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It was a knock on the door of Nevada’s office that caused her to look up from her work. Not so much for the interruption--she was used to being at everyone’s beck and call--but because someone actually bothered to knock.

That ruled out any of her family members, and everyone under her employment or Rogan’s. It couldn’t be a client because one of the said family members would have barged in to let her know.

Nevada was absolutely stumped as to who it could be.

“Come… in?” she called, sounding far too unsteady for her liking. She couldn’t remember the last time someone managed to knock her off balance in her home.

The door opened revealing the absolute last person she expected to see. Well, that was perhaps a slight exaggeration--her incarcerated grandmother would be the last person she expected to see.

“Augustine,” she said. “This is a surprise.”

He grimaced, an expression Nevada interpreted as an attempt to smile.

“Nevada,” he said.

She waited, but he didn’t say anything else.

“Did you want to sit down?” she asked. This wasn’t anything like their usual encounters. If Nevada didn’t know any better, she might even say he looked uncertain.

Augustine sat.

“What can I do for you?” she asked, once the silence stretched on longer than was comfortable.

Augustine shifted in his chair, adjusted his tie. “I’m here to speak to you as head of House Baylor,” he said.

That was even more unexpected. She thought he could be here to hire her, or refer her to a potential client.

“On… a personal matter?” she asked.

He looked even more uncomfortable. “Yes,” he said.

“Alright,” she said slowly. “What can I do for you.”

He grimaced again. “I wanted to seek your permission to court someone in your House.”

Nevada blinked. She shook her head. Pinched herself. Nothing changed. She replayed his words again in her head, but the message didn’t change.

“I’m sorry, you want to what?” she asked.

“Nevada--” he said.

“What in the world would make you ask this?” she said. “What would make you think this was a good idea? What would make you think I’d say yes?”

“Nevada--”

“My sisters are way too young for you!”

“Nevada--”

“You haven’t even asked for a genetic profile! You didn’t think about giving me a heads up you had this hare-brained idea in your head?”

Nevada!”

She took a breath. “What?”

“I’m not asking about one of your sisters.”

“What?”

She looked up at him. His hands were folded across his lap, but for the first time she noticed how white his knuckles were, the lines around his eyes, his pinched mouth. She thought she maybe even saw a bead of perspiration at his temple.

“Then who are you asking about?”

-

Augustine didn’t notice him right away.

He was sitting in the back room of the bar where Augustine had come to after a long day. It was one he frequented often, next to a hotel he owned. The bartender put a scotch down in front of him, and Augustine didn’t look up again until he was all the way through it. There was a headache pounding at his temples, clients and employees had been on him all day and he wanted to just not think.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option.

Still, he found the alcohol was serving its purpose, and as it warmed in his belly he found himself relaxing by inches.

It wasn’t until he was halfway through his second drink that he lifted his head and took in his surroundings.

The bar was mostly filled with the usual crowd he would expect at an upscale place like this. More Primes than he could count on both hands, not including himself. Everyone was dressed impeccably, and Augustine had already picked out at least three potential partners he could take upstairs to his room, should he so choose.

He scanned the options, but found no one was truly drawing his interest. It was the same crowd he was used to, the same people who ran in all the same circles. The women would be calculating how their genetic makeups would work together, and Augustine knew he should be thinking the same things.

It was the responsibility of the Head of House to ensure the House’s legacy. It was Augustine’s duty. He never once thought about doing anything other than that, despite the voice at the back of his head that would draw his attention to the broad shoulders of the men around him, a trim waist, the strong cut of a jaw.

Perhaps it was this line of thought that had his attention catching on the figure in the back of the bar. He was hunched over a laptop, typing furiously. His hair was unkempt, and his clothes were sloppy.

He should have stood out like a sore thumb.

Yet, there was something about him that said he belonged. Something… compelling that had Augustine taking a second look, and then standing and making his way across the room, drink in hand.

“Hello, Bernard.”

Bern looked up. Augustine took the brief moment of hesitation and slid into the seat across from him.

“Uh,” Bern said. “Hi.”

Augustine gave him a slow, lingering glance. His shoulders really didn’t have any excuse looking like that. The fabric of his hoodie was stretched to the absolute limits trying to contain them. He looked, somehow, even bigger than the last time Augustine had seen him.

Augustine’s firm had needed some somewhat less than strictly speaking legal hacking work, and Augustine had gone to Bern. His powers were a well kept secret, but Augustine dealt in secrets, and it wasn’t particularly hard to find out.

He’d approached Bern directly. Even at the time he knew he shouldn’t, that he should have gone directly to Nevada, but he hadn’t. Looking at the man now, it was apparent Augustine hadn’t been honest with himself as to the reason why.

“I didn’t expect to find you here,” Augustine said.

A faint hint of colour touched Bern’s cheeks, and Augustine filed that fact away to think about later, when his head was just a little bit clearer.

“I come here sometimes,” Bern said, a defiant tilt to his chin, daring Augustine to comment on it.

“Do you, now?” Augustine said, rising to the challenge.

“I can work here,” Bern said. “People don’t bother me.”

Augustine took in the mess of his hair, his casual clothes. He should stand out, but instead he faded into the background. Augustine glanced around at the other Primes in their suits, expensive shoes and jewelry. Fools, all of them, Augustine included.

“Their loss,” he said.

Bern shrugged. “I don’t mind,” he said. “I can concentrate.”

Augustine let his gaze linger, watching with satisfaction as that colour rose on Bern’s cheeks again. “Don’t let me distract you, then,” he said, and leaned back against the booth, crossing one leg over his knee.

Bern’s gaze flickered back and forth between his computer screen and Augustine’s face. Augustine allowed himself to enjoy it, enjoy the way Bern’s gaze felt on him, the way it lit him up inside more than the scotch he was drinking.

He gestured to the waitress for another round, and sipped it slowly when it arrived. They didn’t speak, but Augustine didn’t mind. The silence wasn’t exactly comfortable. Charged was a better descriptor.

That energy--an awareness--had been there between them when they worked together, but nothing had come of it. Augustine let his mind wander down that lane now. He let himself imagine what Bern’s wide shoulders would look like without the barrier of fabric, what they would feel like underneath his hands.

Augustine wasn’t sure how much time passed. He was feeling warm and relaxed, a slight buzz of alcohol coursing through him. He wasn’t drunk--Augustine didn’t allow himself to get drunk, especially not around other people--but he was relaxed and dare he say it, happy.

Bern closed his laptop with a decisive click. He looked up at Augustine with clear eyes that sent shivers down Augustine’s spine.

“Do you have a room here?” he asked.

Augustine swallowed the last sip of his scotch. He met Bern’s eyes. “Yes,” he said. He always had a room available to him at this hotel. One never knew when it would come in handy, and it was an expense he could afford.

“Do you want to take me there?” Bern asked.

His voice was strong, but that colour was still high on his cheeks and Augustine saw the slight tremor in his hands as they hovered over his computer.

Did Augustine want to take Bern to his room? That was a complicated question, that demanded Augustine consider more than just his base desires. His relationship to Nevada, House politics, the scandal of the head of House Montgomery taking another man to bed should it ever come out.

And yet.

“Yes,” he said.

Bern smiled.

They rode the elevator to the top floor in silence. They stood close, but not close enough to touch. Still, Augustine could feel the heat coming off Bern’s body, and his hands twitched with the need to touch.

The doors dinged open, and Augustine strode down the hallway with purpose. He didn’t stop or wait to see if Bern was following him. He knew he was. The keycard slid into the lock with a satisfying click, and the door swung open.

The rooms were spacious and bright, the setting sun shining through the large windows. Bern put his bag down beside the door, and took off his shoes.

He looked softer in his stocking feet. Not smaller, Augustine didn’t think Bern was capable of looking small, not with those shoulders. He was thick around the middle, solidly built. There was a hole on one sock, where his big toe poked through, the jeans were worn at the cuffs, and around his hips.

Augustine licked his hips.

“Do you want a drink?” he asked.

Bern shook his head.

“Then take off your shirt,” Augustine told him.

Bern held his gaze for a moment. The tension between them seemed to build until Augustine thought it would create physical electricity. Instead, Bern looked down, his fingers curling around the hem of his hoodie, and pulling it up and over his head.

He was wearing a t-shirt underneath, and the fabric bunched together, revealing his stomach and an impressively solid set of abs.

When Bern pulled himself free, his hair was sticking in every direction, static crackling. Augustine’s fingers itched again, and he crossed the room. He lay his hand on Bern’s cheek, thumb stroking across the line of his jaw. It was prickly with stubble that wasn’t visible until Augustine was this close.

He reached for the bottom of Bern’s t-shirt, and began to draw it up over his head.

Bern let him, lifting his hands over his head. Augustine tossed the shirt on the floor along with the sweatshirt, and reached for Bern’s belt.

Bern’s hands flexed at his side, and Augustine paused.

“Have you done this before?” he asked.

Bern nodded once, too quickly.

Augustine arched his eyebrow. “Really?” he asked.

Bern rolled his eyes. “Do you want a list of all my sexual partners?” he asked.

Augustine thought he was probably attempting more bravado than he was actually pulling off, but it was strangely endearing. Still, he hesitated another moment.

“You’re much younger than me,” he said.

Bern rolled his eyes. “Are you asking if I’m sure?” he said. “Because I was the one who propositioned you.”

“Hm,” Augustine said, but he reached for Bern’s belt again.

This time he didn’t hesitate. He popped open the button, and slid down the zipper. He touched Bern’s stomach, above the elastic band of his briefs, where he had a light trail of hair that disappeared into his underwear.

Bern sucked in a breath, and Augustine let his hand trail lower, fingers brushing underneath the elastic. He watched Bern’s face, his wide, dark eyes, his wet mouth. Augustine felt a kick of arousal in his gut, and he groaned.

“Can you--?” Bern asked.

Augustine looked up at him.

“Take off your jacket?”

Augustine walked across the room to the closet. He shrugged off his jacket, and hung it up carefully before unknotting his tie and hanging it over the clothes hanger. He took off the cufflinks and set them on the dresser, and unbuckled his belt, pulling it free of the loops in one smooth motion.

Bern watched as he went through this, as if rooted to the spot.

“Come here,” Augustine said.

Bern crossed the room as Augustine took off his pants and folded them over a chair. Bern kicked off his jeans, and they stood before each other--Bern in only his briefs, Augustine still wearing his dress shirt.

“Can I kiss you?” Bern asked.

Augustine groaned, reaching out for Bern. He finally let himself touch those shoulders that had been driving him crazy all night. Bern was firm and solid under his hands, skin warm and soft. He slid his arms around Bern, drawing him close.

Their chests bumped and Augustine tilted his head. Their noses brushed once, twice, and he felt Bern’s breath brush against his lips. Then, he couldn’t wait anymore, diving in for a kiss.

Bern opened up for him easily, their tongues brushing. Augustine groaned, pulling him closer. Now that he had this, had Bern in front of him, Augustine could admit to himself how much he wanted, how much he’d been wanting it.

He walked the two of them back towards the bed. When Bern’s legs hit the mattress, Augustine pushed him down, and crawled between his knees. Bern looked up at him. The colour that had been teasing Bern in the bar, spread all the way down his neck and chest.

He rested his hand on Bern’s chest, flat against his sternum. He could feel Bern’s heart beating underneath his palm, and he leaned down, pressing his mouth against the same spot.

Bern put his hands in Augustine’s hair, tugging gently. Augustine crawled up his body, and settled between Bern’s legs. He was hard, his erection pressing against Augustine’s hip, and Augustine pressed into it. Bern groaned underneath him, turning his head so they could kiss.

The kiss was sloppy and wet, Bern opening up for Augustine. He wrapped his hands around Augustine’s waist, fingers slipping underneath Augustine’s shirt and pressing against his bare skin.

Augustine sucked on Bern’s tongue, and Bern’s hips bucked up.

“God,” Bern groaned. “God, fuck, touch me,” he begged.

Augustine sat back on his heels and shrugged out of his shirt, letting it fall to the floor in a crumpled heap. Bern reached out for him, his hands landing on Augustine’s hips. His fingers dipped below the elastic waistband, and he pushed the underwear down.

Bern chuckled.

Augustine leaned back. “Not exactly the response I was hoping for,” he said, eyebrow raised.

Bern flushed even darker, and brought his hands up to cover his face. “Oh my God. It’s not that,” he said.

Augustine reached for his wrists, pulling his arms down and away from his face. Unable to help himself, he traced over the line of Bern’s nose, fingers brushing across his cheekbones. Bern’s eyelashes fluttered against his cheeks, impossibly long.

He was perfectly beautiful. Augustine couldn’t think of one single thing he would improve on.

“What is it then?” he asked, shaking those thoughts loose. There wasn’t any time for that kind of thinking. Not now, and possibly not ever.

“I was just thinking,” Bern said. “Your underwear probably cost more than my car.”

Augustine snorted. “Not hardly,” he said. He paused. “How much is your car worth?”

Bern laughed outright. It was a beautiful sight. Augustine wasn’t used to laughing during sex, but he found himself smiling.

He let himself be pulled down into a kiss, getting lost in the feel of mouth on mouth, lips on lips. He reached between their bodies, and freed Bern’s cock from his briefs. Bern lifted his hips, and between the two of them, they kicked the garment free.

There was nothing between them now, just Augustine’s illusion. For the briefest of moments he thought about dropping it, showing Bern his true face, but he dismissed it immediately. Before he could give it any more thought, Bern reached for him, pulling Augustine down into the cradle of his hips.

They were skin on skin, hot and rough. Bern turned his head and they kissed again, hips rolling against each other. It wasn’t going to take long like this, and Augustine knew he should try to hold out, make it last longer, make it better, but Bern was gasping in his ear, his body was hard below Augustine’s.

Bern reached down between them, grasping both their cocks in his big hand. Augustine propped himself up on his elbow so he could look down and see. It was obscene, the head of his cock peeking out through Bern’s grip.

Bern’s dick was beautiful. It was shorter than his, but fatter, and uncut. Augustine wondered what it would feel like in his hand, in his mouth. Inside him.

The thought had his hips jerking forward.

“Fuck,” he said. “Fuck, Bern. You feel amazing.”

“God,” Bern groaned. “You too. Fuck, I’m close.”

“Good,” Augustine growled.

He wanted that. Wanted to see Bern come apart underneath him. Wanted to have a million more chances to do this, and anything else they could think of. He wanted to spend hours like this, just the two of them.

He knew they couldn’t. He couldn’t.

And if they couldn’t have forever, they could at least have this. He gripped Bern tighter, let his hips move faster. Pressed his mouth to the crook of Bern’s jaw and bit him there, hard enough to leave a mark. Other people would see it and know.

He groaned.

Bern wrapped his arms around Augustine’s shoulders, pressing them tight together. He could feel the hot wetness of Bern’s come on his belly, and that was enough to send him spilling over. He bit Bern again, hips jerking as he rode out his orgasm.

The panting of their breath was the next thing he became aware of. They were still pressed chest to chest, and Augustine knew he should move away, clean them both up and send Bern on his way. He should pull his mask back around him--not the one he wore on his face, that was still firmly in place--but everything else, the expensive clothes, the persona of House Montgomery.

Instead, he rolled to the side, taking his weight off Bern but not moving away. Their shoulders were still pressed together, and when he looked over, Bern was smiling at him.

“That was…” Bern said.

“It was,” Augustine agreed. He hoped it conveyed everything he needed it to.

Bern’s smile was sweet, open, sincere. It was everything Augustine wasn’t. He could hardly fathom how Bern had survived into adulthood still looking like that. It made something inside Augustine want to cover him up. Not to hide him from the world, but to protect him from it.

Ridiculous.

He shook his head.

“What’s the matter?” Bern asked.

“It’s nothing,” Augustine said.

He could already feel himself gathering his mask back into place. He would send Bern on his way. The two of them would see each other again, but only rarely. This, whatever it was between them, it wouldn’t happen again. It couldn’t.

For both their sakes.

Augustine wouldn’t put himself in another vulnerable position like this one. Not again.

-

Nevada took a deep breath. Then another one. She closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. When she opened her eyes again Augustine was still standing in front of her.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “You’re here because you want my permission as head of House Baylor, to court… Bern?”

Augustine nodded once, sharp. “I do,” he said.

“And you have reason to believe this would be… welcomed?” she asked.

Augustine looked up, as if he couldn’t believe they were here either. Well, good, Nevada thought. She shouldn’t be the only one suffering here.

“I do,” he said.

“Okay,” she said slowly. “Okay, how--you know what? Nevermind. I’m sure I don’t want to know.”

“That’s likely best,” Augustine said, answering everything.

“Alright,” Nevada said. She pressed the button on her desk for the intercom. “Bern!”

There was a brief pause, and when she looked up at Augustine, he looked vaguely panicked. For the first time, she thought she understood her family’s glee surrounding her courtship with Rogan.

“Yeah?” Bern’s voice came over the speakers.

“Can you come into my office for a second?”

She watched Augustine. That same, vaguely queasy look was still on his face.

“It’s not too late to run,” she told him.

He squared his shoulders. “That won’t be necessary.”

She looked at him. Straight back. The same beautiful face she always knew. Yet there was something… There was a lot that needed to be worked out, but maybe there was something here. If her relationship with Rogan had been beyond complicated, a relationship between Bern and Augustine seemed almost impossible.

Every challenge Nevada faced--being unknown, from a new House still proving its power--Bern would have to face that too.

He’d have to face that as a man in a relationship with another man.

It was practically unheard of among Primes. Augustine knew all that, of course, better than Nevada herself did. He cared about appearances more than anyone else she knew.

The fact that he was still here spoke volumes.

Nevada could only imagine the challenges the two of them would face, and as much as she wished she could shield her cousin from that, protect him from the kind of scrutiny that would be unleashed on him, it had to be Bern’s decision.

Her family did always choose their own paths. She hoped Bern was ready. She would have to be ready too.

Bern came through the door. Stopped. He looked back and forth between Nevada and Augustine, before his gaze settled on Augustine.

“Hi,” he said.

The quirk around Augustine’s lips was a smile. “Hello Bern,” he said.