by Kougyoku (紅玉)
When it comes down to it, Arthur is rather privileged. There aren’t many in service who’d give up the chance to work as a valet for the heir of the Brinsley family. He gets good meals, a good wage, a crisp set of clothes, and if he plays his cards right, he may even make his way up to butler by the time he’s 30: a worthy achievement by all counts. He’s well-liked. He’s respected.
And, God help him, he thinks he might be in love.
It’s not that he means to be. Arthur knows everything about discretion and good sense and that, by rights, he should leave it well alone.
But he can’t help himself.
Edward Grove Fuller Brinsley esq., only living son of Sir Frederick Fuller Brinsley bart., is young, fashionable and handsome. From his blond, waved hair, to his elegant expressions and slim, androgynous physique, he is the very picture of desirability. Arthur has known several of the housemaids to get themselves into quite a fluster when young Mr. Brinsley happened to pass them on the stairs. Lord knows he could probably have any woman he wanted; maybe he already has.
Because while Mr. Brinsley might be fashionable and handsome and all those things, he is also light-hearted, carefree and terribly irresponsible. He’s not been known to shy away from some of the wilder pleasures in life: partying, drinking, jazz music, and who knows what else. He even solicits Arthur for a little pleasure, sometimes, while he’s dressing.
Arthur, of course, obliges him.
This time, it takes place in the morning.
Mr. Brinsley rarely likes to wake before 9 o’clock, so it is not until 10 minutes past the hour that Arthur walks into his bedroom to throw open the curtains.
There’s a rustle of sheets as Mr. Brinsley rolls over in the bed. The morning light glances across the wall and catches on his hair, but he doesn’t open his eyes.
Leaving Mr. Brinsley to wake by himself, Arthur busies himself about the room, collecting and folding hastily dropped clothes from the night before: socks, trousers, underpants, a shirt and… a pair of pyjamas?
With raised eyebrows, Arthur straightens up to look over at the bed.
And there indeed, as Mr. Brinsley rolls over onto his back, Arthur notices that his shoulders are bare. Whether Mr. Brinsley wishes to sleep in the nude or not is none of Arthur’s business, intriguing though it might be. What is Arthur’s business, however, is that Mr. Brinsley appears to be lying under only a single sheet, and that the contours of that sheet make it very clear that Mr. Brinsley is erect.
Mr. Brinsley still refuses to open his eyes to the morning sunshine, but as Arthur walks toward the bed, he can see that Mr. Brinsley is smiling.
They’ve played this game before, so Arthur knows the form of it.
“Good morning, Sir,” he says. “Your breakfast is ready.”
Mr. Brinsley doesn’t move, so Arthur brushes him on the shoulder. “Wake up, Sir.”
But Mr. Brinsley just nestles his head deeper into the pillows.
Arthur gives Mr. Brinsley’s arm a shake through the cotton. When that doesn’t get a response, Arthur shakes Mr. Brinsley’s waist, then Mr. Brinsley’s thigh. “Sir.”
Mr. Brinsley refuses to move. He stays still, eyes closed, lips curled into a smile, until Arthur’s hand makes its way over his hip to the erection waiting beneath the sheet. As Arthur strokes upwards, slowly, through the cotton, Mr. Brinsley’s lips part and he lets out a quiet sigh.
Encouraged, Arthur continues as he started, the pretence of waking Mr. Brinsley up quickly neglected as he concentrates on his task: on the way Mr. Brinsley’s breath quickens, and the way his eyelids tremble with the effort of keeping his eyes shut.
Arthur keeps his hand open, stroking Mr. Brinsley with the flat of his palm, pressing him down against his belly. Mr. Brinsley lets out a shaky breath, cheeks colouring, and Arthur can hardly look away from that elegant face.
It’s good that Mr. Brinsley refuses to open his eyes, otherwise Arthur would get caught openly staring. But how can Arthur help himself when Mr. Brinsley arches his back like that, the sheet slipping down to expose his pale collarbones?
Then Arthur curls his fingers, tight. Mr. Brinsley hums in pleasure, and Arthur’s heart beats wildly in response.
It doesn’t take long after that, only a few quick strokes, before Mr. Brinsley is scrunching up his face and making a mess of the cotton.
Arthur lets go, trying to school his own breathing, and making a mental note to get the sheets changed for fresh ones.
After a few seconds of silence, Mr. Brinsley stretches his arms to the side, arching his back and yawning. Finally, his eyes flutter open, pretending for all the world as if he’s just woken up.
He looks at Arthur with rumpled hair and a lazy smile. “Good morning.”
Arthur tries, not very successfully, to stop his heart from racing away with him. “Good morning, Sir.”
Mr. Brinsley sits up, the sheet falling to his waist. He shivers a little, and Arthur hands him his dressing gown.
“Did I hear something about breakfast?” Mr. Brinsley asks.
“I’ll go fetch it now,” replies Arthur, falling easily back into their routine. “Did you want to go out today, Sir?”
“Mmm,” Mr. Brinsley runs his hand through his hair. “Yes. I think I’ll take out the car.”
It’s 5 o’clock when Mr. Brinsley returns from his drive. Arthur leads him into his dressing room and takes his jacket.
“Your father requests that you join him for dinner, Sir. He is expecting company.”
Mr. Brinsley flops down into an armchair and wrinkles his nose. “What sort of company?”
Arthur braces himself. He knows this won’t go down well. “Mr. Grant and Mr. Harper, Sir, Captain Hoddesden and,” he looks at Mr. Brinsley, “Reverend Davies.”
“Ugh!” Mr. Brinsley stands and throws up his arms. “I can’t think of anything more ghastly!” He paces to the window and then back again. “So he wants to pit them all against me at the same time, does he? Hah!” He throws himself back into the armchair. “I’d like to see them try!”
Arthur waits for orders, but it seems like Mr. Brinsley is too busy glaring at the fireplace to give any.
After a few minutes of silence, Arthur hesitates, and then says, “Would you like to dress, Sir? If you want to be ready for dinner by…”
“No. I’m not going to get dressed just yet.” Mr. Brinsley angrily kicks his feet up onto a footstool, then snatches up the newspaper from the table beside him and opens it. “I think I shall make them wait.” He looks up at Arthur. “Tell my father that I’m tired after my drive and will need a nap before dinner.”
Arthur bows. “Yes, Sir.”
Whatever was said over dinner, it’s clear that Mr. Brinsley doesn’t want to talk about it. He’s completely silent as Arthur helps him get undressed, although his hands keep making abortive gestures and his face twitches with annoyance. He goes to bed without saying a word.
The next morning, Arthur tries to find out what happened. As he polishes Mr. Brinsley’s shoes, Arthur asks the footmen if they heard what was said over dinner.
John laughs and leans one arm against the table. “You should be asking what wasn’t said over dinner more like!”
Arthur frowns, but John doesn’t need any encouragement to continue. “They started nice,” he says, “talking about the ‘benefits of hard work’ and the ‘importance of not frittering away one’s youth’ and all that. And Sir Frederick said that Mr. Brinsley should look up to all the gentlemen present as role-models.”
Arthur puts down his brush. “How did Mr. Brinsley take it?”
John goes to reply, but George beats him to it. “What do you think?” he says with a grin. “He was polite, of course, but you could just tell that he hated it!”
“And then,” says John, eyes wide, “Sir Frederick openly called him out. Told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to ‘stop gallivanting around and buck his ideas up’!”
George nods. “You should have seen the look on Mr. Brinsley’s face. I nearly dropped the potatoes!”
Arthur’s mouth is dry. He’s not sure he wants to know what happened next. “What did Mr. Brinsley say?”
“Oh, he controlled himself very well,” John waves a hand, “but when he tried to defend his bad habits, Sir Frederick told him that if he continued on as he was, he’d lose his allowance!”
“And I think he was right to,” says George with a sniff. “Mr. Brinsley should know how to behave better. He gives the family a bad name, carrying on the way he does.”
John shrugs. “What do you think he’ll do?” he asks Arthur. “Did he say anything last night?”
Arthur picks up the polish. “No,” he says. “Nothing.”
When Arthur goes to wake Mr. Brinsley up later that morning, Mr. Brinsley doesn’t stir for a long time. He takes breakfast in bed, and when Arthur asks if he intends to go out, Mr. Brinsley just stares at his eggs and says nothing.
Later, when Arthur arrives to remove the breakfast tray, Mr. Brinsley says in a small voice that he thinks he’d like to take a bath.
Once the bath has been run, Arthur quietly leaves Mr. Brinsley alone. Mr. Brinsley has mentioned that he is looking forward to a good, long soak, which Arthur takes to mean that Mr. Brinsley wants some time with his thoughts.
It almost breaks Arthur’s heart to see Mr. Brinsley looking so melancholy. Deep down, Arthur knows that Mr. Brinsley has brought this on himself by his own reckless behaviour, but even so, Arthur can’t help wishing that he could do something to help, anything to make Mr. Brinsley more cheerful. Arthur is so busy mulling it over that he’s hardly able to get any work done, and he’s more than glad when the bell rings after only quarter of an hour.
When Arthur arrives in the bathroom, Mr. Brinsley greets him with a pitiful stare.
“The water’s going cold,” says Mr. Brinsley sadly.
Arthur tries to smile. “Would you like to get out so that I can run the bath again?”
“No,” says Mr. Brinsley, ducking his hair under the water. “Just adding some more hot water will do.”
Arthur takes off his jacket and rolls up his sleeves then turns on the hot water tap. He’s not sure why Mr. Brinsley can’t do this himself, but then, he knows what Mr. Brinsley is like when he’s in one of these moods.
After a while, Mr. Brinsley sits up. “That’ll do. I don’t want to boil.”
So Arthur turns off the tap and is just about to leave when Mr. Brinsley looks at him and says, “Will you help me wash my back?”
Arthur bows, kneels at the side of the bath and picks up the sponge. He soaps it up as Mr. Brinsley leans forward, and tries not to allow himself to get too affected by their proximity: Mr. Brinsley’s skin pale and shining with bath water.
Mr. Brinsley sighs and hangs his head as Arthur sets to work.
For a few moments, there’s silence, but then Mr. Brinsley says, “He threatened to stop my allowance, you know.”
Arthur tries to affect ignorance. “Your allowance?”
Mr. Brinsley sighs again. “My father made it very clear to me last night that he doesn’t care for the way I live my life.”
Judiciously, Arthur says nothing.
Mr. Brinsley continues. “What does he know anyway? I doubt he’s ever had any fun in his whole life.” He huffs. “I bet he’d never have treated Freddie this way.” Then he turns to Arthur. “That’s enough of that. Wash my hair, will you?”
“Yes, Sir.” Arthur puts down the sponge and picks up the soap again.
“I mean,” says Mr. Brinsley, closing his eyes as Arthur runs his fingers through his hair, “it’s not like I do anything particularly scandalous. If you compare me to… to… Billy, or to Eliza… or Archie, I’m practically angelic!”
Arthur removes his hands. “Duck under, Sir.”
Mr. Brinsley does as he’s told, and comes back up, wiping the water from his eyes. “If my father heard of some of the things that Archie gets up to, he’d have a heart attack!” He glares at the taps for a few seconds then sighs. “Never mind that though.” He looks over at Arthur. “Help me.”
And there’s no mistaking Mr. Brinsley’s request, not when he leans back in the bath, hands on the rim of the tub and hips rolling upwards.
Arthur takes the cue and gets up on his knees, one hand reaching down into the warm water.
Mr. Brinsley makes a pleased noise and lets his head loll back, eyes sliding shut. Arthur strokes upwards and feels Mr. Brinsley grow hard beneath the touch, water glinting on his chest as he takes a deep breath.
It’s nice to see Mr. Brinsley looking less melancholy and more relaxed. In fact, it’s rather more than nice.
Arthur knows that he shouldn’t enjoy this as much as he does. What would Mr. Brinsley say if he knew how much Arthur liked the feel of him in his palm, how much Arthur loved to see Mr. Brinsley’s fingers clench over the sides of the tub, or how delighted Arthur is to watch Mr. Brinsley’s cheeks grow dark?
It’s during the last of these, as Arthur is admiring the flush of pink to Mr. Brinsley’s lips, that Mr. Brinsley opens his eyes to catch Arthur staring at him.
Arthur’s breath deserts him. Mr. Brinsley’s gaze is hot and dark and unwavering, and it refuses to let Arthur go. For a moment, Arthur can’t move, can’t do anything. Then, remembering himself, he flushes and looks away, down into the water, where Mr. Brinsley’s hips are matching Arthur’s hand, stroke for stroke.
Arthur has to stifle a noise at the sight. He squeezes tighter and Mr. Brinsley sighs, one hand stuttering along the side of the tub to clutch at Arthur’s shoulder. The sleeve of Arthur’s shirt grows damp at the touch, but Arthur doesn’t mind. He doesn’t mind at all.
The rocking of Mr. Brinsley’s hips grows faster until the water washes from one end of the bath to the other, threatening to spill out over the sides. Mr. Brinsley’s chest is shuddering, his breath heavy, and when Arthur chances to look back over at Mr. Brinsley’s face, he sees that Mr. Brinsley’s eyes are closed tight again, his shining lips open.
For a foolish moment, Arthur is struck by the urge to kiss him. Luckily, Arthur is startled out of the temptation by a groan as Mr. Brinsley finds his release, his hand clutching so tightly in Arthur’s shirtsleeve that Arthur is nearly dragged down into the bath with him.
Panting, but smiling for the first time that morning, Mr. Brinsley lets go of Arthur’s shirt and sinks down into the water. He lies there for a moment, breath slowly calming, as Arthur stands up awkwardly and dries himself off. Then, with a huff of breath, Mr. Brinsley sits up.
“Would you pass me my towel?” He gives Arthur a weary smile. “I think I would like to go for a drive.”
Happily, Arthur obliges.
As it happens, Mr. Brinsley doesn’t return from his drive until 2 o’clock the next morning. When he does arrive, he’s more than a little drunk, stumbling out of his car, and with Arthur’s help, up the stairs and into his bedroom.
“Can you believe it?” he says, slurring his words a little. “That gatepost was almost right in the middle of the road! I nearly drove into it!”
Arthur would rather not hear about it; he’s just glad that Mr. Brinsley’s back in one piece.
Once the bedroom door is shut behind them, Arthur attempts to usher Mr. Brinsley toward the bed, but Mr. Brinsley, seemingly having other ideas, swerves out of his grasp and wanders across the room to the gramophone. With a triumphant air, Mr. Brinsley winds it up and, shockingly, is able to set down the needle and start it playing.
Arthur winces. He does not object to Mr. Brinsley’s taste in music, but he is sensible of the fact that most of the house is currently asleep, and won’t be too happy to be woken this late at night by the sound of a jazz band.
Mr. Brinsley doesn’t seem to care about such trivial things at the moment though; he just hums to himself and pats his pockets with a distracted air. “Arthur, have you seen my cigarette case?”
“Blast,” says Mr. Brinsley. “I must have left it at Billy’s house.”
Arthur steps forward. “If you wish, Sir, I could go downstairs and fetch…”
“No, no,” says Mr. Brinsley, looking rather disappointed. “Never matter.” He waves a hand and his whole body sways with the movement. Then, seemingly overtaken by another idea, he turns on his heel and stumbles his way toward Arthur.
Arthur is rather shocked when Mr. Brinsley takes him by the arm, but he does his best not to let Mr. Brinsley trip over his own feet as Mr. Brinsley leads them both to the bed.
“Come,” says Mr. Brinsley, sitting on the mattress and almost dragging Arthur down on top of him in an attempt to get Arthur to sit down too. “Sit with me, Arthur.”
Arthur is not one to chastise his master, but this situation, with Mr. Brinsley hanging on to his arm as Arthur struggles to sit upright, is far from proper. “Sir!” he says, as Mr. Brinsley laughs, arms letting go of Arthur’s elbow only to latch onto Arthur’s waist instead. “You are drunk, Sir! You don’t know what you’re doing.”
“Of course I know what I’m doing,” retorts Mr. Brinsley with a smile. “Now, are you going to kiss me, Arthur, or not?”
For a second, Arthur can’t say anything. He is pretty sure that he has turned bright red. “Sir!” Arthur says, “that’s…”
“If not,” says Mr. Brinsley, “I shall have to kiss you instead,” and, leaning forward, he makes good on his word.
Arthur gives out a startled noise. With some effort, because Mr. Brinsley’s lips are soft and eager and not a little tempting, Arthur manages to push Mr. Brinsley away.
Mr. Brinsley stares at him, breathing hard. Arthur is breathing hard too, although he’s not entirely sure why.
“Sir,” he says, “I think it would be best if you went to bed.”
Mr. Brinsley looks at him, and there’s more lucidity in his eyes than Arthur’s seen all evening.
“Yes,” Mr. Brinsley agrees, softly. “I think I should go to bed.”
Arthur stands and smoothes out his trousers. “Would you like help getting undressed, Sir?”
Mr. Brinsley flops back onto the bed and stares up at the ceiling. “If you please, Arthur,” he says. “I would do it myself,” he waves a hand, “but I’m quite drunk.”
What Sir Frederick thinks of his son’s drunken antics, or even, indeed, if he knows of them, he doesn’t say. The next morning, he leaves for London on business without a word to anyone about the night before.
Mr. Brinsley sleeps late, and doesn’t wake until Sir Frederick is gone. When he does wake, he seems less melancholy than the day before. He even takes lunch downstairs, which is a very rare occurrence when his father is around.
By all accounts, it seems as if the absence of his father has done him a world of good.
He takes the car out again that afternoon. Arthur doesn’t know where he’s going, but something tells him that Mr. Brinsley means to make the most of the situation.
Arthur is right. Once again, Mr. Brinsley doesn’t return until the early hours of the morning, and when he does so, he’s roaring drunk.
They fall into a pattern after that: Mr. Brinsley sleeps late, then drives somewhere or other, and, unfailingly, comes back drunk early the next morning. Occasionally, Mr. Brinsley doesn’t drive; instead, his friends arrive in their own car, laughing and sounding the horn, until Mr. Brinsley jumps in with them and they all head off together.
The first time that happens, Mr. Brinsley doesn’t return until 7 o’clock the next morning, looking already half-way to sober and extremely worse for wear. He sleeps all day then, and all night too.
But no matter how many times Mr. Brinsley returns home drunk, he doesn’t try to kiss Arthur again.
There is one occasion when Mr. Brinsley takes Arthur’s face in his hands, but, confusingly, Mr. Brinsley doesn’t make a move to do anything other than just sit there, smiling, his fingers stroking through Arthur’s hair.
It’s so disconcerting that Arthur puts an end to it by asking Mr. Brinsley if he’d like Arthur to give him some assistance instead. Mr. Brinsley agrees readily, tugging down his trousers, and Arthur is only too glad for it; at least, in this situation, with his fingers curling around the warmth of Mr. Brinsley, Arthur knows what is required of him. At least it means that Mr. Brinsley will stop looking at him in that way that makes Arthur’s heart flutter.
Sir Frederick returns from London on the afternoon of the ninth day.
Luckily, Mr. Brinsley has only just dressed and has not yet gone out, which means that Sir Frederick finds him at home.
Mr. Brinsley takes dinner with his father that night. Unfortunately, it seems that between arriving home and dressing for dinner, Sir Frederick has managed to hear all about his son’s wild behaviour.
That night, when he retires to bed, Mr. Brinsley is red with rage.
“That doddering old fool!” he shouts. “That vile old vulture!”
If Arthur hopes that Mr. Brinsley will say any more, he’s disappointed. As soon as Arthur has taken Mr. Brinsley’s jacket, Mr. Brinsley ushers him out of the room. “I would like to undress myself, thank you. Good night.”
“Sir Frederick has halved Mr. Brinsley’s allowance!” exclaims John the next morning with all the glee of one who truly loves a good piece of gossip.
“Serves him right, too,” says George as he polishes the silver. “I don’t know how Mr. Brinsley thought he could get about the way he did without his father finding out. The boy’s an idiot.”
“I don’t know,” Arthur stares down at his folded arms, “I have a feeling that Mr. Brinsley wanted Sir Frederick to find out. I think he was making a protest.”
George just laughs. “Well, it’s a stupid way of going about it. He’s going to lose the other half of his allowance too if he’s not careful. And you know that Sir Frederick is capable of even worse, with that temper of his.”
Arthur spends most of the morning worrying about Mr. Brinsley.
The truth is that Arthur, like the rest of them, has been concerned about the way Mr. Brinsley has been carrying on. It’s impossible to deny that the parties and the drinking and the excessive spending have been growing slowly more and more outrageous. Lord knows where it’s all going to end.
So it’s understandable that Sir Frederick wishes to curb Mr. Brinsley’s behaviour before it grows out of hand. After all, if Mr. Brinsley hasn’t learnt to show some restraint by the time he comes to inherit the estate, he could risk exhausting all their money and putting the family to ruin.
But Arthur is sure that it won’t come to that. Mr. Brinsley is not so careless, no matter what he wants his father to think. Because, when it comes down to it, that is what this is all about: Mr. Brinsley is engaged in an act of youthful rebellion.
And Arthur can’t blame him. Not when Mr. Brinsley’s grown up thinking that it was his brother who was going to inherit the estate. That’s an awful lot of responsibility to fall into, and so suddenly too. Who wouldn’t find it difficult to live up to their father’s expectations?
But Arthur doesn’t care for the whys and wherefores of Mr. Brinsley’s actions. What Arthur is chiefly concerned about now is how Mr. Brinsley is going to react to his father. If Mr. Brinsley insists on ignoring Sir Frederick’s orders, who knows what the repercussions might be? Mr. Brinsley will be certain to hate them, whatever they are, and it always makes Arthur’s heart ache to see Mr. Brinsley unhappy.
Luckily for Arthur, when Mr. Brinsley wakes up later that morning, he doesn’t seem half as angry as he did the night before.
“I’m going to do what he says, you know,” Mr. Brinsley says, quite cheerfully, as Arthur pours him his cup of coffee. “I shall go to no more parties. Not while my father’s at home.”
Arthur doesn’t know whether or not he should believe him. Or, indeed, whether only obeying his father’s orders while his father is at home will really keep him out of trouble.
“In fact,” continues Mr. Brinsley, “I think I would like to take a nice, sedate trip in the country today, to prove that I know how to behave.” He looks up at Arthur. “You shall accompany me,” he says, “just in case my father refuses to believe me without an alibi.” He busies himself in buttering a slice of toast. “What’s the weather like today?”
“Good,” replies Arthur. “Warm. And sunny too, if it continues on as it is.”
“Perfect!” says Mr. Brinsley, setting down his knife. “Go ask Chef to prepare a picnic, will you? And get the car ready.”
Despite the fact that the family employs a perfectly competent chauffeur, Mr. Brinsley insists on driving himself.
“I prefer it this way,” he says to Arthur as they speed down the driveway, engine rumbling. “Driving is terribly fun.”
Arthur has to admit that it does seem fun. There’s a light in Mr. Brinsley’s eyes as he steers them through the village where Arthur grew up as a boy, then takes a left, roaring up toward the hills beyond. It’s only when Mr. Brinsley glances across at him that Arthur realises that he’s been staring. Hastily, Arthur looks away, out at the fields as they roll pass.
After a short drive, they begin to wind their way up a steep, wooded track. The engine complains noisily, and for a moment, Arthur worries that they might not make it, but Mr. Brinsley just laughs and pushes the car on. They reach to top of the hill without too much trouble, much to Arthur’s relief, and find themselves in a clearing with the whole of the valley spread out below them.
Mr. Brinsley stops the car, Arthur collects the picnic basket from the boot, and together, they pick their way over to a clear piece of grass where the ground isn’t too steep.
Arthur spreads out the blanket, and Mr. Brinsley sits down, legs stretched out in front of him. “You were right,” he says to Arthur, squinting up at the sun, “it is wonderfully warm today. It almost feels like July already!”
Arthur kneels down and opens the basket. “Would you like to eat now, Sir?”
“Oh, yes.” Mr. Brinsley takes off his hat and his jacket. “I’m ravenous!”
The picnic that Chef has prepared is simple but good: a selection of cold meats, a pork pie, and some freshly baked bread.
“You are going to eat too, aren’t you?” Mr. Brinsley asks as Arthur sets out the plates. “I’d feel like a fool if I were the only one eating.”
“Certainly, Sir,” replies Arthur, and serves himself as well.
They eat in silence after that. There’s nothing but the sun and the grass and the view. It’s really quite pleasant, all in all.
Once he’s finished eating, Mr. Brinsley bundles up his jacket to use as a pillow and lies down. Then he folds his arms, closes his eyes, and gives every appearance of settling down to sleep.
Quietly, so as not to disturb him, Arthur packs up the rest of the food and gets up to go back to the car; he doesn’t want to get in Mr. Brinsley’s way while he’s trying to enjoy the peace of the country.
But Mr. Brinsley opens an eye and looks up at him. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Arthur pauses. “I was going to go wait in the car, Sir.”
Mr. Brinsley makes an exasperated noise and opens his other eye to give Arthur a firm stare. “You will do nothing of the sort. Sit back down.” He gestures at the blanket. “I’d like the company.”
“Yes, Sir.” Arthur walks back over and does as he’s told.
Mr. Brinsley closes his eyes again then and, for a few moments, Arthur’s left wondering if Mr. Brinsley expects him to take a nap too.
Just when Arthur’s beginning to feel a little awkward, Mr. Brinsley sighs and says, “Nothing I do is ever good enough for him, you know.”
Arthur looks at him, but Mr. Brinsley still has his eyes closed.
“I know what he’s like,” Mr. Brinsley continues. “He won’t be satisfied with only half my allowance, you can bet on it. My father won’t rest until he makes me utterly wretched.”
Arthur wishes he could say something comforting, but he knows that it’s not his place. That is, he hadn’t thought it was his place, until Mr. Brinsley turns to look at him and says, “What do you think I should do, Arthur?”
Arthur flushes. “Do, Sir?”
“Yes,” says Mr. Brinsley, “I could do with some advice.”
“Well, Sir,” starts Arthur, looking down at the grass, “I would think that if you do as your father wishes, at least for now, Sir, then he will be more lenient with you.”
Mr. Brinsley laughs, loud and sharp. “If only that were true! But I know what he’s like, the old swine!”
Arthur looks over to see Mr. Brinsley scowling up at the clouds.
“He will never be satisfied with me, no matter what I do, because I am not Freddie and I never will be.” He tosses his hair out of his face angrily. “Honestly, sometimes I think he hates me purely because I was too young to go off to war and be killed too.”
Arthur keeps his silence, but then Mr. Brinsley huffs and rolls over onto his side to look up at him.
“But I came out here to try to take my mind off of that,” Mr. Brinsley says quietly. He smiles a sad smile. “Come here and help me take my mind off of it, Arthur.”
Arthur nods in understanding. He gets up and walks over to kneel next to Mr. Brinsley, hands reaching across to undo Mr. Brinsley’s fly.
But Mr. Brinsley grasps Arthur’s wrist before he can get any further.
“Not like that,” Mr. Brinsley says. “Lie down, will you? You’re making me feel uncomfortable, kneeling like that.”
“Yes, Sir,” says Arthur, lying down beside him, and feeling suddenly rather uncertain because now they’re face to face and… Arthur looks down and busies himself with Mr. Brinsley’s fly instead.
Mr. Brinsley makes a soft noise as Arthur pulls him out into the air, and Mr. Brinsley’s breath tickles in Arthur’s hair as Arthur begins to stroke.
But then, just as Arthur is settling into a rhythm, Mr. Brinsley’s hand snakes forward and cups Arthur through his trousers.
“Sir?” he asks, as Mr. Brinsley rubs him through the fabric and then begins to open his fly. “Sir, what are you…?”
“I want to feel you,” says Mr. Brinsley. “You don’t object, do you?”
Arthur flushes, and starts stroking Mr. Brinsley again. “No, Sir.”
Mr. Brinsley huffs in amusement and pulls Arthur out with both hands, running his fingers down the length in a way that makes Arthur bite his lip so he doesn’t cry out.
Breathing hard, Arthur tries to continue on as before, but then Mr. Brinsley’s fingers curl around him and Arthur’s hands fumble, squeezing too hard and making Mr. Brinsley gasp by his ear.
Arthur bites his lip harder. He’s not used to having his concentration disturbed like this, and his co-ordination is suffering. Mr. Brinsley retaliates by squeezing Arthur too hard too, and without meaning to, Arthur’s hands stutter for a second time. Worried that Mr. Brinsley will be angry with his performance, Arthur looks up to Mr. Brinsley’s face.
He realises his mistake as soon as he does so.
Mr. Brinsley’s eyes are staring intently at him, refusing to look away, and Arthur’s heart leaps to his throat.
He flushes hard, and has to stifle a whimper as Mr. Brinsley twists his fingers.
Arthur knows that he should look away. It would be the polite thing to do. But no matter how hard Arthur tries, he can’t seem to bring himself to do it. Not when Mr. Brinsley is looking at him like this, eyes bright blue and cheeks growing darker as Arthur quickens the pace of his hands.
Mr. Brinsley smiles and Arthur feels as if his heart is going to escape and fly away. He licks his lips nervously, and then instantly regrets it, because now he can feel Mr. Brinsley’s breath panting out against the moist skin and…
Arthur reaches his climax, feeling guilty because he’s made Mr. Brinsley’s hands dirty, but Mr. Brinsley doesn’t seem to mind and it’s only a few seconds before he reaches his climax too.
For a moment, Mr. Brinsley just lies there, staring at Arthur with such a strange look on his face that Arthur doesn’t know what to do. But then Mr. Brinsley wipes his hands on the grass, does up his fly, and rolls over onto his back to look up at the clouds.
Knowing that he should get up, but feeling too shaky to do so, Arthur follows suit.
Mr. Brinsley pillows his head in his hands. After a few seconds he says, “I think I might run away, you know, if Father becomes too unbearable.”
“Run away?” Panicked, Arthur scrabbles to sit up.
“Yes.” Mr. Brinsley crosses his ankles. “I think anything would be more tolerable than putting up with him.
“But…” Arthur’s stomach clenches. Does that mean he’ll never see Mr. Brinsley again?
“Don’t worry,” says Mr. Brinsley, cheerfully. “I’ll have enough money to see me through if I live frugally, and I’ll be getting my inheritance from Aunt Beatrice in a year. There’s nothing my father can do to stop that.”
Desperation mounting, Arthur doesn’t even stop to think. “I’ll come with you,” he says.
Mr. Brinsley sits up. He touches Arthur’s shoulder and smiles at him. “My dear, Arthur, you’re always so good to me. And I would miss you,” he looks Arthur in the eye, “but as I said: I will have to live frugally. There’s no way I could afford to keep you.”
Arthur stares sadly at his shoes. Mr. Brinsley is right, but it doesn’t make the thought of losing him any easier.
“Don’t worry,” Mr. Brinsley laughs and lies back down, “I’d only run away if I ever reached the end of my tether. And, as you know, my tether is quite long.”
When they arrive back at the house later that afternoon, Sir Frederick is waiting for them on the steps.
Worried that Sir Frederick is going to have yet more words with his son, but unable to do anything about it, Arthur carries the picnic basket around to the kitchen as Sir Frederick leads Mr. Brinsley inside.
When Mr. Brinsley finally heads upstairs to dress for dinner, he is fuming.
“Apparently,” he says, storming over to the window, “I am no longer allowed to use my car. It’s ‘frivolous.’” He waves his hands in the air. “I am supposed to stay at home instead and be bored out of my mind!”
Arthur watches as Mr. Brinsley tugs off his jacket and throws it into a corner.
“How dare he sell my car!” Mr. Brinsley kicks at the armchair and makes a frustrated noise. “It was only a bloody picnic, for God’s sake!”
Arthur remains quiet, but Mr. Brinsley seems to notice him standing there all the same.
“No,” says Mr. Brinsley in answer to the unspoken question. “I shan’t be having dinner tonight.” He looks up at Arthur. “Go tell my darling father that I refuse to dine with him.”
Sir Frederick remains calm when he hears the news. It seems as if he’s not surprised about his son’s outburst at all.
Later, Arthur takes Mr. Brinsley some supper upstairs. Mr. Brinsley picks at it but remains silent.
And that night, the whole house talks of nothing else but what Mr. Brinsley will do next.
They don’t have to wait long.
The next day, Mr. Brinsley rises early, but remains sullenly in his room all morning. At noon, some of his friends drive up to the house. They are turned away by John, but Mr. Brinsley hears them, and rushes down the stairs while his father remains oblivious in his study.
Arthur hears later, from John, that Mr. Brinsley jumped into the car to a cheer from his friends, and that they sped away to God knows where.
Mr. Brinsley doesn’t return until noon the next day. When he does, he’s sober, but unshaven, and looks as if he’s slept in all his clothes.
Sir Frederick is lenient: he gives Mr. Brinsley time to have a bath and a change of clothes before he takes Mr. Brinsley into his study.
Over dinner in the servants’ quarters, the speculation about what punishments Sir Frederick will dole out is unstoppable. The suggestions range from locking Mr. Brinsley in his own bedroom to removing all of Mr. Brinsley’s possessions. One of the grooms even suggests that Mr. Brinsley is to be sent off to join the army.
The chatter grows so loud that the butler has to silence them all and order that they talk of something else.
As the conversation moves on, Arthur doesn’t mention Mr. Brinsley’s threat to run away. He doesn’t want to acknowledge it for fear that it might come true. But acknowledge it or not, the thought refuses to leave him alone.
Mr. Brinsley is completely silent when he retires to his bedroom that evening. He tells Arthur that he doesn’t wish to get undressed for bed at all, then he sends Arthur away.
John and George are particularly disappointed when Arthur returns to the servants’ quarters with as little news as if he hadn’t seen to Mr. Brinsley at all.
That night, Arthur doesn’t sleep well. He tosses and turns in his bed, but he can’t stop guessing at what Sir Frederick may have said to his son, or what Mr. Brinsley will choose to do in retaliation. Eventually, too tired to worry, but too worried to sleep, Arthur lights a candle and sits up to read.
It’s just after 2 o’clock in the morning when the door to Arthur’s bedroom opens and Mr. Brinsley steps hastily inside.
Arthur is so shocked that he nearly upsets the bedside table, candle and all. He tries to stand as quickly as he can, but he only manages to get one leg out of bed before Mr. Brinsley strides across the room and kisses him.
It’s only Mr. Brinsley’s hand against his back that stops Arthur from tumbling to the floor.
Arthur pushes Mr. Brinsley away as best he can. “Sir, what are you…?”
Mr. Brinsley exhales, and presses his cheek to Arthur’s. “I’m not drunk, Arthur. If that’s what you’re worried about.”
Mr. Brinsley squeezes him tight. “I want you, Arthur,” he says, “and I… I thought that you might want me too.” A shaking hand runs up to Arthur’s hair. “But if I was wrong, I’ll leave you alone… and…”
Arthur breathes out slowly, and finds that his hands are shaking too. “You’re not wrong,” he says quietly. “I want you.”
Mr. Brinsley’s answer is a kiss, deeper than the last, and this time Arthur doesn’t push him away.
But things aren’t quite so simple. Arthur still has a foot trapped in the bedclothes, and when he tries to extract it, he only succeeds in pulling Mr. Brinsley down on top of him, both of them falling into a tangle onto the bed.
Mr. Brinsley doesn’t let this faze him. He kisses Arthur with an urgency that takes Arthur’s breath away, pausing only to lean back and hastily tug open the buttons to Arthur’s pyjama shirt.
“Sir,” Arthur breathes, “why are you…?”
Mr. Brinsley looks him in the eye. “I’ve wanted to do this for a very long time, Arthur.”
Arthur doesn’t know what to do. He didn’t… All this time and… “I–” he says, heart pounding, “I’ve wanted this for a long time too.” And he pulls Mr. Brinsley down for another kiss.
They make short work of their clothes after that, and soon they’re both as naked as the day they were born. It’s more wonderful than Arthur ever thought it would be, to see Mr. Brinsley, so pale and elegant, and not to have to look away, to feel Mr. Brinsley so close to him, to…
“You’re beautiful, Arthur.” Mr. Brinsley kisses Arthur’s collarbone with trembling lips. “To think that I only have the courage to tell you now.” His voice cracks a little. “I’m a fool.”
“No–!” Arthur’s cheeks are burning. “You–! I… I mean…”
But Arthur’s clumsy thanks are strangled by the feel of Mr. Brinsley’s hand running over his hip.
“May I?” Mr. Brinsley asks. “I want…” he looks to the floor. “I brought lotion.”
Yes, thinks Arthur, as Mr. Brinsley’s fingers curl firmly around him; yes, anything. “Do whatever you want,” Arthur says, heart pounding as he watches Mr. Brinsley climb off the bed and fish around in his trouser pocket for a jar. Once he’s found it, Mr. Brinsley unscrews the lid and dips his fingers inside.
When Mr. Brinsley’s hand curls around Arthur this time, it’s sweet and slick and unbearably good in a way that makes Arthur’s hips rise off the bed. Arthur clutches at Mr. Brinsley’s shoulders as Mr. Brinsley keeps stroking, and gasps into Mr. Brinsley’s mouth when Mr. Brinsley kisses him.
After only a short while, Mr. Brinsley breaks the kiss and sits back up, his eyes on Arthur’s face as he keeps stroking. Arthur pants in return, face heating, because it should be the other way around: he should be pleasuring Mr. Brinsley, not…
Mr. Brinsley smiles down at him then, and before Arthur knows it, Mr. Brinsley has withdrawn his slick fingers and, biting his lip, pressed them up and inside himself.
Arthur’s breath deserts him. Mr. Brinsley’s eyes flutter closed, his chest heaves, and it might just be one of the most beautiful things that Arthur’s ever seen. Mr. Brinsley swallows, then reaches down for more lotion and adds another finger.
Unable to take any more, Arthur sits up kisses Mr. Brinsley as hard as he can. Mr. Brinsley pants into Arthur’s mouth, and then, when Arthur’s fingers run up Mr. Brinsley’s thighs to curl around his erection, Mr. Brinsley whimpers.
“Wait,” Mr. Brinsley pushes Arthur back to the bed and pats his hands away. “Wait… I…” Mr. Brinsley looks down and then, with a shaky exhale, removes his fingers and slowly sinks himself down onto Arthur’s waiting erection.
Arthur hisses through clenched teeth and Mr. Brinsley lets out a series of short gasps, his head falling back to expose his throat.
It’s impossible to hold still when Mr. Brinsley is suddenly so tight and warm around him, so Arthur thrusts upwards and is rewarded by the feel of hands clutching hard at his thighs.
Mr. Brinsley groans, arms trembling. “Arthur, ah…! You’re so thick, Arthur.”
Arthur stills as best he can. “Sorry, Sir. I’ll…”
“No,” Mr. Brinsley leans forward and looks down at Arthur through his hair. “It’s good,” he breathes, “keep moving.”
Arthur does as he’s told, gladly, and Mr. Brinsley moves too, making small noises in his throat, fingers clutching at the bedcovers.
When Mr. Brinsley leans down to kiss him, Arthur thinks that he might not last long at all. Luckily, it seems as if Mr. Brinsley won’t last long either; his head hangs down when Arthur breaks the kiss, his eyes closed, breath coming heavily.
Arthur reaches for Mr. Brinsley’s erection again, and this time, Mr. Brinsley doesn’t stop him, just whimpers and clenches around Arthur in a way that takes Arthur’s breath away.
Mr. Brinsley’s cheeks are red, even in the faint light of the candle, as he leans closer. His lips brush Arthur’s cheek. “Harder,” he whispers against Arthur’s jaw. “Please.”
There’s no way that Arthur can refuse an order like that, but try as he might, he can’t thrust much harder with Mr. Brinsley’s weight on his lap. So, when Mr. Brinsley looks down at him with pleading eyes, Arthur grabs Mr. Brinsley by the waist and turns them both over.
The noise that Mr. Brinsley makes when Arthur uses their new position to thrust as deep as he can is more than worth it.
Arthur gasps for breath as Mr. Brinsley clenches down again, and Mr. Brinsley clutches at Arthur’s shoulders, moaning into Arthur’s ear.
It only takes a few more thrusts before Mr. Brinsley reaches his climax, making a mess of his stomach. It’s the sight of Mr. Brinsley’s face in that moment, lips open and shining, and eyes screwed shut in pleasure, that pushes Arthur over the edge too.
Arthur is still busy reeling and trying to catch his breath when Mr. Brinsley kisses him.
“Arthur,” says Mr. Brinsley, cradling Arthur’s face in his hands, “Arthur, Arthur.”
Breathlessly, Arthur laughs a little and kisses him again before pulling out and rolling onto his side. Mr. Brinsley strokes Arthur’s arm affectionately, then sits up and uses Arthur’s towel to wipe himself down.
Arthur watches, still feeling rather boneless, as Mr. Brinsley starts to get dressed.
With effort, Arthur sits up. “Would you like me to help you dress, Sir?”
“No.” Mr. Brinsley looks down to fasten his trousers. “You should rest, Arthur. You’ve done enough for me tonight.”
Arthur flushes again, despite himself, and lies back down, more than a little elated by the realisation that he can watch Mr. Brinsley without having to worry about betraying his affection any longer.
Once Mr. Brinsley is fully clothed, he bends over the bed to give Arthur a kiss to the lips, which Arthur returns gladly. Then, with a sigh, Mr. Brinsley leans up and presses a kiss to Arthur’s forehead.
“Goodnight, Arthur,” Mr. Brinsley’s lips tremble against Arthur’s brow, “and goodbye. I’m leaving.”
Arthur starts. “What–?” But Mr. Brinsley has already opened the door.
“I can’t live in this house any longer,” says Mr. Brinsley over his shoulder, and he shuts the door behind him.”
“Wait!” calls Arthur as he hears Mr. Brinsley’s footsteps start down the corridor. Arthur jumps up to run after him, but he only remembers halfway to the door that he hasn’t any clothes on.
Cursing, Arthur scrabbles to dress himself.
He can’t lose Mr. Brinsley. Not now. Not after everything that’s happened. Arthur tries to be as quick as possible, but by the time he’s ready, there’s no sign of Mr. Brinsley in the servants’ quarters at all.
Heart pounding, Arthur runs through the house to Mr. Brinsley’s rooms, but there’s no sign of him there either.
Fearing that he might have missed Mr. Brinsley completely and lost him forever, Arthur dashes down the stairs, two at a time. He bursts through the front door and frantically scans the grounds for any sign of movement in the darkness.
It’s faint, against the moonlight, but Arthur can just about make out a figure walking along the drive. With nothing else to lose, Arthur runs towards it.
Words can’t describe how glad Arthur is to find that the figure truly is Mr. Brinsley, suitcase in hand. By the time Arthur catches up, he’s giddy with relief. Mr. Brinsley turns around, confused, but for a few moments, Arthur is too out of breath to say anything.
Mr. Brinsley puts a hand on Arthur’s shoulder. “Arthur…”
“Sir…” Arthur begins.
“Go back, Arthur.” Mr. Brinsley gives him a sad smile. “You won’t change my mind. I refuse to stay a moment longer. My father says he’ll disinherit me if I leave, and I have decided that I shall let him.”
Arthur gasps to catch his breath and swallows. “Let me come with you, Sir.”
Mr. Brinsley sets his suitcase down. “I told you, Arthur: I can’t afford to keep you.”
“I know,” pants Arthur, “and you won’t have to. I have enough money saved up to pay my own way.” He pats the holdall slung over his shoulder. “I’ll be no trouble at all, Sir.”
“I’m not leaving you to go by yourself, Sir.”
Mr. Brinsley stares at him, eyes wide and shining in the moonlight. Then he laughs. “You’re foolish, Arthur. Almost as foolish as I am.”
“I know,” says Arthur, and is almost knocked backwards as Mr. Brinsley catches him up in a fierce hug.
Arthur kisses Mr. Brinsley then, and Mr. Brinsley kisses back with equal fervour, his hands shaking as they run through Arthur’s hair.
“Are you sure?” asks Mr. Brinsley when they break apart, breath heavy. “You…”
“Yes, Sir,” says Arthur. “Perfectly sure.”
Mr. Brinsley looks away, lips quirking. He wipes his eyes with the back of his hand and picks up his case. “Come on then,” he says. “It’s a long walk to town, and I want to catch the first train in the morning.”
Arthur smiles as Mr. Brinsley links their arms. “As you wish, Sir.”
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