by Shiawasena Ryokō-sha
Visiting aunt’s carriage fully seen off, Lord Dirk ran to the rose gardens, blind with six kinds of tension, so he could be alone.
Only once his ears filled with the sound of birdsong and the crunch of pebbles underfoot did he let himself give in to the full-body trembling he’d fought off so furiously. “Damn that woman!” he muttered, trying to rein in the electric mixture of fear and rage flooding through him.
His mother having passed in his youth and his father dead by apoplexy when he was barely twenty-three, Dirk had been left blessedly free of interference in his affairs for several years. It was only when questions of succession started to prick the ears of more distant relations that the meddling began. Of all of them, Aunt Vivian, whose sons had some degree of title in their own right, was the least biased. It would simply be improper to stop having her by for tea, but…
This time, she’d made it clear she knew he’d chased off the latest of the marriage prospects she’d sent by. “You need to let go of your idealism, my dear, and simply… select one. They’re all sweet girls,” she’d said, “and you’d be pleased with any of them, in the end. But if you don’t make arrangements soon, well. People will start to talk.” The way her face had pinched, as if her expression of sympathy just covered one of rage, lead him to think she knew… more than that, too. And, especially if that were so, she’d been speaking the truth. People would talk, and that would be… dire.
Mind still tumbling, he focussed on the click of rock against rock as he walked, and sought distraction in the flowing curves of the flowers.
The rose garden had been a relatively new addition; it was entirely his Victor’s pet project. (It wasn’t out of the question for a valet to have such a thing, although he assumed the gardeners guessed at the reason for the favoritism. His only saving grace against gossip, Dirk figured, was that he paid them particularly well.) For a number of years, Victor had been coaxing hybrids to seed and grafts to take, picking his favorite outcomes through sheer whimsy.
Dirk stopped by a many-petaled specimen so heavily in bloom its stem drooped all the way to the path and lifted it for closer inspection. Cream with a flush of pink to the extremities, its petals felt silk and velvet under his fingers, soothing to the touch; its scent was almost citrus. The ones like this tended to last a few days then fall apart all at once, but in the interim, he thought them the loveliest kind of all. He imagined Victor’s square hands gently cupping the bloom to protect it as he pruned some other part of the bush, filled with wistfulness.
They’d met as youth, not children – a newly hired stableboy and a lord’s son already keen on riding – and just as Dirk was starting to despair of understanding the other lords’ sons in their endless skirt-chasing. He’ll never forget the moment his eyes lit on Victor in earnest: murmuring kindly to a horse as he rubbed it down after a harsh ride, both captured in a beam of midsummer sunlight like stained glass in a church window. The smooth curves of him, the contrast of softness and roughness – it pulled at his gut with a wrench, and the path he chose after had been inevitable.
He wasn’t going to marry some girl picked at random. He was, with Victor as his co-conspirator, set on marrying a girl just like him: a woman sharing her heart with another woman, just as he shared his with a man – and then, the four of them could buttress their little fortress against any suspicion, any ill-intentioned doubt, and shag as they’d rather do for the rest of their earthly lives!
Coming back to himself as his heart pounded ardently, he found he was still staring into the depths of the globed bloom. He considered the pinched look of the stem and the vague promise of frost on the air, then pulled out his pocketknife and, fingers gingerly working between its thorns, cut the rose free. It would have been a shame to let such a wonderful thing wither.
As soon as Dirk stepped inside the mansion, Victor was at his elbow, silently expectant.
He’d always made an excellent valet to the public eye, much as it soured Dirk’s mouth to think of the way other lords and ladies’ eyes glossed over Victor as if he were a piece of furniture. It simply wasn’t fair for the man to be so ignored. He might have been on the stout side, but that just invested him with a solidity so many lacked; his brown eyes were so bright and clever, his chestnut hair as glossy as silk and properly kept, and his mannerisms so staunchly kind women should have been throwing themselves at him, and – well, that couldn’t be expected of men, but they should have at least remarked on Victor’s excellence in all things. But they did not.
He felt a stab of shame for delaying things with his little episode in the garden. He would have to update Victor on the full extent of Vivian’s teatime chatter straight away. “I do intent to rest my eyes. Accompany to my chambers; I would like a bath drawn,” he said, motioning sweepingly in the direction of the stairs.
As soon as Victor closed the door behind them, Dirk launched into a recap of the events of the last two hours – and just as quickly, they were arguing.
“Dirk, we simply cannot risk this. Sure, the staff like you and I now, but it only takes one of them bribed or loose with their tongue to the wrong person. Your aunt may intend to ruin you.”
“I know what my aunt said, but – I want to try one more time, one more girl. Surely people like us aren’t… so rare; She said soon, not immediately,” Dirk protested, “And she doesn’t hate me.”
Victor’s voice wasn’t smooth anymore, the tension pulling it thin. “I’ve told you before, and I’ll tell you again – I’m not going to die for you. And if you’re wrong, that’s how it would go”
“I don’t want you to die for me,” Dirk replied. In this half-light, he looked rather like some sort of Roman hero fit to carve a statue of; the gold-laced embroidery on his waistcoat glinted hopefully. He wouldn’t look Victor in the eyes.
“That means no dying for me either, you hear?” Victor continues. “If you so much as think of it, I’ll steal half the silver and be off under a new name before you can possibly fetch me back. I’d rather leave you bitter forever than… than determined to make something corrupt of yourself,” he said, face drawn in fear, but also in love. Here, behind the thick velvet bedroom curtains shutting out the midday sun, by candlelight alone, the man could be something besides a valet, a gentleman’s gentleman; Lord Dirk, leaning anxiously against one bedpost, was something other than a lord and master. A little illusion of a world where they are equals, one they can share together a few stolen moments at a time.
Dirk stepped forward so he could cup Victor’s round cheek in one hand, stroking gently at the trace of stubble grown since the dawn. “I could never feel bitter about you, even at that. The need for the delay was always for you, and I… understand why you’d rather it end, than be sneaking about, breaking some woman’s heartfelt trust. You’ve always been ten times the man I could hope to be.” His other hand came to join in, caressing the tender spots at the side of Victor’s neck, playing with the wisps of curl escaped from their fashioning.
Victor sighed softly, leaning forward to rest their foreheads together. “Always the romantic, aren’t you? Your plans would have made for an excellent stage comedy. I’ll never understand how you can spin hurdles into notions of delight with such ease.”
Dirk laughed softly, and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth, relishing the familiar roughness. “Aye, well – I could say the same of you. I couldn’t be a luckier man, to have had you all this time. Even – even if we must make an end to it too soon.”
At that, Victor kissed him back, more firmly; perhaps to push him back into place. Victor’s hands wandered aimlessly, stroking from Dirk’s ribs to where his coat nipped in at the waist. The affection even amid fear and strife woke Dirk’s heart, and he seized at the opening, trailing his kisses from Victor’s mouth to places more salacious – jaw, base of the ear, neck, downwards towards the collar – and gently directing his own hands to ruffle at a shirt already halfway untucked by their embrace.
Victor leaned into the sweetness, burrowing his face in Dirk’s shoulder with a shudder. As Dirk ran his hands against the soft flesh of Victor’s hip, with its tracing of delicate lightning-stripe scars old and new, Victor gave in to an impulse to stroke his own up and down Dirk’s spine, pressing a thigh between the man’s carved-oak legs. It seemed he was loathe to turn down such comfort when its season might be so close to ending. Dirk nipped at his skin, and he moaned in pleasure and anguish at once.
Grabbing Dirk by the waist, Victor directed him to stay against his chest as he brought them to the side of the bed, where he could flop backward comfortably. Landing in a sprawl, Victor immediately started to tug at the elegant collars obstructing the touch of bare flesh.
Obligingly, Dirk leaned back for a moment to strip his top, then set about liberating Victor from his own with great haste. He kissed each inch of skin he uncovered as desperately as if he might never bear witness to it again, running his hands along the pale paths of hair that traced Victor’s form and rubbing his face against the softness developed living under a roof that met his love’s every need. Victor kissed every part of Dirk he could reach hotly, as delighted to touch as that very first day (adrenaline pumping, tackled down in the long grass, unsure of what was being offered and promised, but utterly enraptured by the carnal, unthinking instant of it) so many years ago.
Fumbling at buttons, Victor did his best to pull down Dirk’s breeches, but struggled to get a proper grip that would let him access the tantalizing press of cock; Dirk, insistent on laving his tongue against his Adam’s apple like a massive cat, was simply flush against him. “For God’s sake, give me a little space to -” Victor started, before Dirk cut him off with a fervent kiss. The wet heat of it made Victor’s eyes slide closed with satisfaction.
Dirk slid down to a kneel between his thighs, gaze black with desire. “No matter what, I’ll have the rest of my life to think of you when I’m bedded – but,” he said, thumb rubbing a crescent right at the meet between Victor’s leg and body, “this could well be one of the last times I’m privileged enough to pleasure you. Indulge me?”
“I’m hardly an indulgence,” Victor said, breath heavy as he tousled Dirk’s fine black hair. “You could find my like in any village square.”
“On the contrary,” Dirk said, delicately kissing the indent at Victor’s sternum, “you’re the finest choice I’ve ever made. If I thought I could scrape by unrecognised, we’d be living off smelted-down candlesticks in some remote province already.” Victor shivered with longing as Dirk massaged circles into the tenderness of his inner thighs, as he had so many times before. “You fulfill me. You… complete me. So – let me bring you to completion.”
The valet’s neck was flush with lust, and wordlessly, he undid his breeches. Dirk put mouth to him immediately, tonguing eagerly at his slit; the fluttering intensity of the sensation made Victor’s vision flash.
Dirk moaned, nosing at the base of Victor’s cock as his thumbs continued to work the back of his lover’s thighs. Victor didn’t tremble, but some deeper shudder passed through his core, and the silent intensity of it swamped Dirk in lust. He’d intended to hammer focus to his goal, but Dirk lost himself in laying wet, aimless kisses along the flat of Victor’s groin, delighted by the earthy musk of his sex. Victor’s fingers stayed buried in his hair, sweatily petting, and Dirk crooned at the attention.
He didn’t bother initiating proper fellatio; instead, he lapped roughly at the hard rod of Victor’s cock, lips teasing. Gently, Dirk brought his hands in to compliment that lighter touch. His own dick ached with longing; he would have loved to leap forward to grind bodily against Victor, stealing as much contact as he could to satisfy his terrible lust, but he doubted aimless thrusting would do much for either of them.
Pausing his ministrations, Dirk gathered slick from Victor’s tip to spread down the shaft, toying with his frenulum in a way that inspired a gasp. Victor’s hands shifted, stroking the sides of his face lovingly, and he breathed in as if to speak, but Dirk cut him off from whatever he might have thought to say by resuming his rhythm with a firm hand, lips working the cockhead.
Victor lasted almost a minute before finding the strength to weigh in; grabbing Dirk by the shoulders, he hauled him into a sloppy kiss, grinding his hardness upwards into Dirk’s hip. Dirk ground back with a groan, dick caught between his own skin and the pleasant give of Victor’s belly. They fell backwards once again to sprawl together, luxuriating in the feeling of skin on skin.
Rutting upwards, Victor pulled Dirk into him, eager for the closeness – and the decadent pressure of hip bone against his shaft. The rhythm of the rub overrode their thoughts, both hot with deep, familiar lust and the material surface of each other.
Dirk’s returned thrusting pushed Victor further onto the bed, blanket curling and hugging to his shoulders and hips; with the lap of lust-eager tongue, Dirk kissed his throat over and over, and he shuddered, pleased.
“Oh! My love, Victor, I–” Dirk moaned into Victor’s collar, his hands cupping the softness of his partner’s hips as incredible pressure built in his core. His back began to arch, but Victor’s broad, capable hands pressed him back down, tight together, and compressed his shaft even harder between them. To Dirk, it felt as if a dam burst; he came, slick and liquid pulses hot between them. The waves of it left him rutting into Victor to pleasured panting.
Eyes closed so tightly golden stars built behind them, Victor felt the silhouette of Dirk against him so vividly he didn’t need them to see at all, the smooth pressure of pelvic bone and the knowledge of wanting and being wanted bringing a release so sudden he barely anticipated it at all.
Blinded by aftermath as the animal instinct to continue a rhythm faded into a calm embrace, the two gradually relaxed against each other. Dirk shifted a little to kiss drowsily beneath Victor’s ear. Their heartbeats drifted to peace.
“I should grab a rag,” said Dirk, reluctantly shifting to rise.
Victor hummed, stretching luxuriantly against the bedspread. “You have made quite the mess of things…”
“Well, you did help!” Dirk said, tossing a worn cloth onto Victor’s chest as if to leave him to it, but quickly stepping in to peck kisses to the man’s hip before wiping away their combined efforts. He settled against his partner’s side with a contented sigh.
“I’ve had a thought,” mused Victor, resting his face on Dirk’s shoulder. “This whole time, we’ve been counting on your Aunt’s prospects – but, those are the good prospects, aren’t they? What we’ve got to do is find a girl – one of the girls, there’s got to be several – who doesn’t want to wed at all.”
“And how’re we going to do that?” Dirk mumbled, petting the stubbly underside of Victor’s chin fondly.
“Well,” said Victor, beaming up at his love, “we’ve just got to meet the ones people are already talking of. The ones just like us…”
And like that, they began to kiss again, furious with hope; and a stream of light pierced thick curtains to illuminate the forgotten rose.