all.
"I'm glad," Spencer said. "Ryan takes some getting used to, but I promise you that he does have the manners of a gentleman."
Brendon laughed. "I hope he does not show them only to people who know him very well."
Spencer grinned. "You should feel honoured," he said. "Ryan's usually very polite to people he doesn't care for or about. In a sense, it's extraordinary that he does react to you like this."
Brendon smiled softly. "It's a bit difficult to feel honoured," he admitted. "I seem to be doing and saying all the wrong things."
"No, you are not," Spencer said.
As Spencer left, he took Brendon's hand and squeezed it gently. "I am looking forward to this weekend very much," he said.
Brendon blushed and ducked his head.
"You must come by for tea this afternoon," Spencer said. "My mother's angry at me for not extending an invitation sooner."
"I have a fitting this afternoon," Brendon said softly.
"Then come afterwards." Spencer took Brendon's hand, and Brendon's heart started pounding. "Please," he said quietly.
That afternoon, he couldn't stand still on Thompson's pedestal. "I'm sorry," he said, after Thompson had pricked him again with a pin.
"It was my fault," Thompson said. "You are very nervous about your wedding, it's only to be expected."
"Yes, you are right," Brendon said. He stared at the opposite wall, as his mother had always told him to do if he couldn't be still.
The new suit turned out to be nothing short of magnificent. The fabric felt cool to the touch, it was light and soft. Brendon hardly dared to breathe while he was trying it on.
"The three of you will be quite the image," said Rachel, one of Thompson's younger seamstresses. "Many a girl has been crying ever since it became known that young Ryan Ross and Spencer Smith had chosen their third. Now they hope to be chosen to carry the heir, if nothing else."
Brendon blushed, his cheeks hurting with the rising heat. He couldn't imagine anyone vying to carry his child.
"Rachel," Thompson chastised her. "Don't be too forward."
"I'm sorry, sir."
Brendon shook his head. "No, it's fine. Don't worry."
Rachel's words stayed with him all day, though. Brendon hadn't ever contemplated before that Ryan could just as well have chosen a woman and forgone the complication of securing an heir. Usually marriages between three men were common among poorer families whose individual inheritance was too small to be split between multiple heirs. Pooling their resources in this manner had been a popular means to secure more wealth in the country.
The Ross family, however, was rich and didn't have anything to gain. It hadn't bothered Brendon until now, but the more he thought about it, the less sense it made. In their current constellation, they would have to look out for a surrogate sooner or later, or adopt.
Brendon decided to ask Spencer during tea--he seemed much more open to questions, and Brendon didn't want to risk another brusque answer from Ryan.
Brendon didn't get the chance to ask Spencer, though. Brendon's mother hadn't been delighted about the invitation at all, but she also couldn't afford to anger Spencer's mother unduly--according to what Brendon's mother believed, Spencer's mother could make Brendon's life Hell on Earth.
So it came that they were sat in the Smiths' sitting room. They owned a beautifully kept house close to the Ross mansion, but much less swanky. Brendon's mother managed to look even more like she'd bit into a lemon when it became apparent that the Smiths were well-off, but couldn't by far compete with Mr Ross's wealth.
"My husband and George are old friends from school," Mrs Smith said. "They kept in contact. Even when George experienced his huge success, he didn't turn away from us." She smiled. "The boys grew up together--it was only natural that they fell in love sooner or later."
"Mother," Spencer said plaintively, but he was still smiling. "You make my life sound like a cheap love story."
"But it is a love story," Spencer's mother said and they both laughed.
Brendon forced himself to smile, even through the pang of anger and hurt that Brendon wasn't going to get his love story. All he could hope for was that with time Ryan and Spencer would grow to like and maybe eventually love Brendon.
"I see," Brendon's mother said icily as she sipped her tea.
Brendon met Spencer's eyes and tried to convey his apologies for his mother's behaviour. Spencer smiled softly. "I am glad that we've been completed by Brendon," he said.
That was Brendon's opening. "I wonder--"
"Yes, we're also very happy about the match," his mother interrupted him. "It seems that the three of you will be ... well-suited."
Spencer's mother smiled, but it didn't reach her eyes. "I feel that we have talked about boring things like this marriage business for months now," she said. "Let us choose some more exhilarating topics, shall we?" She swiftly moved the conversation to how Brendon's mother enjoyed the city.
"I would assume you find it more chaotic than your town," Spencer said. It sounded like a challenge.
"We are managing," Brendon's mother said curtly. After that she hardly spoke anymore, instead drinking her tea slowly.
Brendon smiled at the Smiths and decided to not broach any intimate subjects. He didn't know how much the Smiths knew about his parents and he assumed that most of the contact had been between George Ross and Brendon's father--it wouldn't do to ask the Smiths if the name Urie meant so much to George Ross that he'd opted to forgo a naturally conceived heir in favour of a surrogacy just to secure that name.
"I've been venturing out slowly," Brendon said. "But we are so busy that I haven't had time to explore the city properly."
Spencer's mother sighed. "As hard as those two work, I'm afraid you'll have enough opportunities to do so on your own soon."
Brendon bit his lip and looked down. Spencer's mother immediately covered his hand.
"Oh, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to imply that they were going to abandon you after the wedding night." She smiled softly. "Maybe you'll be able to cause a change in their behaviour--it would do them both well to take better care of themselves."
Brendon smiled at her. "I will think up a devious plan," he said. "It includes them having to show me every interesting place in the city."
"In that case," Spencer laughed, "we will never do a day's work again."
Despite his mother's behaviour, Brendon left the Smiths' house feeling confident. He would ask Spencer in private the next day--they had another fitting, the last one Brendon hoped, and surely they would have five minutes alone together.
As it turned out, Ryan seemed to want to make up for his rude behaviour earlier in the week. He complimented Brendon on his coat, even though it was worn and the sleeve was dirty. In a way, the obviously false interest was worse than Ryan's dismissal.
Ryan didn't leave up--he asked Brendon question after question, after it became apparent that Brendon didn't know anything about the topics Ryan wanted to talk about.
Spencer wasn't here, which Brendon found strange since Spencer hadn't mentioned it the previous day. When he asked Ryan, Ryan shrugged. "He was busy with business affairs," he said shortly. "But you must tell me about the last book you read."
Thompson and his workers finished the suits almost without Brendon noticing. His job was just to stand on the pedestal and not move. Ryan was very distracting, as they moved through all possible topics.
Ryan, Brendon learned, was well-read, and he seemed disappointed when Brendon didn't know all the authors and books Ryan listed with ease. Brendon thought that telling Ryan that working on the farm had not left Brendon with much time to read was a good answer. Whatever free time Brendon had, had been spent playing the piano.
Although Ryan was perfectly civil, Brendon left feeling more awkward than ever. His first inclination was to ask Spencer about Ryan's behaviour. Brendon thought Spencer had intervened and instructed Ryan to be nice to Brendon. While this warmed Brendon's heart, it also made him worry--he didn't want Spencer to be the buffer between Brendon and Ryan. He hoped this wasn't how it was going to be forever.
Brendon excused himself early that night, but sleep took a long time in coming to him and it wasn't a restful night. The next day Brendon was absent-minded and forgetful, but his mother chalked it up to the wedding jitters.
Thankfully, Brendon didn't have much time to spend on worrying about his relationships to Spencer and Ryan or about the way his parents were treating him like a small child without actually asking him what was wrong. The wedding guests were arriving one after the other, and Brendon was too busy welcoming them. He hugged his sisters tightly. "I'm glad you're here," he told Kyla.
"Hush, I'm sure your betrothed will have kept you busy," she teased him.
Brendon smiled weakly. "Yes, he has."
Also Brendon's uncles and aunts arrived. Brendon was glad that Mr Ross had offered to put them all up, but he couldn't help but feel a little bit ashamed that they had to depend on him for so much.
Too soon it was supper time and almost all of Brendon's hope to maybe catch one of his siblings before they retired for the night was destroyed. "I'm sorry, Mother," Michael said. "But it was been a long and very tiring trip." Except for Kara, who sat up with Brendon's parents, they all bid them an early night.
"Brendon, you should go to bed now, too," Brendon's mother told him.
Brendon was dead set on waiting for Kara. "I am not tired yet."
His mother clucked her tongue. "Tomorrow is an important day, you need to be well-rested."
"Listen to your mother, Brendon," his father said.
Kara smiled. "I understand," she said. "The anticipation makes it difficult to feel tired, but you'll see, as soon as you lie down, you'll be asleep."
Brendon hoped she was right. As he undressed, he felt sad and lonely, and he chastised himself. The past week had been eventful and exhausting, and the most important act were still to happen--tomorrow he would marry. Brendon looked into his mirror and recalled the words he'd read in a book once: and they lived happily ever after.
Yes, Brendon thought. He had to believe that the future held happiness in store for him or he wouldn't be able to sleep at all. When he closed his eyes, he saw images of Spencer and Ryan in his mind. Brendon sighed deeply and wished that they might learn to love Brendon even just half as much as they loved each other.
Morning dawned too early.
Brendon woke up with the first sunbeams and lay in bed listening to the birds chirping in front of his window. It seemed like an ordinary day, but the way his stomach was twisting and turning in equal parts anticipation and nervousness proved it wasn't.
Only a few of Brendon's siblings stayed in the town house with them, but breakfast was still louder and more lively than Brendon had grown used to. In the beginning, after Kara, too, had been married and moved into her husband's house, his parents' house had felt too quiet for Brendon, too empty. Now he felt stifled and crowded by all the people
sitting around the breakfast table.
Brendon himself could barely bring himself to eat—just a little bit of toast, that was all he managed. He sipped his tea carefully, relishing the way it settled in his stomach and made him feel a bit more centred. He wondered what Ryan was eating for breakfast--the few times Brendon had spent meal times with him, Ryan had eaten hardly anything.
“Brendon, you must eat,” his mother said. “It won't do for you to faint during the ceremony.”
“Mother, please don't be too hard on him.” Kara laughed. “I remember just too well how nervous I was that morning. He will eat later, I'll make sure.”
“Very well.” Brendon's mother nodded. “But, oh, look at the time! We must start to get ready now.”
“I need to see to my suit,” Brendon said and he used the chance to get out of the room. The conversation had irked him, like he was still a child that needed to be admonished. On the stairs, he could already breathe more freely and his room seemed like an oasis of quiet. It didn't last for long.
“Don't look so grumpy,” Kara admonished him gently. “It's your wedding day.”
“I know.” Brendon sat down on his bed. He was tired, as what slept he'd managed to get had been unrestful. “It's difficult for me to forget that.”
Kara put down a plate on the night table, toast with just a hint of butter and jam on them, before she sat down next to him. "If there was a little bird sitting on your windowsill, what would you tell him?"
Brendon smiled. The little bird had been his confidante all his life--it was something Kara had taught him. Whenever Brendon had been troubled, but hadn't wanted to tell, Kara had made him tell the bird. Brendon felt it tugging at his heart. Another childhood tradition that he wouldn't be able to indulge in anymore.
"I'm scared," he said. "Everything is so different here." The city was filled with strange sounds and noises and Brendon wanted to look everywhere an experience everything. But he'd already gotten himself lost twice this week.
Kara did not say, "You will get used to it," or "This is your new home." She said, "Chirp, chirp."
Brendon smiled despite himself. "I worry that my husband won't love me," he said. He'd just barely been able to restrain himself from saying husbands--but no one in his family cared about Spencer.
Kara put her arm around his shoulder and pulled him into a hug. "Beep, beep."
"I feel lonely. I feel like I don't belong here and never will." Brendon too clearly remembered Ryan's reaction to Brendon's stories, the disappointed look when Brendon hadn't known that popular song or book--only Spencer had acted like he found Brendon interesting. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath before continuing. "The only person who seems to like me is Spencer." He wanted to say and I'm glad he does, but didn't. Kara, he knew, wasn't very fond of her husband's second wife and she wouldn't understand. It made Brendon sad--the entire point had been to share his troubles, but he was too much of a coward to share this.
"The other one?" Kara asked.
Brendon nodded. "I'm also excited," he whispered. "So scared and excited at the same time."
Kara kissed the top of his head and said nothing. For long minutes, they just sat there, leaning on each other and breathing.
"I have something to tell the bird, too," Kara said finally.
"Cuckoo," Brendon said.
Kara laughed, but she sobered up quickly. "I miss my youngest brother," she said. "I'm worried that you won't find your way here, that your husband will treat you meanly, that his other husband will make you suffer. But--" She pushed Brendon upright and looked at him, "--you are also the most resilient person I know. You are strong and brave."
Kara smiled. There was a sad tinge in her eyes and Brendon felt her sorrow keenly. He wished he had spent more time with her in the intervening weeks--instead he had roamed around, entertaining Mr Jameson and stealing time away from his parents. "I am sure that you will adapt to life in the city. In a few months, you won't know what you did all your life without the theatre and parties and balls. You will think of us in our humble homes and pity us because our lives are so boring."
"Never," Brendon said. He hugged Kara tightly. "I miss you, too."
"Write," Kara said. "Every day if you feel like it."
Brendon smiled into her neck. "I will."
"And now it's time to get you dressed." Kara grinned and flicked Brendon's nose. "We can't have you walk down the aisle in that."
Brendon took a deep breath. "I'm ready."
Brendon hadn't ever felt more unprepared than this. His parents'd had him go to their priest, who'd talked him through the ceremony. He'd watched his siblings get married as well as cousins. The ceremony itself wasn't going to be a surprise--but everything felt different.
The suit, which had felt so amazing the first time Brendon had tried it on, was now scratchy and stuffy. His collar pinched and his hands were sweaty, but every time he moved, his mother told Brendon to be still, not to crease his suit. Being led into the small side chamber where the grooms were going to wait was a relief.
Ryan, Brendon discovered to his dismay, did not seem to be nervous at all. He sat in a chair, calm as you please, and read a book. Brendon spared him a glare. He felt like the thin piece of toast he'd eaten had turned into solid stone in his stomach.
Thankfully, Spencer was not as aloof. "I'm glad you're here," Spencer said in a voice that shook slightly. "There's no talking to Ryan."
"Why?" Brendon glanced at him, but Ryan did not take notice of their conversation.
Spencer snorted. "He's ignoring me," he said. "Apparently I should work on my composure and not try to infect him with my nervous disposition."
Brendon was jittering in place, and he took one look at Spencer--who was a little green around the nose, true, but who otherwise seemed rather calm--and he burst out laughing. "Should I leave the room then?" he asked. "I can hardly stand still."
Spencer laughed, too, and he reached for Brendon's hand. "I'm happy to know that at least one other person in this marriage has feelings," he said. He winked at Brendon.
Brendon ducked his head and he squeezed Spencer's hand. The fact that Spencer was as affected by this day as Brendon was a comfort, and Brendon hoped that Spencer was at least consoled a little bit by it, too. He swung their hands a little bit, his arms and legs twitching with the need to move.
"I hope your priest told you about the formalities," Spencer said, and Brendon felt his heart thump in his chest. "I wouldn't want you to be surprised about our vows."
"The vows?" Brendon looked up, blinking. The vows' wording was traditional and Brendon hadn't every heard any variation on it.
"We are going to give our vows to each other," Ryan said without any emotion in his voice. "It's this new-fangled fashion we like to indulge in. You'll be married just as much to Spencer as to me."
Spencer tutted at Ryan. "It's not some new-fangled fashion," he said. "It's--"
Unfortunately Brendon didn't get to hear what it was because the priest's attendant knocked and entered the room. "Please come with me now."
Spencer gave Brendon another smile and whispered, "Don't worry."
It was easy to say, Brendon thought. He was confused--he couldn't figure out what Ryan had meant. Obviously they were all going to be married to each other. He wondered what the ceremony would be like.
There wasn't another chance to talk to them, though, as the attendant hurried them into the main room of the church. The walk felt much longer than before and yet they reached their destination too soon. The side door to the altar room loomed in front of them and Brendon was afraid he would have to throw up his meagre breakfast, as his stomach was fluttering and clenching.
The attendant stopped and motioned for them to move to his side. "Your names will be called shortly," he whispered. "Be prepared and step forward."
Spencer grabbed Brendon's hand and squeezed tightly. Brendon could see that he was doing the same to Ryan. It created a strange sort of connection. "And here we go," Spencer whispered, just as the priest said, "Let us now welcome the three young men we will see joined today."
Ryan was called first, then Spencer, and Brendon last. It was only a few steps from the wall to the small altar, but it seemed to take an eternity. They were arranged in a curve, so that they could look at the priest, but still close enough to turn to each other.
The priest smiled at them. "Marriage is a privilege," he said, "one to be treasured and held up high."
Brendon was still worried about Ryan's words, turning them over in his head again and again, and he found it difficult to concentrate on what the priest was saying. The ceremony did not differ at first. There was the usual parable, meant to illustrate the duties and pleasures of married life, followed by prayers for each of them and their families. And then finally came the vows.
"Ryan," the priest said, "are you willing to honour and love, to cherish and protect Spencer?"
Ryan shared a look with Spencer that spoke for itself and he smiled before speaking. "Yes, I am."
"Are you willing to do the same for Brendon, hold him in high regard and in your heart?"
Brendon stared straight ahead and tried not to show his confusion. The wording was indeed different, he noticed, but more so it was the timing--it should've been Spencer's turn. He wanted to turn his head, look at Spencer and Ryan, but he kept his eyes on the priest in front of him.
"Yes, I am," Ryan said. "I will honour and love them both."
Brendon hardly heard Spencer say his vows, his heart racing and his blood rushing in his ears. He started to shake when Spencer also vowed to love Brendon. Normally the vow stopped at honour.
At Spencer's I will honour and love them both, Brendon steeled himself.
"Brendon." The priest gave him an encouraging smile. "Are you willing to honour and love, to cherish and protect Ryan?"
Brendon took a deep breath before answering. "Yes, I am." He was proud that his voice didn't shake.
"Are you willing to do the same for Spencer, hold him in high regard and in your heart?"
Inexplicably, Brendon's heart beat faster and he spoke before he noticed it. "Yes, I am."
The world was spinning slightly. Only belatedly Brendon realised that he was still missing the last part. "I will love them both. And honour them. Honour and love them both." Brendon felt the heat rise in his cheeks, but the priest smiled at him gently.
"You have given us your vows, and now you receive these rings. You will wear them openly and they will remind you of the promises you have given."
The attendant brought forth the rings. They were arranged on the plush cushion in the same order as Ryan, Spencer and Brendon were standing. At least, Brendon thought, he wouldn't be receiving the wrong ring.
Ryan took Spencer's ring. "Please accept this ring as sign of my pledge."
Brendon was somewhat prepared when Spencer took Brendon's ring, but his hand was still shaking. "Please accept this ring as sign of my pledge," Spencer said. He squeezed Brendon's hand gently before letting go.
Brendon put the ring on Ryan's finger with some effort. "Please accept this ring as sign of my pledge," he said.
The priest cleared his throat. "If you accept the vows you've been given, with all the duties and rights of married people, please step forward and join your hands."
Brendon mirrored Ryan, stepping forward and turning toward Spencer a little, so that they were forming a small, but complete circle. When Spencer reached for Brendon's hand, Brendon held on tightly--and only startled slightly when Ryan took his other hand. Brendon was painfully aware that his palms were sweaty and hot, but neither Ryan nor Spencer let anything show.
"I hereby proclaim the three of you joined before God and the law." The priest smiled at them while the wedding guests cheered for them.
Brendon felt faint when Ryan led them out of the church, but the sun was warm on his face and the air was fresh and clean and--Brendon was married now.
"So this is it," Ryan said, rather dryly and unexcited.
Spencer laughed. "This is but the beginning."
Before Brendon could say anything--his mouth did not seem to want to cooperate with his brain, and his throat was awfully dry--the guests were already streaming out of the church. Someone called Spencer's name and Spencer let go of Brendon's hand to turn toward them.
"My dear boy!" Spencer's mother hugged him close. She smiled at Brendon and Ryan before pulling them in tightly, too. Brendon was surprised, but it was easy to let her hug him. Brendon thought he might be in some kind of shock--there were too many things happening at once and Brendon hadn't yet understood what had gone on in the church.
And there were Brendon's parents, who didn't seem to be particularly happy about the ceremony. Brendon steeled himself, but Kara and Kyla appeared, leaving their husbands behind. "Brendon!"
Kyla basically pulled Brendon out of Mrs Smith's arms and held him so tightly he could hardly breathe. "You're all grown up now," she whispered. "Oh, baby brother." She kissed his hair. Brendon felt himself relax into her familiar embrace.
Kara just wrapped her arms around them both. She was smiling broadly. "It seems," she said quietly, "like your fears are unfounded."
"I don't know," Brendon said. "I don't know." He was still trying to comprehend that he was married now and the two men standing next to him were his husbands.
Ryan's father came by to congratulate him. Brendon's parents' demeanour immediately changed--they started to smile. Brendon thought them so predictable it almost hurt. Mr Ross clapped Ryan's shoulder and looked at them patronisingly.
"I'm proud of you, boys," he said. "Congratulations."
"Thank you," Brendon said automatically. He didn't miss Ryan rolling his eyes at him, though. He flushed, but Spencer smiled at him gently.
"I think we should now proceed to the reception," Spencer's mother said.
"Yes, of course." Brendon's father looked at Mr Ross. "We will see you there." He nodded at Brendon and turned to his wife.
Spencer gently took Brendon's elbow. "Let me show you the way to the carriage," he said. Ryan extricated himself from his father's arm and followed them.
Brendon was glad that Spencer was leading him. He wouldn't have been able to pick out their carriage on his own. Spencer's touch was also grounding him and it was nice to have someone to lean on.
"So how did you enjoy the ceremony?" Ryan asked when they were seated. He seemed disaffected, which Brendon found odd. Even if Ryan hadn't been the bundle of nerves Spencer and Brendon had been before the ceremony, he should feel the same sense of excitement and change.
"Um." Brendon blushed, again, and he felt awkward, put on the spot like this. He wanted to ask so many questions, most of them starting with why, but he was reluctant. His mind was still a whirlwind of emotion and he found it difficult to pick one concrete thought. So he fidgeted and pulled at the fabric of his clothes. He didn't know where to look--out of the window would imply he wasn't interested in talking, but looking directly at Ryan seemed too straightforward, too daring and bold.
"Ryan," Spencer said again in that chastising tone. "Don't tease him."
"No, I'm serious," Ryan said. "I would love to know what he thought of the ceremony. It must have been different than what he's used to."
"He's right," Brendon said quietly. "It wasn't--what I expected."
"See?" Ryan managed to sound smug without changing intonation. "I'm just trying to be ... how did you put it? Approachable."
"Behave." Spencer shot Ryan a glare, before he turned to Brendon. "I hope it wasn't unsettling to you?"
Brendon shook his head. "No, it wasn't," he said. "I was just surprised."
"Surprised? At what?"
"Um." Brendon looked down at the floor. "I didn't think--well, normally it's. You see, the vows are just.."
Brendon trailed off as he didn't know how to say I didn't expect to marry you, too without sounding either naive or hurtful. Brendon was delighted to have Spencer with him, but he couldn't find the right words to express himself.
"I told you that he wouldn't understand," Ryan said, sounding bored.
"That's not it," Brendon said. "It's just--"
But right then they reached the reception hall--one of the houses Ryan's father owned had a splendid ballroom which had been chosen to house the reception.
"Sirs," the servant opening the carriage door said.
Ryan left without another word. Spencer sighed. "We'll talk tonight," he said. "Don't worry about it, though."
Brendon thought that was a very hard, if not impossible task. At least the reception kept him busy, although he was still turning over Ryan's words in his head time and again.
He could only hope that the evening would clear things up.
With as many siblings as he had, Brendon was no stranger to wedding receptions. This one, however, turned out to be as different as the ceremony. Apparently the distinction between first and second betrothed or partner had also been eradicated here--Brendon couldn't remember ever congratulating Matt's second wife or Jane, the second partner of Kyla's husband. In their town, only the first, the "real" partner had counted.
Brendon'd lost count of how many people had come up to congratulate him. He'd known that his family would come, but he hadn't expected Ryan's father's business contacts to shake his hand or Spencer's extended family to drop by. Brendon, who was usually good with names and faces, had given up on remembering everyone's names.
Thankfully, Spencer came to his rescue. "Excuse me," Spencer said while Brendon was stuck talking one of Mr Ross's business contacts. "But it's time for the food."
"Oh, of course." Brendon took Spencer's proffered arm and tried not to be too obviously grateful.
"You looked like you were caught in a bear trap," Spencer whispered.
"I was," Brendon said. "He talked to me about fur prices."
Spencer laughed and Brendon took pleasure from it. No matter what Ryan thought of him, Brendon had been able to at least charm Spencer.
The food was delicious. The cake alone was a sight of its own. It was all fine and dandy until Spencer lightly said, "I can't wait for the dancing to start."
Brendon put down his fork, when he realised that he was missing a very important piece of information. Also he already felt stuffed--if he ate another bite, the button on his pants might just pop off. "Um," he said. "How is it, I mean, who?"
Ryan sighed, just loudly enough to be heard by both Brendon and Spencer. "Do you not normally dance at weddings of your types?"
"Of course we do," Brendon replied, sharper than intended. "But usually there aren't, there's just." He breathed in deeply and tried to calm himself. "It's a bit less complicated, usually."
"Strangely I think our way is the less complicated one," Ryan said. Brendon wished he'd put just a little bit of intonation into his words, just enough that Brendon knew when he was being mocked or--as he was afraid was the case right now-- provoked. He couldn't help feeling annoyed. It was unfair, he thought, that Ryan treated him in this manner when he was very well aware that Brendon didn't know what to expect.
"I know what you mean, Brendon," Spencer said. "We will get up, all three of us, two will start dancing, only for a short while, then we'll switch. Only after everyone has danced with everyone, the dance floor is opened for all the guests."
"I see." Brendon poked at the remainder of his cake.
"If you wish, Ryan and you can start," Spencer said.
"No," Brendon said softly. "No, it's your place. I'll wait." He didn't miss the look Ryan and Spencer exchanged.
"I see," Spencer said simply.
When they got up for the dance, Brendon did so with weak knees. He felt stupid standing at the side of their table, while Ryan and Spencer assumed their position to start the dance. It was as if everyone was looking at Brendon instead of the dancing couple, even though they weren't--or, at least, Brendon hoped they weren't. Ryan and Spencer were mesmerising to watch.
The minute Ryan and Spencer were dancing stretched to feel like an hour. When they finally stepped apart, Brendon gave a little sigh and he felt like he'd been holding his breath all this time. Even without rehearsing, they'd managed to stop close enough to Brendon that he just had to step forward, and around Spencer, to take his place in Ryan's arms. Brendon thought Ryan didn't even stop dancing for a second.
Brendon was surprised that Ryan felt so steady and sure as he led Brendon over the dance floor in a wide sprawling circle, spinning themselves around their own axis. Brendon had, of course, learned this dance, but he'd always been bumbling along.
"Spencer tells me I should be nicer to you," Ryan said.
"Oh." Brendon didn't know where he should even start to reply to that. He'd rather Ryan decide on his own to change his attitude toward Brendon. "Please?"
"Then give me a reason to," Ryan said. It didn't make any sense at all, but just as Brendon was getting ready to ask Ryan what he meant, Ryan handed him over to Spencer.
"Is Ryan purposefully confusing me?" Brendon asked Spencer. "Is it a pastime of his?"
Spencer smiled. "It's only partly on purpose," he said. He spun them a bit faster and Brendon had to stop talking to concentrate on his steps. "Just relax," Spencer said. "You worry too much."
It startled Brendon into laughing. "You are the first person to ever tell me that," he said. "Normally people are keen on telling me I don't worry enough by far."
Spencer slowed them down to a stop in front of their table. "Well, then they don't know you very well, do they," he said, still smiling.
Brendon couldn't answer, as right then Spencer's mother came by to claim Brendon for a dance. The rest of the afternoon blurred into one long sequence of dancing with many people.
By the time they called the reception to an end, Brendon was glad for it. He usually delighted in parties, but his feet hurt and he was dizzy from all the turning and spinning. The afternoon had since long turned into evening and now they were going to head home.
Home, Brendon thought and turned the word around a few times in his head. It felt strange to be considering anything but his parents' house home.
The servants were waiting in front of the house. Brendon felt a bit shy when they all bowed. His mother had a cook, but she'd always been a very jovial person, always up for joking and sneaking Brendon little snacks in between meal times. She had probably never bowed to anyone in the Urie family in her entire life.
"Welcome, sir," the butler--Johnson, Brendon thought, was his name--said. "It will be our pleasure to serve you."
"Um, thanks," Brendon said, stumbling over his words. He'd had a little bit of Spencer's wine, just a tiny sip. It hadn't tasted anything like Mr Jameson's ale and it had gone straight to Brendon's head. Spencer had noticed that Brendon hadn't been drinking and he'd offered his own wine, "just for a taste." Brendon had determinedly not looked into the direction where his family was sat. Revenge, he'd thought, but it soon was pushed aside.
Ryan hadn't been drinking anything, either. He hadn't reacted to Spencer's drinking, but he'd shot Brendon a glare. It had made Brendon feel weird, like he'd done something bad, although Spencer had offered him the glass. Spencer had put his hand on Ryan's arm and smiled at Brendon. When Brendon had handed him back his glass, their fingers had touched and Spencer had stroked his fingertips over Brendon's. It felt strangely like reassurance, as if Brendon was a shying horse.
Mr Ross strode past them, not even acknowledging the servants with a single word. "Johnson, were there any letters to me?"
As soon as Ryan's father had disappeared inside the house, Johnson turned to a young boy waiting in the line of servants. "Alex, fetch Mr Brendon's luggage and bring it up to their rooms."
Brendon watched as Alex went to the back of the carriage and started to undo the ropes Brendon's things had been tied up with.
"If you are going to watch the servants, could you at least do so out of the way?" Ryan said behind Brendon.
Brendon startled and moved to the side.
"Good evening, Johnson," Ryan said carelessly. "Is the bath prepared?"
Johnson bowed. "Of course, sir. It will only take a few minutes to finish the preparations."
"Well, those minutes have started now," Ryan said.
Spencer sighed. "Don't mind him, he gets cranky when he's tired." He reached for Brendon's hand and towed him up the stairs to the front door. "Don't worry, Alex and Johnson will take care of your luggage."
"We will," Johnson said with a hint of a smile on his face. Brendon realised that all the servants' demeanours had softened when Spencer had turned up.
"See, nothing to worry about," Spencer said as he pulled Brendon inside.
Brendon was still marvelling at the way Spencer had made Brendon's inane staring and stumbling around appear as worry about his belongings. Whether his clothes ended up in the right room was currently the last worry on Brendon's mind.
Spencer steered Brendon into the sitting room where they'd first met. "I wonder whether I shouldn't have given you that wine," Spencer said. "It seems to have hit you hard."
Brendon laughed. "I feel as if I'm dreaming," he admitted.
Spencer smiled. "It's a nice feeling, isn't it." He sat down on the couch and Brendon felt bold enough to sit down right next to him. "I can't believe it," Spencer said quietly. "I'm married now. We're married now."
Brendon looked at Spencer carefully. "I know," he whispered. "I feel like it's not real yet."
Spencer chuckled. "It'll turn real soon enough," he said. "When Ryan's in one of his abominable moods, or when we both are tied up in business so much we're not coming home until after everyone's already gone to bed." He smiled at Brendon.
Brendon giggled. He felt the tension of the day build up until his giggles turned into loud guffaws.
"I shouldn't have given you that wine," Spencer said. He was looking at Brendon in an amused way. "But I thought it might calm you down a bit."
"Calm me down?" Brendon looked up at Spencer. "Why?"
Spencer smiled, soft and a bit sad. "You are so tense," he said.
"It was a tiring day," Brendon said. He smiled softly. "And the wine didn't affect me that much. It was only a sip, after all."
Spencer inclined his head. "I'm sorry," he said. "I just assumed--when you didn't drink."
"There ... wasn't much occasion to do so," Brendon said. "Should I--?"
"Oh no," Spencer said. "It's all right. Ryan isn't very fond of drinking, either." Spencer's voice had turned carefully neutral, and it piqued Brendon's interest. There was a story here, one he didn't know. But before he could open his mouth to ask, Spencer continued.
"We should retire," he said. "We should get ready for bed."
"But isn't Ryan taking a bath?"
Spencer laughed. "There's more than one bath room in this house."
Brendon ducked his head. "Of course," he said. He felt as if he was exposing his ignorance at every possible opportunity.
"No, don't feel bad," Spencer said. He leaned over and took Brendon's hand. "Come on, I'll show you our bath room."
As they stepped out of the sitting room, they happened across Johnson. "I assume our rooms are prepared for us?" Spencer asked.
"Yes, sir. I will show you the way."
They followed Johnson upstairs and through what seemed like a maze of hallways. Brendon thought that he would need a few weeks to find his way around by himself. Spencer was so sure and he made a few turns before Johnson, that Brendon thought this was all for Brendon's benefit. He wondered whether it should irk him that it was so obvious that Spencer didn't need to be shown the way to his marriage chamber, but Spencer had been Ryan's best friend for years--no, since they had been little children. They probably knew this house better than anyone else.
It was nice to be treated this way, though.
"Shall I prepare a bath?" Johnson asked when they'd reached the room.
"I'd appreciate it," Spencer said. "The usual supplies are ready, I'm sure?"
"Brendon, do you want to go first?" Spencer had opened the door to their room ... which turned out to be a sitting room. Prominently in the middle of the room, Brendon's chests were sitting.
"Oh, no, I'd first like to get some things out of my luggage," Brendon said. He hadn't missed the little stress on supplies, and he shivered at the thought that tonight he would, for the first time, have sex with his husband. Or husbands. Brendon figured they'd do it like the dancing, one after the other. Or maybe it was just Spencer's turn tonight. It was probably too much to hope that those supplies would come with explanations.
"I see," Spencer said. He smiled at Brendon before going into the bathroom. It was to the right of their room and Brendon committed its location to memory.
While Spencer was gone, Brendon fished out his night clothes from one of his trunks. It still left him with a lot of time, so he explored the room. There was another door to the left, and Brendon curiously opened it. It was the actual bedroom with possibly the biggest bed in it that Brendon had ever seen. It was much bigger than the space two people needed. Brendon thought that the Ross family must be truly wealthy if they could afford to waste so much money and space on a bed that could have been half as big and still been sufficient.
"Ah, I see you're already familiarising yourself," Ryan said behind Brendon.
Brendon jumped and hit the door frame with his elbow. "You startled me."
"I'm sorry," Ryan said. There was no real remorse in his voice.
"Did something happen?" Spencer turned up, much faster than Brendon had expected.
"Brendon was just examining our love den," Ryan said.
"It is a nice bed," Brendon said inanely. "Um."
Ryan didn't even look at Brendon. Spencer sighed. "I'll just show Brendon the bathroom," he said.
"Here's the tub," Spencer said. He blushed, colour high on his cheeks. "Which, um, I think you can see."
Brendon giggled. "Yes." It was a comfort to know that Brendon wasn't the only one who was nervous.
"So ... here are the supplies," Spencer said and he opened a drawer in the small cupboard in the room. "You will find anything necessary here."
Brendon hurried to his side and stared at the row of tins. "I, um." He closed his eyes and willed himself not to blush. And his tongue to work properly. "Do you, well, I don't know, I'm." Brendon's ears were burning, which was a clear sign his prayers hadn't been working.
"Oh," Spencer said. "Well, um, we can take care of that for you, if you--don't." He sounded weird. Brendon hoped he hadn't put Spencer put off, and he couldn't help but crack one eye open to glance at Spencer.
Spencer didn't look upset, though. He seemed ... interested. Which just made Brendon blush even harder. "Just," Spencer said, "um, make sure to clean well, okay?"
Brendon managed, "I will." Spencer left and suddenly he felt like he could breathe again.
Brendon had taken approximately ten thousand baths all by himself in his life, but none had felt as illicit as this one, not even the ones when he'd touched himself. He made sure to scrub his skin until it was pink. He kneeled in the tub to clean his bottom and his hands were shaking so much he had to try a second time until he could put the washing cloth there. He was married now, it was all right to touch himself there, he told himself as he prepared himself for his husband--husbands--but his mind hadn't caught up with reality yet.
Brendon put on his night clothes and felt ridiculous. Spencer had redressed in his nice clothes, although Ryan had been wearing something slightly less formal. Perhaps they weren't even ready yet and Brendon didn't know how long he had to wait until it was his turn.
When he stepped back into the sitting room, he could hear Ryan and Spencer talk through the open bed room door.
"That's very well his one saving grace," Ryan said. "It might make up for all the other mishaps."
"I wish you weren't so hard on him, Ryan. It's not his fault."
"That's what you think," Ryan said.
Brendon was still standing in the open door, but now he could hear steps coming up from around the corner. He didn't wish to be seen in his night clothes, so he stepped in. His attempts at closing the door quietly failed when he lost his grip and the door fell closed with a loud thump.
He swallowed. Here goes nothing, he thought. "I'm done."
Spencer was now standing in the bed room door. He smiled widely. "I have been looking forward to this moment," he said. "You can't possibly know how much."
"Can we move to the fun part now?" Ryan called. "I'm bored."
"Ryan, it's his first time, be patient." Spencer turned to Brendon. "I, um, I assumed that--well, after you, in the bathroom."
Brendon stared at the rug and nodded. It was a very pretty carpet, a beautiful pattern. It must have been very expensive. "I, it is. It will be." He swallowed again. "So how do we--?"
Brendon had wanted to ask how long he should wait, and where, or would he have to listen, would there even be anything to listen to. But he hadn't expected Spencer to step up to Brendon and just ... kiss him.
"Spencer?" Brendon whispered, when Spencer broke the kiss between them.
"Just relax," Spencer said just as quietly. "We'll be gentle." He took Brendon's hand and pulled him into the bed room, softly closing the door behind them. He stepped behind Brendon, put his hands on Brendon's hips and smelled Brendon's hair.
Ryan was already in bed, undressed. Brendon had to look away--he'd never seen another naked person before. "He looks pretty like that," Ryan said, with a tiny bit of interest. "That blush looks good on him."
"It does," Spencer said. He started pushing Brendon forward, toward the bed. "And he smells good."
"I should hope so, or we would have to make him take another bath."
Brendon felt overwhelmed and--and scared. He had no idea what was going on. Ryan didn't make any attempts to get up, and Spencer was gentle. The thought of being with them both was ... exhilarating, but there was a niggling thought, something was off--Ryan wasn't looking at them at all and something seemed to expand inside Brendon's chest, taking away all space from his lungs, so he couldn't breathe. Ryan wasn't looking, he wasn't interested and--Brendon pushed away from Spencer, feeling like his heart was stopping.
"Stop, Spencer," he choked out and Spencer did immediately stop and turn Brendon around.
"Brendon, what is going on?"
Brendon stepped back, away from Spencer, but he crashed against the bed frame. He stumbled, but Spencer caught him. Brendon quickly spun around so that he was with his back toward the door. "I wanted to ask you the same," he said.
"Well, it's our wedding night," Ryan added. "I figured even in your parts of the woods they'd know what happens during those."
Brendon shrank further way from the bed.
Spencer spat out, "Ryan, stop it." He held his hand out to Brendon. "It'll be fine, I promise." He let his hand sank. "Are you scared? It's all right to be scared. We can start out slow and--"
"No," Brendon said. "Are you just going to sit there?" he asked Ryan.
"Yes," Ryan said. "I'd figured I'd let Spencer go first and not deal with all the boring deflowering stuff."
Brendon looked at Spencer, who at least looked as startled as Brendon felt, and back at Ryan, who stared back at Brendon with a look Brendon couldn't read. "I'm sorry," Brendon whispered. "I'm sorry that I'm so boring."
"Oh, get over yourself," Ryan said. "What the fuck is your problem?" He swung his legs out of bed.
His words felt like a slap in the face. "I should get over myself?" he echoed. "This is my wedding night." Brendon didn't ask Ryan to give him the same kind of half-smiles Spencer received--but he thought that he deserved some common courtesy. It was just some boring deflowering for Brendon. He felt anger rise in him. Brendon hadn't asked to be married to them--his parents had made it clear that Brendon didn't have any say in the matter.
Ryan paused. "I'm aware of that. I could hardly miss spending hours in church surrounded by boring people."
"Ryan," Spencer now said. "What is--"
"Can we just get this over with?" Ryan said like, like it didn't mean anything, like it was just a chore.
That more than anything propelled Brendon away. He hadn't been able to disobey his parents, but at least in this Brendon could decide--and he didn't want the first time he lay with his husbands to be a boring chore, quick and without emotion. It gave Brendon enough incentive to grope for the door knob behind him. "I will leave you alone to get it over with," he spat out. He managed to put his hand on the knob and successfully escaped the room.
Spencer was coming after him, though. "Brendon, wait, this is--we can work this out, it's not--"
"I can't," Brendon said and he hated the way his voice broke. He tried to swallow down his anger and his frustration--Spencer wasn't the cause of any of these feelings, he shouldn't have to suffer from Brendon's temper.
"Brendon, please," Spencer said softly. "We don't have to--"
"But we should," Brendon said. He couldn't keep himself from sounding bitter. "We should and I want. But this, I don't know what, what he wants me to do, what he wants me to be like, but I can't." And then he was standing in the hallway and turned away. He just wanted to get away, get somewhere safe, somewhere without Spencer and Ryan. His chest felt like it was going to burst open and Brendon didn't want to talk anymore, he needed to be alone.
But Spencer didn't give up that easily. When Brendon heard his footsteps, he started running. He didn't even care where he was going, as long as it was away from them. He turned around the corner, took that left, up those stairs, turned right this time. He only stopped when he found himself in what seemed to be a linen closet.
Brendon was breathing hard and he was covered with a fine sheet of sweat. His heartbeat was unbearably loud in his ears and he thought that the entire house might be able to hear it, too. Thankfully, running had driven all thoughts out his mind, and it was blank. Brendon closed his eyes and concentrated on his heartbeat. Now that he wasn't moving anymore, he noticed how cold it was.
The house was quiet, and even the nightly noise from the city was muted. Brendon listened intently, but he couldn't make out footsteps. No one seemed to be following him. For a moment Brendon felt disappointed, but then he chided himself. He'd just run away, why should they come looking for him?
Brendon sighed and leaned against the closet door. He was calming down, and the sweat on his skin made him feel the cold more keenly. Brendon rejoiced in the sensations--anything to keep his mind from the two people he should share a bed with right now.
The relief didn't last long, though. It only took a few minutes until Brendon felt foolish--he had just run away from the two people he couldn't escape. He could still feel Spencer's hands on him, the way Brendon's heart had sped up, and he could clearly remember how much he had wanted to lean back into Spencer's embrace, let Spencer lead him to the bed and show him what those preparations included. He remembered his own curiosity at how those soft sheets would feel against his naked skin, whether Ryan's skin was just as soft, if Ryan's hands were as rough as his words.
Only Ryan's comments had made Brendon turn around, not his own desires. Ryan had made it obvious that he didn't care about Brendon, that his affection only belonged to Spencer. Get it over with ... Brendon didn't think that Ryan had reacted the same way the first time he'd been with Spencer. A sense of sadness filled Brendon. No, he hadn't expected Ryan to fall in love with him at first sight, or during the vows. But he'd thought that Ryan would be more lenient with Brendon, the same way Spencer always seemed to make space for him.
"Brendon, you are an idiot," Brendon said quietly. He just wanted too much. He should have known that having them both wouldn't be an attainable goal. What a fool he'd been!
He couldn't forget the look in Spencer's eyes, how desperate he'd sounded calling for Brendon--like he really wanted Brendon to stay, like he thought they could make this ride.
Brendon rubbed his eyes. He was so stupid. Shame crept up Brendon's spine. He needed to go back and fix this, even if he had no idea how. But he had to go back, for Spencer's sake. He didn't think that Ryan and Spencer would still welcome him into their bed after his rather dramatic exit and the thought that Ryan and Spencer were with each other right now made heat and shame pool in Brendon's belly. He pushed it out of his mind--he had to at least make amends to Spencer, who'd been nothing but kind and truthfully affectionate with Brendon.
Brendon should apologise and hope they weren't too mad at him. It was even possible that Ryan was as indifferent to this as he was to everything else Brendon did. Spencer did have every right to be angry at him--Brendon could only pray for the best and that Spencer was simply disappointed in him, but didn't give up on him.
Now that he'd had time to cool down, Brendon felt sheepish about being so overwhelmed. He felt he should have been more prepared--after all, Ryan had only given Brendon attention when Spencer had enforced it. It had been foolish to expect his wedding night to be different.
But no amount of fooling around with Tom, their neighbours' farm boy, no stolen kisses and secret touches had prepared Brendon for how he'd felt when Spencer first touched him with intent. Brendon sighed. There was no use in delaying it any further: he had to go back and ask his husbands of a few hours to forgive him.
His grand plan failed with the first step: finding their room again. Brendon hadn't paid any attention to where he had run, and now he was creeping through dark, unfamiliar hallways. Had he turned left or right here? Had he passed that painting, seen this vase?
It was fully dark, and the night's cold was seeping into his bones. Brendon had only been wearing his night clothes, and his feet were bare. He didn't dare open any random doors, afraid to disturb his father-in-law in his sleep.
A few minutes later, Brendon was possibly even more lost. He was sure he'd managed to turn himself around--this hallway at least seemed familiar, but that might have been because he'd just been here a few turns ago.
Brendon couldn't suppress a sigh. He'd put himself into quite a mess. He'd never gotten lost in the woods at home, as he'd known them like the back of his hand. But this was foreign territory and the carpet didn't offer Brendon any way of telling whether he'd been by before.
"Good evening, sir," someone said behind Brendon.
He jumped a good yard to the left and wheeled around. A young girl was standing there, in a maid's uniform. She was carrying a candle and a bucket of water.
"I'm sorry, sir," she said.
"No, no, it wasn't your fault," Brendon said. "I just didn't expect anyone to be around at this hour."
She bowed instead of answering. "I should have announced my presence earlier, sir, instead of startling you."
"Um, well, I guess you didn't expect anyone to be lurking in the hallways, either."
A small smile appeared on her face, and Brendon felt a little bit better.
"Actually," Brendon said. "You, uh, might be able to help me."
"Of course, sir. It's my pleasure to serve you, sir."
"Please, call me Brendon. If you call me sir, I'll expect my father to stand behind me."
"Very well, Mr Brendon," she said.
It was a start, at least, Brendon thought. "Um, I, it seems, well, I lost my way," he said. "Maybe you could, uh, show me the way back to, uh, our rooms?"
"No problem, Mr Brendon. Please follow me." She carefully sat the bucket down at the end of the hallway and led Brendon down a serious of strange hallways until they reached a door Brendon recognised.
He realised that he had to go in there while the servant was still standing here. "I bid you a good night," he said and took all his courage together and opened the door.
"Good night, Mr Brendon," the servant said.
Brendon stepped inside, making sure to turn around and close the door gently. The room was quiet, which didn't mean that Spencer and Ryan weren't sitting there, waiting for him. It had been a specialty of his parents--whenever Brendon had done something wrong, they'd sat on the sofa, waiting for him to come home. Their quiet, earnest faces had felt worse than any corporal punishment could have been.
Brendon closed his eyes. He took another steadying breath and turned to face the room.
There wasn't anyone there. The moon was shining in through the window, illuminating the room, and the door to the bedroom was closed.
Brendon sighed, feeling both relieved and disappointed. He didn't have to confront Spencer and Ryan yet, although postponing it didn't make him feel any better. But it gave him a moment to recoup, to find his breath again.
The bedroom door seemed to be mocking Brendon. The knob was shining in the pale light, and it beckoned Brendon to come and open the door. Brendon even went so far as to stand right in front of the door, put his hand on the knob--and found he couldn't turn it. In his mind images rose unbidden, images of Spencer and Ryan lying in that bed together, perhaps even kissing.
Brendon found himself back in the middle of the room. He felt the same old ball of anxiety rise up in his chest, just like when Spencer had led him to the bed. Brendon wanted--he didn't know what he wanted anymore, everything was overcome by conflicting emotions. But he didn't think he could bear to go in there and find them tousled and spent. He could even hear Ryan saying smoothly, We already got it over with, you're not needed here anymore.
His eyes burned, and Brendon rubbed them automatically. His fingers were cold and his feet were freezing. The entire day caught up with him at once--he was married and he was already having his first fight with his husbands not even one day after the ceremony. He suddenly felt bone tired, all his emotions draining from him, leaving him empty and exhausted.
Brendon just wanted to go to sleep, but the bed room door still seemed like an unsurmountable mountain, barring him the way to the only bed he knew about. But then he would have to deal with his husbands, something he didn't think he could do just yet--not while he was barely holding himself upright.
But he also didn't dare leave the room, afraid he'd get lost again.. There would already be enough gossip--Brendon was sure that the servant girl would share the fact that she'd met Brendon in the middle of the night, far away from his husbands. He didn't need to add more fuel to the fire by sleeping somewhere else--if Brendon was even able to find an unused bed room. Right now he wasn't convinced of it--in fact, he believed that he'd get lost the second he stepped outside.
Brendon was considering sleeping on the floor (the carpet was indeed very thick and soft), when he caught sight of the chaise longue. He sighed and hoped it wasn't as uncomfortable as his grandmother's one.
The chaise longue was in the corner, facing the bedroom door. But it also offered Brendon the view out of the window. It wasn't a very exciting view, as it was only half a moon and a tree in his line of vision. The swishing motions of its branches in the wind were very relaxing, though, and Brendon let their never-ending, monotonous journey carry him to sleep.
Brendon woke up slowly. He first kept his eyes closed and listened, but the room was quiet. Cautiously, he opened his eyes. The light filtering in through the window was still dim, so it was still early morning.
Brendon felt comfortably warm and stretched--only to shiver when his foot was exposed to cold air. Someone had draped a warm blanket over him during the night.
Brendon ran his fingers over the soft fabric. It was knitted, a simple pattern, but the yarn was thick and warm. He wondered who'd done it. Brendon hadn't noticed them at all.
He looked up and saw that the door to the bedroom stood open. Brendon's heart beat faster. Was it an invitation? An order? Currently he thought Ryan capable of both. And Spencer ... Brendon's heart skipped a beat. It was the thought of Spencer that made Brendon get up slowly. He kept the blanket wrapped around him, as some kind of protection or shield, and shuffled toward the open door.
It was a disappointment to find the bedroom empty. The bed had obviously been lied in, but it was not very disturbed. Brendon slowly moved closer and touched the sheets with shaking hands. The fabric was cool to the touch, but warmed up surprisingly fast when Brendon let his fingers rest on one spot.
This was supposed to be Brendon's wedding bed. He still didn't know whether that scared him more than it excited him.
The mattress was firm to the touch and Brendon couldn't withstand the temptation of sitting on it. It was just the foot end, but some perverse curiosity made Brendon inch up toward the pillows. Maybe if he were closer he would be able to see, or smell, something.
But the sheets were pristine and there were no telltale spots. Brendon felt a weird pang of something at that--it had been their night just as much as Brendon's and he'd ruined it for them. But the fact that they hadn't done anything obvious enough to leave evidence, it made Brendon's heart flutter.
Brendon let himself slide sideways, down onto the mattress. He just wanted to know what it felt like, he told himself. The pillow was as soft as everything else, stuffed tightly. Brendon turned his face toward the fabric and breathed in deeply. The pillow, he realised, smelled like Spencer's hair. Without consciously deciding to, Brendon reached for the other dented-in pillow and found the sharp odour of Ryan's shaving water hanging to it.
As he lay there, with one pillow under his head and the other pressed to his nose, Brendon felt sad. He wished that things came easier to him, that he didn't make it so difficult for them to like him. He'd imagined this night so many times, but not one single time he'd considered himself running away like a frightened chicken, overwhelmed by his emotion. Of course, he had always seen himself with the love of his life, who'd sworn to marry only Brendon, and this night as the culmination of their desire.
Brendon thought he might have read too many of Kara's romance novels. His mother had frowned upon them, but they'd read them, anyway, no matter how often she had confiscated the books.
He also hadn't pictured himself being forced to marry a stranger, either. All in all, it hadn't quite been the wedding Brendon would have wished for.
The sheets warmed up and together with his blanket Brendon felt enveloped. He clung to the pillows and slipped back into sleep.
The next time Brendon woke up, it was to someone letting something heavy drop and cursing.
"I'm sorry, sir!" It was one of the younger boys--Alex, Brendon thought. "Cook told me to clean and Mr Ryan and Mr Spencer are already away and I thought--"
"It's not your fault," Brendon said. "I should have gotten up hours ago."
Alex nodded. "I'll bring you some hot water," he said and vanished before Brendon could stop him.
Brendon sighed and got up to fetch some clothes. He would have to get directions from Alex how to find the kitchen or the dining room.
Alex was only too glad to be of help. "I'm terribly sorry, sir," he said. It was a nice change to all the servants who seemed to lose their capability of speech, the way Alex was babbling on and on. It reminded Brendon of himself.
"Don't be," Brendon said. "Just show me the kitchen."
Brendon wasn't as late as he'd feared, but Mr Ross also had already finished his breakfast.
"The young misters are in the garden," Cook said. She was a fabulous woman, not unlike Brendon's mother's cook. She insisted on feeding Brendon about twice as much as he wanted to eat. "They'll still be there when you've finished your eggs."
Brendon managed to get completely lost on his way to the garden. Apparently it wasn't just "straight through the hallway."
Brendon wondered whether he could get one of the servants to draw him up a map of the house. He felt stupid asking them for directions for everything after having lived in the same house his entire life. He wasn't used anymore to not knowing where everything was.
"Oh, good morning, Brendon!" Spencer appeared in the door frame. He was smiling, and it seemed genuine. "I hope I didn't wake you up this morning," he said.
Brendon shook his head. "No, you didn't."
"Please, step in," Spencer said.
Ryan was sitting at a desk, and he only looked up briefly when Brendon came in.
"Good morning," Brendon offered cautiously.
Ryan's answer was to look down and ignore him.
"Ryan," Spencer said.
"No, no, it's my fault," Brendon hurried to say. "I owe the two of you an apology and--"
"I don't care," Ryan said. He closed the book he'd been reading and stood up. "I have to go to the treasure office. Spencer, I think Father requested you to be there this afternoon."
"I'm just trying to explain," Brendon started again.
"And I don't want to hear it," Ryan said. "I don't care what your issues are. I can be with Spencer and ignore you."
He walked past Brendon, and it felt like a wall of ice swept past Brendon. Brendon stared at the book shelf that dominated the entirety of the opposite wall and tried to remember how to breathe. "But I'm sorry," he whispered. He knew he'd brought it on by himself, that storming away hadn't helped matters, but it still hurt.
"Don't listen to him," Spencer said. "It's mostly just hurt pride." He gave Brendon a smile. "You are the first person who did not jump into his bed willingly, no matter how he treats them. He'll take a few days to get over it."
"Oh," Brendon said. "People actually like it when he's mean to them?"
Spencer sighed. "You'd be surprised at what people like."
"Um, so he--he isn't?" Brendon itched to ask how many people Ryan had been with, but he thought it was probably indecent to ask even from his husband.
Spencer's smile turned small and careful. "No," he said. "We both aren't."
Brendon couldn't suppress a sigh. Another thing in which Ryan and Spencer were alike, and Brendon differed.
"It will be all right," Spencer said. "He'll calm down soon enough."
"I'm so sorry," Brendon said. "I just should have--" He waved his hand in an imitation of get it over with.
"Brendon, no, you shouldn't have" Spencer said. He stepped close to Brendon and took Brendon's hand. "We should have prepared you better."
He smiled, rueful and sad. "Ryan has been ... He hasn't ever lacked for admirers and his father never put any value on entering marriage as a virgin. Neither have my parents. We believe that these traditions are out-dated and old-fashioned and have no place in our modern society."
"I'm not entirely ... inexperienced," Brendon said. "Just not ..." He made another vague gesture. He wished his cheeks wouldn't heat up whenever he thought of being with his husbands. It made him feel younger than his years.
"That returns my peace of mind," Spencer said, still smiling.
"But since we don't want to make you any more uncomfortable, we've decided to, at least for the short term, adopt more traditional values." Spencer inclined his head. "We had intended to share only one bedroom, but given last night, that might not be the best course of action."
"You don't--" Brendon started, but Spencer shook his head.
"No, we moved too fast last night," Spencer said. "I've instructed Johnson to prepare the two bedrooms which traditionally belonged to the spouses."
Spencer nodded. "I can hardly keep on sharing a bed with Ryan, while you are alone."
Brendon protested. "You shouldn't have to give up on Ryan because of me," he said. "I'm sorry, I'm complicating everything."
"No," Spencer said. "I'm fine with the decision." He reached for Brendon's hand. "If slow is the way we have to proceed with you, I'm willing to do it. My mother taught me that feelings need time to grow--and I've had a long time with Ryan already."
Brendon squeezed his hand tightly. "Thank you," he whispered. He was disappointed almost, but refrained from telling Spencer that those feelings were already there--what if Spencer thought him flighty and fickle? Brendon felt he'd created already enough of a disruption.
Spencer squeezed back. "We will be all right," he said. Brendon hoped that maybe at some point he could be as convinced about it as Spencer was.
Married life turned out to be lonely and rather boring for Brendon. Ryan didn't show any signs of forgiving Brendon any time soon. Although Spencer tried to make up for it, it grated on Brendon. The fact that both Ryan and Spencer were involved in Ryan's father's business only worsened the experience.
Spencer, the more business-minded one, left the house early for the office, while Ryan partook in a number of lunches and other leisurely affairs. Mr Ross explained it to Brendon.
"Ryan must meet all my business contacts," he said. "He will take over the company, and it wouldn't do to do it all in a hurry. Unfortunately, though," he sighed, "Ryan does not like numbers. Spencer, however, excels at it--my books haven't ever been as well-kept since he started doing them. I firmly believe that everyone must bring in themselves with their best talent."
Nobody asked Brendon about his own special talent, though, and it left Brendon at a loss of things to do. He didn't think there was much need for playing the piano in a business operation. For a moment he entertained the notion of playing in a bar between scantily clad dancers and drunkards. The vision made him laugh.
But right now he was busy enough trying to remember how to find his bedroom.
"I wish I could support you more," Brendon said to Spencer while they were having tea one Sunday afternoon. "I feel useless."
"Just wait," Spencer said. "Ryan's father owns so many different companies, we'll find something that fits you."
Brendon suppressed a sigh. He didn't think that keeping books for a trading company was any different than keeping books for a theatre. The items being kept were just different.
"Besides, you're still getting used to the city," Spencer said. "I would be much too worried about you getting lost."
He winked at Brendon, but the remark still smarted--all the more because it was true. The other day Brendon had gotten lost in the orchard, when he'd gone left instead of right and had ended up in the lemon trees.
"I suppose you're right," Brendon replied.
The next day Spencer and Ryan left early. "We're awaiting a shipment of goods this afternoon," Spencer said, "and we still don't know which warehouse to use."
"You're making such a big affair out of this," Ryan said. "As if my father doesn't own a dozen warehouses just at the market alone."
As usual, when the conversation turned toward Ryan's father, Ryan's tone became sharp enough to cut. Brendon hadn't seen Mr Ross in three days, a not uncommon occurrence, but it worried Ryan, as Spencer had told Brendon.
It left Brendon alone in the house, though, with too much time on his hand. One bright spot was the weekly afternoon tea with Spencer's parents. Brendon had been apprehensive at first, but immediately after stepping into Spencer's parents' house his fears were allayed. His parents were as friendly as Spencer, and they treated Brendon like their own son. Better, Spencer had complained with a teasing twinkle in his eyes, because Brendon always got the best seat on the sofa and the largest scone.
This afternoon Brendon could do well with some cheering up. He felt lonely with his husbands gone for most of the day, and he hadn't yet been able to make friends in the city.
"Brendon!" Spencer's mother walked toward Brendon with her arms wide open. "I'm so happy to see you."
Brendon laughed. "You just saw me only days ago," he said. Secretly he rejoiced in her easy embrace and found himself relaxing. "I also sent you a note just yesterday."
"But I like to see your face," Ginger said. She wouldn't let Brendon call her Mrs Smith under pain of death, and Brendon took a thrill out of being so familiar with her. At least some people were easier to become friendly with than Ryan.
They sat down for tea. Ginger pushed the strawberry jam and clotted cream toward Brendon. "Help yourself please," she said. "Don't hold back."
"I couldn't even, if I wanted to," Brendon said. "Scones are my weakness."
Ginger laughed. "I hope it's not your only weakness, or you'd be much too perfect for my son and Ryan."
Brendon smiled at her. "I believe it's not--just my biggest. How's your mother doing?"
Ginger sighed. "Not as well as we would like. My sister has asked me to come down to the south and I plan to leave soon. This will be our last tea in a while, I'm afraid."
"Oh, I'm sorry," Brendon said. "I hope your mother will recover soon."
"I believe she will," Ginger said. "She's old--even simple things take time to get better."
Brendon looked down at his scone. "I will miss you," he said. "I'll be lonely."
"Brendon," Ginger sighed. "I think you need a hobby."
Brendon looked up. "A hobby?"
"Yes," Ginger said. "Something to do."
"But the business--"
"Forget the business," she said. "You have a big house--there must be many things to take care of, no?"
And so it came that Brendon idly wandered through the hallways and wondered what to do. He hadn't been able to discover the house on his own so far. But Ginger was right--the house needed some upkeep. It was a huge house and lately there had been a lapse: many of the carpets hadn't been properly cleared in what seemed to be a long time. Someone would have to take the lead on it.
Brendon stopped in the middle of the hallway. It was only eight o'clock: Cook would now start to bake scones for tea, the kitchen servants would be doing the washing up, and the boys would be outside, chopping wood and keeping the garden in order. And Brendon didn't know what kind of room was behind that particular door. He boldly reached for the doorknob.
The room was dusty and mostly empty. It had been a sewing room, the cupboards still holding needles and some old, almost disintegrated threads.
Despite the fact that the room was nothing special, Brendon felt giddy at his discovery. He bounded into the next room, an unused guest room, which was much less dusty. And on and on he went, until his stomach grumbled and he realised it was time for lunch.
As Brendon walked back downstairs, he formed a plan. If he couldn't help with the business, at least now, he could start to help with the upkeep of the house. Brendon's mother had always said that a house needed one mistress, one person to be responsible. As both his husbands (the word still gave Brendon a small jolt, a happy one) were clearly more business-minded, this could be Brendon's turf.
It was a place to start, anyway.
Happily, he skipped down the hallway to the dining room, already contemplating what he'd need to do. Those rooms needed to be cleaned and someone had to make an inventory, oh, he was so hungry he could hardly think. He hoped Cook had made one of those pastries Brendon liked so much--or it was rather that Ryan liked them a lot, so Cook made a huge batch, in the mistaken hope that Ryan would eat them all.
On his way to the kitchen, Brendon looked into the dining room, but nobody was there. Brendon turned toward the kitchen. Ryan and his father often ate with business contacts, and Spencer usually didn't come home for lunch, so it had become habit for Brendon to take his lunch in the kitchen. It was warm and full of people, which was a definite plus for Brendon who still found it difficult to spend most of his day by himself.
The smell wafting in from the kitchen was delicious and Brendon's stomach grumbled again, much louder. He skipped towards the kitchen, humming. He thought that Cook could do without some of the servants, at least until the house was in top shape again and--
"Mr Brendon!" Cook sounded completely aghast. "Not in my kitchen!"
Brendon stopped on the spot and blinked. "But I'm hungry," he said.
Cook stemmed her hands into her hips. "What have you been doing? Oh, look at you?"
Brendon did look. And realised he was covered in dust all over. He sneezed. "I'm, uh, gonna wash up first," he said.
"I will have a bowl of stew ready for you, Mr Brendon," Cook said.
Five minutes later, Brendon was allowed into her kitchen. As he sat over his lunch, he asked her about the house. "Those rooms seem to have been unused for years."
Cook sighed loudly. "After Mr Ross's second wife died, too, he lost interest in maintaining all the rooms. It was enough for him that the rooms he and Ryan occupied were presentable."
"But didn't he host dinners?"
Cook's face grew grim and a hint of hurt was in her voice. "Only at the other houses."
"Oh." Brendon stirred his stew. "I'd like to use those rooms again," he said. "I need you to give me a list of servants who are free to clean those rooms."
"Are you sure, Mr Brendon?"
Brendon nodded. "I also need a complete inventory of the house," he said.
"Oh, we have one," Cook said. "It's in the library."
Anna led Brendon to the library. "Mr Ryan keeps the books he reads in his own rooms or the sitting room," she said. "I'm afraid this room might be dusty, too."
"Don't worry about it," Brendon said. "I think I can handle a little bit of dust."
The library was a huge room, bigger than even the main sitting room. Brendon stared at all the books. No wonder Ryan considered Brendon boring if he'd read all of these.
"The inventories are kept here, sir," Anna said and she went to a shelf right next to the door. "They might be out of date concerning Mr Ryan's rooms."
Brendon stroked the thick leather spines. "Thank you, Anna," he said. "I don't need you any more right now."
The books had been obviously kept meticulously until about ten years ago. Then the regular monthly new entries stopped and instead the books had only been updated occasionally.
Brendon spent the rest of the afternoon studying the books. Many of the now unused rooms had simply been covered up, and he found a number of interesting items. A painting called The Satyr seemed interesting enough. He wondered whether it was similar to a story he'd read once--although it had made him blush, Brendon had kept the book, hidden underneath his bed. He'd often touched himself thinking about the people, the men, in the story. He couldn't remember where the book had ended up--for many years he'd made sure that nobody ever saw the book. And then Tom had started at the Jennings' farm, Tom with his broad hands and shoulders, his brogue a lilting sound like birds tweeting. Brendon sighed, remembering the many stolen summer afternoons they'd spent hiding in the barn, kissing each other silly. He wished he had the same kind of rapport with his husbands, but Ryan kept a careful distance and Spencer seemed to always be mediating between them. It saddened Brendon that he hadn't been able to make amends yet, that Ryan wouldn't let him. He knew that it would take time and he had to work hard to quench his natural impatience. He couldn't force Ryan to forgive him. He couldn't help wanting things to move at a speedier pace, though. He turned back toward the inventory--at least it offered answers to Brendon's questions.
Brendon read until his eyes hurt from trying to decipher the small handwriting. He sat up and rolled his shoulders. His back popped loudly enough that he grimaced. It was nearly supper time--he should clean up and get ready to welcome his husbands home. Not that Ryan was talking to Brendon much.
Brendon sighed, as he got up. He rolled his shoulders again to loosen the muscles up. When he turned around, his gaze fell upon two neat rows of notebooks in between books.
Brendon's mother had always warned him that curiosity was the death of the cat. It hadn't helped. Brendon stooped down and reached for one of the notebooks, when someone behind him cleared their throat.
It was Johnson. "I've come to fetch you for supper, Mr Brendon."
"Very well," Brendon said. "Can you tell me what's in those notebooks?"
"Of course, Mr Brendon. Those are the young sirs' schoolbooks."
"You mean--Ryan's and Spencer's?"
"Yes, Mr Brendon. Mr Spencer shared a teacher with Mr Ryan, and their fathers thought it appropriate to have them study together."
"I see," Brendon said. In fact, he could see the image inside his head: a younger, less sharp Ryan hunched over his notebook, whispering to a younger Spencer while they were supposed to listen. It made Brendon smile all the way back to the dining room.
"Good evening, Brendon," Spencer said. He seemed tired, as he leaned on the table heavily. Brendon hadn't ever seen Spencer slump before.
"Good evening," Brendon said. "Did you have a hard day?"
"Yes, we did," Ryan said. "We spent all day fixing some mistake our accountant made, costing us five thousand, and one of our dock workers at the harbour almost died. Not that you know what that means."
"I'm sorry," Brendon said shortly. Ryan's reactions angered him, but their peace felt too fragile for Brendon to confront him.
Spencer just sighed. "Don't listen to him," he said to Brendon. "He's just upset he couldn't go to his tea appointment, but had to help me figure out how to provide for Morris, the worker who had the accident."
Dinner was subsequently a quiet affair. Spencer retired early, citing exhaustion and another early day. He smiled softly. "We are expecting a delivery of wheat," he said. "And we have already sold most of it, so I need to be at the warehouse to supervise the sales. We can't afford to lose a well-paying customer because we let someone else take the goods he already paid for."
Spencer kissed both Brendon and Ryan good night, which made Brendon feel mellow. He stayed in the sitting room, writing a new letter to Kara. He hadn't written daily, not quite. But it was a small comfort when he could tell her all the little details of his new life. When he'd finished that letter, Ryan was still reading his book. He didn't look up when Brendon stood up and put the letter on the desk.
"I'm going to bed," Brendon said.
"Good night." Ryan stared at his book, although Brendon was sure he wasn't even reading for real anymore. He hadn't turned the page in minutes.
"Good night," Brendon said. Then, on an impulse, he leaned down and gave Ryan a quick peck on the cheek before he left the room. It had been intended as mockery, a mimicry of Spencer's behaviour, but then Brendon felt his heart jolt and he thought, Oh. Outside he stopped and had to lean against the wall for a minute until his heart calmed down and he didn't feel anymore like it was going to jump out of his chest.
He had the sudden intense desire to tell someone and then he realised ... Spencer. He hoped Spencer was still awake. His room was closer to Ryan's than Brendon's, but Brendon had to pass it anyway. It made Brendon feel a bit less ridiculous when he stopped at Spencer's door. If Spencer was asleep, Brendon wouldn't have to sneak away like a thief.
The door didn't allow Brendon to discern any sounds, but he couldn't make out any snoring, so he knocked tentatively. There was no answer. Brendon pondered it for only a moment, but the need to talk to someone won. He boldly opened Spencer's door, relieved when he found it unlocked.
But the first sound Brendon heard made him stop dead in his tracks. That had definitely been a groan. Spencer's bed was to the left of the door, allowing Brendon to stand in the door unseen, if Spencer didn't look closely, and watch Spencer.
Spencer was lying on his bed. Brendon couldn't see his hand, but there was some tell-tale movement under the comforter. Brendon shivered--it felt illicit to watch Spencer like this, standing in the shadows, but he couldn't make himself move away. A better person, Brendon supposed, would have left Spencer alone in what obviously was a private moment, but Brendon longed to be with him so much.
Something kept him from announcing his presence, though, from joining in just yet--Spencer made all these little sounds, quiet moans and biting his lips, and Brendon leaned against the door frame, just listening. He wanted to see how it was for Spencer. Brendon had watched Tom jerk off, had compared the way he touched himself to how Brendon did it, although Tom had laughed at him.
Spencer moaned. Brendon leaned forward to have a better look. Spencer raised his hand to his mouth and licked his palm--Brendon had learned that particular move from Tom, and he shivered in anticipation of how it would feel.
There was a tiny sigh coming from Spencer. He also raised his other hand to his mouth. Brendon frowned--was Spencer going to use both hands? Wasn't one enough?
Spencer sucked two fingers into his mouth, but then he pushed his hands under his shirt. Brendon mimicked Spencer's movement, trying to figure out what he was doing. His thumb brushed his nipple, sending an electric jolt through Brendon's body. He bit down on his lip hard to keep himself quiet.
Brendon's body felt overloaded, his nerve endings firing. He rubbed over his nipple again and couldn't hold back a gasp. Thankfully Spencer didn't seem to notice.
Brendon was glad that Spencer enjoyed that particular move--Brendon had once tried, and managed, to come simply from touching his nipples. Tom hadn't understood--he hadn't been particularly sensitive there and had occasionally joked about Brendon's excitability.
There was a particular loud gasp and Spencer jerked, throwing his head to the side, eyes squeezed shut. Brendon's cock was throbbing, but he pressed his hand firmly against it. Spencer gave a tiny, contended sigh and rolled over onto his side.
Brendon closed the door quietly and hurried to his own room. The image of Spencer's face, his mouth half-open, had burned into his mind, and he felt like he would explode if he couldn't touch himself soon.
When Brendon tried to open his door, his hands were shaking and he had to fumbled with the doorknob. Finally the lock clicked open and he threw himself inside. He didn't even go to the bed, just leaned back against the closed door and shoved his hands into his pants. It only took pulling on his cock a handful times, Spencer's gasps echoing in Brendon's mind and his face, god, his face, until Brendon spilled himself in his underwear.
"Oh," Brendon breathed. He gulped in air fast, gasping loudly. He staggered to his bed on unsteady legs. All his nervous tension had seeped from his body, and Brendon only managed to step out of his clothes and roll underneath his covers before sleep claimed him.
The next morning, Brendon got up late, so Spencer and Ryan were already gone. It was an all too common occurrence.
Brendon chose to eat his breakfast in the kitchen. Cook sighed loudly, but she put his eggs right in front of him. The kitchen reminded Brendon of his mother's--warm and cozy.
"I want you to help me check the inventories," Brendon said, careful not to spit bits of food all over his plate. "Please have one of the Alexes bring down the inventories from the library."
A few minutes later the books were spread out over the table in the study. Brendon poured over them, studying them closely.
"Why are some of these crossed out?"
Cook looked over his shoulder. "They were moved to another house," she said. "Master George's late wives took great pleasure in redecorating every once in a while."
Brendon hummed. "I think I would like to take that up again."
"If you wish so, sir," Cook said.
The inventories kept Brendon busy until supper. He was so engrossed in his work that he hardly noticed time passing, only to be reminded that he hadn't eaten in hours by his grumbling stomach.
"Aren't Ryan and Spencer home?" Brendon asked Johnson.
"The masters haven't returned yet," Johnson said.
Brendon ate alone and then waited in the study. The inventories couldn't keep him interested, though, as he glanced at the large grandfather clock in the corner. But the hours ticked away without any sign of either Ryan or Spencer.
At ten o'clock, Brendon had enough and went to bed. Of course, shortly after he'd retired, before he'd even fallen asleep, he could hear voices on the hallway--Ryan's and Spencer's.
Brendon sat up, listening. A door was opened and the voices disappeared. Brendon got up and cracked his door. Ryan was walking away from Spencer's door and went into his own room.
So they were home at least. Brendon closed his door and leaned against it. He was a bit annoyed that neither of them had even thought it necessary to check up on Brendon. He'd thought at least Spencer would have knocked, even if just to tell Brendon that they were home now. It was, Brendon thought, as if they thought he wouldn't worry about them and wonder where they were.
He was also slightly disappointed that he hadn't been able to spend any time with his husbands--he'd like to know how Ryan would react to him after the kiss--well, peck. And Brendon missed talking to Spencer, who'd always listen to him.
Brendon stood there for a few minutes before finally deciding to go and see Spencer. He'd wanted to tell him about the kiss and ask whether Ryan had mentioned it. He was determined not to stomp in and ask where they'd been, why they were so late and what they'd been doing.
When Brendon opened his door, the hallway was quiet. Ryan's door was closed as well as Spencer's. Brendon stepped out of his room, only wearing his thin night clothes. The cold was already creeping into his bones, but maybe Spencer would hug him and let him share his warmth.
It was a happy thought that made Brendon walk the short distance to Spencer's room. He heard voices inside and then something like a crash, so he didn't even knock, just pushed the door open.
Spencer was lying on his back on the bed, laughing, and Ryan ... Ryan was lying on top of him, grinning, and then he kissed Spencer. Brendon's hands started shaking--from the cold, he said to himself. Just from the cold.
"I missed you," Ryan said.
Spencer put his arms around Ryan. "I've been here all the time."
"Yeah, but you've been busy."
"Jealousy doesn't suit you," Spencer said.
"How about we don't talk about Brendon right now," Ryan said. "I got a few ideas ..."
Brendon left. He put one foot in front of the other mechanically until he was back in his bed. The sheets only had a faint trace of warmth left.
Ryan didn't want Brendon. He was even ... Brendon curled up and pushed his face into the pillow. They had looked good together, they fit together well. It hurt, to know that they were together now, that Ryan explicitly didn't want to think about Brendon in that context. It felt like being punched, doubled over with phantom pain, without any discernible injury.
It took him a long time to fall asleep. The morning dawned brightly, the sun shining brightly. Brendon glared at it from his window. The weather, he thought, should at least fit his mood.
He didn't expect anyone to still be in the house--he'd gotten up late on purpose. But Ryan was still sat at the breakfast table when Brendon entered the dining room.
"Good morning," Brendon said cautiously.
Ryan nodded. "Morning."
After a bit of contemplation, Brendon sat down opposite Ryan. He thought sitting down next to him, not facing him, would be a cowardly move. Brendon had been eavesdropping and seeing things not meant for his eyes, so he thought he should at least try and make an attempt at friendly conversation.
"Don't you have to go to the office today?" Brendon asked. It wasn't unusual for Ryan to leave later than Spencer, but Brendon hadn't ever seen him in the house this late.
"I have an invitation to lunch with a business partner," Ryan said. "We need to discuss our investments in the foreign sector." He waved his hands. "Nothing of interest to you, I'm sure."
Brendon bristled. "How would you know, exactly? If you'd take some time to explain why the foreign sector is so of interest to your business, I'd certainly be able to help you better."
"Help me?" Ryan looked up. "Help me with what?"
"Decisions," Brendon said. "Um, Spencer told me that it's often good to have an outsider's perspective and--"
"But you don't know anything about our business," Ryan said blithely. "What's the current wholesale price of almonds? How about silk?"
Brendon was startled when Ryan got up. "You don't know anything about it--I would just waste my time trying to explain it all to you."
He left Brendon sitting at the dining table, petrified and ashamed. He knew that Ryan was right--Brendon had never been a very good student. He was too distractible to pay proper attention, and his parents had given up early on forcing him to study business when he loathed it. Now he felt his ignorance keenly, but he was at a loss how he should fix it.
Brendon threw himself into his new project, having the house cleaned and redecorated, with all his fervour. It was only a temporary respite.
He was subdued all day--even Spencer coming home relatively early couldn't cheer him up much.
Spencer raised one eyebrow when Brendon tried to excuse himself immediately after dinner. "Oh, have you already grown weary of me?" he teased Brendon. "Or was it my fault? Have I been absent so much that you've moved on?"
"Don't be silly," Brendon said. "I missed you yesterday."
"Then I'm glad," Spencer said. He took Brendon's hand and rubbed his thumb over Brendon's palm.
It was easy to let himself lean against Spencer and accept his affections.
"I wanted to talk to you last night," Brendon said. "Well, actually, already the night before."
"Yes," Spencer said. "Ryan told me what happened."
"He did?" Brendon's heart beat faster. He cursed his treacherous emotions--although he'd spent the majority of the day moping, just the prospect of fixing his relationship to Ryan lifted his spirits.
"Yes. He was surprised."
"Pleasantly, I hope," Brendon said glumly. "I wouldn't want to put him out."
Spencer smiled. "It confused him," he said. "Ryan's default situation is to ignore confusing situations." He leaned in closely and whispered into Brendon's ear, "Don't give up just yet."
That night Brendon lay in his own bed, suddenly wide awake, and stared at the ceiling. Unbidden, Ryan's words ran through his mind again. You don't know anything about it. You don't know anything. I'd just waste my time.
It made him sad, but then he remembered Spencer's words--Don't give up yet.
Brendon closed his eyes and took a deep breath. No, he didn't know much about business. When he had been younger, he hadn't seen any use in learning it, he'd rather spent his time playing the piano and learning intricate melodies. But now that he had proper incentive, Brendon was convinced that he could learn what he need to know. He just needed someone to teach him, find some books to learn from and--
Brendon sat up in bed. "Their schoolbooks," he said out loud. "I know where their schoolbooks are."
His heart jumped in his chest and he felt a flicker of home. He had access to their schoolbooks and could study those. It was a brilliant plan, Brendon thought. After all, Spencer and Ryan had read those books and now they knew enough to effectively run Ryan's father's business. Why shouldn't Brendon be able to learn the same things as they had done?
Brendon lay back down, smiling. He fell asleep imagining himself learning all those things, what all the maths meant, and both Ryan and Spencer were smiling at him.
Brendon was reading Spencer's notebooks in secret--he smuggled one after another into his room and poured over them by candle light. He tried to read Ryan's notes, too, but he soon realised that, unless it was about literature, Ryan's notes were copies from Spencer's.
It wasn't very easy material. Brendon hadn't ever been very interested in mathematics, and putting it into the context of book-keeping helped very little. It took him more time than he'd expected to go through each chapter.
But he found very motivating that he could already see first results: whenever Spencer and Ryan talked about the business at the dinner table, Brendon was at least able to put it into the context of good or bad.
It also made him frustrated whenever he was at a complete loss. It resulted in Brendon going to his room early often under the pretence of being tired, but in fact, so he could read another chapter of Spencer's math books.
Brendon felt still too insecure in his new knowledge to join in business conversations. That was also the reason why he was reluctant to ask Spencer for help--Brendon felt his questions were stupid and that he should be able to understand it by himself, so he worked harder and harder, reread the same passage until he was absolutely sure he'd taken up all information contained.
Brendon sighed and closed the notebook he'd been reading. It was obvious that he couldn't get any more work done tonight. His eyes hurt and his neck was cramped from sitting at his desk for too long. He wished he was back in the warm, comfy sitting room--his own room tended to be rather cold, no matter how often Brendon asked Virginia to look after the oven.
A knock on his door startled Brendon. He quickly pushed the notebook under a heap of other books. "Please come in."
Spencer stepped in. "I'm sorry to bother you this late," he said. "But I wanted to check on you."
"Check on me?" Brendon got up from his desk. His back hurt and he automatically stretched until it cracked. "Why?"
Spencer tilted his head and eyed Brendon. "We haven't seen much of you lately," he said. "I wanted to make sure you were feeling all right."
Brendon felt a bit ashamed. He'd grown to like his conversations with Spencer, the way Spencer would casually touch him, smile at him, and he missed being with Spencer a lot. That Spencer had thought to visit Brendon made something warm expand inside Brendon's chest. "I am, thank you," he said softly. "I'm just--reading a lot."
"So I see," Spencer said. He stepped closer to Brendon and looked at the books. Brendon tried to step in front of him, but Spencer calmly put his hands on Brendon's hips, pushing him away gently. He didn't take his hands off Brendon, though.
"It's nothing--they're just books," Brendon tried.
Spencer snorted, but then he grew quite still. "You can read those downstairs, too," he said quietly. "We would enjoy it."
"I didn't--I don't want to bother you," Brendon said. He ducked his head, unable to look at Spencer. "I just want to learn," he said, hating the plaintive tone in his voice.
"Oh, Brendon," Spencer said. He put his finger on Brendon's lips, effectively silencing him. "I understand." He smiled. "But I hope you know you don't have to do it alone."
"But I should," Brendon said.
"Why?" Spencer shook his head. "Why did you think you had to keep this a secret?" He pointed to the books. "I am very pleased by your interest--and your initiative," he said. "And I would gladly support you, if you trust me enough to let me."
"I do," Brendon whispered. "And I have so many questions, I hardly know where to start. But," he swallowed heavily. "Ryan..."
"Ryan isn't here most evenings, anyway," Spencer said. He leaned in close. "It can still be a surprise for him, if you'd prefer it that way."
Brendon shook his head. "But he will think me--he's said things--"
"Oh, believe me," Spencer said. "If Ryan continues to make such comments, I will take the utmost pleasure in reminding him how he could speak fluent Latin, but could hardly tell rye and barley apart."
Brendon laughed. "Well then nothing's keeping me here." He leaned against Spencer, enjoying their closeness. "Thank you," he whispered.
Spencer's smile was glorious. He leaned forward and Brendon closed his eyes, waiting with bated breath. Spencer's lips were soft and slightly wet. It only lasted an instant, just a press quick of their lips against each other, but it was enough to make Brendon feel weak in the knees. He'd imagined this so many times and yet reality was much better than any of his fantasies.
"Good night," Spencer said as he retreated. "I can trust you to come down tomorrow night?"
"'Night," Brendon said. "Yes, I will."
Spencer left and Brendon collapsed on his bed. "Oh dear god in heaven," he said and pressed his smile into the pillow.
The next morning, Brendon found his father-in-law at the breakfast table, to his surprise. Ryan's father had moved out of the house shortly before their wedding. He now lived in a smaller one closer to their offices, although Brendon had learned from the servants that it was also much closer to his favourite club. This had led to a lot of whispering between the servants and Cook making a broth. "Just in advance," she'd said. Brendon hadn't understood what she'd meant that day.
Now he did have some inkling what it was about. Ryan's father looked sallow and unwell, although his posture was still as straight as ever. He reminded Brendon of Mr Swanson, after his son had died.
"Good morning, sons," George Ross greeted them. "I have learned that one of my business contacts in the South has been able to procure some silk for us."
"That's good news," Spencer said. "We will be able to make a nice profit on selling it."
Brendon had learned from Spencer that silk had been short in supply lately, making the prices skyrocket. They'd been trying to find some for a good price, but hadn't managed so yet.
"Ryan will have to accompany me to the harbour," Ryan's father said and Ryan's face fell.
"But, Father, it's a two day trip to the harbour," Ryan said.
"That will give us just enough time to arrive before the ship," his father replied.
"You will be gone for four days?" Brendon asked. It felt strange--it was the first time they wouldn't be all together since their wedding. Although Ryan often went to eat outside, Brendon usually saw him at least during breakfast.
"The trip will take at least a full week," Spencer said. "Handling the shipment and procuring the means of transporting it to the city will take at least three days, give or take."
"Also he will have to meet my business contacts in the harbour city," Ryan's father said. "He's been lazy about nurturing the contact to anyone not in the city."
Ryan tensed up, his shoulders drawn in tightly. He looked uncomfortable enough that Brendon felt forced to act.
"Oh," Brendon said and he smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry that Ryan stayed in the city. It's my fault. He stayed for my sake--I asked him to because I didn't feel very comfortable navigating the city alone yet. And, well." Brendon ducked his head. He thought about his fantasies--how it would be to actually be with his husbands, and he could feel himself blush.
In truth, Ryan hadn't been out with Brendon alone once. Spencer had taken Brendon to the barber and other places. With Ryan, they'd visited Spencer's parents for tea. Ryan hadn't shown any interest in being with Brendon, although Spencer was becoming more and more affectionate, to the point where Brendon had spent an extraordinary amount of time touching himself to relieve himself.
His lie had the desired effect, though. Ryan's father laughed loudly. "I do hope that you're able to let go of your husbands for a few days," he said. "I hadn't been aware you'd become so fond of both of them."
Brendon looked at his plate, pretending like George's words didn't cut through his flesh. He felt so obvious and hoped that George couldn't tell Brendon had lied.
"You haven't visited us in a while," Ryan said.
"True." His father drank his tea. "Now, son, we must leave soon. I expect you to be ready in one hour."
As soon as Ryan's father had left, Brendon spoke up. "I'm sorry," he said. "I didn't--I just thought it would help, if ..."
"No, it was--nice," Ryan said. "Thank you."
Brendon smiled. He couldn't think of any verbal response but you're welcome which seemed woefully inadequate for what appeared to be a break-through in their relationship. Or at least Brendon hoped that Ryan would look upon him a bit more favourably now. "Shall I call Johnson?"
Ryan sighed. "No, I will call him on my way upstairs."
Brendon stared at his toast, not hungry anymore. After Ryan had left, Spencer reached for Brendon's hand. "Don't look so sad," he said. "It's only for a few days, and it's been a long time coming."
"I had forgotten that Ryan would have to travel," Brendon said. He felt like a fool--with as many trading companies as Ryan's father own, travel seemed to be a given. But it had completely escaped from Brendon's mind.
Spencer laughed. "It won't be often," he said. "His father is very adamant at the moment that Ryan has to meet all his business partners face to face."
Brendon nodded. He dreaded the moment Ryan was going to leave. Should he wait in the foyer, ready to say goodbye? Should he risk being brushed off by Ryan? But Spencer made his decision for him.
When they heard people coming down the stairs, Spencer took Brendon's hand and pulled him along. He smiled at Brendon reassuringly and interlinked their fingers. It gave Brendon enough confidence to stand tall when they reached the foyer.
Ryan was dressed in a dark brown frock Brendon hadn't ever seen before. It made him look distinguished, and Brendon's heart fluttered.
"Goodbye," Ryan said.
"Please come back soon," Brendon said. He wanted to say, Please miss me, but bit it back.
Spencer sighed. "It'll be fine," he said. "Brendon and I will take care of the house."
"I didn't doubt that." Ryan hugged Spencer and kissed him.
Brendon looked away. He shifted from one foot to the other, as he didn't know whether Ryan would give him the same goodbye. Spencer's words rang in his mind again: Don't give up on him. Brendon startled when someone touched his hand. When he looked up, he saw a quick smile move over Ryan's face.
"Please take care of Spencer," Ryan said, as he leaned in to kiss Brendon, too.
When they broke apart, Brendon blinked. "Of course," he whispered. Spencer, Brendon knew, did not have any problem with letting Brendon close.
"I know," Ryan said softly.
"You are one very confusing man," Brendon told him, causing Ryan to smile again.
"So I've been told."
Brendon wanted to ask why he was being so difficult then, but in that moment the carriage driver knocked on the door.
"We're ready," Ryan told Johnson.
And then Ryan was gone.
Although Brendon was used to spending the day on its own, he felt more lonely now that he knew that he wouldn't see Ryan at least for a week. This morning, something in their relationship had shifted, and Brendon longed to further that change. Coming to Ryan's rescue in front of his father had been an instinctive reaction--despite Ryan's acerbic behaviour, Brendon was quite fond of him. He enjoyed Ryan's wit--when Ryan allowed him to see it.
Their goodbye had been so very sweet that it made Brendon's heart flutter. The idea that Ryan might actually let Brendon closer and not push him away gave Brendon new energy and motivation--only Ryan was gone now.
The fact that he had to wait for at least one week until he could talk to Ryan again was almost unbearable. Fortunately Brendon wasn't the only one feeling at odds. "You're home early," he greeted Spencer, who'd arrived a good hour earlier than was his wont.
Spencer smiled. "Without Ryan trying to distract me and talk me into buying specially made paper for our business letters--with a design by himself, of course--I found that I could work much faster."
Brendon laughed. Ryan had a strange fascination with paper that Brendon couldn't understand. "You just don't want to admit that you missed me," he teased Spencer.
"I did," Spencer said, his voice serious. "I always do."
Brendon smiled at him shyly. "Then I'm glad," he said.
They sat down to supper which seemed more intimate now that it was just the two of them. The table was too big for them, though, Brendon thought.
"He'll be back soon," Spencer said.
"I'm not--" Brendon sighed. "Don't mind me," he said. "I don't know why I'm so out of sorts--he doesn't eat with us so often and yet--"
"It's a startling occurrence when Ryan's suddenly nice for a change," Spencer said and winked at Brendon. "You'll get used to it."
"I think I didn't thank you for this morning," Spencer said. "You didn't have to say that in front of George."
"No, I had to," Brendon said. "It wasn't Ryan's fault, either."
Spencer reached over the table and took Brendon's hand. "It was still very courageous of you," he said.
Brendon laughed. "You talk like you expected George to tear me to pieces," he said.
Spencer ducked his head, but when he looked up, his smile was perfect. "Thank you nevertheless," he said. "And now tell me about this grand project of yours--have you found any more books?"
Brendon grinned. He had the servants start cleaning the rooms he'd picked out a few days ago and they'd found several items not mentioned in the inventory, among them a few books. Ryan had been delighted when Brendon had told them that the books had been put in the library, and he'd disappeared instantly. It had given Brendon a surge of pride, but Ryan hadn't been in the sitting room any evening since.
"No," Brendon said. "But if we do, I'll hide the books here--this way we'll at least see Ryan read them."
Spencer laughed. "That is true."
Brendon grinned back. Being with Spencer was easy. A tiny part of Brendon was happy that Ryan was away and he didn't have to share Spencer with Ryan. It was an uncharitable thought, but Spencer was brushing Brendon's hair back and Brendon longed for more touches.
"It's late," Spencer said. "I'm afraid I must go to bed soon."
"But it's barely half past eight," Brendon said.
"I know, but we are expecting an early shipment. I must get up very early." Spencer got up and leaned over to press a dry, quick kiss on Brendon's lips. "Please don't wait up for me tomorrow," he said. "Today there wasn't much work to do, but with both Ryan and his father gone, I'll be busy in the office."
"I will see to it that supper is prepared in time," Brendon said. He was a bit disappointed, but he'd use the chance to do some more studying.
"But promise me not to wait for me," Spencer said. "I couldn't stand the thought of you sitting there and going hungry while you could eat, just because I'm too caught up in work."
"I wouldn't mind," Brendon said.
Spencer laughed. "No," he said and pressed another kiss against Brendon's temple. "I appreciate your offer, but please eat without me, when I'm not home early."
"All right," Brendon said.
Spencer smiled again and he kissed Brendon once more, longer, on the lips. It made Brendon want to reach up and pull him down for another kiss and another and another, until they were out of breath. Brendon wanted Spencer so much.
But Spencer pulled away and stood a few feet away. "Good night, Brendon."
"Spencer," Brendon whispered.
Spencer grimaced. "I really do need to have an early night," he said, sounding frustrated. "And I don't want to start anything I can't finish tonight."
"It wouldn't take long," Brendon said. "Please."
"But that wouldn't be much fun," Spencer said. He grinned. "I would prefer to take a really long time."
Brendon flushed, his body reacting to Spencer's words immediately, and he reached out for Spencer
But Spencer sighed. "Tomorrow," he said. He leaned in close once more. "But you can think of me tonight--when you take care of yourself."
"Spencer," Brendon whimpered, but Spencer was already gone. Brendon cursed him.
He waited a few minutes before following Spencer upstairs, convincing his legs to carry him. His room was blessedly cold and Brendon immediately stepped out of his clothes, all thoughts of studying forgotten. He hadn't lied to Spencer--he really was very close already, just from kissing and the promise of more.
When he lay down, he decided to make it last, though. He leisurely stroked himself, pressing down on the base to make himself less desperate.
Brendon remembered Spencer touching himself and he couldn't withstand the temptation of copying him. Maybe Spencer was doing the exact same thing right now. An early night didn't mean that he couldn't relieve himself. His slacks had been as tented as Brendon's--Spencer would need some relief.
Brendon shuddered, his entire body shaking as he wet his finger. When he rubbed over his nipple, he couldn't stifle a gasp, but then he didn't have to--no one would hear him.
"Spencer," Brendon breathed, imagining that Spencer was leaning over him. It was Spencer's hand trailing down Brendon's belly to curl around Brendon's cock, stroking him just this side of rough, his fingers rubbing and twisting and pinching Brendon's nipple.
Brendon whimpered, throwing his head from side to side. His toes were curling up and it took all his resolve not to come right now. But then he brushed his thumb over the head of his cock on his down stroke and no amount of holding on kept him from coming. He gasped with every spurt of thick white liquid that hit his skin.
His mind was a blissful blank and his muscles were heavy, his arms and legs like lead, deeply relaxed. But it only held on for a few moments--it would have been better with Spencer, Brendon thought, and he wished that Spencer had been here. He sighed loudly before he started to clean himself and pulled on his night clothes. He collapsed into bed and was asleep in seconds.
The next morning, Spencer was gone before Brendon even got up. Brendon was full of anticipation of the evening--tomorrow Spencer had said and Brendon intended to keep him to his promise. For the time being, the servants had started on the ballroom and they needed his supervision.
"Please be careful with the chandelier," Brendon told Johnson, eyeing the huge contraption made of crystal cautiously. "I don't want anyone to get hurt."
"We will treat it with utmost care, Mr Brendon," Johnson said.
Brendon squinted at him. There had definitely been an amused note in Johnson's voice. "And please clean the floor."
"Very well, Mr Brendon," Johnson said.
Anna and Virginia were just down shaking out the curtains, and they were standing in the corner giggling. Brendon crept closer, curious what was so funny.
"I wonder whether anyone will be dancing here," Anna said and sighed. "This room is so beautiful."
Brendon grinned. "Of course there'll be dancing," he said and reached for Anna's hand. She squeaked as he pulled her close and led her across the room in wide circles.
"Mr Brendon," she said under laughter, "this is improper."
Brendon titled his head. "I do not care about that," he said and he deposited Anna next to Virginia again. The girls both giggled again. "And now back to your cleaning." He winked at them.
Dancing left Brendon in a good mood. He was starting to see a difference in the house--it seemed more open now that the rooms were consistently aired and doors were opened. The carpets needed cleaning much more often now, which Brendon felt sorry about, but the carpets also looked much better now.
Cleaning the ballroom filled everyone in the house with a sense of anticipation. Brendon realised that now they were now expecting a ball to follow up on all their hard work. Brendon hoped he could fulfil their hopes. His parents had mentioned that the Rosses might want to give a ball to introduce Brendon into society. Ryan had seemed enthusiastic about the idea, so Brendon hoped that meant that they were planning a ball.
When supper time came, Spencer still wasn't home, so Brendon went ahead and had supper by himself. It was unsatisfying, though. Brendon was itching to tell Spencer about the ballroom and how the chandelier sparkled and how his shoes were squeaking on the floor. And he longed for more kisses, to have Spencer in his arms.
Brendon decided to read in the sitting room, as he waited for Spencer. He managed to read another two chapters and write down questions, when he heard a carriage arrive.
"Good evening, Brendon." Spencer stood in the doorframe holding his top hat. He was a bit pale, but smiling.
"I'll have Anna bring you some food," Brendon said. "Just a moment."
"Don't hurry on my account," Spencer said. "Another few minutes won't matter at this point."
Brendon tsked. "You need proper sustenance, if you're to keep up working so ridiculously much," he said. "I'll be just a moment."
Despite his assurances that he could wait, Spencer ate with fervour. "I'm afraid I had to skip lunch."
Brendon glared at him. "But you have to eat," he said. "I will have Cook prepare some sandwiches for you tomorrow."
"How do you know I won't forget them to eat them, even if they're lying on my desk?"
Brendon was about to launch into a tirade about how Spencer had to learn how to take care of himself properly, when he saw the twinkle in Spencer's eyes and his smile. "You're teasing me. That isn't nice."
Spencer laughed. "But you were so serious." He put down his fork and reached for Brendon's hand. "I appreciate you being concerned. And I would love some sandwiches."
"Just don't give all of them to the clerks," Brendon said. "Oh, maybe Cook can prepare a few more?"
"She surely will," Spencer said. "But please tell me--did anything exciting happen today?"
"Today we started in the ballroom," Brendon said proudly.
"Ryan will be pleased to hear that," Spencer said. "He's been annoying his father with his constant questions about when we will have the ball he's been promised."
"I'm afraid we're not done yet."
Spencer nodded. "I didn't expect you to be," he said. "That room must have been unused for at least ten years. Ryan's mother had enjoyed balls a lot, but Margaret, George's second wife, had been a bit of a recluse."
"I see." Brendon kept telling Spencer more tales, while Spencer ate.
As they sat down on the sofa, Brendon felt he was going to shake apart from anticipation. But Spencer looked so tired that Brendon didn't want to pressure him. So he just sat down next to Spencer, put his hand Spencer's arm and leaned against him.
"Did the business do well today?"
Spencer sighed. "Yes and no," he said. "George keeps procuring more shipments for us, especially of rare wares, which is good, because we manage to sell them with some profit. But we are also running out of space in our warehouses."
Brendon frowned. "But I thought we owned so many it didn't matter?"
"It didn't until George decided to buy a huge stock of coals," Spencer said. "These haven't been selling well, and they take up a lot of space, while at the same time it's nearly impossible to store anything else in the same place."
He sighed again. "George wants to keep the coals until we can get a certain profit margin," he said, "which is nearly impossible at this time of year. In winter, the prices will rise sufficiently, but in the meantime, we're in a predicament."
"So we need more space," Brendon said. "Is that difficult to solve?"
Spencer shrugged. "Not terribly," he said. "But we haven't been able to agree on an approach yet."
"There are different ones?" He propped his chin up on Spencer's shoulder.
Spencer laughed. "Yes. See, our fund for buying new warehouses does not contain enough money to buy one in the size we'd like. Ryan doesn't care much about figures like net income and interest, so he's in favour of getting a loan from the bank, just to resolve this quickly."
"But you don't agree with this?"
"No," Spencer said. "I think if we wait just one year more, we'll have raised the fund enough to buy the warehouse interest-free. But it would mean waiting and having to shuffle shipments awkwardly between one place and another."
"Couldn't you rent a warehouse?" Brendon asked. "I'm sorry, if it's a stupid question, but I thought--"
"No, no, it's an excellent question," Spencer said and he sat up straight. "I'm afraid I've been so occupied with keeping stock that I didn't even consider that possibility." He gave Brendon a brilliant smile. "So how have your studies been going?"
Brendon blushed. "Not as fast as I would like," he admitted.
"I think you're doing well," Spencer said softly. "Please tell me more."
"I--actually, I do have some questions," Brendon said. "I mean, you've had a long day and--we had other plans--"
Spencer started to laugh loudly. "You are more similar to Ryan than you realise," he said. "But go on, tell me your questions." He leaned in close. "If we start the other thing first, I'll never answer your questions."
For a moment Brendon couldn't understand why that was a bad thing, but then Spencer gently pushed at him.
"I'll get my questions," Brendon said.
Spencer was a good teacher. "I'm sorry that I couldn't understand it on my own," Brendon said, after Spencer had managed to clear up his confusion about net and gross prices with two sentences.
"Don't be," Spencer said. "It can be difficult to understand sometimes."
Brendon ducked his head. Spencer's praise made him feel self-conscious. "I wish I already knew more," he said. He still thought he should have figured out the difference on his own.
"It seems to be like you're learning fast," Spencer said.
Brendon smiled. "I'm progressing more slowly than I'd like."
Spencer laughed. "You're still faster than some of our apprentices," he said. "Oh! Would you like to accompany to the office next week?"
Brendon blinked. "I would love to," he said. "I don't think I'll be much help yet, though."
"Very well," Spencer said. "On Monday I'll have to check the inventory, which I would love your help with. It's not terribly difficult, most of it is just busywork."
Brendon's smile grew bigger. "It sounds like you're trying to ease me into the business slowly," he said. "I hardly think that it's your task to do the inventory."
Spencer leaned over and gently held Brendon's hand. "Would you mind?" he asked seriously.
"No, no, I would enjoy working with you," Brendon said. "I just don't want to be a burden and slow you down."
"Brendon, if you can take any work off my hands next week, that would make my life much easier," Spencer said. "Ryan is good at building contacts, but he doesn't have a mind for the everyday things." Spencer smiled. "The way you are taking care of the house proves that you do, however."
"It's not much," Brendon hurried to say. "It's just a bit of cleaning."
"Don't sell yourself short," Spencer said. "You are changing things, and that's good."
Brendon busied himself with his books to hide the way he was blushing. He felt Spencer was praising him too much.
"Brendon," Spencer said.
"Is it kissing time yet?"
Spencer chuckled. "Maybe," he said.
"Tease," Brendon accused him. But then he felt Spencer's lips on his own and time seemed to stop.
Spencer put his hand on Brendon's cheek, stroking his fingers over the sensitive skin of Brendon's neck, and Brendon shivered.
"All right?" Spencer asked.
"Don't stop," Brendon said. He felt like he was floating.
Their kisses were slowly progressing from chaste to something more. Brendon sighed when they broke for air. Spencer broke the atmosphere by yawning.
Brendon huffed, mock-affronted. "Am I that bad?"
"I'm sorry," Spencer said. "I'm really terribly sorry, it's just--" He yawned again.
"It's been a long day," Brendon said.
Spencer kissed him softly. "You won't mind? Waiting another day?"
"I've waited so long," Brendon said. "One more day won't kill me."
Spencer ran his thumb over Brendon's lips. Brendon had to shiver again. "Tomorrow then."
"I've heard you say that before."
Spencer laughed. "I'm not going to the office tomorrow," he said. "I promise to be well rested and up for all sorts of mischief."
"I'll see you in the morning then," Brendon said. "Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed."
"You will," Spencer said. "Good night."
"Good night," Brendon breathed against Spencer's lip. One last goodnight kiss, he thought. It turned into five before Spencer finally left.
"So," Spencer asked, "am I allowed to see what wonders you achieved in the ballroom?"
"Of course," Brendon said over his eggs. "Anna told me that they are done with all the tapestries; we can go and take a look."
Brendon was oddly nervous as he led Spencer through the hallways. "I still don't know what most of these rooms contain," he admitted. "When I found out about the ballroom, I decided to have it cleaned first."
Spencer laughed. "Brendon, I don't expect you to overhaul the entire mansion in a matter of days," he said.
"Just--don't expect too much," Brendon said. "We haven't decorated yet." He opened the side door to the ballroom--Johnson had said that it was the servants' entrance--and the room opened to a large set of wing doors on the other side.
Spencer stepped into the room quietly and turned once around himself. "This is amazing," he said.
Brendon looked around and tried to see the room with new eyes. He still clearly remembered how the room had looked last week. The cobwebs and the dust were gone, the tapestries' colours shone clearly and the crystal of the chandelier twinkled in the bright sunlight. Then he had to laugh. "I am in love with this room," he said. "I can't wait to see it filled with people, dancing and laughing."
"I can help with at least part of it," Spencer said suddenly, and he reached for Brendon and pulled him close.
"Spencer, what?" Brendon started laughing, when Spencer launched into the familiar steps of their wedding dance.
"See, there are people dancing and laughing now," Spencer said, laughing himself. "Now we just need a few more."
Their laughter drew the curiosity of some servants. Brendon felt self-conscious when Johnson entered, but they were the masters of the house and if they decided to dance in the middle of the day, that was just their business.
Spencer brought them to a stop in the middle of the floor. "This room is beautiful," he said.
"It was beautiful before," Brendon said. "I just awakened it from its deep sleep."
"That you did," Spencer said.
Brendon sighed. "All it's missing is a piano," he said. "My mother used to tell me stories from her youth and--there should be a piano." He remembered her tales and how he had often imagined himself as the pianist in these stories--able to observe the dance floor, providing the beautiful music that made other people rejoice. His fingers ached with the need to play.
"Oh, haven't you found the music room yet?"
Brendon blinked. "We have a music room?" He couldn't keep his hope out of his voice. His heart was beating in his throat, making it difficult to breathe.
Spencer laughed. "Follow me," he said. He took Brendon's hand and led him out of the room.
"The room hasn't been used in years," Spencer said, "but I don't think that George has gotten rid of any of the instruments."
"Why would he?" Brendon asked curiously. He couldn't imagine any reason why someone would dispose of something as great as an instrument.
"It was Maggie who loved music," Spencer said. "And her death was devastating to George, especially as she only died months after Ryan's mother."
"Oh," Brendon said.
"Here we are," Spencer said. "These used to be all Maggie's rooms, and it only made sense to have the music room here, since she was the only one who played regularly."
When Spencer opened the door, Brendon was prepared for a perhaps an upright. He hadn't expected the music room to contain a grand piano.
"This is beautiful," Brendon said. He directly went to the piano and opened the cover with shaking hands. The keys were dusty, and when Brendon pressed one, the tone was off-key. But it was a piano, big and majestic, and it was right there for Brendon to use. It felt like a dream--he couldn't believe that he was this lucky.
"We must have it tuned," Spencer said. He stepped up to stand directly behind Brendon. "I don't think anyone has used it in at least ten years."
Brendon's throat was dry, as he let his fingers slide over the keys. A piano, he thought. A piano just for him. "Ryan doesn't play?"
"No," Spencer said. "His mother insisted he take lessons, but after her and Maggie's death--George isn't interested in music."
"It's a shame," Brendon said. "It's a wonderful instrument."
Although it was completely out of tune, Brendon couldn't keep himself from playing a quick song.
"You are very good," Spencer said.
Brendon didn't realise he'd started shaking until Spencer wrapped his arms around him. "Brendon, what is going on?"
Brendon turned around inside Spencer's arm and hugged Spencer tightly. "Thank you," he said fervently.
"What are you thanking me for?"
"Showing me this room," Brendon said. "Being you."
Spencer smiled. "I take it you like it here."
Brendon laughed. He laughed until he sobbed, and he pressed his face against Spencer's shoulder. "I love music," he said quietly, broken by hiccups. "The piano--I--"
"Why didn't you say anything?" Spencer kisses his temple. "It's been here all along."
"I didn't know--" Brendon shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he said. He couldn't tell Spencer about losing "his" piano yet. He didn't have any words to put his grief and loss into words, when it had been "only" an instrument in his parents' eyes. The fact that he now had access to a piano again--and that it didn't occur to him to ask for one, they surely could even afford to buy a new one, but Brendon hadn't even considered it, hadn't wanted to be hurt like that again. "It doesn't matter why I didn't tell you," he said.
Spencer opened his mouth, but Brendon put his finger on his lips and shook his head again. "Please," he said. "It's--it's all right now." He smiled, as easily and freely as he hadn't in months. "Thank you for showing me this room," he said. "I might never leave it again."
Spencer laughed. "But we would miss you a lot," he said. He leaned in and kissed Brendon softly, at first, just a gentle press of their lips. Brendon sighed.
"Everything all right?" Spencer whispered. His breath ghosted over Brendon's skin and Brendon shivered.
"I've waited for so long," Brendon said, his voice shaky. "Don't make me wait even longer."
Spencer smiled. "No. I have some time to make up for," he said. He licked over his lips, and this time his lips were moist and glided over Brendon's. Brendon whimpered when Spencer gently bit down on his lips. He could feel Spencer's grin against his face.
Brendon opened his mouth willingly when Spencer pushed his tongue against Brendon's lips. It made Brendon long for more, and he pulled Spencer in closer, grabbing Spencer's clothes tightly.
Kissing Spencer felt amazing. He was grateful that Spencer was holding him up.
Brendon didn't know how long they had been standing there at the piano, exchanging kisses, when a discreet cough made me pull apart.
Johnson was standing in the door. "It is lunchtime, masters," he said. "Cook asks when it should be served."
Spencer stood upright and he managed to nod. "Thank you, we'll be coming to the dining room at once."
"Very well, Mr Spencer."
Brendon was still breathless, and his lips were swollen. His knees were so weak, he could hardly keep himself upright. When he reached for hold, he put his hand on the piano keys--the jarring crescendo of untuned tones made them both jump.
"Oh god," Brendon said. His voice came out unsteady, and he wondered for a moment how Spencer could seem so calm. Brendon felt he was coming apart at the seams.
Spencer grinned. "Are you in the mood for food?"
Brendon shook his head. "No, you know what I want," he said.
"You can have it later," Spencer said. He kissed Brendon's temple. "But now we must eat lunch."
"I don't feel like I can eat right now," Brendon said. His stomach was in jumbles, and he was light-headed. Food was the least of his concerns.
Cook had prepared Brendon's favourite stew, though, and he felt it would be insulting if he didn't eat anything at all. It was difficult to concentrate, though, when Spencer was sitting right across of him. He was very distracting, with his hair falling into his face and broad shoulders. Brendon thought no one could hold him at fault for not paying too much attention to his food.
Additionally, Spencer wanted to make conversation. Brendon figured that Spencer wanted to drive him mad. His choice of topics certainly did.
"Do you want to study some more from your books this afternoon?" Spencer asked.
"I--What?" Brendon looked up, staring at Spencer incredulously . "Study? I thought we were going to, you know."
Spencer grinned. "It's only early afternoon," he said.
"I don't care," Brendon said.
Spencer laughed. Brendon would appreciate it more, if he didn't think that Spencer was partly laughing about it, rather than at him. "Don't be too impatient," he said. "My point from last night still stands--I want to take my time with you."
"We'd have all day," Brendon offered. "And all night."
"I--" Spencer started, but then Cook came in.
"Was the meal to your satisfaction, masters?"
"Yes," Spencer said. "It was delicious."
Brendon just nodded. "Delicious," he repeated. "Yes."
Cook gave them a look. "I assume you'll take your tea at the usual time?"
"We will," Spencer replied before Brendon could react. "Thank you."
"Spencer," Brendon said after Cook had left. "Tea?"
Spencer grinned. "To build anticipation," he said. "Also you love her scones."
"Scones aren't you," Brendon said.
"I'd sure hope not." Spencer got up. "I have to reply to a letter of a business contact--normally Ryan takes care of it, but this one is quite important and we cannot afford to let it linger."
"Oh," Brendon said softly. He had almost forgotten about Ryan, and shame and guilt immediately set in. He poked at the remainder of his food.
"Do you think we should?" he asked. "Without Ryan?"
Spencer sat down again. "Of course, we can wait for him," he said. "But--maybe this way it'll be easier for you."
"Do I need to remind you that I'm not entirely innocent?"
Spencer smiled. "I know," he said. "But I think tumbles in the hay with a farm boy are different from being with your husband. Or husbands, as it were."
"I wish to not give him any more reason to be mad at me," Brendon said softly. "Wouldn't he be--" Brendon found it impossible to say jealous.
Spencer sighed. "I should admit that Ryan and I have talked about the matter and--no, he won't be whatever you're afraid of. He won't mind."
"I see," Brendon said. "But not until tonight?"
Spencer shook his head and grinned. "Not until tonight."
Brendon had problems focusing that afternoon. The letters on the page blurred and Brendon ended up staring at the same page for long minutes. He envied Spencer who seemed to fare much better. Perhaps it was, Brendon mused, because Spencer had already been with Ryan before--he knew what to expect, whereas Brendon was too exhilarated that it was happening now to think about anything else.
Spencer was sitting at the other desk, writing his letters. Brendon peeked at him every now and then, under the pretence of checking his notes, but he should have known he wasn't going to fool Spencer.
Brendon startled when Spencer suddenly laughed. "You are the most obvious person," he said.
"I'm sorry," Brendon said. He didn't sound very apologetic, though.
Spencer stood up, still laughing. "I don't believe you," he said. "But it's a nice change--refreshingly different to what I'm used to."
Brendon leaned back in his chair. "What are you used to?" he asked.
"Ryan," Spencer said dryly. "But please don't try and copy him."
Brendon giggled nervously, as Spencer came closer and finally stood behind Brendon's chair, his hands on Brendon's shoulders. "What is he like?" he asked.
"You'll see soon enough," Spencer said. "Right now I don't want to talk about Ryan, though; I want to kiss you."
Brendon laughed. In his rush to get up, he shoved his chair into Spencer, almost knocking him over. "Sorry! I'm so sorry!"
Then it was Spencer's turn to laugh, and he pulled on Brendon's arm. "Don't say it so often," he said, "or one day I will have to believe you."
"Then keep me from talking," Brendon said. Spencer did.
Brendon pushed up against Spencer, pressing their mouths together hard, desperate for touch. Spencer's hand in his hair, on his back, was grounding him, and Brendon let Spencer take the lead. It was easy to lose himself in their kisses.
He could feel Spencer hard against his thigh and it was an exhilarating feeling.
It was stupid to stand in their sitting room, kissing, but Brendon was incapable of moving. He knew they should go to one of their rooms, but he couldn't keep his hands away from Spencer. "I don't want to let go of you," Brendon whispered.
"You don't have to," Spencer said against Brendon's skin. He was kissing Brendon's jawline and gently bit down on his earlobe.
Brendon gasped and pushed his face against Spencer's neck. "Please," he said. "Upstairs, a room, we should--"
Spencer pulled away and pressed a kiss on Brendon's nose tip. It seemed so innocent compared to the deep kisses they'd exchanged that Brendon giggled.
"Supper is served," Johnson announced.
Brendon sighed loudly and put his head on Spencer's shoulder. He felt there was a conspiracy at work here, with the goal to make Brendon expire from sheer frustration.
"See, this is why we usually do this at night," Spencer said dryly. "Nobody calls us for supper."
"A very reasonable thing," Brendon agreed. "We could skip the meal?"
Johnson cleared his throat.
"No, we're going to eat," Spencer said. He whispered into Brendon's ear, "Nourishment." Brendon shivered. It took a moment for him to remember how to move his legs before he could step into the dining room.
Supper was just as difficult to eat as lunch. "But we are going upstairs the second we finish, aren't we?" Brendon asked.
Spencer chuckled. "Yes, we are. I wouldn't want to make you wait any longer."
"Oh, finally he shows compassion," Brendon said.
Spencer just grinned at him in response.
Although Brendon was full of anticipation, when Spencer finally took his hand and led him upstairs, he walked on unsteady, shaking legs.
"We can just kiss," Spencer said once they were inside his room. "There's no need to do anything besides."
"But I want to," Brendon said quietly. "I'm just."
Spencer smiled and ran his hands through Brendon's hair. "Just relax," he said.
To Brendon's growing frustration, Spencer kept it just to kissing in the beginning. He was jittering and clung tightly to Spencer.
"Relax," Spencer whispered.
"I can't," Brendon whined.
Spencer laughed against Brendon's neck. "Come with me."
Spencer walked backwards, tugging on Brendon's hands. He sat down on his bed and pulled Brendon on his lap. Brendon took a startled breath.
"Breathe," Spencer said. He ran his hands up and down Brendon's back. The repetitive motion was comforting. Brendon wrapped his arms around Spencer and hid his face in Spencer's neck.
"I'm sorry," Brendon said. "I shouldn't be so nervous." He was afraid that Spencer had been right--this didn't feel anything like his afternoons with Tom. Tom had made heat pool in Brendon's belly, but he hadn't ever made Brendon feel so desperate and shaking with need.
Spencer kissed Brendon's temple again. He was switching between these gentle, sweet gestures and the hot, searing touches that made Brendon tremble.
"It's all right," Spencer said. "Let's take this slow."
Brendon sighed, then he squeaked when Spencer rolled them over and Brendon landed flat on his back. Spencer propped himself up on his elbows. "All right?"
Brendon nodded. He put his hands on Spencer's neck and pulled him down. They kissed until their lips were red and swollen.
"Let me," Spencer said, as he very slowly opened the top bottoms of Brendon's shirt.
Brendon's breathing became faster and he gasped when Spencer gently bit into the junction of his neck and shoulder. "Spencer!"
"Do you like that?" Spencer licked over the spot.
"Yes, yes," Brendon said. He reached up with shaking hands to work on Spencer's shirt, and it took him a few tries to open the first button. He cursed the small buttons. At least Tom's simple shirts hadn't ever given him this much trouble.
"Relax," Spencer said. He kissed Brendon again, slow and gentle. Brendon held on tightly until his heartbeat slowed down.
"I wish Ryan were here," Brendon said when they broke for air.
"Me too," Spencer said. "But soon." He was carefully opening Brendon's shirt. His hand was steady as he pulled on the buttons, and Brendon envied him for it.
Although it was just his shirt, Brendon felt exposed. He concentrated on getting rid of Spencer's shirt, but he needed both hands and had to press them regularly against Spencer's chest to get them steady.
Spencer tried to lean down and kiss Brendon's chest, but Brendon pushed him back up. "Let me first," he said and tugged on Spencer's shirt.
Spencer pushed himself up onto his side so that Brendon could easily reach the bottom buttons.
"Now we're even," Brendon said.
Spencer laughed. "Then allow me to kiss you now."
Spencer carefully kissed Brendon, before he moved downwards, littering kisses all over Brendon's skin. When his mouth closed around Brendon's nipple, Brendon gasped and buried his hands in Brendon's hair.
Spencer sucked on it hard, which sent Brendon whimpering and thrashing. "Spencer," he moaned. "Spencer, I--"
Spencer reached down and put his hand on Brendon's crotch. Just that little pressure was too much and Brendon felt--overwhelmed. He managed to gasp out another, "Spencer," before he started to shake all over and then his orgasm overran him. Brendon was a bit disappointed that he'd come so early, but it was difficult to be cross with himself when all he felt was a satisfied warmth.
Spencer chuckled. "I'm afraid I made you wait too long."
"Hmm," Brendon said.
"Just--succumb," Spencer said. "Go to sleep." It was easy to listen to him, to not fight any longer and let his body do whatever. Brendon felt like all his bones had melted and he couldn't keep his eyes open for longer than seconds.
When he blinked them open the next time, Spencer was leaning over him, drawing patterns on Brendon's skin. He smiled when he saw Brendon open his eyes. "Hi there,"
"Hi," Brendon croaked. He blinked and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. "Was I asleep for long?"
"A few minutes," Spencer said. "Acceptable, I think."
Brendon snorted. "You mean embarrassing."
Spencer laughed. "It was incredible to watch," he said.
"I'm sorry for falling asleep on you," Brendon said. "But now let me--" He reached for Spencer's pants, but realised they were already open--and Spencer wasn't hard anymore.
"Oh," Brendon said quietly.
Spencer leaned in for a kiss. "I said, it was incredible," he said. "The way you looked was--very enjoyable, I must say."
"But I wanted to," Brendon said and then he found himself pouting.
Spencer laughed and he brushed a kiss on Brendon's mouth. "We can do a repeat performance in a few minutes."
"I hope so, I want to do that again," Brendon said. He let his eyes fall closed to Spencer's laughter and his we will. But a nap, he thought, a nap would be good right now.
The next morning Brendon woke up feeling hot, but comfortable. He tried to turn over, but he was stopped by Spencer, who had curled around Brendon.
"Morning," Spencer said.
"Good morning." Brendon turned around inside Spencer's arms. Spencer looked at him with sleepy eyes, his hair wild, but he was smiling. Brendon felt he could get used to those smiles. "Do you have any objections to early morning kisses?"
Spencer grinned. "No, I don't." He turned on his back and pulled Brendon on top of him. They kissed for a few long minutes, until Brendon was jittery again.
A knock on the door interrupted them. Spencer groaned. "What is it?"
The door was opened a crack. "Mr Spencer, it is time to get up," Johnson said.
"Thank you," Spencer said. "I will be down in a few minutes." Brendon muffled his groan against the pillow. Foiled again, he thought. Everyone was conspiring to keep Brendon desperate--the previous night had but taken the edge off the worst of it, but being so close to Spencer and having to let go now was like torture.
"I will see to it that breakfast is prepared." Johnson closed the door again.
"No, please don't go," Brendon said. He kissed Spencer again. "Please?"
Spencer sighed. "I don't want to," he said, "but I must." He kissed Brendon softly. "Tonight?"
Brendon rolled off him, sighing loudly. "Tonight."
Spencer kissed him one more time.
"You're going to be late," Brendon said softly.
"I know." Spencer pressed his face into Brendon's hair. "Stay in bed a bit longer," he said. "It'll make leaving easier for me."
Brendon nodded and sighed, pretended to be miserable. "I think that means I now have to ... take matters into my own hands."
Spencer whimpered. "You are evil," he said.
Brendon grinned. "You still are in bed with me," he said.
"Evil, evil, evil," Spencer said. He pressed one more kiss against Brendon's temple and rolled out of bed. "Think of me today," he said. "I'll be looking forward to tonight.
Brendon waited until Spencer had left the room. Although he was disappointed to see Spencer leave, Brendon didn't want to be overly cruel to Spencer. He closed his eyes and slowly wrapped his hand around himself.
It felt good, although Brendon wished that it was Spencer touching him, Spencer's long fingers around his cock. It was easy to imagine him being there, lying in Spencer's bed and smelling Spencer all around him.
Since it was still early, Brendon thought he could take his time. He teased himself, slowing down every time he felt close to coming. By the time he couldn't hold on any longer, he was bathed in sweat, twitching and shuddering with every touch. When he came, he sighed--part relief, part disappointment.
The day passed excruciatingly slowly. Brendon just wanted Spencer to come back home to him, so that they could continue to ... further their relationship.
Brendon had someone call for a piano tuner to fix the piano, which didn't help his impatience.
"Why aren't they here yet?"
"They said 11 o'clock, sir," Johnson said.
Brendon suspected that Cook had a hand in Virginia coming by every few minutes with something else to keep Brendon busy. He didn't know whether to be thankful or annoyed, at first, but he settled on gratitude. Brendon found it difficult to focus enough to think of things to do on his own. Having the servants require his attention and guidance helped, though.
"Mr Brendon, the piano tuner is here," Johnson said.
"Thank you," Brendon said. "Finally."
It was a delight to watch the man work. With each key that sounded in tune again, Brendon became more agitated. He felt like he was coming back to life again.
"See, sir, now she's singing properly again," the man said.
"Good work," Brendon said as he experimentally played the first song that came into his mind. "It sounds wonderful."
"Aye, she's a beauty," the man said. "Tragedy to let her get into that state. Not to be too forward, sir."
"I know," Brendon said softly. "I thank you for coming out this quickly."
"It was my pleasure."
Brendon could only play for a short while until Anna called him for supper. "Is Spencer home yet?"
"I'm sorry, Mr Brendon," Anna said. "I haven't seen him yet."
Eating supper alone seemed even more lonely now. He poked at his food more than he ate, and Cook clucked her tongue when she came in to talk to him about the next day.
"You must eat, Master Brendon," she said.
"I will eat later with Spencer," Brendon said. "I enjoy eating in company more."
Cook didn't seem convinced. She looked at Brendon until Brendon had cleaned off his plate, only then she started with her list of things they needed to buy.
"How did you manage before?" Brendon asked as he signed off every item. "Did you have to ask Ryan or George?"
"No, I just went ahead and bought what I needed," Cook said. "Neither of them care much for what it takes to run a house."
"You should keep doing it like that," Brendon said. "You mustn't ask me for permission every time you need flour."
"Master Brendon," Cook said. "It is not proper, and you do know how to run a house."
Brendon sighed. "Well, if you think it must be..."
"It must," Cook said. "I shall send Anna to take care of those errands first thing tomorrow."
Brendon nodded. "As you will."
Spencer came home late. Brendon had read an entire chapter of the book Spencer had recommended him to clear up his confusion about the import/export business, when he finally heard Spencer come into the dining room.
"Good evening," Brendon said softly.
Spencer smiled at him. He moved slowly and he sounded exhausted. "Good evening." Nevertheless, he enveloped Brendon in a hug and kissed him.
Brendon melted against him. "I've been waiting for you all day."
Spencer laughed quietly. "Just let me eat dinner first, all right?"
Brendon sighed. "I will eat with you," he said.
Cook brought out the food herself. "Someone needs to make sure you are eating right," she said. "You need to keep up your strength."
Although Brendon was sure that Cook wasn't referring to their nightly activities, he still couldn't keep from blushing.
"Thank you, Cook, for taking such good care of us," Spencer said. "We'll be taking an early night to get all the rest we need."
"All right, sirs," Cook said. Brendon didn't imagine the wink she threw at Spencer.
"She knows," Brendon whimpered, after Cook had left the room.
Spencer laughed. "She's known about Ryan and me since the very first moment," he said. "Someone had to change his sheets, after all."
Brendon hid his face in his hands. "Please don't tell me any more," he said, "or I won't be able to look the servants into the face anymore."
"As you wish," Spencer said.
As soon as Spencer was done eating, Brendon got up. "Can we go upstairs now?" he said, already reaching for Spencer's hand.
Spencer smiled and let Brendon pull him onto his feet. "Of course," he said.
Brendon managed to keep his hands to himself until they were in Spencer's room, which he considered to be a sign of huge restraint. As soon as the door closed behind them, however, he started unbuttoning Spencer's shirt immediately.
"No kissing?" Spencer sounded amused. "I thought you liked it."
"I do," Brendon said. "But I want to be, I want to see you naked."
"Still so impatient," Spencer said. He pushed Brendon's hair behind his ears and let his hands rest at the base of Brendon's head. "I like that."
"Hmm," Brendon said as he pulled Spencer's shirt out of his trousers. "There, all done."
Spencer tipped Brendon's chin up and kissed him soundly. Brendon clutched Spencer's hips tightly and pushed hard against Spencer.
"We need to get out of these," Spencer said and he tugged on Brendon's pants.
Brendon held his breath as Spencer carefully and slowly opened the fastenings. He closed his eyes as Spencer let them fall down. They slipped easily over Brendon's thighs and Brendon felt almost giddy as he stood in front of his husband half-dressed.
"Let's get into bed," Spencer said softly and he pressed a kiss against Brendon's cheek.
"Finally," Brendon said.
Now that they were in bed, the urgency left Brendon, and he was content just kissing and touching Spencer. The previous day, he'd been too caught up in that it was finally happening to properly appreciate Spencer. In this moment, Brendon used the opportunity to learn Spencer's body, just as Spencer was exploring Brendon's.
"That tickles," Brendon said when Spencer ran his fingers feather-light over his ribs.
Spencer just hummed and closed his lips around Brendon's nipple, gently sucking on it.
"God, Spencer, please," Brendon asked, although he was only half-sure of what he was asking for. He wanted everything at once and he didn't care what he got first. "Please."
Spencer tsked. "So eager," he said and pressed a kiss against Brendon's clavicle. "Your skin tastes so good," he mumbled.
"Please," Brendon repeated. "Spencer, I need--"
Spencer rolled on top of Brendon. The moment their groins touched, Brendon groaned loudly and he automatically parted his legs to accommodate Spencer. It felt perfect.
"Like this?" Brendon asked. "I thought we were going to wait for Ryan."
"We are," Spencer said. "That is something to be shared between the three of us. But that's not what I have in mind." He moved his hips in small circles, and each brush of their skin was accompanied by Brendon's moans.
"Yes," Brendon groaned. "Yes, this is all right, god, don't stop."
Spencer laughed and leaned down for a kiss. "I wasn't planning on doing that."
It was good, their cocks rubbing against each other. Brendon pushed up hard against Spencer, pulling him down, wanting more pressure, more touch, just moremoremore. It was good, but it just wasn't enough.
"Wait," Brendon choked and he pushed his hand against Spencer's chest. "Hold on for a moment."
"Brendon?" Spencer asked, but then he groaned, as Brendon reached down between their bodies and wrapped his hand around both their cocks.
"Better now," Brendon whispered and Spencer kissed him roughly, biting as his lips, as he rolled his hips faster and harder than before. Now that Brendon could control the pressure better, he gasped and shuddered with each movement.
"You're a genius," Spencer said against Brendon's skin, licking at his shoulder. "You're a fucking genius."
Brendon laughed, short guffaws, half out-of-breath. "Not quite yet," he said.
It seemed like only a matter of seconds before Spencer came--first, Brendon noted with just a hint of smugness, and Brendon followed close behind.
Spencer collapsed on top of Brendon afterwards, his weight almost enough to keep Brendon from breathing, but just almost. Brendon curled his arms and legs around Spencer and held him close. He wanted to crawl inside Spencer and stay there, be connected to him always.
"That was wonderful," Brendon managed between gulping in breaths. "Thank you."
Spencer chuckled. "You're welcome," he said and pressed a kiss against Brendon's nose tip.
"Would you like to accompany me to the office today?" Spencer asked the next morning.
Brendon looked up at Spencer. "Of course," he said. "If I won't be too much of a bother."
Spencer laughed. "I've told you before--you never are. But I would like to show you the work. It's surprisingly quiet at the moment, and I would be able to answer any of your questions."
"Then I would love to," Brendon said. The servants were busy enough with the additional tasks Brendon had already given them, and he longed to be out of the house. He wished Ginger was already back from the south, but it seemed like her mother's illness was graver than she'd let on. It would be an adventure, he thought. An adventure in book-keeping. "When would you like to leave?"
"Right after breakfast, if it suits you."
Brendon nodded. "I just need to get my coat."
The offices were a bit of a let-down.
"It looks a bit like my old teacher's room," Brendon said, as he studied the desks and shelves.
"Let me guess: it's the books?" Spencer took Brendon's hand. "That is why it's called book-keeping, Brendon."
"I knew that," Brendon said. "I just imagined it to be more--I don't know." He glanced a box.
Spencer laughed. "It's not very glamourous," he said. "Unless you're in a warehouse surrounded by silk or spices, then you feel like the king of the world. But right here we are dealing with numbers."
"And numbers alone," Brendon said. Spencer led him into another room where eight people were already sitting bowed over stacks of paper. They all jumped up when they saw Spencer.
"Clerks, this is my husband, Mr Brendon Ross, né Urie," Spencer said. "He will help Thomas today."
A young man, blond and bespectacled, hurried forward. "Sir, it'll be my pleasure," he said.
"I would like you to show Brendon how to cross-check the inventories," Spencer said. "With the new shipments coming in, we must be sure about how much space we have left in our warehouses."
"Very well, sir." Thomas nodded and bowed deeply.
"I'll be in my office," Spencer said to Brendon. "If there are any problems, please come and get me."
"I will," Brendon said.
Spencer kissed Brendon. "I'll see you this afternoon."
Checking the inventories was easy, but it was mind-numbingly boring. Brendon found it difficult to focus on the long pages filled with numbers. Somehow, in his schoolbooks, it hadn't seemed quite so tedious. He used the chance to chatter with Thomas, who took it in a rather amused way.
"And your wife is expecting another child soon?" Brendon asked as he read tea, 50 boxes and copied it to the master list.
"Yes, next month, if all goes well," Thomas said.
"Do you already--"
"It's time to go home," Spencer said. He was leaning against Brendon's temporary desk. "Unless you're having too much fun to leave?"
"Oh, no, no, I'm ready!" Brendon smiled at Thomas as he got up.
"Were you terribly bored?" Spencer asked, smiling, as he was leading them to the carriage.
"No, it's--it's very interesting work," Brendon said.
Spencer laughed. "You shouldn't lie," he said. "I could see your eyes glazing over."
"I'm sorry," Brendon said. He had expected something different than reading lists all day.
"It's all right," Spencer said.
"You don't mind?" Brendon asked quietly. He felt he had rather disappointed Spencer. All his studying had led to nothing. "I have wasted so much time reading up on business things, I feel like I should be able to be more interested."
"Oh, Brendon," Spencer said. He smiled and kissed Brendon's temple. "You didn't waste your time--you made the effort to understand, and that's already more than enough."
"But don't you need me?"
Spencer laughed. "Not in the office," he said. "Two of us are probably as many bosses our clerks can endure."
Brendon thought of Thomas who had quietly corrected all of Brendon's mistakes ("A hundredweight of pepper?"--"Oh, I'm sorry, it's a pound."). "You might be right," he said.
Good news was waiting for them at home, though.
"Master Brendon, Master Spencer, a letter from Master Ryan has arrived," Johnson said.
Brendon eagerly took the offered envelope. "It's time-stamped two days ago," he said.
"Let's see what he writes," Spencer said.
"Oh! They'll be back in only three days!" Brendon beamed at Spencer. "They managed to discharge the shipment quickly, Ryan writes, and they already found someone to ship it to the city."
"That's great news!" Spencer stood behind Brendon and looked over his shoulder to read Ryan's letter. He put his arms around Brendon, and Brendon reached for Spencer's hand and squeezed it.
"We also have good news for Ryan," Brendon said quietly. "Do you think so?"
Being with Spencer was a delight, but it made Brendon also anxious. Brendon found Ryan still unpredictable.
"I think he'll be glad," Spencer said. He patted the couch next to him until Brendon sat down. He put his head on Spencer's shoulder and let Spencer wrap his arm around Brendon's middle. "Don't worry so much."
"I'm--I'm sorry to be so impatient," Brendon said. "I just wish--"
Spencer kissed Brendon's hair. "I know," he said. "I wish for us to be together, too, but Ryan, he's--" Spencer sighed.
"Why is he so cautious with me?" Brendon asked. "I understand that I hurt him--my reaction in our wedding night was hardly very sophisticated, but weeks have passed and he is still keeping me at a distance."
Spencer took a deep breath. "Before we announced the engagement with you," he said, "Ryan was a heavily contested prize."
"Prize," Brendon said. "Like a trophy?"
"Exactly." Spencer stroked his fingers over Brendon's side. "He's worth a lot of money--many people were interested in him. Ryan's learned to protect himself," he said. "So many have tried to win him over before that these days everyone has to work twice as hard to convince him." He kissed Brendon.
"Don't give up," Brendon said quietly.
"Yes," Spencer said. "Just give him time, please."
"I will," Brendon said. He leaned back against Spencer and enjoyed their intimacy. Spencer, Brendon thought, had much less reason to distrust people. If anything, Ryan might finally teach Brendon patience where all other teachers before him failed.
"Do you really think Ryan will be glad?"
"Yes, I think so." Spencer squeezed Brendon. "Don't think too much about it. Tomorrow he'll come back and you'll ask him yourself."
"I wish he were already home," Brendon said. "The house feels lonely without him."
Spencer laughed. "His letter said tomorrow afternoon."
"Will you be home by then?"
"I'll try to." Spencer kissed Brendon. "Come on, let's go to bed. Sleeping will make the time pass faster."
"That's a lie," Brendon said. "You just say that because you want me to be quiet."
"Maybe I just want you to be in my bed."
"Another possible explanation," Brendon said. He had to break out into a smile when he looked at Spencer, though.
"Please come to bed with me," Spencer said.
"I couldn't possibly say no to that?" Brendon kissed Spencer.
"I'm happy you feel that way." Spencer smiled back at Brendon.
"I just hope that Ryan will feel the same way."
"You worry too much," Spencer said.
Brendon thought that maybe Spencer was right. But Spencer got up and led Brendon to Spencer's bedroom, driving all worries out of his mind, at least for that night.
Brendon got up early the following day. "We still have so much to prepare," he told Cook. "Have they aired Ryan's room?"
"Of course, master," Cook said.
"Ryan said they would arrive in the early afternoon." Brendon looked over his list. "I would like you to prepare these dishes. They should be ready when they arrive."
"They will be."
"And tea," Brendon said. "We will need tea and--"
"Mr Brendon," Cook said. "I've seen both Mr Ryan and Master George come home from business trips before, and they have never lacked for anything they could desire. I know what I have to do."
"It's my first time," Brendon said. "I want everything to be perfect and--"
"Anna is scrubbing the ballroom once more," Cook said. "Virginia is preparing to deal with their laundry. I have prepared almost all of the dishes. Wouldn't you like to go and play some more of that piano of yours?"
"You're being insubordinate," Brendon grumbled. "I just want--"
"Everything to be perfect. Yes, master, and it will be. Trust us."
And just like that she pushed Brendon out of her kitchen. He couldn't be mad at her, though. Ryan coming home made Brendon nervous. He didn't want to give Ryan any cause for grief, but he also remembered Spencer's words and tried to not be too forward and pushy. He found it difficult to find a good middle-ground, as his emotions were raging inside.
Spencer had only sighed at Brendon, kissed the tip of his nose and told him not to worry himself to death. Brendon thought grimly that Spencer could talk--he could be sure of Ryan's affection, but Brendon still had to earn it. Ryan, Brendon had figured out, would not let himself be forced into anything.
Brendon checked the ballroom, but Anna sent him away. "It's not dry yet, master," she said. "You will slip."
"I just wanted to see," Brendon said, but he went away. He looked into Ryan's rooms (clean, bed made, cold from fresh air), the linen closets (just in case they needed fresh linens soon) and the sitting room. He sat at his desk and stared at his books. He was almost done with Spencer's schoolbooks, and now that he'd been to the office, he was less enthusiastic about figuring everything out.
"As long as I can understand what in heaven you're talking about over dinner, I'll be happy," Brendon had said to Spencer, who'd just smiled.
"We didn't desire any more than that from you," he said.
Brendon sighed loudly and leaned back in his chair. Even if he started to read now, he wouldn't comprehend a single word. He gave up and went to the music room. The piano had been properly cleaned and it was Brendon's treasure. He sat down and played the first song that came into his mind.
Playing was both comforting and relaxing. Brendon sat up straight, but the tension in his shoulders released and he could feel himself unclenching. It would be fine, he told himself. Ryan was soon coming home and maybe Brendon wouldn't get answers to his questions right away, but he would get them at some point. As long as Ryan tolerated Brendon in his home and as long as Spencer was still there, Brendon wouldn't give up.
He lost himself in his music, songs written by old, long-dead composers and his creations. When he stopped, he found himself longing for an audience, thought. Music had always been something to be shared--and these days Brendon always thought of Spencer and Ryan when he played.
It was getting late, though, and Brendon didn't want to miss Ryan's arrival. He relocated to the sitting room and started to work on his scores.
He'd discovered a few hand-written scores in a cupboard. "I think those were Mrs Margaret's," Cook had said, when Brendon had showed her. Brendon was trying to learn how to play one that seemed mostly finished, although it made him sad. Whoever Margaret had used to be, she'd had a fine ear for music and her compositions were elegant and beautiful. There had also been a few unfinished ones and those had piqued Brendon's interest.
He also occupied his time writing letters--he was awfully late in replying to his siblings. Still, he looked up every five minutes, listening intently for a carriage to come.
When it did come, Brendon was disappointed to find it was only Spencer coming home.
"I see that I've already been replaced in your affections," Spencer teased him. "Absence doth make the heart grow fonder."
"Oh, don't be joking about that," Brendon protested.
Spencer laughed. "I understand," he said and kissed Brendon. "But you haven't ever welcomed me with such a sad face."
"I'm sorry," Brendon said. "But I'd hoped they would be home by now."
"It's still early," Spencer said. "They will surely come soon."
But the afternoon turned into evening and still no sign.
"It's a difficult trip," Brendon told Spencer, although he hadn't ever been to the harbour city. "Maybe they were held up."
"That is very likely," Spencer said.
Supper time came and went.
"We would like to wait for Ryan," Spencer told Cook. "Please keep the food hot for a bit longer."
And then finally they heard the sounds of a carriage pulling up in front of the mansion. Brendon could hardly keep himself from passing Johnson on the way to the door, but Spencer took his hand and Brendon had to stick with Spencer's sedate pace.
"Good evening!" Brendon smiled at Ryan. He felt the worry and anger fall away--there were certainly perfectly good reasons why Ryan was so late, and right now it was only important that Ryan was here.
"Good evening, Brendon." Ryan smiled, but he was pale and dark rings under his eyes spoke of exhaustion.
"I'm glad you're back home," Brendon said and without thinking he leaned in and hugged Ryan.
At first Ryan went soft and relaxed against Brendon, but then he suddenly turned tense and moved away.
"Welcome home, Ryan," Spencer said softly. He received the same treatment from Ryan and seemed just as confused about it as Brendon was.
"Could Johnson maybe prepare a room for Father?" Ryan didn't look at either of them.
"Of course," Brendon said. "The guest rooms are ready."
"Where is your father?" Spencer asked.
"He's still in the carriage," Ryan said. "I'm sorry we're this late, but he insisted on stopping by the club first. Getting the news, so to speak."
"And a few large brandies, to go with them, I assume," Spencer said. He sounded uncharacteristically angry.
"Spencer, please," Ryan said. "Just--can we just get him into one of the guest rooms?"
"I'll call Johnson," Brendon said, and he left Ryan and Spencer alone in the foyer. He found Johnson in the kitchen, together with Cook. Neither seemed surprised at Ryan's request.
"We've already prepared the blue room," Cook said.
"Oh." Brendon blinked. "This happens sometimes?" Brendon had hardly seen his father-in-law since the wedding--an occasional dinner here and there. He'd seen Spencer's parents at least once a week during his time here, at least until Ginger had to leave, and it did seem odd that George didn't show any interest in how his son was faring. Brendon hadn't ever heard of George staying overnight in their admittedly short time of being married and the servants' ready acceptance and preparedness perplexed Brendon.
"It didn't used to," Cook said, and that was all the information Brendon could get out of her. It didn't help his confusion any.
When Brendon came back into the sitting room, Spencer was hugging Ryan and they were talking in soft voices. They abruptly stopped when Brendon entered the room.
"I think I'll retire now, too," Ryan said. He spoke slowly and didn't look at Brendon.
"It must have been an exhausting trip," Brendon said. He was disappointed that Ryan already left them alone now. He'd just arrived and Brendon wished to exchange more words with his husband than simple pleasantries. It was selfish, Brendon chided himself. Ryan had been away for several days and their arrival had been delayed for whatever reasons. It was only to be expected that he was tired and wouldn't be up for company.
"Good night," Ryan said and left.
"Come here," Spencer said and he wrapped his arms around Brendon. "I'm afraid I'll have to say goodnight to you, too."
"Already?" Brendon pushed his face against Spencer's neck and breathed in deeply. He'd grown fond of the way Spencer smelled, the clean smell of his soap. "This early?"
Spencer kissed Brendon's temple. "Ryan asked me to be with him tonight," he said.
"Oh," Brendon whispered. "Of course."
"I couldn't turn him down tonight," Spencer said, a desperate, harried note in his voice. "He often uses the time after to confide in me. I--"
"It's all right," Brendon said softly. "I understand." He forced a smile on his face. "Take care of him please."
Spencer pressed a soft kiss against Brendon's mouth. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "And I will. Please understand."
"You're his Spencer," Brendon said softly. "You've been his long before you were mine."
Unexpectedly his words made Spencer smile. "As long as you still remember that I am yours," he said. "And you're mine and Ryan's and--just give him time." He pushed Brendon's hair behind his ears--an affectionate gesture that he'd adopted soon after Brendon had mentioned he should get his hair cut. Brendon hadn't managed to bring himself to go the barber yet.
"I will find out what's up," Spencer said. "And--I will tell Ryan. Just a little bit more patience."
"I do understand," Brendon said. "I just wish I could help."
"You are helping me," Spencer said, and he kissed Brendon softly.
Brendon clung to him tightly, and he didn't want to let go at all. "You should go," he whispered into Spencer's ear. "He's waiting."
"Good night," Spencer said. "I'll--I wish you sweet dreams."
"Think of me," Brendon said as Spencer stepped away.
"Always," Spencer said.
It only was a comfort to Brendon until he found himself alone in his bedroom. In the past week Brendon had slept in Spencer's bed more often than not, and now he found it strange to slide under cold covers without a warm body next to him. It took him a long time to fall asleep. He hoped that at least Ryan would be able to get some rest.
"Spencer has told me you've done wonders in the upkeep of the house," Ryan said during breakfast. He seemed back to his old strength--but appearances were deceiving. The fast way he talked couldn't hide the lingering paleness of his skin or the red rims of his eyes, thrown into sharp relief by the blueish shadows underneath them. His father was nowhere to be seen. Not even his place had been set, so Brendon thought it better to ask Spencer late in private.
"I discovered the old ballroom," Brendon said.
"God, it must be in a dreadful state." Ryan frowned at his eggs. "Nobody's been in that part of the house for years."
"It did indeed need a good scrubbing," Brendon said. "But now it's been restored to its old glory."
"It is?" Ryan looked at Spencer.
Spencer laughed. "It is absolutely amazing," he said. "Shall we take a look later?"
"Aren't you going to the office today?"
"No," Spencer said. "The shipment won't arrive until tomorrow at the earliest, and the clerks can take care of today's business." He nodded toward Ryan, almost imperceptibly, and Brendon understood what Spencer meant--Ryan needed more rest.
Well, Brendon did not mind at all. It offered Brendon the chance to spend some time with Ryan. "I'll give you the grand tour later," Brendon said, smiling. "I hope you'll like it--all the servants gave their best."
"I'm looking forward to it," Ryan said. He was smiling, too, and Brendon felt butterflies in his stomach. He glanced quickly at Spencer--had he already told Ryan something?
But Spencer was also looking at Ryan, surprised. "I also showed him the music room," Spencer said.
Ryan's face turned wistful. "I miss Maggie's playing," he said. "She loved the piano."
"Brendon plays, too. And rather well."
Brendon laughed. "I used to sneak out of my tutoring room to play the piano instead of studying," he said. "It means I'm passable now."
"He's kidding," Spencer told Ryan. "He's great. Oh! And he found some of Maggie's unfinished compositions and ever since he's spent more time working on them in the music room than down here."
"That is not true," Brendon said. He pointed to his desk. "I was working on them here yesterday."
"I'm sorry," Spencer said laughing. "But maybe we should just move the couch into the music room," he teased, "so we'll see more of you."
"Or we could move the piano down here," Ryan said.
Brendon couldn't hide his surprise--and neither his pleasure. "Could we?"
"It used to be in the small room next to the ballroom." Ryan shrugged. "We just moved it upstairs when Maggie fell ill, so she wouldn't have to come downstairs all the time. If you wish to have it closer, we can put it right next to the sitting room."
Spencer carefully took Ryan's hand and reached over the table for Brendon's. "I think it's a wonderful idea," he said, and Brendon could reciprocate his smile without any effort. He felt overjoyed at Ryan's suggestion. In truth, the music room was cold and drafty, and Brendon would quite enjoy being closer to his husbands.
"But you must promise to play for us," Ryan said. His knuckles were white where he was holding on to Spencer's hand, but he, too, was smiling.
"I do," Brendon said and thought, I'll play anything you want me to. Music had always been Brendon's strongest talent--and if it helped him acquire Ryan's affection, all the better.
Later, when Brendon led his husbands to the ballroom, his knees were weak and he could feel his heartbeat in his throat. What if Ryan didn't like it? Spencer had already seen the room and he'd assured Brendon that everything was fine, but Ryan was the one who lived in this house all his life and had seen the ballroom thriving with life.
It was more than the desire to impress Ryan--Brendon wanted Ryan to genuinely like Brendon, and he had no idea how to accomplish that, besides being himself and hoping that Ryan would grow fond of Brendon's quirks all by himself. It left Brendon feeling passive and useless--but there was no use in forcing a relationship where there was none yet. Feelings needed time, Brendon knew. But, oh, if he could expedite the process, it would take such a load off his shoulders.
Today, at least, Ryan seemed especially mild-mannered today. Brendon hoped that would be to his advantage.
"I'm not completely done with redecorating," Brendon said as he fiddled with the door knob. "Some of the paintings were quite dirty and had to be replaced, and maybe--"
"Brendon, let us in," Spencer said.
Brendon took a deep breath and he opened the door. Ryan was completely silent as he entered the room. He walked into the middle of the large dance floor, his shoes clacking on the slick and waxed floor. Brendon was proud of Anna--it had been a lot of work on top of her regular chores and she'd done very well.
Brendon hovered near Spencer. He wasn't quite using him as a shield, but Spencer offered comfort and when Spencer reached for his hand, Brendon took it without thinking.
"It's amazing," Ryan said softly. His voice resounded in the room, although he'd spoken very quietly. "You've worked a miracle in here."
"It was Anna, mostly," Brendon said. "And Virginia, too. They spent many hours cleaning."
Ryan laughed, and the sound startled Brendon. He didn't think he'd ever heard Ryan laughing so ... happily, Brendon thought. More often than not, Ryan had laughed about Brendon, low and dark, but this was a different sound, unguarded and free, with a note of giddiness.
Ryan turned around and the way he looked at Brendon filled Brendon with a sense of rightness. "Why did you do this?"
Ryan motioned at the room around them. "Take care of things," he said. "I didn't ask you to. I sure as hell didn't give you any reason to go out of your way and do it."
Brendon blinked. "I'm your husband," he said. "And the house--I like being able to make it a home."
What followed was probably the first real smile Ryan had given Brendon. It made Brendon want to sit down, as he didn't trust his legs to keep him upright anymore. Thankfully, there was Spencer holding him.
Ryan noticed Spencer holding on to Brendon and his expression changed. He seemed taken aback and frowned. "Spencer, what?"
"Um," Brendon said. Ryan's reaction startled him. Hadn't Spencer told him? Also Spencer had said that they had discussed the matter. So why was Ryan so surprised now?
"There have been certain developments," Spencer said. "Which, uh. I wanted to tell you last night."
"I see," Ryan said. He smiled again, but it was sad and, frankly, it didn't make any sense to Brendon. Brendon hesitated to say something--Spencer was tense next to him, and Brendon was afraid to make the situation worse.
But all Ryan said was, "Excuse me for a moment." Then he turned around and left through the double-winged doors on the other side.
Brendon stared after him. It would have made sense for Ryan to be upset, angry even, but he'd been sad. It didn't make any sense. Apparently Brendon wasn't the only one who saw it that way.
"I have no idea what that was about," Spencer said.
Brendon swallowed. "If, if you want to go after him--" He sighed. "He'll probably tell you."
"I'm not so sure about that," Spencer said. He shook his head. "I thought he would be--well, not exactly delighted, but all right with it," he said. "We talked it even the night before they left for the harbour city, and I see no reason why--" He sighed.
"It's--I'll just wait here," Brendon said.
"Oh, I'm not going after him," Spencer said. "If he really wanted me to, he'd make a loud, dramatic exit."
"I see," Brendon said. "My sister used to do the same thing."
Brendon laughed. "She didn't out-grow it," he said. "But everybody stopped pandering to her fits."
"Well, let's see how long Ryan will take to re-emerge."
They didn't see Ryan again until lunch. He was perfectly civil, but distant. It was a small reprieve, as Brendon had half-expected a return of the side blows and cutting comments
"Have you decided when to move the music room?" Ryan asked.
Brendon startled and almost dropped his cutlery. "No," he said. "After all, you just made the offer this morning."
"There's no time to be wasted," Ryan said.
Brendon felt a bit befuddled as he ordered Johnson to find him some men to move the piano. Ryan was nice to Brendon, but was sad about Spencer being with Brendon. He didn't seem jealous, though. Something didn't add up, and Brendon couldn't find a plausible explanation. If Ryan didn't want Spencer just for himself, why would he be sad?
He glared at the men carrying his piano. He could hardly watch them heave it around, as every time they bumped against something and the strings inside the piano twanged, Brendon felt like they were throwing him around.
Spencer only laughed a little as he sent Brendon into the sitting room. "You still have to answer your mother's letter," Spencer said. "I'll take care of this."
Brendon bravely resisted to stick his tongue out at Spencer. It was a reasonable suggestion, but Brendon didn't like being sent away like a child.
On the other hand, he could search for the address of the piano tuner. After the treatment his beloved instrument was being subjected to right now, Brendon suspected he would have to send for the piano tuner right away again.
"The deed is done," Spencer announced gravely a short while later. "Would you like to try it out?"
"Of course!" Brendon pushed his half-finished letter to the side and hurriedly put the stopper back on the ink.
"Your mother will be sad if you let your letter lie around for too long," Spencer said.
"Then she shouldn't have sent me so far away," Brendon said. "Should we call for Ryan?"
"He is asleep," Spencer said. At Brendon's face, he chuckled. "No, we didn't," he said. "But this trip--I think something happened and it has left him in quite a state."
"He hasn't told you yet?"
"No," Spencer said. "Which--usually he's not very secretive around me. It might not even be anything bad. Maybe he just hated the harbour, although he's fond of pronouncing his love for the sea. We will have to wait and see."
"I feel like all I'm ever doing is waiting," Brendon said.
"You could pass the time by playing me your latest masterpiece," Spencer said.
"It's not even completely finished by now."
"Only a matter of time, I suppose." Spencer reached for Brendon's hand. "You are bad at deciding when you're done. You seem to always want to work on it a bit more, make it a bit more intricate, a tiny tad more elegant."
Brendon laughed and took Spencer's hand. "Well, it should be perfect," he said, as he let Spencer lead him down the hallway. Secretly, he was very pleased that he didn't have to wander through the entire house anymore to play.
Spencer sat down in a chair at the wall. "And now we even have sitting arrangements for your audience. No more leaning on the piano."
"I'm going to miss it," Brendon said. "It added a certain colour to playing."
"We could, of course, get some saloon doors and pretend we're in a seedy part of the new world," Spencer said.
Brendon smiled and started to play. He lost himself in the music--he wished he could have had the chance to meet Margaret Ross, as her composition was emotional and yet so compelling and elegant that Brendon was in awe of her. His own additions were just fancywork, but the solid groundwork was all hers.
As usual, Brendon didn't notice time passing as he played. Every now and then he glanced at Spencer, who was listening intently, but he closed his eyes for the crescendo and didn't open them again. When someone touched his shoulder, he jerked and almost stopped playing.
"No, please keep going," Ryan said, his voice sleep-rough.
Brendon nodded. He closed his eyes again and put all his concentration and focus into playing, hitting the notes just right and then ... he was done.
"I remember Maggie working on that," Ryan said. "It was--she called it her final and best piece."
"She must have been an amazing woman," Brendon said. "It is one of the best pieces I've ever had the fortune to play."
"She would have been delighted to hear you say that," Ryan said. He squeezed Brendon's shoulder lightly and Brendon leaned into the touch. It was as much as he had ever gotten from Ryan, but the way Ryan switched between being sweet and requiting in one moment and distant in the next gave Brendon a headache.
Brendon didn't know what to expect from supper, but he didn't hope for much. It turned out it had been a sensible choice to do so, as Ryan's father finally left his room.
"What was all that rumpus about earlier?" George asked. He was decidedly grumpy and Brendon took care not to sit next to him.
"We moved the piano, Father," Ryan said. "Brendon plays and we thought it appropriate to move it to a room more easily accessible."
George sighed. "I don't know what you find in that old thing," he said. "Only a lot of noise and not much sense in playing music."
Brendon bit his tongue. His mother had always stressed the importance of musical teaching as a vital part of one's learning, necessary to become a cultivated person. The way George Ross brushed it off as inconsequential disturbed him. He couldn't help but wonder how Maggie had fared with this man as her husband. But then he remembered Mrs Tilsen, who'd loved being in the choir--until her wife had died and she'd stopped singing. People did strange things out of grief.
"More wine, Johnson," George said. "And now let's talk about the business."
Ryan tensed almost imperceptibly, and Brendon looked at George, his wine glass and the bottle. Oh, he thought. What if...
Spencer immediately launched into a retelling of the week's events, but Brendon wasn't listening. Instead he looked at Ryan. The more lively George Ross became (directly related to how much wine he'd consumed), the quieter and more withdrawn Ryan became, and Brendon could feel anxiety pool in his stomach.
They had been visiting the club quite often lately, Brendon recalled.
"And we have put the ballroom back into order," Spencer finished. "Soon the house will be practically new."
"We thought maybe we could host a ball in the fall," Ryan said. He spoke slowly and disaffectedly, as if he didn't care. It was so different from this reaction this morning that Brendon almost didn't recognise him.
"Why would you want one?" George Ross said, sounding bored.
Ryan immediately hunched over his plate, but Spencer chimed in. "We haven't introduced Brendon properly. We've had hardly any callers at the house, and most of our invitations are followed up on by you, Father, or by Ryan."
"I don't see any sense in wasting money on something as frivolous as a ball," George Ross said flatly. "And why would you even want to introduce him into society? It'd only be embarrassing."
Brendon took a startled breath. Spencer looked as aghast as Brendon felt, but then he frowned. "Well, we don't think it's a waste of money," he said. "A ball would fill this house with life again, and we are planning on going through."
George snorted. "But what if I don't give you my approval?"
"Seeing how you moved out," Spencer said saccharine, "and that we are commanding over our own bank account, I don't think we need it."
Brendon looked at Ryan, waiting for his reaction, but Ryan had his eyes closed.
"Oh," George laughed. "I think you do."
"Then please explain why--" Spencer was interrupted by Johnson knocking on the door.
"Your carriage has arrived, sir," he said.
"Ah, I have an engagement at the club. I'll see you in the office tomorrow," George Ross said. He didn't even seem to notice that neither of the three were replying properly.
"Ryan," Spencer said slowly, after George had left, "what is going on?"
"Nothing," Ryan said. "He's just--he's busy. He's right, a ball is--it's a waste of money."
"Ryan," Spencer said, but without his usual sharpness. He was pleading, Brendon realised.
"No, no, it's all right," Ryan said and he smiled. It didn't reach his eyes, though, and the corners of his mouth were shaking, as if he could only hold them up this high with much effort. Brendon felt incredibly sorry for him that moment.
"Ryan," Brendon said as softly and gently as he could. "We worry."
"There's nothing to worry about," Ryan said. He got up. "I'll--I'll go to bed. I'm tired."
"You napped this afternoon." Spencer reached for Ryan. "Ryan, please, what is going on?"
"I told you, nothing," Ryan said sharply--but it was desperate rather than truly angry. "I'm tired, it was a difficult week, good night."
"Well," Spencer said. "At least one thing of that is true."
"He's drinking, isn't he?" Brendon asked.
Ryan's smile cracked and Spencer startled badly.
"I wish to not be disturbed tonight," Ryan said.
"Ryan!" Spencer got up, too, but Ryan turned around.
At the door he looked back at them and motioned to Brendon. "It is up to you, tonight, I mean." Then he left.
Brendon turned to Spencer. "What is going on? Did he just tell you to spend the night with me?"
"I hope you're wrong," Spencer whispered.
"That sounded a lot like he was telling that it was your decision where you slept tonight," Brendon said. "It wasn't very difficult to understand."
Spencer shook his head. "No--the other thing."
Brendon was quiet and looked at Spencer. Spencer wouldn't look at him. "Spencer, what is going on?"
"I don't know." Spencer sighed. "But I will try to find out tomorrow."
Brendon took a deep breath. "Should we take an early night, too?" He didn't feel up to play more music--the dinner had left him feeling cold and uncomfortable.
"No," Spencer said firmly. "You need to finish your letter or you'll let it lie for another week and your mother will be mad because you always reply to Kara's letter the same day."
"Kara is my sister," Brendon said. "She writes much nicer letters."
Spencer snorted. "You mean that she writes about all the gossip in your town."
"That is nice of her."
Spencer chuckled. "I wonder whether the priest thinks the same way of it."
Brendon put out his tongue and Spencer laughed, but he fell quiet quickly again. "Letters now, and then bed," Brendon said.
"And tomorrow I'll try to get Ryan to talk to me," Spencer said. For maybe the first time, he didn't seem too certain that he was going to succeed.
"He'll tell you," Brendon said. "You said yourself maybe it's nothing. Maybe he just needs time."
"I sure hope so." Spencer sighed and rubbed his eyes.
Brendon took Spencer's hand. "Let's go to bed now," he said. "The letter can wait until tomorrow." And I'd rather spend time with you, Brendon didn't say out loud. He had the ominous feeling that he wouldn't see as much of Spencer anymore, not until things with Ryan were resolved. In that case, Brendon wanted to get as much of Spencer as possible. It was selfish, he knew, but when Spencer smiled at him, his heart gave a happy jump.
That night Brendon used all he'd learned about Spencer's body so far to relax him. Spencer carried his tension in his shoulders and Brendon had figured out where to press to release it. It made Spencer mellow, and afterwards they kissed until they couldn't breathe.
"Let me," Spencer whispered. Brendon thought he knew what to expect when Spencer slid down underneath the sheets, but when Spencer licked over the head of his cock, Brendon gasped loudly.
"Good?" Spencer asked.
"Spencer," Brendon said sternly. "Don't stop."
Spencer laughed. "Let me hear you," he said and then he sucked in the head of Brendon's cock with further ado.
"God," Brendon moaned.
Spencer took in more of his cock, bobbing his head slowly. It felt amazing and Brendon fisted his hands in Spencer's hair.
"Faster." Brendon tugged at Spencer's hair. "Come on."
Spencer pulled off.
"No, no, that's not good," Brendon whimpered and he pushed at Spencer's head.
Spencer laughed. "I will teach you patience yet," he said. He did ... something Brendon couldn't see, but then he--blessed be his soul--put his mouth back on Brendon's cock.
Brendon first sighed relieved and then groaned, when Spencer wrapped his spit-slick hand around the base of his cock. Spencer worked his hand in time with his mouth and it created the most wonderful sensations.
Brendon let his legs splay open. When Spencer pushed at his knee, Brendon pulled his knees up, setting his feet on the mattress. It allowed him to push up properly, but then Spencer pulled his hand away from Brendon's cock and put it on Brendon's hip, pressing him down against the mattress.
Brendon whined, bucking his hips. He wanted more. But then Spencer let his other hand trail down, between Brendon's legs, further down until he reached Brendon's ass.
Spencer pulled off long enough to say, "Relax." His voice sounded rough and sent shivers over Brendon's skin.
When Spencer rubbed his finger over Brendon's entrance, Brendon understood what he was doing.
"God, Spencer," he moaned, but then Spencer pushed his finger in and--it didn't hurt, it was a bit uncomfortable, but it also seemed like a promise--of more, and Brendon tentatively pushed down.
Spencer was sucking hard on the head of Brendon's cock, tonguing the slit, and he pushed his finger completely into Brendon. Brendon was vividly aware of that finger, and he could feel Spencer crooking it slightly--it was a weird sensation and then--
"Spencer!" Brendon shouted and came inside Spencer's mouth. It felt like his insides had turned liquid and he sprawled bonelessly.
Spencer was grinning broadly when he came up to kiss Brendon. Brendon hummed against his mouth and wrapped his arm around Spencer, holding him close.
"C'mere," he said and reached down to fist Spencer's cock. "You are amazing."
"Only when I have the chance to be," Spencer said. He was thrusting into Brendon's fist. Brendon wished he had more to offer Spencer, but he felt like he couldn't move his legs at all.
Spencer gasped and came all over Brendon's belly. Brendon swiped some up on his fingers and licked them clean, humming around his fingers.
Spencer groaned. "I think you're really the amazing one," he said.
"Can we be both amazing?" Brendon could feel his eyes closing. "That'd be great."
"That can be arranged," Spencer said.
Brendon spent the rest of the night wrapped tightly around Spencer.
The next evening was a disappointment, though. Ryan and Spencer had come home late from the office and immediately disappeared into Ryan's rooms.
Brendon hoped this meant that Ryan actually did talk to Spencer and that they weren't occupied otherwise. He spent the evening playing the piano to occupy his mind. The music soothed his nerves while he waited. He wondered whether Spencer would even leave Ryan's rooms tonight or if he would spend the night. Brendon thought if he had to wait one more night, he was going to explode.
Once he had started thinking about Spencer and Ryan, he couldn't stop, though. He remembered catching them in the act--the way Ryan had laughed and how they'd seemed happy.
Brendon closed his eyes, letting muscle memory carry his fingers over the keys. He imagined them, lying in bed together--waiting for Brendon. Maybe they'd started early, to take the edge off, to have more time for Brendon. They would lie there, stretched out, naked, on display for him and--
Brendon missed a key and winced. The thought made him blush, the frivolity that lay underneath. Spencer had this--he had a certain type of sensuality that made Brendon want to get lost in him, in his touch, in his body. Spencer had just laughed when Brendon had told him. "Live a little," Spencer had said. "Enjoy yourself."
Yes, Brendon thought, being with them both would be about them enjoying Brendon--he longed to feel their hands on him, stroking and teasing and patting. He wanted to feel them against his skin, pressed tight against him, enveloping him.
But it wasn't time yet. No matter what Brendon wanted, it was Ryan's decision how close he allowed Brendon to be and--it hurt. Being kept at a distance hurt, being powerless to change it hurt, especially since it was all his own damn fault. Oh, if he hadn't run away that first night, if he hadn't been so incredibly stupid...
Brendon smashed the keys in a fit of anger, mad at himself. At least the piano didn't judge Brendon.
"I doubt that's how the composer wrote it," Spencer said from behind Brendon.
Brendon turned around on his piano bench, so fast he almost fell off. "What are you doing here?"
"Good evening to you, too," Spencer said and he leaned down, smiling, to kiss Brendon.
Brendon put his arm around Spencer's neck and let Spencer pull him onto his feet. "Good evening," he breathed when they broke for air. "I thought you'd stay with Ryan."
"He's asleep," Spencer said. "And I missed you."
Brendon hid his face against Spencer's neck, grinning. "You're not satisfied yet, admit it," he said, mostly to lighten the mood. Spencer looked tired and worn, and Brendon hated to see him like this. "You've grown too accustomed to my bedroom skills."
Spencer laughed. "Maybe I have," he said.
"Liar." Brendon leaned up for another kiss. Spencer put his hands on Brendon's arms, holding him tightly enough to hurt.
Brendon embraced Spencer, splaying his hands against his back to have better leverage. "Spencer," he whispered.
Spencer shook his head and kissed Brendon. He slid one hand into Brendon's hair and it was--Brendon felt surrounded, besieged, and he let Spencer take over.
Spencer kissed like he was a starving man and Brendon the first food he'd found in weeks. He was trembling slightly and Brendon pressed closely, afraid if he let go of Spencer he'd fall apart.
Brendon fisted Spencer's shirt and just held on. They kissed until their lips were swollen and they were breathing fast.
Only then Spencer let up. He sighed and put his forehead against Brendon's.
"Is everything all right?" Brendon slid his hand up until he could stroke the side of Spencer's throat with his fingertips.
"He still won't talk to me," Spencer whispered. "He keeps trying to tell me it's nothing important and I shouldn't worry."
"But we know that we should," Brendon said.
"I know." Spencer sighed and then kissed Brendon's forehead. "I don't--I still hope it's something simple."
Brendon hummed quietly. "Do you think we should ask George? Maybe he'll answer more readily."
Spencer sighed and buried his face in Brendon's neck.
"Spencer?" Brendon whispered.
"If it's what we fear, then no, George won't answer. If it's really George who's the problem..."
"Tell me," Brendon said. "You know something and you're not telling me."
Spencer said quietly, "After Maggie died, he became almost insane with grief and he turned to drink as comfort."
"Oh." Brendon had only met few drunkards--mostly poor people, men who'd lost their home and livelihood. They'd never stayed long in their town and Brendon had always felt pity for them. "Do you think he might have started again?"
Spencer shrugged helplessly. "I don't know," he said. "There's--it's not very uncommon here to drink to excess. You might even say that some people consider it a sign of their success--that they can afford to spend an entire day in bed, nursing their sick stomachs and headaches."
"But George is at the club so often," Brendon said.
"He's also handing over things to Ryan--slowly, but he has this fixed idea that Ryan needs to meet everyone."
"So we don't know," Brendon said. "And Ryan is worried about his father."
Spencer sighed again softly. "You have to know that George Ross is a great businessman," he said, "with a sharp mind and a cool wit, but he's a horribly mean and aggressive drunk."
"I'm sorry, but I don't understand." Brendon frowned. "What do you mean that he's--oh."
"It was a bad time for Ryan," Spencer whispered. "Things were different then, but--I'm afraid that now it's starting up again."
"But now he has us," Brendon said.
He managed to make Spencer laugh. "Yes, now he has us," Spencer said. He turned sombre quickly again. "Please take care when you talk to George," he said. "I don't--the thought of seeing you hurt makes me feel physically sick."
"I will take care," Brendon promised.
Spencer smiled and kissed Brendon, so gentle Brendon's heart ached for him. "Play me some music," Spencer said. "I love to hear you play."
"Please," Spencer said. "Play me a happy song?"
Brendon left it at that. He didn't want to push any further--Spencer seemed fragile tonight and Brendon wanted to soothe his hurt, not add to it. So he sat down and played the first song that came to mind, then another one, and one more and still one more, until Spencer kissed his cheek and took him back to bed.
This night, neither of them felt like doing anything, their thoughts and worries weighing them down, so Brendon just curled up in Spencer's arms and hoped that they were wrong.
Brendon started to pay more attention to George's doings. He was curious why George refused to let them hold a ball in their own house. Ryan had dropped the matter entirely, but Brendon was adamant on going through with it.
If Cook knew of any reasons why George was against the ball, she wasn't divulging them. On the one hand, Brendon respected her in her loyalty to her old master, on the other hand, he found it increasingly frustrating.
"I want a ball," Brendon said grumpily one morning over breakfast. "Why can't we just organise one? We don't need his approval."
Spencer snorted. "George still thinks that he can order Ryan around. And currently Ryan isn't capable of defying that."
Brendon sighed. "It's a ball," he said. "We're not planning to sell the business. We're even paying for it ourselves!"
"I know," Spencer said patiently. "George will have his reasons."
"I'm convinced his reasons are stupid," Brendon said. "I wish I could ask him why."
Brendon got his chance to ask George himself rather sooner than he'd expected.
When Ryan came home that evening, he was looking grim. "Father will join us for supper," he said. Brendon was slowly becoming able to discern his moods even from his flat monotones. It always gave him a thrill when he could make out one of Ryan's little tells--just one slightly too long pause, one stretched vowel when it should be short.
Ryan, Brendon could tell, wasn't very pleased. He was tired, moving slowly and carefully, obvious in the way he dropped his endings.
Brendon had exactly two seconds to put on a smile, when George appeared right after Ryan, Spencer in tow. "Good evening, Father," Brendon said. "It's a pleasure seeing you again. It's been a while since you've eaten with us."
"Not much reason in coming here all the time," George said. "If I want to be bored to death, I can go to my other club."
Brendon blinked, but managed to keep his smile on his face. "I will tell Johnson to set one more place," he said and escaped to the kitchen.
"We'll need more wine," was Cook's only comment. She was just about to send Anna to the cellar.
"No, we don't," Brendon said. "We do not wish for any more wine."
Cook looked at Brendon. "Very well, sir."
Brendon took a deep breath before he returned to the dining room. "Excuse me," he said as he entered. "But there were a few questions I had to deal with."
"Ah, ever the good housekeeper," George said, but there was no affection in his voice.
Brendon sat down quickly. He glanced at Ryan and Spencer, while he served himself. They were both tense. Spencer was easier to read than Ryan--his shoulders were tight, , his knuckles white as he gripped his fork and knife tightly. Ryan was simply quiet and hardly moved.
Brendon remembered Spencer's words very well. He wondered what had happened to cause George to come by, when he found it so boring to visit his son.
The silence at the table became too oppressing for Brendon, and he decided on some simple, nice conversational topics. "The days are getting colder," he said. "I fear soon we must say goodbye to summer."
"With a ball perchance?" George snorted. "I'm still not accepting any of this nonsense in my house."
"Well, it's not actually your house," Brendon said. He had to suppress a startled squeak when Spencer stepped down on his foot--gently, but surprising anyway. Brendon understood the warning--You're not being careful.
Thankfully George just laughed. "As long as I live, this will be my house--and my money. So I get to decide whether or not you're hosting an extravagant ball."
Brendon kept his head down afterwards, but apparently now that he'd started, George felt in a talkative mood. His next words made Brendon choke on his potatoes, however.
"So, Ryan, tell me, how are your husbands in the bed room?"
Brendon's eyes water and he spit out his potatoes back onto his plate. Next to him Spencer wasn't faring much better. Ryan just stared at his father--he'd been lucky in so far that he hadn't started eating yet. "Pardon me?"
"Oh, son," George Ross said and he took a huge sip from his wine glass. It was in that moment when Brendon found evidence for what he'd already assumed: it wasn't the first drink for George Ross this evening. His movements were a bit unsteady and his eyes were glassy.
"Especially that one," George said, pointing to Brendon.
Ryan stared at Brendon, his mouth opening and closing a few times. There was something in his eyes that Brendon couldn't read, an emotion that he hadn't seen before. "He's my husband," Ryan said, a plaintive note in his voice. "Wouldn't you like to know--Spencer's told me about his plans for the warehouses, they're --"
It was fear, Brendon realised. Pure, unadulterated fear.
"No, I don't," George said. "I thought I taught you to listen and obey." His voice turned loud and Brendon instinctively edged closer to Spencer. The motion didn't go unnoticed.
George laughed loudly. "So that's how it is? He has to take over taking care of things? I should've figured it out myself."
"Father," Ryan said quietly. "I don't think--"
But his father talked over him without even listening. "I always knew you weren't man enough to take it up with two spouses."
Brendon could only watch in anguish as Ryan grew pale. He felt unable to move. He'd expected--he hadn't expected this.
"George," Spencer said, shocked and sad.
"No, I figured choosing this frigid one would at least enable him to satisfy you, but apparently he doesn't have enough stamina to do even that."
"I'm not frigid," Brendon said. He could hardly breathe. He thought of all the nights he'd spent with Spencer, and he longed to throw them at George, but that--he'd spent them all with Spencer, and it would just be another bit of ammunition for George. "You bargained for my hand in marriage."
"Well, yes, there are still enough stupid people left who think a great deal of the name Urie. I would have been out of my mind if I had let that opportunity pass." George shrugged. "Your part of the woods is pretty religious, it stood to reason you wouldn't be amenable to what my son had to offer you. He's been sharing the bed with that one," he pointed to Spencer, "for so long he probably can't do anything for anyone else."
"George, this is enough," Spencer said sharply.
"Oh, see, your knight in shining armour is coming to your rescue," George said to Ryan, who was grabbing the edge of the table so firmly his knuckles were turning white. "Aren't you so proud you have at least one man in your house who knows how to handle being a man?"
"George," Brendon said. "Stop."
It was entirely the wrong thing to say.
"Oh, stop it, you snotty brat," George said. Brendon sat still, but he looked George into the eye. He wouldn't sit here quietly and let George abuse Ryan. "This house still belongs to me and I can talk to my son however I want to."
"I won't let you," Brendon said. He stopped when he saw the tiny head shake Ryan gave him, but it was too late. George Ross shot onto his feet and he leaned over the table. Even though he was still on the other side of the table, it was intimidating enough to make Brendon cower on his chair.
"Shut up," George Ross said. "How would you even try?" He laughed, but the sound was without mirth and joy.
"Father, please," Ryan said. He sounded tiny, sad and defeated.
George Ross turned to Ryan and shoved hard at his shoulder. "You better shut up, too," he said. "You can't even keep your husbands satisfied. I can't believe I raised such a useless waste of space."
A muscle in Ryan's moved, but otherwise he gave no indication of his feelings. Brendon felt sickened by George's behaviour, but he was rooted to his spot--he couldn't have moved if his life had depended on it.
George snorted snidely. "Do you know why I haven't been around, dear Brendon?" He made the endearment sound dirty and Brendon felt even more aghast. "I can find better company at the whorehouse around the corner."
George stepped around the table. "Johnson! Get my carriage ready at once."
"Very well, sir."
George stood directly behind Brendon and it was the most uncomfortable Brendon had ever felt. He closed his eyes and tried to keep his breathing calm, but it was like he could feel George closing in on him and Brendon started to shake slightly, his muscles so tense they hurt.
"As I thought," George said. "You are all gutless worms."
Someone--Spencer, Brendon thought, Spencer had been sitting next to him at the table--took Brendon's hand under the table and squeezed it hard.
"Your carriage is ready, sir," Johnson said.
"That took too long," George said. "Not that those sissies give you any reason to deal with carriages. Has anyone ever been to see them here?"
Brendon wished George would just leave already. Ryan seemed to become even paler and Brendon was afraid he would faint any moment now.
"The horses are getting impatient, sir," Johnson said, his voice emotionless and calm as ever. Brendon envied him that in this moment. He felt like he was going to shatter into a million tiny pieces if he breathed the wrong way, too many emotions warring in him. They had been right all along and Ryan--Ryan had tried to protect them, or his father, or possibly all of them.
"Nothing's keeping me here, anyway," George said. Brendon could hear his heavy footsteps in the hallway, a bump and a clatter--most like the decorative wooden box on the sideboard next to the sitting room. Brendon caught himself with the inane hope it wasn't broken--it wasn't the box he cared about..
"Ryan, why didn't you tell us?" Spencer said as soon as they heard the tell-tale noise of a carriage leaving their driveway--the final sign that George was gone.
Ryan just shook his head. "There wasn't anything to tell."
Brendon sighed. "Please, Ryan," he said. "This--this obviously wasn't anything new."
Ryan didn't say anything. He was staring at his plate, shoulders drawn in tightly. He seemed smaller than usually, a tiny, frightened child. Brendon's chest hurt, when he saw Ryan sitting over there on the other side of the table all alone. Alone, Brendon suddenly noticed, because Ryan had switched their seating arrangements. Ryan should have set in Spencer's place and--Brendon should've been in Ryan's place, next to George.
Brendon got up and walked around the table. "Ryan," he whispered, just announcing himself before he put his hands on Ryan's shoulder, squeezing it gently. He could feel gentle tremors running through Ryan.
"Why didn't you tell me it had started again?" Spencer said, and now he had switched from upset to tired.
"Because you can't change it," Ryan said suddenly, louder than Brendon had expected him to and flinched. "I tried to keep you out of it because he's just going to hurt you, too."
"I could make him stop," Spencer said.
"You'd just make it worse," Ryan said. He shook off Brendon's hands and got up. "He's not going to change, not now."
"But we could help," Brendon tried. "Maybe if--"
"You don't know anything," Ryan spat at Brendon. Brendon took a surprised step back--as lifeless as Ryan had seemed during his father's attack, as livid and angry he was now.
Brendon held up his hands in a placating and soothing manner. "Ryan, I meant-"
"No," Ryan said. "You're entirely useless in this and it's none of your business anyway."
"The way your father attacked me personally makes me think it is my business," Brendon said.
"No, it's not, it's my business alone." Ryan glared at Brendon with such an intensity that Brendon took another step back. "Go away," Ryan said, his voice as disparaging as his father's. "You're of no use here. I only need Spencer."
He sounded eerily similar to his father and his words hit the same wounds his father had caused. Brendon felt his chest become tight and tighter until he couldn't breathe, and he backed away until he stumbled against a chair. He tried to tell himself that it was just Ryan lashing out--Spencer and Brendon had him basically cornered, of course he was trying to protect his father.
But it still hurt, especially when Ryan sneered and asked, "Why are you still here?"
Brendon looked at Spencer, who inclined his head toward the door. Brendon took a deep breath. "I'll be upstairs if, if you need me," he said.
"We won't," Ryan said and it was--it felt so like that first night. Brendon tried to remind himself that Ryan didn't mean it. He forced himself to walk out quietly, to keep himself from running, from making the same mistake as back then. But what he did was still fleeing to his room.
Brendon leaned against the door and tried to regain some composure. Ryan was upset, he knew, but Ryan had--he'd let Brendon touch him and squeeze his shoulder. That meant more than any words Ryan'd said.
Brendon slowly slid down the door and collapsed in a heap on the floor. He just sat there, without the will to move. The light was fading and Brendon found it soothing.
He didn't know how long he sat there, but it couldn't have been for long when someone knocked on his door. At first Brendon didn't react. He ignored the second knock as well as the third. But his visitor tried to open his door and hit Brendon rather forcefully.
"It's me," Spencer said. "Please let me in."
Brendon scooted away from the door, just enough that Spencer could slip in.
"Why did he say those things?"
"To drive you away," Spencer said as he squatted in front of Brendon.
Brendon sighed, relieved. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I am." Spencer sighed. "You weren't here for the first time," he said. "He tried it with me, too, back then."
"Did it work?"
"What do you think?" Spencer said dryly. "Of course not."
Brendon snorted. "You'd figure he would have learned by now that it isn't a very good way to protect someone.
"No, it's not," Spencer said. He sat down in front of Brendon. Brendon reached for his hands, but then Spencer pulled Brendon into his lap.
Brendon chuckled and pushed his nose against Spencer's throat. He could hear Spencer's heartbeat and it was comforting him.
"How is he?" Brendon asked.
"Stubborn," Spencer said. "He insists that neither of us should get involved. He wants to keep us safe."
"How noble," Brendon said. "And how stupid."
Spencer chuckled. "Rest assured, I told him both of these things."
"Did he listen?"
Brendon sighed. "What are we going to do?"
"Ryan's had weird ideals about nobility and suffering in silence, even when other people could help with his problems. He'll come around."
"No, I meant--his father," Brendon said. "It's--we can't let it go on like that."
"I know," Spencer said and the cheerful note left his voice. "But I don't know how to put a stop to it."
"You said there was a last time," Brendon said.
Spencer sighed. "That remedy unfortunately won't work. Ryan was--it was after Maggie died, and when things grew bad, my family took Ryan in for a few months. Officially, it was just while his father was travelling and until he'd found a tutor for Ryan."
"Losing Ryan seemed to clear George's head," Spencer said. "He stopped drinking a few weeks after Ryan had come to live with us and after that--nothing happened anymore."
"Spencer," Brendon said. "Do you think he would listen to your parents?"
"I honestly don't know," Spencer said. "I always thought--they used to be friends, but I'm not so sure anymore."
"But it's worth trying," Brendon said. "We can't just--not do anything."
"Of course we can try," Spencer said softly. "I'll send them a note tomorrow."
"Why now, I wonder," Brendon said. "Nobody died."
"Who knows," Spencer said. "I don't care about his reasons--I just want him to stop."
Brendon tilted his face up and kissed the corner of Spencer's mouth. "We'll figure something out," he said.
Spencer smiled at Brendon. "Yes, I hope so."
Brendon reluctantly got up and stretched. "Are you--" He stopped himself.
"Am I what? Spencer stood behind Brendon, his hands on Brendon's hip.
"Are you going to stay here tonight?" Brendon whispered. "I'm sorry--you should go to Ryan. He needs you and--"
"Ryan wants to be alone tonight," Spencer said.
Brendon frowned. "Do you think that's a wise idea?"
"No," Spencer said. "But it was his decision. And if he wants to be alone, then, well, he can be alone. He needs to be by himself to figure this out for himself--so be it."
Brendon hummed. "I hope you're right," he said.
"Wait," Spencer said. "You'll see tomorrow morning. Trust me on this--I have many years of experience in dealing with the moods of Ryan Ross."
Brendon still felt a bit guilty when they lay in bed together, holding on to each other.
"Soon," Spencer said. "Just give him time."
Brendon hoped that Spencer was right.
Ryan did apologise the next morning. "I'm sorry that I was so unkind to you," he said, "but it was just for your own protection."
Despite Spencer's pleading, Ryan still believed that both Spencer and Brendon should stay away from his father--and from Ryan. "It won't do you any good," he said. "It's best to keep out of sight."
"So he can unleash his temper on you?" Spencer asked. He wasn't pleased by this turn of events, Brendon could tell. He was gripping his fork and knife tightly. "That is supposed to help us how?"
"I don't know," Ryan said testily. "But unless you have a surefire way how to make him stop entirely, that's the best I can do." He poked at his eggs, but made no move to eat any of them. "I just want to keep you safe," he said softly. "Please, let me do this at least."
Brendon reached for Ryan's hand. "But if it gets too bad, you must tell us," he said. "Please."
"I will." Ryan gave Brendon another one of those little, hopeful smiles. "But right now he's--I wish to keep you out of harm's way."
Brendon couldn't help but admire Ryan for his resolve. He also found it very infuriating, the way Ryan rejected all their offers of help, but Ryan wasn't to be persuaded.
His admiration soon faded when it became apparent how Ryan intended to protect them.
The next few days Brendon sat in the sitting room with bated breath each evening when the carriage arrived, hoping that it would only be carrying two people instead of three. All too often there was even only one passenger.
"They've gone to the club again," Spencer said. He sounded exhausted.
"I wish Ryan wouldn't insist on accompanying him. He's making himself miserable," Brendon said. Because of his worry about Ryan, his words came out sharper than he'd intended them.
"Don't shoot the messenger." Spencer sat down heavily at the dinner table. "I tried my best to convince him to come home with me, but there's no reasoning with right now."
"It's a crazy idea," Brendon said. "He simply accompanies his father to the club, so George won't come to the house--and as a result Ryan's hardly home anymore."
"I know," Spencer said soothingly.
""He hasn't eaten dinner with us in days." Brendon stabbed his vegetables viciously.
Spencer sighed as he served himself. "He'll eat at the club," he said. "I'm sure he's eating something, at least."
"Are you sure that's enough?" Brendon eyed Spencer's plate. "Because there's still lots of meat left and--"
"Brendon," Spencer said firmly, "fattening me won't help Ryan."
"He's lost weight," Brendon said softly.
"He's always pale and he hardly talks anymore." Brendon felt helpless--every time he tried to talk to Ryan, Ryan just shook his head and made up a reason to leave. "I wish we could do more."
Spencer leaned back in his chair. "My father tried to talk to him," he said. "But George was--he wouldn't even listen. He says it's no one's business and, unfortunately, my father agrees. There's little my parents can do if George's unwilling to accept their messages."
Brendon heaved a huge sigh. "I wish Ryan would let at least us help him."
Spencer squeezed Brendon's hand. "George's still Ryan's father," he said softly. "Even after everything, he's still Ryan's family. It's why he goes to the club with him--to make sure his father will get home safely."
"And in the meantime, Ryan lets himself be insulted and belittled, with us standing in the shadows and having to watch." Brendon leaned against Spencer's shoulders.
"Tomorrow I will make sure Ryan comes home with me," Spencer said.
"Please," Brendon said. He sighed. "I wish something would happen. Something to make it stop."
He didn't know how soon his wish would come true.
Spencer did make true on his promise, and the following evening he entered the sitting room with Ryan in tow. "See, I've brought a guest."
Brendon laughed and got up hurriedly. "Cook has kept the food warm in the kitchen," he said. "I'll make them bring it out again."
"I wish you wouldn't joke like that," Ryan said. He spoke slowly, and every word was carefully enunciated, but he couldn't hide his exhaustion--it showed in the way he dropped his vowels. "I still live here."
"He just means that we miss you," Brendon said softly. "Please don't be cross."
Ryan frowned at Brendon. "I don't know that there's much to miss," he said.
Brendon frowned back at him. "You're my husband," he said firmly. "I swore to honour and love you for the rest of my life. Of course, I'm going to miss you when you're not around."
Ryan gave Brendon another intense look. "Do you also miss the cold when you're warm?"
"I don't know what you mean," Brendon said.
"You can only miss good things in your life," Ryan said.
"And so I miss you," Brendon said. He felt incomplete without Ryan--he had grown to like Ryan's witty comments on his books, the way he mocked particularly incoherent metaphors in poems. Whenever Brendon played the piano, he expected two people to be listening.
Ryan was a bit surprised, Brendon saw, but he didn't seem upset. He just said, "I see."
His quiet contemplation made Brendon nervous, and he overcompensated by talking too much. During dinner, Ryan gave his plate his utmost attention and Brendon found it difficult to say whether it was because Ryan was especially hungry or because Brendon's stories were boring him. Sometimes he still couldn't read Ryan at all, and he saw it as incentive to try harder.
"You should go to bed before you fall face first onto your plate," Spencer said. He still had a carrot on his fork and it wobbled dangerously when Spencer gestured at Ryan. "If you fall asleep at the table, poor Brendon will think it'll be his fault."
"I'm not a child that you can send to bed," Ryan said, but his attitude was broken by a huge yawn.
Brendon couldn't suppress a giggle. "I'm afraid I'm putting you to sleep with my stories," he said.
Ryan yawned again and shook his head. "It's been a long day," he said.
"You mean a short night," Spencer said. He didn't hide the disapproval in his voice.
"Spencer," Ryan said quietly. "Please, let's not have this conversation again."
Spencer stabbed at his meat viciously. "It has been going on for too long," he said. "Ryan, something needs to change."
"I'd appreciate it if we could have this conversation when I'm rested," Ryan said. "Right now I'm too tired to fight with you."
"I don't want to fight."
"I know," Ryan said. "So let's just not do it--at least tonight."
Brendon put his hand on Spencer's arm. "We understand, Ryan. But we also worry."
"I know," Ryan said sharply. "You seem intent to remind me of it every time we talk." He got up without even finishing his meal. "I'll go to bed now." He left without giving either of them a good night kiss.
"God, he's so infuriating," Spencer said. "I tried to talk to him earlier today, but he won't listen."
"But you managed to bring him to come home," Brendon said. "That's at least something."
Spencer sighed. "I hope so," he said. "He might just be too exhausted to deal with the club today."
Brendon thought Ryan's exhaustion was contagious, as he felt absurdly tired, too. He propped up his chin on his hand and watched Spencer eat. He didn't realise he'd closed his eyes until Spencer gently shook his shoulder.
"Brendon," he said softly. "Come on."
Spencer led Brendon to Brendon's room, but he stopped in front of it. "Good night," he said. "I'll look after Ryan quickly and then go to bed."
Brendon put on a brave face--he had thought this evening to take a different route. He hadn't expected to go to sleep all alone tonight. "I understand."
Spencer leaned in and kissed Brendon. Brendon fisted Spencer's shirt and held his hand so tightly it must have hurt. It was terribly difficult to let go of Spencer.
"Tomorrow night," Spencer said, and he sounded desperate and sad. "Tomorrow, all right?"
Brendon nodded. He understood Spencer's dilemma--two men staking claims on his time, and he knew that whenever Spencer had to choose between them, it weighed heavily on his mind. For a moment he considered following Spencer, crawling into bed with them, after they'd fallen asleep. Maybe in sleep Brendon could obtain the physical affection he craved--maybe Ryan would even let Brendon hug him. But Brendon discarded the idea--if Ryan wasn't ready to let Brendon close now, he wouldn't react favourably to Brendon forcing himself on Ryan when he couldn't defend himself.
It didn't make him feel any better about lying alone in his cold bed, though. Brendon slept in fits and starts, jerking awake from half-remembered dreams, his heart pounding and his nightclothes wet from sweat. He hoped that whatever rest Ryan got was better than Brendon's.
In the morning, Brendon felt like he hadn't slept at all. His bones ached, as he dragged himself to the breakfast table to at least share that meal with both of his husbands. Brendon hoped he wasn't going to fall sick.
Ryan looked relaxed and he wasn't as pale as the day before, which made Brendon feel slightly better.
"Good morning, Brendon," Spencer said. He smiled at Brendon, but his face fell when he got a closer look at Brendon. "Are you unwell?"
"Bad night," Brendon said. "Nothing a bit of tea and toast won't fix." And, Brendon hoped, a nap in the afternoon.
"You need to take care of yourself," Ryan said.
Brendon blinked at Ryan owlishly. He thought that Ryan, who seemed to subsist on tea and the occasional scone, who willingly chose to spend many nights at the club, where he didn't even drink anything because he disliked alcohol violently, for obvious reasons--Brendon felt that Ryan wasn't particularly good at taking care of himself and he shouldn't go around and admonish other people.
Someone knocked on the dining room door. They all turned around. "Good morning, Johnson," Brendon said.
Johnson was his usual composed, calm self, but the way he was holding himself seemed to be even more rigid than usually.
"Master Ryan, there's been an accident," Johnson said.
Brendon paced along the length of the sitting room. "I don't understand why he wanted to go alone," he said. "He should've taken one of us along."
"I completely agree with you," Spencer said. Brendon didn't know how Spencer could just sit there and calmly read.
"Aren't you upset at all?" Brendon stopped in front of Spencer and put his hands on his hips.
Spencer sighed and put his book aside. "Come here," he said and patted the sofa cushion next to him.
"I don't want to sit down," Brendon said. "I want to be with Ryan now."
"But Ryan," Spencer said softly, "wants to be alone."
"I don't understand why." Brendon hated the high, whiney quality to his voice, but he couldn't stop it.
Spencer reached for Brendon and pulled him down next to him. "Ryan's used to dealing with his father alone."
"I still think it would've been wiser to not go alone."
Spencer groaned. "I clearly remember you being there while I tried to reason with him. I hope you remember that he was stubbornly refusing to accept any help."
Brendon leaned against Spencer. "I'm worried," he said. "Ryan didn't even let you read the note."
"Maybe George was sick," Spencer said. "Maybe he got into a fight. It could be anything." He kissed Brendon's temple. "Ryan has been trying to shield us from his father for weeks--I don't think he would like us to see him in whatever dreadful state he must be in now."
Brendon pressed his face against Spencer's shoulder. He knew that Spencer was probably right, that George Ross was a proud man and wouldn't react favourably if they caught him in a weak moment, but it still didn't feel right.
"He should be back by now," Brendon whispered. "If he just had to go and pick George up, they should be here by now. It's only a few minutes to the club and Ryan's been gone for more than one hour already."
"He'll be here soon," Spencer said.
"But don't you have to go to the office?" Brendon dimly remembered Spencer being anxious about the end-of-quarter closing.
"Not until we know what is going on with George," Spencer said. "But don't worry about that, I already sent word--they're not expecting any of us in today."
"So we'll wait," Brendon said.
"Yes," Spencer said. He picked his book back up and continued reading. Brendon stayed right next to him.
"I hate waiting," Brendon said after a few minutes. His skin was itching with the need to do something, while at the same time his mind was racing, thinking up all sorts of scenarios and different reasons for what happened with George and why it was taking Ryan so long to bring him home. Brendon didn't relish the thought of having George in his home, but no matter how George had treated them, he was still family.
Spencer took a deep breath. "I hardly noticed," he said dryly. "How about you play me some music?"
Brendon played "Midnight Rhapsody," as he'd named Maggie's composition, twice and Ryan still hadn't come home. Then he played Spencer's favourite sonata, a popular song he had heard Anna and Virginia sing while cleaning (it was delightfully dirty and Brendon loved the pun, although most of them weren't very good), a few finger exercises to relax his hands and, lastly, a half-finished sonata he'd been working on when he was younger.
And Ryan still hadn't come, and no message had been delivered and it was past lunch time.
"He'll come soon," Spencer said, but there was a desperate note in his voice that told Brendon that Spencer was trying to convince himself as much as he was trying to convince Brendon of the truth in his words.
"Spencer, I--" Brendon shook his head. "Shall I play some more?" Brendon couldn't offer any comfort but distraction to Spencer and music had always been a cure-all for Brendon.
"Please." Spencer sat down next to the Brendon on the narrow piano bench and wrapped his arm around Brendon. It constricted Brendon, but he didn't say anything to Spencer. He leaned heavily against Spencer and played whatever he could with his right hand. Spencer let his head fall forward and rest against Brendon's shoulder.
Despite his anxiety Brendon felt warmth envelope him at the gesture. Spencer was here, at least, and Brendon didn't have to be alone.
When Ryan finally came home, he was bearing grave news.
"I'm sorry that I'm so late," Ryan said suddenly from behind Brendon. Brendon startled and banged his hand against the piano keys--he hadn't heard the carriage arrive or Ryan come into the room. Spencer lifted his head from Brendon's shoulder and took a startled breath.
Spencer sounded shocked and scared, which prompted Brendon's heart to beat faster. He turned around and was alarmed by Ryan's expression. Ryan was paler than ever, his face a ashen complexion, and his eyes were reddened.
"Taking care of everything took longer than expected," Ryan said. "I'd never thought--I mean, I was still little, but I don't remember--well, everything took much longer."
"Ryan," Brendon said softly. He'd never heard Ryan not finish a sentence and it frightened him. Ryan didn't seem to hear neither Spencer nor Brendon, though, as he kept talking without stopping.
"But it's all done now--I hope. And, I'm sorry, but. I should now."
Spencer slowly got up and walked up to Ryan, reaching out with his hand carefully, like he would treat a frightened animal. "Ryan," he said gently, "Ryan, listen to me."
Spencer put his hand on Ryan's arm and only then Ryan seemed to notice him.
"Spencer," Ryan said. "Spencer, I'm sorry."
"Ryan, what happened?"
Brendon followed Spencer carefully, unsure of his place. Ryan didn't even seem to see Brendon.
"Where's your father, Ryan?"
Ryan closed his eyes and when he opened them again, Brendon saw tears glistening in them. Brendon felt a new surge of fear rise up. He moved to Ryan's other side, mirroring Spencer's movement. When he touched Ryan, he could feel him shaking, and his worry intensified even more.
"Ryan," Spencer said softly. "Ryan, please tell us."
"My father," Ryan said. "My father's--" His voice broke and he made a sound between a sob and a sigh. "My father's dead," he whispered.
"Oh, Ryan," Brendon said and he wrapped his arms around him. Spencer copied him, and when Brendon could feel Spencer's arms around both him and Ryan, Ryan started to cry.
"It's all right, we're here," Spencer said.
They stood there for long minutes, holding Ryan up while he cried. Brendon pressed his face against Ryan's shoulder and felt tears in his eyes, but he squinted to hold them back. This, right now, was Ryan's moment to grieve.
After Ryan stopped crying, when his hiccups and sobs had died down, they still kept standing there.
"What happened?" Spencer asked.
Ryan chuckled, but there was no mirth or joy in it. "He fell," he said. His voice was rough from drying and he spoke in short surges, as if he had to fight for every word. "He was drunk and he fell down the stairs. It's hilarious, isn't it?"
Brendon didn't find it any bit funny, but he supposed Ryan didn't either. He squeezed Ryan gently in answer instead. He didn't expect Ryan to suddenly push against him.
"And I'm all right," Ryan said, although his entire demeanour was belying his words. "You don't have to cuddle me like a baby."
Spencer sighed loudly. "Ryan," he said, but Ryan shook his head.
"I will go to my room," he said. "I--it's been a difficult day."
"But your father," Brendon said.
"It's all been taken care of," Ryan said. "I did everything."
And then he was gone. Brendon thought the scene was all too familiar. "Is he going to run away from us forever?" he asked Spencer. He couldn't hide his frustration.
"Well, he married us, he can't run far," Spencer said.
"Spencer," Brendon said sharply. He knew it wasn't Spencer he was mad at, but it was impossible not to snap at him. Spencer had the misfortune of being there in the room with him, while Ryan was locked into his own room, brooding.
"Brendon," Spencer said back in the same voice. "Give him time."
Brendon sat down on the piano bench again. "I feel like all I'm doing is waiting for Ryan," he said grumpily.
Spencer kneeled down in front of him. "Please do me the favour," he said. "After all, we waited for you to be ready, too."
Brendon felt incredibly guilty. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'm sorry."
"It's all right," Spencer said. "I can deal with being the only sane, well-adjusted person in this marriage."
Brendon smacked Spencer's arm lightly. "Hey," he said.
Spencer leaned up and kissed him. "I don't know what all this means yet," he said. "But at least George cannot hurt him anymore--and neither of us, too."
"Do you think he's sad that his father's gone?" Brendon scuffed his shoes against the wooden floor.
"Yes," Spencer said.
"Even after everything?" Brendon still felt sullied and hurt by George's remarks--he couldn't imagine how Ryan must feel, as it had been his own father hurling those insults at him.
"He was Ryan's father," Spencer said. He leaned up and kissed Brendon softly. "I'll go check up on Ryan."
"I understand," Brendon said quietly.
"You could try and come by in a bit," Spencer said.
"Do you think he'll want to see me?"
"I'm sure of it."
Ryan didn't want to see Brendon. Ryan didn't want to see anyone, Spencer included. He only let Spencer's mother into his room. She wouldn't tell Spencer and Brendon what they'd talked about, though.
"He's grieving," she simply said.
Spencer was sitting on the couch, staring listlessly ahead. "He's never thrown me out of his room before," he said. "Not even when we had a huge fight, he's always let me back in immediately."
"But this is different," Brendon said. He wrapped his arm around Spencer's shoulder and pulled him down so Spencer's head was resting on Brendon's shoulder. "His father died, his last parent. Ryan feels alone."
"He still has us," Spencer said.
"You told me to give him time," Brendon said. "I think it's pretty sound advice."
Spencer sighed. "It's just--I've never seen him like this before."
Brendon patted Spencer's head, running his fingers through his hair. "If he doesn't come out of his room tomorrow, we'll stage an intervention."
Spencer puffed. "We sure will," he said. "At least he's eating."
"I don't think you can call three spoonfuls of porridge eating," Brendon said.
"Tomorrow?" Spencer asked, his voice full of hope.
"Tomorrow," Brendon said determined. "It'll allow him to grieve on his own for some time, but he needs to talk to us."
"Since when do you know so much about grieving?" Spencer asked softly.
"Lilian was my father's second wife," Brendon said. "She took care of me when I was little, she was my nanny. She died when I was five."
"I'm sorry," Spencer said.
"It's been a long time," Brendon said. "But my sister went into her room and refused to come out--she'd been close to Lilian."
Spencer sighed. "I'll trust your judgement."
Brendon hoped they wouldn't have to break down Ryan's door. It was a strong oak door, beautifully carved, and Brendon didn't want to hack it down with an axe. He was fully prepared to make good on his threat, though, which he'd loudly announced in front of Ryan's rooms. He assumed it was partly why they had been able to make Ryan eat--Brendon had wondered as loudly as possible how long Ryan would be able to survive without food, only to decide that they would have to break down the door the next morning.
Although Ryan had outright refused to open it even a crack, Brendon had Anna put down the tray with the food they'd prepared in front of Ryan's rooms. It was a relief to find the tray gone one hour later.
No cajoling had brought Ryan to let anyone in, not even Spencer--at best, they would get a quiet, "Just leave me alone"; at worst, they didn't receive any answer.
"I wish I knew what he's doing in there," Spencer said.
"He'll tell us soon enough," Brendon said.
Spencer, steady, calm Spencer, was completely taken apart by Ryan's refusal to acknowledge him. Brendon was now the one providing comfort, and he found the switch of their usual roles to be bittersweet. He felt it strengthened his own position in their relationship, but the price it came with seemed too high. Brendon had been afraid of being a drain on Spencer, of always demanding and never giving back anything. Spencer had laughed when Brendon admitted it and said his music was enough to compensate. Brendon hadn't believed him--how much could his music do?
But now it was Brendon holding Spencer up and giving him the energy he needed to keep up the daily business. George's death had thrown everyone into a frenzy and they received message after message, all asking for some kind of business information, and Spencer had been busy with trying to deal with them, while Brendon was organising the house--Ryan had to be fed, even though he refused to come down; the funeral had to be organised; Brendon had to keep Spencer from working until midnight.
"There's still so much to do," Spencer said, a hint of frustration in his voice.
"It'll still be here tomorrow," Brendon said.
"Tomorrow we will coax Ryan out of his room."
"Or force him," Brendon said. "But now we must go to sleep."
Brendon slept badly that night, haunted by dreams of George Ross telling him that he was not good enough for his son. And he wondered what they would do if Ryan still refused to talk to them after he came out of his room. Brendon remembered his father ordering Kara to behave normally--and, after a while, she had. Brendon didn't think that would work well with Ryan, though.
In the morning, it turned out that all his fears had been for nothing. Ryan was at the breakfast table long before Spencer and Brendon got up.
"We have to go to the office early today," Ryan said as they entered the dining room. "Father--he still made many of the business decisions. We have to figure out what he was working on."
"Of course," Spencer said. He sat down next to Ryan and reached for his hand. Brendon was relieved to see that Ryan accepted the gesture. "But, Ryan, how are you?"
"I'm fine," Ryan said. He squeezed Spencer's hand. "But we have so much work to do, I hardly know where to start."
"We'll do our best," Brendon said. Ryan looked at him, and his gaze felt like a heavy cloak around Brendon.
"Could you organise the funeral? The hospital still has--" Ryan's voice broke.
"I'll take care of it," Brendon said. He squeezed Ryan's hand. "I'll handle it."
Brendon hadn't ever had to deal with a funeral before and he found the task to be a mix between morbid and soothing. He exchanged many letters with Ginger, asking her to help with the details as he was afraid to make any faux pas. Drafting the invitations, choosing the paper, commissioning scribes to write them... it had a certain mechanic stupor to it that was relaxing. Choosing a coffin was much less so.
"Don't you want to come with me?" he asked Ryan.
"No," Ryan said curtly. Brendon forgave him that--he had contemplated choosing a coffin for his parents and he'd hastily decided to always answer his mother's messages immediately now. "Just take the biggest, most luxurious one."
Brendon was taken a back, but he took Ryan by his word. Personally he thought the huge chestnut coffin lined with red velvet was too much, but he hadn't ever been involved in a rich person's funeral before. But it seemed to fit George--it certainly exhibited his desire to impress and intimidate by wealth.
Spencer and Ryan spent much of their time in the office. "George had already handed over many of the daily responsibilities to Ryan and me," Spencer said the evening before the funeral. "But the overseas business, for example, was something he still handled on his own. It's taking us a long time to read up on all of this."
"Do you think the lawyers will have more information for you?" Brendon rubbed Spencer's shoulders. "About whom to contact and so on?"
"We hope to find George's contacts in his office," Spencer said. He sighed, where he was sprawled out over the couch. Ryan was writing a letter, but not taking part in their conversation. That was how it had been all week--Spencer and Brendon making conversation, while Ryan was sitting close by, quietly.
"He used to be very organised," Spencer continued. "His habits had ... lapsed in recent months and we have to sort through his correspondence."
"I'm sorry that you have so much work," Brendon said. "Would you like me to come with you to the office?" He smiled. "As long as I don't have to crunch numbers, I think I should be of some use to you."
"You always are," Spencer said. He smiled back and kissed Brendon's hand. "We'd appreciate it," he said.
"Is everything prepared for tomorrow?" Ryan slowly got up.
"Yes," Brendon said. "Would you like me to go over--"
"I'll retire now," Ryan said. "I'll see you in the morning."
Brendon sighed after Ryan had gone. "He's so distant," he said. "I wish he'd let us help more with his grief."
"He's not talking much to me in the office, either," Spencer said. He sounded sad and dejected.
"He'll relax when everything is taken care of," Brendon said. "I don't think he'd wanted the first occasion we hosted to be a funeral feast."
"I don't think anybody of us did." Spencer sighed.
No, Brendon thought, as he watched Spencer roll his shoulders. They hadn't.
"Let's go to bed," Brendon said softly.
"All right." Spencer got up slowly. "It feels like a bad dream," he said. "I still--although he has been--I can't believe he's gone."
"Maybe you should allow yourself to grieve, too." Brendon pulled Spencer out of the sitting room, all the way along to his own room. "You've also lost a fatherly figure."
Spencer shook his head. "No, George was--he was a friend, I think, at best, but we never were especially close."
"I see." Brendon pushed Spencer into his bed.
"Don't I get to undress?" Spencer smiled.
"Let me," Brendon said. He slowly and carefully opened each button on Spencer's shirt, pulled his shoes off and unfastened his trousers.
Spencer got up and let his clothes fall onto the floor. Brendon tsked. "I should fold these," he said when Spencer took Brendon's hands and pressed them against his chest.
"They'll have to be cleaned anyway," Spencer said. "Please--hold me."
Brendon kissed Spencer slowly. "Get into bed."
That night, Brendon wrapped himself around Spencer's back, holding him firmly. Spencer twined up their legs and held on tightly to Brendon's hands. Brendon pressed a kiss on Spencer's neck. "Go to sleep," he whispered.
The next morning they had switched positions, Spencer lying on top of Brendon, face buried in Brendon's hair. Brendon woke up slowly, with the sense of something missing.
"Ryan," Brendon whispered.
Spencer sighed, his breath ghosting over Brendon's skin. "Ryan," he repeated.
And then they had to get up for the funeral.
Brendon had been to his fair share of funerals before. His town was small enough and his family important enough that it had been taken as a given that they would show up at most funerals, a lord and his family residing over their people in life and death.
But nothing could have prepared Brendon for the masses of people showing up to pay their last respects to George Ross.
"I didn't write this many invitations," Brendon whispered to Spencer as they walked along the church's aisle to their designated seats. "Had I forgotten everyone else?"
"No," Spencer whispered back. "But the clerks of all our businesses have shown up, too. You only met a few, the ones working in our main office. And there are many business partners who didn't need to be invited explicitly."
"That's good." Brendon was relieved. "I would have been ashamed to have overlooked them."
They sat down, one to either side of Ryan. Brendon hadn't known George's likes and dislikes when it came to religion--their wedding hadn't been standard, none of them attended church weekly, and Ryan hadn't been in the mood to answer Brendon's questions. So Brendon had chosen a simple ceremony for the church service, respectful without being conservative and traditional.
It was easy to lose himself in the mechanics of the ceremony--kneel, pray, pay their respects. Brendon felt calmer as he followed the familiar routine. He was only aware of Ryan to his side and Spencer on Ryan's other side; all the other people faded away. When it was time to follow the coffin out of the church and Brendon turned around, he was a little overwhelmed by the mass of people filling the entire church. Walking past them felt like running a gauntlet, although Brendon couldn't tell which assumed misdeeds he was being judged for.
The procession to the gravesite was slow and depressing. The air seemed colder than it was and the sun shone brightly, almost blindingly. Brendon felt uneasy as they stood in front of the open grave and watched the coffin slide down slowly.
The priest said some last words, but Brendon found it difficult to listen. He couldn't stop thinking about the few eulogies they'd heard--Spencer's father had given a short speech, and so had two of George's business partners. They'd spoken of a strong man, full of wit and energy. Brendon wished he'd met the man George Ross had been before--if that man had ever existed. He'd heard too many eulogies that had tearfully romanticised the deceased to put much store in them.
Brendon almost startled when something touched his hands--until he realised it was Ryan reaching out for him. Brendon bowed his head to look at their entwined hands and he squeezed Ryan's hand gently. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ryan holding on to Spencer, too.
It filled Brendon with a strange mix of emotions. Finally, he thought, Ryan had realised that he could trust Spencer and Brendon to hold him up. It also made him proud, to have Ryan's approval after all this time. And mixed in with it all there was a bitter taste of sadness that it had taken the death of Ryan's father for this to finally happen.
When it was time to step forward and say their last goodbye, Ryan kept holding on to them, so they moved forward as one unit.
"Goodbye," Ryan whispered. "May you rest in peace now."
"And may we live in peace," Spencer whispered.
Brendon just held on tightly to Ryan--he was at a loss for words. "Goodbye," he repeated Ryan's words. There wasn't anything else he wished to say to the late George Ross.
A long line had formed, full of people waiting to pay their respects. As the three of them stood near the grave, accepting condolences, the line seemed to be never-ending. Slowly they moved from business partners to clerks and finally they were done. Brendon felt grateful that at last they could leave the cemetery and escape the cold.
The church service had been simple and the funeral itself cold and depressing--but the funeral feast was anything but. They'd decided to have it in George's house--or, rather, Brendon had decided. "I don't want the first party we give in our house to be a funeral," he'd said and nobody had objected.
Now that Brendon was experiencing it, he was even more convinced that it had been the right decision--even if simply for the fact that they could leave the mess behind to be cleaned up another day.
"He was a fine man, that George Ross," an elderly man was telling Brendon. He had partaken freely of the red wine Spencer's mother had insisted they offer, and Brendon smiled weakly. He would have preferred a feast without alcohol, especially given the circumstances, but Ginger knew better how to navigate city society, so Brendon had let her have her way. Now Brendon had to suffer the consequences--he'd been looking for Spencer and Ryan when he'd been waylaid by the old gentleman.
"We'll miss him," the man said.
We won't didn't seem a very appropriate answer, although Brendon had to bite the tip of his tongue to keep himself from saying the first thing that popped into his mind. Instead, he forced himself to nod. "It's a sore loss," he said, and extricated himself from the man's grip.
He found Ryan surrounded by a group of people who made a very sophisticated impression. Brendon didn't have the sharp sense for fashion that Spencer and Ryan showed, but he'd learned his fair bit about suits since he'd come to the city and so he could tell that the garments of these people were even more expensive than Ryan's fanciful suit.
Ryan seemed more lively than he'd been in days, though. Brendon moved closer, intrigued by this change.
"I'm missing balls," Brendon heard Ryan say. "It's been a few dull months."
"We've been missing you, too," one woman said. She leaned in close--too close for Brendon's liking. He frowned and wondered whether he should interrupt, but then he chose to stay in some distance. He didn't know much about Ryan and Spencer's life together before they married Brendon. He was curious about these people who seemed so familiar with Ryan and yet nobody had ever mentioned them to Brendon.
"Those husbands of yours must keep you busy," a man said. "Although I can't imagine Spencer being much of an entertainment."
"They are entertainment enough for me," Ryan said, a sharp tone resonating in his voice.
"Oh, and just a moment ago you said it's been dull without us," the man said smiling. "I'm afraid you'll have to choose one statement."
"I don't see how I could've possibly missed you," Ryan said. "Nobody's been annoying, it was peaceful."
"As if you like peaceful!" Another man laughed. "You can confide in us, we promise we won't tell--are they that good?"
"Oh, Alex, shut up," the woman said. "Why must everything be about sex?"
"Because it is," Alex said. "It always is."
Brendon stood rooted to the spot. He didn't want to keep listening, but he found it near impossible to move.
Ryan laughed. "If you must know, yes," he said.
"As good as me?" Alex leered. Brendon felt physically sick.
"That's going too far," Ryan said. "I don't kiss and tell."
"Strange, it just sounded like you were." Alex had the gall to wink at Ryan. "Or maybe you're looking for a fourth?"
Brendon was just considering clawing Alex's eyes out, when Spencer turned up. "Greenwald," he said, his voice full of contempt. "Who let you in?"
"That guy in the black uniform," Alex said. "I believe he is your butler."
Spencer glared. Brendon hadn't known he could look like that, and was amused before the thought crossed his mind that this wasn't at all appropriate for a funeral, so he hurried over.
"Spencer," Brendon said. "Do you have a moment for me?" It was obvious that Spencer couldn't stand Greenwald and Brendon figured he just needed to get Spencer out of the room.
"Oh, who's this?" Brendon was confused when Alex put his arm around his shoulders. "I believe we haven't met yet."
Spencer's glare intensified. "This is Brendon," he said. Brendon was thrilled to hear the possessive tone in his voice. At the moment, he felt uncomfortably like a calf at the market, being eyed by a bunch of butchers, and so he inched closer to Spencer.
"And what is your last name, sweetie?"
Brendon hadn't been called sweetie in ages. Well, Cook had a habit of calling him darling, but that didn't count.
"Ross," Ryan said. He sounded part possessive, part angry, and it had the fortunate effect that Alex withdrew his arm. Spencer immediately reached for Brendon's hand and pulled him close. "Please let me introduce my husbands."
Alex eyed Brendon and the calf-at-the-market feeling became more pronounced. Brendon just wanted to leave the room. He pasted on a smile--he didn't even care about making it seem believable in the least. "It's a pleasure to meet you," he said. "Excuse me, there's a matter I need to discuss with Spencer."
Brendon pulled Spencer out of the living room, into the hall and then into the next unused room. It turned out to be a guest room. "We can't stay here for long," Spencer said calmly, "or there'll be gossip."
"Who was that?" Brendon asked. He wrapped his arms around himself, like a shield.
"That was Alex Greenwald." Spencer sighed. "I'm afraid he hates you."
"Why? I have just met him!"
"Yes, but Alex was planning to be Ryan's other spouse. Or, rather, he'd wanted Ryan to be his other spouse."
"Oh," Brendon said. "So you--" He felt cold and drew his shoulders in, as if that would help him keep the warmth in his bones.
"Alex hates me, too," Spencer said. "I'm proud to say that the feeling is entirely mutual."
"But I thought you'd been engaged to Ryan for ages."
"We were. Alex tried to convince Ryan to break it off."
"I like him even less now."
Spencer sighed loudly. "He's often quite charming, if you can believe it," he said. "He also happens to be very much in love with Ryan, which is something I can hardly hold him at fault for."
Brendon stood in the middle of the room and he suddenly felt exhausted. "I wish this day were already over," he said.
"Brendon," Spencer said softly. He moved to Brendon, gently taking his hands and pulling his arms down.
"No, no, it's--we buried Ryan's father and now there are all these people praising him like he was a good person and there are people who hate me just because Ryan married me and what if he decides to take Greenwald up on his offer?"
"Firstly," Spencer said, "a lot of those people don't think George was a good person. You'll find that some think he was a miser, others say he was a wastrel, somebody else is convinced he was a bad businessman, another says he took too many risks and so on." He pushed Brendon's hair back behind his ears and the gesture was so heart-warmingly familiar that Brendon couldn't do anything but relax. "And, secondly, yes, Ryan married you. After rejecting Greenwald a few times."
"He asked Ryan?"
"I wouldn't put it like that," Spencer said dryly. "The last few times, probably yes. The first time came out like an order, though."
"I don't see that working well with Ryan."
"It didn't." Spencer looked at Brendon and put his hands on Brendon's face, stroking Brendon's cheeks softly with his thumbs. "Thirdly and lastly, Ryan won't ever say yes to Greenwald."
"How can you be so sure?"
"Because, despite a lot of our modern ideas, Ryan is still a bit old-fashioned when it comes down to being married," Spencer said. "He wouldn't ever do anything that would make either of us unhappy. And he knows how much Greenwald and I loathe each other."
"I don't like him much, either," Brendon said.
Spencer smiled. "Please don't try to tell me you missed Ryan coming to your rescue," he said.
"I didn't," Brendon said softly. It gave him hope.
Spencer kissed Brendon's forehead. "It's time to mingle again."
"Only a few more hours," Spencer said. "Then we'll go home and back to our lives."
"It won't happen a moment too soon," Brendon said.
By the time the feast was done, Brendon was so tired he couldn't keep himself upright. He supposed that all the polite lying he'd done about how much they missed George drained his energy. He was glad when they finally went home and only managed to fall into bed, still clothed, before he fell asleep.
The next morning, Brendon woke late, despite having gone to bed so early. But he felt like a huge weight had been lifted from him--George was gone, his funeral was dealt with and now they could move on.
Ryan was already sat at the dining table when Brendon went down for breakfast.
"Good morning, Ryan!" Brendon said cheerfully. "Isn't it a beautiful morning?"
"Good morning, Brendon." Ryan didn't look up from his book.
Brendon's smile faltered and he sat down next to Ryan carefully.
"Tea, sir?" Johnson already had the pot in hand.
"Please. And the usual for breakfast."
"Very well, sir."
Johnson retreated in the kitchen. Brendon served himself breakfast. "Where is Spencer this morning?"
"He already left," Ryan said. "Business at the harbour."
"I see," Brendon said. He felt disappointed that he couldn't talk to Spencer--Ryan seemed in a rather taciturn mood this morning, and Brendon had learned that it was best to just let him be.
"I will have to leave soon, too," Ryan said, carelessly almost. "Right now, actually, I believe."
"Your carriage is ready, sir," Johnson announced.
"I'll see tonight then," Brendon said to Ryan.
"Quite possibly," Ryan said.
Brendon found Ryan's reply very odd--as far as he was aware, all social obligations were cancelled for the moment, so he couldn't think of any place else where Ryan would this evening.
It might not mean anything, but together with Ryan's distant attitude this morning, Brendon didn't have a good feeling about it.
He turned out to be right.
In the evening, Spencer arrived home at the same time as Ryan, and it seemed that they had been having a fight, too.
"I don't wish to talk about it any longer," Ryan said, and brushed past Brendon without greeting him. He rushed up the stairs.
"What?" Brendon looked after Ryan. "What's going on?"
"Grief, I think," Spencer said. He sounded sad and frustrated. "He's been in a bad mood all day, taking out his anger on everyone, even though none deserved it."
"It's a very hard time for him," Brendon said quietly. "And you have to take care of all the businesses, too."
Spencer sighed. "Please don't remind me. We've been going through the books and--" He shook his head. "There's more work than we can manage, I feel."
"Then you must tackle it bit by bit." Brendon hooked his arm into Spencer's. "I think I have the right remedy for you, though."
"I think Cook has prepared a wonderful roast," Brendon said. "And you get a shoulder rub, but only if you want."
Spencer smiled. "Of course I do."
"Should I call for Ryan?"
"No, give him a few more minutes to himself," Spencer said. "He prefers to be alone these days."
Spencer sounded so sad that Brendon leaned up to kiss him. "It'll be all right," he said.
"You're blocking the door," Ryan said behind him, and Brendon startled so badly he jumped forward, hurtling against Spencer.
"I'm glad you came down to dinner," Spencer said.
"Are you really?" Ryan looked between Spencer and Brendon in a way that made Brendon feel ashamed that he was holding his own husband in his arms. "You two look very cozy--I wouldn't want to interrupt."
"Interrupt--Ryan," Spencer said sharply. "You're speaking nonsense."
"If you say so," Ryan said and sat down at the table. Brendon could only stare at him as Ryan started to eat without paying any attention to him.
"The food's getting cold," Spencer said, his voice tight and barely hiding his anger. "We should sit down as well."
It was one of the most awkward meals Brendon had ever shared with anyone. No one talked and the atmosphere was tense, as if the smallest spark could set them on fire.
Brendon felt he could breathe more freely after he'd swallowed the last bite of the very excellent roast.
"I shall go retreat to my room," Ryan said dryly.
"Please don't," Brendon said. "I've hardly seen you in days." Despite Ryan's behaviour, he missed him -- and he didn't think that being by himself this much helped Ryan to deal with his grief.
"It seems that the two of you don't require me downstairs," Ryan said. "I wouldn't want to inflict myself where I'm not wanted."
"Ryan!" Spencer stood up. "Have you lost your mind?"
Ryan stood up, too. "Please don't try to deny it," he said. "I am not blind."
"Whatever you think you're seeing, it's obviously not the truth," Brendon said. "You--you're not unwanted here."
Ryan didn't even react. "Please don't mind me leaving," he said in a bored tone. He turned to leave and that was the final straw for Brendon.
"Oh no," Brendon said and jumped up. He wasn't fast enough to cut Ryan's way off, but he grabbed his arm in the hallway and dragged him into the sitting room.
"What are you doing?" Ryan asked. He didn't sound unaffected anymore and there was a quaver in his voice.
"I'm sitting you down to give you a good talking to," Brendon said. He pushed Ryan onto the couch. "I'm done with your attitude."
"You don't have to compensate for your guilt with anger," Ryan said, but there were cracks in his casual demeanour.
"I'm not guilty, but, yes, I am angry," Brendon said. "Spencer and I, we have nothing to hide from you. You know--it's been months now, you don't get to react like a spoilt child who has to share his toys! You," Brendon leaned forward and poked Ryan's chest with his index finger, "haven't been open with us."
"Oh, you feel like that."
"I feel the same way," Spencer said. He closed the door to the hallway carefully. "There's something you're not telling us."
"Oh, quid pro quo, I'd say." Ryan gave them a pointed look. "You haven't been telling me things, either."
"But you knew!" Spencer put his hands on his hips.
"You told me about sex," Ryan said. "There was no mention of feelings."
Spencer looked startled. "They tend to come with the territory," he said. "You also knew that I'd liked Brendon from the start. You approved of it."
"You did?" Brendon turned to Spencer. "Why?"
"The way you smiled at me," Spencer said. "At our second meeting, you told my mother the most outrageous stories without any semblance of embarrassment. It was--"
"Adorable was the word he used," Ryan said. "Also he jerked off that night thinking about you."
Brendon blinked. "How would you know?"
"I made him tell me," Ryan said blithely. "So I believe that the two of you will be--well, happy."
"Hold on," Brendon said. "Regardless of who liked whom first, there are still three people in this marriage."
"Are there really?" Ryan studied his hands and didn't look at either of them.
Spencer squatted down in front of him, directly in Ryan's line of sight. "Ryan, please tell me what you mean," he said.
"I want to annul the marriage," Ryan said. "It's never been consummated."
Brendon was stunned, speechless. He felt like he couldn't breathe anymore. Spencer fell heavily onto the sofa.
Ryan continued, as if he wasn't breaking their hearts. "If I remember them correctly, the contracts won't keep you from marrying each other--with a third spouse of your choice."
"I chose you," Spencer said slowly. "I chose you and I will always choose you and what in the devil's name is going on here?"
"It'll be better this way," Ryan said. "You don't have to feel obligated to keep to the old arrangement."
"Ryan." Brendon sat down next to Ryan and took his hand. "But why would we?"
"I'll understand if you don't want to stay," Ryan said.
Spencer got up onto his knees and put his hands on Ryan's cheeks. "Look at me, Ryan," he said, his voice shaking. "We don't understand what this is about."
Ryan closed his eyes. "I read the contracts," he said--so quietly Brendon had to strain to hear him. "I--I'm sorry, I didn't know that--that he--" He broke off and swallowed heavily.
Spencer frowned. "But the contracts ... the marriage contracts? There wasn't anything unusual in them."
"I didn't know," Ryan whispered.
"What didn't you know?"
"How much money he had to pay to get your parents to let you marry me," Ryan said. "I--I found the letters and--you are free to go if you don't want to stay."
"But we do," Spencer said. "And the money--" He sighed. "Ryan, he also gave my parents the same amount. It was what he thought suitable as dowry."
"Oh." Brendon leaned against Ryan. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "My parents--"
Spencer stroked Brendon's face with his left hand. "Ryan, he didn't have to buy us."
"He only bought my name," Brendon whispered into Ryan's ear.
"I don't care about that," Ryan said. "I don't put any value on which family you come from."
"Neither do I," Brendon said. "But I care about you, you have to believe me."
"Ryan, you've known my feelings for you ever since we were children," Spencer said.
Ryan looked between them. "But the two of you--"
"We were waiting for you," Brendon said.
"We still are waiting," Spencer corrected.
Ryan opened his mouth, gaped for a long moment and then shook his head. "So I was being an idiot for no reason at all?"
"Yes," Brendon and Spencer said in unison.
Ryan looked at Spencer and Brendon. The corners of his mouth started twitching, and for a moment Brendon was afraid he would start to cry--at this point, nothing would have surprised Brendon. But Ryan started to laugh--first quiet chuckles, but then he began guffawing loudly, head thrown back, his whole body shaking.
Brendon shared a look with Spencer who was grinning wryly. "Release of tension, I hope," he said. "Hysterics, I think, is what they call it."
Ryan calmed down slowly. "Trust my father to create problems for me even from the grave," he said.
"We were so worried for you," Brendon said. "And all of this because of a few stupid contracts?"
Ryan rubbed his eyes. "You didn't know--the things he said."
"Well, we know some," Spencer said. "You should've told us."
"We have to work on that," Brendon said. "You need to talk to us from now on."
"Because we're married?" Ryan looked at Brendon.
"Yes," Brendon said. "Because we're married." He reached for Spencer and pulled him close. "The three of us."
Ryan put his arms around them and held on tight. Brendon thought, Finally.
"But in one point you were right, Ryan," Spencer said suddenly, after a few moments of silence.
"What? No, he wasn't," Brendon said. "We love him and care about and--"
"Not that," Spencer said. "We haven't consummated our marriage yet."
"Oh," Brendon whispered. He felt hot and his insides were quivering. He looked at Ryan and found him studying Brendon in return.
Spencer slowly got up. He reached out, offering both Brendon and Ryan his hands. "Shall we share a bed tonight?"
Brendon stared at Spencer's hand. It felt similar to that very first night--desire and fear warring with each other. But this time he already knew Spencer, knew how to kiss him and where to touch and--Brendon wanted. He'd lain awake at night, wondering how it would be, how it might happen, and he'd felt that void both inside and in his bed where two other people were supposed to be. Every single of their touches, of their looks, was filled with true affection. Brendon's heart gave a happy start as he thought back to his juvenile fantasies. He might have married two strangers, but he was consummating his marriage with two people he loved.
Brendon took Spencer's hand.
It was the signal Ryan had apparently been waiting for, because he immediately took Spencer's hand, too, and got up, reaching for Brendon's other hand. "Let's," he said.
Brendon looked at them and thought, Yes.
Ryan smiled softly. "I wish to," he said. "But tonight I'm--I'm not--"
"It's all right," Brendon said. "We're moving too fast."
"Brendon's right," Spencer said. "I'm sorry, but ... I miss you."
"We can still share the bed," Ryan said softly. "Just to sleep."
"I'd enjoy that," Brendon said. It was a start, he thought, and it kept his disappointment at bay.
"Let's go upstairs," Spencer said. "It'll be a pleasure to simply be with you."
"These rooms haven't changed at all since the last time I was in here," Brendon said.
"Why should they?" Ryan said. "They were meant to be lived in by three people."
Brendon hummed as he studied the bed room. The bed seemed even bigger than the last time Brendon had seen it.
"Why are you still standing in the middle of the room?" Spencer asked amused.
"We were waiting for you," Brendon said. He wanted the three of them to go to bed together.
"Well, I'm here now," Spencer said.
Slipping under the covers felt just as much like a ceremonial act as their actual wedding ceremony. Ryan went first, with Spencer to his right and Brendon to his left side.
"Good night," Brendon whispered. Although he was hyper-aware of the two people in bed with him, he fell asleep easily.
Brendon woke up comfortably warm. He pressed closer to the body next to him.
"You're like a kitten," Spencer mumbled. "I'm sure if I petted you, you'd start purring."
Brendon mumbled, "'M not a kitten."
The arm wrapped around his waist tightened and Ryan whispered into his ear, "No, indeed, you're an octopus."
"An octo-what?" Brendon blinked his eyes open.
Ryan chuckled behind him and underneath him Spencer sighed loudly. "I told you he liked to cuddle."
"I'm sorry that I didn't believe you," Ryan said.
Brendon lifted his head. He realised that at some point in the night he'd managed to work his way between Ryan and Spencer, so Brendon was sprawled out in the middle of the bed. "Oh."
Spencer kissed Brendon's neck. "We don't mind," he said. "But it makes getting up very unappealing."
"I'm sorry," Brendon said. "Why do you have to get up?"
"Work," Ryan said. He gently ran his fingers over Brendon's side. It tickled almost and made Brendon shiver.
"Do you have to go?" Brendon hoped they hadn't noticed his voice shaking.
"Unfortunately, yes," Spencer said. "Tonight," he whispered into Brendon's ear.
Ryan kissed differently than Spencer. He put a little more pressure into it, bit a little harder, but his hands were gentle, stroking the side of Brendon's face.
Brendon clung to Ryan, his hands tight in Ryan's hair. He wanted to map all differences between Spencer and Ryan. He could have kept kissing Ryan forever.
Spencer chuckled behind Brendon. "Let me," he said and tugged on Brendon's jacket. Brendon dropped his arms just for long enough that Spencer could pull it off, before he wrapped them around Ryan again.
"A little help would be welcome," Spencer said. He sounded more amused than annoyed, though. The feel of Spencer's hands pressed between Brendon and Ryan, as Spencer slowly unbuttoned both their shirts, sent goosebumps over Brendon's skin.
"We're bonding," Ryan murmured.
"Try not to suffocate," Spencer said.
Brendon had to break off the kiss to giggle. Spencer used the chance to slip Brendon's shirt off his shoulders.
"More nakedness, please." Spencer pulled Brendon away from Ryan. "You can kiss more later."
"I like him when he's so bossy," Brendon stage-whispered to Ryan. "He likes being in charge."
"Tell me about it," Ryan said. He still stripped out of his clothes obediently.
When they were finally naked, Brendon felt decidedly less giggly and much more nervous. Spencer's hands on his hips grounded him, though.
"Hey," Spencer whispered into his ear. "How do you feel?"
Brendon sighed. Spencer kissed his shoulder and gently bit down on the junction of his neck and shoulder. Ryan pressed a kiss against Brendon's palm.
"I feel good," Brendon said.
"Because you seem a bit anxious," Spencer said.
"Anticipation is more like it," Brendon said softly.
Ryan tipped Brendon's chin up. "We can do something else," he said. "Spencer likes--"
"No, no, I want to," Brendon said. "I want you. Both of you. Tonight."
"All right," Ryan said. He smiled. "Then I suggest we get you ready."
Ryan tossed the duvet back and Brendon laid down in the middle. He'd already cleaned himself properly and couldn't wait for it.
Spencer produced a small jar full of a sweet-smelling oil. "We'll be gentle," he said.
Brendon laughed. "Like you haven't been fingering me into oblivion," he said.
Spencer put the jar down next to Brendon on the bed before he leaned down to kiss Brendon. It calmed Brendon down and he relaxed against the sheets.
Ryan was stroking Brendon's side, running his fingers over Brendon's chest and belly. He flicked Brendon's nipple and Brendon moaned against Spencer's mouth.
"He likes that," Ryan said. He sounded delighted, and his delight filled Brendon with a sense of accomplishment.
Spencer chuckled while Brendon grinned. "It feels good," he said.
Ryan laughed. "I don't mind. I like that you like it."
Brendon wasn't prepared when Ryan leaned down and gently bit his nipple. He cried out and fisted his hand in Ryan's hair. Spencer kissed Brendon again, while Ryan sucked on Brendon's nipple.
Spencer whispered, "I gave him a few tips." He pressed a kiss against the corner of Brendon's mouth. "To give him a head-start."
"Cheater," Brendon gasped. But he wasn't truly cross with Spencer--the thought that they talked about this was thrilling. Brendon imagined them in bed, Spencer whispering into Ryan's ear how to please Brendon, while he was touching Ryan, getting Ryan off. He couldn't bite back a moan.
Ryan kissed his way slowly down Brendon's body, biting here and there: Brendon's hipbone, the fleshy part of his belly, his thigh.
Brendon still held on tightly to Ryan's hair and slid his other hand over Spencer's back, keeping him close.
Spencer hummed quietly and stroked his finger tips over Brendon's thigh, between his legs. Brendon spread them slightly, allowing Spencer to wrap his hand around Brendon's cock.
Brendon whimpered when Spencer stroked him firmly, pushing up against his fist.
"I think he's ready," Ryan mumbled from where he was pressing kisses against Brendon's thigh.
Brendon moaned, when Spencer flipped his thumb over the head of Brendon's cock. "Relax," Spencer said against the corner of Brendon's mouth.
Brendon took a deep breath. He let Ryan push his thighs farther apart. "This might be cold," Ryan said. "But it warms up quickly."
The warning didn't keep Brendon from startling when Ryan pressed his fingers against Brendon's opening.
"Shhh," Ryan said. "Breathe out."
It felt weird, Brendon thought. Ryan only pushed one slick finger in. It was good, though, hardly a stretch after all the times Spencer had done it to Brendon, and Brendon couldn't keep himself from pushing down more.
"Slow down," Spencer said and kissed Brendon's temple. "Let him open you up."
"But I want more," Brendon said.
Ryan laughed. "Don't be too impatient," he said, "or you'll feel it tomorrow."
The thought of being able to feel it, feel them, the next day still didn't seem very terrible to Brendon. In fact, the contrary applied--Brendon couldn't see a single bad thing about it.
"You are amazing," Spencer said.
Brendon leaned up to kiss Spencer. "You two are amazing," he said.
Ryan added another finger and Brendon moaned loudly. "No, Spencer's right."
Brendon fell back down against the pillows and laughed. "Can we agree that the three of us are amazing? And keep doing that."
Ryan slid his fingers slowly out of Brendon before pushing them back inside fast. "I was planning to," he said dryly.
Spencer stroked his thumb over Brendon's mouth. "Are you good?"
"I could be better if you kissed me," Brendon said.
Spencer laughed. "How negligent of me."
By the time Ryan added a third finger, Brendon was convinced he was ready. "Ryan," he whimpered. "Please."
"Oh no." Ryan leaned down to lick over the head of Brendon's cock. "Spencer's first."
"I don't care, I'm ready." Brendon spread his legs as far as they would go, kicking both Ryan and Spencer in the process.
Spencer chuckled. "Just let me--" He fumbled with something out of Brendon's line of sight. Ryan pulled his fingers out and Brendon moaned at the loss. Spencer laughed and finally rolled on top of Brendon.
"Hey," Brendon whispered.
"Hey," Spencer said. He put his hands under Brendon's knees and pulled them up until Brendon could wrap his legs comfortably around Spencer's waist.
"Take a deep breath," Spencer said. "And push against me."
Spencer was much bigger than Ryan's fingers, Brendon thought. But also so much better.
"You feel incredible," Spencer whispered. Brendon could only gasp in return.
When Spencer started to thrust, slow at first, Brendon blindly reached out for Ryan and gripped his hand tightly.
Ryan leaned up and kissed Brendon. "Relax and enjoy it."
"It's too good," Brendon said. "It's too much--Spencer."
Spencer chuckled and he pressed their foreheads together. "It'll be even better," he said.
Brendon could feel the familiar tingle in his belly, the way his skin seemed to be on fire, announcing his orgasm. "Spencer," he gasped. "I--"
It was Spencer's turn to whimper now and his hips thrust in an erratic rhythm as Brendon clenched down on him. Brendon could tell the moment he came and followed close behind. He gasped and the world erupted in a hot-white flash, leaving him unable to move a finger.
Spencer collapsed on top of Brendon, pressing him down against the mattress.
Ryan kissed them both softly. Brendon traded gentle kisses with him until Spencer rolled to his side and Ryan took his place. "Are you sure?" Ryan asked. "If you're too sore--"
"I want you," Brendon whispered. "Please."
Now Brendon understood why Spencer had gone first. Brendon didn't think he would have been able to take Ryan directly after his fingers, not this first time. Even now that Brendon was already loose, it was enough of a stretch that it hurt slightly.
Brendon nodded. "Come on."
Ryan kissed Brendon deeply while he fucked him. Spencer kissed Brendon's palm and sucked on his fingers. Brendon felt enveloped by them and, above everything else, loved.
Brendon didn't think he could come again, but Ryan still felt amazing inside him and Brendon crossed his ankles behind Ryan's butt to press him in deeper.
"Ryan," Spencer whispered. "Come on, let go."
Ryan whimpered against Brendon's mouth and his hips stuttered, then his rhythm grew frantic. Brendon gasped and grabbed Ryan's shoulder.
"Brendon," Ryan said in a broken voice. "Spencer."
"Please," Brendon whispered. "Let go."
Ryan thrust against Brendon hard, jolting the entire bed, and he came. Brendon wrapped both his arms around him, as Ryan shook so hard Brendon was afraid he might fall apart. Spencer leaned up and kissed Ryan's neck.
"God," Ryan sighed. "Can we do that every night now, please?"
Brendon laughed. "I'm not sure I would be able to take you both every night."
"Nobody said you would have to," Spencer said. He smiled and pushed Brendon's sweaty hair out of his face.
Brendon sighed. "That's good to know."
Ryan kissed Brendon softly. He pulled out slowly, but Brendon still whimpered. Now he felt empty, but the feeling of loneliness was staved off because both Ryan and Spencer were there, tangling their legs with Brendon's, holding him close.
"I love you," Brendon whispered quietly. He heard two I love you, toos back and fell asleep smiling.
"I can't believe it's finally happening," Brendon said. He straightened his new suit again. "After all this time."
Spencer laughed. "Don't you start, too," he said, tugging on Brendon's cravat. "It's been hell working with Ryan this week--all he could think about was the ball, he was absolutely useless for any business-related things."
"I don't understand how you can be so calm," Brendon said. "Our first ball!"
"I know," Spencer said calmly. "And if you don't finish getting dressed, you'll be coming late."
Brendon hurried. When the first guests were arriving, he was already pacing in the hallway to the ballroom, had double and triple-checked that everything was in order and Cook had already thrown him out of the kitchen.
His husbands were also threatening to tie him down.
"But what if they don't like me?" Brendon fidgeted.
Ryan sighed and took both of Brendon's hands. "Then I will tell them they have very bad taste and we will move on."
"They will love you," Spencer said. "Everyone we've talked to has been looking forward to our ball. Don't worry so much."
"Ah, Lady Chaplin!" Ryan exclaimed. "It's so nice to see you here tonight."
"It's my pleasure," an elderly lady said. Ryan kissed her hand and she laughed. "I see you haven't forgotten your manners yet. I was afraid my nephew would drive them all out of you."
"I assure you that Alex never had that kind of influence on me." Ryan smiled. "And even if, my husbands would make sure that I would remember my good upbringing in an instant."
"Yes, your husbands! You haven't introduced us."
"A grave oversight on my part," Ryan said. "Let me please--Brendon, this is Lady Chaplin. She's an old friend of my mother's. Milady, I think you've already met Spencer."
"But there's such a difference between a young unmarried man and someone's husband," Lady Chaplin said, while she winked at Brendon and Spencer. "You should always make sure to introduce them to everyone, lest they think you weren't happy to have them."
Brendon laughed. "Believe us, we know how he feels about us."
Ryan snorted. "There's Lord Sweetman," he said. "I should greet him."
"Feel free to do that on your own," Lady Chaplin said. "His wife cost me dearly during our last bridge game; I do not wish to speak to him."
"Very well, milady," Ryan said. "Excuse me, please."
Lady Chaplin put her hand around Brendon's arm. "You've done wonders here," she said. "I hardly recognised--everything."
"Mostly the room just needed a good scrubbing," Brendon said. "Oh, I'm sorry, that's--that's not appropriate to speak of, is it?"
Lady Chaplin laughed. "My dear boy, I wasn't speaking of the room, although I have to admit that you did some good work here." She smiled. "I was speaking of your husband."
"That wasn't just me," Brendon said softly.
"You changed him both," she said. "I haven't seen him like this since he was a young boy."
"You must tell me about those days," Brendon said. "I asked Spencer, but he will not admit to any of their mischief."
"Oh, I will, dear boy," she said. "Whatever you want to hear. But first you must meet someone."
She set forth to introduce Brendon to every single person in the room that she knew--which turned out to be most of them. Brendon tried to keep all the lords and ladies and dukes and simple misters straight in his head, but he was failing soon. He hoped that Ryan knew them and could help Brendon out.
Brendon was relieved when it was time for Ryan's speech.
"Where were you?" Spencer asked. "We've been looking for you."
"Lady Chaplin," Brendon said.
Spencer grinned. "Oh, she's taking you under her wing? Then you needn't worry--everyone who's someone in the city will want to know you."
Brendon glared at him, but put a smile on his face when Ryan stepped out in front of them and called for a moment of silence.
"It is my great pleasure to announce this ball," he said. "It's been many years since this house has seen so many people and I believe that we should make up for those years of silence. Let the music play."
Ryan turned to Brendon. "May I have the first dance?"
"You may," Brendon said, smiling.
Ryan led Brendon into the middle of the floor and at the first note they set off. They had spent many weeks practising this dance--first Ryan teaching Brendon the steps, then them slowly figuring out how to move together. It was a similar dance to the one they performed in bed--and no more but also no less difficult to master.
"Relax," Ryan whispered. "I love you."
"I know," Brendon said. "But I feel like they are judging me."
Ryan laughed. "They are judging you," he said. "But Elisa already broke the ice when she was the one to introduce you and lead you around."
"Lady Chaplin." Ryan led Brendon through a series of complicated steps which made it impossible for Brendon to concentrate on anything but his feet.
"I hope I didn't embarrass you," Brendon said when the song had ended.
"Brendon, they are charmed by you," Ryan said. "You could never embarrass me."
He led Brendon to Spencer. "He's fretting again," Ryan said. "Make him stop."
Spencer grinned. "I think this calls for more dancing."
"Well, I believe this is a ball," Brendon said. "Also I'm not fretting."
Spencer took Brendon's hand and twirled him. "Oh, you are," he said. "But I know ways how to make you stop."
It was impossible to be upset when Spencer led Brendon over the dance floor in the most ridiculous dance Brendon had ever performed. It involved a lot of skipping and turning in circles, and by the end of it Brendon was laughing.
Ryan was waiting for them with drinks. He handed them cool glasses of grape juice.
"To the future," he said.
"To love," Spencer said.
"To us." Brendon smiled at them both as they clinked their glasses.
"To us," they all repeated and drank.
Brendon wrapped his arm around Ryan's waist and leaned his head against his shoulder. He could feel Spencer doing the same, Spencer's hand resting high on Brendon's back.
They watched the dancers for a few minutes, then Brendon broke out of his reverie. "Oh, why are we standing here while we could be dancing?" He pulled a laughing Ryan and Spencer onto the dance floor.
As Brendon led them in a complicated three-partner dance he made up on the spot, he felt that he was home now.