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Stand in Groom

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“I think they’ll notice if the bride is a groom!” Brendan hissed.

There was a ringing in his ears Alex couldn’t quite get to stop no matter how many times he shook his head. This, this couldn’t be happening. Not today, not to him. He wasn’t really about to be stood up at the alter was he?

He ran his hands through his hair. “Okay, yes, the people invited will know, but the public, everyone else, I’ve kept Alina’s name out of the press as much as I can--”

Maybe that should have been a sign, in retrospect. Alina never wanted to go out with him in public, never wanted to be seen with him. The few times photos of them together did leak, she would flip her shit, not speak to Alex for days. Alex just thought she was really particular about her privacy, and that was what she had always told him, but maybe it should have been a sign.

“Alex,” Brendan said, holding out his hands like he wanted to sooth some skittish animal. “The public knows you have a girlfriend. They know you are,” he winced. “Were, sorry, about to get married here. If you show up suddenly, ‘Oh, I’m married to my wedding planner’s assistant!’ I think people are going to notice!”

No, but maybe that would work. “We’ll say she was a beard,” Alex said desperately.

Brendan stared at him for a moment in disbelief before shaking his head. “You know what? I’m calling PK. I don’t get paid enough for this shit.”

PK was Alex and Alina’s wedding planner. He’d done a great job getting everything ready for today, and holding Alex’s hand through the whole stressful ordeal. And there was another sign: Alina never wanted to be part of the wedding planning process, leaving all the decision making up to Alex--and PK. At the time he found it sweet, that she was so easygoing and relaxed, not like other brides he’d heard about. But maybe he should have realised she just--just didn’t care.

But that didn’t mean all of PK’s hard work had to go to waste. It didn’t mean Alex had to be humiliated in front of the entire city.

“No, no, come on,” he begged, taking the phone directly out of Brendan’s hand. “Do you know how long PK has been planning his vacation?”

“I do, actually,” Brendan said, crossing his arms over his chest. “Because I’m the one who had to convince him to go, and that everything would be fine! That I could handle running one wedding on my own without a disaster! Fuck.”

“You can say that again, “Alex said.

“Listen,” Brendan said. He put a hand on Alex’s shoulder. “I know--” he shook his head. “Okay, I don’t know what this must feel like, but it sucks. That doesn’t mean that you and me should get married! That’s fucking-- It’s crazy, okay? But it’ll be fine, I promise.”

Alex shook his head. He just… he couldn’t. It was bad enough that all his friends and family were going to know that Alina had stood him up. He couldn’t face the whole city knowing the same. He just needed to get some control here, save some face. “Please,” he said. “Please, Brendan. It doesn’t have to be forever, just for a year maybe--”

“A year!”

“And then we can get a divorce,” Alex continued as if he hadn’t heard Brendan’s objection. “I’ll pay you whatever you want, just--”

“No, come on,” Brendan said.

“I’ll give you a million dollars,” Alex said, desperate. He was quickly losing control of the situation, and he was desperate. “Right now. And another million at the end of the year.”

Brendan laughed.

“Is that not enough?” Alex asked.

Brendan regarded him for a long moment, chewing on his bottom lip. Not for the first time Alex noticed how attractive he was. It had never mattered before, he was going to marry Alina, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to be married to Brendan for a year.

“Why does it matter so much?” Brendan asked.

It was a fair question, and he took a moment to really think it over before answering. “You know I took over for my dad as CEO this year?” he asked. At Brendan’s nod he continued, “I never really… I don’t know, I never really wanted any of this, you know? I got my MBA because it was the thing everyone expected me to do, but I’ve never felt like I was any good at it. I just thought if I could get married, go that route and be the good son, do what everyone was expecting of me it would be easier to have someone there… with me.” He trailed off.

Brendan stared at him for a long moment. “You know you sound like poor little rich boy, right?”

“Fuck you,” Alex said, shouldering his way past Brendan and blinking back tears. Fuck, just… fuck, he already knew the board wanted him there, had high expectations for what he could do, and Alex believed in himself, he really did, it was just really hard and having someone… that part sounded nice. What was so wrong about that.

“Hey.” Brendan’s hand landed on his shoulder, and with some tugging, managed to turn Alex around so they were facing each other. “All right,” he said, finally, looking up at Alex through big eyes, the corners of his mouth curled up.

“What, really?”

“Yeah,” Brendan said. “I mean, yes. For a year, I mean. It’s not ideal, but let’s do this.”

Alex didn’t realise how much he had been hoping Brendan would say yes until he did. He save face and he wouldn’t be alone, and the rest he would figure out when it came down to it.

“Thank you,” Alex said. He wrapped his arms around Brendan, pulling him in for a crushing hug and held on tight. “And I really will pay you. Whatever you need, it’s the least I can do.”

-

The wedding was a bit of a shitshow, to put it mildly. They had to run down for a new marriage license among a hundred other things, and the only reason they could get that done was because Alex’s dad was friends with the mayor and they used that to pull the appropriate strings.

Alex’s family was understandably confused with the last minute change, but Anna handled that, keeping people from asking too many questions, and at the end of the ceremony Alex kissed his new husband.

That was really the only thing he remembered later: the way Brendan lingered for just a moment, his hands squeezing Alex’s biceps, the way he sighed into Alex’s mouth and didn’t open his eyes until a beat after Alex pulled back.

The reception was a mess, people coming up to them and asking questions, trying to understand, and even though Alex knew he brought this situation on himself he just couldn’t--

“Well, it was a bit of a secret affair,” Brendan said smoothly. “Alex didn’t want anything to jeopardize his promotion, but well, the heart wants what it wants, eh?” He winked at Alex’s grandmother, and Alex thought he might faint.

Instead, everyone was rather charmed with Alex and his “unusual” romance.

“I always liked that Alina,” his great aunt Marina said. “Such a nice, beautiful girl.” Alex braced for--something. “But there was never that spark,” she continued, oblivious to Alex’s inner turmoil. “I can see why now.” She looked meaningfully between Brendan and Alex.

“She’s imagining the wedding night,” Brendan said out of the corner of his mouth, when Aunt Marina moved on.

“What?” Alex hissed. “She is not!”

Brendan shrugged.

The rest of the night passed in a blur of family, dancing, and drinking. It wasn’t exactly the wedding Alex imagined when he and PK were planning everything, but he couldn’t say it was bad either.

“So,” Brendan said, when the two of them got back to Alex’s condo. “Wedding night?” He wiggled his eyebrows.

“What?” Alex asked.

“Do you want to bang?”

Excuse me?”

Brendan laughed, throwing up his hands. “Hey man, it’s cool. That’s a no on the banging. You got a second bedroom?”

Alex’s brain finally caught up with the words that were coming out of Brendan’s mouth, and he couldn’t help but feel slightly disappointed at his gut reaction. But no, he had just been left at the alter, and he was going to have to spend a year living with Brendan. The last thing they needed was to complicate the situation even further by adding sex into the mix.

He showed Brendan to the spare room, only realising that Brendan didn’t have anything to wear… or any of his belongings. “We can, um, go to your place tomorrow?”

“Sounds good,” Brendan said.

Alex brought him a spare t-shirt to sleep in and then made a hasty retreat to his bedroom. Looking around, the place was completely scattered with Alina’s belongings. Suddenly, that was the last thing he wanted to see. There was an empty box in his closet, and he pulled it out, gathering her things as he made his way around the room.

Soon, the box was overflowing, and he had to get another one, and then a third, getting every last thing she had ever left behind in the whole apartment. He put them by the front door, before finally allowing himself to climb into bed and turn off the lights.

He reached over to plug his phone into the charger on the nightstand, blinking as the screen lit up into the darkness of the room. There was a text from Alina that simply read I’m sorry. Alex stared at it until the screen shut off. He put it down and turned over onto his side, finally letting himself cry for the first time.

-

He woke up after noon the next day, and debated just staying in bed.

There was someone moving around in the kitchen, and it took his tired, heartbroken brain a moment to realise it must be Brendan. He groaned and rolled over onto his back, knuckling the sleep out of his eyes. “Fuck,” he muttered under his breath. “Fuck.”

He pulled himself out of a bed a short while later, shuffling into the bathroom and turned on the shower. He felt better with the hot water beating down on his back, and he washed the last of sweat and tears off. Once he was clean and dressed, he took a deep breath before opening his bedroom door and going out to face his husband.

“Morning,” Brendan said, when Alex made his way into the kitchen. He was sitting at the breakfast bar, sipping a cup of coffee and reading something on his phone. He was wearing his suit pants from yesterday, along with a white tank top, leaving his arms bare on the counter, and his collarbone exposed and strangely vulnerable. His hair was sticking up in every different direction.

“Morning,” Alex said belatedly.

Brendan fiddled with his mug while Alex poured himself a cup. “I, uh, called my mom,” he said. “She’s kinda pissed.”

“She is?” Alex asked. “Why?”

“Um, because I got married without telling her?”

“Oh,” Alex said. “That makes sense.”

“What did you think it was going to be?”

“I don’t know, the dude thing?”

“Oh, that. Well, my parents have known I was gay since I was a teenager, so they’re fine with that. They’re not super down with one of their kids getting surprised married and not telling anyone.”

“Did you tell them the truth?”

“No, not yet,” Brendan said. “I wasn’t sure if I should. I wanted to talk to you first.”

“Oh,” Alex said, touched by the thoughtfulness. “Well, my family knows the truth, so you can tell them whatever you want, I guess?”

“Oh,” Brendan said. “Okay, great.”

They stared at each other for a moment before Brendan coughed and looked away. “I made breakfast,” he said. “It’s on the stove.”

Alex helped himself to a plate and sat down across from Brendan at the kitchen table. It was quiet, and a little bit awkward, but not unbearably so. Alex thought he could get through a year like this.

It would be fine.

-

Life went back to a surprisingly normal routine, for Brendan.

He moved in with Alex for appearances sake, but it was mostly just that. The man worked so much Brendan hardly ever saw him except when they crossed paths sometimes in the kitchen.

“This isn’t what I said when I wanted you to get more involved with our clients,” PK said when Brendan went back to work.

He’d been dreading facing PK, worried what his boss’s reaction would be, and scared he would fire Brendan. Instead, he only gave Brendan the stinkeye before cracking up, and telling him to get to work on the Kessel-Knight wedding.

“It’s not like you’re going to marry them.”

Brendan took well to married life, in that it was almost exactly like his single life except he lived in a much nicer place and had way more disposable income. He was reluctant to use Alex’s money, even though the two of them had sat down and had the world’s most awkward conversation that amounted to Alex offering Brendan an allowance.

Brendan refused in the end, but agreed to Alex paying out the last of his apartment lease as well as Brendan’s remaining student debt and day to day expenses.

It made him feel a tiny bit uncomfortable so mostly he ignored it and put the extra money he wasn’t paying on rent into his savings.

Brendan liked Alex, or at least he thought he did. He hardly saw enough of the guy to form a real opinion on him. He wanted to, was the thing. On the rare occasion the two of them crossed paths, Alex was funny with a biting sarcasm Brendan couldn’t get enough of.

Alex was already gone in the mornings when Brendan got up for work, and he often didn’t get home in the evenings until well after dinner, sometimes not until after Brendan went to bed.

If it weren’t for the dirty dishes in the sink, Brendan would think the guy was sleeping at the office.

One morning, a few months into their marriage, Brendan woke up just after four and couldn’t get back to sleep no matter how long he stayed in bed staring at the ceiling. Finally after an hour of tossing and turning he climbed out of bed and decided he would go for a run.

The kitchen light was on when Brendan made his way downstairs, and he found Alex standing in front of the coffee maker as he waited for it to finish brewing.

“Morning,” Brendan said.

Alex jumped a foot into the air. “Fuck,” he said, clutching his chest. “You scared me.”

Brendan chuckled. “Sorry about that.”

Alex scowled. “You don’t look sorry.”

Brendan spread his arms and shrugged.

“What are you doing up anyway?”

“Couldn’t sleep. Gonna go for a run.”

Alex nodded, and Brendan took a moment to admire him, shirt undone at the collar and still untucked. He looked sleep rumpled and relaxed, different from when he came home at the end of the day, still buttoned up and eyes pinched with stress.

He cleared his throat. “Is this the time you always get up in the morning?”

“Yeah,” Alex said with a shrug. “Early bird gets the worm and all that.”

Brendan stared at him for a moment. “Jeez, man. Do you ever take a load off?”

Alex didn’t say anything.

“What about the two of us do something together?” Brendan asked. “This Friday night? We’ll watch a movie, order takeout? Something chill, no pressure.”

Alex considered him for a moment. The silence seemed to drag out between them endlessly until Alex finally nodded. “Sure,” he said. “That sounds nice.”

Brendan wasn’t going to consider the sense of relief rushing through him at Alex’s agreement, nor the flutter of excitement in his belly. It was nothing to get excited about. Just two married friends hanging out. That was all.

The week seemed to drag on. Brendan couldn’t focus at work. He messed up the dinner order for Weber-Josi wedding, and by the third time he had to call Price Catering back to correct the order, PK threw his pen at him from across the room.

“What is up with you lately?” PK asked. “You normally have your head in the game.”

Brendan shrugged. “It’s nothing.”

PK stared him down.

Brendan sighed. “Fine. I have plans to hang out with Alex tomorrow, and I’m kinda nervous about it, I guess?”

“Date night with the hubby?” PK asked, a smug smile spreading across his face. He’d been weirdly on board with their relationship, after he got over the initial shock and disbelief of Brendan eloping with one of their customers. Brendan didn’t really understand why he was so invested in it, or why he wouldn’t take Brendan at his word that there was nothing there between them.

“It’s not like that,” he said for the hundredth time.

“Sure, sure,” PK said. “That’s why you’ve been a ball of nerves about it all week. Because it’s nothing?”

Brendan didn’t care for the fact that he had a point.

Finally Friday night rolled around. Brendan was out of the office at five o’clock on the dot, ignoring PK’s shouted “I wanna hear details on Monday!” as he made his way home.

The thought struck him as odd in its familiarity. Home. Not Alex’s apartment. He supposed it was his home, even if only for the short term, but he’d become so comfortable there in the short few months since he and Alex married.

Brendan paced around the apartment trying to get things ready. There wasn’t much to do, which only compounded his nervousness. The place was spotless as it usually was, the cleaning service Alex hired came in daily to clean up after them. Once he put in the order for takeout there wasn’t anything to do but stare at the news on TV and scroll through twitter on his phone.

Alex made it home two excruciatingly long hours later, and the food was already all spread out in the living room, waiting for them.

“Oh,” he said when he came in, like it was a surprise.

“Um,” Brendan said. “We had plans? Unless--”

“No, no!” Alex said. “This is good.”

Brendan smiled “Awesome,” he said. “Great!” He cringed internally. God, this shouldn’t be so hard. It was just as he told PK, hanging out.

They settled awkwardly on the couch. They agreed on an action movie to watch. It was uncomfortable at first, the two of them sitting feet apart, but as the night wore on, they both got caught up in the food and the movie and relaxed.

“This was fun,” Alex said. “We should do it again sometime.”

“Yeah,” Brendan agreed. “Totally.”

There was a charged moment, the two of them facing each other, before Alex ducked his head. “Well,” he said, scratching at the back of his neck. “Good night.”

“Night,” Brendan said.

As much as Brendan really would love to have another hangout--okay, okay, fine, date--night with Alex, he really didn’t expect it to happen again. At least not so soon.

But when he got home from work the following Friday, Alex was already home and waiting for him. “Wanna hang out?”

Brendan easily agreed, and they settled in for another night of movies and bad food.

It quickly became habit, the two of them settled on the couch together every Friday night. Sometimes they watched movies, other times Brendan forced Alex to sit through the shows he’d fallen behind on during the week. They both became obsessed with Scandal, watching the newest episodes together every week, or catching the end of whatever hockey game was on that night.

Sometimes Brendan thought things might become more than… whatever weird friendship the two of them had built together. They sat side by side on the couch now, their shoulders pressed together as they demolished a whole pizza or two between them. More than once Alex fell asleep, his head dropping down onto Brendan’s shoulder as he dozed off. Once Alex’s hand landed on Brendan’s thigh as he napped, and when he woke several minutes later he left it there for the rest of the night, reaching for food or the remote with his other hand, even when it was awkward to do so.

But every time they seemed to be moving closer to becoming… something, Alex would pull away. Brendan couldn’t begrudge him that, he’d been left at the alter only a few months earlier, and who knew whether or not he was over Alina? Brendan certainly didn’t. It was the one thing they never ever talked about.

“Hey,” Alex said one rare morning he was still home when Brendan woke up, nearly six months into their marriage. “I can’t hang out this week.”

“Oh,” Brendan said. “No problem.” He pushed down the feelings of disappointment. Alex was busy, and since the first time they had their date night he’d never missed one week. It was nothing. “Working late?”

“Nah,” Alex said. “I’ve got this charity function I have to go to for work. It’s going to be pretty boring and lame, but it’s a big deal. I can’t miss it.”

“Oh,” Brendan said. “Right. Sure. No problem.”

What did it matter if Alex didn’t want to take Brendan to some important work function? It didn’t, Brendan reminded himself as he busied himself with packing up the leftover food.

“Unless…” Alex said. “You wanted to come with me?”

“Up to you, man,” Brendan said, trying to sound casual. “I mean, if you rather I wasn’t there, that’s fine. I just thought that was kind of the reason we had this whole arrangement, you know?”

“Oh,” Alex said. When Brendan turned to face him, he was looking down, brow furrowed. Brendan couldn’t interpret the look on his face. “Right, of course. Yeah, that sounds good then.”

“Right,” Brendan said. “Good.”

“Great.”

-

Alex had a car pick them up from the condo at eight o’clock Friday night. Brendan had picked up a tuxedo, paying the tailor an exorbitant amount to have it ready in just a few days. The expense was worth it, if only for the way the thing fit him like a glove. He looked at himself in the mirror on last time before pointing finger guns at himself.

Behind him there was a chuckle.

He whirled around to see Alex leaning against the door, legs looking criminally long in his own dress pants. They were a blue so dark to be almost black, and he had a vest underneath his suit jacket, hair combed back from his face and beard trimmed neatly. He felt his mouth go dry.

“You’re ridiculous,” Alex told him. Brendan didn’t think he was imagining the faint blush on his cheeks when Brendan’s eyes finished raking over him, taking in the whole sight.

Brendan grinned, brazening it out. “You know it, baby.”

Alex made his way across the room, standing next to Brendan as the two of them took in their appearances.

“Damn,” Brendan said. “We do look good next to each other.”

Alex smiled down at him. “Yeah,” he said. “I really up your game.”

He looked so proud of his jab, Brendan couldn’t help but laugh along delightedly. “Sure, sure,” he said. “Whatever you have to tell yourself, bud.”

Alex ushered him out of the apartment, and into the elevator with a hand on his back. The drive was relaxed, easy. The two of them laughed and joked together the whole way. It was only when the limo pulled up to the side of the road that Alex went quiet, his face going slightly green.

“You okay?” Brendan asked quietly, as they walked into the venue. The place was impeccably decorated, and Brendan should know given he basically planned fancy parties for a living.

“Yeah,” Alex said. “Fine.” He was quiet for a moment as Brendan watched him. “A little nervous,” he admitted. “It’s my first big event as CEO.”

Impulsively, Brendan reached out, wrapping his fingers around Alex’s and giving a brief squeeze. “Come on,” he said. “We got this.”

They made it work surprisingly well. Brendan could be charming when he needed to be, filling in silences before they had the chance to become awkward. Everyone wanted to know about his and Alex’s “secret” love, and Brendan found himself getting swept up in it as the night wore on, the details becoming more and more elaborate with each retelling.

“Would you quit it?” Alex asked after Brendan relayed the story of Alex’s proposal. “People are going to catch on.”

“How?” Brendan asked. “They weren’t there, they don’t know.”

Alex looked like he was about to get annoyed for a brief second before he finally broke down into giggles. They were contagious, and Brendan found himself laughing along. It was easy. Nice.

It was also something to see Alex in his natural habitat, so to speak. He was at home talking shop with various company VPs, and Brendan could see--whatever Alex might think about his place in the company--that he was respected and well liked. Brendan knew that Alex was smart, funny, and talented. It was nice to see that other people did too.

It was good. They were good together.

It was late by the time they were finally able to escape back to the car Alex had ordered for them. Brendan was looking forward to getting home and taking off his tux, maybe watching a movie on the couch with Alex before the two of them crashed.

They were quiet on the ride back, but it was a comfortable one. Alex put his hand at Brendan’s back and ushered him into the elevator back up to their penthouse suite.

It felt comfortable, easy. Things may have started out as a simple arrangement between them, but they hadn’t stayed that way. Brendan liked Alex, he liked him a lot. And maybe they wouldn’t be married now if they had just met and started dating, but that wasn’t what happened. Why shouldn’t they make the most of the situation they were in and really be together?

He watched the numbers rise steadily on the elevator display, and sucked in a deep breath. “Alex,” he started.

The doors dinged open, and Alex stepped forward, only to stop short. Brendan bumped into him. “What’s the matter?” he asked, peeking over Alex’s shoulder to see what was the matter.

“Alina,” Alex said.

The woman was sitting in the hall in front of their door. Brendan recognized her instantly, he’d spent a fair bit of time with her planning the wedding, although she’d never been as involved as Alex.

“What’re you--” Alex cleared his throat. “What are you doing here, Alina?”

“I should let you guys talk,” Brendan said, slipping around Alex’s back and into the apartment. He heard a weak, ‘Brendan, wait--’ from Alex, but he was already past them and closing the door to his bedroom.

Brendan could hear their voices rising and falling in the main room, although he couldn’t make out any words, didn’t want to. He changed into his pajamas and climbed into bed, stared at the ceiling for a long time. If Alex wanted to be with Alina, and she wanted to be with him, then--Brendan should step aside. It was the right thing to do.

But fuck, even just thinking about it hurt.

There was a quiet knock on his door.

“Come in,” he said, sitting up.

Alex opened the door hesitantly. “Hi,” he said.

“Hey,” Brendan said. “Is everything okay? Do you need me to leave?”

Alex paused at that, before shaking his head. “What? No. Why would I want you to leave?”

“Alina--”

“I asked her to go,” Alex said.

Brendan sat back against the headboard. He had no fucking clue what to say to that. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” Alex nodded. “Can I come in?”

“Yeah. Yeah, of course.”

Alex took several steps across the room, coming to sit at the edge of Brendan’s bed. He opened his mouth. Then closed it again.

“Are you okay?” Brendan asked, feeling concerned.

Alex nodded. “Yeah,” he said, there was a faint hint of a smile at the corners of his mouth. “Alina wanted to apologize.”

“She did?”

“Yeah. She said she was sorry for letting the wedding plans get so far along when she knew her heart wasn’t in it.” He paused and ran his hand through his hair.

“Alex, I’m sorry.”

“I’m not.”

“You’re not?”

“No. Because if she’d gone through with it… I wouldn’t have you.”

Brendan’s throat was completely dry, and he had to swallow a few times before he could speak. It was exactly along the lines of what Brendan had been thinking before their evening got derailed. “What?”

Alex reached out and grabbed Brendan’s wrists. “I’m not sorry it happened. None of it. I’m glad it did. I’m glad I married you.”

Brendan felt like his strings had been cut. He sunk back down into his pillows, searching Alex’ face for… something. “Fuck,” he said finally. “Really?”

Alex nodded.

“Me too.” He grinned.

The two of them stared at each other for a long moment, just grinning. Finally, as if mutually agreed, they moved forward at the same time. The kiss was soft at first, just the brush of lips on lips. Brendan still couldn’t stop smiling as Alex kissed his teeth.

Alex pulled back to laugh at Brendan.

“Are you sure?” Brendan asked.

Alex sat back. “I loved Alina,” he said. “I would have married her. But she didn’t love me, and that’s--” He paused, shook his head. “Well, it fucking sucked, but something good has come out of it. This has come out of it. And I want to try. Being married for real. As long as you want that too.”

Brendan couldn’t stop himself from launching forward, pressing Alex’s body down into the mattress, and kissing him, firm and deep. “God,” he said, after a long moment. “Yes, you fucker. I want that.”

Alex grinned, and rolled the two of them over, still kissing Brendan all the while. Things may have started between them as a hastily made and poor thought out decision, but they weren’t ending that way. Not by a long shot.