The remainder of the week passed more quickly than he would have expected. Sometimes they spent the day indulging the resort staff and engaging in preplanned activities, like meditation, massage, or light hiking. Other days they stayed to themselves for the most part. Rohan taught Emerson all the card games he knew, and Emerson once had the servants send up Barbarians and Soldiers. It was a lot like spending the week away from school with one of his friends—with one obvious exception.

In the mornings, he was usually the first to awaken. He would lie there for a few minutes, gazing at his spouse, Rohan's sleeping face so smooth and calm in the early morning light. Dimmed by the gauzy curtains of the huge bay windows, it danced lightly across his features, illuminating his skin in little ripples of light. The second Emerson started to shift or move to touch that soft skin, those green eyes would blink open. Then, silently, full of quiet smiles and eager touches, they would love one another's bodies the way they had that first afternoon together.

Emerson was happy. In fact, he almost feared he might be too happy. It was very hard to pull away afterward, or to let his lover be the first to sit up and sigh and swing his feet reluctantly over the side of the bed. It was even harder not to show just how difficult this was for him.

He couldn't even admit to himself how happy being with Rohan made him.

Maybe it was just sex. Even though most of what they did together was merely touching and kissing, it was still more than he had ever done with another person before. It made him feel good ... connected. Throughout the day, he felt lost if Rohan weren't beside him, let alone nearby period. He never reached for the other man's hand, but he swallowed and tried to steady himself when Rohan reached for his.

And the things Rohan said to him, when they were together. They made him feel ...


He wasn't a beautiful person. He didn't have girls following him around at school the way Arthur had. He hadn't charmed a hapless servant into giving up everything he'd worked for to run away with him, just so they could be together. He wasn't tall, but he was too sturdily built to be the sort of lover some men looked for in other men. His features, he thought, were plain. His hair and eye color were unusual, even among nobles, but this didn't exactly add to his overall attractiveness. If anything, it had only served to earn him more taunting and ridicule in school.

In short, he was, and always would be, average-looking.

He thus sometimes wondered what drug Rohan must be regularly partaking of to see him the way he so obviously seemed to see him.

They ended their days the same way they began them. Their last night at the resort, they lay together in bed, side-by-side, both breathing heavily, gazing up at the canopied ceiling.

Emerson turned his head after a moment, staring at the profile of the man beside him, Rohan's cheek still slightly dusted with pink, his eyes closed for now.

"I wish we didn't have to go tomorrow," he said after awhile.

Rohan smiled, his eyes still closed.

Emerson turned on his side then and scooted ever so closer, his hand coming to rest on his husband's bare chest, his slightly curled knee resting against Rohan's thigh.

He bent his head a little, kissing the smooth skin of the shoulder near his chin, just breathing in the other man's warm scent for a moment.

"Rohan ..." he began again, hearing the caution and reserve in his own voice.

"Hmm ...?"

He swallowed, his fingertips curling slightly against the older man's skin. "I was wondering if ... I mean, we've been doing this for almost a whole week now, and..."

"Doing what?" Rohan asked, that old teasing lilt back in his voice.

Emerson scowled. "You know. Look, I was just wondering if ... if we're ever going to go all the way."

He thought he was through with being embarrassed about sex, but he felt his face flare with heat as soon as the words left his mouth. Stubborn, he made himself frown and tried to will that heat away, his heart beating fast in trepidation.

Finally, Rohan turned his head slightly, his eyes slitting open. He seemed to gaze searchingly into his young lover's face before saying, with a faint sigh, "Not yet, Remy. You're not ready for that."

This time, Emerson didn't have to school the frown onto his face.

"How do you know?" he asked. His hand on Rohan's chest had now curled into a fist. But before he could draw it away, Rohan lay his own hand over his wrist, holding him there.

"I just do," came the response.

Emerson looked at the hand resting on his own. After a second, he pulled it away, Rohan unresisting, and turned to lie back on his back, his hands resting over his own abdomen now.

"You're doing it again," he said after a moment.

Rohan sighed. "Do we have to do this now?"

"You're telling me what to do," Emerson continued. "Telling me what's best for me. Making decisions for me. Treating me like a little kid again." He grimaced, his jaw tightening. "For gods sakes. We've been married over a week and we haven't even had sex!"

Rohan brought his own hand up from his chest, resting his arm over his eyes, another deep sigh escaping him.

"Well?" Emerson asked, annoyed by his silence. "Don't you have anything to say?"

"No," he replied, "Other than that I find it wildly amusing you're accusing me of treating you like a child, while you yell at me red-faced and refuse to hold my hand."

Emerson blinked. He stared at his lover for a second—then swiftly turned away from him, kicking the rest of the covers away from his feet before sitting up and getting up out of bed. He pulled on the white robe he'd been wearing since the steamed and scented bath they'd taken this afternoon, then made his way across the room toward the balcony, his bare feet cold against the marble floor.

He let himself out onto the balcony, closing the double doors behind him, his arms automatically crossing over his chest to guard against the nighttime chill.

He's never going to see me as an equal. The thought pricked at his brain, like a gnat worrying at his skin, no matter how much he tried to slap it away. He gazed down at the courtyard below, the tinkling of the large fountain mixing with the faint sound of soft laughter and murmurs. Even at this hour, couples roamed the resort grounds, walking, holding hands, cozying up on benches.

It was starting to make him sick. What was with this place? How could two people who were barely speaking to one another spend a week within its walls only to emerge as star-crossed lovers? He snorted at the thought, tightening his arms over his chest.

Fine, they were lovers now. But this was what Rohan had wanted all along, wasn't it? A tool ... but a soft and submissive tool, one he could play with and dote upon, play at being married to.

For once, his own bitter thoughts surprised him. Maybe, in the back of his mind, he knew that Rohan really did care for him. But his new husband was a devious man—he'd figured that much out about him by now. He manipulated people to get what he wanted, convincing himself that what he wanted was what was best for everyone involved.

Emerson sighed and leaned against the stone balcony railings, lowering his crossed arms after awhile and resting his chin on top of them. Did you get exactly what you wanted when you asked for me? he wondered, the thought saddening something deep inside him. But no, he already knew the answer. Rohan hadn't planned on falling for him. He'd only meant to use him, the same way he was using himself, to better the lives of those around them.

He didn't know what he was expecting—maybe for Rohan to eventually come out after him, not apologize, but at least beg him to come back to bed. After awhile, he sighed and straightened, dropping his arms and turning back towards the balcony double doors, the warmth from the cozily-lit room enveloping him as he let himself back inside.

Rohan had pulled the covers back up to his chest, his cheek resting on the inside of his arm as he gazed up at his returning lover.

"I'm not going to have to sleep on the couch, am I?"

Emerson rolled his eyes. "Would you, if I told you to?"

"Yes," came the simple reply.

For some reason, that upset Emerson even more. But he said nothing, only closing the doors behind him and returning back to bed, letting the robe fall around his feet before climbing back onto the soft mattress.

He paused to blow out the oil-lit lamp by his bedside before sliding under the covers himself, his back to his spouse.

"Good night," he said into the near darkness. Rohan had already blown out his own lamp, so that the only light in the room came from the fireplace roaring at them from the opposite wall.

"Good night," replied the other man.

Emerson closed his eyes and willed himself to sleep.


The next morning found them involved in yet another disagreement, though at least without the usual bickering and litany of accusations.

"I want to go," Emerson said around the toothbrush in his mouth. He stared hard at the reflection of the man standing near him, Rohan carefully flicking a straight edged razor against his chin, revealing smooth, damp skin beneath the white foam.

"No," Rohan said, patient, as if he hadn't already uttered the word twice before. He paused to rinse the razor a bit before bringing it up to the other side of his chin, his cheeks glistening and damp. This was the first time Emerson had seen him shave the whole week, but that wasn't unusual for someone born in their part of the country.

Emerson scowled and paused to spit, rinsing his mouth out quickly before straightening.

"Why?" he asked.

"Because you're not ready."

He threw his toothbrush down and turned to stare at his indifferent spouse.

"You can't keep saying that!" he cried, his fist pounding down on the granite surrounding the two deep-bowled sinks, the little ornamental rose that sat between them shaking in its vase. "You can't keep giving the same damned excuse for everything I ask! I'm not ready for sex; I'm not ready for anything! Well, then what the hell AM I ready for?!"

Rohan bent his head for a second, rinsing his own face off, patting it carefully dry with a towel as he turned to regard his indignant young lover.

"I don't know," he said, arching one silver eyebrow. "I'll let you know when I think of something."

So much for a disagreement not turning into yet another argument.

This had been the first morning they hadn't woken up in one another's arms. This was due mainly to the resort staff worker who'd knocked on their door as requested, just after sunrise, to wake them so that they could prepare for their journey home. They had packed and bathed quickly, Rohan talking aloud the whole time, explaining which engagements were fast approaching first, and which they should accept, refuse, and why. Emerson had listened grumpily enough, only occasionally interrupting him, although at this point he really could care less which noble invitation would be most beneficial to the "Cause" so to speak.

And then Rohan had let slip something about an invitation he hadn't previously before mentioned.

An invitation to dinner.


"What?" Emerson had asked, looking up from where he'd been sitting, towel-drying his damp hair.

"Oh, nothing of import," Rohan had replied. "Some old school friends of mine apparently thought it would be a droll little treat for us to drop by their dinner party tonight. It's only half a day's ride from here. I'm sure it's just a coincidence they've all come out to celebrate in some remote hunting lodge nobody in Devon's family has used for years."

Emerson had felt unnerved, a little unprepared at having to basically go on display so quickly—he thought he'd have at least a few weeks to prepare.

If anything, the disastrous dinners leading up to his wedding had been enough to let him know that he was every bit as dim-witted about the ways of the world as others seemed to think he was.

But Rohan, who'd seen the look of panic that had no doubt risen to his face, had hastened to reassure him.

"Oh, don't worry. There's absolutely no way I'm taking you into a lion's den like that."

Which of course had been the one thing he could've said to make Emerson decide he needed to go to this ... dinner party.

"You're being an asshole again," he said, following his spouse out of the bathroom and back into the bedroom. "You married me for a reason, didn't you? Well, then let me actually start HELPING you, for gods sakes!"

Rohan gave an exasperated sigh before bending to finish packing their things. "And how is meeting some of my old school friends going to 'help me,' as you so eloquently put it?"

"I don't know!" Emerson cried. "Practice, maybe? Look, if I can talk to them, then maybe I can help you butter up the Ladies Bentham. Maybe I can learn more about those mines or whatever. I can help you make your case. And Lord and Lady Alancrofft, you said they're important, right? Because of the candles and gas and stuff." He ignored the long-suffering look Rohan was giving him now. "Maybe I can learn from these friends of yours. I can ask them about their steam engines and windmills and crop rotations. I can learn more and be of use to you."

"And how much do you anticipate learning in an afternoon?" his husband finally asked, evidently waiting for him to finish before speaking up.

He arched an eyebrow at him again. "They'll all be half-drunk and too busy ribbing me about my marriage to bother teaching you about steam engines, Remy. Besides," he zipped the last bag up before standing, shouldering it, "I can teach you everything you need to know about those things."

Emerson felt furious. He knew he should feel deflated, defeated once again by Rohan's persistent attempts to treat him like an inept blundering idiot.

But this was one time too many.

"You don't think I'm smart enough," he said evenly, his jaw clenching as he spoke. "You're ashamed of me. You're ashamed to show me off in front of all your brilliant Academy-hating friends."

"They aren't smarter than you," Rohan said, albeit a bit wearily. "But they are better educated. Is that what you want to hear?"

"I can become educated," Emerson insisted.

"Eventually, yes. But ... don't make me say it, Remy."

Emerson scowled. "Say what?"

"Your marks in school were atrocious. Learning isn't your forte. You hate it. Now, can you just drop this and help me carry these things downstairs before they send in a troop of servants to do it for us?"

Emerson just stared at him, aghast.

"Learning isn't my FORTE?" he finally cried. "What the fuck is THAT supposed to mean?"

"It means," Rohan suddenly snapped, "I would have done better to marry Marta or Arthur if what I wanted was an intelligent help-mate instead of a spoiled little brat!!"

At first they just stared at one another, the expression on Rohan's face verging on comical he was so incensed, his sea green eyes blazing like they never had before. Were he a less attractive man, it probably would have been horrifying.

So, instead of cringing away, Emerson merely lifted his chin and stared him down right back.

"We're going to that dinner party," he said.

"Fine!" Rohan snapped. He bent to heft another bag up onto his shoulder before making his way towards the door, fumbling with the handles a bit before letting himself out, presumably to make his way downstairs.

Emerson glared at him. "And what the hell's wrong with letting the servants pack for us?" he wondered aloud. Nevertheless, he bent to pick up a bag as well, then another, both of them fairly small and reasonably light. If Rohan wanted to play at being common, then fine. But he wasn't about to break his back over it.

The carriage ride away from the resort was hellish—if the lowest level of hell had finally frozen over completely. He and Rohan sat on the same bench, but as far apart as possible, their things stacked on the opposite bench. Every now and then, he thought he caught his husband glancing his way, his bottom lip worried between his teeth. But then he'd turn and gaze out the window again, one finger tapping anxiously against his crossed leg.

After a few hours of travel, they began to veer off the main path, the woods thickening around them, the ground beneath the carriage wheels hard and less-traveled, making their ride uncomfortable and bumpy.

"Is that it?" Emerson asked after awhile, leaning slightly over so he could peer out the window at the large, two-story cottage.

"Yes," Rohan answered. He said nothing else, his legs crossed now, clasped hands resting over one thigh, thumbs absently tapping together.

Emerson looked at him, trying not to let on how irked his sullen spouse was making him. Was Rohan THAT ashamed to introduce him to his friends? Did he think he was such a lump that he wouldn't even be able to follow the conversation? Maybe he didn't know a hell of a lot about steam engines, but it wasn't as if he were mentally deficient. And he was bound and determined to prove to the man beside him that when he really tried, he was capable of comprehending new ideas and concepts.

Really, though, he just wished Rohan would stop looking like he had a thorn up his ass. He'd never seen anyone so tense in all his life—well, except maybe Marta before their end of term exams.

The carriage pulled to a stop, and he was the first to step out, sitting closest to the door as he was. Out of nowhere, a pack of dogs came barreling out of the stone entryway, barking loudly, tails high in the air and wagging. He backed up instinctively, feeling himself collide with Rohan, his husband's hands going steadily around his shoulders for a moment before he stepped in front of him.

Rohan waved the dogs away, though a few still managed to jump up, paws scratching their clothes, hot smelly breath puffing in Emerson's face.

A moment later, a young man strode out of the doorway, grinning, his dark hair fanning out behind him.

"You came!" he cried. He walked up to Rohan, holding out a hand, the two men clasping one another's wrists in greeting.

The man turned to look at him next.

"And is this your new little wife? Bongo, OFF!" The last was directed at a large, wolf-like dog that was currently trying to sniff a semi-terrified young prince of the blood up close, face-to-face.

"Yes, this is Emerson," Rohan said, adding pointedly, "my husband."

Emerson had no idea why hearing that word made him flush a little, since ... that's what he was. But they'd never called one another that before. It sounded so strange.

"Emerson," Rohan continued, "This is an old friend of mine, Devon LeMelle.

"Hello," said Devon, his dark eyes sparkling with mirth. "Don't be shy. Let me get a look at you." He laughed suddenly, slapping his hands lightly against his thighs, the dogs still milling around them barking and yipping in response. "I can't believe you really did it, you bastard!"

He grasped Rohan on the shoulder, giving him a playful little shake, Rohan finally smiling a little, though he looked faintly embarrassed.

"Come and see!" Devon called out over his shoulder, a group of more young men and women emerging as well now, all brightening and grinning when they saw Rohan. "He did it! The bastard really did it!"

"Of course he did!" said one girl, her bright blonde hair cut short like a male servant's. "You'd have seen him if you'd bothered to go to the wedding."

Devon made a snorting sound. "Too rich for my blood. They wouldn't have let me in the door." He grinned, seemingly unashamed of the fact—but it wasn't true, since Emerson knew he and Rohan could have invited anyone they pleased, and Devon hardly looked lower-class, for all his plebeian airs.

"Isn't he pretty, all dressed up in his fancy clothes?" joked another man, their friends all laughing with him.

Emerson looked down at himself, surprised at being accused of dressing fancily, as he was wearing boots, trousers, and the split riding gahi ... which admittedly probably stood out a bit.

"Shall we go inside?" Rohan finally prompted.

"Yes, all right," Devon agreed cheerfully. "But what about your things—well, hello!"

They all watched in amazement then as the servants who'd been riding up top hopped down and began unloading the luggage, the driver getting down as well, walking up to the front and grasping the lead horse's bridle.

"Where shall we bring these, sir?" asked one of the men, already shouldering three heavy bags.

Rohan turned and looked expectantly at Devon.

Devon coughed—Emerson could tell he was trying, rather unsuccessfully, to hide his smile behind his hand.

"Ah," he pointed, "Second floor, third room on the right. It's a small room," he continued, this time to Rohan, "not very grand, I admit. Perhaps not befitting a noble young hata and his handsome new spouse."

"I'm sure it's quite nice," Rohan said dryly.

"Not as nice as what you're used to these days, right, Rohan?" asked the pixie-haired girl. The others all laughed again, although Emerson couldn't imagine what was so funny.

He thought they would be given a chance to collect themselves, to see their rooms, relax after their journey. He'd been anticipating a nicely drawn bath; even though he'd bathed only just this morning, he felt dusty and unkempt from riding in the carriage for five hours. He had no idea if he had dirt smudges on his cheeks or if his hair was crooked or anything.

But rather than being shown up to their rooms, they were ushered into the house and into the main room immediately, Devon and another young man pulling Rohan with them, while Emerson trailed behind, several other people all trying to talk to him at once. He felt bewildered, out of his element. One girl even had her arm looped through his own, her breast rubbing against his elbow as they headed indoors.

"You're awfully young," she commented. "Don't you think so, Cloe? Isn't he young?"

"He's like a little wingless cherub," agreed the pixie-haired girl, both of them grinning.

"Rohan likes them young," joked a tall, sandy-haired young man. "Young and pure."

They all laughed, and Emerson's face flared a corresponding red, shock reverberating through him at that casual comment. Did Rohan really have a reputation for seducing inexperienced young lovers? Was that what had happened to him back at the resort?

"Good gods, you've embarrassed the fire right out of his blood," said Cloe, guffawing. The others all turned and saw his face, the girl still holding his arm actually doubling over from laughter.

This was how the afternoon progressed until dinnertime. He and Rohan remained mostly separate from one another, Rohan eventually smiling more and more as he listened to the other's—Devon's in particular—raucous jokes. Emerson was nevertheless never alone; Cloe and her group paid him constant attention, asking him questions about life as a noble, what the Academy was like, who his friends were, and what his favorite thing about Rohan was.

"He's kind to me," Emerson said, feeling like a complete moron as soon as the words left his mouth.

The girls all cooed, the men laughing, and it took them all a few minutes before they could compose themselves and continue the grueling litany of questions.

The dogs roamed in and out of the house, which was well-built, the ceilings stretching up some twenty feet above their heads, and well-furnished, the sofas plush and richly upholstered, the tables made from a fine, dark wood, an expensive piece of art hanging over the massive brick fireplace. But the place was untidy, and there was not a single sign of a servant. The guests all flopped irreverently on the sofas or rugs, girls and boys cozying up to one another, something that never would have been allowed at the Academy. Nevertheless, there didn't seem to be any couples present; it was all good-natured flirting and laughter—much of it at his expense.

He did however recognize several of the young men he'd danced with at his wedding ball. One of them, Gerin, even sat close beside him on the couch and put his arm around him, a teasing smile on his face.

"And how do you like being married?" he asked, seemingly ignoring the titters of his friends around them.

"It's fine," Emerson replied. The man's closeness made him uncomfortable; he looked for Rohan, but his spouse was busy amusing Devon and their other friends with some story or another, his hands even lifting and moving as he tried to describe whatever it was he was talking about.

"Fine, he says," said Gerin, grinning out at his friends, Cloe and Enid, a girl with long brown hair, laughing into one another's shoulders.

They had all had more than a few glasses of wine at this point. Emerson, who'd yet to develop a taste for liquor, was still nursing his first.

"So," Gerin continued, focusing on him again, the arm around his shoulders tightening a little, "Is it true that your kind don't marry for love?"

"My kind?" Emerson repeated, blinking at the amused flushed faces around them.

Gerin smiled, his face moving closer. "Thought about taking a lover yet?"


Emerson felt his heart pound with relief at that familiar voice, a chuckling Gerin immediately pulling back, Rohan gazing across the room at them both. Emerson expected him to come over, but he didn't—he, too, had a glass in hand, his face slightly flushed.

"Kindly remove your arm from around my husband," he said, but he looked amused, his green eyes twinkling as usual.

Why don't you come and remove it yourself? Emerson pleaded silently with him across the room, something flickering in Rohan's slightly dazed eyes as their gazes met.

Gerin grinned. "But I think he likes it!" The arm around him gave a little playful squeeze.

When Rohan finally started to come over, everyone started laughing, Gerin comically pulling away and holding up both hands. Even Rohan seemed to find this funny, waving a hand at his friend and making a face before sipping his glass of wine, though he did spare a wink for Emerson when their eyes met across the room again.

"Cook says dinner's served!" Devon called out suddenly, the entire room cheering and raising their glasses.

So they do they have servants. People to cook their food and care for their animals and do whatever other necessary household chores needed doing. But no one to pour baths or serve finger foods or ask if he'd like another glass of wine.

He found himself sandwiched between Cloe and Enid again on the way to the dining room, which boasted one immensely long table, a small chandelier hanging overhead. They were evidently not to be served throughout, as the table itself was already loaded down with food, jugs of wine next to already full wineglasses, two steaming wild birds at the center, surrounded by any manner of vegetables, puddings, and baskets of bread.

"I'll take over from here," said Rohan, appearing seemingly out of nowhere as he smoothly interjected himself between Emerson and Cloe, his arm linking with Emerson's, pulling him towards a pair of empty chairs.

Enid dove for the chair beside him, making Cloe pout, both girls laughing afterward. Rohan merely gave a little snort of amusement before taking the chair on Emerson's other side.

Once they were all seated, or nearly so, Devon suddenly lifted his wineglass and called out, "To Rohan and Emerson!"

"Rohan and Emerson!" the others all cheered back, everyone laughing and grabbing their own glasses. Rohan looked embarrassed, but he was smiling, his eyes sparkling, his own fingers absently folding around his wineglass.

Emerson reached for a glass of iced water.

"So, Emerson," said Devon, after they'd all been chatting and stuffing their faces for a few minutes. He paused suddenly and spared a comically confused look for his friends. "Can I call him that? Is it allowed?"

"I think so," said Enid, laughing.

"It's fine," Emerson said, embarrassed for some reason. Something about the way Devon acted around him irked him though.

"Fantastic." He grinned, his dark eyes alighting back on Emerson. "So, as I was saying. Rohan says you're interested in engineering."

Emerson blinked. He looked at his husband, who looked equally surprised before flitting him a reassuring little smile.

Emerson returned to Devon, nodding after a moment's hesitation. "I want to know more about it." He almost added, so I can help Rohan, but experience was teaching him that this would only have been met with more humiliating laughter.

"Don't they teach engineering at your school?" asked a redheaded girl sitting next to Devon, her grin slightly lopsided.

Emerson shook his head. "The headmistress doesn't approve of it."

Cloe and Enid cooed. "They have a headmistress," said the pixie-haired girl, nudging her friend, both of them grinning. Across the table, Gerin caught his eye and winked.

"And why doesn't she approve of it?" Devon asked, just before he stuffed a piece of roasted meat into his mouth, his dimples showing as he chewed.

Emerson hesitated.

"I don't know," he finally said.

The redhead snorted. "He doesn't know," she repeated.

Devon swallowed. "Since you don't know, I'll tell you why," he said, shaking a turkey leg at him as if he were a professor in the classroom. "It's because your headmistress thinks people like us are dangerous. So basically, anything we come up with is by nature dangerous."

Emerson frowned. Rohan flitted him a sharp look, but he ignored it. "I don't understand," he said. "You don't seem dangerous to me. And I'm sure the headmistress has her reasons for what she allows and doesn't allow into the Academy."

Devon's eyes widened. "Oh does she?"

"Yes," Emerson said firmly, "She does." He had no idea why he was so anxious to defend his and his friends' education, but somehow he just couldn't seem to stop himself.

The redhead—her name was Mara—rolled her eyes. "My god. What on earth do they teach at that 'school' of his?"

"Ancient History," Emerson said quickly, "And ... And Manorial Business." Not his best subjects by a long shot, but they were the first things that sprang to mind. Maybe because Marta had wasted so many hours of both their lives pointlessly quizzing him on important dates and business sums.

"Manorial business?!" blurted out the sandy-haired young man. The others all burst out laughing. Beside him, he thought he could sense Rohan tensing, his spouse's fingertips tapping against his wineglass.

"We have to know how to look after our own homes!" Emerson said, forcing himself to talk above the laughter. "We have to know how to deal with tenants and balance ledgers and tend crops—"

"Tend crops?" cried Devon. "What sort of crops did they teach you to tend? Perhaps you can speak with my sister. She's married to a cotton farmer. I'm sure they'd love a few Academy-bred tips." Beside him, Mara snorted into her cloth napkin.

"I didn't take those classes," Emerson said through gritted teeth. "My family doesn't own any crops."

"Oh, that's right," chimed in the girl next to Mara, "Your family doesn't own much of anything anymore. Lucky for Rohan." And she winked at his husband, Rohan not returning her smile.

"You make fun of the way we live!" Emerson shot out, his heart beginning to thud in his throat, his face flushing. "But a lot of people depend upon my family. We employ over two hundred servants, and the Academy has even more! Where would those people go if we weren't here to feed and clothe them?"

"He's a regular Academy loyalist," chortled Devon, slapping the table in amusement, the others all laughing again. "So tell me, little hata. How did it feel to have a common cock up your ass after all that proper Academy schooling?"

"Devon!!" cried Rohan, his face suddenly furious.

"Oh, come on, then! Don't tell me you spent a week with the little brainless twat and didn't even try to sample the goods!"

The table exploded with laughter.

Emerson rose to his feet, shaking. "It's none of your business..." he tried to say, but he couldn't even speak over their raucous voices, and his own voice felt feeble, stifled.

He turned then and pushed his chair away, almost tripping over it.

"Aww, you're not leaving, are you?" asked Cloe, smiling and wiping the tears from her eyes.

"Maybe he just needs the toilet," said Enid helpfully.

"I'm going upstairs to my room!" Emerson said, this time loud enough for most of them to hear him.

Gerin grinned and immediately jumped to his feet, his own chair tipping precariously backward as he did. "I'll show you the way," he quipped.

Emerson blinked and started abruptly back, as if the table were the only thing keeping the man from physically assaulting him.

This seemed to finally clear Rohan's head.

He stood up, his hand slipping around his agitated lover's arm. "I'll take him," he said. Everyone laughed again—it didn't seem at this point that it took much to tip them of again.

"Don't hurry back!" called Enid, she and Cloe and another girl making kissing noises as they left the room together, Rohan's hand still gripping him gently by the arm.

They didn't say a word together as they hurried down the hallway and up the stone steps, Rohan's footsteps crisp and sure, despite the amount of wine he must have drunk. It was Emerson who tripped after him, agitation and humiliation making it difficult to think let alone walk.

In their room, Rohan didn't even shut the door before releasing him and going to retrieve the two overnight bags that were resting on their bed.

Emerson blinked.

"What are you doing?" he asked.

Rohan pursed his lips. "We're leaving," he said.

"What? Tonight?!"

"I'm not staying another second in this house. Not with that letch Gerin Cravin giving you the eye all evening. And Devon and Mara with their ridiculous nonsense."

He finished stuffing the clothes their servants had lain out back into the bags, his movements angry and jerky. Finally, he straightened and turned to look at his spouse, his jaw tight, eyes blazing with anger.

But then his face seemed to fall when their eyes met. Emerson tried not to show how he felt—but he couldn't help it; he was sick with humiliation, the heat beneath his skin burning him from the inside out, his stomach twisting in knots..

Rohan crossed the room, hurrying towards him.

"Remy," he said, drawing him into his arms, his soft white hair brushing against Emerson's hot cheek. "I'm so sorry."

He hugged him for a moment longer before pulling back, just long enough to bring his hands up, cupping his young lover's face, his thumbs stroking his skin. Emerson didn't know what to do or say, so he just stared back at him, his mouth half-open but mute. He closed it quickly, afraid it would start trembling and give him away. Even after all this, he couldn't bear the thought of reaffirming Rohan's belief that he was weak, or stupid, or childish.

"I'm so sorry, Remy," Rohan repeated, his brow furrowed, green eyes shining in the darkness of the pale moon just outside their unlit room.

They kissed, Emerson's fingers digging into the front of the older man's shirt, half-clinging to him. Tonight had really been one of the most humiliating evenings of his life, and all he'd wanted, the whole time, was to feel Rohan nearby, to have him take his hand in his, or feel his arm around him. But he hadn't been there.

"I love you," Rohan said, once their lips separated, their faces still close. "You know that, don't you? I love you."

Emerson could only nod, whether he knew it or not. All he really cared about right now was that Rohan was here, he wasn't mad at him anymore, and they were getting the hell out of here.

Maybe that was a little melodramatic. But he really couldn't leave this place fast enough.

"Come on," his husband said after awhile. "Let's go and get the servants." He shouldered both bags, and Emerson was in no mood to remind him that he was perfectly capable of taking his own bag. Instead, he simply nodded and took the older man's hand, and together, they slipped out of the chilled, fireless bedroom and made their way downstairs, taking the servants' stairs, down through the kitchens and outside, first towards the servants' quarters, and then to freedom.