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Silicon Dick

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Silicon-Seeker asked Silicon Dick:

He’s at the Starbucks right now I’m sitting right on the other side of the room—not gonna say which one cuz real fans will know—with the Favorites and he’s wearing this tight silk shirt—maybe it’s a woman’s blouse even-- with little blue flowers, open at the neck and omg he’s turning his head now it looks really long and thin and you can just see the top of his chest hair… he’s got these skinny blue jeans on—they look really expensive-- and these grey suede chukka boots and he’s just sitting there stirring his coffee and looking casually bored while the Favorites argue about something. Aaaah! He just tossed his hair back over his shoulder—it looks so soft and wavy!--and damn, he’s got eyeliner that just totally goes with the scruff he’s rocking today. Help! I think I’m going to faint.

Can you see if he’s still wearing the blue nail polish he was wearing yesterday? If Edward shows up, let us know, OK?
*****************************

The Wall Street Journal

Tech King Tries on a New Crown

Richard Plantagenet has been the King of Silicon Valley since before he was even old enough to drive. Is he now poised to conquer the world?

At the tender age of 10, Richard Plantagenet discovered a way to extend the limits of how fast computers can process information, and transformed the computing landscape. The 33-year old inventor of the Hart Chip, a microprocessor found in almost every computer, phone and tablet made for the past 20 years, has been a glamorous, controversial CEO of his company, White Hart. He is the only CEO with fans who run a blog tracking his sightings, wardrobe, and gossip, and stake out his public appearances for photographs with him.

He is rarely seen without an entourage of employees, friends and fans, and is famous for the parties he throws in his $30 million Victorian mansion in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights. His personal charisma, combined with White Hart’s market dominance and reputation for innovation, have drawn the brightest and most talented engineers and designers to its Cupertino headquarters. With legendary product launch parties and a corporate culture that some have described as “bohemian”, White Hart has long been the Camelot of Silicon Valley and undisputed ruler among a horde of competitors.

But over the past five years there have been signs that White Hart’s reign may be slipping, as other companies have begun releasing chips that some tech gurus feel outperform the Hart Chip. Insiders believe we may be on the verge of another major breakthrough in computing and think it’s unlikely to come out of White Hart, which has yet to improve significantly upon the Hart Chip’s original design and whose innovation in recent years has lain primarily in spinoff products that use the chip, rather than novel technologies.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise, then, that in a press release this week, Mr. Plantagenet announced a press conference for next Wednesday in which he will unveil the an exciting new direction for White Hart. The contents of the announcement have been a closely guarded secret, and White Hart’s stock has risen in anticipation of what could be a turning point for the tech industry as a whole.
*******************

San Francisco Chronicle: Style

Heard about town: Tech tycoon Richard Plantagenet has hired the San Francisco Symphony to play at the hotly anticipated White Hart launch event next week. Around 500 superstars of the tech industry from around the world are expected to attend the party at his Pacific Ave. home, along with an army of journalists. Although the public is not invited to the bash, they will be picking up the tab for the parking headache this will cause as well as the extra police presence such an event requires. At the last party, Richard somehow got the lion tamer from Ringling Bros. Circus, which happened to be in town, to perform his act in the garden. One of the lions rushed through the crowd and escaped over the wall. It took the SFPD, Fire Department, and Animal Control officers six hours to find and capture the animal and hold it in a secure cage at the San Francisco Zoo until the someone from the circus came to pick it up, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $11,000. Didn't things like this go out of style when the tech bubble burst? Hopefully the worst we can expect from this party is a rowdy tuba player taking a dive in the koi pond.
******************************

Richard's coffee has grown cold while he stirs it and lets the voices buzz like flies around his head, swatting them away with each rotation of the spoon in his cup. He doesn't really want the coffee anyway. It's his third cup of the morning. He's starting to feel jangly and the arguing gets on his nerves.

"Fine, Bagot," he says, letting the spoon fall with a "plink" against the rim of the cup. "I'll hire a band for the party, too, just to hear you stop whining about it."

"But I thought this was supposed to be a black tie event? And there's the symphony. What does one of Bagot's hipster bands have to do with the symphony?" Green argues.

Richard ignores him. "They can set up in the sunroom, but not till after the symphony's winding down. Go ahead and hire someone. Just make sure I'm not going to hate their music." Green glares at Bagot and Bushy clears his throat. Richard makes an exasperated gesture.

"There's always the after party, you know. Unless you want to call it quits by midnight along with the press and all the boring people."

Bagot looks smugly over Richard's head at Bushy and Green. Bushy is sullen.

"It's not like he's bringing in lions, Bushy," Richard chides. Bushy reddens and Green chuckles. "And both of you should be more concerned with the publicity for this event, which is your, you know, job, than with the musical entertainment."

Richard rises, leaving his coffee on the table. "And with that, let's get back to the office."

Bagot saunters toward the door. He wears low-slung black skinny jeans, a t-shirt with the badly faded emblem of a music festival from years ago, a plaid shirt, and oversized knit cap. With his long black hair and goatee, he looks incongruous summoning the driver of a black limousine, waiting in the parking lot. Green and Bushy pack up their tablets, and Richard taps away at the screen of his phone while he waits for the car. He tries to smother a delighted expression, and fails.

"What's so funny?" Green asks.

"Thomas Woodstock has been found guilty."

Richard sounds giddy as they climb in the limo. He stays glued to his phone during the ride back to the office and everyone else sits nervously. When they reach the building, Richard tells Bushy to send Edward to his office and let no one else disturb him. Richard logs into his computer, opens his browser, and scrolls through page after page while he waits for Edward. He has a ticklish feeling in the pit of his stomach and has a hard time sitting still. There's a knock at the door.

"Come in." Edward enters.

"What took you so long?"

"I was in a meeting. Bushy told me it was urgent but I was in the middle of a presentation and couldn't just walk out, could I?"

"Of course you can, when I tell you to, Edward, and you should have. I've been sitting here for twenty minutes."

"What on earth could possibly be so urgent that you drag me out of an important meeting?" Edward tosses his head in irritation. His dark hair falls out of place, brushing the strong line of his brow, and his green eyes smolder. His shoulders are tense beneath his blazer. For a split second Richard wants to drag out the moment to enjoy the sight, but sticks to the matter at hand.

"Woodstock's been found guilty and now they're investigating all the senior executives. Gloucester System's stock is already plummeting."

Edward greets the news with silence.

"Stop looking at me like that. This is what we hoped would happen," Richard says.

"I know."

"And?"

"It's awfully... convenient, isn't it."

"Sometimes things just work out." Richard's tone is just a bit too triumphant for Edward to ignore.

"Oh, do they?"

"Stop being sarcastic and get over here," orders Richard gently, pleased with Edward's attitude.

He sits and points to the computer screen. "Two different people are tweeting about a mass defection of employees from GloSys, and this guy on Twitter, @digitalmulder, who always seems to have accurate inside information, says they're scrambling to sell the company while it's still worth something."

"So, what do we do now?"

"More like, what do you do now, Edward." Edward's compact, muscular body straightens as he hears this and Richard visualizes the outcome this conversation would have if timing weren't so crucial right now.

Edward sits on the desk, facing Richard, his back to the computer. "Make discreet inquiries."

Richard nods without acknowledging Edward's troubled eyes. Edward looks squarely at Richard. "You know, throughout this whole thing I haven't been able to shake the feeling that you had something to do with it."

Not breaking eye contact, Richard runs his fingers along Edward's outer thigh, tracing the outline of his quadriceps and rests his palm on his knee. Edward leans almost imperceptibly into his touch. "I want a report, in person, don't put anything in writing, with solid information by the end of the day." Edward's gaze falls to the long, delicate fingers digging softly into his flesh and he mumbles, "OK."

It is 6:15 and Richard has just called for the car when he hears from Edward again. "Meet me at the car," says the text. A few minutes later, they settle against the leather upholstery and the driver steers them through the White Hart campus and onto the main road. They sit silently until he turns onto 280 for the journey back to San Francisco.

"Well, out with it. What are you waiting for?"

"They'll take $7 million."

"That's all?" Richard shrieks. Edward delivers his full report and by the end, Richard has taken out his phone and is already placing a call.
*************************************

New York Times

GloSys CEO Convicted of Embezzlement

Thomas Woodstock, founder and CEO of Gloucester Systems, Inc., has been found guilty of embezzlement. The charges were brought after a whistleblower alerted authorities. The entire GloSys leadership is being investigated and sources expect more people to be arrested in the coming weeks. The IRS and SEC are also investigating allegedly fraudulent filings to both entities over the past two years that may have been intended to cover up the extent of the scheme. A key piece of evidence at Mr. Woodstock's trial was a cleverly hidden paper trail that led to $1.5 million of GloSys money being invested in his thoroughbred farm in Kentucky. Millions of dollars have allegedly been siphoned off for yacht parties, ski trips in the Swiss Alps, luxury cars for personal use, as well as escorts, massage and strippers. A rumor has been circulating that GloSys also paid for certain high-level executives to visit sex clubs in Thailand and some observers think charges of human trafficking may be forthcoming. It is not known if Mr. Woodstock himself is one of those executives, but if so, he may face new charges.

GloSys began in the late 1980s as a manufacturer of personal computers, but gradually shifted over to the design and manufacture of hardware and is best known for its motherboards. By the end of the 1990s it was firmly entrenched within the industry as a producer of reliable, if unexceptional, moderately priced knockoffs of more expensive components. Although well known to industry insiders, GloSys did not become a household word until it developed a less expensive counterpart of the Hart Chip in 2009. Since then, its profits have soared. Its stock reached an all-time high following a failed takeover attempt by White Hart in 2011, and have remained high. Since the arrest of Mr. Woodstock, however, shares have plummeted and in the wake of his conviction, are trading for pennies.

The CEO of one major manufacturer of database management software, who prefers to remain anonymous, expressed surprise at the extent of the corruption rampant at GloSys.

"In the tech industry, we're mostly just a bunch of engineers, programmers and designers. We don't want to mess around with money. We work hard and play hard, but at the end of the day our only goal is to put out products that make life easier, more convenient, and more fun for the people who buy them. What was going on at GloSys is really out of character and seems more like something you'd find in the finance industry. I know Thomas and have visited GloSys many times. I've never seen anything that would lead me to believe they're doing anything illegal or inappropriate. I never would have expected something like this from an old workhorse like GloSys, and I'm really sorry to see them fall this way. It's clear there's been a failure of leadership, but I feel there's another side to this story that we might never know."
*********************

@digitalmulder White Hart buys GloSys for $7M. #nocoincidence
*********************

"But Richard, surely you see that if you keep selling their processor, you stand to make as much money from it as from your own."

"I don't care. We're going to discontinue it and reorganize GloSys. I'll put someone in charge and I don't care what they sell as long as it's not directly competing with me."

"It's already in hundreds of products. Now that you own GloSys, all those sales will belong to you."

The portly, balding Vice President of Products and Marketing, Simon Stone, is red-faced and trying not to shout.

"Thank you for pointing out the obvious," Richard sneers. "Woodstock had a chance to sell it to me but he was too damned proud of it and too eager to beat me at my own game."

"This is going to upset consumers and could negatively affect White Hart sales."

"For about five minutes, maybe. The fact is, they won't have a choice and, frankly, they don't really care as much as they think they do. If they even notice, they will have forgotten before their dinner gets cold."

"Your shareholders will--"

"Thank me for safeguarding the brand value of our signature product."

Richard pauses for a moment but before Stone can open his mouth to speak again, he says in a steely voice, "Have you ever wondered why White Hart has had so few competitors over the years?"

Stone says nothing. Richard knows he doesn't need to give an answer. He stands up and pushes his chair back so he can step away from the table where both are seated.

"Tomorrow morning at 8:00 I expect you to present a detailed plan how to implement my wishes."

Stone looks at him incredulously. "You can't be serious."

"I am and you're fired."

Stone stands, sputtering, mouth opening and closing with no words coming out, but Richard is already on his phone.

"Edward. You're the new Vice President of Products and Marketing. Stone'll be out of his office in half an hour and I want you in it by noon."

Stone explodes inwardly with rage and starts to launch profanities at Richard, but stops with his lips still set for the first "f". He has been in the industry for two and a half decades, worked for White Hart for eight years, and has a long, distinguished resume. Edward's been here all of three years. It's his first job out of college and everyone will know how he got this promotion. He realizes he has nothing to say and stomps out of the room.

Chapter Text

It’s 10:30 AM on an August morning and Edward is in the middle of composing an email when Richard breezes into his office. He has not heard the decisive fall of Richard’s sneakers, or the crunch of his leather jacket, outside the door and jerks his head up from the monitor. In two steps, Richard is in front of his desk, towering over Edward, his hair swinging as it catches up with the change in his momentum. He looks up, mouth agape and eyes blinking, at a momentary loss for words. In his two months at White Hart, Richard has only spoken to him twice: once, when Liz in HR brought him around on his first day, and about two weeks ago, when he had personally invited Edward to a large party at his house that very evening.

Edward had been shocked and could barely sputter out, “Oh, Mr. Plantagenet, I’m so sorry but I can’t. I already have plans.” This was a lie. He had no plans and wanted nothing more than to attend one of the parties he’d heard so much about at Richard’s palatial home, but he was so surprised that Richard had singled him out for the attention, that his first reaction had been to panic. Did Richard remember him from his internship last summer?

White Hart organized professional development and networking events for the fifteen summer interns, mostly juniors at Stanford or Berkeley, and Richard himself had attended two of them. Edward was mortified at the memory of Richard laughing at a particularly naïve comment he had made.

“But, Mr. Plantagenet, business relationships should be strictly professional. If they get too personal, there could be conflict of interest and it would be wrong.”

Something to that effect was the best he could remember though the haze of shame that followed. He was right, of course, but had much to learn about life at White Hart. He could still feel the comforting weight of Richard’s hand patting him on the back afterward. Edward had felt like he wanted to burst into tears and kiss Richard’s feet at the same time.

Now, a year later, he has graduated from Stanford and glided into a plum junior management marketing and sales position through the door that internship opened, and Richard Plantagenet, the Richard he has seen in magazines and newspapers and on TV for as long as he can remember, has sought him out and stands close enough for Edward to smell the musk and orange blossom of his cologne and to touch if he dares.

“Come with me to the beach,” Richard says simply, as if this is something they do all the time.

“Now? Sir, it’s a workday.”

“The boss says it’s OK, Edward.”

Edward’s cheeks burn and he looks away as a slow grin spreads over Richard’s face. He knows Edward’s first name. He remembers. Or he has looked it up. Either way, Edward feels like a grain of sand that Richard plucked off that beach and holds under a magnifying glass.

“What beach, sir?”

“Santa Cruz, where else? It’s too nice outside to be cooped up here and I feel like going for a drive. Get your jacket. We’re leaving now.”

Edward sits tensely on the passenger seat of Richard's blue BMW convertible. It's the most expensive edition, with all the options, but it surprises Edward anyway. Richard could afford any car, but he has chosen one within the reach of any well-heeled businessman. It does not stand out against the other cars on the freeway, and handles like a dream.

"Maybe that's the point," he thinks, relieved that it's not something more exotic, like a Lamborghini or Maserati. The commonplace car humanizes Richard, brings him within reach and urges casual conversation: "There's our exit", "I need to stop for gas", "I don't like that song. Put on something else." He tries to think of something to say to lighten his own anxiety, and cannot.

Richard looks over at him every now and then, but does not say anything, either, and Edward pretends not to notice his sly expression as the wind whips his hair and the air grows cooler with their ascent into the redwoods, biting through Edward's thin hoodie. Without thinking, Edward crosses his arms for warmth. Richard notices and touches a button on the console.

"It'll take a minute for the seats to warm up. There's a blanket in the back seat you can use, too."

"It's not that cold, sir, just a little chilly."

"Call me Richard-" he might as well have pushed hot wires through Edward's veins- "And I think you're colder than you let on."

"No, really, I'm fine, si...I mean, Richard." The name lays on his tongue like a foreign object that he both longs and fears to spit out, but once uttered, breaks a spell, or, perhaps, weaves one.

Richard laughs. "Fine. Suit yourself. But I keep that blanket back there for a reason, you know."

Edward feels a little knot in his gut when he considers Richard might often pull random employees away from their desks for jaunts like this. Maybe he does it to all the new hires. Maybe it's a test. Is he passing so far? He pushes his panic down with innocuous words.

"I haven't been to the Boardwalk in years."

"We're not going to the Boardwalk. Unless you want to get married, adopt a couple of kids, and spend the rest of the day watching them puke on the roller coasters."

"Are you proposing?" He means it as a joke, but as it comes out of his mouth, realizes how flirtatious it sounds and wishes he could take the words back into his lungs.

"Not yet," Richard winks. "Besides, Isabella wouldn't appreciate that."

They both laugh and talk more naturally as the car descends into Santa Cruz, veers right, and heads north on a belt of asphalt bound to the very edge of North America. It's not even noon, so the fog hasn't yet lifted. It settles into the car and clings to Edward's flapping hair like a terrified passenger, and he can hear, but not see, the surf hammering away at the foot of the cliff. The heated seats have kept him from reaching for the blanket, but they've begun to lose their effectiveness. Richard seems comfortable, and he doesn't want to give in.

They eventually turn left into the parking lot at a lovely flat beach, empty except for a couple of old Toyotas with surfboards strapped to the roofs, their owners stripping off wetsuits next to them.

"I'm always so optimistic about the fog," Richard sighs. "I should know better by now. Well, I wanted to go to the beach, and now we're here."

He gets out of the car and Edward follows suit. They remove their shoes and walk toward the surf, sandpipers and plovers scurrying in their wake, and stare at the water, as gray and turbulent as the fog. Edward bends to pick up a flat stone and as he turns to skip it, has the distinct impression that Richard is watching his rear end. He suddenly feels far warmer than he should. Richard's eyes are still on him when he steps back after trying to skip the stone.

"Why don't you go for a swim."

"But it's freezing, si..I mean Richard."

"It's not too cold for them," Richard gestures toward the surfers, who are now turning their cars around to leave.

"They have wetsuits, and I don't even have a bathing suit."

"Do you really think a wetsuit keeps you that warm? I don't. And you don't have to wear a swimsuit. There's no one here but me, and I don't mind."

Edward doesn't say anything, not because he can't think of anything to say, but because his temples are pounding and his body sizzles at the thought of undressing in front of Richard. He struggles to breathe normally for a second

"Besides, I want you to," Richard says in a silky voice that wraps itself around Edward like a tongue, and he is already peeling off his hoodie, his t-shirt, his jeans.

"You don't want to spend the rest of the day in wet underwear, do you? You'd better take that off, too."

Edward hesitates for a second, but Richard's eyes are running along the taught muscles of his thighs and all he knows is that he wants to keep those eyes on him, to be always in them, and to be found lovely and good in them. He hooks both thumbs in the waistband, pulls the underwear off quickly, and stands awkwardly in front of Richard.

A mess of jet black hair frames Edward's chiseled, square face and pale skin. He has green eyes and a strong jawline set off by a pair of full red lips. His neck ends in a deep hollow at the base of his throat that leads to a shapely chest and abdomen. Like his thighs, his arms have muscles sculpted from years of doing sports. He is shorter than Richard, but more powerfully built, and Richard does not even pretend to avoid looking at his cock. His eyes linger there for a few seconds and he looks pleased.

"Looks like you're ready for your swim."

At that signal, Edward turns and jogs toward the water, Richard's gaze on his firm, round ass warming him as he goes. He charges into the surf and a wave slams him with a cold that takes his breath away. He bobs on the surface for a minute, gasping for breath and treading water to stay warm, even though he can still touch the bottom, then forces himself to dive under and come back up. He swims a few strokes and feels warmer, but his fingers and toes are already numbing.

He wonders how long he has to keep this up and decides if he can catch the next wave in it will be enough. His teeth chatter watching for the swell just a little way out. He's relieved when the right one arrives and he can feel it start to pull him in as he paddles toward shore and then he's in it, on it, surging with it back toward Richard. He has been out less than ten minutes, but he cannot feel the sand on his toes as he trudges out of the water.

Richard is holding the blanket up when he gets there. Edward walks right into it and lets Richard wrap it around him and rub him dry all over with a smug expression. He can't stop his teeth from chattering or his body from shivering. Richard steps back and watches Edward dry his hair, his face shining with something Edward can't quite place. Edward dresses as quickly as he can.

Richard puts the roof up and turns on the heater in the car and they sit in the parking lot for a while. Edward still feels chilly, but he can feel his toes again and he has stopped shivering.

"Did you enjoy your swim?"

"It was very... refreshing."

"I should think so."

"Why didn't you go in?"

"I didn't want to."

"But you made me go in."

"I didn't make you do anything. I suggested it and you chose to do it."

"Oh, come on, Richard! You know it wasn't quite like that. You said I should go for a swim and now I think you're just toying with me."

"You've got to admit you're a very beautiful toy. Who wouldn't want to play with you?"

"You shouldn't have done that."

"Why? You think it was unethical?"

"He remembers!" thinks Edward. Aloud he says, "You're my boss and you're...well, you're you. How can I say no?"

"Did you want to say no?"

Edward doesn't answer, and Richard gloats. Edward sits in the passenger seat, pink with embarrassment, flushed with desire, and willing to do anything he wants. In fact, Richard has already had his way with Edward, and Edward knows it. There is only one thing left.

Richard leans over and kisses Edward on the mouth.

"Do you want to say no now?"

"No, sir..I mean, Richard," Edward murmurs.

Richard kisses him again, longer this time, and lets his tongue wander into Edward's mouth. Edward presses his own lips against Richard's tentatively at first, then more aggressively until his tongue has also found its way into Richard's mouth. Richard slides his hand into Edward's jeans and fondles his cock.

"I think you've begun to recover from your little encounter with the cold," he says as it begins to grow in his hand. Edward puts his arms around Richard's shoulders pulls him closer, afraid his kisses will stop.

"Unh.."

"You like that?"

He nods and Richard unzips Edward's jeans and takes out his cock, which hardens rapidly as he continues to stroke it. A low, soft sound comes from Edward's throat, then stops suddenly.

"You don't have to do this. I wasn't expecting you to."

"Shhh."

Richard nudges Edward to sit against the door, with his back to the window. He puts his hands under Edward's hips, pulls them slightly toward him, then bends over, long hair falling in front of his face, and takes Edward's cock in his mouth. It tastes like the ocean and he flicks his tongue all around the head and up and down the shaft, savoring it, then runs his mouth up and down it, sucking and massaging it with his lips.

Edward twines his hands in Richard's hair and throws his head back against the window, not even aware of his own voice moaning "god god god" over and over again until he's coming into Richard's mouth. He opens his eyes in time to see Richard's throat ripple as it swallows, and feels suddenly shy. None other than Richard Plantagenet is swallowing his semen, and his world is no longer the same one he woke up in. Richard is his world now, and he would run right back into the ocean if he asked.

Richard sits up and smiles. Edward smiles shyly back. Richard feels a pang of remorse for his earlier cruelty that quickly fades into a sense of curiosity about Edward.

"You are really something, you know that?"

Edward doesn't hear from Richard again for a couple days. He doesn't mind, either, because every time he leaves his office, he scans for Richard, a fairly ridiculous thing to do because Richard has little reason to visit the parts of the building where most of his employees work, and feels relieved to see no sign of him. He avoids meeting other people's eyes, afraid of the judgment he might find there, turns down lunch invitations, leery of smirking insinuations. Everyone must know. Richard's silence confirms Edward's suspicion that he plays many new hires this way, and he knows everyone who saw him leave and return with Richard laughs at him behind his back.

When he remembers that afternoon, however, he feels giddy. His skin prickles with the memory of the unexpected dip in the frigid sea, while his loins stir at the thought of Richard's eyes on his naked body and the feel of his lips on his cock. He pushes the incident out of his mind during the day as much as he can, but at night it runs wild in his imagination and he touches his cock, gently at first, then pumping into his tight fist until seized by an orgasm so fierce he can almost feel Richard near him.

When the email hits his inbox right before the end of the day on Thursday, Edward gasps out loud, then looks around his empty office out of habit, making sure no one has heard.

If you haven't caught your death of a cold, I'd like you to come to a dinner party I'm having tomorrow. Sorry for the short notice. It all sort of came together last minute.

Edward hits "reply" instantly.

Thank you, I'd love to. What time?

Richard returns the message immediately, which pleases Edward.

My driver will take you there after work.

An eternity passes the next day before a slim, stylishly dressed man with blond hair and a youthful face appears at his door.

"It's time to go." He dissects Edward with his eyes.

"Go where? What is this about?" Edward rises.

"Oh, I don't believe we've met," he says, stepping up to Edward's desk and offering his hand. "I'm John Bushy. Richard sent me to take you to the car."

Edward takes his hand and shakes it half-heartedly.

"Edward Langley. Let's go."

Richard is rolling a joint inside when they open the limousine door, and lights it as they settle.

"God, I've had so many tedious meetings and phone calls today."

He sinks into the cushions and, tossing his head back, takes a drag then passes it to Bushy. "It feels so good to relax."

Bushy nods while he smokes the cigarette, and offers it to Edward. He takes it and puffs on it uncertainly. He wants to keep a clear head, but doesn't want to seem like a dork. He extends it to Richard, whose fingers brush his palm unnecessarily as he takes it. He licks his lower lip with just the tip of his tongue as he puts the joint in his mouth, looking right at Edward with a faint smile while he inhales. Something clenches at Edward's heart, and Bushy fumes at him on the other side of the seat.

****************************

The other guests have left. Richard, Bushy, Green, Isabella and Edward have moved to some chairs in front of the fireplace adjacent to the entrance. The fog rolled in hours ago and the housekeeper has kept the fire lively since dinner started. It has burned down a bit, and the embers radiate an impossible heat. They've eaten the freshest food Richard's chef can prepare, drunk the best wine he can afford, and Richard's lighting up more of the best weed California can grow.

"No thanks, Richard, my wife expects me home tonight," says Green, rising to leave.

"All right, Green. You always seem to disappear before things get interesting, anyway. Give Stella my regards."

They're quiet until they hear the door close, Isabella snuggling up on the sofa next to Richard, Edward and Bushy sitting on opposite ends of a settee on the other side of the rug from them. She runs her fingers through Richard's hair, knotting the ends around them. She tugs it gently and he bends his head to kiss her.

Bushy looks away, but Edward watches her broad cheekbones turn toward Richard's and her pink lips disappear under his. She is tall and thin, like her husband, but just twenty-one years old, with edgy blonde hair and the wide shoulders and narrow hips of a supermodel. The descendant of some expatriate European prince and heir to the throne of an overthrown monarchy, she moves with the grace of one born into money and speaks with a faint, untraceable accent.

"I theenk I'm ready for bed, too, my love," she coos.

He kisses the top of her head and strokes her cheek, but doesn't answer.

"I think we need some water."

Bushy starts to rise but Richard interrupts.

"Edward, would you go to the kitchen and bring us a pitcher of water and some glasses?"

Edward looks at Bushy in a moment of panic. Bushy does not offer any help. Edward goes to the kitchen and finds a pitcher of water in the fridge and rummages through the wilderness of cabinets until he finds four glasses and returns to the fireplace. As he pours water, Richard scoots aside to create a space between himself and his wife. Edward stands numbly with a glass in one hand as Richard pats the seat.

"Sit here, Edward."

He hands the glass to Richard and sits next to him as instructed, stiffly, hands folded in his lap.

"Can I have one, too?" asks Isabella.

"Oh, I'm sorry," Edward apologizes, pouring another glass.

"Thank you." She shifts toward him and plants a lingering kiss on his lips.

Edward jerks away and starts to leap up, but loses his balance and tips toward Richard, who catches him. Richard directs him back down with his arm around his shoulder, forearm draped over Edward's chest, fingers trailing over his nipple.

Isabella looks from Edward to Richard and back again, then rises.

"Well, like I said, I theenk I'll go to bed now. It was nice to meet you, Edvard. I hope we'll be seeing more of you around the house. It's quite a lot of fun here once you know what to expect." She kisses his cheek and goes up the stairs.

Richard keeps his arm around Edward, fondling his nipple more assertively, as he looks at Bushy, sitting like a piece of crumpled up paper.

"You look lonely over there, Bushy. Come sit with us."

Bushy stands up rapidly. "I'm tired too. Good night." Without even waiting for a reply, he marches up the stairs.

"Well now it's a party of two," he smiles at Edward and leans in for a kiss. Edward's head pounds from the wine, the pot, and most of all from Richard's nearness. Richard stands and pulls Edward up with him. Without saying a word, he heads toward the stairs, knowing that Edward will follow as surely as if he had a leash around his neck.

Richard gets a little bit ahead of Edward, and he wanders around the hall for a minute, wondering which room is Richard's, afraid to knock on any of the doors, until he finally arrives at one that is open a crack. He peeks inside and sees the dim outline of Richard lighting a match and holding it to the wick of a candle next to a large four-poster bed.

Richard hears the door close and looks up. His hair shimmers gold in the candlelight, his skin, soft and smooth. Languorous lids shield his large brown eyes, and his thin but sensual lips are parted. He climbs onto the bed and reclines against the pillows.

"Come here."

Edward approaches the bed.

"I meant, come here," he says, touching his chest.

Edward tries not to get on the bed too eagerly, but Richard's amused expression suggests he probably does. It doesn't matter, though, because Richard sinks his fists into Edward's shirt collar and pulls him down.

"Have you been thinking about this?" he asks.

"I have."

"Show me what you've been thinking about."

Edward slides one arm underneath Richard's shoulders and draws Richard roughly up to a sitting position, pressing his mouth against his, inhaling his breath and impaling his mouth with his tongue. Richard's cock brushes his knee enough for him to feel it quicken. He rubs his other hand down Richard's side, over his stomach and into his pants. Richard's cock is alive in his hand, and he removes his hand just enough to unfasten the button and zipper.

Richard breathes quickly and acquiesces to Edward's touch. Edward unbuttons Richard's shirt, licks the length of his throat and settles, briefly, on his nipple, before unbuttoning his own shirt and unfastening his own pants. He wriggles out of them, pushes Richard back against the pillows, and pulls off his pants, too.

Richard's cock begs for attention, and Edward bends over it, licking and sucking deeply until Richard is making soft guttural sounds and writhing under his mouth, coming hard, but quietly. Edward lays down next to him, and they stay like that for some time. Eventually Richard brushes a strand of hair from Edward's face.

"I should ask you what you're thinking more often," he says.

"After the other day, it was hard for me to think of anything else." Edward hopes he doesn't look as embarrassed as he feels admitting it.

"Do you want to know what I've been thinking about?" He kisses Edward.

"Of course."

"Turn over."

He raises Edward's hips slightly and Edward feels his cock press against his buttocks. Richard rubs it between them slowly while he strokes Edward's cock with his other hand and Edward's whole body feels like it's inflamed. He closes his eyes and is trying to stifle a moan, when Richard stops and opens a small drawer in a table next to the bed. He hears something squirt behind him, and then the squish of Richard lubing up his cock. He holds his breath and closes his eyes, savoring his shiver of anticipation.

He feels the warmth of Richard's body before he feels the tip of Richard's cock between his buttocks again, and gasps a little before it even begins to enter his ass. Richard works it in gently at first, but as Edward's body accommodates him, he begins to pound more vigorously.

Richard presses Edwards shoulders against the pillow with one hand and grips his hip with the other, fucking him hard, Edward's hips rising to meet each thrust as if it had been too long since the last one. Richard fucks him harder, so hard it hurts a little and Edward makes a feeble attempt to crawl forward, pressed down on his belly against the bed, only to be pulled back onto Richard's cock, which begins to spasm violently as Richard comes.

Edward is barely aware of his surroundings, just the universe of Richard around him, in him and filling his heart. He cries out from a place beyond language, a wild, lupine howl that tells Richard to let him come, and Richard strokes his cock until his own orgasm brings him, shaking, to his senses.

Richard collapses on top of him and lays covering Edward for a few seconds, kissing the nape of his neck, then rolls aside and kisses him on the mouth. Edward takes in the full depth of Richard's eyes and passionately returns the kiss.

Richard wakes on his side, with Edward's butt nestled between his legs, his back against Richard's stomach, his own arm draped over Edward's shoulder, and his forehead resting on the back of Edward's head. He feels the steady rise and fall of Edward's ribs, luxuriates in the scent of his hair. His cock is already starting to get hard, but this time, a soft, sticky feeling in his chest overpowers his desire and he just lays there listening to Edward breathe. The warmth of his skin, his stillness, his color in the frail morning light make Richard ache as he has not for a long time.

He curls protectively around Edward, careful not to wake him, thinking, "Oh, Richard, what have you done?"

Chapter Text

Silicon Dick: I hear Tycho is going to be playing the after party this Wednesday, and if you bring a copy of their CD they'll let you in.

#party with richard? #hell yeah #i'm outta here #off to buy my cd

************************************
It's easy to tell who the White Hart employees are among the hundreds of guests at Richard's mansion. They are decidedly underdressed and congregate in whispering clusters, scanning the crowd for friends and co-workers, or placing last minute bets. Not even many White Hart employees know what the announcement will be. No one has succeeded, with alcohol, bribery or sex, to pry details from the firmly locked minds of the developers. If it were a newer, better version of "the chip", as their signature product is commonly known, surely it wouldn't be such a secret. In fact, it would be harder to keep under wraps.

One of the more popular betting pools speculates it's something smaller, easier to create-- software of some sort-- but no one can imagine what kind. The cynical suspect it's nothing but hype to boost share prices and restore investor and consumer confidence in a company that seems to be losing its edge. Those inclined toward conspiracy theories suspect something more sinister-- an aggressive power play disguised as a new venture. Edward knows that it is all three of these, and more.

Waiters in tuxedos circulate around the garden carrying trays of champagne and hors d'oeuvres while the caterers put a finishing touch on the main buffet table: a life sized white deer, every detail, from antlers to the last hair on its body, meticulously carved in white chocolate. The Symphony is playing something lively and predictable--"Spring", from Vivaldi's "Four Seasons"-- while the guests arrive. No one has seen Richard yet, but Bushy, Bagot and Green are screening the credentials of journalists as they enter and directing them to the media area, and Isabella floats through the crowd with a couple of her friends, greeting people she knows with cheek kisses and shaking hands with new acquaintances. She's wearing a form-fitting, knee-length dress of sheer white silk over a white slip. The dress has large white velvet butterflies, outlined in gold, applied along the sides and over one shoulder, and her hair is styled in a jagged, flimsy mess that flutters with her movements. Her blue eyes flash beneath dark wings of eyeliner and mascara. She is only twenty-one years old but works the crowd like a pro because she is in her element, charming people at any party, and converting their admiration of her into goodwill toward her husband.

After about an hour Bushy and Green, along with a few pompous-looking men in suits, take their seats on a small platform set up near the symphony, and Bagot tests a microphone at the front of the stage. Swirls of color play in time to the music on a large video screen. A hush falls over everyone in the crowd except for the journalists, who rustle with their cameras, phones, tape recorders and notepads and jostle each other for the best position in front of the stage. The symphony is still playing but Green is speaking to the conductor, who nods before turning back to the musicians. Bushy keeps looking over toward the house and eventually gives a sign to Green, who nods at the conductor and the music fades away, then stops. Everyone looks expectantly toward the house.

Edward, dressed in a slim-fitting, dove-gray suit with a subtle sheen, walks through the door, onto the platform and steps up to the microphone. As he begins to speak, a figure appears at the door and begins walking toward the stage.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we can't keep our secret any longer. So with no further ado, I give you White Hart founder and CEO, Richard Plantagenet, to tell you what you've been dying to know."

The audience explodes with applause and cheers as Richard takes his place in front of the microphone. He pauses dramatically while they take him in. He wears a sleek white linen suit shot through with tiny gold threads that are almost invisible, except for reflecting just enough light to create the vague illusion of a halo around him. His tie has a stag hand-embroidered in 24 karat gold thread, with real rubies for eyes. A touch of glittery pomade makes his hair shimmer around his shoulders. When the crowd is quiet again, he speaks.

"Welcome to my home, honored guests, members of the media, and colleagues. I hope you're enjoying yourselves so far. Your convenience and pleasure are the essence of everything we strive for. In this vein, I give you Quintessence, a new app that allows you to use your devices with the intrinsic joy of unrivaled speed and efficiency. Quintessence helps our already fast Hart Chip bypass some of the steps required to function, so your device can perform as many tasks as you want it to with lightning fast speed."

Bagot fiddles with something hidden behind a potted plant and a video explaining the app begins to play on the screen. Various people are shown downloading music, talking on the phone, playing games and doing other tasks simultaneously, with results appearing instantly and no noticeable breaks or gaps in quality or speed. Businesspeople, scientists, moms and teens are all shown using computers and phones for a wide range of tasks, from the mundane and recreational to hardcore numbers crunching and scientific computing. Results appear instantly and all the actors are delighted. The music is inspirational. An excited murmur runs through the audience while it plays. When it finishes, Richard steps back up to the microphone.

"Starting on this Friday, Quintessence with be available for download on iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play. For only $1.99, you will literally have the world at your fingertips when you install Quintessence on your phone, laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. We are also making it available for free to schools and universities."

Richard sits in a chair next to Isabella, and the media section roars to life. Several of the pompous men in suits step up and field questions while cameras flash and the crowd squirms simultaneously toward the stage and back toward the buffet tables. Eventually Richard, accompanied by Isabella, returns to the mic and announces that the press conference is over, and now the party can begin. He poses with Isabella for photographs, then leaves the stage.

Richard is shaking hands and greeting well-wishers when a florid, barrel-chested man approaches.

"Cousin!" Richard cries in a manner more wary than happy, but he greets the man with a hug anyway. "Henry. I am glad you could come."

"I hadn't planned on it, but I must speak with you in private. Now." Henry Bolingbroke does not waste any time.

Richard hesitates.

"OK, this way." He points elegantly toward the house, and directs Henry upstairs to a small room with a perfect view of Alcatraz Island in the setting sun. A telescope stands in front of the window. Henry looks impressed. Richard hurries over and adjusts it.

"Come look. You can see everything. It's really cool!" He sounds nervous and is obviously trying to deflect Henry's anger.

"I didn't come here to look at a defunct prison, Richard." Henry practically spits when he says it.

"Well, say what you came here to say, then."

"I know how you brought down Gloucester."

Richard freezes momentarily but resumes fussing with the telescope so quickly he thinks Henry probably hasn't noticed.

"God, Henry. It hurts me to see you still sore and jealous after all this time. You're still obsessing on me and it's making you paranoid."

"Ugh, Richard. Don't start with that again. I know that you sent someone named Thomas Mowbray to work at a high level in GloSys financial, and that he is the one who pushed everyone into all the shady spending and who did the shady accounting. I also know that he's the one who blew the whistle when it was bad enough, and that he is still in your employment."

"Don't be ridiculous. Do you have any idea how crazy that sounds?"

"Which is crazier? The one who discovers it or the one who plans it?"

"I'd say the one who stalks me in my own home and accuses me with his delusions is the craziest of all. GloSys is still there, and you are still its vice president. I haven't fired you," his voice hardens, "yet."

"But I am being investigated for improprieties with which I was not involved and of which I have no direct knowledge. You are gradually dismantling the company and destroying our best product."

Richard has turned away while Henry speaks and is looking through the telescope. He chuckles.

"You really should come see this."

Henry bounds over to the telescope in two long strides and pulls Richard away from the telescope by the lapels of his jacket.

"I'm tired of your fucking shit," he hisses, holding Richard's face close to his own. "It's not enough that you took full credit for the microprocessor we invented in your garage that summer."

He shakes Richard furiously and leans forward until his face is all but touching Richard's.

"No, you have to go destroy everything I've worked to achieve, just because it rivals you. I helped build GloSys and you have taken it from me."

His saliva sprays across Richard's cheek. He keeps Richard's face close for a few seconds to drive home his words, their eyes locked. Richard refuses to let his breathing give away his fear and wills his face into a calm, possibly even amused, mask, which further infuriates Henry. He shoves Richard so roughly backwards that he has to catch himself against a desk to avoid falling.

"The media is still outside," Henry shouts, patting his chest. "And here, in my jacket, I have proof of what you've done. When they see it, you're finished." He spins around to leave the room.

"Wait!"

Henry stops but does not turn around.

"I do employ someone named Thomas Mowbray in accounting. Let me send for him."

Henry faces Richard with a condescending glare while Richard taps his phone.

"Bushy. I saw Thomas Mowbray here earlier. Bring him to my study immediately."

Both men stay in their places and neither speaks while they wait for Bushy and Mowbray. They have to wait a long time in uncomfortable silence, but at last Bushy arrives, a very worried looking Mowbray in tow, twisting the ends of his red moustache and beard. Bagot, Green and Edward straggle in a few moments later, just as Richard is readying himself to speak.

"Mr. Mowbray, Henry Bolingbroke, Vice President of GloSys, has a serious accusation against you. He says that, while employed by White Hart, you also took a high-level finance job at GloSys and are directly responsible for the financial problems there, as well as for telling the authorities about them. Is this true?"

The color drains from Mowbray's face. His mouth opens and closes several times with no sound coming out while he searches the faces surrounding him for clues.

"I don't know what to say."

"Tell the truth, Mowbray. Did you do this or not?" Richard's eyes bore into Mowbray and his voice is icy. Henry clenches and unclenches his fists.

"I have done nothing wrong. Mr. Plantagenet.. Richard...You know better than anyone that I am a loyal employee and would never do anything to undermine you. I have done nothing wrong."

"Shut up, Mowbray! I have it right here," Henry pulls a wad of papers from his breast pocket and waves them in Mowbray's face, "that you did."

"Whatever you have is not the real record. You are making this up to cover your own ass. You were as bad as the rest of them, and you want me to take the fall. Well, I'm not going to. I have done nothing wrong."

Richard circles Mowbray, who turns his head to keep his eye on his boss, but is not able to when Richard passes behind him, saying in a cold, level voice, "Did you or didn't you, Mowbray?"

By the time he has finished the sentence he's back in front and Mowbray pauses to find Richard's eyes and says, slowly, "Richard, you know full well that I have not, that I would not do anything wrong."

"You liar!" shouts Bolingbroke, leaping for Mowbray, but Richard steps between them, catching Henry's wrist and twisting it until Henry is forced to step back.

"Get back, Cousin. I don't know what goes on in your home, but in mine you may not assault one of my guests. Mowbray is my employee and, for that matter, so are you. I will settle this right now."

Henry's face seethes and all his muscles tense. Mowbray looks from Richard to Henry, purple with suppressed rage, while Richard walks away from them. He looks out of the window at the lights of Alcatraz shining dimly through the darkness and gathering fog. When he turns around again, his posture is serene and he says matter of factly, "Mowbray, you are fired. Do not come to work tomorrow. I will have your things sent to you."

"Richard... I... You...This is not fair and you know it...I...I..." but he knows it is useless to say more and leaves the room rapidly.

Henry swells with triumph, but only for a second before Richard says, "And Henry, Cousin, you are fired, too. I would never have anyone working for me who would bring these accusations."

Bushy, Bagot, and Green surround Henry immediately. He rages and sputters, but doesn't dare move.

"You may return to work tomorrow to arrange for someone to take over for you. Green will go with you, and I will have you arrested if you ever return to the office again."

"Mr. Bolingbroke, it's time to go," says Green gently, but firmly, taking him by the elbow.

"Fuck you, Richard, fuck you!" shouts Henry as he leaves the room.
***********************************************
Silicon Dick posted: BEST NIGHT EVER!

Tonight was the most awesome night and I'm not sure I'm gonna get it all right but FUCK I was there. I was right there and so was Richard and just fuck me I'll never breathe again. So, I heard if you brought a Tycho CD the band would let you in which was total crap because no matter what door I went to (there are only 2) the security guards wouldn't let me in and basically just laughed at my CD. There were like a half dozen of us there. I brought cookies for the security guards and at some point my friend, T., who is the tallest, most gorgeous gay guy you could ever hope to meet, went out to get Starbucks for us and came back with some for the guards, too. Nice move, T.! That didn't even occur to me.

Anyhow, we froze our asses off out there for four hours. We could hear the Symphony inside, and plates and silverware clanking, along with talking and laughter and boy did we get cold and hungry when the fog started to roll in around 8:00 or 9:00 (which was awfully late but I guess they got lucky tonight). By the end there were only 3 of us waiting out there: me, T., and this other girl whose friends had gotten bored and left.

Eventually there was a lot of commotion and cars leaving and you could hear the sound of electronic music thumping from the garden. It wasn't that late. It was only a little past 10 PM. Anyhow, the security guard was texting someone and he kept looking at us. I think at some point he took a picture? IDK but I think T and I were looking really hot and the other girl wasn't too shabby either. Anyhow, he kept looking at us and texting and eventually called us up.

"OK, you can go in now," he said, opening the garden gate.

I was so surprised I just stood there but thank god T. grabbed me and was all, "Come on bitch!" and dragged me along because otherwise I was just going to melt into a puddle of "ASDFJKL". Richard's house is amazing! I can't even describe it but it felt like it took forever to walk through the garden to the sunroom where the after party was happening. The caterers were still packing up and T. and I even managed to snag some plates of food on the way in.

Tycho was set up in the sunroom and when we walked in they were doing "Awake" and after that I sort of don't remember because THERE WAS RICHARD FUCKING PLANTAGENET RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME! Well, OK, not right in front of me. Really he was sitting on this club chair sort of off to one side of the room, with Isabella and Edward sitting on either arm next to him. I can't say he looked super happy.

The sunroom is made entirely of glass and at night it really feels like you're outside, except warmer, and the floor is a checkerboard pattern of black and white tiles. There's a koi pond on one side, and tables that were pushed toward the walls so there would be room for people to dance or do whatever. By which I mean that there were some carpets and huge cushions all over the floor and some people were laying on them and others were dancing around a little bit, watching the band.

When we came in we didn't know what to do and just stood there like a couple of dorks. But this guy with long black hair and a goatee came over and OMG I realized it was Bagot, fucking BAGOT, one of the Favorites, who went up to us.

"Hey. What can I get you to drink?" I shit you not, he was looking so hard at me when he said that my panties nearly fell off and all I could think to say was, "How about a beer?"

He laughed and came back with two beers for T. and me and the three of us went toward the middle of the room where a bunch of people were laying on the cushions passing a joint in one direction and a magnum of champagne in the other.

I felt a little weird because some of the women didn't have their tops on and there was a lot of groping going on, but Bagot didn't make me feel like I had to do it, too, or anything.

"What do you think of the music?" he asked me.

"They're awesome. I saw their DJ set at Burning Man. It was really amazing. Like, spiritual."

"You were there? I was there, too," he said. He has an incredible smile tbh and that long black hair! "Yeah, that was really an amazing moment for me." Someone offered him the joint and he took a drag, then held it out to me. "How cool we were both just there and now we're here. It's like it's supposed to happen this way."

I didn't really want to smoke any, but T. took it and sucked hard on it (ha ha T. yeah you know you're good at that) and then shoved it in my face with this "do it now and don't be such a bitchass pussy" look so of course I did.

Everyone was really mellow. I made T. dance with me for a little while but even the music was mellow and eventually we just kind of melted down on to the floor cushions with everyone else. T. and I were just kind of laying there, ingesting whatever was put into our hands and I kept looking over at Richard.

He was so hot! He had these white linen pants on and a sheer white silk shirt that was open a few buttons in the front. You could totally see his chest hair and even his nipples through the shirt. His hair was so shiny and perfect I was actually jealous. Mine will never look that great! Like I said, he had this calm look plastered on his face, but he seemed pretty tense and Isabella and Edward weren't letting anyone near him. Isabella was dressed in the same colors as Richard and she looked like she was going to murder anyone who got close. I didn't want her to see me looking at her husband because it made me afraid!

But he was talking with her and Edward about something and looked upset from time to time. Edward kept stroking his thigh. His back was to me so I couldn't see his face, but I got the impression he was upset, too. Isabella kept braiding and unbraiding his hair and it seemed to soothe him. At one point Richard looked right at me, but I don't think he really saw me. I think his eyes were fixed on some point in my direction but his mind was elsewhere. And then, Isabella and Edward leaned in and kissed him at the same time. Whatever was bothering him, it stopped for a moment and the three of them kissed for a while.

Bagot sat down between T. and me at this point and we were all pretty drunk and high so when he kissed me and put his hand under my shirt I was really into it. But I felt bad for T. and Bagot figured it out. He kissed T. too and I'm not 100% sure how it all happened, but T. and I... did stuff... to him that I don't want to blog about but will nonetheless never forget.

Chapter Text

Vanity Fair Cover Story:

All Hail the King!

On his journey from ordinary suburban kid to bad boy billionaire, Richard Plantagenet has had to overcome the pressures of fame at a young age and the pain of loss beyond his years. The Hart Chip inventor talks with Cheryl Roberston about life at the top and the importance of gratitude.

When Richard Plantagenet finally arrives, he swirls across the floor of the trendy Santa Monica cafe as gracefully as one of the cherubs painted on the ceiling. He looks ethereal in slim white jeans and a pink paisley shirt, his hair floating around his face. I've been sitting here smoking a cigarette while I wait and nursing a cup of coffee because I'm too nervous to think of anything else. I've interviewed senators and stars, scientists and saints. I even interviewed Richard once before, for People magazine when he was 14, and I'm a bit embarrassed to admit even to myself how giddy the thought of spending a whole afternoon with him makes me feel now. He's gone from nerdy child genius to awkward teen to glamorous captain of industry before my very eyes and I'm having a hard time keeping my mind on the questions I've prepared.

I manage to stand up to greet him as he glides up to my table. He kisses me quickly on both cheeks, saying, "Cheryl, it's been so long!" and instantly I feel at ease. "You remember me?" I can't resist asking. "I never forget a face." His eyes crinkle a little with his smile and I have to remind myself that I am a journalist.

Over lunch, he talks with excitement about an exhibit slated to open tomorrow at LACMA. In fact, we're supposed to head over to the museum after lunch to do the photo shoot for this story. "Treasures of the Holy Roman Empire" is already one of the most eagerly anticipated events in the art scene and it's only happening because of a very large gift Richard gave to the museum.

"I love art and I love to travel and I'm fortunate that I am in a position to indulge those interests. But most people don't get many opportunities to enjoy either of those things. I'm glad I can partner with museums like LACMA to bring some of that to them."

He laughs when I ask how much he donated, and pours me another glass of wine.

"Let's just say it was a king's ransom. I feel pretty strongly about this because it's part of my wife's heritage, and it's something not many Americans know anything about. Isabella is as excited about this exhibit as I am."

He's only been married to Isabella Valois for two years, and I feel a belated congratulations might be a good way to ease into some of the more delicate topics I want to talk about.

"Thank you," he says.

"Is it nice to be married again?"

He's silent for a moment, and I worry that I'm forcing the conversation, but then he looks up from his plate and smiles wisftully.

"I still miss Anne. I will love her till the day I die. For a long time I didn't think there would be anyone else, that there could be anyone else. But Isabella opened my heart again."

How can anyone forget the day his first wife, Anne Luxembourg, died of ovarian cancer? Richard set fire to their palatial home in Palo Alto and it burned almost to the ground before firefighters from three departments could extinguish the blaze. Richard was nowhere to be found, but his body did not turn up in the ruins and he was found by some joggers the next morning, naked and face down in the grass of a nearby park, howling and shaking with grief. It kept the tabloids supplied with fodder for weeks. Unable to live where everything reminded him of Anne, Richard moved to San Francisco.

"You suffered more success and more loss at a young age than most people suffer in a lifetime," I offer.

He looks pained and when he replies his voice is soft and strained. "Yeah, before her, there was Robert. I don't talk much to the press about him, but he was my lover and my friend and he's gone now, too. You can print that. I want people to know."

Richard's never been exactly secretive about his sex life or his lovers, but he also doesn't talk about them enough to clarify all the speculation, as if such petty concerns are beneath him. This is the first time he has confirmed his relationship with Robert de Vere. I'm wondering if I should keep pushing in this direction when Richard's phone buzzes.

"Oh, it's time to go to the museum."

As his driver masterfully navigates the L.A. traffic, Richard continues to reminisce.

"You mentioned success. I didn't really set out to invent anything or change the world. I just liked to solve problems. My cousin, Henry, and I spent all of this one summer tinkering in my dad's garage. Our games weren't fast enough for us, our phones weren't fast enough, nothing was fast enough and we just wanted them to be better. I came up with something that worked. Lots of kids invent great things just messing around like that and the only difference between them and me is that I was just lucky that my mom and dad had access to resources and knowledge, and that they saw the potential in my ideas. They knew how to get it off the ground."

He wishes that all kids had adults who believed in them like that, and had access to the same advantages he had.

"That was something Anne showed me. I sort of believed the hype about myself until I met her and learned that my success had as much to do with those social advantages as with my own creativity. She encouraged me to give money to organizations that try to do for bright, disadvantaged children what my parents were able to do for me."

Richard's parents, both engineering professors, gave Richard a bench in their labs and assigned graduate students to tutor him and help refine his ideas. His father had already patented several devices and started a company to market them, and he did the same for Richard. His uncle, John Gaunt, had a solid career in business and built and ran the company during Richard's minority. Richard took on a more active role when he turned 18, but Gaunt continued to lead the company until Richard graduated from college. Gaunt is still a part owner of the company and has butted heads with Richard on several well-publicized occasions, most notably, around White Hart's attempts to take over Gloucester Systems. Rumors are circulating that Gaunt is not happy about White Hart's new Quintessence app, and although no one knows why, most people that I have talked to think it could be a sign that there are serious problems with the product itself.

I don't really have time to ask Richard about this, though, because when we arrive at the museum we go around the back to the staff entrance, where we're admitted and ushered into the exhibition room. Curators are making sure labels and signs are hung correctly and arguing softly with one another about whether or not to adjust the positions of some objects in a glass case. Isabella leans against a tall glass case, watching them and admiring a golden brooch. When she sees Richard, she runs over and flings her arms around him. Their mutual delight in each other is palpable.

Richard introduces me and Isabella takes his hand and drags us through the gallery to a dramatically lit case standing alone in the center of a room off to one side. Even closed to the public, two armed guards stand at the entrance to the room, and a third stands next to the case. In the case sits a gold crown, its eight hinged panels crusted with sapphires, amethysts, and emeralds, and a large cross rising up from the center panel. It's the crown of the Holy Roman Emperor, over a thousand years old, and stunningly beautiful.

"You have no idea how many strings I had to pull to get this here," Richard chuckles. "I actually didn't have very much to do with organizing the exhibit. That's what the museum does, after all, but they needed someone who could throw their weight around a little and I was happy to do it for this."

While we're admiring the crown, a young, harried-looking woman enters and clears her throat. "Mr. Plantagenet? They're ready for you."

She takes us to an empty gallery where bright lights and a white canvas backdrop have been set up. An ordinary stool stands in the middle of the room. A lean, middle-aged man looks up from his camera.

"Ah, Mr. Plantagenet! It's an honor to work with you." He discusses details of the shoot with Richard, then two women whisk him to the other side of the room and go to work on his hair and face. Isabella's still bouncing around like a child and wants to show me more of the exhibit, so we tour the galleries and when we return, Richard is sitting on the stool, completely naked but for a red velvet cloak draped casually over one shoulder and half of his chest, pooling in his lap. The photographer's assistant keeps blushing and avoiding Richard's face, but he seems completely at ease, as if being naked in a museum filled with strangers were the most natural thing in the world.

I wonder why everyone is just standing around, but the answer arrives before I can ask. One of the armed guards carries the crown into the room and places it on Richard's head. He sits up straighter and an ethereal expression comes over his face. Everyone has stopped what they're doing and simply stares for a moment before the photographer shouts, "OK, places everyone we can't have this crown out of its case for long so let's get some good shots as fast as we can."

Richard shifts and poses in different positions, trying on different facial expressions as instructed by the photographer. Richard seems larger than everyone else in the room, as if absorbing all the light into himself and shining it back out through his pose. When the photographer feels satisfied with what he has, the guards take the crown back to its case and Richard saunters over to his clothes, leaving the velvet cloak on the stool. Yes, you read that correctly, he walks around the room completely naked and dresses without haste. I sneak a quick glance at Isabella but she notices and winks, nodding her head just slightly.

*************************************
From: Austrian Ambassador
To: John Kerry, US Secretary of State

Dear Sir,

I am writing to lodge a formal complaint on the behalf of the Austrian people regarding a distasteful and highly inappropriate cover photograph that mocks our culture. When permission was given for the Imperial Crown to travel to Los Angeles for a special exhibit, it came with a set of extremely strict rules and protocols that did not include being removed from its case and placed upon the head of a naked man who was in no way authorized to wear it. The crown is not a piece of jewelry, but part of the patrimony of the Austrian people and a priceless historical object. It is not a prop for lurid Vanity Fair cover photographs. Moreover, the actions of LACMA, the photographers, and the subject of the photograph himself, Mr. Richard Plantagenet, have jeopardized the physical safety and integrity of the crown. The crown is over one thousand years old and should only be handled by expert curators. We will seek redress for our grievances and are unlikely to ever permit such priceless objects to travel to your country again.

***************************************

Fox News

[News anchor talks to camera] A glossy lifestyle and celebrity magazine is in trouble today over allegations by Austria that a priceless crown was used as a prop without permission in one of their cover photos. The Vanity Fair magazine cover featuring tech tycoon Richard Plantagenet wearing little more than a scrap of velvet and the Holy Roman Emperor's crown is causing an international incident, which Secretary of State, John Kerry, addressed in a press conference today. [cut to press conference. Kerry stands at a podium, making a statement.]

"I'd like to address concerns regarding the way one of Austria's crown jewels was handled when it was in America for a special museum exhibition. I have seen the magazine cover in question and agree it is in poor taste. However, it is not the business of the State Department to tell museums how to handle artifacts, photographers how to take pictures, or magazines what they can put on their covers. I deplore the lapses in communication and judgment that occurred at every step of the way and allowed this to happen, and wish to assure our friends in Austria that the American people have nothing but respect for your culture. But this is a private matter that does not require State Department intervention."

The Austrian Embassy has not issued an official response yet, but when reporters asked the Ambassador he said [cut to shot of people cramming around a man trying to get into a car. Ambassador looks at a camera and says:] "It seems like a weak response, and I'm not sure yet if we can accept it."

****************************

White House Press Conference
[President Obama speaks into the camera]

I'm here today to tell you about some conversations I've had lately with the ambassador from Austria about the way a priceless crown was treated when it was in an American museum. Now, it's important to remember that no harm was done to the crown. Austria agrees that aside from the one incident where the crown was taken from its case and placed on someone's head for a magazine picture, that every rule, protocol and security measure was followed. The crown is now safely back in its home in Vienna. Although of questionable taste, the photograph in question did not violate any American laws, and our government won't stand in the way of a magazine's free speech. However, for the sake of our friendship with Austria, I'd like to extend this apology on the behalf of the American people for what was most likely an error of artistic judgment, rather than a deliberate attempt to mock Austria or mistreat its treasures. What's done is done and can't be changed, but I can request that, moving forwards, our media act with greater respect for the special symbols of other countries.

Chapter Text

Henry Bolingbroke stares at his computer screen, a slow, cold flame creeping from the pit of his stomach. He's read the paragraphs twice but his head feels light now and the words swim before his eyes. He walks over to the window, running one hand through his thinning hair and then rubbing his face with both hands, as if wiping away what he has just seen. A hot breeze kicks lawn clippings around, mirroring the heat rising inside him. People saunter to their cars, flip-flops slapping the pavement, oblivious to anything but sunshine and fun.

"If only they knew," he thinks. "Tomorrow we could be living in a different world."

He turns his back to the window and sits against the sill, pulling a phone from his pocket and tapping it. He puts it to his ear and waits for an answer, which comes right away.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Dad."

"Henry! How are you doing? How's Hal?"

"He's fine, Dad. We're fine, but that's not why I'm calling. It's a business call, of sorts."

"OK."

"It's about Richard, actually. Is it true what they're saying about the Quintessence app?"

"What are you talking about? Who is saying what?"

"Someone on Reddit raised serious concerns about security issues with it. This led to a lot of nerds sleuthing around and they discovered some really ugly stuff embedded in the app. Someone at CNet caught wind of this, did a little testing on their own, and wrote up a news item that didn't attract too much attention because people are still floating on cloud nine for this thing. I found out about it because someone from Wired Magazine is picking up the story and called to ask me some questions."

"I still have no idea what you're talking about."

"Basically, this app acts like a Trojan that delivers two types of malware to any device that uses it. The first tracks everything you do with the device and sends that information back to White Hart. The second rewrites portions of the operating system to make it compatible only with other components, devices, and apps that use or can interact with the Hart Chip and Quintessence app. It does speed up your web browsing, but it doesn't significantly enhance other functions and it basically turns your device into a tool that allows White Hart to spy on and collect data about your computer use, while also limiting you to using only products that in some way benefit them."

He pauses to let that sink in before continuing.

"Basically, Dad, Richard's made a virus disguised as an app that's going to give him access to an unlimited amount of data about how people are using their computers and devices while at the same time making their devices really clunky, slow and barely functional in contexts that don't require his products. This is all without the consumers' knowledge or consent."

Henry clicks a few buttons on his laptop.

"Check your email. I just sent you the CNet article." They stop talking while John Gaunt reads the article.

"What did you tell the Wired guy?" he asks quietly when he finishes.

"I said that I couldn't comment on it. But if you know, I want you to tell me. And I also thought you should be warned that this article is coming out soon. It's going to be a really big deal."

"I'm the Chief Financial Officer. I've never had much to do with product development. I've always been the guy who manages the business side-- the money side-- and, as you know, for the past few years I've been passing off more of my duties to others in preparation for retirement. Nothing at all was said about this in any of the meetings that I attended during the development and launch of this product."

"What are you going to do?"

"This could destroy White Hart. I worked so hard to build that company during the early years. I made it what it is today, really, not Richard. If what that article says is true, the Wired article is going to blow the door wide open and we're screwed. If it's not true, we'll bring just out the old Richard dog and pony show and ride out the storm. I need to talk to him. I can't imagine he'd do such a sneaky thing."

"Uh-huh," Henry assents, unable to commit more strongly to the sentiment. Somewhere inside him is a ten year old boy, making things with his cousin, and crying on his pillow when he learns that only Richard's name is on the patent. He feels the tug of certainty, and doesn't want his father to hear it in his voice.
*********************

The printer seems to take forever, spitting out one page at a time, then thinking and chewing, before spitting out the next. Gaunt hits it and curses under his breath, yanking the small sheaf that's already in the tray and neatening the pile with unnecessary roughness. He's printed out the CNet article and now the entire Reddit thread emerges, piece by piece, from the machine. When at last they're finished, he staples them and gets in the elevator, feeling angrier by the second.

He barges into Richard's office to find him sitting around a small conference table with Bushy and Green, playing a video game on a large teleconferencing screen on the wall. They're laughing and Green has just punched Bushy on the arm, shouting, "Stop doing that! I die every time you do it!" Bushy startles when Gaunt slams the door and all three men whip around in their seats to see who has surprised them.

Gaunt strides directly to Richard and slams the papers on the table in front of him.

"What is this about, Richard?"

Richard glances at the papers and returns Gaunt's glare with a cool, distant expression.

"What is what about, Uncle?"

"This!" He picks up the papers and shoves them in Richard's face so that he can't avoid reading the headline.

He skims it, pushes Gaunt's hand away with his index finger, then rises and saunters over to his desk. He sits on top of it, facing Gaunt, and selects a piece of candy from a glass bowl. While unwrapping it he says in a bored voice, "Oh, someone on the Internet said something bad about my company. I am outraged."

"Our company, Richard. Or have you forgotten that I own part of it?"

"No Uncle, you never let me forget that."

"You are accountable to me and I demand to know what's going on! This isn't just some troll spouting off an opinion, Richard. Read the damned articles and tell me the truth, because Wired Magazine is doing a story on this and the shit's going to really hit the fan when that comes out."

Richard takes the papers from Gaunt's hand with the sigh of a mother humoring a petulant child and reads the CNet article, his face placid as he skims the Reddit thread.

"Well?" demands Gaunt.

"It's true."

Gaunt gulps air and leaves his mouth hanging open.

"My God. Richard, do you have any idea what you've done? I simply cannot believe this is happening."

Bushy and Green sit completely still, huddled slightly together, their wide eyes fixed on Gaunt.

"What have I done, John? I've made a product that does what it says it will do. They're wrong about it only speeding up web browsing. Have we had many complaints about it? No. Thirty-seven million downloads in the first month and a half, and we've had, maybe, a few dozen complaints, at most. This thing is making money hand over fist and people love it."

"God damn it Richard! That's not the point and you know it!"

"I think it's perfectly legitimate to put a data collection tool in the backend of that app. We're going to use the information we gather to improve our existing products and to create new ones that meet consumer needs before they even know they have them. As for the other thing, our products work synergistically with each other. If you want the best performance out of them, you need to use them together."

"There are privacy issues everywhere here. Can't you see that? You're using this app as a tool to spy on people. You're watching their every movement not only on the Internet, but within their own computer. You're also hamstringing their computers and offering a cure only your products can provide. I see so many legal problems with that, not to mention that people are really going to be pissed off when they find out."

Richard pops the piece of chocolate into his mouth and shrugs. Gaunt's eyes bulge in his lean, purple face and he leaps forward to seize Richard's arm. Bushy leaps up and begins to rush over to Richard, but Green holds him back.

"You smug little shit! You're sitting here playing video games and eating chocolate when you should be pushing this company forward! Instead, you come up with a product whose only goal is to force customers to buy your products and unsuspectingly offer up every detail of their lives so you can try to take advantage of them. You're sitting on your billions of dollars, coming up with products that will let you just keep on coasting."

"Take your hands off me, Uncle, before I call Security."

Gaunt removes his hands, and Richard steps to one side of his desk, away from Gaunt.

"I want you to leave my office. Now."
************************

Something in the tone of Gaunt's email has prompted all the men around the conference table to dress seriously. The room hangs in a state of suspended animation, as if ghosts in gray suits and jaunty ties are waiting for a signal to enter the realm of the living. Gaunt, at the head of the table, bubbles over with a rage from which everyone shrinks. Five seats at the end of the table remain vacant, giving the room an uneasy, lopsided feel. No one speaks, or even fiddles with their phones.

The doorknob turns with a "click" and Richard, trailed by Bushy, Bagot, Green, and Edward, float through the door. Richard wears a tight, blue linen shirt with first three buttons undone, slim white cotton trousers that don't leave much to the imagination, and brown leather shoes with long, pointy toes. His hair falls in loose waves around his shoulders and his eyebrows are plucked to frame his brown eyes perfectly. Bushy, Bagot and Green follow his sartorial cue, and chatter among themselves. Edward enters last, somber, and wearing a suit. Richard seats himself opposite Gaunt at the other end of the table, and the others fill the remaining seats.

"All right, Gaunt. Say what you came here to say." Richard leans back in his chair, arms folded over his chest.

"Richard, you are bringing this company to its knees. The Quintessence app is a travesty of marketing and an affront to our integrity. It is illegal and will ruin us. Indeed, it assaults the virtue of every value this company has ever had, and I called this meeting to pull the app from the market. We founded White Hart as a service to our country, to humanity, to make life easier, more convenient, and more enjoyable for everyone. But what have we done lately to live up to our own ideals? Have we given up on innovating a better future for the world?"

"We, Uncle? We founded it? I was just a child who figured out a way to get what he wanted. Most children are not able to do this, but I did. The ideals you speak of were those of the adults who created White Hart in my name."

"You've always shared those ideals."

"Have I, though? I know I am those ideals, and they are me. I have been the face of those ideals in magazines, TV, and the Internet for so long, I see them when I look in the mirror. But I did not choose them."

"And yet, you've gladly reaped the benefits of your position."

Richard springs from his seat and darts around the table. He grabs Gaunt by the lapels and pulls him out of his chair, shaking him roughly and hissing into his face. An invisible force bears down on the table that prevents anyone from moving to help.

"You have reaped the benefits of my genius. You are only here because of me, and can only have what I allow. What can your spreadsheets and calculators add to inspiration you will never possess? Shut up, old man, the future is already here. Now step aside."

He slams Gaunt back down in his chair. Gaunt looks pained, and gasps for breath.

Richard marches out of the room, Bushy, Bagot, and Green, stumbling to catch up. Edward remains at the table, horrified and speechless as Gaunt continues to struggle for breath and clutch at his chest, until he manages to tear through the membrane of this moment and rush over to Gaunt, shouting, "Someone call an ambulance!"

By the time the ambulance arrives, it is too late. The paramedics carry Gaunt's lifeless body away. The entire building buzzes with quiet, frightened gossip. Edward breaks the news gently to Richard.

"Poor John. He had a bad heart. It must have been his time," he says reverently. When Edward puts his arm on Richard's shoulder to comfort him, he realizes it's shaking not from sobbing, but because his hand is retrieving his phone from his pocket. He swipes the screen and opens some apps.

"We need to move fast if we want to get the 40% of White Hart he owns."

"Richard, your uncle, do you really want.." His voice trails off because Richard is intent on his purpose, and not listening to him at all. He stares at Richard's back in disbelief for a moment before opening his laptop and sighing, "What do you need me to do?"

Chapter Text

Richard sits on the middle of his bed. A couple of candles offer the only light against black windows and he wraps himself in a corner of the disheveled comforter against the cool touch of night. Through the open door he hears some dreamy techno pop music drifting down the hall.

"Isabella must have her door open," he thinks.

Edward returns, wearing Richard's blue cotton robe, with two glasses of water. His hands are full, so he tries to kick the door closed, but doesn't use enough force and it only goes halfway. He offers Richard a glass.

Richard says, "No thanks."

He looks down, focusing on the comforter's stitching, fearing that Edward can read his thoughts. Edward sets the glass on the nightstand and joins Richard on the bed.

"What's wrong? You look sad. That was good, wasn't it?"

"I loved it."

"It doesn't look like you did."

Richard doesn't reply.

"Gaunt was old and had a bad heart. There was nothing you could have done. It's not your fault." He can't look Richard in the eye when he speaks the half truth, and rubs his knee reassuringly instead. "I'm sorry I couldn't make you feel better."

They sit uncomfortably for a moment, shoulders barely touching, held apart by Richard's misery expanding between them. Finally, Richard speaks, his voice small. Edward holds his breath to hear it better.

"I don't tell you often enough how much I enjoy being with you."

Edward still can't look at Richard, and stares at the comforter more intently.

"Well, I'll take that as a compliment on my skill, then."

"That's not what I mean." Now Richard isn't looking at Edward, either, and he struggles to speak. "I mean, I enjoy being with you."

Edward looks at Richard then quickly back down, hoping to slow his racing heart, then looks at him through the corner of his eye.

"You are honest, moral and kind and when we're together I am happy."

Longing strains Richard's voice as he says it, and his face looks pained and slightly desperate. To comfort him, Edward embraces him and kisses him slowly, gently, on the lips.

"Thank you," he whispers, soaring, in between kisses.

He pushes comforter off Richard's shoulders and moves down his throat, pausing to bite in particular places just hard enough to make Richard shudder. Richard breathes heavily and pushes him away, holding him at arm's length to get a good look at his sad, green eyes, then brings their mouths together.

Edward barely hears soft feet approaching the bed. With closed eyes, he doesn't see Isabella, in a sheer pink silk camisole and panties, sinking down next to her husband, but he feels the mattress move, and breaks off the kiss.

"Hello," she purrs, stroking Richard's arm. Edward shrinks away.

"Isabella," Richard says. "What are you doing here?" The pleased tone of his voice contradicts his surprised language. Edward unconsciously pulls his robe closer over his chest.

"Your door was open."

"We were.."

"I know. I heard. It sounds like Edward needs help cheering you up."

She kisses Richard, and he yields to her mouth. When she finishes, Richard looks toward Edward and, wordlessly, pulls his lips onto his own. Isabella kisses Richard's cheek while he kisses Edward. The fingers of her right hand travel up Richard's thigh until they reach his balls, which they cup lovingly before continuing to his ready cock.

Conflict courses through Edward and resolves itself somewhere between his legs. She has never joined them before, and he has never been very attracted to women. He dated a couple girls in high school, and wondered what all the fuss over sex was about until he met his first boyfriend in college. He hasn't so much as glanced at women since then. It surprises him how much the thought of being with both of them excites him now. Isabella moves behind, and kneels between them. She nibbles on Richard's ear while she strokes his cock with one hand, and runs the fingers of her other along the muscles of Edward's thigh. Richard kisses Edward until he feels him breathing shallowly, then folds his fingers around his cock. Edward wants to retreat for a moment, but is too aroused to move. Richard notices.

"This is what it means to love me, Edward."

He kisses the hollow at the base of Edward's throat and runs his hand up and down the length of his cock before undoing the bathrobe's belt and opening it. Edward's whole world balances on a drop of water that could fall to earth at any moment and he can't respond.

"I don't share this with Bushy and the others. But I want to with you. Can I?"

Edward doesn't want anything to stop, but he's never imagined anything like this, and certainly not with Richard. Isabella's hand feels good on this thigh, and her presence intensifies Richard's caresses, makes him desire Richard even more. Her areolas look subtly mauve under the fabric and he can see a thin, well-cultivated strip of hair through her panties, like a present he's not sure he wants but can't wait to open anyway. Richard watches him react and Edward feels himself dilate with lust under his gaze. Is this Richard's way of saying, "I love you?"

"Yes," he nods.

Isabella moves between them and kisses Edward, firmly enough to be passionate but not long enough to be awkward. Richard grabs her shoulders and positions her in front of them both, then removes her camisole. Her small, firm breasts bounce as her arms come back to her sides, and Richard bends to suck her nipples while Edward kisses her. He enjoys the unfamiliar softness of her lips, and crushes them harder against his own. She feels smooth against his rough cheek, smells delicate, and tastes of lipstick and something exotic he can't define. "Woman," he muses before he catches Richard's eye on him and loses the word in a flush of pleasure.

Richard shifts behind Edward and puts his hands on his shoulders, stooping over his head a little to kiss him from behind while helping the robe slough off his shoulders. He directs Edward back down onto the bed. Isabella straddles him as he slides down. When Edward is lying flat on the bed, Richard draws his arms over his head and tucks them under his legs, pinning Edward gently. While Richard kisses Isabella, his fingers creep under her panties and tease her clit to full erection before dipping into her vagina at once, making her sigh. From his position, they are all Edward can see, all he can hear if he closes his eyes. She pulls her panties down and wiggles out of them with some awkwardness that Richard and Edward barely notice because Richard has stooped to kiss Edward, who struggles without any real sense of urgency against Richard's restraining knees.

Isabella lowers herself onto Edward's cock and a soft "Auhhh" escapes her throat as it fills her cunt. She twists her hips and rides him while Richard watches, sometimes kissing her, sometimes Edward, and rubbing his own cock. Edward feels that he has disappeared into the bodies of his lovers, and everything moves slowly. Nothing exists but pulse and moisture and breath. Desire moves through them like a circuit, concentrating at each node, until in Isabella it finally bursts as a frenzy of cries and spasms.

Edward has not come yet and she moves aside to lay next to him. Richard leaves his place at Edward's head and Edward tucks his newly freed arm around Isabella's shoulder, pulling her close and kissing her forehead as Richard's lips close around his cock. Richard cleans Isabella's juices off with his tongue and the mixture of her scent and Edward's fills him as he works Edward's cock with his mouth, feeling it tense up, then Edward's breathing changes, and then he gushes into Richard's mouth.

Before Richard even lifts his head, Isabella shifts to meet it and holds his cheeks in her palms so he can't change position before she puts her mouth on his. She nudges it open with her tongue and probes until she finds something warm and slippery on his tongue and rakes it toward her. Richard helps by pushing it toward her and together they consume it. When they finish, Isabella pulls her lips away from Richard's and directs his hand between her legs. Richard doesn't waste time, just shoves two fingers in her cunt and curves them over a rough spot about a half finger's length up while she pumps her hips against his grip.

She's up on her knees, and Richard shifts just slightly under her , slipping another finger in so she can ride his hand harder. He looks up at her face, blank and radiant, distant from anything but his touch, inarticulate sounds issuing from her mouth, while he cups her buttock with one hand and fucks her with the other. When he feels her muscles start to contract around his fingers, he withdraws them.

"What? Richard, don't stop!" she groans.

In reply, he pushes her back down onto the bed, parts her legs with his knees, and penetrates her quickly, thoroughly and roughly with his aching cock. Edward has been watching, aroused, not entirely sure what to do. Richard and Isabella are too absorbed in each other at the moment, and he feels invisible. Richard must have noticed his expression because he pauses mid-stroke.

"Come here," he says quietly.

Edward sits up on his knees and brings his face closer to Richard's. Isabella runs one hand down his spine and over his buttocks, drawing her fingers back up again, slowly, between them, lingering briefly, lightly, over his hole. Richard takes a fistful of Edward's hair and pulls him close to kiss him fiercely.

Isabella puts her arm around Richard's neck and brings him low enough to hear her whisper, "Fuck me now," and then he's back in her, bracing her against his thrusts with one arm underneath her neck. Edward moves behind Richard and wets his hand with enough spit to slide his cock in Richard's ass. He is too eager to be gentle, and Richard's motion on Isabella slows suddenly, while he paces his motions with Edward's, and then the rhythm passes through the three of them like velvet clockwork, sighing and crying, until Isabella thrashes under Richard and comes loudly, triggering his own release. Edward grips Richard's hips to steady himself, pumps once or twice, and feels as if his body dissolves into Richard's.

For a fraction of a second they hang in their places, then Edward and Richard collapse in a heap halfway over Isabella, Richard in the middle, and Isabella and Edward both hold him tight. Edward plays idly with his long hair and Isabella traces circles on his back. He laughs a little at himself. To imagine he ever thought anything had been wrong!

"It's my business. My company. My inventions. Mine. They owe everything to me, and I can do what I want. I need a vacation."

Chapter Text

The needle has been perilously low on the gauge for miles, and as the car begins to slow, Edward pumps furiously on the pedal, desperate for any small miracle that might mean he won't have to tell Richard that they have run out of gas. And that they are lost. On an unpaved road, somewhere deep in the wilds of Nevada, with sunset approaching. Rubber crunches more quietly on the gravel, more slowly, and gradually stops altogether.

The change in momentum rouses Richard from dozing against the passenger side window.

"Why are we stopping?"

Edward cringes and stares at the steering wheel.

"Come on, what are you doing?"

Edward turns his head away and makes himself very small. He wishes he could evaporate. Richard leans over him and looks at the fuel gauge.

"What the fuck, Edward! Did we run out of gas? We did, didn't we! Jesus fucking Christ!"

The blood beats against Edward's cheeks and a roaring sound fills his ears. His posture contains all the answers Richard needs. Richard throws open the door, hurls himself out, then slams it shut. He pounds on the hood with his fist and screams into the window.

"God damn it, Edward! I leave it up to you to plan one goddamned thing. One motherfucking thing! I need a break from all the shit I'm getting because of John Gaunt, I said. Plan us a different sort of getaway, I said. And you do this! Fuck, Edward! Do you even have any idea where we are? Shouldn't we be almost to Las Vegas by now?"

"Richard, I told you we were going to take the long way, via Reno and backroads. You wanted an adventure. I planned one."

"Oh, this is an adventure, all right!" Richard kicks a rock far into the sagebrush. "I'm guessing you didn't plan this, though. Where the hell are we?"

Edward fumbles with a topographic map for a minute and finally points to a spot. There's some place named Gabbs over here, another place named Ione over there-- both are practically microscopic dots of nothing on the map-- and they are smack dab in the middle of absolutely nowhere between them. There's sand dunes on the other side of the mountains to their right, and nothing but sagebrush and alkali as far as the eye can see to the left.

"I think we're here."

"You think? You don't know?"

Edward shakes his head, unable to meet Richard's eyes.

"If that's where we are, we're still miles from the nearest town, and we don't even know if they have a gas station. We're hours away from Las Vegas, even if it were on a paved road. I cannot believe this is happening!"

He gets out of the car and stands next to Richard.

"I'm sorry!" he whispers miserably, tears welling in front of his green eyes. Richard watches a tear roll over his cheekbone and cling to the line of his jaw before falling with a tiny "plop" onto his shirt. Edward turns a pleading face to him, and now Richard feels bad, too.

He wipes another tear from Edward's cheek with his thumb, and says, more gently, "You might be a poor navigator, but you're beautiful when you're crying, you know that? What's done is done. Now we have to figure out what to do next."

They lean against the hood, staring off into the desert, as if waiting for a solution fall from the endless sky. But all that falls is the sun, taking its warmth with it, allowing the wind to bite through their thin shorts and polo shirts.

"You're freezing," Edward says. "There's nothing we can do now anyway except wait for morning. Let's get back in the car." He goes around to the trunk, pulls out a blanket, and joins Richard in the backseat.

"This blanket brings back memories." He smiles at Richard and Richard smiles back as he tucks it over them. "I think you might have a thing for getting attractive men cold in unusual circumstances."

Now it's Richard who blushes a little, although he tries to pretend he's not.

"This unusual circumstance is your doing. Maybe it's you who has a thing for it."

Edward laughs and kisses him. Richard leans with his back against the door and folds Edward to him.

"I'm sorry I got so mad earlier."

"That's OK. You had a right to be mad. I screwed up and now we're really in a jam." Edward's cheek rests on Richard's chest.

"We are. I don't know what we're going to do. We don't have a phone signal and we're miles from nowhere. Also, I'm hungry and thirsty."

Edward pulls a bag of pretzels, a couple of apples, and two small bottles of water out of a shopping bag, opens the water, and hands a water and an apple to Richard. They eat the apples, but Edward grabs Richard's wrist as he's about to take a swig of water.

"Just a tiny sip. This is all we have. We should try to make it last because we don't know what tomorrow will bring."

Richard beams at Edward and kisses his cheek. "Now that's planning ahead."

They snuggle under the blanket, Edward still laying against Richard's chest, watching the color drain from the sky and listening to the eerie "yip yip yip" of coyotes talking to each other across the black terrain.

His burst of anger earlier, the novelty of the situation, and Edward's somber, apologetic presence next to his skin Richard finds arousing. He runs one hand over Edward's sculpted butt and slides the other under his shirt, trailing his fingers down his chest and into the waistband of his pants. He shifts slightly so that Edward is more fully on top of him.

"Richard, not now! We're out in the boonies. What if some redneck sees? They'd never find our bodies out here."

Richard nips the soft spot just below where Edward's jaw meets his neck, and feels Edward shiver. He starts to unfasten Edward's pants.

"Who's going to see us? Coyotes? I don't think they'll mind."

Edward yields to his own desire and lets Richard take him without hesitation.
****************************************************************
Six rolled into town one day hauling a canned ham trailer behind a beat up old Ford pickup. He stopped at the Buckhorn for a beer, then parked next to a clump of piñon pines at the base of a hill about a mile outside town down a long dirt road and never left. He didn't say where he came from and no one asked after the first couple of weeks. He didn't poke his nose in other people's business and minded his own. Some people said his name was James, but everyone called him Six, because of the large number in gothic font slowly peeling off the side of his trailer. Wherever Six went, an old black Lab named Shadow went, too. Where Six was taciturn, Shadow was outgoing. She greeted everyone with her long, sloppy tongue and the best way to talk to get Six to talk was to speak to Shadow instead. Over time, locals referred to them as a single entity: Shadow Six.

When he first arrived in Junco, Six had soft, pink hands and shaggy brown hair flecked with gray at the temples, that still bore the traces of an expensive cut. Shadow was a squishy puppy. Both had grown lean and muscular. His leathery hands ended in fingernails broken and dirty from work. He wore his silver ponytail beneath a cowboy hat and kept a thick moustache above his lip. The sagebrush-scented sky tanned his face, and eyelashes trimmed white from dust that blew off the alkali flat framed blue eyes against a setting of wrinkles. He eked out a living like many others in the high desert, doing seasonal labor, odd jobs, and finding creative work-arounds for what he didn't have, couldn't afford, or refused to obtain through legal channels.

On days when he didn't have anything else to do, which were frequent, Six loaded his shotgun and hiked up the ravine behind his trailer. Shadow bounced like an eager puppy alongside him until they reached a spot where the ravine leveled off and widened into a small valley. Then, she grew very still and alert. Six signaled with one hand and she stalked the bushes, startling birds and jackrabbits, then returning to Six before he shot at them. When she saw one fall, she looked to Six for the signal, then bounded to the spot and brought the dead animal back in her grizzled mouth. In her prime, Shadow lived to spend the whole day tirelessly flushing and fetching. But lately she looked stiff and sore after just a couple hours, and even though she begged Six for more work, he took her home. If the hunt was successful, he dressed and cooked the game for dinner, which he shared with Shadow around a campfire in front of his trailer as the setting sun turned the alkali flat below to purple, and Venus hung low in the sky.

One morning, Six takes Shadow up the ravine, as usual, but when he pauses near the top to take a sip of water from his canteen, he notices a blue speck stopped on the side of the road several miles in the distance. But Shadow is eager for the hunt and so is he. They continue on their way and return late afternoon with two jackrabbits slung over Six's shoulder. As they begin their descent down the ravine, Six notices the car still parked on the side of the road. He pulls a pair of small binoculars from his pocket and focuses on the car. It's a blue BMW with two men leaning against the side, arguing.
***********************************
Edward peels himself off Richard's chest and sits up. There's a tinge of pink in the sky, and a thin, gray line on the horizon gradually lightens. He rolls his head and rubs at his stiff neck, then opens the door and scoots out, careful not to wake Richard. He stretches and inhales deeply the dense, pungent scent of early desert morning.

He hardly slept. Coyote howling was a far cry from the banging and clattering white noise that carried him off to sleep in the city, and whenever he did start to nod off, he jerked suddenly awake with the fear that an axe murderer would smash their windows and get them in their sleep. Ironically, at home, he felt safe and invisible among millions of people, but out here, where he and Richard were probably the only humans for miles around, he felt vulnerable and exposed. Richard, with a wadded up jacket cushioning his head against the window, pulled Edward to his chest, covered them both with the blanket, and chided him.

"Shh. Just relax and go to sleep. You're keeping me awake. We'll need to be rested for the long walk ahead of us tomorrow."

Edward sank into Richard's heartbeat as his arms closed firmly around him, one hand stroking his hair, and he allowed himself to drift into a fitful slumber for a few hours.

"What a night," he thinks, looking enviously through the window at the sleeping form of Richard under the blanket. The sun has already climbed over the mountains when Richard finally awakes and joins Edward sitting on the hood of the car.

"I'd give my right arm for an espresso right now," Richard sighs.

"Me too. I don't think I've ever been so hungry, thirsty, and tired."

Richard sighs again and goes around to the trunk, from which he removes a suitcase. He returns and hands a comb and toothbrush to Edward.

"What's that for?"

"Well, if we're going to die in the desert we might as well look good for the vultures." Richard smiles wryly as he squirts toothpaste on his own toothbrush.

Edward looks incredulously at Richard, who gestures with the tube and raises one eyebrow commandingly as foam begins to spread in his mouth. Edward meekly holds his toothbrush out so Richard can smear a thick line of paste on it. There's only half a bottle of water left, and they use about half of that to rinse.

"We're going to regret that water," Edward moans as he wipes his lips.

"Shut up and comb your hair." Richard works a comb through his own tangled mane and fastens the ponytail with an elastic band, smoothes the wrinkles in this shirt, and adjusts his belt.

"How do I look?"

"Delicious. No vulture could resist you."

Richard laughs, but Edward isn't really joking.

"OK, let's go," Richard says.

They've only been walking about two hours. It's not even noon yet, but already sweltering.

"The back of your neck is really red, Edward, and so are your ears. I bet I'm sunburned, too."

Edward stops and turns around to look at Richard. He has to wipe sweat from his eyelids to see clearly.

"Yeah, you are."

"How far do you think we've gone?"

Edward pulls out the map and stares at it in disbelief. "I think we've only gone about three miles."

Richard groans. "It feels like we've gone a thousand!"

"There's at least another six miles till we get to the main road."

He looks around for shade. A large clump of sagebrush that stands about three feet high and casts a bit of a shadow will have to do. He heads toward it urging Richard, "Come on."

They sit close to each other on the ground, trying to keep as much of themselves as possible within the meager shade. He pulls out the water bottle, and they both look at it. There's only enough left for each of them to take one more small sip.

"What do we do now?"

Richard doesn't reply, just breaks a twig into tiny pieces and watches them fall through his fingers.

"We're not going to make it to the main road, Richard. Not like this. I think we should go back to the car. Someone might come along and in the meantime, at least there's shade."

"But what if someone doesn't come along? What then? I think we should just push on. Getting to the main road is our best chance of finding help."

"But we're so badly sunburnt. And this is all the water. And I'm feeling dizzy. What about you?"

"Me too. I feel like I'm going to faint."

Edward opens the bottle and holds it up to Richard, who takes a sip and passes it back. Edward drinks and they contemplate the empty bottle. They sit like that until the sun moves directly overhead and the shade disappears, then head back in the direction they came.

It takes them most of the afternoon to get back to the car because they have to stop to cool down frequently wherever they can find a patch of shade. They can't talk with such dry tongues, but they don't want to talk anyway because each gets angry just looking at the other. They struggle on, rage welling behind a dam of silence that breaks when they finally can throw themselves into the shelter of the car's shade.

"If we die out here, it's your fault, Edward."

"You're the one who used up half our water for brushing teeth. I told you we'd regret that later! If we'd had just a little more water maybe we could have made it to the main road."

"What the fuck were you thinking, taking this road in the first place? Huh? Did it ever occur to you if we were going to be out in the boonies, maybe it would be a good idea to bring some extra food and water? Or, gosh, I don't know, maybe a spare gas can?"

"Fuck you, Richard! Even if I had, it wouldn't have been good enough for you. Nothing I do is ever good enough for you. So you had one good idea twenty years ago. Lots of people have good ideas all the time. It doesn't make you better than them."

"Yes, it does, and you know it. You wouldn't be here right now if you didn't believe it."

Edward stares at Richard with an open mouth, then looks away with a disgusted noise.

"Ugh. That is the stupidest thing I've ever heard. Do you really think so little of me? When we get back I--"

He stops mid sentence and both men turn their heads toward a plume of dust and the sound of an engine moving toward them down the road.

A beat up Ford pickup rolls to a stop in front of them. The driver wears a cowboy hat, red plaid Western shirt, and a big silver moustache. Edward's heart leaps with fear and joy at the same time. He is keenly aware of their expensive car. He is keenly aware of his pink polo shirt, sky blue shorts, and expensive loafers. He is keenly aware of Richard, standing next to him in pink shorts and a sky blue polo. He is keenly aware that they are obviously in the middle of a lover's quarrel. The cab contains a gun rack on the back window, but Edward only sees an old black Lab, no gun, which doesn't reassure him much. There are probably a lot of ways a good ol' boy and his pals could torture a couple of city queers and leave them to die out here, and he doesn't want to think of any of them. He glances over at Richard, and is even less comforted by the expression on his face as he looks at the truck, which says, "It's about fucking time. What took you so long?"

The man gets out of the truck, the dog close at his heels, and stands midway between them and the pickup.

"I saw you been here all day and figgered you might need help."

Richard draws himself up to his full, impressive height and takes a step forward.

"Thank you. We do seem to be in a bit of a situation and would gratefully accept your assistance."

The man lifts the strap of a canteen off his shoulder and hands it to Richard. Edward restrains the urge to tear it from his hands and gulp all the contents. Richard unscrews the cap, takes a long draft, then hands it to Edward, who drinks rapidly. He's reluctant to let it go when Richard reaches for it again. Richard hands it back, introducing himself as he does so.

"My name's Richard. And that's Edward."

The man nods, but doesn't say anything. The dog takes that as a sign and trots over to Richard, sniffs him thoroughly, then licks his hand before he withdraws it and wipes it on his shorts.

"That's Shadow," says the man, making no move to recall or the dog or moderate her attentions. "And most folks call me Six."

"Thank you for the water, Six."

"What are you boys doing out here?"

"Well, we've run out of gas. If it's not too much trouble, would you take us to the nearest gas station? I'll pay you for your time."

Six walks back to his truck and opens the passenger side door.

"Get on in." Richard gets in readily, but Edward lingers.

"Come on, Edward. Let's go." He climbs in next to Richard, and feels relieved to find no weapons anywhere in sight. Shadow hops into the back and barks happily as they begin on their way.

The nearest gas station is twenty miles away, and by the time they buy a gas can, fill it, and start back, it is nearly suppertime. The gas station had a tiny selection of snacks, and they devour a bag of potato chips in no time. Six doesn't say anything, but Edward is sure he must be able to hear their stomachs growling, and the thought embarrasses him.

"You boys are welcome to dinner at my place if you want. There's barbeque."

Edward's mouth waters at the thought of barbeque, and he has begun to relax around Six, who doesn't talk much, but has thus far shown them nothing but kindness. He wants to say yes, but Richard answers instead.

"Thank you, but we need to get on our way."

"You know, you don't have enough in that spare can you got to get you much farther than that gas station. It closes at 6 PM, and there's a good chance you won't make it there in time to fill up your tank. You're probably going to end up spending the night out here and you might as well do it on a full stomach."

Edward nudges Richard.

"Alright then, we'll take you up on your offer."

They turn off the county gravel road and head up a rough dirt road, stopping at a rusted trailer with an outhouse and shower off to one side. Richard looks horrified, but Edward is intrigued. When Six skins and cleans the rabbits, to his surprise, Edward feels nothing but curiosity and even asks if he can help. Richard is appalled at his enthusiasm and goes to sit on a lawn chair under a piñon pine to stave off the queasiness. Six roasts the meat on a spit over the campfire, slathering it from time to time with a sweet, spicy sauce, and serves it with canned corn, sliced white bread, and beer.

Edward leans back in his lawn chair and gazes up at a sea of stars, his belly full and feet warm next to the fire, listening to Shadow pick contentedly at the bones and to coyotes singing in the distance. They no longer unnerve him. Their voices now sing to him of contentment, comfort, and peace. Richard is slapping at insects and rubbing his arms as though chilly.

"Edward, why don't you bring a blanket from the bed in the front of the trailer for your friend."

Edward's a little surprised that Six would let him rummage around in his home, and flattered at the level of trust it implies. He steps into the dark trailer and gropes around until he finds a blanket and tugs at it. Something solid falls to the floor along with the blanket. He finds a light switch and flips it on. It's a book, a volume of Shakespeare's sonnets. When he picks it up, he accidentally grabs only the front cover and as the book spreads open when he lifts it, a photograph falls out. He picks it up, intending to replace it in the book, but stops when he sees the subject.

A much-younger version of Six, clean shaven, with dark curly hair and happy blue eyes, is wearing a tuxedo, and kissing another man, also in a tuxedo. He knows he should put it back in the book and pretend he never saw it, but curiosity gets the better of him. He returns to the campfire and hands Six the book and the picture.

"This fell off the bed when I pulled down the blanket."

Six blanches and Richard gives Edward a reproving look. Edward feels terrible.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have brought it up."

"I forgot I had that. That was another lifetime."

Edward sits down next to Six, looks into his face and says gently, "How did you end up out here, Six? You know your secret will be safe with us."

"That was my partner, Charles. We met when we were seventeen and were together for thirty years."

"What happened?"

"I loved him more than life itself, but he was a difficult man to love. He could be moody and we fought a lot. We broke up several times, but came back to each other eventually. He was a brilliant graphic designer, absolutely gorgeous, and always the life of the party."

"I know the type." Edward meets Richard's eyes and Richard feels suddenly conspicuous, as if the conversation has just run away from him. But Edward's voice is kind, and he smiles without malice.

"The last ten years were very hard. He lost his job for a big advertising company in LA and had trouble holding onto work after that. He resented my success as a stockbroker and started drinking too much. Because he was often unemployed, he spent a lot of time at home and at some point he started seeing other people during the day, when I was at work. I didn't know this at the time, of course. He wanted me to quit my job and open an advertising agency together. I don't know anything about advertising, and was content with my job. We fought almost constantly and finally, hoping it would make things better, I gave in. I quit my job and invested my entire life savings in starting a business with him. We mortgaged the house and I took out loans."

He paused fiddled with his empty beer bottle. Edward brought them all another beer from a small ice chest, opened the lid for Six, and handed it to him.

"Thank you, Edward. Well, to make a long story short, running a business together created more tension than it solved, and Charles became even more unreliable, forgetting or showing up drunk for meetings with the few clients I was able to drum up, missing deadlines, handing in shoddy artwork. Our business was failing and we could no longer pay the mortgage or any other bills. I couldn't sleep at night and anxiety tore me up inside. One day I came home and he had cleaned out the apartment and left."

"Cleaned out?"

"He took everything except the bed and a few pots and pans. He didn't leave a note and his cell phone number had been cancelled."

"Did you ever find out where he went?"

"Yeah, it wasn't too hard. Through friends, I learned that he had run off to Thailand with this boy he'd been seeing for about a month. He was all of twenty years old, maybe? I was approaching fifty and it was just salt in the wounds. I stayed with friends for a few weeks while I figured out what to do, but I was such a mess, all I could do was lay on the couch and cry. The collection agencies kept calling and the bank foreclosed on my house, and eventually, I just said, fuck it. I scraped together enough money to buy that old truck and trailer, a dog to keep me company, and here I am."

Six takes a long swig on his bottle and pats Shadow's head. Edward becomes aware that at some point, he has found Richard's hand and is gripping it tightly.

"Are you happy?" Edward asks.

"I sure am. I do get lonely every now and then, but I have no need to be back in that world any more. I've got my dog, my trailer, water from a well, and that's just about everything I need. Folks out here don't believe in poking their nose into other people's business, and that suits me just fine."

He looks up at the sky.

"There's nothing between me and heaven out here."

Richard clears his throat.

"We should probably be going, Edward."

"Go where?" asks Six. "To sleep in your car? Why don't you stay here. You can have the second bed in my trailer."

"I do not want to spend another night in that car, Richard," Edward warns.

"OK, fine, we'll stay here."

"I'm going bird hunting in the morning. You can join me if you want."

Edward feels an unexpected rush of anticipation, and glances hopefully at Richard, who has already risen and is heading toward the trailer. The cramped, lumpy mattress, smelling faintly of mold, feels as blissful as the bed at any four-star hotel and they fall asleep almost as soon as their heads hit the pillow.

Six rises with the sun and his movements wake Edward, who gets up, too.

"Can I go hunting with you?"

"You sure it won't piss your fancy-pants boyfriend off?"

"I don't care if it pisses him off. Besides, if we're back before noon, he might not even be awake."

"I can't promise that, so you'd better leave a note."

They return many hours later, Edward flushed with excitement and eager to show Richard the quails he killed. Richard slept late, but has been awake for some time, and isn't upset with Edward because he has found the outdoor shower and helped himself to Six's soap and razor. He's shiny, smooth and tranquil when they find him napping under the pines. Shadow bounds along at Edward's side as he walks up to Richard, the quails dangling by their feet in his hand, and obeys him when he tells her to go back to Six.

"What has gotten into you, Edward? That's disgusting."

"Oh, it was so much fun, Richard! I wish you were there. I really think you'd like it. There's so much skill involved, and Shadow listens to me just like Six. You're going to think I'm crazy, but I'm having more fun here than I would have in Las Vegas."

"You're right. I do think you're crazy. I hope you don't think we're going to stay to eat those birds you killed. We're going back to the car, filling up at that gas station, then driving directly home."

Edward does not feel too disappointed because he has expected this reaction. He's in a great mood and kisses Richard playfully on the cheek.

"OK, if you insist, that's what we'll do. Just know that I'm never going to let you forget that time you refused to eat my meat."

Chapter Text

"What the hell is this?" Bagot stomps into the room and slams a magazine down on the table in Green's office, where he's having coffee with Bushy. Bushy startles and his phone rattles against the cup.

"Christ, Bagot!" he says. "There's no need to scare the crap out of me."

"You know what'll scare the crap out of you?" he points to the Wired Magazine's cover. Green tilts his head a little to get a better view. The lead story leaps out at them: Inside the Black Heart of White Hart's New App.

"Holy shit!" Green yelps and thumbs through the magazine till he reaches the story. Bushy reads over his shoulder and both of them are sick and speechless by the time they reach the end. Already they can hear turmoil in the corridor outside, and phones are beginning to ring.

"We need to get Richard back here," Green says in a measured voice that disguises his fear, but Bushy is already dialing. The phone doesn't even ring, just goes straight to voicemail.

"Richard, you are never around when anyone needs you!" he yells while waiting for the recorded message to finish playing, and after the beep, all but squeals into the phone, "Richard! You need to get back immediately. There's this Wired story and it's really bad."

"What do we do now?" Bagot wonders.

"Wait for Richard, I guess?" Green answers.

"He'd better call back soon," Bushy grimaces, as the phone on Green's desk rings and excited chatter floats in from the corridor. "In the meantime, we should lock the door."

But an hour passes, then two hours, and still they have not heard from Richard. They've unplugged Green's desk phone. Each time one of their mobile phones buzzes, they collectively leap to see if it's Richard's or Edward's number, and direct it to voicemail when it is not. Bushy calls Isabella, but she hasn't been able to reach him, either. They all stare significantly at Bushy's phone long after he has touched the button to end the call, until he draws himself up to his full, diminutive height, takes a deep breath and says, "Well, we'd better come up with a plan."
***********************************
"I can't call Isabella. My phone's dead, too," Edward fusses.

"I guess it'll be a surprise, then. She's not expecting me home from Las Vegas till Tuesday. Of course, she doesn't even know we never made to Vegas."

Richard presses the button to lower the roof as he flings the BMW around a big curve on the mountain somewhere near Donner Pass. Edward hangs onto the door handle and wonders if the fresh scent of pine will be the last thing he smells as the car hurtles over the cliff. Richard's braid comes undone and his mane flaps around with the fury of a stallion from hell. He notices Edward's white knuckles gripping the door, laughs, and presses the accelerator. Edward bites his tongue and plants himself firmly in the seat, a pleasant mask plastered over the terror that animates his face, determined not to give in, but caves when their tires screech around the next turn.

"Richard! Please! You'll get us killed."

Richard laughs and slows down till they're just a little over the speed limit. Edward relaxes. He feels safer, but also, for the first time, Richard seems to be thoroughly enjoying himself.

"If losing this little game put him in such a good mood at last, it was worthwhile," he thinks, and he starts to feel buoyant, too.

The sky hugs the forest like a turquoise bracelet and the fresh air caresses his face. Richard hums a little tune next to him. He slides his hand across the seat to rest it on Richard's thigh, and rather than accepting the gesture as tribute, Richard actually takes one hand off the wheel and covers Edward's with it. It's been a strange few days, but right now, Edward thinks he wouldn't have it any other way.

They roll up to Richard's mansion late that afternoon to find Bushy's and Green's cars parked in the driveway. Richard curses as he circles the block a few times to find a parking space on the street. They have to walk half a block back to the house. Richard radiates fury the entire way, and Edward walks half a pace behind to avoid him.

Richard throws the door open and shouts, "Bushy! Green! What the hell are your cars doing in my driveway?"

The sound of several people jumping up at once and trotting across the floor precedes the frantic approach of Bushy, Bagot, Green, and Isabella.

"Where the fuck have you been, Richard? Why didn't you return our calls?" Isabella screams like a general, leading her troops into battle. They are just as angry, but are visibly relieved to let Richard's wife lead the charge.

"My battery died. Calm down." He tries to embrace her, but she pushes him away.

"You have no idea what's happening, do you."

Richard looks blankly from face to face and panic rises in Edward's throat.

Green hands Richard the magazine and everyone remains dead silent while he stares numbly at the cover.

"Read it," Green orders.

Richard stands there reading the article at arm's length. Edward sees his spine grow rigid and his jaw clench, and searches Isabella's eyes for a clue to the problem. When he finishes, he shoves the magazine at Edward.

"Why does everybody make it sound like I'm doing something wrong? It's not malware. There is nothing wrong with this app. I'm only trying to anticipate user needs and to protect my market!"

"But that's the problem, Richard," Green says with restrained anger. "You can't do that. Regardless of what you think, lawsuits have already been filed and the Federal Trade Commission is launching an investigation. You yourself have admitted that everything they say in the article is true. People can't even remove the app without permanently damaging their device. Your attitude that there's nothing inherently wrong with this and it's some kind of capitalist prerogative you have isn't going to fly."

Richard is too angry to reply, so he turns to Edward.

"Well?"

"Richard, I..." he falters and breaks eye contact.

Recognition dawns on Bagot's face and he gasps, "You knew!"

Bushy and Green exchange disgusted looks and they can all hear the sound of Isabella's heart breaking when she says, "Oh, Edward! No!"

Edward's face is beet red. He has rolled the magazine into a tube without thinking and clutches it in his fist like a club.

"I didn't think it was a good idea. I tried to tell you, Richard."

"That's the problem with you, Edward. You never think anything is a good idea. You're too timid. "

"And you're too full of yourself."

Richard opens his mouth to reply but Green cuts him off.

"I can't believe you're bickering right now! It's in the past and it doesn't matter anymore. You should be planning your next move."

Bushy has been increasingly miserable, and now they hear him sniffle a little. He tries to cry quietly, so no one will notice, but his soft blue eyes are rimmed with red and his short blond hair shivers with sobs.

"Oh, Green. Look what you've done! You've made Bushy cry," Richard croons with exaggerated concern.

He steps over to Bushy and kisses him tenderly, then hugs him, which only increases his tears.

"Don't cry, darling. This is a minor setback. Everything's going to be OK."

Bushy wipes his nose on his sleeve, then pushes himself away from Richard.

"No, it won't. Even if the business side turns out OK, you've still misled us. You---he looks toward Edward then back at Richard as he says this-- betrayed my trust."

Green puts an arm protectively around Bushy's shoulders and says fiercely, "Let's go. If Edward couldn't talk any sense into him, there's no way we're going to. We'll see you tomorrow, Richard."

Richard makes a face and shakes his head after they've turned toward the door, then calls after them, "Move my car into the driveway and bring the luggage in before you go."

The only answer he receives is the sound of a slamming door.

Bagot hasn't said a word this entire time, and has gradually moved apart from the rest of the group. When he speaks, it is in a cool, calculated tone.

"Yeah, I'm out of here, too. So, so out."

Green follows Bushy back to his apartment. He doesn't like seeing Bushy so upset, and wants to help him into a better frame of mind before he goes back home to his wife.

When they walk through the door, Bushy turns his swollen, tear-stained face to Green and asks if he would like some tea. "Sure," answers Green, following him into the kitchen. He puts a kettle on while Bushy gathers teabags and mugs, and they stand awkwardly in front of the stove, waiting for the water to boil. Sorrow still permeates every one of Bushy's movements. Green is angry at Richard, but Bushy is brokenhearted. He wants to comfort him, but doesn't know how.

They take their tea to the living room and sit on the sofa, and Bushy looks as if he's holding back tears again.

"Bushy... " Green starts softly. "You'll be OK."

"Maybe. Maybe someday I will. I've had to content myself with little scraps, the leftover bits and pieces of him for so long, it shouldn't hurt this much to see how he really is. I mean, I've known all along, of course, but always believed if I just loved him harder, if I was always there for him, if I just was whatever he wanted, that one day he'd recognize me, that I'd earn his love."

Green aches for his friend, and rubs his back soothingly.

"You must think I'm really dumb for this. It's easier for you. You're straight. You love your wife and she turns a blind eye while you do what you have to do with him to advance your career. But Richard is my career. I live and breathe him."

Green did not expect Bushy's words to wound him, but they tear a jagged little hole that he can't keep from expanding, cracking, peeling away everything but a mewling, newborn sense of something he knows should have been obvious all along.

"I don't think you're dumb. I think you're brave and loyal. You deserve better than him."

Bushy smiles weakly.

"Thank you."

"And, Bushy, something I just realized...It's not just about my career. I would have gotten a different job long ago if it were just that. There is someone around Richard I care very much about, someone he hurts every day, and that I want to protect..."

Bushy looks confused. Green leans over and kisses Bushy on the lips. Bushy startles and draws back.

"What was that for? You don' t have to-"

"Sh!" Green puts his finger on Bushy's mouth. "Yes, I do have to."

He leans in, his broad cheekbones and brown skin brushing against the pink blaze on Bushy's cheek.

"I do," he whispers as his full lips again meet Bushy's.

The sun has set and Bushy is looking through the window at the first few stars to pierce the purple sky when Green pries himself from his side and struggles through the bedsheets to look at his buzzing phone.

"I have to go. I was supposed to be home two hours ago," he mutters when he sees his wife's name on the call.

Bushy pulls him back down and pins his unresisting shoulders against the mattress.

"Not before I do this." He smothers Green with a kiss.

"I wish I had known sooner. Maybe I've known for a while, and convinced myself it was something else." Green strokes Bushy's hair.

"What matters is that we're here, now, and things will be different from now on." Bushy looks changed. He releases Green and moves to one side so he can get up.

Green starts to dress, and Bushy does, too.

"I'll walk with you to your car."

They walk down the stairs of the Victorian flat holding hands, and smile at each other as the metal security door on the ground floor clangs loudly behind them. Green had to park a block away, but it feels like they are floating down the sidewalk. They drift into the street to cross it. They see headlights and hear brakes shriek. They feel the impact of 2,500 pounds of steel for the briefest instant, and then, nothing more.

Chapter Text

silicon-dick posted:
I'm sitting here shaking, crying as I write this. I've had a big shot of vodka and another one's sitting in front of me, so please forgive any typos or spelling mistakes. Here's what happened. I was at the taqueria around the corner from my apartment and heard this huge crash. Everyone ran outside to see what had happened. This car had hit these two guys in the middle of the street, and this lady-- someone said she was a doctor-- was giving first aid to one of them. I think the other guy was dead already because there was a lot of blood and he wasn't moving at all. I couldn't see real well because the crowd was large and I had to peek between the heads of a couple tall people in front of me, but they sure looked familiar. The ambulance took about fifteen minutes to get there and by then, the doctor had stopped working on the guy. The paramedics had to part the crowd a little to get the gurneys through, and I was able to see, as they lifted the men onto them, that it was, indeed, two of Richard's Favorites, Bushy and Green. The paramedics covered them with sheets and the ambulance left in much less of a hurry than it had arrived. I can't believe this! This is so awful. I never met them, personally, but you hardly ever saw him without them and Bushy always looked at him so adoringly. I wonder if he knows what happened.
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The New York Times
White Hart Stock Falls Nearly 20%

White Hart stock fell almost 20% since Friday, when Wired Magazine exposed security flaws allegedly programmed deliberately into the company's new "Quintessence" app. Wired reporters found credible evidence that White Hart had created the app to act almost like a Trojan virus that set up a virtual pipeline between the user's device and the company that allowed them to monitor and store everything done with the device. The app also renders the device difficult to use with products that do not contain the company's ubiquitous Hart Chip. The app requires professional help to remove without permanently damaging the device.

On Monday, Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) called for a federal investigation, and analysts expect the stock to fall further if charges are filed. Even if the investigation turns up no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, a major class-action lawsuit is likely, and the fallout for White Hart could be significant.
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Edward waits near the door when Richard walks into the White Hart main entrance. As usual, he's showing up around 10:00 with a Starbucks latte, headphones encasing his brain in music. Edward grabs his elbow before he can get past. Richard pulls the headphones off tugs his arm out of Edward's hand with an offended snort.

"Richard, you didn't answer my texts. I was hoping you'd get here earlier. Quick, I need to talk to you. There's people..."

"Shhh! There's always people, Edward, don't be silly. They're always talking. Calm down."

He breezes toward the elevator without noticing the eyes of everyone in the lobby, the security guards, the business supply vendors trying to drum up business with free doughnuts, the employees waiting for the elevators, all turn on him through veiled lids. The small crowd at the elevator dissipates with a murmur as he arrives, Edward at his heels, then there's a "ding" and the doors open. They ride silently to the top floor and walk down a spacious, unnaturally quiet hallway to Richard's sunlit suite in the corner.

Richard plops his coffee down on the desk and sinks into his plush chair, fingertips pounding the keyboard to unlock his computer. Edward starts to sit in a chair across his desk, but hesitates and looks fretfully out the window instead. Richard looks up from the monitor, amused by something he has seen on his Facebook.

"Looking for something, Edward? Sit down."

Edward turns his back to the window and sits lightly on the ledge.

"Listen to me now. There are people in the building. I'm pretty sure they're lawyers. Your assistant's been keeping them away from your office, but now that you're here, they're going to demand to see you."

"Don't worry, Edward. I've already spoken to our attorneys and they're going to handle this investigation. They said everything's under control, and are working the spin with our PR department. Lighten up! Do you have any idea what the media was like when Anne died? And what they've said forever about Robert and me?"

Edward is too aware. He's followed Richard in the news for as long as he can remember, and stifles an urge to throw himself at Richard's feet, begging him to run away together before another word punctures the membrane between them and the dreadful future.

"When you're someone like me, they're always out to get you. I've been fending off attacks since I was ten. It's best not to give them what they want, and keep doing what I want. This is just one more thing and we'll put them in their place, like the others."

Edward shakes his head and opens his mouth, but before he can reply, they hear a tremulous knock at the door. It sounds like the way Richard's assistant knocks, but tentative, as if hoping no one will hear it. Edward's heart sinks.

"Come in!" Richard shouts as he deletes unnecessary messages from his inbox with a giddy little flourish.

A young woman enters, wearing Gap jeans and a thrift store blouse so conservative and ordinary, it's cool. Her undercut is dyed jet black to match her heavy plastic eyeglass frames. Edward finds himself irritated with her pierced nostril, which is empty because Richard thinks the horseshoe ring she usually wears is tacky. She refuses to wear the diamond stud he gave her for Christmas, so she wears nothing at all to work. To Edward, it's just an indecent, uncovered orifice, but the harder he tries to avoid looking at it, the more he notices it. Perhaps it's just a distraction from what he knows she must be about to say. His attention has fallen headfirst into the tiny hole when she begins to speak.

"Mr. Plantagenet, there are some people who've been waiting to see you. I've tried everything to get them to leave but they showed me their ID, and they're--"

"That's fine, Jeannette, let them in. I'll see them now."

Three stocky men wearing jeans and blazers push past the assistant without waiting to be called in. One remains near the door while the other two approach Richard, pull leather wallets from the inside breast pockets of their blazers, and hold them up.

"Mr. Plantagenet, we're from the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Department and you're under arrest for conspiracy to commit fraud and embezzlement from Gloucester Systems, Inc."

While the first man speaks, the second steps behind Richard and brings both wrists against his back. Edward hears a metallic clink as the clasp of a handcuff fastens around the first wrist.

"You have the right to remain silent--"

Without thinking, Edward leaps forward and grabs the officer's arm before he can fasten the second handcuff and pulls it away.

"Stop! This is a misunderstanding!"

The detective that has been standing in front of Richard now whips out his firearm and shouts, "Put your hands in the air!"

Edward freezes when he realizes what he's done and raises his arms. The second cop quickly fastens the other handcuff on Richard and moves him aside while the first one moves toward Edward with pointed weapon.

"Get on the ground!"

"What?" Edward asks, his voice cracking and hands still in the air.

"Get on the ground, now! Face down!" the cop shouts.

Edward lays on the carpet, trying to still a hurricane of adrenaline and emotion, while the cop digs one knee into his back and aggressively handcuffs him.

"I'm arresting you for assault on a police officer."

"No, you can't I was just--"

"Shut up, Edward, you're making things worse!" Richard shouts. "Don't say anything at all."

The second cop jerks Edward roughly to his feet and he looks toward Richard, whose face is a mosaic of fear, indignation, and grief. His own eyes sting, and he blinks back tears.

They are led to the door but before they get to it, Jeannette pops back in with a panicked expression.

"Oh my god, what's happening? I knew they were cops but I didn't know.. I... Oh my god, Richard!"

"Get out of the way, miss," says the first officer.

"I-I will, but I have an urgent message he needs to hear before... before you take him away."

The first officer starts to tell her no, but the second stops him and says, "Just let her say it. We've had enough trouble here already."

"I'm so sorry to tell you this now, well, I wish I didn't have to tell you it ever but just, really not now."

"Just spit it out Jeannette. Things can't get much worse, can they."

"Bushy and Green are dead. They were hit by a car last night."

Richard's face goes white and he looks so much like he might faint that the cop braces himself.

"And what about Bagot?"

Jeannette looks at the ground, struggling to find the right words.

"You should know that @digitalmulder on Twitter says Bagot's filing a sexual harassment suit against you, and that Henry Bolingbroke is getting ready to launch a massive challenge to the Hart Chip patent."

Richard's jaw drops and his whole body seems to wilt. His mouth moves but only soft, inarticulate noises emerge. A hot, white light saturates his vision and yet, he has the sensation that he is looking down at himself from the ceiling. Edward is frozen in place, fists and teeth clenched against an invisible army, flooding through a breach in the wall.

"All right you two, let's get going," the first cop says. Heads emerge in doorways and bodies gather in subdued clusters as they are paraded down the hall, into the elevator, through the lobby, and bundled into a waiting squad car, that peels out of the driveway.
****************************************************
Richard paces around the cell, trailing frantic energy in his wake. He tries to sit on the bunk but feels like he's drowning, so he rises and walks back and forth, back and forth, across the tiny room faster and faster, until emotion catches up with him again and he collapses, trapped against the concrete by the weight of despair. Curled up in a ball, forehead pressed to the floor, Edward sees his shoulders heaving even before wild, animalistic keening rises from him.

"Oh my God, what is happening? Bushy, Green..." Huge sobs contort his body, banging his head against the floor. He does not seem to notice. "And Bagot! Why is he doing this? He's circling like a vulture to pick my carcass clean!"

He puts his arms over his head and pulls himself together more tightly, rocking back and forth with the effort of wailing.

"Conspiracy? That will be Henry's work. It's Henry who is after me. My friends are gone or turned against me! Must I face this alone?"

Edward leaves the bunk, where he has been sitting, and kneels next to Richard. He rubs his back with one hand and with the other, sweeps Richard's hair from his face over one shoulder and strokes it soothingly.

"Not alone, Richard. You've still got me."

Richard sits up and pulls away from Edward, turning hard, wet eyes on him.

"Do I, Edward?"

He stands and moves to the other side of the cell.

"How do I know you haven't joined with Bagot? Or that you haven't been secretly helping Henry build his case against me?" He's hoarse from crying and has to wipe his nose on his sleeve by the end.

The words hit Edward like a fist and he rushes to Richard, joining their hands and staring hard into his eyes.

"How could you even say such a thing?"

Richard jerks his hands away and shoves Edward hard enough to send him reeling back onto the bunk.

"What makes you think I still trust you? Why would I trust you, when everyone else I love has turned against me?" He steps toward Edward and towers over him as he shouts, "I need friends, and all I have is a pack of jackals!"

Edward feels like he's been kicked in the gut, like he's bleeding internally and all his organs are seeping into each other. He's struggling for breath, for words, for a way out of Richard's implacable gaze when a guard appears at the door.

"You!" he barks, pointing at Edward. "You're being released. Get over here." He fidgets with the lock.

"What?"

"I said you're being released."

"Why?"

"They decided not to charge you with anything, so you're free to go." The metal bars slide away.

"I'd rather stay here with Richard until he makes bail," Edward offers, flinging a conciliatory glance in Richard's direction.

The guard looks at him like he's crazy and shakes his head in wonder.

"Well, now I've heard everything. Are you going to come here on your own, or am I going to have to drag you out?"

"Richard?" Edward pleads, but Richard throws himself on the bunk and turns his face toward the wall.

"Come on! I don't have all day!" the guard yells.

"OK, bye, Richard." Edward lingers at the door, looking over his shoulder to catch anything that might pass as a response from Richard, the full pressure of the moment caught in his throat, until the guard pops him on the back, saying, "Get a move on!"

Richard rolls into a fetal position and continues to stare silently at the wall.
***************************************
Isabella and Richard have to push through a throng of reporters and paparazzi when he's released. It took two days for the judge to set bail, and Richard's legal troubles have become big news. A couple of deputies keep the crowd from touching them, but cannot hold back the rude questions, the jeers, the click of camera lenses. No one's shouting about the conspiracy charges, though.

"Hey, Richard! Do you have anything to say about the sexual harassment charges!"

"Is it true that you fucked new employees on your desk!"

"Did you know that three other people have joined in on the sexual harassment suit?"

"Was it just men or were there girls too!"

"Isabella, are you sorry you married a gay husband! Are you gay, too!"

Richard, disheveled and disoriented from lack of sleep, stands as proudly as he can, but cannot seem to get his shoulders straight enough or his chin tilted up enough to fake a confidence that he worries might have left him forever. Isabella grips his hand with furious determination, and swears in French at the crowd. They find their car surrounded by ugly, surly men holding big, angry signs.

SODOMITES ARE VILE, UNNATURAL, AND WORTHY OF DEATH. ROMANS 1:16-32

HOMOSEX IS A GOD DAMNED SIN. ROMANS 1:26-27

AMERICA RETURN TO GOD. GAY MARRIAGE IS AGAINST THE WORD OF GOD. GENESIS 2:21-23

HOMOS CURSED BE THOU WITH CANCER HIV SYPHILIS STROKE MADNESS ITCH THEN HELL. 1 CORINTHIANS 6-9

They part when Richard and Isabella approach. As they rush into the backseat and tell the driver to hurry, one of the protesters shouts, "Repent now sinner, or burn in hell forever!"

Richard rests his forehead against the tinted window and stares blankly at the world whizzing past as the driver navigates the streets at the fastest speed he dares. Choices he has made run on a continuous loop through his head, becoming more sinister on each pass until he feels that he is rotting. He closes his eyes. Images writhe like monsters in his mind's eye-- lips and curves and skin of bodies he has touched, loved, or used-- until one rises from the pit and turns toward him. She looks wearily at him, then turns her face away sinks back into the squirming pile of flesh.

"Anne!" he whispers, as if her name were a benediction that could redeem him.

"What did you say, darling?" Isabella asks, but Richard's eyes and mouth remain closed.

She scoots over on the seat so that her shoulder touches his. She squeezes his hand, then rubs his thigh and ends with her hand resting on his knee. He doesn't acknowledge the gesture, and shrinks from her touch.

"We'll get through this together, Richard. I love you."

She stretches to reach his face and kisses him tenderly on the cheek.

"Henry has asked for a meeting. Perhaps there is still time to work some of this out."

Richard replies with a flat, dull voice.

"Call Henry, and tell him I will meet with him at my house tomorrow."

Chapter Text

Richard keeps his head up on the way into the house but falters the minute the door closes, and there is no one around to notice. Isabella, half a pace ahead of him, stops.

"I just need to sit down for a minute." Richard sets himself on the lowest step of the staircase, and holds his head in his hands. Isabella descends from a step ahead and sits next to him.

"Honey, oh, honey," she murmurs, wrapping one arm around him and stroking his hair with the other hand. "You'll feel better after a nice, hot bath."

She draws his hand up with hers as she rises. He follows her numbly up the stairs and sits where she has settled him, on top of the toilet seat, while the tub fills. She scampers back downstairs and returns with two glasses and an open bottle of cabernet sauvignon, the most expensive one she could find at a moment's notice from the everyday wine rack in their kitchen. Richard hears the "glug, glug, glug" of the glass filling, but it does not register on his face. He stares at the water streaming from the faucet, as if his gaze alone could make the tub fill.

"Hey," a soft voice tickles his ear. "Let's make a toast." His fingers wrap around the slender wineglass stem and the soft pressure of Isabella's hand directs his chin toward her face. He can't look away because her large, blue eyes have locked on his own.

"To love, because that's all we have that really matters."

Automatically, he raises his glass and after the bowls clink, remembers to smile before she moves in for a kiss, which he performs, but does not feel. Fortunately, Isabella notices that the bathtub has filled to almost overflowing, and runs to shut the tap without noticing his dullness.

She pulls off her blouse, then lets her skirt fall to the floor. Richard can't help watching as she fidgets with her bra.

"I can't quite get this, honey," she says, looking up through her blonde fringe at him.

Richard rises, on cue, and takes up the bra fastener. She curves her spine so that her behind pokes directly into his groin, as if the way he works the hooks has some influence over the movement of her ass. He tries to concentrate on unhooking the bra, but all he notices is the way she grinds and his cock begins to stir under her command. After what seems like a month, the ends of the bra fall away and Isabella's breasts bounce free from their restraints. She slides a hand under one side of her panties, and Richard slips his under the other side. Together, they ease the lace over her buttocks and down her thighs, watching it fall to the floor like the petals of an exotic pink rose.

Isabella takes his hand, and, wordlessly, leads him the few steps toward the bathtub, leading him after her. The water engulfs him like a pair of welcoming arms and he leans back against the tub. One of Isabella's hands runs up his leg-- calf, knee, thigh-- to end by cupping his balls as she leans over for a kiss. Richard feels himself begin to harden as her breath mingles with his. Their tongues touch. Her hand does not move after their lips part. Their eyes meet urgently, and she returns her mouth to his while she works him with her hand until he stops her, and guides her hips over his . She lowers herself onto him, every movement accented by the water it displaces around the tub. As he fills her, she grunts softly and gyrates around his shaft, gently, at first, until he thrusts into her movements so firmly, she has to let go. Water sloshes over the edge of the tub, but she dives more deeply on Richard's cock with each movement. His hands grip her buttocks, urging her on, "Come! Come hard on me."

Isabella buries her face against his neck, biting it while he pushes valiantly in her until he comes with a loud expletive she hopes no one else heard. She rolls off him, but his hand follows her, and she feels two fingers push through the unresisting flesh between her legs. At first, they explore everywhere inside her while she squirms around them, directing them to the spot she wants them most. Richard teases her for a moment, pretending that he doesn't know what she wants, then finds the spot and holds it while Isabella thrashes around his fingers, coming with an unearthly cry he has not heard before, and hopes he hears again, soon.

"Ah!" She leans away from him, against the side of the tub .

"There's more where that came from," Richard straddles her with a kiss.

"I know, sweetie, but let's save it for tomorrow."

She regrets the words as soon as she says them. Richard doesn't need to remember tomorrow right now.

"Tomorrow will come too soon, and I hope tonight will never end," he breathes against her cheek, while sliding one arm around her back. He holds her hip firmly with the other, pushes her thighs apart with his knee, and enters her again.

They awake late the next morning in Richard's bed, tangled in each other's arms, and motionless in the somber light filtering through the curtains. Richard's despair from the night before has distilled into anger that fills him with purpose. He's been through this before with Henry about the patent, but this time he's upped the ante by dragging the Mowbray thing into it, and this infuriates him. He gets out of bed and rummages through his closet, choosing his ensemble carefully.

The commotion wakes Isabella, who looks at the bedside clock and mumbles, "Henry's not due for another two hours."

"That's two hours more that I have to figure something out."

Isabella rises and joins him at the closet.

"How about this one?" She flips up the sleeve of a black cotton blazer with large flowers and curly vines in white embroidery. "I love the way it looks on you."

He looks skeptical, so she kisses his cheek and saunters off to her own room. Richard holds the floral blazer up next to the plain black one he had chosen, and decides his wife is right. He has finished shaving and is just getting into his trousers when the doorbell rings. He hears Isabella's slippers shuffling across the house to reach it in time, and the rich, smooth sound of Edward's voice. The anger that has been carrying him through the morning rises. Edward reminds him of all he stands to lose, has already lost, mocks him. He fumbles a button on his shirt into the wrong hole. While he's fixing it, Edward clears his throat at the bedroom door. Richard looks up from his half-buttoned placket, ready to accuse, but finds he cannot when he sees the contrition on Edward's face.

"Come in."

Richard returns to his buttons, but his hand is shaking now and he can't get it right.

"Shit," he mutters.

Edward steps forward and stops Richard's hand with his.

"Sh. Let me help."

Richard stands with his hands on his hips. He watches Edward's quick fingers push the scraps of shell through the holes one by one, and his eyes travel up his arm, over his curving bicep and broad shoulders, along the collarbone, fixing on the delicious hollow at the base of his throat. It has been just a little over a day since they have seen each other, but Richard has forgotten the way Edward's sunburn had faded to a light, golden tan, against which his eyes shine like tourmaline. He looks up at Richard with a sad little grin when he's done, but Richard turns away, tucks in his shirt, and puts the blazer on. He finishes dressing without saying a word, as if Edward weren't in the room at all.

"Richard, you've got to know that I have had nothing to do with any of this. I'm sorry for anything I've done to shake your trust. You've got to believe me."

Richard regards him with scorn.

"Henry will be here any minute. You don't need to be here. In fact, I'd like you to leave."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"Fine. Suit yourself," Richard shrugs.

Just then, Isabella appears at the door, wearing tight denim jeans, boots, and an oversized, fuzzy apple green sweater.

"I'm going out. I don't think I should be here when you're talking with Henry. I'll be back by dinner time."

She leaves, and Richard makes small adjustments in the mirror while Edward stands awkwardly in the middle of the room. The doorbell rings.

"That will be Henry. If you insist on staying, make yourself useful and go let him in."

Edward returns a couple minutes later.

"He's waiting in the foyer."

Richard emerges from his room and appears at the railing of the landing overlooking the foyer. Henry lifts his head. Richard hovers regally above him in the floral blazer, slim black trousers, silver silk charmeuse shirt, and red suede oxford shoes with silver toe caps. His hair falls in loose waves over his shoulders, and the red silk cord of a pendant buried under his shirt peeks out from the open top buttons of his collar. He bends his head toward Henry, who, for a moment, catches a glimpse of Richard's elegant jaw line and aquiline nose. His lips, though thin, somehow pout erotically even while smiling, and he shifts his weight on tiny hips almost like a girl as he begins to speak. The words Henry has prepared wither under the burden of unaccustomed physical reactions, and guilt that he feels them for the man who has ruined his life.

"Hello, Henry," Richard says with cold formality. "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company?"

His tone jerks Henry back to himself.

"You know why I'm here, Richard. You're not stupid."

Though far from the speech he had planned, Henry is glad he was able to say anything at all.

"Perhaps I don't know, cousin. Perhaps you should tell me, so I can hear it in your own voice."

"I want half of the patent, and half of the profits you've made off of it."

"Why should my answer be any different than it ever has?"

"Because I can stop cooperating with the embezzlement case."

Richard looks keenly at Henry for a moment, then descends the staircase a bit too sinuously for Henry's comfort. He resists the urge to fidget with his hands and catches Edward watching him from just beyond the railing where Richard had been standing. He can read either amusement or worry in Edward's face, which unnerves him enough to flick his eyes back to Richard, who now approaches him.

"Henry," Richard bows slightly, and gestures toward their right. He leads them into a stately room with large bay windows, framed with gold brocade valances, that offer a view of houses across the street. Gold-colored paint covers the walls, and a large, antique birds eye maple table stands in the center. Richard directs them to two spacious wingback chairs positioned around a small end table, and they sink onto the lush beige mohair upholstery.

"Do you remember that time Grandma gave us each these huge candy canes at Christmas? We set them on the ground while we were playing with the remote control cars we got, and next time we looked over, Scruffers had eaten almost all of them?" Richard asks. The unexpected reminiscence startles Henry, and he looks quizzically at Richard. "We chased that mutt for 20 minutes around the yard, and he just kept looking back at us like it was a game."

"When we finally gave up and sat down, he came right up and dropped what was left at our feet," Henry chuckles in spite of himself. Richard laughs, too, and Henry can't help but notice the way his throat pulses around the sounds coming out of it. The red necklace cord catches his attention and draws it over Richard's collarbone and down his slightly open collar, where it leads to a roundish lump under the silver silk.

"Those cars..." Richard's voice trails off. He doesn't need to say more. Henry's mind wanders to the time, that same Christmas, right around New Year's, when he showed up at Richard's one afternoon and found him sobbing on the front steps.

"What's wrong?"

"Andrew took my RC car," he wailed, rubbing his arm. "I tried to make him stop but he punched me really hard."

Richard was tall for his age, but slender, and although his vivid imagination made him the instigator of much neighborhood fun, he shied away from rough games and rarely defended himself with much success if threatened physically. Richard had an ongoing struggle with Andrew, who played pee-wee football, little league, and loved showing off his strength.

"You should hit him back when he hits you, Richard."

"But then he'll just hit me harder. And besides, it hurts my hand," whined Richard, wiping his nose on his sleeve. "Maybe Mom'll just get me a new car."

Henry shook his head incredulously and turned to leave.

"Wait, where are you going?" Richard called after him. Henry just tossed a scowl over his shoulder and kept on moving.

Henry was shorter than Richard, but more powerfully built and unlike his cousin, enjoyed roughhousing and contact sports. On the few occasions he got into fights at school, it surprised no one in the family because he also had a bad temper. Right now, he was angry at Andrew for taking Richard's toy car and even angrier at Richard for letting him. He walked three houses down, knocked on the door, and when Andrew's mother said, "Oh, hello, Henry. Andrew's upstairs in his room," he marched right up the stairs and punched Andrew in the face. He took the car without saying a word and returned to Richard's house.

"Here's your car."

Richard's mouth fell open and he looked from the car to Henry's face in amazement. Tears had carved little wet streaks down his cheeks, and his nose was red from rubbing on his wool sweater. His hair fell like sea foam over one eye as he cocked his head, abashed, and turned his large, brown eyes to Henry's. He stood there, bigger than Henry, older than Henry, quicker-witted than Henry, but at this moment, he seemed so delicate that he might shatter with one harsh touch, or one cruel word. Henry's anger vanished and a powerful urge to shield Richard replaced it. He wrapped both arms around Richard's skinny torso without letting go of the toy, and held him till they both felt too warm to continue the closeness. So many of their own fights, and of Richard's fights with other kids, seemed to end just this way. He couldn't stand to see his cousin look so broken.

"I got in such trouble for that," Henry muses. "Andrew had a huge black eye and Mom and Dad were so mad, they made me go apologize to Andrew and his mom, then grounded me for a month. You were the only person they would let me play with. And afterwards, Andrew wanted to fight me all the time. We constantly got in trouble. I was so glad when he moved away."

"I never thanked you."

"It's all water under the bridge now, Richard. I'm here to talk about the pat---" Henry tries to summon the righteousness that brought him here, but Richard regards him with the same, fragile demeanor that always flattens his train of thought. His eyes are moist, as if restraining tears, and to avoid them, Henry lowers his gaze, where it finds again the lump of pendant caught between Richard's bony chest and the smooth, shiny fabric that screams, "Touch me!" He's made contact with that chest many times, in play, in sport, in jest, but he's never stroked it gently through a shirt that flows like water over his skin, never fingered his jewelry through it, and now it's all he wants to do.

"It was the summer after that we invented the chip. You stayed with me because your parents were... having trouble--"

"You mean, my dad was cheating on my mom."

"Yeah, but I didn't want to be the one that says it. Anyhow, you spent the whole summer and most of the fall living with me."

"And that's when we invented the chip."

"We worked together, but it was my idea, and my parents got us the lab space and the grad students and helped us in so many ways. Yours were so out of it, they didn't even know what you were doing."

"Maybe your parents should have gotten the patent," Henry sneers. "You know as well as I do that's not how things work. We both contributed, we both should get credit. If Grandpa hadn't convinced my dad to give up on my claim for the sake of family unity, and to come run White Hart until you were old enough instead, everything would be different. I was just a kid, and didn't have any idea what this would mean in the long run. While Dad was alive, I honored Grandpa's final wish and never pursued the issue for long. But you undermined and stole GloSys, destroyed my career, and my father died trying to protect your company, his company, from your horrible, horrible mistakes."

A miserable expression strikes Richard, once again disorienting Henry. How often has he guarded Richard, helped him pick up the pieces when grandiose plans have crashed around him? Now that he is the agent of Richard's peril, he hates his instinctive desire to protect him. He hates the way that, this time around, he's feeling it somewhere in his groin. He wants to crawl away from a battle that has taken a sensual turn he did not expect.

"I'll give something to you very willingly," Richard purrs, leaning over the table between them. He brushes his hair back behind his shoulders and looks up, exposing his neck. "See this necklace? Take it. I want you to have it."

Richard holds himself calmly, but his chest rises and falls sharply, as if in fear, or, perhaps, desire. Henry watches the pendant moving hypnotically and can no longer resist. He runs one finger down the rayon cord, through the fine hairs on Richard's chest, until charmeuse swallows it. He fishes along skin until he reaches the pendant. He draws it up through the neckline and reveals a large, heart-shaped golden locket.

"Open it," Richard breathes. His breath feels hot on Henry's cheek, and his woodsy, disturbingly masculine cologne envelops them both. Henry's head feels light. If Richard is about to kiss him, in this intoxicating aura of rage, nostalgia, and despair he might not have the strength to resist, although it's not something he's ever wanted before.

"Oh!" exclaims Henry.

"It's the original chip. The one we made that summer. It's yours now."

The tension snaps like a twig. Henry yanks the cord and twists it around his wrist, pulling Richard toward him, till it is tight against his throat and Henry's fist presses against his windpipe. He stands up, jerking Richard out of his chair and dangling him, sputtering, from the cord.

"What the fuck are you trying to do, Richard?" Richard's face is red and his hands claw wildly at Henry's fist. "I'm your goddamned cousin, and you are a fucking freak!"

He slams Richard back into the armchair, allowing the necklace to unravel from his hand as he falls backwards.

"Save your gay shit and your cheesy, sentimental jewelry for someone who wants it. What made you think this would work? Now I want everything you have, and I'm going to take it from you by force if you won't give it willingly. "

He storms through the house and Richard hears the door slam behind him while still catching his breath. Suffocating, feverish, he hurries toward French doors, bursts onto a deck, and throws himself on a lounge chair with a glorious view of North Beach, the Transamerica Building, and all the way across the bay to the rolling hills on the other side. Not that he pays any attention. He collapses against the backrest with one arm over his eyes. Waiting for the world to stop spinning, he hears the hollow thump of footsteps against the wooden planks, and Edward clearing his throat. He uncovers his face and turns it to one side.

"You're still here."

"Of course I am." Edward's expression tells Richard he heard, probably even saw, everything.

"What do I do now? Do I give him what he wants?"

Edward sits on the other end of the lounge in reply.

"I will. I should. I'll give him all this," his hand sweeps over the city as if he owns it. "I'll trade my limo for a bicycle and my Prada suits for freebox finds. I'll sleep in the park and panhandle in the Haight. Imagine not having to be in charge! Just let it go!"

Richard ignores Edward's horrified reaction, and continues.

"Or, maybe I'll trade this," he gestures toward the mansion, "for a shallow grave, a little one, with no headstone, tucked between all the others in Colma."

A muffled moan stops him. Edward holds his face in his hands and his shoulders shake. He sits up and leans forward.

"Edward! You're crying." Richard strokes his hair and folds him against his body. "Don't cry, or together we'll shed enough tears to plow the ground, and everyone will say, 'There lie two lovers that dug their own graves with weeping eyes'."

"Is that what we are still? Lovers?"

Richard tilts Edward's chin upward.

"Always."

He holds Edward's face between his palms and brings it to his. Their lips meet softly, Edward hesitating in case Richard means to keep it short and sweet, and returning it eagerly when Richard's tongue begins to seek his own. He grips Richard's shoulders and buries his mouth against Richard's again and again, entwining their tongues and pulling their bodies together. At some point, Richard squirms free and breaks off the kiss. He begins leisurely unbuttoning Edward's white Oxford cloth shirt. Edward dies a little in the eternity between each one, and becomes more aroused with each tiny tug as the button pops through the hole. When the shirt is completely open, Richard slides it off his shoulders and runs one finger down his golden chest.

"How did you get tan so quickly in Nevada?"

"The burn faded to tan overnight. I'm just lucky, I guess."

"Yes, you certainly are," Richard smiles. "You know why?"

"No, why?"

Richard shifts to a kneeling position, pushes Edward back against the lounge and leans over to kiss him.

"Because I'm going to fuck you right now," he whispers, undoing Edward's pants with one skillful hand. Edward pulls his mouth back down to kiss him fiercely with a low groan, then wriggles out of his pants. Edward watches Richard remove his floral blazer and open the shirt he so recently helped to fasten, and it falls to the cushion. He touches with one finger the red line, already beginning to bruise, where the necklace bit into Richard's neck, then places little kisses all along it. When Richard's pants are open, Edward pulls them down and kisses Richard's cock before he has a chance to remove them entirely. Richard accepts his attentions, ruffling his thick hair and watching his shaft slide in and out of his mouth for a few moments before stopping him long enough to take off his pants.

Richard uses the head of his cock to tease his ass until it's open and Edward begs him to enter with desperate, pleading cries. He enters slowly while Edward lies still and receives each new length like a miracle, until the need for friction consumes him and he plunges against it to drive it faster. Richard holds Edward's hips and fucks him with short, hard strokes while Edward rubs his own cock. A gentle breeze that smells like the ocean drifts through their hair and gulls cry overhead. When they come, their voices rise to join the chorus.