Actions

Work Header

It Started Out Badly

Chapter Text

“I don’t know Sypha,” Adrian said. “I’ve heard things about him and believe me, they are uh, interesting.”

His best friend leaned across the cafeteria table and grinned, blue eyes sparkling. “He’s hot Adrian. Unless you’ve heard that he’s a total asshole, as far as I am concerned, it’s alllll good.”

Adrian rolled his eyes, “Not everything is about muscles and dick you know.” When Sypha arched her brow, he had the grace to flush. “Okay, I have been known to enjoy viewing those things too, but that’s why I haven’t… you know! I want them attached to someone I can actually respect.”

Sypha wiggled her blonde brows and looked at him, “He’s tall, he’s hairy and he has a cool scar on his face. He even has a cool accent! Addy, he’s totally your type. Hell, he’s my type! In fact, fuck it, never mind, I am making a pass at him!”

Adrian clucked, “Well I wouldn’t want to get in the way of that so by all means.” But he was curious, “How tall?” Adrian was used to being the tallest one in the room and while he didn’t mind per say, sometimes it would nice not to stoop. Wearing his gorgeous boot collection had been impossible with any of the people he’d dated.

Slyly, Sypha picked up her bean and avocado burrito, tossed her hair and nudged her nose in the direction of the door behind him.

“Take a look for yourself,” she said smugly. Carefully, Adrian casually reached behind him and unhooked his messenger bag from the chair. Rummaging around in it, he nonchalantly looked up toward the door. He froze. Piercing blue eyes met Adrian’s golden ones and he felt a little thrill. The man standing in the door, and looking right at him, was hot. He was tall. And if Adrian wasn’t mistaken, he just reeked of asshole.

'The Belmont,' the other students in his drawing class had called him. It seemed to fit, as the man somehow dripped arrogance and a complete air of ‘I don’t give a shit.’ Adrian wasn’t sure how he did that; one suggested pride, and the other suggested utter indifference. The Belmont really didn’t fit into the tiny artist’s college. Everyone here cultivated their image carefully and this man clearly hadn’t looked in a mirror in a while.

Unshaved in at least a week, and probably unwashed for the same amount of time, it only added to the overall impression of bad boy. Unless Adrian was completely off his guess, he’d cut his brown hair with dull scissors and no mirror. It was annoying, because somehow it looked rugged and dangerous instead of hilarious.

If I tried to do that, I would have to leave town forever, he thought. Sure enough, Belmont had a faded, puckered scar over one eye that looked menacing, and completely lick-able. Whatever, you’re just weak for scars, he thought. Yeah, I am, they are so competent and real and I… stop it.

Scuffed, ancient boots that might have been tan at some point, with low-slung cargo pants tucked into them. Poorly sewn and mis-matched plaid patches replaced blown out knees. How did he make one of those cowboy rodeo shirts look good? He should look ridiculous. It was unbuttoned at the collar, and rolled up to his elbows.

Sypha was right, he was hairy, and it was gorgeous.

He was tanned, even though it was late spring, and Adrian wondered if he used a tanning bed. He discarded the idea as hilarious. This man couldn’t be bothered to wash, why would he tan?

Belmont had a three-tiered wallet chain that looked like it might kill someone if he used it. It was hanging off a leather belt so weathered and worn that it looked like it was clinging to his hips by prayer alone. Bizarrely, there were some intricate crosses dangling from it and the painter was pretty sure this man would burst into flames if he ever stepped into the campus chapel.

Adrian felt his mouth water and resisted it. He didn’t like assholes, and besides, it was clear Sypha liked him. He wouldn’t cockblock his bestie, never going to happen. Abruptly, he realized he was still staring and broke the glance. Turning back to Sypha, he said, “He looks like an asshole.”

“Yeah, right Adrian. You held your breath, don't think I didn't notice. More like you want him to fuck your as—” Sypha abruptly broke off, and her eyes widened.

Adrian could smell something nutty and slightly like a bakery. Actually, it sort of smelled like malted barley, something he was only familiar with because he’d designed the logo for a friend’s start-up brewery. He’d gotten a tour of the tiny set-up and a case of their IPA as thanks.

“What’s your name?” Came the low, rough voice. Sypha was looking behind him, and Adrian tensed.

Oh shit, it’s him, Adrian thought and realized he was holding his breath again. That was annoying, there was no reason to be like this for an unwashed cowboy. Gangster. Person. Thing.

He started to turn, and Belmont leaned over him to steal one of his French Onion Sunchips. Adrian was a little slow to react, because that great smell was overpowering now. It was edged in something like melting iron and leather. Wait, is he taking my chips?! What the fuck?!

“Hey! Those are mine!” Adrian said, and slapped the offending hand. The chip remained in the man’s hand and completed it’s journey up to lips that curved into a sardonic line. Adrian followed it all the way up, eyes outraged and lips parted.

“It was yours,” the uncouth man said smugly, “now it’s mine. Well, unless you want to come retrieve it?” The Belmont suggested with an edge of sensuality as he popped it into his mouth and puckered in a slight kiss.

Really? You are going to steal my food and then mock me?  Adrian thought with irritation.

“Listen, I don’t know who you think you are, but you—” Unbelievably, that tanned hand reached out again for his chips. “Seriously, stop!” Adrian growled, temper spiking. He wrapped one hand around that tanned wrist and squeezed.

People made the mistake of thinking he was a wimp because he was tall, slender and pretty. In high school he’d been cast as a woman twice in drama class. Those who decided to pick on him usually regretted it. Adrian never sought out conflict, but when it came to his door, he finished it.

The wrist flexed and moved slightly, as if testing his strength. Believe me, you don’t want to try it, Adrian thought. When Belmont stilled, he cautiously released him.

“Adrian, this is Trevor Bel—” Sypha started and quick as a snake, the Belmont snagged three chips from his plate. Adrian surged up and whirled, eyes blazing and his long blonde hair whipping out. Long and lean in his black, spiderweb leggings, black knee-high platform boots polished until they gleamed and loose black wrap tunic ironed and pressed just so, Adrian was pleased to discover he was still taller than Trevor. Maybe not as much as he would have liked, but enough to count. The man had no common sense whatsoever. He didn’t even look alarmed! He just stood, slouched to one side and munching on Adrian’s favorite chips.

“You will cease now, or I will…” Adrian hissed at him.

“No, you won’t,” Trevor said and smiled, “You don’t want to do that, and mess up that pretty hair. Trust me.”

“Listen, guys, I think you should just—” Sypha stood slowly and came around the corner of the table.

“Listen babe, you know I dig you, but I think your goth boyfriend and I need to work this out,” the Belmont drawled and Adrian was just done. Sypha was not Belmont’s babe and he was not a goth.

“Her name is Sypha,” Adrian hissed and barreled into Trevor. It was enormously satisfying to see the man’s eyes widen in surprise, but the realization he’d miscalculated came quickly after. Belmont was a lot sturdier than he looked and he didn’t go down.

So some of the stories might be true, he thought, and decided not to hold back. Just in case. He kicked at Belmont’s ankle and jabbed at his throat.

The man was fast, countering with his knee to block the kick and retorting with an elbow to Adrian’s chest. Pain bloomed in Adrian’s ribs but it just pissed him off. He landed a solid punch on a jaw that felt like granite and felt intense pleasure when blood leaked out of Trevor’s mouth. Dimly, he heard Sypha shouting and the general chaos of the cafeteria. Belatedly he remembered where they were.

I don’t want to be suspended for this piece of shit, Adrian thought and started to ease back. Then Belmont grabbed his hair and yanked hard enough that he saw stars and his teeth clacked.

“Really Belmont? Have you no pride? This isn’t an underground fight club,” he said, “have some dignity.” He was pleased to see a snarl of offense finally come over Trevor’s face.

So that was true, he thought, interesting.

“Be grateful it isn’t,” Belmont snarled, “or I wouldn’t hold back from smashing your face, pretty boy.”

Eyes narrowed; Adrian threw his good intentions to the wind. He wound his leg around Belmont’s and tripped him. They fell together and Adrian straddled his hips, one knee pinning Trevor’s arm, pushing one palm against his throat, and using his other hand to hold down Trevor’s remaining arm. He sat firmly, and pressed hard on the tanned throat under his palm.

“Apologize to Sypha!” Adrian commanded and Trevor’s brows shot up.

“Fuck you, Legs,” Trevor drawled, “I don’t apologize. Ever.” Adrian pressed harder, and Trevor’s breathing became labored. Trevor laughed, a short, cough of a thing, and Adrian felt something tickling his ribs. He looked down and Trevor had a small blade in his hand, pressed gently up against his ribs. It hooked around his thumb and speared out of his fist like a breaching shark. Adrian met his eyes.

“You are a fucking disgrace,” the blonde hissed to Trevor, and eased off of him. He stood up and gave Belmont his back, the ultimate show of his distain. Turning to Sypha and the crowd, he saw shock, fascination, excitement and horror. Sypha’s grin was completely inappropriate, and he couldn’t figure out why she was so happy.

With a sinking heart, he saw the blue uniforms of campus security hustling through the gathered crowd.That motherfucker has probably gotten me expelled, he thought.

Sypha turned to the crowd, stood on the table and cried, “Performance art in a flash mob! Thank you for joining us in the moment! Please, give a round of applause to our actors!”

Startled, Adrian looked at her and felt a sense of disbelief. There seemed to be a click in the crowd though and he saw acceptance and amusement ripple over the faces of those present. Trevor moved behind him. A moment later, a calloused, hot hand took his and he smelled sweat, a bakery and hot metal. “We’d best play along and bow, don’t you think?” the Belmont murmured to him.

“Get your hands off me!” Adrian hissed but it was too late, Trevor was already starting to bow. Irritated, but not wanting to blow this chance to not get reprimanded, he bowed too. People clapped and cheered and when he stood up, several of his classmates came over to clap him on his back and tell him how terrifying he was. By the time he turned back to Sypha, he’d calmed down enough to wonder what just happened to him. He never lost his temper like that but it was like Belmont had known exactly how to piss him off.

Speak of the Devil, he thought sourly, noting that the man had sat down beside Sypha, and was eating her whole wheat bun. What a fucking leech. They were laughing, and Adrian gritted his teeth. He didn’t have another class for twenty more minutes but he was seriously considering leaving for it early.

Taking a deep breath, he walked slowly back to the table. Sypha looked up at him and smiled. “So that was an introduction. Now that you two have got it out of your systems, can we actually finish the introductions?"

“This is Trevor Asshole Belmont, of those Belmonts, but unsurprising to everyone present, he delights in the poor history of his family. Disowned by the few remaining, he’s a nobody now. A scrubby underground fighter who paid his way to get in here by bleeding out his opponents. Apparently he decided one day that he was ‘an artist,’" Adrian used air quotations and heavy sarcasm to show what he thought of that, "because fraudulently producing the works of true talent wasn’t enough for the Belmonts!” Adrian scoffed. “I’ve also heard that he’s a pie-fucker, so there is that too.”

Sypha’s face was horrified and Trevor’s easy smile had dropped into flashing eyes and a furious sneer. Muscular threat, he stood.

“And you are Alucard Tepes, of those Tepes,” Belmont tossed back through gritted teeth, “who couldn’t cut it in his Daddy’s empire, so he ran away to trace flowers and write shitty poems. Who doesn’t have a job because he wouldn’t know how to actually work a day in his bloody life. A nobody because he’s pathetically entitled and talentless. Apparently, he thinks he can define what makes someone an ‘artist,’ probably because the only art he understands is what the gallery owners sell to him. Oops, sorry, Daddy buys it for you, doesn’t he?”

Sypha moaned unhappily, and put her head in her hands.

Adrian’s temper was a formidable thing and it was screaming at him right now. He took a step forward, fists clenched and said, “All you have is insults, nothing else!”

Belmont growled at him. Sypha stood quickly, and put a hand on Trevor’s chest. Belmont looked down at her and Adrian saw it. The glint of interest, the warmth and affection. Fucking hell, the man liked her back. The impudent, infuriating, rude, crass, vulgar piece of shit liked Sypha and now Adrian was fucked. There would be no escaping this horrible person. He was royally screwed by this whole situation, and he just couldn’t handle it anymore.

“Trevor, please stop, let’s not do this,” Sypha pleaded, and Adrian grabbed his bag, abandoning his lunch.

“Wait, Adrian, just—!” Sypha started to turn to him but Adrian didn’t stop, and his long legs carried him out of the lunchroom. Once he knew they couldn’t see him, he ran.

--- 

Keep it all in place
Work your way
Right into my case

First you try to bed me
You make my backbone slide
But when you found you bled me
Skip on by, keep on

Stroke me, stroke me
Give me the business all night long

-"The Stroke," Billy Squier

Chapter Text

It burned, really burned to hear Alucard Tepes say he wasn’t an artist. That silver-spoon-sucking poser. Like he knew anything about art anyway! That had hurt, although he wasn’t about to admit it. He didn’t even know why it should have really.

Trevor had heard it constantly throughout his life. He’s been told that the art that he did wasn’t really ‘art.’ It was ‘industrial design,’ ‘shop craft’ and one classmate whose nose he bloodied at his previous university, had called it ‘garbage picking bullshit.’ Trevor called it sculpture and by God, so would everyone else by the time he was done.

It was one of the reasons he liked Sypha almost immediately. During introductions in the extended media class, Sypha had defined her idea of art as far outside narrow, mainstream conceptions that galleries and schools held. She challenged the rest of the class to exam their own bias, and ended her introduction with a warning that she better not hear belittling or else.

The woman had a daunting fearlessness and intelligence. He would have been a little intimidated if she wasn’t so kind and funny. But it was her sass that attracted him. It was rare to meet someone as clever and witty as Sypha was, and it made him wonder in what other capacities she might be clever. The more he got to know her, the more he wanted to ask her out.

But fucking Alucard Tepes! Or Adrian? That’s what Sypha called him, but he knew him as Alucard. Well, the art world knew him as Alucard. The Tepes heir was making a name for himself with his delicate and disturbing oils. The piece that put him on the map was his midterm project in his sophomore year.

A flawless oil the size of a notebook, there’d been a whole spread on it in the student paper and it was even featured in Xpose. It had been a crown of thorns plant that had a tiny, perfect human skeletal and organ system inside it. Creepy, beautiful and somehow tragic, Trevor had been attracted to it. Just for a while. Now, well, yeah, whatever; it was over-hyped.

Of course, that asshole had to be her best friend! A junior, Alucard was somebody on campus, and obviously he knew it. Trevor wasn’t a freshman, but he might as well have been. He couldn’t afford this school last year and gone to an overcrowded, cheap, low-tier university for his first year. He’d suffered months of exhaustion, near starvation, and two jobs before he discovered the underground fighting.

It paid as much as the two jobs, but tissue damage, bruises, black eyes, broken bones and even a concussion were the price to finally get here. In the end, it’d been a combination of the fighting money Adrian had sneered at, the money he got from betting on himself, and a scholarship. In fact, it was the scholarship that ensured he would have enough to be able to come back next year or Trevor would have to take a break.

The irony of winning the Tepes scholarship wasn’t lost on him, and more than once he was incredibly grateful that there was the option to accept anonymously. It was one of the things about the scholarship that had drawn him. He didn’t want to be known for hand outs, and he hadn’t wanted to draw attention to who he was.

The Tepes family had been one of the groups badly burned by what the Belmont family had done. Trevor had even felt a little guilty when he’d deposited the six-figure award in his bank account and then just stared at the electronic screen until it prompted him to make a decision. He'd never seen so much money in his life. Not guilty enough to not accept it though, he thought resentfully.

The rest of what Alucard had said? Well, whatever, it was true, right down to the pie-fucker part. It'd been a performance piece and there'd been context, but whatever, he didn't care what people thought of that.

Even being called a nobody didn't bother him. He was nobody now, and an infamous one. He possessed a distinctive last name that was only a burden. Belmonts were outcasts in the art world, having created masterpieces under the names of the greats for over 200 years and selling them as originals through their art gallery.

All the Belmont children were artists. Eventually each and every one assumed the mantle of the business and its deep dark secret. It was a point of pride to the clan that even now, no one knew exactly how many Belmont forgeries hung in prestigious galleries around the world.

It all started to go wrong when Trevor refused to learn painting. It wasn’t something that interested him. It had taken years of perseverance, his incredible hard-headedness, outright stealing supplies and materials from the local scrap yard, and even one fist fight with his uncle to make his parents see reason. He’d been left alone to do his own thing until he was 16 years old.

That was when it was decided that he needed to start learning about the family business.Trevor had been horrified. As someone who deeply loved art for the act of creation, the idea of selling forgeries for something as pathetic as money was shameful to him. All it had taken was one stupid text to a friend saying he couldn’t believe what his family was doing, and it had blown up into the scandal of the century. If only Trevor had known that the Belmonts were in business with the mob.

Trevor was on a school trip for rugby when the gallery and the family home burned down. It was the same night that the story broke over international news. He lost everything in one fell swoop. What he didn’t lose then, he lost when the court seized all his family’s assets as proceeds of criminal activity. His extended family never forgave him. His birth family was dead.

Trevor always expected the mob to come after him, but they must have decided he wasn’t worth it. They would have been right. Trevor Belmont became a penniless orphan before his 17th birthday. The things Trevor had done to survive were not pretty, and they were a part of himself that he did not share with anyone.

It was this history that made him sign and display his works under an alias. Christopher Wise wasn’t Trevor Belmont. It was Trevor’s middle name and the meaning of his first, but Christopher was his own man, free of the legacy of the Belmonts, the shame of Trevor and the grief of an angry child whose disillusionment cost him everything.

Christopher’s art could be accepted, successful, and legitimate in a world that would only ever see the name Belmont as synonymous with forgery. So far it was working. Trevor had been able to present his pieces in class without an issue, and display them under his alias in other cities.

This is why you should avoid Sypha and her jack-ass best friend, Trevor thought to himself as he headed across campus towards his drawing class. He scowled. He didn’t want to avoid Sypha. He liked her and he wanted to get her to come back to his apartment, and see if she was as energetic, sassy and fun in bed as she was in person.

You should let her go. I don't want to! There are lots of things you are doing that you don’t want to, he told himself, like this class.

He stepped into the stone building that echoed with excited voices. Trevor had never been in here before because he’d had no intention of ever taking a drawing or painting class. He didn’t have to at the other school but here, the beginner classes were required. You could either take drawing or painting, and Trevor would be damned if he took painting.

At least with drawing he could use it to sketch his ideas. Idly he looked around and checked the paper in his pocket. He was late registering to this class, and didn’t know where he was going.

Out of the corner of his eye he saw the painting, and turned toward it fully. Swearing, he approached it and sneered. It was Alucard, painted by someone named Maria Renard. Maria had talent; she’d captured that snotty, superior air and haughty pride perfectly.

She’d painted him in some sort of a costume; it looked like something out of the French Renaissance with an elaborate gold and black jacket. Tepes’ curled hair and other-worldly make up made him look like a movie star. Maria had titled it, “The Prince.”

How fucking fitting, Trevor thought, baring his teeth at the portrait.

From the Xpose piece last year, he’d known that Tepes was a looker. Truth be told, he’d been attracted to the exotic old-soul eyes, and generous, flowing hair immediately. The painter's cheekbones, full lips and lovely jaw was just perfection on top of fascination.

Trevor might have had some thoughts about the man during a few personal moments since. He might have cut out the photos from the article for his fridge in the apartment. He might have been looking forward to seeing that hot ass on campus.

When he’d discovered Sypha knew Tepes, it seemed almost unfair. Trevor had already been into her at that point, and then to know she had a hot friend too; that was just cruel. Sypha had described a completely different man than the one Trevor had encountered. A sexy, enjoyable, gifted and thoughtful one.

Trevor had been intrigued from her description, and had been looking forward to meeting him. Maybe one day, thanking him for the scholarship his family provided to get Trevor into this school, even if it was in a round-about way.

Looking around, Trevor located a map and checked where his classroom was. Following the signs he located the stairs and took them two at a time. He didn’t want to be late. Trevor had missed two classes already, and snuck in a day before registration closed.

His advisor suggested to him that he get this out of the way this semester. She’d had a point about it being a lighter load than he’d expected this term and having the time. He did have more time right now and if he was going to be challenged, it would be better it wasn't at the same time as his junior sculpture classes.

The lighter load had a lot to do with the fact he wasn’t working and he wasn’t fighting. Trevor had given himself that. He was living very frugally as a result, but it was working for him. He was more present, happier and more creative this term. Besides, he was used to going without. The local thrift store kept him clothed, his materials were reasonably cheap, and he was very good at making meals out of discounted bread and cans of beans.

Maybe that’s why I stole Alucard’s chips, he reflected. It had been at least three months since he’d had anything remotely like chips, and he loved Sunchips. They were a favorite.

It’s not my fault, he thought crossly, as he came to the landing and strode down the hall, his wallet chains rattling with every step. Sypha had told him Adrian was really generous and kind, with a great sense of humor. How was he supposed to know he'd be willing to fight over four fucking chips?!

When Trevor had come to the cafeteria door and seen Sypha, he’d known whose long blonde hair that was. Whose high boots, and shapely, mile-long legs those were. When the blonde turned to look at him, there’d been awareness and shock there. Trevor had felt something pass between them and for a moment, he thought it might be desire.

Then judgement, in its ugly reality, had filled those lovely golden eyes.

He thinks I am trash, Trevor had thought. What he’d seen in Alucard’s face hadn’t been welcoming or kind, and when he’d slapped Trevor’s hand like an errant servant, well, it hadn’t hit the right button with the sculptor. Trevor had dug in and been belligerent.

Not without good reason, he thought sourly.

When Tepes had spoken in that lilting voice, he’d heard the derision. When he’d listed all of Belmont’s history with dripping scorn, Belmont had been sure. He’d wished he had gotten in a couple more punches. Trevor would have, he was sure, if he hadn’t been so distracted by the painter's agility, strength and, well, beauty. He was unfairly, and annoyingly appealing.

It didn’t matter though, because when Trevor got back to his shoddy apartment that night, the Xpose pictures were in the trash and Alucard had been banished from his fantasies. The Tepes heir was a total bastard. "A total bastard," he muttered to himself and pushed open the door to the studio.

"Trevor Belmont," Alucard Tepes said, displeasure heavy in his voice, "I think you are lost."

Trevor's head snapped up and he stared at the man he'd vowed to never speak to again. All in black once more, Trevor registered numbly, and it looks great.

Soft linen pants paired with a black silk blouse, Trevor noted three buttons undone and a hairless, muscular chest. Yet another pair of mirror-polished black boots. Blonde hair tumbled over slender, strong shoulders and Alucard had a trio of tiny gold chains draped on his pale chest. They matched his eyes perfectly.

Probably real gold too, Trevor thought with annoyance.

He sneered, and leaned against the doorframe. "Alucard Tepes, how wonderful of you to grace the lowly first graders with your esteemed presence. I am not lost, but you must be. Were you looking for an ego boost, or just wanted to see what real effort looked like?"

One pale blonde eyebrow arched to him. "Everyone, please met Trevor Belmont. His ego really is that enormous and undeserved. Trevor, perhaps you would like to explain what you are doing in my drawing class?" 

Trevor felt real alarm spike hard in his belly. "This isn't your drawing class, this is," he pulled out his paper, "M. Shaft's drawing class. Intro to Drawing, says right here." He looked up and saw surprise in Alucard's face.

Well at least it isn't just me, he thought unhappily.

"When did you register?" Tepes asked him slowly, and Trevor suddenly knew, Alucard wasn't kidding. This was his class. And the chance to drop with a full refund had passed three hours ago. He was fucked.

--- 

Well you're dirty and sweet
Clad in black, don't look back and I love you
You're dirty and sweet, oh yeah
Well you're slim and you're weak
You've got the teeth of the hydra upon you
You're dirty sweet and you're my girl
Get it on, bang a gong, get it on

-"Get It On (Bang a Gong)," T. Rex

Chapter Text

He eyed Belmont out of the corner of his eye and tried once again to calm his nerves. What had he done to the universe to deserve this?! The drawing class was his sanctuary. It was fun, rewarding, renewing and fulfilling. All the other TA’s had avoided it like the plague because anyone could enroll in it, including other majors. It was nicknamed the ‘Sesame Street Class,’ because of it.

It was true that you would get a tapestry of experience and interest, but that was what Adrian loved about it.

He truly believed that everyone was an artist in some capacity or another. Every single student he’d ever taught had given him something. He’s seen dozens of perspectives on the world, applications of color, texture, tone, paradigms, lighting, process—even in the movement of the artist’s hands. Everything a person did had an art to it, you just needed to be open to it.

It was something he’d noticed in his life from an early age. The graceful way his mother moved, the poignant pauses in his father’s speech, the crisp edges to every piece of fabric in the house that Eva, their maid seemed to instinctively create. The natural inclination of people to mow their lawns in patterns, the way the wind moved through the trees, the destructive design of a hurricane against manmade constructs.

Art was everywhere, if you took the time to see it.

Well, almost everywhere, he thought bitterly, as he looked over at Belmont.

This tall, solid and surly man was destroying his calm. As his eyes slid over Trevor’s, it was obvious Belmont knew it too. It had been abundantly clear almost immediately that Belmont wasn’t going to drop the class. Adrian had fully expected him to turn around and leave when the blonde had explained that yes, this was M. Shaft’s class, but Adrian was the TA.

Belmont’s eyes had burned, but to the blonde’s utter shock and disconcertion, he’d taken a seat at the back of the class. And proceeded to stare a hole into Adrian’s head.

Adrian had not wanted to get into the fact that he wasn’t suppose to be doing the bulk of the teaching. It was best that no one know that. Shaft hated this class and made no secret of the fact he thought he was better than it. Adrian had quietly taken over since the third class he ever attended, two semesters ago. Shaft had rubber-stamped everything since.

Technically, a student would have grounds to complain about their mark, or the teaching quality, if they knew. He’d never worried about that. It wasn’t that he liked everyone who came through the door, but he’d always given every student his best.

Well, I never worried about it until now, he thought uneasily. Trevor was the kind of asshole that would make trouble and email Shaft with complaints. Belmont had clearly been unhappy about the painter’s presence and it could not be more obvious that he resented being here.

It’s not like you weren’t obvious you didn’t want him here either, he thought. So why was he still here?

At least stop glowering, Adrian thought with exasperation as he went to draw the blinds.

He felt the curiosity and concern from the rest of his students, the majority of whom were giving him the side eye as he calmly discussed lighting. He turned the spotlights on the still life display, and reminded his class that this was the last in-class opportunity to complete the drapery piece. It was due next week but the studio would be available afterhours.

Adrian pointed to the folds at the base of the vase, and indicated the weight of the foot and how it made the folds more angular. Several of the students had struggled with this last week and he wanted the corrections to be successful.

“Any questions?” He asked and Nathan spoke up.

“Adrian, how would we correct the light source if it’s wrong?” The man turned his easel board toward the TA. “I’m looking at the shading I did last week and I don’t know how I did it, but I have three light sources here, not two.”

Nathan Graves was a leatherworker and had a fascinating way of viewing drawing. Adrian was always amazed at the tangible weight of his drawings, as though everything was made out of carved stone. His drapery lacked any sense of lightness or delicacy to it, and unfortunately, Nathan was right. His light source in this was a mess.

“Anyone else concerned by the light source, please join Nathan and I on the right for a five-minute consult.” Adrian knew that Hugh Baldwin would be joining them too. The two men had grown up together and it seemed that they shared some of the same struggles with drawing.

As there were no other questions, he went over to the stereo and turned on the music. He took the opportunity to sneak a glance at Belmont when he turned back to the room. The sculptor had opened up his duffel and pulled out a roll of contractor’s paper. With two industrial clamps, he tethered it to the side of the easel and placed a flat piece of metal between them.

It was brilliant. Belmont could roll and unroll as needed and his work would be far more protected from smears and wearing than it would be in a sketchbook or portfolio. Furthermore, it was far more compact. Adrian had never seen anything like this, and immediately appreciated the ingenuity of it while simultaneously resenting that it came from Belmont.

The row of pencils, charcoal and graphite he laid out looked well-used. Between the paper set-up and the supplies, Trevor Belmont knew what he was doing. With a sinking heart, Adrian came to the conclusion that this was why he didn’t drop the class. He already knew he’d pass it.

There was nothing Adrian could teach him.

---

Trevor had no fucking clue what he was doing.

He refused to be embarrassed by the roll of contractor’s paper he was using because he couldn’t and wouldn’t pay the equivalent of a week’s worth of groceries for the recommended sketchbook. He’d taken the measurements of the sketchbook and bought five times the amount of paper from the Restore for a sixteenth of the price of the sketchbook. It’d been a simple thing to cut it to the height of the sketchbook in his studio. Furthermore, he didn’t have to buy a bulky portfolio that he would have to haul around campus, and would never use after this class.

He took a deep breath, and pulled out the second-hand set of drawing supplies he’d bought off one of his sculpture classmates who’d taken drawing last year. It’d been cheap, and he figured if she’d only used half of the supplies, then he’d have enough for the class with the half that was left. He laid them out in a careful row and tried to surreptitiously see what looked similar to what the guy next to him was using.

Trevor had only every sketched with a ballpoint pen or the occasional pencil. Once, a piece of wood with a nail in it, but that had been on the side of his teacher’s car and the cock and balls could hardly be termed ‘art.’ Still, it’d been intensely satisfying and he’d been proud of his attention to detail for the full week that asshole had to drive around with it on his car.

Trevor could feel Alucard’s gaze and tried to will it away. He’d done his best to stare the TA down, but with every passing minute of Tepes’ instructions he’d felt more and more unsettled. He thought the man was a painter, not a drawer. What the fuck was he doing teaching a drawing class! The painter was entirely too confident in his instructions on the lighting, and the explanations of the drapery folds.

Alright, it had been beautiful in its way, he thought. For a moment, he could see the still life through Alucard and it’d become a magical stage of light and shadow, instead of an old sheet draped over some wood blocks with a vase and a half-molting stuffed rabbit.

With the lights out, Alucard had become a voice in the shadows. It was almost absurd how gorgeous the man’s voice was. Dulcet, sensuous, pouring out into the darkness like mulled wine and spice or an invitation into a bedroom of incense and candlelight; it was steeped in generosity.

You aren’t interested, Trevor had told himself, the man is a conceited rich boy who wouldn’t know work if it bit him on his ass. If you aren’t interested, then it shouldn’t hurt to close your eyes and just listen to that voice pour over you.

It was unfortunate that he chose this moment to put his coat in his duffle, just as Alucard bent over the ‘three light sources’ guy’s work.

Wow, Trevor thought, eyebrows to the roof. That’s…yeah. Trevor had seen his share of asses, but he can’t remember ever seeing one quite that cute on a man before. Alucard was muscular but slender. He didn’t have mega junk in his trunk, but he definitely had one of those VW bug trunks happening and it was totally sexy.

No, not sexy, just surprising. I mean, I would have thought he’d had clenched it in righteous disapproval until it was non-existent. I’m just…surprised. Well, not entirely. He’d been trying not to think about how strong but supple Adrian had felt when he’d straddled him.

This would be why, he thought as he snapped his eyes back to his blank paper, and thought really hard about whether he would try charcoal, or stick to the safety of his pencil.

Trevor listened to Tepes’ murmured instructions about what to look for in the shadows and how to pick out the tones. There was warmth, understanding and care in his voice and, although Trevor listened for it, there was no scorn. He had to admit, Trevor would have lost patience with Nathan’s questions by now but Adrian just answered them, somehow finding yet another way to explain looking at the light.

For the first time, he could start to understand why Sypha liked him.

Without even really realizing it, he started to sketch. Trevor found himself drawn into the play of the warmth and the cool. The quiet peace between the contrasting spirits comprising the image. Finding the balance between them was the key. It wasn’t so different from constructing a sculpture really. You needed to look past the image and into the spaces between. It was those spaces that gave the life to your piece.

The deep crevices of the drape begged him for the texture of the graphite and he switched.

Originally, he’d scoffed at the music that Alucard had put on. It was something arty and weird, the female voice somewhere between singing, speaking and electronically manipulated. He’d gritted his teeth and actively tried to ignore it. When he created art, he liked loud, heavy music, pounding beat and ample energy. Now he found himself falling into the music.

The pacing was slow and haunting almost like fingers trailing over his skin and igniting waterfalls of sensation under it. He used it, pulling that lingering depth into the artwork.

It was an unwelcome surprise then, when the music faded and then the heavy curtain covering the window started rising. “What the fuck!” Belmont growled out, and snapped his head up. He did not welcome interruptions to his work, ever. He had been known for yelling and throwing things at his hapless family members when they’d been sent to retrieve him for supper.

Alucard paused and everyone turned to Trevor with expressions ranging from amusement to alarm. “Welcome back Belmont; you were in the zone as it were.” Alucard’s tone was dry as the desert. “Class is done in five minutes, please clean up your items and stow your attitude. Thank you.”

“Damn it, is there another class after this? Anyone in the space?” Trevor pressed. He wanted to get this done, and the flow was all here. Another thirty and he’d have it done. It was due next week and he didn’t have another class for two hours. He could even turn on the same music, if Alucard left it in the stereo.

He’d be damned if he would ask him to though.

Alucard turned back slowly and looked at him. Silhouetted against the bright light, the otherworldly and exotic air was heightened. The TA looked like something out of a Renaissance painting, golden, mysterious and serene.

Tepes was stunning and Trevor hated it. It just complicated everything and was his cross to bear. The man hated him, thought he was trash and lumped him in with his family of forgers. The painter had told him he was a nobody, that he delighted in the shitty legacy of his family, and worse, that he wasn’t an artist. Trevor tried to remind himself he didn’t give a shit about any of that.

---

Trevor was serious. Adrian could see it in his piercing blue eyes, the knit of his eyebrows and the slightly resentful firming of his lips. He wanted to stay and finish his piece. Not for the first time in the last two hours, the TA felt cleanly torn.

What to do? he wondered.

It had taken everything in Adrian not come over and see what Belmont had been doing. It was uncomfortable to feel like an outsider in his own classroom, but he had.

Intentionally or not, Belmont had picked a spot that was just far enough out of the cluster that Adrian couldn’t walk behind him. Well he could have, but it would have been obvious that the TA was specifically there to look at his work. Usually Adrian could just cruise quietly and assist his students with murmured suggestions or just watch them work, but he hadn’t been able to with Trevor.

Unable to observe as he normally would, he’d been braced for more snide comments or disruption, only to be taken aback when none had been forthcoming. His confusion had given way to curiosity and finally enchantment. Watching Trevor work was fascinating and beautiful. It was utterly annoying.

The man looked like Zeus shaping the skies; all thunderous brows, muscles rippling in his arms and shoulders and the occasional hard rake through his hair. He was completely absorbed in his work and it was obvious. Poor Hugh had dropped his tin of charcoal and the clatter had disrupted everyone but Belmont.

I wonder if he’s that focused in bed, Adrian had wondered and immediately thought, Belmont is awful, don’t think that. He called you talentless and entitled. He said you traced flowers! Why would you even think…

Belmont leaned back to look at his piece, stretched his arms up and absently scratched his head. His t-shirt had hiked past his bellybutton and his abs danced lazily. That’s why, his brain had told him happily. Would you look at that? Let’s drool.

Adrian had snapped his jaw shut before he did just that. He was eternally grateful that his small whoosh of breath had been covered by the music. Why couldn’t he be built like he worked out in a gym? Adrian had thought desperately.

He hated that over-chiseled look and it would have been so convenient if that had been Belmont’s physique. Instead, Trevor Belmont was built like a farmer or a ship builder; all solid, compact strength with a generous toss of rich brown hair down his torso.

This was ridiculous. I am not attracted to Neanderthals with terrible manners and poor hygiene, he told himself, as he grabbed his sketchbook and made a rough drawing of Trevor as he stretched.

I am not attracted, he told himself again as he started to walk around the classroom and found his gaze drifting back to a side profile of a mad alchemist working feverishly.

I am not attracted, he told himself now as he looked at the thunderous brow, carelessly hacked hair that should look dumb and instead looked like an artful tumble.

Adrian sighed. “Stay after class Belmont, we should chat.”

Ugh, fine, he thought, and added, "Please."

--- 

But your empty eyes
Seem to pass me by
Leave me dancing with myself
So let's sink another drink
'Cause it'll give me time to think
If I had the chance, I'd ask the world to dance
And I'll be dancing with myself

-"Dancing With Myself," Billy Idol

Chapter Text

Sypha was excited for the chance to finish up her drawing of Adrian. This was her last required class for drawing and she was ready to be done. Thanks to her best friend, she had an appreciation for everything that went into the process now, but it would never be her medium.

Sypha lived for digital art and that would always be where her heart and her talent lay. The process of creation in a digital environment was like magic to her, a conversation with the universe of collective minds inside her computer. When she could conjure pure magic out of herself and cast it into the cosmos of the digital world, there was nothing better. It was enchanting and intoxicating.

She would miss the opportunities to get Adrian down to his briefs though. The man was an artwork of his own; a masterpiece of genetics and the literal come of the angels.

Damn was he ever, I would just like to bite him right on that colla— Stop it, she thought, feeling guilty. That’s not fair to him.

Sypha had been attracted to Adrian right from the start, but he’s always been oblivious. Normally she was up front with those she desired, but he was different. When she’d first laid eyes on him in their class, he seemed so untouchable and ethereal. Translation, way the fuck outta my league, she thought, and mounted the steps to the building.

They’d been paired up in the class, and by the time the joint project was done, they were friendly. When Adrian walked her back from a party where she’d had too much to drink two weeks later, politely extricated himself from her horrible come-ons without shaming her, and easily accepted her jokes about it the next day, they crossed the line into friendship. And Sypha had tucked her unrequited attraction away.

Adrian had never given her any reason to believe he would be interested in changing their relationship, or that her desire might be returned. Most of the time she could even let her ever-present longing for him fade into the background, but when she was drawing him it was hard to. He was just so damn beautiful, and she was concentrating on all that perfection.

They traded off modeling for each other because the cost of models was so high. Every once in a while, they would pool in for one with a group but that was hard. You had to agree on the pose and the model had to be okay with a shared fee.

When he’d first asked her to trade modelling, shy but hopeful; she’d practically panted with anticipation.

And I had not been wrong, she thought, remembering the first time she’d seen all that lovely skin, long limbs and flowing hair under the spotlights. But there’d been nothing there for him and it’d been painfully obvious.

Not nothing, she corrected, he loves me very much. Just as a friend.

She could pinpoint the moment in their relationship that they’d moved to best friend status. She’d had a class with Adrian and they usually went for a picnic after so they could discuss the classmate with the purple hair that they both thought was hoooot and gossip about the moron in third row. That day, as they exited the building, a long black limo was idling at the curb and Adrian had sworn under his breath.

“What is it?” Sypha asked Adrian, eyes snapping back to him from the high sheen of the dick-compensating limo. It was shiny, long and sleek and seemed to scream: look at my penis! Sypha was looking. She liked cars, and this one was no exception.

Her friend sighed; an unhappy sound, and firmed his mouth. “That limo is here for me.”

Sypha laughed and then stopped, looking at Adrian’s resigned face. “Holy shit, for real? Why?”

A small smile played around his pale, full lips and Sypha ignored the answering flutter in her belly. She loved when he looked at her like that.

“You know, I don’t think I ever mentioned the fact that I love that you had no idea who I was when we met?” The smile expanded and his dimples winked. “That it didn’t matter to you then and it seems like you’ve always forgotten it when it comes up? I adore it. It makes me hopeful I can just be me to everyone else some day.”

The sound of a car door opening broke the spell and they both turned. A nonsensically tall man with a regal and elegant bearing emerged from the vehicle as though he’d just formed from it instead of climbing out.

He was a looker; if you went for tall, dark and handsome, Sypha thought. The man’s full suit and Inverness cape made him look like he was on his way to an opera. It should have been silly and instead it just seemed right.

“Adrian,” the man said, a note of delight in his voice.

I know him from somewhere, Sypha thought absently.

“Father, how good of you to come see me,” Adrian said, and strode down the steps to embrace him. Sypha gasped.

Oh shit, of course! Her eyes widened. This is Vlad Dracula Tepes! I’m such a dumbass, holy hell. Adrian was right. She never remembered this was his father. Probably because Adrian’s coloring was the complete opposite of Vlad’s.

Supposedly, the blonde looked more like his mother in that regard, but at the time Sypha hadn’t looked her up yet. But if you looked at Vlad and Adrian together, you could see the resemblance in the height, build and especially the smile. Actually, Adrian’s penchant for black, flowing clothing seemed to be inherited too.

“Father, I would like you to meet Sypha Belnades,” Adrian turned to her and held out his hand. “An extraordinarily gifted artist and my best friend.”

Best friend? Sypha had thought, touched, warmed and honored. She’d just let it go in the moment but at the earliest opportunity she commented how lucky she was to have a best friend like Adrian to Vlad and the two men had smiled.

After that, it was just natural between them and their friendship had opened up. Sypha had shared her anxiety over pleasing her parents but wanting to follow her heart. How their inability to understand her, hurt her sometimes.

Adrian had explained his love for his father and his frustration at Vlad’s over-protectiveness. Vlad’s belief that Adrian’s art was wonderful but unpragmatic and how belittling it felt, even when he knew his father didn’t mean it to be.

Sypha had talked about her sexual conquests and Adrian had told her about how he was holding out for the right person. That conversation had tested her intention to be respectful of his boundaries.

Had it ever, she thought now, climbing the stairs to the drawing room. Thinking it might help her unrequited love and Adrian’s feelings of self-worth, she’d kept an eye out for someone suitable. Which led her to Trevor Belmont.

Hopefully right to his bed, she thought with a sly grin. She would love to jump that sexy beast; he was cagey, gorgeous, funny and arrogant. Surprisingly sweet and thoughtful too, she’d discovered, after he apologized for the scene with Adrian.

In short, he was hot and she wanted to test drive the shit out of him. The problem was that he and Adrian seemed to hate each other.

Nothing I can’t fix with the right plan and the right attitude, she thought.

She wasn’t willing to give up either man. She loved Adrian deeply, he was very important to her. Unless she was mistaken, she could see her friendship with Belmont evolving into something long term too.

I will have both in my life, she thought, and rehearsed the things she wanted to say to Adrian on just this matter. She took a deep breath and turned the doorknob to the art studio.

---

Trevor waited. Alucard waved the last student off with an easy smile and then turned back to the still life. He stared at it for a moment, and Trevor wondered if the TA had forgotten he was there. One long hand played with the gold chains lovingly nestled on his chest.

Then, with a deep breath, Alucard turned to him. “Why are you taking this class?” Alucard asked him, and Trevor tensed. At least the painter’s tone had been respectful.

“Because I have to; believe me, I don’t want to be here either,” he responded in a short, clipped voice. He kept his hand draped over the top of the easel, eyes on that long frame sheathed in black.

“Is there another class you could transfer to?” Alucard asked, practically pleading. Trevor almost felt bad but then reminded himself that this brat always got what he wanted. He shook his head and Alucard’s face became even sadder.

Probably the first time he’s ever heard ‘no,’ the sculptor thought and hardened his heart. If Trevor had to suffer, Alucard did too.

“Could you drop it, and re-register next term? It’s a different teacher.” Alucard said, fingers now twisting in the little gold chains.

That pissed Trevor off. He wouldn’t even think about the 25% non-refundable loss, Belmont thought, when it would be the difference between graduating or not.

“I have better things to do with my time and my money, Alucard Tepes,” Trevor enjoyed the narrowing of the TA’s eyes. “Some of us aren’t here for shits and giggles. I am not dropping this because you don’t like me. Deal with it.”

“Look, if this is about the money, the 25% tuition, I can—” Alucard started and Trevor saw red. He surged up, pencils clattering on the floor, and stepped around his easel.

Do not. Do not ever offer me money like you know me, or you can buy me!” His fists clenched and he struggled to remember he’d told Sypha he would try not to hit Alucard ever again.

Thank the stars I didn’t promise her, he thought. That I had known better than to promise. “I’m not for sale, and you’d better—”

“I’m sorry.”

Trevor blinked. Excuse me what? 

“Truly, I am, I didn’t mean it that way but I can understand it sounded like it.” Alucard didn’t look at him, but his apology was quiet and sincere. The TA’s hands stilled, and he fell silent.

“Yeah?” Trevor said, fully aware he sounded as surprised as he felt. Alucard’s eyes flicked up to his and for a moment, Belmont was lost inside a glittering cave of gold that felt like an endless stream flowing into the unknown.

Uncomfortable, Trevor looked away first. “Yeah, okay,” he said, and bent down, making a show of picking up his pencils. He couldn’t have been more surprised when Alucard squatted beside him and picked them up with him.

“Here,” the blonde said and offered the three he’d retrieved. Trevor stared at his hand, noticing the long, gracefully tapered fingers, the tiny black smudges from his charcoal, the fine bones in his wrist.

He’s beautiful, he thought again. This time it wasn’t chased with immediate resentment but confusion. Trevor reached out to take the supplies, and his fingertips brushed Alucard’s palm. A wave of awareness swamped him; alarming, exciting and uncertain. Trevor’s eyes shot back up to Alucard’s. The painter wasn’t looking at him, he was looking at their still hands, hovering over each other.

His lashes are insane, Trevor thought, literally impossible. If they weren’t so close, he would have thought they were fake. But the color and the close proximity left no doubt that they were real. Trevor’s fingertips itched to brush over their silky length.

“I need to know if you are going to respect my authority in this class. If you are going to complain to Professor Shaft about me.” Alucard’s voice broke Trevor’s trance and jerked him back to reality. This man despised him and looked down on him. He would do well to remember that.

But his apology …, Trevor started to think and then shut that down. There had been too many times in his life that he’d given the benefit of the doubt and it’d bitten him in the ass. Besides, Alucard had already made his opinion abundantly clear.

Still, he knew that professors would take their TA’s recommendations and observations into consideration. He needed to pass this class. Financially, time-wise and emotionally, he couldn’t afford to take it again. “I won’t complain if you treat me like any other student. Respecting your authority? Well, that depends. I give respect when it is earned.” Trevor took the pencils and stood.

Alucard looked up at him and for a moment, Trevor had a scorching image of what the man might look like naked. Kneeling in front of the sculptor, eager to please, with those parted lips and wide, knowing eyes. Oh fuck, don’t go there, he thought frantically.

“How would someone earn your respect Belmont?” Alucard asked him with that tone of disapproval and distain. For some sick reason Trevor was getting to like it.

Unbidden and unwelcome, Belmont’s brain helpfully answered, that’s easy; you can suck my

The doorknob rattled.

---

Adrian was attracted.

It was horrible. He couldn’t pretend anymore and it was going to be a problem. It already was a problem. When Trevor had touched his hand, it’d been like nothing the painter had ever felt before. It left him breathless and he’d barely suppressed his shiver. He had no idea why it had felt like Trevor had just licked over his hand, but that was what it felt like.

Well, at least I think that’s what it would feel like, Adrian thought. No one had ever licked his palm, or any part of his body, so he could only guess. Why did it have to be him? he wondered again, as he looked up at Belmont and waited for an answer to his question.

Why wouldn’t it be? His desire answered him. Look at him, he’s captivating. It was true. Trevor looked down at him like a commanding warrior, all demanding tension, intense aura and battle-ready stance. He was so still that his chains didn’t even clink and slide, which they’d done all class.

What do I have to do to earn your respect? He asked again, silently.

It was the eternal question for Adrian and he hated asking it. It ripped him open, left his guts strewn everywhere. It was the question he asked himself every art opening, every scholarship application, every disagreement with his father. Every time he asked it of someone; Adrian was really asking it of himself.

For the thousandth time in his life, Adrian told himself that he had no reason to feel this way. To feel like a liar in his own life, a sad bird on a windowsill shivering in the cold, a child left behind at the gas station. But he did.

He told himself that it was silly to feel this way. He told himself that he was loved and had no ‘bad thing’ in his history that could explain this feeling. Others had it far worse than he did, and his entire life had been blessed with enormous privilege.

Take Sypha for example. She was enormously talented, dedicated, and had an obviously successful future ahead of her. Her parents weren’t wealthy and weren’t connected. While she had some financial support from them and scholarships, she knew there was no ‘safety net’ behind her. She had to make it on her own and knew it.

Knowing the pressure and expectation on her, she had every reason to have a chronic anxiety disorder but she didn’t. She was cheerful, outgoing, sweet and generous. When she befriended him, he couldn’t believe it. People like Sypha never wanted to be his friend; unless they thought he could connect them to the lifestyle of his parents.

But she didn’t want that from him. He’d watched for it. It never came. When she’d finally realized he was that Alucard Addrine Tepes, well, she’d laughed and said she needed to work on paying attention sometimes. By the time she’d gifted him the little comic she’d made of them as two bats roosting, he’d realized that somehow, he’d found a friend that wanted him for himself.

The little comic, which she’d titled “Bat Company,” was just as cute and funny as Sypha was. A truly outrageous caricature of their faces, it hung beside his mirror so he could see it everyday and know that he was profoundly lucky. He’d told her once that he loved that she didn’t seem to care about his family connections, but he really should tell her again. It meant everything to him.

It meant that when she’d told him that she loved him and felt lucky to be his best friend, he felt cherished. When she told him that he was a good person who was more than enough just by being himself, he believed her. It meant that when she joked that they should just get married already because he was the only one who understood her, he knew that she literally meant it. That they were close in spite of his Tepes connection.

Adrian was damned lucky to have her as his friend, much less to have her feel the same way. Sypha had every reason in the world to ridicule him for his feelings of inadequacy and struggles to feel validation. But she never did. She never got tired of hearing the same old misery or vulnerabilities. She never threw it in his face or belittled him.

Frankly, it was some of his conversations with her that helped him realize where some of it came from. Adrian was sensitive to the needs of those he loved. Disappointing them was terrifying. Which is why it should have been obvious to him that some of this feeling came from his relationship with his father. He knew that while his father loved him, Vlad would never understand Adrian.

In fact, his father loved him so fiercely that it made Adrian guilty about needing his own path. It made him resistant to accepting his father’s money and connections or leveraging his influence and fame. Sypha had helped him understand that sometimes it is harder to have the disappointment of someone you love, and you know wants everything good for you, then it is to have the disapproval of someone you despise.

Speaking of someone you should despise, why do you care about Belmont’s respect? Adrian asked himself, looking up into a tense, tanned face with eyes so blue they seemed to shatter the stillness with insistence. He wasn’t going to lie to himself, his churning guts said it all.

You care because you love this class and you don’t want to lose it, he thought. You care because Sypha asked you to give him another chance. You care because it’s obvious she’s into him and you don’t want to lose her. You care because you just really want to crawl forward, unzip his pants and take Belmont into your mouth until your jaw ach—

The doorknob rattled before it opened and they both looked over. There she was, bright, bouncy and grinning. Sypha brightens everything where ever she is and whatever she is doing, he thought, his face instinctively forming into a smile.

He knew Sypha thought she looked like a boy, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. She was petite, gently rounded and looked like a mischievous fairy. With wide blue eyes, vibrant orange-red hair that she always grumbled about letting grow too long and an electric smile, she turned heads.

Her features were not conventionally pretty, but it was the lightness of her heart that transformed them. She literally sparkled with energy and happiness and people responded to her like she was an ice cream cone at a three-year-old’s birthday party.

Sypha was always neat and put together. Her style tended to be colorful but comfortable, and today was no exception. She wore blue corduroy overalls with a plethora of buttons on the straps. Knowing Sypha they would range from art-supporting quotes to LGBTQ2+ positive to videogame characters. He was pretty sure he saw a Star Trek pin in there too actually.

Her rainbow striped crop top was a favorite of his, flattering, sweet and completely her. The usual green Converse peeked out from the overalls, “Stop Poverty!” written across their tops in permanent marker. A wide brimmed felt hat completed the look. Sometimes Sypha would dabble with make up, but usually only for parties. Today she must have felt playful because she had bright red lipstick on.

“Hey Adrian! I needed to ask you about—Oh!,” Sypha stopped, grin slipping into a curious quirk of her brow. “Uh, what’s going on guys? Is this a bad time?” 

When neither of them answered her immediately, her smile became naughty. “Can I watch?”

--- 

You're not shy, you get around
You wanna fly, don't want your feet on the ground
You stay up, you won't come down
You wanna live, you wanna move to the sound
Got fire in your veins
Burnin' hot but you don't feel the pain
Your desire is insane
You can't stop until you do it again
But sometimes I wonder as I look in your eyes
Maybe you're thinking of some other guy
But I know, yes I know, how to treat you right
You say it's urgent
So urgent
Just wait and see
How urgent my love can be

-"Urgent," Foreigner

Chapter Text

Well, that’s interesting, Trevor thought, intrigued. She obviously meant it in jest, but he was surprised Sypha would make a joke like that with Alucard. That she’d even considered the possibility. He should have known someone as fascinating and unconventional as Sypha Belnades would have no qualms about a ménage à trois. 

For that matter Belmont didn’t necessarily either, he’d just never considered it. His eyes slid over her and flicked back to Tepes. Oh, I’d consider the fuck out of them both, he decided with brutal honesty.

It made him think about possibilities that did nothing to help Belmont ease off of his reaction to his fantasy of Adrian on his knees. Like Tepes writhing on his cock while the blonde’s pretty face was buried between Sypha’s thighs. That would be a great view, and as a bonus, Adrian wouldn’t be able to talk.

That might be a nice change of pace, he thought with a smirk.

Actually, Trevor reconsidered, I would love to hear him beg. That snooty, duchess voice all needy and desperate. Those dark notes of seduction filled with desire and anticipation. Whether for Trevor to fuck harder, or for Sypha to thrust into his mouth, it didn’t matter. Either would be extremely satisfying.

If he turned and kissed me, I could taste her on his lips and Adrian on my tongue. What would they taste like together? Hey! Not doing yourself any favors here, he thought and was grateful for his baggy t-shirt.

“Sweet thing, you know I always like an audience,” Trevor said smoothly, breaking the silence. He took the opportunity to lean down to replace his pencils and make a small adjustment to the pressing issue in his pants. “But why watch when you could join in? Let’s not waste a mouth as clever as yours.”

Alucard still hadn’t moved and Trevor was pretty sure the man was dying from shock. Tepes had gone paler than normal and was just staring at Sypha like she’d sprouted a crown of broccoli. Fuck it, Trevor thought recklessly, and offered the TA his hand.

Alucard’s eyes snapped back to Belmont and he looked almost dazed. Yep, he’s horrified. Trevor held in his snicker, cocked an eyebrow and said, “What do you think, Legs? Bet I could make you say my name so nicely.”

“Adrian is always nice,” Sypha said, closing the door behind her and setting her bag down. Alucard finally took his hand, and there was a zing of sensation up Trevor’s arm. The man’s cool and smooth skin settled against Trevor’s calluses and rough palms.

I bet his skin is like this all over, Trevor thought and tried to think about something else. He seized on the first thing that came to mind.

“What is your actual name? I thought it was Alucard, but Sypha,” he looked over at her, before looking back, “and your students; they call you Adrian.” The blonde just stared at him like Belmont had whipped out his dick and slapped it on his face.

Now that’s a pretty thought, Trevor groaned inwardly. “Coming up?” he asked Tepes, and his cock cheerfully proclaimed someone already was. That question seemed to break the TA’s reverie and Alucard practically leapt up.

The TA dropped Trevor’s hand like it was about to explode. “Ah, yes, thank you. Hello Sypha, how lovely to see you.” He looked lost and then gave a tiny shiver. “My name? It’s both, well, sort of.” Alucard looked around abruptly, backed up, and sat down on the stool beside him.

“It’s both?” Trevor prompted, amused by Alucard’s flustered state.

What’s the matter, Tepes? Afraid I could make you say my name when you came? Trevor didn’t want to think about why he really wanted to find out if it would be a broken whisper, or a choked wail. Remember, he thinks you aren’t worthy of being here. He thinks you are a nobody.

Trevor felt the tense of his shoulders in response to that thought. He really was trying to remember that.

“Ah, yes. My full name is Alucard Addrine Tepes. Professionally and legally, I go by Alucard Tepes. I have to.” He shrugged. “My parents, my friends and usually everyone, just calls me Adrian. The only people who use Alucard regularly are my professors, professional contacts, or…” his eyes flicked to Trevor, and he seemed to steel himself a little, “those who think my familial ties should be highlighted for some reason.”

The way Tepes had said ‘familial ties,’ was very interesting. Even more that he clearly preferred the more informal name, saying he ‘had to’ go by Alucard. He was an adult; Tepes could change it if he wanted to.

“Why Addrine, if they were just going to call you Adrian though?” Trevor asked, curious now.

Alucard sighed deeply, and before Trevor could even bristle, Sypha spoke from behind him. “Adrian’s father? His middle name is Dracula. Alucard is Dracula backwards.” Trevor turned to her; eyebrows raised.

“Addrine is his mother’s maiden name.” Sypha continued, as she pulled out a rolled-up drawing from her bag and started to clip it to an easel. “It’s a family thing, reusing names and such. As soon as Adrian could speak, he started insisting on Adrian. Can’t blame him. I’d want my own name too. Wouldn’t you?”

It was uncomfortably close to exactly why Trevor went by Christopher Wise professionally. Would Tepes have that option? Would he be able to be anonymous? Trevor suspected that was not an option for the painter. Vlad was famous, and in her own way, so was Lisa.

Trevor never paid attention to that sort of thing, but he’d known about Aluca— Adrian’s parents, even though Xpose never mentioned it. Heck, he remembered the cover of Time magazine with the family on it. Adrian would have been somewhere around eight? His mother had thought the photograph was terribly romantic and kept the thing around until… 

Trevor pushed the grief back down and stepped around the memories. ‘Trevor Belmont’ was a known name, but his face wasn’t. There were very few photographs of him in relation to the Belmont scandal, because he’d been a minor at the time, and then because his extended family acted like he’d never been born.

The face of Trevor Belmont essentially disappeared within months of what happened, which is why his alias worked. He could have legally changed his name but he just couldn’t bring himself to. It felt like it would be the final disrespect to his mother and father. Despite everything, he had loved them very much.

The only ones who kept tabs on him anymore were the authorities and it was always with questions about the mob and which forgeries remained in circulation. Two things I know nothing about, he thought bitterly. It was only in the last two years, stepping back into the art world, that people had started to associate ‘Trevor Belmont,’ with those Belmonts.

“Anyway, anyone want to explain to me why it looked like Adrian was gonna propose? Does this mean we can all be friends now?” Sypha asked, finishing her set up at the easel and looking back at Trevor.

Before he could answer, Adrian said softly, “I’m still waiting for Trevor to tell me what I need to do to earn his respect. He is in my drawing class and I need to know that, at the very least, he won’t disrupt the class.”

Sypha’s smile was brilliant. “Oh please! Trevor would never do that. Besides, it’s an exciting opportunity for him!” Her eyes glowed as she looked at Belmont. “Adrian taught me everything I know about drawing; he is really gifted at teaching. Somehow he finds a way to explain things and show things to you in a way that no one else can!” 

Unbidden, Trevor thought about Nathan and the trillion explanations on lighting. It seemed to be true. Damn it to hell, Trevor thought, I don’t want to promise. His idea of disruption might be if I talk! He felt both sets of eyes on him and looked at Sypha.

There was something about her that always made him not want to let her down. Sypha looked at him like she believed he was a better person than he actually was. Why that should matter to him when literally no one else’s opinion did, had him at a total loss. But it did.

“I don’t have an intention of disrupting the class,” Trevor said, crossing his arms. “As I said, if Adrian treats me like any other student, I have no complaints.” He turned to Tepes. “I will treat you like any of my other instructors, unless you give me a reason not to.” 

That was fair. If he argued with some of his other instructors too, well, it was that matter of respect again. As though he read Belmont’s mind, Adrian stood and asked, “Would I have any opportunity to discuss disagreements outside of the class instead of in front of everyone? I don’t care for scenes.” Belmont couldn’t help it, he sneered.

“Oh indeed, scenes are ever so rude and unseemly. God forbid the society page gets wind of the…” Sypha cleared her throat loudly. Fuck, Trevor thought.

Perhaps to both of their surprise, Adrian snickered. “You sound like my father,” he said, struggling to stop his smile. “In his world, God forbid the papers get wind of… well, anything.” The blonde sighed, the smile fading away. “Would it help you to understand that I don’t want to argue in front of the other students because I don’t want Professor Shaft to be involved? He…prefers to give this class minimal attention.”

Trevor’s instincts prickled and he latched onto that. Wait, exactly what does that mean? “How minimal Adrian? When will I meet him?”

Adrian seemed to tense and gave Trevor a wary glance. Those long fingers twisted in his necklaces. “At some point you will. He’ll come observe in the corner of the class from time to time.” Trevor opened his mouth, and Adrian rushed on.

“Look, it’s better if you just leave that alone. Please.” He was almost pleading again. “And before you get going, can I just say it is for everyone’s sake? He is not a kind or patient man; I’ve seen him fail students for saying the wrong thing. No matter what you think of me, I can promise you that I will not let him fail you for saying something I don’t agree with.”

---

This conversation was an utter disaster and he was reeling. Whether it was from the fact that he’d just told far more about himself and his family than he ever would to a virtual stranger, or Trevor’s blatant sexual innuendo and then the searing touch of his hand, or the fact that Adrian was on the verge of admitting that he essentially taught this entire class himself. 

If Belmont asks if you grade the class, you must lie, he told himself desperately, and hoped he could manage that simple task.

Let’s be honest. That is all bad enough, but what you thought about Sypha’s incredible suggestion was far worse. Far, far, far worse, he acknowledged. Her suggestion that she watch Belmont and him do… something, had stunned him. Not because she made it. That was just Sypha, she made sex jokes all the time.

No. It shocked him because he liked the idea. The image of blowing Belmont while Sypha watched them and gave them directions had been incredibly erotic. He’d seen how it could be. How she’d suggest how Belmont might hold his hair, how Adrian might move his head, how he might use his tongue. It was exciting and arousing and completely blindsided him.

When Trevor had suggested she might join in; it was like Adrian was seeing her for the first time. His brain just helpfully supplied the image of her fitting between them, around them, with them. It had been perfect, and it suddenly and completely upended his entire world.

There was a part of him that was horrified by this. Sypha was his dearest friend and he couldn’t believe he was thinking about this. That his body was reacting with desire to this idea. But another part of him told him that he should have seen this coming.

Haven’t you always thought she was so beautiful, so adventurous, so free-spirited? Adrian thought to himself. Didn’t you feel a tiny bit intimidated by her sexual experience and her confidence? You just never gave yourself the chance to think about it, to consider it.

I didn’t want to ruin what I have with her. I didn’t want… to be a disappointment? He asked himself with cruel honesty. Okay, yes! Fine! I love her, things are amazing the way they are and I don’t want to fuck it up. I’ve never been with anyone and Sypha has, several times. 

This reality had been an easy thing to side step; other than that one night when Sypha had been really drunk, she’d never mentioned anything. He didn’t count that night anyway. As tempted as he had been to treat it as an honest invitation, she’d been far too drunk to know what she was doing, and he would never consider anything with anyone in that state. 

When she’d laughed it off the next day as ridiculous, he’d known there was never any chance and shoved it all away. He was good at that.

Then Belmont showed up and his attraction to the man was fierce and hot. Adrian had already been conflicted about Belmont and his feel—no, no, just attraction, he thought desperately, just attraction— for him. The blonde had worried about how that could work, given that there was an obvious spark between Sypha and Trevor. He’d feared ruining everything if he couldn’t resolve his own issues.

His best friend’s suggestion was an easy and enticing resolution to all of his concerns at once.

Except that Trevor hated him. Except that he didn’t know if Sypha was serious and couldn’t risk a misstep if she wasn’t. Except that now these images would stay with him and he didn’t know what to do about it. Adrian could use five minutes to himself to get his head on right. 

Let’s be honest, I could use all day, he thought.

“Alright,” Trevor said, bringing Adrian back to the present. “If you feel that a disagreement is becoming too disruptive, you can ask me to step into the hallway to discuss it. You want me to treat you like my other instructors? I reserve the right to challenge things I think are wrong. That is something that I do.”

I’ll just bet it is, Adrian thought, but simply said, “That is reasonable. I never want any student to feel silenced just because they have a different opinion than mine. Well, unless it is hate speech or bullying another student or something like that.” He arched a brow, but surprised Trevor by saying, “I don’t see having that issue with you.”

“Awesome!” Sypha chimed in behind them. “Adrian, it’s time to strip, I need to finish this drawing and I only have a little more than an hour now. Hurry up." She came over to peek at Belmont's board, and again, Adrian was intensely curious "Trevor? What are you working on?”

Adrian was completely torn. He didn’t want to be almost naked in front of Trevor. It was a little too vulnerable. Worse, he wasn’t sure he could be that unclothed in front of Sypha right now either. He’d never really worried about his briefs before, and now he was very afraid of where his mind might wander. Sypha would notice immediately because she would be sketching him. That would be humiliating.

He was diverted from his dilemma when Sypha started talking about Trevor’s drawing. “Oh, drapes!” She exclaimed. “Fun! Haha, not.” Adrian had to grin. Sypha had really struggled with drapes and they’d both been happy when she finally got a handle on the concept.

“Oh cool, you made weird faces in there?” She pointed at something and looked at Trevor with admiration. “That is too cool. I never thought about how creepy they look actually…”

Creepy faces? Adrian thought, What the heck? He’s supposed to be drawing drapes! They both looked up at the TA when he stepped forward to come look. Trevor looked at him and Adrian was surprised to see trepidation on Belmont’s face.

“It’s not ready. I need like, thirty more minutes.” Trevor put a protective hand on the easel. “Then I can show you, or, you know, you can see it when you… hand it in to Shaft for grading.”

Adrian knew immediately. Trevor knew he was the grader. Oh fuck. Oh fuck, oh fuck, he thought.

The only other person who knew other than Shaft, was Sypha. For a split second he wondered if she told him and discounted it immediately. She would never do that without asking him. He figured it out on his own, Adrian realized.

He looked at Trevor and felt a jolt. It was written all over his face; Belmont wasn’t going to say anything. Thank you God, Adrian thought.

Although that doesn’t explain why he doesn’t want me to see it yet. Maybe he just is shy about having his process watched?  It wasn’t uncommon. Some artists really did better with privacy, although he had a hard time reconciling that with the intense focus Belmont had displayed in class.

Unsure how to respond in such a way as to tell Belmont it was alright; he took refuge in humor. “Was I not the viewer you had in mind when you told Sypha you like an audience?” 

Oops too far, he thought, when Belmont blinked and Sypha’s jaw dropped. Adrian could feel his cheeks heat and immediately hated his pale skin. Not for the first time.

Belmont recovered first. “Well, I had suggested your participation, but actually, we could all take turns with watching. Don’t want to leave the lady waiting.” Trevor’s grin was lightning quick.

Holy, be careful where you aim that, Adrian thought, dazzled. His smile is stunning when it’s for me.

Not bad Tepes; equality of the sexes is something I am always down for,” the sculptor smirked. 

“And that’s what I want to hear,” Sypha chimed in, “put the words ‘equality’ and ‘I am always down,’ together and I am a happy clam. Adrian, for real, why are you still dressed?”

“Uh, I…um,” Adrian stammered. Sweet lord, was she serious? They would do this right now? Part of him was terrified, but parting of him, a growing part, was very okay with this idea.

Sypha laughed, easy and understanding. “Not for sex, although…just let me know, but for the sketch! Seriously! This is due tomorrow and I have an evening class. Hussle, please!”

Damn it, Adrian thought, unsure whether to be relieved or more terrified. Just let me know…Was she serious? Could he…? 

“Gooooo Addy, for fuck’s sake!” Sypha said, exasperated. He'd have to think on it later. Adrian resigned himself. Surely he could think unsexy thoughts for an hour. He could do this.

---

Sypha couldn’t believe her own daring. Perhaps it was being with Belmont, who was unabashedly hitting on Adrian while simultaneously giving her winks and suggestive touches. Maybe it was the fact that Adrian hadn’t run from the room screaming when Trevor suggested that she could join the two of them.

Or maybe it was because she thinks that she may have just stumbled on the fact that Adrian might actually be a little afraid of sex, and that might be the whole problem. That he was hiding behind ‘waiting for the right person;’ when what he really needed was a gentle, assertive and caring lover. She could be that when she wanted to be. She couldn’t say for sure, but she suspected that Trevor could be that too. Together? Well, they could all be something more.

There was a dynamic between them all, and she could really see it now. Sypha could see the possibilities of what they all would bring to the table and what they could give each other. Not just in the bedroom, but emotionally and mentally. Sypha had yet to completely plum the depths of Trevor’s story, but she already knew enough that she understood that much of the pain he felt stemmed from a rejection just as sharp as Adrian’s had been.

Sypha has not experienced rejection like that, but she understood needing to feel accepted for who she was. Adrian had done so without reservation, even the ugly, needy parts of her. She’d already opened up some of that sticky, gooey mess of her secrets to Trevor and he’d been completely accepting. 

Sypha had constructed a plan, but it was changing now. She just hoped she was right, or she might ruin her friendship with Adrian. No, trust your instincts and trust what you saw flash in his eyes when he looked at you and when he looked at Trevor.

She was going to, because the potential for happiness for all of them was huge. Taking charge of situations was a familiar role for Sypha, and she was very good at it.

It hadn’t surprised her when Adrian went to change in the bathroom. Usually he just stripped in the corner and sauntered over. He had such a funny relationship with his body. It was like he forgot he was observed or desired, until someone commented on his looks or approached him in a sexual manner. He was completely confident and casual until that happened. Then he became embarrassed and shy.

She heard the door open behind her, and watched Trevor’s hand tighten on the side of the easel. He was back to his artwork, insisting he would stay out of the way and leave them alone. When he asked Adrian if he could stay, Sypha was sure it was Trevor’s ‘please’ that did it, but who knows. Maybe Adrian felt the barriers crumbling too. 

Either way, she was certain Trevor would be quiet, but if she didn’t catch him staring at Adrian while she was drawing, she would eat her hat. Resisting the knowing grin that wanted to rent space on her face, she turned to Adrian and indicated the plinth under the spotlight.

“Remember the pose?” He gave her a small smile, and nodded. “Awesome! Go ahead, I’ll arrange once you are on.”

Adrian took a quick peek at her drawing again, and she knew he was refreshing the small details, like which way his hair fell, if his eyes were open, how his fingers lay. Then he quietly took off his robe, sneaking glances over at Belmont who was drawing like the world was ending. Sypha almost felt sorry for Trevor; she at least knew what was coming, having sketched Adrian several times now.

Her best friend laid down and brought his knees up, allowing them to fall naturally to one side while leaving his chest facing the ceiling. He closed his eyes and raked out his hair. Finally, he brought one hand back to his chest, and left the other in that golden cloud.

The effect was stunning. He looked like a sleeping angel dreaming of his lover. It didn’t help that Sevdaliza was playing; the music was seductively hypnotic and poignant, only heightening the impression of otherworldliness.

Sypha turned to stand back and took the opportunity to look at Trevor. He had more self-control than she thought; he wasn’t looking. Interesting, she thought, and wondered what that meant. She stood and came over to correct Adrian’s left arm and bring the far side of his hair into a more triangular pattern. All set, she thought, standing back to look. 

She turned suddenly, and that’s when she saw the stare. Her hat was safe, but if Adrian could see Belmont’s face, her best friend would know that he wasn’t. Belmont tore his gaze from Adrian and looked at her. She looked at Trevor. An understanding passed between them. 

Trevor held up his phone and pointed at her. She nodded and took out hers. His text popped up.

'We need to talk.' Sypha looked up and grinned. She could literally see the tension drain out of Belmont, and he grinned back.

‘Yes,’ she wrote back, ‘we definitely should talk.’

--- 

It's not in the way that you hold me
It's not in the way you say you care
It's not in the way you've been treating my friends
It's not in the way that you stayed till the end
It's not in the way you look or the things that you say that you'll do
Hold the line
Love isn't always on time

- "Hold The Line," Toto

Chapter Text

The sculpture studio was clear across campus, a giant converted warehouse retrofitted with plaster rooms, a woodworking shop, a stonework center and a welding space. The studio spaces for the juniors and seniors in sculpture were shoved to the side. He counted himself extraordinarily lucky that he got one of the private studio rooms.

It was only because there had been two extra, and Trevor had already declared himself a sculpture major. There were precious few sculpture majors, and the department wanted to encourage him to stick with it. They needn’t have worried; he had known his medium since he was four. Still, they didn’t need to know that, and having a space of his own on campus was incredibly useful. His studio was off in the corner, and one of the bigger ones because it had to have the welding station in it.

He was hip-deep in a weld when there was a banging on his door. That must be Sypha, he thought and his guts jumped. She’d gone on to her class, and said she’d come by after. He’d done everything possible not to think about what her grin had meant. What might be possible. What he wanted to do. To not follow her into her classroom, duck under the table and go down on her like every orgasm he could give her would produce diamonds.

“Come in!” he hollered, and struggled to focus on finishing this join before turning to greet his visitor. Truth be told, he’d been slipping in and out of his focus since the drawing room.

He should never have stayed, but the temptation had been too great. He hadn’t finished the damn drawing anyway. Seeing Adrian spread out like a sensual offering of erotic sacrifice; contour-defining briefs—in black of course—like a fucking bow on a birthday present, had nearly driven him mad. How Sypha survived it, he would never know. The woman had willpower.

Trevor had thought Adrian was beautiful before? He’d had no idea. The man could have made a billion dollars if he’d chosen to become a model. His body was a stunning masterpiece, and for a moment, Trevor had wished he worked with marble. That body begged for it. Long, pale limbs, twining golden locks, relaxed, soft muscles; Adrian had been sublime.

He wasn’t perfect though, and that was worse. Trevor didn’t like perfection; it was impossible to return it, and everything needed an imperfection to make it interesting. Even Michelangelo’s David had faults, it made the brilliant splendor possible. Flaws attracted Trevor, held him captive and needy. Even in that, Adrian didn’t disappoint.

The painter had a faded, light pink scar about three inches under his collarbone and running almost to his bellybutton. It was clearly old, and looked like a surgical scar. It’d been shocking and then intriguing. Trevor could only imagine what caused it, and the scenarios simply got more ridiculous the longer he thought about it. He was curious why Adrian didn’t have it removed; surely, he could. Trevor wanted to ask Sypha about it.

The sculptor had wanted to set his teeth to the scar, and follow it down to the waistband of the painter's briefs. Those damned briefs, Trevor thought again. The only barrier between Adrian, and Trevor fucking him into the plinth until it shattered, was black Gucci briefs. It might as well have been the Berlin Wall. His underwear had cost more than Trevor’s whole outfit, and reminded him of everything that stood between the two men. But that hadn’t stopped him from wanting.

When Sypha had leaned over Adrian, ass in the air, breasts hovering over his mouth, Trevor had to close his eyes in self-preservation. His lust had been full throttle, and for a moment his brain was like that meme of Michael Scott from The Office telling everyone to 'calm down!' while simultaneously screaming 'it was happening!'

What is wrong with me? he had wondered. Sex and desire were always comfortable things for him, but this was something entirely different. It was almost alarming to him. He’d known he was attracted to both Sypha, and Adrian, but the idea of having them together?

Belonging. Home. Need. The words had flitted through him, filled him with longing, and lingering unease. Trevor didn’t need anyone else. He has been fine, independent… safe, he had thought, and the word had dragged on him like he was picking a scab.

What’s wrong with safe? he’d argued with himself. Safe meant no disappointments, no angry relatives who loved you one day and abandoned you the next, no scrambling for food or warmth… And then, startling him, his brain kept going. No dreams, no love, no future.

Wait what?! he’d thought, shocked. Where had all of this been hiding? He was incredibly disturbed by it. Trevor had been grateful for the time away from Sypha; if only to try to put this everything in perspective, and work on his own art.

Who am I kidding? he thought, turning off his machine and lifting the mask, I am not getting shit done today with either project.

Sypha stood by the door, eyes averted from the brilliant welding glare, and looked up as he put down his mask. For a moment they shared that same stare from the drawing studio. It gave him prickling goosebumps, and his desire flared back up as though there hadn’t been three hours between the drawing room and now.

Trevor sought for a place to begin. He shouldn’t have bothered.

“So, we,” she indicated the two of them with her fingers, “want to fuck.” Sypha said without preamble, shrugging off her bag and looking around. “And I think we should, as soon as possible. But you want to fuck Adrian, and you’re worried that might be a problem for me? It’s not, as long as you aren’t the jealous type. I’ve wanted to ride him like a merry-go-round since I met him, and I imagine you do too.”

If Trevor’s jaw hit floor any harder it would have broken through to the basement. I think I love you, he thought, and then immediately backed away from the L-word. Sypha was amazing and impressive and forthright and this was an incredible offer… but he couldn’t love her. He’d known her less than a month! Besides, love was…was…

She wandered over to the sketches on his wall of the sculpture he’d been unsuccessfully trying to work on today. “Adrian and I are closer because we’ve been friends longer, but I don’t think that would be an issue. I feel like I’ve known you my whole life in some ways.”

Yes, exactly, Trevor thought, and abruptly snapped his jaw shut. He stripped his gloves off and dropped them on the welding table.

“I was worried about your personality clashes, but I honestly think it will be fine.” She smiled; he could hear it in her voice. “If I know him at all, Adrian will likely be less dominant, or sex-driven, than either of us. He’s not submissive per say, more like controlled, but he doesn’t need to be top dog. I don’t think you do either, actually, so I think you two can figure it out.”

Trevor thought about his vision of Adrian on his knees, eager and hungry. We could figure it out no problem, the sculptor thought, and debated whether he should be removing his apron or not.

“That being said, the two of us need to have an agreement about how we approach this with Adrian. At least in the beginning, it needs to be gentle, and it needs to be easy. I won’t risk hurting him, losing him or disappointing him and he’s… ah, well, I can get into it more if you—we— are of one mind.” She turned back to him to look at his face. “If you are in agreement; I think we can make this work.”

Oh I will work, just let me get on my knees. I will work like it’s the damned Venice Biennale, he thought, untying his protective apron. This was happening; she didn’t need to convince him.

They would need to talk about the trio idea; Trevor didn’t think Adrian would ever accept him or want him. But if Adrian could be convinced, he was ready to fuck Tepes until he begged for mercy. Until he says my name nicely, until he let’s me climb inside that pretty mouth and sink into all that hot...

That gave Trevor pause; did he really want to fuck someone who didn’t respect him? Damn it, do I ever, he thought immediately, not even trying to pretend, but

“I just want to be clear that I really like you." Sypha interjected. "I’m gonna jump you either way; so that’s not even on the table, it’s already pinned to the wall.” Trevor’s brain snapped back to what was happening right now, and not what might be an issue down the road.

He nodded like his head was a bobble doll and he slipped his protective apron off, dropping it on the table alongside his gloves. I am up for wall sex; one could say I have a hard-on for the idea, he thought with anticipation. He congratulated himself; for once, he’d thought ahead and put condoms in his duffel last week. Just in case.

“But this trio notion though? I see it as a long-term thing,” Sypha continued, the first shadow of concern on her face since she started talking. Trevor didn’t think his jaw could drop again.

Looks like we were on the same page from the get go, he thought. Unbidden, his impression of belonging and home trickled back.

“However, I’ve known you less than a month and I’ve know Adrian for almost a year. I won’t risk him for a one-time menage-a-trois. As much as I want to do this,” she looked at him with smoldering eyes, “and I want to do this. I need to know that you’re thinking long term too, otherwise I can’t.” Her smile was regretful.

She looked pained, “And I really want to, so could you please just…”

You are offering me everything I want; I’m in, he thought with excitement, and a joy so staggering it took his breath away. If he hadn’t been so aroused, the potency of it might have given him pause, but for now, he chalked it up to the impending sex.

Trevor strode over and yanked Sypha to him. His lips found her as hot and eager as he was and she licked into his mouth like his tongue was the fountain of life.

“Oh yeah, that’s the ticket,” she murmured against his lips, and Trevor had to agree. She tasted like steeped tea and sugar; warm, comforting, exotic. Kissing her was a timeless familiarity, as though they’d done this a thousand times. Kissing her was unanticipated fireworks in the night sky that startled and then captivated. Her hands were in his hair and she pressed into him as he bent toward her.

He cupped her ass and lifted her into him. Sypha was lithe, strong and firmly rounded. She arched against him, sure and confident. She felt incredible and his need surged. “Did you lock the door?” He asked her, and Sypha smiled.

“Now why would I do that?” she asked him, hands already working the buttons on his shirt. “Maybe we’ll get lucky, and Adrian will just walk in and join us.” When she touched his skin, he shuddered. Her fingertips were sure and seeking.

“Are you actually,” he hissed as she found his nipple, “going to tease me with Adrian while we’re—oh shit, like that, fucking A.” She ground against him, and Trevor went cross eyed. This woman would be the death of him, and he would die with a smile and a boner.

Pretty much how I always thought I’d go out, he thought with a grin.

“Why not?” Sypha asked him, lightly panting as she struggled to be released so she could work his shirt off. Trevor obliged her, and immediately went to work on the clasps of her overalls. “We both want him here with us, and, wow, look at you—" She pushed the shirt over his shoulders and off his wrists.

His ego went into overdrive. Her ‘wow’ made him feel like a warlord on the hunt. Trevor freed her torso from the overalls, and let them fall. That crop top should be silly and it is literally the sexiest thing, he thought, aching with desire. He could see a tiny peek of green lace peeping from the waistband of her overalls.

“You feel amazing, and I think you might have been made for me,” he said and knelt, working his way down her belly, tasting and discovering. More, more, more, I want it all, I need you, he thought as his tongue encountered the bone at her hip. He nipped the sweet curve.

Sypha shuddered, and thrust her hands back into his hair. “Damn right, and holy shit, your chest, your shoulders, you are so fucking hot, I just want to bite it, I just, just…” she drew back, and stared down at him. His eyes abruptly snapped up to hers, and her nostrils flared. “I want to do all the things, but right now if I don’t fuck you, I might scream.” She looked around wildly, searching, “Where can we? Can we…”

Trevor yanked her overalls down and cupped her. Holy fuck, he thought and his cock twitched. Sypha was hot and wet against his palm. “You’ll scream, trust me,” he told her.

She gasped and thrust against his hand. “I meant to tell you—oh my god, Trevor—I should tell you; I’m clean, I’m on birth con—sweet hell, you are good at that—I’ve got condoms in my—”

“Ditto to all of that, me too, and hell yes,” Trevor said. He backed her into the wall, fell to his knees, spread her thighs, and licked into the heart of her. Sypha shrieked, and fisted her hands into his hair. When she bucked against his face, Trevor thought he might come right there.

She dripped over his tongue, excited and passionate; flesh slick and throbbing against his mouth. He loved it. Her desire, her taste, her scent; she was perfect. It was like Sypha’s personality was captured in his mouth. All that energy, sexiness, and vibrancy bottled and flowing down his throat.

Her throaty moans and needy squeals undid him as surely as if it were her mouth on his cock. He wanted nothing more than to do this all day, and he just might. “Trevor, yes,Trevor, please I, oh, oh!” she wiggled helplessly, trembling, and he gripped her ass more firmly.

I’m here lover; I’ve got you, he thought, suckling. Her hips rocked in a telltale frantic pace, and Trevor felt her thighs tense against his shoulders.

“Oh my god, yes, I’m…yes, yes, don’t stop,” Sypha’s voice was fraying at the edges, and he felt her nails on his scalp. They were tiny licks of desire that tumbled straight down to his cock.

He teased her entrance with his finger, and Sypha wailed, “Please, oh please, do—" He slipped his finger inside her, and felt her clench and arch into him. “Trevor!”  she sobbed out, coming apart under his mouth. He thrust his finger shallowly, and suckled her through it, immense satisfaction flooding him.

Like being in the middle of a hurricane, he thought, a really gorgeous and incredible one.

He didn’t ease off until her hands went limp in his hair and her thighs trembled. With a little kiss to that exquisite, giving flesh, he slipped his finger from her. When Trevor rocked back on his heels and sucked his finger, he was unbelievably aroused and aching for her.

I could see this a long-term thing, he heard her say again in his mind, and thought, I could see this as a forever thing.

“So,” she chuckled weakly, “same time tomorrow?” Trevor arched his brow, and licked his lips.

“You haven’t screamed yet,” he said, and enjoyed the look of surprise, and then the slow smile of invitation.

“That’s true, Belmont. I believe you need to live up to your boasts. What are you going to do about it?” she asked him, stretching lazily so that her crop top danced enticingly under her breasts. He could see a wink of pink from her bra and felt his mouth water. She was a literal witch, and he was spellbound. He offered up thanks to whatever sex god had made this stunning creature.

“I was thinking I might bend you over my welding table, and see what I could do to fix the problem.” He stood and eased the crop top up so he could dance his fingers over the swell of her breasts.

Her breath hitched. “Trevor, that orgasm? That was the literal opposite of a problem. It’s more like the solution to end all things.”

He nodded sagely, and his eyes clamped onto hers. “Or I could fuck you right here against the wall,” he said, pulling the garment over her head.

“There is the added bonus of us being right here,” Sypha said as she re-emerged. “But I might need the support of the table. For some reason my legs are like Jello? I blame you.” Her eyes danced and that beautiful mouth curved.

“Well then, get your ass over there,” he said and smacked that enticing contour when she started to do just that. Watching her move, he thought again, it’s like she’s made for me.

Graceful, she stopped at her bag, and plucked out a foil packet. She waved it at him, grinned, and said, “Gotcha covered.”

It took him a second. “Well played Sypha, looks like you are back in fine form,” he responded with a grin of his own, and kicked off his boots. His hands went to the clasp of his pants, and Sypha’s eyes followed.

“Belmont, I never left, and speaking of fine form, I still want to bite your chest.” She leaned up against the table, arched her ass at him and spread her legs, watching his reaction over her shoulder.

There’s an invitation no one could refuse, he thought and struggled for words. “Fuck, Sypha, you are gorgeous. Really, you make me want to just want to get on my knees, and—” Trevor wrenched his pants off.

“You have done that, and it was mind-blowing, really, but I want to see what you can do when you’re standing,” she wiggled her cute ass, and he yanked his boxers down. “Oooo, and I want all of that.” Her eyes were appreciative, and her pink, wet tongue snuck out to lick over her top lip. “Here. Now. Get over here, Belmont.”

She didn’t need to ask him twice. Trevor slid up behind her, and fitted himself against her, cock on the cleft of her ass. They groaned together, skin on skin.

“There’s this thing I can do with my mouth—” Sypha started, and Trevor interrupted her.

“And I definitely want to try it sometime, but if I don’t get inside you, I’m going to—” She was already passing him the condom, and in less than the blink of an eye he was nestled up against her insane heat. “Sypha,” he murmured, and kissed her shoulder as he eased inside her. Her gasp was a lick up his spine and when she whispered his name, he answered her with sure, easy strokes.

“Hell yes,” she hissed at him, and thrust back against him. Trevor had to grin; she wasn’t wrong, they were well matched in desire. She liked being in charge, and he liked it too. Having someone who knew what she wanted, and had no problem asking for it was hot as hell.

Enjoying her squirming insistence, he deliberately slowed down his pace. “Trevor Belmont, I swear to God, if you don’t fuck me—”

He slammed into her hard enough that it rippled up her ass and back. “Fuck yes, just, just like that, harder, oh!” she bent down and arched the small of her spine. The view was unbelievable and she managed to give a tiny bit more access to the hand gripping her hip. He was able to snake his hand around Sypha’s waist and dip down.

He sketched a tattoo of possession over the source of her desire that had her moaning a stream of incomprehensible pleasure. He caught his name and snatches of praise and command.

“I’m sorry, come again?” he smirked as he pounded her down into the table.

“Yes, please,” Sypha whimpered, and he quickened the movements of his fingers. It was the ‘please’ that did it for him. It was fucking hot, hearing her beg.

He couldn’t last much longer, but he wanted it go on forever. She was so wet, the sounds she was making were unbelievable, and her answering thrusts into him were hard and demanding. When Sypha went rigid and choked out a scream, clenching around him and taking him deep, Trevor came with her. It exploded behind his eyelids, dancing stars across his brain, and steeping his body in bliss.

She’s perfect; she’s liquid fire under me, he thought, and leaned over her. She turned back to kiss his mouth and he met her, murmuring happily into her soft lips. Sypha trailed kisses across the side of his cheek, and the tiny endearments were like chocolate chips in the sweetness of the moment.

"You need a bed in here," she told him, turning back and carefully pillowing herself on the welding table. For the first time, Trevor registered real concern she might hurt herself on the work station. It wasn't like he cleaned it up in preparation. He braced a palm on the table and tried to take his weight off her.

"Wait, no! I didn't mean like go get one right now," she said, sounding alarmed. He couldn't help his laugh.

"I'm not going anywhere; I was just trying to make sure you don't hurt yourself on the table," he said, sweeping her hair to the side and feeling the texture in his hand. She relaxed against him again.

"Good, I'm not ready to move yet, I just wish we could collapse and take a nap. So, about that bed?" 

"I think my colleagues might catch on that something is up if I move a mattress in here," he chuckled, "not to mention my profs."

Sypha laughed, "I think they might suspect exactly what is up from the screamed 'Trevor,' there at the end, if not the repeated sound of your hips against my ass. It's not exactly soundproof in here, you know."

Ah shit, he thought, she is totally right. Thank goodness most of them tend not to be nocturnal.

"Well at least they'll know I'm doing something worthy of a passing grade in here," he quipped, giving in and nuzzling her neck. 

"That was not just passing Trevor, that was teaching the damn class," she tossed back and he grinned.

"I look forward to being instructed by you soon. I promise to be very attentive," he said. She snorted.

"It'll be your turn to scream," she told him saucily.

Trevor was counting on it.

--- 

If you just lay down your tracks
You could have an aeroplane flying
If you bring your blue sky back
All you do is call me
I'll be anything you need...
I wanna be your sledgehammer
Why don't you call my name?
Oh, let me be your sledgehammer
This will be my testimony
-"Sledgehammer," Peter Gabriel

Chapter Text

Lisa looked at her son fondly. It was entirely indulgent of her, but she’d just needed to see him this weekend. So she’d called him and told him she needed to buy a new artwork for one of her offices, and could he please make some time to come home?

I am glad I did, she thought, eyeing his color. He’s not eating well, as usual. She knew that he got distracted and anxious when he settled into a semester but there was something else going on with him. Lisa aimed to find out what it was by the end of today.

They’d gone shopping this morning; her excuse was needing new shoes. In reality, she wanted to buy Adrian new clothes. He hadn’t allowed her to before school started, and she knew damn well he was spending his food money on second-hand designer clothes he’d thrift. If she could get everything he needed, maybe he would resist for a while and buy actual food.

Right Lisa, just like Vlad can resist a black cape, she thought with resigned amusement.

She stifled her sigh. If only Adrian would accept their money, but he wouldn’t. He was proud and he was stubborn.

If Vlad had any idea how much Adrian needed him to see how his son was his own man and could build his own dreams… someday, she told herself. The two men loved each other so much, that barrier would be overcome someday. She just needed to be patient.

They’d made their way to the art district and Adrian had been unimpressed with the first two galleries they’d gone to. There’d been one painting Lisa had thought might work, but then Adrian had told her a little about the artist. Lisa liked to support creators who weren’t known misogynists, thank you very much.

“Here we are,” Adrian said with hope in his voice.

He used to say “Cookie!” with the same tone, she thought fondly and once again, cannot fathom how that tiny boy was this beautiful man in front of her. It’s a blessing that I am his mother. That he was given to us.

She looked at the windows of the gallery and smiled. Adrian could do this all day but she couldn’t. One more and we’ll get something to eat, she promised herself, and followed him in. The bodyguard followed discreetly.

Adrian was chatting with the greeter and turned to his mother. “Would you care for a refreshment?”

Lisa shook her head and turned to her bodyguard. “Frank, would you like anything?”

“No ma’am, but thank you,” the man said with a small smile. “I will just go ahead, if that is alright?” They’d been here several times before, and Frank knew that the only point of entry was the door they’d just come through. He would go check the rest of the gallery and return.

“Of course,” Lisa said and turned back to Adrian. “Nothing for Frank either, thank you.” She came up alongside her son and the greeter bowed.

“Lady Tepes, an honour,” the young woman said.

Lisa smiled. “Lovely to see you again Rosemarie.”

“We’ll be just fine on our own, but is Madeline around if we need anything?” Adrian asked and Rosemarie nodded. “Excellent, thank you. Good to see you.”

Lisa stepped away and headed to the hallway. She paused, waiting for Frank to return. He appeared moments later and nodded. There was no one new or unexpected waiting in the gallery and she and her son could proceed. Frank took up a casual stance at the entrance of the hallway.

Adrian and Lisa entered the vast space and turned to the right. “Ugh! Heavens! That is a bit much,” Lisa said, startled. The photograph was disturbing, bloody and unpleasant. Adrian nodded his agreement.

“That can only be Carmilla Styria’s work. I agree, it’s overdone and intently pornographic. She has no taste.” He sighed, “Unfortunately she’s also popular right now.”

They moved quickly past several of her prints and Lisa resisted closing her eyes. She understood violence and cruelty, unfortunately she’d seen more of it than she’d cared to with her work with Doctors Without Borders. This woman’s work was almost glorifying it.

Carmilla has unresolved issues, she thought, and was relieved when they moved to the next room.

The lighting in here was darker, more intimate and it felt almost womb-like. Lisa turned to the right like they usually did to make a circle through the space when she realized Adrian was not with her. Startled, she looked back and he was rooted to the spot, looking at the installation in the middle of the room.

What is it? she thought, and looked at what was captivating him so much.

It looked like smashed seashell, or maybe an opening flower with burning petals? It was hard to say really. Something interesting had been done to the surface of the metal, it bubbled and dripped down to the floor. It was big and bold, hovering like an alien being in the middle of the room.

It must be 8 feet tall, Lisa thought, and as least as wide.

Adrian stepped toward it, hand creeping up as though to pet it. He wasn’t facing her, but she could see the side of his face and she knew his expressions very well. He’s completely enthralled by it, Lisa thought, and immediately resolved to purchase it for him.

She’d only seen him look at art like this a handful of times, and each time it was beautiful. What art meant to him, gave to him, pulled from him; it was astounding, and made her very happy.

Just as he was about to touch it, he seemed to remember himself and stilled. His hand hovered as though he could feel heat coming off of it. He walked slowly around it and then she heard an excited exclamation. “Mother! Come, see this!” Lisa broke into a grin.

Looks like I won’t even have to buy it for myself and then decide I don’t like it after all, she thought.

She came around the side of the sculpture and saw him circling a plinth behind the smashed seashell artwork. It was lit by one spotlight and positioned in such a way as to suggest it was related to the burning flower. She was taken aback by it, and said the first thing that came to mind. “Adrian, that is creepy.”

He looked up, startled, “What? No, not at all! Look, Mother, look at him!”

Lisa looked, trying to give it a chance. It was a much smaller sculpture, perhaps three feet tall and a mixture of raw and polished metal. At first glance it had looked like an exploding man made of tentacles and gore.

Looking closer, she could see what she thought of as tentacles were actually tiny objects strung together like popcorn on a Christmas tree. It was still rather stark; some of those objects were grotesque, but Adrian was right. There was something here, raw, visceral and intriguing.

“Can you see it?” Her son asked with wonder in his voice. “He’s blooming, evolving, burgeoning. He’s struggling to become something else, something more.” Lisa looked at Adrian, pale, golden and enchanting in the stark light. “I wonder,” he said as his fingers played along the edge of the plinth. She knew he wanted to touch it, needed to.

“Does he even know if it will be better or worse?” There was such a wealth of emotion in his voice. “Does he care? Or is it the journey itself? The unknown within his own bones, and the temptation, the fear, the desire, to find out?”

This will be the gallery’s lucky day, Lisa thought, watching her child speak with such insight and sensitivity. He needed this piece too and this one he could actually put in his apartment.

“What will he do? What will he become?” he said softly. Adrian didn’t know it but his mother saw everything in him in that moment and her heart ached.

You will make it to the other side my dearest, Lisa thought, you are so strong and you have such hope. Give yourself time.

----

Adrian rarely bought for himself. Even rarer still did he buy through a gallery. It was expensive and elitist, and he would rather commission directly and ensure that the artist received every penny.

That being said, he frequently found himself consulting for his mother and father’s collections and gradually, many of their friends. He appreciated that artists could find exposure and wide-stream audiences through galleries. They were a necessary evil.

Ones such as this one weren’t even that bad, their commissions were reasonable and their staff genuinely cared about their artists. He was very familiar with this gallery, so when he saw the coiffed brunette approaching around the sculpture, he turned and smiled. “Madeline, how are you?”

“Alucard! Darling!” She grinned and clasped his hands. She bowed to Lisa, considerably more formal, and said, “Lady Tepes, you are a vision. It is always a pleasure and an honor.”

“Madeline, I was just telling Mother that this piece just screams evolution and creation to me.” It screams so much more, but I don’t need to get into that with you, he thought.

Truth be told, Adrian needed this piece. It had climbed inside him and found a niche made in its shape already. Art that spoke to him like this? He would even ask his mother to buy it for him if he had to. I hope I don’t have to, he thought. He would try to make it a loan, but she wouldn’t allow him to repay it of course.

“You are right,” Madeline said, “but you usually are, love. It’s called ‘Today; Become’ and it’s the newest piece from Christopher Wise."

“I haven’t heard of him; he must be very new.” He’s been aching to touch it, and finally gave in. He knew it was a dead giveaway, but counted on his friendship with Madeline to mean she wouldn’t add 10% because it his desire for it was obvious. “Madeline, may I?” His fingers hovered near one extended tendril.

She grinned, knowing a sale when she saw it. “Of course, sweetie you go right ahead. Just mind the raw parts, I don’t want you to cut yourself.” Adrian smiled.

“What can you tell me about him?” he asked, fingers dancing over the metal. It was smoothly ground and polished to a dull sheen on the figure, but the spiky fronds and offshoots were jagged and raw, piled in little offerings that stretched from the figure.

It was almost sexual, almost violent, almost sad. It was hopeful, it was liberated, it was brave. It vibrated under his hands and he could swear he felt the artist smoldering inside of it.

I’ve seen the essence of this work before, he thought and couldn’t place it. It’ll come to me.

“Actually, not a hell of a lot!” Madeline laughed. “He’s young, an orphan and has been doing art his whole life. He’s new to the scene, and we only have had a handful of his works so far. I’ve met him briefly and he is interesting. Attractive in a rugged sort of way.”

Ah, secretive, Adrian thought with pleasure. He respected the need for privacy in an artist. It was something he constantly wished for and fought to obtain, but never really had.

“Where was he trained? How did you find him?” he asked, fingers climbing the little objects in the branches.

Madeline lowered her voice and looked around conspiratorially. It was amusing as they were the only ones in the space. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m not sure. That was something I asked Eddie about, and he said that Wise told him, and I quote, ‘that’s for people to wonder and me to know. They either like it or they don’t.’”

Eddie was the gallery owner and a sweet man. Adrian had enjoyed several fascinating conversations with him and more than once thought he might enjoy opening a gallery based on Eddie’s insights into the process.

Adrian laughed, “I’ve been encountering those artists all my life. I have to say at least in this one’s defense, he has the talent to back it up! Still, very enigmatic. Mysterious men are always intriguing, are they not, Mother?”

Lady Tepes gave him a knowing smile. It certainly had worked for her. He loved the story of how she’d confronted his father, and immediately been attracted to his cryptic and private aura.

“You know, you should have received an invitation to Wise’s opening about a month ago,” Madeline whipped out her phone and tapped in a command. “I’ve made a note to make sure you get it. If you like this, you should come back in two weeks for it. It’s joint with one of our other up-and-coming artists, Carmilla Styria.” Adrian wrinkled his nose.

“Oh Madeline, why? Don’t put her overwrought and frankly over-bloodied photographs beside his work, that’s a travesty!” Adrian knew he was pouting but he couldn’t help it. It was wrong to put such completely different artists together and anyone could see that. Joint showings should compliment and enhance, not war with and overpower.

“I am all for expressing emotions through art, but her work is so deliberately extreme and even cruel! It will completely overpower the subtlety and grace of Wise’s work. Furthermore, anyone can see th— Wait, that was Hector’s call, wasn’t it?”

Madeline nodded her head sympathetically and Adrian sighed, biting back the remainder of his comment. Edgar hired Hector, the new art director about 6 months ago. Adrian had mixed reviews on the man’s work, but really liked him as a person. Like Adrian, Hector was incredibly sensitive to the spirit within artworks. As a bonus, he seemed to really care and respect the artists’ emotional involvement with their work.

Unfortunately, Hector also seemed extremely prone to favoring tortured and bloody works. Adrian didn’t know a lot about Hector’s personal history, but it seemed to be impacting his work in an ill-fated way. The painter clucked, “While he’s been spot on about some talent, he definitely has a weakness for others.”

His mother spoke, “I have to say, I would come to see Wise’s work, but I would leave because of Styria’s.”

Madeline leaned in and lowered her voice. “I wouldn’t normally share this, so please keep it to yourselves… but Styria was furious. She said that her work would be cheapened by being exhibited with Wise and he would be piggybacking on her talent.” Adrian scoffed, insulted on Wise's behalf. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught his mother’s amused smile.

What? he thought. That’s clearly ridiculous. Her work cheapens itself!

“Granted, Styria is an established artist," Madeline continued, "and Wise isn’t. Hector felt that their work spoke to each other and would appeal to the same audience. Carmilla’s displeasure hasn’t made it back to Wise yet, and I have to say, I am intensely curious how that might play out.”

That settles it, Adrian thought. He would attend, if only to support this artist who would be relatively new but merited recognition. He didn’t want the man to be put off by undeserved egos such as Carmilla’s and frankly, he was very curious to meet someone who could create two pieces such as this.

“Please make sure that I receive an invitation, I would like very much to attend,” he said calmly.

Adrian didn’t know it, but inside Madeline was congratulating herself on dropping just the right tidbit to have one of the Tepes attend. It would double the press coverage and if Adrian could wrangle his father into attending it would be exposure they couldn’t afford to pass up.

Besides, Madeline was curious to see Adrian interact with Wise. Adrian was so polished and contained, while Wise was brash and charming. One of the best parts of her job was watching people who had nothing in common bond over art that spoke to something buried deep within both of them.

Two hours later, Adrian struggled with the glee that threatened to overflow his composure, and the deep sense of resignation that his mother would casually drop five figures on art for him. “I just want to say again, that I intend to repay you for—”

“Alucard Addrine Tepes. If I have not raised you to graciously accept a gift then I have failed as a mother. If you want to thank me, you’ll show me that I haven’t.” Lisa gave him an arched brow and a withering glare. It had worked when he was ten and broke his father’s telescope, and it worked now. “Eat your salad.”

“Yes Mother,” Adrian said, and dutifully picked at his shrimp and avocado salad. After a moment Lisa sighed.

“Look at me Adrian,” she said and he looked up at his mother. She was so lovely, especially with the soft flicker of the candlelight between them. Strong features, kind eyes, her hair was a silvery blonde and cleverly bound up. There was intelligence in her gaze and thoughtfulness in the pensive twist of her lips. “I don’t pretend to understand everything about you. I don’t need to. Part of the wonder and magic of raising a child is understanding that they will humble you, stagger you, infuriate you and challenge you every minute of every day. I am happy to say you always have, and I know you always will.”

“Especially that infuriate part,” Adrian murmured, and his mother laughed; a full rich sound filled with joy.

“I wouldn’t say especially but you keep me on my toes. Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I don’t want to pretend that I know every reason why you are so flustered by accepting what comes with being a Tepes, but I do respect it. It took me years to be comfortable with it and sometimes, even now, it can make me squirm. The only person it doesn’t is your father, and I think it comes down to personality.”

“Confidence,” Adrian said softly, averting his eyes. It was the one thing he wished he’d inherited and seemed to have completely missed.

“And ego,” his mother chuckled, “which Vlad has in spades.” She sobered, “But you do have his pride and that can make it hard. Please understand, you ask for very little, my darling child. To see you happy and truly pleased with something like Wises’ work? That is the gift. The money to make it happen is just a by-product. It’s the result, your happiness; that is the treasure.” She extended her hand to him across the table, offering the contact, but not taking it.

Adrian flushed. It was hard to be honest in the face of such love. “I just wish…well, it doesn’t matter. Thank you, Mother, thank you for being so generous to me.” He took her hand and lifted it to his lips to kiss her knuckles. He squeezed and quickly let go.

“Whatever you were going to say? It matters. Your wishes matter. To me, to your father, to your friends.” Lisa looked at her son as he concentrated on his salad, and inwardly sighed. He was so contained sometimes. She resumed her salad too. It was a surprise to both of them when he spoke again in barely a whisper, despite the private room they’d been given.

“I wish that we weren’t as wealthy and successful as we are. That is why I feel guilty. I have it by extension, not because I actually did a damn thing for it. But I can’t be grateful for it.” He put his fork down and clenched his hand.

“No, instead, I resent it. I hate that it gets in the way of being accepted for the things I do, the person I am. That I never know if I am being judged for me or the perception of Alucard Tepes.” His eyes slowly came up. “I feel horrible saying that, it’s so selfish and ugly, but it is just how I feel.”

Lisa stood up, and he watched her stand with apprehension, sure that she would leave. After all, he’d basically just said that he resented his parents for who they were. For their lives. He should have known better.

Lisa rounded the table, knelt beside him and gently embraced him. Something inside Adrian shifted and cracked open. He started to cry and hugged her back, so hard he was sure he was hurting her, but she only tightened her grip. “It’s okay baby, it’s okay. Let it go; let it out.”

Her acceptance of his tears allowed the full dump to tumble forth. Like leaves falling off an autumn tree, emotions cascaded off of him and into this space of their arms. Between hiccups and tears, his apologies, regrets and self-loathing rained down alongside their physical manifestation. Lisa stroked his hair and listened to him. Adrian didn’t know it, but much of what he said was not a surprise to her, and only confirmed suspicions she’d had years ago.

“I just wish I could make peace with it,” Adrian sniffed. “I wish I could be confident either way. Accepting that it doesn’t define me, and not allowing people to wield it over me. I feel like it has power because deep down inside I know I don’t belong in Father’s world, but I don’t belong in the one I am trying to make for myself either. I know Father is disappointed that I won’t—”

“Wait,” Lisa spoke for the first time, drawing back to look at Adrian, “did he tell you that?”

“Mother, you know he wouldn’t actually—” Adrian looked at her, throat full of emotions.

“So you know what he thinks now?” Lisa asked him, voice gentle. “Not even I can profess to read his mind, Adrian. If you want to know, you need to ask him. Don’t do this to either of you. Don't give yourself grief and distance between you without basis.” She cupped his chin.

Adrian felt like he was six years old again; fallen off his bike, having scraped his knee, and needing to know that the world was not ending. He felt safety in her hand, and recognized unconditional love in her fingertips.

“I may not know everything, but I do know your Father is proud of you. And I know that because I have heard him say so, multiple times,” Lisa’s smile was so tender that Adrian felt his tears start anew. “We both are. Take that pride to heart. You belong in our world.”

“But it is not home for you, and that is alright.” She continued, dabbing his tears with her sleeve. “You belong in the one you are creating for yourself. Like any process of growth, it can be uncomfortable and hard. Change is tough but you can do this. You are doing it. You are right where you need to be, dear one.”

Adrian snorted, “If only everyone else believed that, if only I believed it.”

If only people like Trevor Belmont didn’t immediately assume that I was riding my father’s money and name to get where I am going, he thought. He’s an asshole anyway; who cares what he thinks? He had a flash of Belmont’s intense focus on his work, and the understanding in his gaze when he said that Adrian could see the art when he gave it to Shaft for grading.

I might care, he acknowledged, and hated himself for it.

“I feel like there is a specific person you are thinking of when you say ‘everyone else,’” Lisa said, rocking back on her heels and looking at him. Whatever she must have seen satisfied her, because she stood and dragged her chair over to him so they sat knee to knee. “Sorry, old woman knees can’t take it.” She flashed a grin and Adrian had to grin back.

Old woman indeed, he thought. Both his parents seemed ageless to him. “There’s an artist in one of my classes. He and I, we don’t get along.”

Lisa cocked a brow. “I was under the impression that had happened to you before? If you’ve gone your whole life getting along with everyone, you need to tell me your secret.”

Adrian laughed. It felt good and helped to calm him further. His mother put a hand on his knee. “What is it about this artist?” she asked.

Adrian looked at the floor, “Sypha likes him. He thinks I’m a spoiled rich kid. A talentless pretty boy,” he felt his lips curl in a sneer.

“I’m sure he’s not the first. He’s wrong, but so were the other ones who thought that about you." Lisa shrugged. "What makes him special? Because Sypha likes him?”

“What do you… wait, why would Sypha liking him make a difference to whether I care what he thinks of me?” He looked at his mother, startled.

“Well, I mean, you’ve always been close to her and—” Lisa started, and Adrian interrupted her, a rare occurrence.

“No. You mean because I like her. How did you know that?” He looked at her with concern, “Is it obvious? I didn’t even really realize it myself, how…?”

Lisa’s smile was kind but knowing, “Sweetheart, sometimes what we feel is more obvious to those who love us, than it is to ourselves. Rest assured; she has no idea. But I have a feeling she might feel the same.”

Adrian flushed deeply, and muttered, “She and this artist suggested…things. About the three of us.”

Lisa’s eyebrows shot up, and then lowered just as quickly. “Alright. How do you feel about that?”

Terrified, excited, uncertain, desperately interested, unbelievably aroused, he thought in rapid-fire succession. “I don’t know,” he said feeling the flames in his cheeks, and hating it. “I am uncertain… but maybe, I uh, that is…”

“You might be interested? It doesn’t have to be a big deal, you are all adults and…” she looked at her son, “Ah. You are thinking for the long-term. Wondering what it might look like, how that might work.”

“You are entirely too perceptive,” Adrian muttered and flicked his eyes up at her.

Thank goodness she wasn’t freaking out, but still, this was as embarrassing as the sex talk he had with her when he was thirteen. Really how does one talk about having a threesome with their mother? A long-term one at that too!

“I think you have those conversations up front and go from there. You see what they are thinking in that regard and then decide if it lines up with what you want. Whatever makes you happy in that situation is the right decision,” Adrian looked at her, searching her face for a sign that she disapproved or was horrified. He didn’t find it. It gave him the courage to ask the next question.

“Please, do you think…” he closed his eyes, “Would Father be able to handle it? If it was long-term? I know he loves me and wants me to be happy but scandal…”

“Adrian,” he opened his eyes to his mother’s accepting gaze. “I can’t speak for him, but I can say that you’ve always been extremely private. Nothing you’ve ever done has embarrassed or shamed us.”

Adrian arched his brow, and she grinned. “That naked run doesn’t count. You were five, let it go.”

The painter snickered. He’d escaped his minder, and run into the living room after a bath. His father had been in the middle of a live interview with CNN. Half the nation was treated to his bare butt as he tried to hide in his father’s cape from the hissed dismay of his nanny. Hearing Vlad re-tell the story was one of his favorite things. His father would laugh until he cried if you let him talk about it too long.

They grinned at each other before Lisa continued. “You don’t have to explain your romantic relationships to anyone. Including me. I am so happy you trust me enough to talk about it, but you don’t owe anyone an explanation. What you do with your life—any aspect of it— is your business. Obviously, I never want to see you hurt yourself, or engage in unhealthy behavior, but that isn’t this. Really, it’s your call. Follow your heart.”

“And if my heart doesn’t know?” he asked her, and Lisa broke into an easy smile.

“Then I would say listen to your body. If you want something bad enough, usually your heart and your body figure it out together,” she reached over and broke her dinner roll, offering him half.

“Really? You aren’t going to tell me to listen to my brain?” Adrian was surprised, taking half of the roll. His mother was very medically, logically oriented. This was completely unexpected.

“Not this time,” she said easily, “your brain is getting in the way of making a balanced decision. Sometimes we need to turn it off to get to what we really want or need.”

Adrian exhaled deeply and nodded. His mother looked at him a moment longer and stood again. He rose with her and gave her another hug. When he drew back, he kissed her on the cheek. “I really love you. Thank you.”

“I love you too. So much," Lisa stroked his cheek. "So tell me about this artist." Her blonde eyebrows wiggled suggestively.

"Would I like him?” Lisa asked, settling back in her chair and picking up her fork.

Adrian rolled his eyes and laughed, “He’s a gorgeous jerk.” He took his seat and his mother lifted her glass of wine.

“The best kind,” she said, and toasted him.

--- 

I walk along the city streets, you used to walk along with me
And every step I take reminds me of just how we used to be
Oh, how can I forget you, girl, when there is
Always something there to remind me
When shadows fall, I pass a small cafe where we would dance at night
And I can't help recalling how it felt to kiss and hold you tight
Oh, how can I forget you, girl, when there is
Always something there to remind me
I was born to love her and I will never be free
You'll always be a part of me
-“Always Something There to Remind Me,” Naked Eyes

Chapter Text

Trevor threw his duffel down and charged across the threshold to scoop Sypha up in his arms. “We are going out!! I am buying you the best burrito in town and a margarita to go with it! Then I am going down on you until you go blind!”

Sypha grinned and wrapped her bare legs around his waist. She wiggled enticingly. “That all sounds fabulous, especially dessert, but what is going on?”

“I sold TWO pieces of art! Big ones!! I have enough money now to...” Trevor belatedly caught himself, and fumbled. “Uh, treat you to supper.”

Some of Sypha’s sparkle dimmed, and Trevor cursed his thoughtless slip. “I’d rather you just say you aren’t ready to tell me, then have you lie to me,” she said quietly.

He looked at her and debated, settling for the middle ground. “Yes, I am sorry, you are right. I am not ready to tell you the whole thing, but I will tell you some of it.” She nodded with a gentle smile and he set her down. Picking up his duffel, he came further into the apartment and set it down. Sypha closed the door behind him and he looked at her.

“Anyone else here right now?” He asked.

She lived with two other women and while they seemed nice, Trevor didn’t want them to hear him. Sypha shook her head and sat down on the couch, holding her hand out to him. He wanted to go to her but he needed to see her face when he told her, needed to know that she didn’t think poorly of him.

“I’m an orphan. I have nothing and nobody.” He raked his hands through his hair, eyes on hers. “What Adrian said about the Belmonts' being forgers is true, and one of the reasons I had to fight to get here. Even then, I wasn’t sure I could afford to stay.”

Sypha’s brows merged, and she murmured in distress. “No don’t do that,” Trevor told her, “I don’t want pity and I don’t want charity. I don’t need it. I have made it, and I am here.”

“Anyway, with this money, I can finish next year for sure. I have a scholarship that I’ve been stretching to make it work, but this means that I won’t have to go back to fighting. I could do it, but juggling everything is exhausting and hard. Last time I fought, I busted my hand and I can’t risk that happening again. Not when I’ve finally gotten to where I want to be in my art.”

“Trevor,” Sypha stood slowly and came around the coffee table. “That sounds horrible. No one should have to go through that.” He started to growl about pity, and she put her hand over his mouth. “That’s not pity, that’s just a fact. Wouldn’t you think the same if I told you I had broken my hand for the sake of my art?”

I’d be furious, he thought instantly, feeling the delicate bones in her hand as she removed her palm from his lips. Sypha is better than that though, he thought, she is smarter than I am and she came from a family that would never do what mine did.

“The point is, I don’t have to worry about that next year,” he finished.

“What about your final year, Trevor? What are you planning to do to pay for that?” Sypha asked him, worry in her eyes. “You aren’t going back to fighting, ever. Your body is not a piece of meat to be pounded.”

Trevor arched his brows at her, “Are you sure? That seemed to be exactly what you were going for yesterday when you attempted to fuck me into the basement of the—”

My point is,” Sypha said loudly over him, shaking her head and grinning, “that you don’t need to do that and I don’t want you to!”

“We’ll see. I am hopeful I might be able to sell some more pieces, or maybe get more scholarships next year. The one I got this year covered a helluva lot more than just tuition. I’ve been careful, and so far, I’ve stretched it nicely.”

“If you need it, could you get a loan?” Sypha asked him.

Trevor was amused, “You are adorable, but not a chance. I will never be able to get credit as Trevor Belmont. Not with my family history. Besides,” his face grew serious. “I don’t want to be in debt. I don’t ever want to owe anyone anything, ever.” Sypha looked thoughtful for a moment, and then firmed her lips.

“I know you don’t want to hear this, but hear me out.”

Trevor resisted grinning. She was so serious. If she knew how he was thinking she was ridiculously fuckable when she lectured, she would likely punch him. “There is a scholarship that I think would be relatively easy for you to apply for. You could do it anonymously and the award is huge.”

“The Tepes scholarship,” Trevor said, scowling. “Yes, I am aware of it. Why that one?”

Sypha hesitated, and then said in a small rush, “If Adrian knew that you needed the help, I know he would—”

“No. No fucking way, Sypha. Adrian can never know about my financial issues. He already thinks Belmonts are trash, that would just prove him right.” It tumbled out before he really thought about it, and they both stared at each other.

“Trevor,” Sypha said softly, putting her hand on his arm, “you know that your family doesn’t define you, right? Money or lack of it; it doesn’t make you less worthy.”

“Of course, that’s just… I meant that I don’t want him to think I am open to the trio idea because of his family’s money.” Frankly, I wish he didn’t have any, it would make this whole thing a good deal easier, the sculptor thought. “I don’t even give a shit about it.”

Sypha looked at him, and he felt a little too naked, a little too seen. “Trevor, if you don’t give a shit about it, than why should it matter if you apply for it? You can do it anonymously and—”

“Damn it Sypha! I already did okay? And I got it. Vlad fucking Tepes is paying for my school and I fucking hate it. Adrian can never know, never. And I can’t apply again and risk him knowing. He'll think I'm interested in his money, not him.”

Sypha’s eyes went wide and she stared at him for a long moment. “You won this year? What name did you apply under?”

“C. Leon, my middle initial and my great-grandfather’s first name. Look, why does this matter?” Sypha sat down on the couch, utter shock on her face.

Great, Trevor thought, she thinks I am a hypocrite, she thinks I am a money-grabbing gold digger, she thinks—

“Trevor this is awesome!” She looked up at him, excitement and happiness etched across her face. “You don’t even realize what this means! You must tell Adrian! You don’t understand, he—

“No!” Panic bubbled up in Trevor and he got angry.

“Are you just not listening? I don’t want Adrian to know! Do you honestly think that he would ever consider being with me long term, knowing that I needed his Daddy’s money to get into this school? That he wouldn’t just laugh when we suggest he consider getting into bed with someone so poor that they accepted money that they mocked?"

"No, Sypha,” he turned from her, furious, all joy from the sale stripped away. “Not a chance. Fuck, what was I ever thinking? You made it seem so straightforward, so possible,” Trevor felt all his loneliness and self-doubt push it’s way up out of the grave he kept it in. Like a damned zombie, it just wouldn’t die.

“A man like that could have anyone he wants. Why would he be interested in me. What a joke.”

“Trevor, shut the fuck up.” She said it so mildly, and calmly, that his head snapped up. Sypha was standing again, cut off shorts paired with yellow leg warmers, a Hello Kitty t-shirt and a plaid headband. Her arms were crossed and she looked at him with a steady gaze. He’d been less intimidated by steroid-pushing, testosterone-fueled fighters in bare knuckle fights.

“What utter horse shit.” She continued, still calm, eyes on him. “You need to pay attention the next time you see him. The man wants you, and you’ve been an utter dick to him. He knows your family history, tussled with you in the cafeteria, argued with you in the drawing room, and still stripped down to his fucking sexy-as-hell briefs and pranced around in front of you. He wants to jump your bones so hard, or I never would have proposed that the trio could work.”

“His fucking Gucci briefs,” Trevor murmured, remembering. “They are damn sexy. And annoying. How is that possible?”

Sypha laughed, and it eased the tension. “I think you are outrageously sexy, but that doesn’t change how densely annoying you can be.” She sighed. “I don’t want to argue but I want you to think about it. At some point, you need to tell him. If he finds out from someone else, it will be much worse than if you tell him first. And no, I won’t tell him, but honestly Trevor, lies are never a lasting foundation for anything.”

---

“How was shopping with your mom?” Sypha asked Adrian, lying back to look at the sky. It was a beautiful day and the sun was shining. They’d found a quiet spot with shade from some lilac bushes for Adrian, but enough sun for Sypha. She was grateful she’d worn the tiny shorts under her sundress or she would have been flashing anyone who walked by. Flashing Adrian was fine, but he wasn’t ready for that level of flirting yet.

“Um, it was good.”

Like the view? She thought and contained her grin. Casually, she shifted and the hem of her skirt inched upward.

“Did you buy anything? I was thinking yesterday that I wanted to buy something lacy; did you see any lingerie sales while you were out and about?” Easy there, girl, she told herself and tried to be calm.

“What? Uh, no. No, I didn’t see any... um, sales.” She heard him shifting and fancied he was making vital adjustments. “Did you—,” he cleared his throat. “Did you get anywhere with Belmont?” Sypha shivered with anticipation, and it wasn’t an act.

“Holy Adrian, did I ever!” She finally took pity on him, and sat up, enjoying how there was a faint blush on his cheeks and the speed with which his eyes snapped up to hers. Demurely, she settled her skirt over her knees.

“Let me tell you, that man has stamina, and he is through. Whew, is he ever. You should take him up on his invitation sometime, for real.”

Adrian’s eyes went huge. “You think he was serious?!” he squeaked, and Sypha resisted clucking like a mother hen and gathering him in her arms.

Oh sweetheart, she thought, he is gonna rock your world. We are gonna fuck you until you explode in glittering rainbows of orgasms.

“I know he was; he thinks you are hot,” she said, arching an eyebrow at him. “He’s not wrong.”

Adrian’s blush bloomed like he’d been slapped in the face. It made her wonder if his ass would do the same thing if she spanked him. An image of offering her ass alongside Adrian’s to Trevor to spank burned itself into her mind.

Slow down there, she told herself and resisted whining. She needed to rein this in, but knowing now that he wanted her and he wanted Trevor? That was pure temptation and she was ready to sin.

“How can you be alright with, um, the possibility of sharing?” Adrian was very intently looking at his French fries. “I thought you liked Belmont? As more than a one-time thing?”

“I do, very much. I’m comfortable with sharing Trevor but only if it’s with you. And vice versa. I would only share you with him. Speaking of sharing, he and I were talking about looking at apartments next semester.” Adrian’s head jerked up and he looked dismayed. Ah shit, Sypha thought unhappily.

“I like the twins, but it would be nice not to split the water bill with them anymore. I swear, they take 45 minute showers twice a day!” She debated and added, “We could always look for a three-bedroom place you know. I just didn’t think—"

Adrian shook his head. “No, that is alright. I just—we’d talked about… it’s okay.”

“We talked about being roommates.” Sypha said, and saw him nod. “I would still do that in a heartbeat. I still want that. I just wanted to respect your space, but if you want to share an apartment and Trevor, I am all for it. There is much we can all offer each other, in a lot of different ways.”

Adrian looked like he was going to have a heart attack, and she scaled it back. “Anyway, there is no pressure from either Trevor or I. You have lots to think about now, and plenty of time to do it. This semester has barely started, but the offer stands. Moving on. Tell me what was the best purchase of the day with your mom?”

She could almost see him struggling to switch gears and internally cheered. Think about it, Adrian, it makes sense, she thought, we could all be extremely happy. Soooo much happy, you don't even know.

“There were actually two best purchases of the day,” he said slowly, dipping a fry in ketchup and bringing it up to his mouth. “Two sculptures that I am now the proud owner of.”

“Ooooo, art purchases! The best kind!” Sypha chortled, diverted and excited. “Spill!”

Adrian grinned, and they were back on solid ground. “They are masterpieces and they are stunning. I am going to follow this artist's career so closely! I had to leave them for the art show happening in two weeks. That reminds me, what are you up to, not this Friday but the next?”

“Going to an art show with you and fawning over art while drinking wine I could never afford on my own?” Sypha quipped, already thrilled.

“Excellent, I was hoping you’d say that.” Adrian rubbed his hands together in mock deviousness. “I think this artist could use some support and I am dying to meet him. You wouldn't believe who they are showing his work with. Hector has lost his mind this time…”

---

Trevor was late for class and he fucking hated that. He was late because he’d been thinking about his conversation with Sypha regarding the Tepes' scholarship. About relationship foundations, desire which was rapidly building into need, and the possibility of a future. It’d been foolish and it’d been dumb, but when the notion struck him to buy a bag of French Onion Sun chips he’d just gone with it.

Of course, they hadn’t had them the first two places he’d gone, and they were stupidly marked up at the last place. He’d bought them anyway, and resigned himself to the discount fruit and veggies the next time he went grocery shopping. Trevor had flat-out ran back to the art building.

He was still ten fucking minutes late.

He took the steps three at a time, paused at the door to breathe and take the chips out of his bag. The sculptor didn’t want to make a big deal about them and certainly didn’t want the crinkly noises of extracting them from his bag to disrupt the class. Quietly he slipped in the dark room, keeping his eyes down. Facing the door so he could shut it soundlessly, he heard Adrian talking about the emotions that were captured inside the empty space.

When he turned around, he dropped the chips in shock. Adrian looked over, but didn’t stop talking. “As you can see, the use of spatial form in Wise’s work is stunning.” The blonde indicated a promotional shot of Trevor’s ‘Wait and See,’ sculpture.

One of the ones I just sold, the sculptor thought. He wished fervently that he had not been late. What had he missed; what was Adrian doing?!

“The tension in the piece, the relationship with the viewer—it's delicate. Exquisite. You can feel the strain to evolve, to move forward and shed the weight of this form.” Trevor gasped.

How can Tepes see that?! he wondered, disbelief clenching his stomach. That was uncomfortably accurate, but the idea that Adrian, of all people saw that? He didn’t know what to think. Trevor felt horribly exposed, stripped, and shaken by the TA's words.

“Christopher has exceptional mastery of his medium. The balance with the empty space, or what we would term ‘the void,’ has been outstandingly rendered and cleverly executed.” Adrian looked at the slide and smiled, admiration in his voice. “Wise’s eye for balance, and brilliant construction of his piece are spectacular.”

Thank God for this door, Trevor thought as he sagged against it; mind complete chaos as astonishment rolled through him. For a split second he had wondered if Adrian knew it was him, and was making a joke. He’d discarded that idea right away. His comments were too unguarded, too candid, and too complimentary. There was no way he knew it was Trevor he was talking about.

Pleasure bloomed in the sculptor. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say such things about my work, he thought. I’ve never had anyone see so much in it.

“The viewer is left questioning what they need to release from themselves, and what they would be willing to do, to gain that perfection of completion.” Adrian tucked his hair behind his ear and Trevor’s stomach clenched. The painter had a tiny gold hoop tragus piercing. It was sexy as fuck.

The things I would be willing to do, Trevor thought, looking at the hoop. Wondering what else Adrian might have pierced. Wondering about what the TA needed to release. Trevor wondered if he might see it, taste it, feel it someday.

“It’s needful, sensual, raw. At the same time there’s an aching vulnerability to it,” Adrian continued, and glanced at Trevor. The sculptor’s desire spiked hard. He could swear there was a faint blush on Adrian’s cheeks, but it was too dark to tell. 

The TA laughed, rueful frustration in his voice. “I haven’t been able to find out much about him so far, but I hope to have some more examples of his work at a later date. I think there is much we could learn from exploring his creative process and analyzing what makes it so successful. In the meantime, here are a couple more examples of other artists’ use of space and texture.”

Trevor stayed where he was, unsure he could move without the support of the door. It was like the universe was playing a trick on him, making fun of him and giving him hope when he should know better. Adrian saw his art and saw what was in it.

Trevor would be lying if he didn’t admit how deeply touched he was by the things Tepes had said. By the staggering revelation of his words. By how much they mattered to him.

There was a quiet, throat-clearing sound beside him and Trevor jerked to attention. There was an older man seated to his left, about five feet away. The man was positively glaring at him, and as Trevor watched, he stood and approached him. “Step outside,” the man said in a low voice, and Belmont gave him a look.

Who the fuck are you? he thought and bristled.

“If you look at the use of the inverted color… ah! Professor Shaft!” The older man’s eyes flashed and Trevor stiffened.

Ah shit, he thought and his eyes flew to Adrian. The TA had an easy smile, as the class turned toward the pair by the door. “Oh! And Trevor so good to see you! I didn’t have a chance to email you back. I apologize, it went into my spam folder and I only found it right before class. Thank you for letting me know about your lab interview today. You weren’t as late as you thought you’d be; it went well?”

Trevor nodded dumbly. He’s covering for me, he thought. Between that and words like clever, brilliant and mastery, Trevor was pretty much putty right now.

If Adrian had asked him to blow him in front of the class, he would have done it. Who are you kidding, you would have before today, he thought and wasn't sure he was joking.

“Excellent, I am glad to hear it.” Adrian’s long hands fluttered. “Please take a seat. I know those interviews are almost impossible to schedule, so I am glad we could accommodate. Professor Shaft, did you want to introduce yourself to everyone?”

Trevor didn’t imagine the low snarl from the older man and winced. This was a fucking nightmare. He hoped Adrian wouldn’t suffer too much for this. Suddenly he wished he’d bought 18 more bags of chips. Trevor nodded to the professor, and slid into the same seat he occupied last time.

The professor stalked to the front of the class and tersely introduced himself. Trevor watched Adrian instead of the teacher, and felt his heart sink when he saw the twisting fingers. I managed to fuck this up even worse, he thought and heaved a sigh.

Quietly, he did his best to be a model student and even engaged in the class discussion on how space functioned within the drapery pieces from last week.

When Adrian asked if anyone would be willing to share their artwork for discussion and critique, Trevor hesitated but then decided he would. He owed the TA and besides, he didn’t care about his drawings, so long as he passed.

I already heard everything I could ever hope to about the art that matters most to me, Trevor thought and felt his heart trip all over again. He waited too long and another student beat him to the punch.

“Sure, why not,” Hugh said, and passed his rolled up drawing over.

“Ah! Thank you, Hugh; that is great. Here we go,” the TA unrolled the piece and clipped it to the easel nearest him before turning it around. “Um, Trevor? Could you hit the lights please?”

“Absolutely,” Trevor responded and hopped up. He caught the sour glare of Professor Shaft and thanked his lucky stars that Adrian was grading this class and not this asshole. He would have failed for sure. A week ago he was undecided on how he felt about that. Now he was just grateful.

He hit the lights and turned back to the class discussion. Hugh had clearly still struggled with the light source, but Trevor could see a delicacy in the rabbit’s fur that indicated a good eye for detail. He put up his hand and waited. And waited. Twice he saw Adrian look directly at him, and pass over him.

He’s intentionally avoiding me, what the fuck? Trevor thought, annoyed and confused. He covered for me. Why would he skip over me?

Trevor’s irritation built. It’s not like I am going to say something unhelpful, he thought, and then realized that Adrian would have no way of knowing that. So when there was a break in the conversation, Trevor just spoke. “The rendering of the fur is well done, especially around the ears. The light in that part of the fur is angled perfectly and Hugh really captured the softness of the material with his shading.”

Adrian’s jaw had dropped. Abruptly, he snapped it shut, and Trevor couldn’t help his smirk. Maybe I should be nice more often, he thought, enjoying the look of surprise.

“Awww, thanks Belmont!” Hugh chirped and Trevor grinned at the man.

When he looked back at Adrian, the TA was looking at Professor Shaft and his hands were clasped tightly. He looked away from the professor, but Trevor felt his anxiety even in the back of the room, and knew something was coming. What did I do now? he wondered.

“Excuse me,” came the graveled voice of the professor from behind Trevor, once the class started talking again. Trevor turned, and looked at the man, dread climbing in his stomach. “Are you affiliated with the Belmont International Gallery?”

Son of a bitch, Trevor thought, helpless. “Not really, no.”

“Let me re-phrase. Are you related to that Belmont family?” Professor Shaft asked him, eyes like black holes sucking Trevor into them. Trevor felt his temper rise and was saved from responding by a knock on the door.

--- 

There's a fossil that's trapped in a high cliff wall, that's my soul up there
There's a dead salmon frozen in a waterfall, that's my soul up there
There's a blue whale beached by a springtide's ebb, that's my soul up there
There's a butterfly trapped in a spider's web, that's my soul up there
I have stood here before inside the pouring rain
With the world turning circles running 'round my brain
I guess I'm always hoping that you'll end this reign
But it's my destiny to be the king of pain

-"King of Pain," The Police

Chapter Text

This is bad, this is so bad, Adrian thought. Trevor couldn’t have picked a worse day to be late or to decide he wants to play nice. Professor Shaft was rigid about attendance. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Hugh used his last name and Belmont wasn’t exactly a common one.

I should have warned him from the beginning, I should have told him Shaft didn’t see his late registration, I should have…

He watched Professor Shaft lean over and whisper something to Trevor. He didn’t hear it but Belmont’s face went hard. Oh no, oh please Trevor, don’t… Adrian begged silently. Shaft rubber stamped his grading but the professor would make an exception for the Belmont.

Shaft had made a name for himself writing the definitive book on a set of Bruges paintings that had been discovered and sold through the Belmont International Gallery.

He’d dined off it for over a decade and when the Belmont forgeries were discovered, his reputation as a serious art scholar had been very damaged. It didn’t matter that the paintings were eventually exonerated, he hated the Belmont clan. The professor had written a series of blistering articles on the damage they’d done to the art world and the credibility of art scholarship.

Adrian had already pushed the envelope with Shaft today when he asked him to come introduce himself. He knew that Professor Shaft preferred not to be identifiable to his intro level students because then they wouldn’t approach him. The TA was debating how far he wanted to stick his neck out for Belmont when the knock came.

Thank you God, Adrian thought and strode forward. He wrenched the door open with anticipation, praying for a fire drill.

Two men stood before him. The one who’d knocked was tall, Adrian’s height and well-proportioned. His face was collected and impassive with a fierce intelligence in his guarded eyes. Adrian instantly wanted to paint him. There was something utterly still within him, like a predator lying in wait.

The man accompanying him was incredibly white, like he didn’t know what the sun was, and had spiky red hair. He was fidgeting, and it only accentuated the utter stillness of his companion. Adrian was instantly reminded of a toddler told to wait.

“Yes? May I help you?” Adrian asked them.

“Belmont,” came the cool, calm voice of the man who had knocked. “We would like to speak to Trevor Belmont.”

Adrian was instantly on high alert. This man seemed slightly sinister and he recognized shoulder holsters under their suits from his father’s bodyguards. “I am sorry, he is in class right now and cannot be disturbed. Perhaps you could…”

The redhead rolled his eyes and raised his voice. “For fuck’s sake, Belmont, get your ass out here or I am coming in there!”

“Godbrand.” The first man said to the redhead. That single word seemed to subdue the man somewhat.

The fidgeter grumbled and said, “Sorry Isaac, this is just bullshit that we even had to come down, he could’ve picked up the bloody p—”

Godbrand.” Isaac said and finally moved. Just a shifting of his weight, but Godbrand shut up immediately and Adrian startled slightly.

“This is highly irregular, and I—” Adrian began but felt a hand on his shoulder. His whole body tensed with anticipation. He knew without looking it was Trevor. There was only one person that made his skin heat like that.

Well, two now, he thought, recalling the incredibly indecent thoughts he’d had about Sypha’s sundress over the lunch hour.

“It’s alright Adrian; I apologize for the disruption,” Trevor didn’t remove his hand and Adrian turned to him.

They hadn’t been this close since the cafeteria. Was that really this month? Adrian wondered, so much has changed for me since then. His eyes slipped to Trevor’s mouth. For a moment he wondered, just wondered what he would taste there. Acceptance and desire, or disgust and fury? A few days ago, I would have thought I knew. Now, I am not so sure.

Trevor let go, and Adrian stepped aside to let the sculptor into the hallway. The one called Godbrand clapped a hand on Trevor’s shoulder. It wasn’t clear who was more surprised when the TA growled.

“Take your hand off of him,” Adrian snapped, and Isaac arched a brow at the blonde. Think whatever you want, the painter thought, but you don’t touch him.

“Don’t get your panties in a twist,” the redhead shot back, and tightened his grip on Belmont.

“Don’t make me call campus security for assault,” Adrian retorted.

Godbrand snorted, and Isaac spoke. “Perhaps we should introduce ourselves. I am Agent Isaac, this is Agent Godbrand. Federal Bureau of Investigation.” He smoothly produced a badge and showed it to the TA.

Oh shit, Adrian thought, shocked, what is going on?  Isaac started to put it away and the blonde held up his hand. “Please keep it out. I may need the numbers if I call my lawyer.” Adrian said, using his media façade to good effect. The casual command conveyed complete confidence. For the first time, Isaac registered surprise.

“What do you want with Trevor? Is he under arrest?” What is going on? Adrian finished silently.

Godbrand snarled and started to speak. “You and your lawyer can shove it right up your—.”

Isaac gave Godbrand the subtlest head shake, and then transferred his gaze to Trevor. “Belmont? May I?” the agent asked, eyes on Adrian.

Trevor sighed and said, “Adrian, it’s alright, they just want to talk to me about my family.”

But that was years ago, why now? the TA wondered. And why would they come in person?

Isaac looked at Adrian. “May I ask your name?” Trevor shook his head and stepped forward, subtly putting himself between them.

“He’s my teacher and his name is Adrian. He’s nobody.” Trevor shrugged. “Look, let’s just go. There is a lounge downstairs. You can ask me your questions there.”

Adrian felt like he’d been kneed in the guts. He’s nobody.

See, Sypha? I was right, he doesn’t give a damn about me. This is why I don’t hope for things I can’t have. Never think that someone can see beyond the Tepes name. You cannot outrun it and you cannot detach from it. “As you wish, Belmont,” Adrian murmured.

The TA was already turning back into the classroom, keenly aware that there would be hell to pay with Shaft at the end of this. And for what? Adrian asked himself. You put your livelihood and something you really enjoy on the line for a man who sees you as nothing.

He failed to see the utter misery on Belmont’s face as he closed the door.

Sure enough, when Adrian turned back from closing the door, the class fell silent and Professor Shaft paused. “I take it the police finally came for the remaining Belmont? Hardly a surprise.” Shaft sneered,“You couldn’t accept any of his work for grading anyway; everyone knows the Belmonts are frauds.”

Adrian’s temper rose sharply. He looked over at Trevor’s duffel and the roll of paper sticking out of it. I saw him creating. I saw him working. Sypha liked what she saw, and identified it as drapes. It means he has at least some skill. He’s not a fraud. His brain interjected, but you don’t know what he is, either. You only know what you aren’t to him.

Adrian took a steadying breath. “Perhaps it is best if we discussed this after class, Professor Shaft. Without an audience?” Adrian fought to keep his voice neutral. He wasn’t entirely successful and he knew it when the older man’s eyes narrowed.

“Belmont’s family history is public knowledge, Alucard, and my grading standards should be one of the first things you reviewed with this class. Or have you been neglecting your duties?”

Inexplicably, Adrian felt a lump in his throat and could only shake his head. What do I have to do to earn your respect? He thought and hated himself. He sat to the side to allow Shaft to finish speaking and sent a quick text.

---

“Godbrand, you fucking asshole. There is a reason I wasn’t calling you.” Trevor spat out, irritated and trying to ignore the rising panic working its claws into his chest. Adrian’s face haunted him and he wanted to get back to class. To explain. To apologize.

It’s not what you think, he thought again, and wished he’d answered the damn calls.

“Did you miss me, ya fucking wanker?” Godbrand sneered at Trevor, putting his foot up on the couch and leering over him.

“If you two are done with the pleasantries,” Isaac said calmly, drawing up a plastic chair and sitting neatly in it.

Trevor slouched back, deliberately trying to look calm. Will these assholes never leave me alone? he wondered. Will my parents crimes always be on me? Thankfully the lounge was empty and would stay that way, given Isaac had closed the door and locked it.

“You know why we are here,” Isaac started to say and the sculptor hissed. “It would have been simpler if you would have returned the phone calls, Trevor.”

“I don’t want to talk to you!” Trevor quietly exploded. “This is fucking harassment. I don’t know anything and I never have. It’s been almost five years now, it’s over!”

“You and I both know it’s not. They never caught the arsonists and we have yet to account for all the forgeries.” Isaac paused. “Furthermore, your family refuses to cooperate with further investigation.”

“They’re not my family,” Trevor muttered. “None of them have talked to me since that night.”

“You haven’t noticed anyone suspicious following you? Any unexplained disturbances in your apartment complex or on campus?” Isaac prodded gently.

“Well, now that you mention it, there is this one guy,” Trevor said, leaning forward.

“Really?” Godbrand leaned into him, eager. “What does he look like?”

“Well, he has a voice like a lynx in heat, and he smells like a dumpster fire,” Trevor said, clasping his hands in front of him.

“Physical traits Belmont, c’mon,” Godbrand had his notepad out, and was looking at him expectantly.

“He favors cheap suits, terrible shoes and is the ugliest motherfucker I’ve ever seen.” Out of the corner of his eye Trevor could see the tiniest quirk of Isaac’s mouth. Definitely the brains of the partnership, Trevor thought, not for the first time.

“White, Black, Latino?” Godbrand prompted.

“Like Casper the fucking ghost,” Trevor supplied, “this man... at least I think he is a man… it might actually be a pile of garbage animated by a necromancer.” Godbrand narrowed his eyes. “This reanimated corpse has the weirdest red hair, like a muppet shit it out, and a face that made his mother blind herself when he was born. Children cry when he passes and puppies—"

“Think you are funny do you, Belmont?” Godbrand snapped his notepad shut. “It won’t be so funny when I haul you in for filing a false police—"

“Enough.” Isaac said simply and paused before continuing. “I understand you find these check-ins onerous Belmont, but so do we. I do not appreciate having to drive down to do this, and in the future, you will return our calls.”

Trevor felt a slight tinge of guilt. Isaac wasn't terrible, but the sculptor despised Godbrand and his shit-talk about Trevor's parents.

Isaac waited for Godbrand to sit before continuing, “Now, tell me about the mob.”

Trevor surged up, temper flaring. “Damn it, Isaac, how many times do I have to tell you I know nothing about that! I know nothing about what my family was doing or who they were dealing with! I literally am a textbook definition of ignorant when it comes to this! Buy a dictionary, look up clueless and I am in there. I know nothing about it!”

“At least you know what you are,” Godbrand snickered and Trevor snarled.

This shit isn’t funny, Trevor thought, this is my fucking life.

“Where did you get the money to come here Belmont?” Isaac looked around. Trevor made a serious bid to hold onto his temper. “The tuition isn’t cheap. It’s interesting, isn’t it? That you would choose art for a career, after all that adamant talk about not participating in the forgery business.”

“Listen and listen well. I am a legitimate artist.” Trevor’s fists were clenched and he put them in his pockets. It was just safest that way. “I have never had anything to do with forgeries and I never will. I got here by working my ass off and I intend to get my degree and put the past behind me. Anything else? I’m missing class.”

“You had well over a hundred fifty thousand in your account at the start of the school year, the vast majority of which came in from an offshore account. You had another five figure sum deposited yesterday. Doesn’t look legitimate to me,” Godbrand, said with a gleam in his eye.

Trevor rocked back on his heels. They are watching me, he thought with astonishment and rapidly rising sense of dread. Why are they watching me?  

“First of all, I would like to see the warrant you must have in order to obtain that information.” Their exchanged glance was not lost on him. Fucking hell. Godbrand rolled his eyes exaggeratedly.

“Secondly, if you are watching me that closely, then you know that I obtained a scholarship this year and I sold two pieces over the weekend.” Trevor closed his eyes because if he had to look at Godbrand one more second, he might kill the man. “That’s where the fucking money came from. It’s all going to this school anyway, which you should also be able to see. Unless you need me to draw you a fucking map?"

He looked at Godbrand and smiled wickedly. "I'll make sure it's a connect-the-dots for you." Godbrand clenched his fists and rose slowly, but Isaac put up a finger. Trevor finished, looking at the man."This is a witch hunt for nothing and I want to know why.”

“The scholarship money that was deposited came from an overseas account,” Isaac said, as though that explained everything. “We couldn’t trace it, but the bank it originated from has been under investigation for some time.”

“Yeah, so what?” Trevor asked. Fucking Tepes and their offshore bullshit, he thought.

“This bank. It was flagged during the investigation into your parents. It’s complicated, but suffice to say, we finally were able to locate the account the funds came from. But it doesn’t make any sense.”

Trevor was confused. How is my scholarship related to my parents? “I don’t follow,” he said and sat back down.

“The source of the money in the account comes from the same source as multiple large payments to the Belmonts. Your parents. Large payments Trevor, absurdly large.” Isaac looked at him coolly. “The kind of payments that could only be for something illegal.”

Trevor struggled to absorb the implications and spoke without thinking. “That’s impossible. The money came from Vlad Tepes; it’s the Tepes scholarship. If it was illegal, why is he giving the money away to random students?”

Isaac’s eyes sharpened and he looked at Trevor. “You believe the funds came from Vlad Tepes? What makes you think that?”

Trevor rubbed his forehead. “It’s called the Tepes Scholarship, who the fuck else would it be?”

“Not Vlad Tepes. His son,” Isaac said. “Alucard Tepes. It’s his bank account.”

Trevor went rigid. “What?!”

It can’t be! Adrian’s money? Oh God, please not that, that is ten times worse, that is awful, I will never be able to look at him again. It was bad enough when it was his father’s money now it’s his? Why the fuck is he giving it away? What was the point? Was it something underhanded? Was he going to try to recruit… wait .

Trevor looked up and looked at Isaac suspiciously. “Alucard would have been a teenager at the time that the payments would have been going to my parents. Are you suggesting that a fifteen or sixteen-year-old kid was funneling absurdly large amounts of money for the purposes of international fraud? Seriously?”

Isaac’s smile was slow but admiring. “You see the problem then. It seems unlikely doesn’t it?”

It was a bomb in the middle of the room and Trevor didn’t want to touch it with a ten-foot pole. Didn’t want to even breathe on that motherfucker. Trevor knew that Adrian’s whole world was about to be destroyed. If they were right. If.

I’ve lived what happens when you discover who your parents really are, Trevor thought. I can’t do that to him. I can’t watch it.

He worked for a easy tone. “Well I do not envy you boys having to prove what you are suggesting, because that is a fucking mess. From my end, I applied anonymously for a scholarship, won it and gave most of the money to the school. You can see it all in my finances. There is nothing more I have for you.”

“Yeah, but that wuddn't all of it, was it?” Godbrand said, lip curled.

“Actually it is. That is the extent of my contact with the Tepes money.” And it will stay that way, Trevor vowed to himself.

“That’s bullshit, Belmont!” Godbrand roared, “They gave you five figures two days ago!”

Trevor’s mind went utterly blank. Like a leaf floating down the river, one picture swam into focus. The image that cruised through was the achingly sweet and heart-breakingly earnest Adrian, who'd tucked his hair behind his ear. Who had a small smile playing on his mouth while his eyes melted into golden pools as he looked at the slide of Trevor’s sculpture. Who had said that looking at Trevor’s art left him questioning what he needed to release, wondering what he would be willing to do to gain fulfillment.

Adrian bought it? Adrian? He wanted to own my art work? It meant that much to him? He shook his head, trying to understand. No, don’t do that. That money would be nothing to him, if he really was behind the scholarship funds. It would be pocket change. Maybe it just…

No, his brain said calmly, you heard him. You saw his face. He understood it and it spoke to him. He bought it because it mattered to him.

The doorway to the trio yawned wide to him once more. There was room here for him. A bridge that he could use to get to Adrian. Money and prestige may stand between them but there was an understanding here, an intimacy that spanned material things. Trevor's excitement warred with his trepidation. The more immediate problem was staring him in the face right now.

What to do now, he thought unhappily, looking at the two agents who’d been in his life since he was sixteen.

“I didn’t know that,” Trevor said slowly. “I have no way of knowing who bought my sculptures, and you can check that with the gallery. When I spoke with Hector, he just told me what had been sold and how much I had made. To be honest, it was only today that I started to wonder who bought them.”

Isaac looked at him and nodded. “I believe you, but we need to ask you a favor.”

“Whatever it is, no,” Trevor said instantly, frustrated and alarmed. “I don’t want to be involved. My life has been destroyed once because of you and I won’t do it again. One text message, one little mistake and it’s taken five years to claw my way back.”

“It don’t look good Belmont,” Godbrand began and Trevor lost his temper.

“Look you piece of shit, I don’t give a damn what looks good to you. You have nothing on me.” Trevor stalked to the door and heard the two men move behind him.

“Belmont, wait,” Isaac began, and Trevor turned back to him.

“No, we are done here. Don’t ever come to my school again. Don’t call me unless you have a damn good reason. Adrian is right; next time you contact me you can speak to my lawyer."

“Trevor, please, it’s not—” there was a note of urgency in Isaac’s voice, but Godbrand reached Belmont first.

The man put his foot against the door and Trevor couldn’t get it to open. His temper flamed high and he whirled to Godbrand. “Furthermore, I am still waiting to see the warrant you have for invading my financial privacy. Lastly, unless I am under arrest, I am late for class and—”

Godbrand got right in Trevor’s face. “Fuck you, you little forgering twat I—"

Trevor swung, furious and beyond caring. He’d owed Godbrand a thousand times over for this, and it was incredibly satisfying to connect with that asshole’s face. At least it was until he found himself slammed up against the door and being cuffed.

“You made this easy, Belmont,” the red headed agent crowed, and whirled Trevor to face him. “And you hit like a pussy.”

"You would think that was pussy on your face, wouldn't you Godbrand? First time?" Trevor spat back. "Somehow I am not surprised."

"Fuck you Belmont, you know what I meant!" Godbrand was outraged, flushed and spitting mad.

Isaac stood to the side, face unreadable and arms crossed. “I think you need some ice for that,” he said simply and looked at his fellow agent.

“Fuck that. You were a witness Isaac and I am pressing charges against this fucking prick,” Godbrand hissed and jerked Trevor away from the door.

Trevor, what the fuck were you thinking?  He asked himself. You are completely screwed! You don’t even know a lawyer and you can’t afford to spend time away from school and you don’t have a way to get back here and…

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Isaac asked slowly. Trevor’s hope flared and abruptly died when Godbrand triumphantly and emphatically said that yes, he absolutely was going to do this.

The door rattled and then someone pounded on it. Godbrand jerked Trevor back and tossed him at Isaac, who stepped up and steadied him with a surprisingly gentle hand. The redhead yanked the door open. “Police business!” he barked and the redhead on the other side of the door put her hands on her hips and sneered.

“On what charge?” Sypha asked and Trevor closed his eyes.

This just got so much worse, he thought with despair.

--- 

Put on your red shoes and dance the blues
Let's dance
Dance to the song they're playing on the radio
Let's sway
While color lights up your face
Let's sway
Sway through the crowd in an empty space
If you say run, I'll run to you
If you say hide, we'll hide
Watch my love for you
It would break my heart in two
If you should fall into my arms
And tremble like a flower

-"Let's Dance," David Bowie

Chapter Text

Sypha got Adrian’s text as she was chatting in the hallway with two classmates. At first, she laughed and texted him a silly face. When he wrote back, ‘This is not a joke, GO,’ her smile died like a flower caught in a hard frost. She shoved her portfolio in the hands of her friend and said “It’s an emergency, I will get this back from you.”

She turned and ran down the hallway, taking the tunnel into the main building at break neck speed. The FBI has Trevor in the Kahlo lounge on 2nd in Drawing. TAing, cannot go. Please check. Lawyer is Cruz & Assoc if needed, call and use my name. Sypha had no idea what was going on but she would sort it out once she got there. If Adrian was concerned, that was enough for her.

Her mind raced as she bolted up the stairs, out the door and across the great lawn towards the Drawing building. She shouldn’t have been surprised by the emotions tumbling through her. Terror, protectiveness, anger, worry, and love. There was so much love it was vibrating through her like an idling tractor.

Sypha wasn’t the kind of woman who tried to pretend or avoid the truths in her life. I guess I just haven’t spent enough time thinking about it, she thought.

It didn’t bother her. Sypha believed that love was something natural and comfortable. It would come when the time was right. Apparently that time was now. She knew she cared for Belmont; the love had just come sooner than she’d thought it might.

She threw open the door to the Drawing building and almost toppled another student. “Sorry! Emergency!” she said breathlessly, ignoring the stitch in her side and the spike of light-headedness. She took a massive breath and leapt at the stairs. I will need to call the lawyer, I will need to be calm, I will need to hold my temper in check

At the end of the hallway she could see the door to the lounge was shut. There was a window in the door and she saw a shaggy brown head through it. She galloped down the hallway and snarled when she saw and heard the head thunk heavily on the door.

What the fuck are they doing to him in there?! she thought.

Skidding to a halt, she grabbed the doorknob and tried to push it open. Her temper grew fangs and claws when she discovered it was locked. When the door opened and a tall, pale man with brilliant red hair that was in dire need of a stylist and some manners roared at her, Sypha was more than ready to fight.

“Police business!” the man bellowed at her, looming. She noticed a pale shadow on his chin, an odd purpling blob. Sypha stuck out her chin, put her hands on her hips and felt every inch of her outrage. She didn't know it but she looked just like her warrior forbearers headed into battle.

“On what charge?” she asked him defiantly, struggling not to pant. It would ruin the intimidation she was trying for, but she was still very winded.

“Get the fuck outta here girlie,” the man told her. When he shifted, she could see Trevor, handcuffed and looking away from her. His resignation alarmed her more than the handcuffs.

“Trevor!” Sypha said. He didn’t look at her and Sypha’s fear grew.

I know you. Whatever it is, it’s not your fault, she thought. Don’t give up, trust me.

“Hey! Are you daft? I said get lost!” The officer put out a hand to her, and Sypha smiled.

“Are you assaulting an unarmed bystander without the standard identification warning?” She cocked her head and crossed her arms. “Someone who is checking in on the welfare of an unarmed, fully restrained and unresisting civilian. One whom it appears was falsely imprisoned?”

Like all people who gave a shit about their world, Sypha had been to her share of protests and considered it a matter of self-preservation that she understood her rights before she attended. Police these days were entirely too free with violating the rights of those they were supposed to protect. As a white woman, she’d stepped in front of many of the protestors targeted for their identities or race and found that she could usually leverage her privilege to protect others.

The man blinked and his hand fell back, even as his mouth opened.

“Godbrand, do not. If you are pressing charges, then let’s take Belmont and be on our way.” Sypha could not see the person speaking but they sounded completely calm, with an undeniable edge of authority in their voice. The digital artist’s unease deepened.

Charges for what? Sypha thought, but didn’t expect an answer. Instead she said, “Where are you taking him? I am calling his lawyer. Then I am taking a cab and following you there.”

Godbrand snarled at her, “You are impeding an investigation and need to give us space to exit the room.”

“I am well within my rights to observe as a citizen and ensure that this man receives due process and you adhere to the conduct required of you by law.” Sypha struggled to be calm and non-threatening. “Please answer my question as to where you are taking him, and I would be happy to step aside.”

“We will take him to the local precinct. I believe it is on 21st,” came that calm voice from inside the room. It paused before continuing, “You may follow but you need to step aside now. Godbrand, yes or no?”

“Fucking yes,” the asshole in the bad suit hissed and bad-temperedly rolled his shoulders.

Sypha couldn’t resist her triumphant smile at the officer in front of her, or the exaggerated bow she gave as she stepped aside. She already had her phone out and texted for a cab to meet her at the front. She saw the redhead glower at her as he went by and resisted giving him the finger.

Her heart tripped when she saw Trevor and he wouldn’t look at her. He looked straight ahead, face blank and unreadable as he was escorted down the hallway in handcuffs by a tall, competent looking man with an equally impassive face. Damn you both, she thought to the officers, humiliating him like this.

It was a small college. Everyone would know about this by tomorrow morning and it would be one more thing that would isolate him from his peers. It would be one more thing he would think Adrian would hold against him.

She trailed down the stairs behind them and called Cruz & Associates. When she said she was calling on behalf of Alucard Tepes she was immediately transferred and moments later was speaking to a smooth, rich voice. “Soma Cruz, how may I help you?”

Sypha quickly sketched out the situation and added several items that made it clear she wasn’t a crank and knew Adrian personally. She watched the officers load Trevor into their car and made a note of the license plate, giving it to Cruz for good measure.

The lawyer told her to follow them but to not interfere. He warned her that she wouldn’t be allowed in the interview but he was going to contact an associate firm in the area who would be his physical presence. He assured her that he would be on the phone with the representative during any conversation. Cruz took her contact information as she sprinted toward the cab idling at the curb. The lawyer told her he wouldn’t call her again unless he needed something, but she could call and speak to his associate, Mina, if she needed updates. 

The ride to the precinct was nail-biting. The digital artist hadn’t been able to actually follow the FBI vehicle and didn’t like that she couldn’t see them ahead of her. Several texts to and from Adrian confirmed that Soma had contacted him to confirm he could proceed. Her best friend had told Cruz that he was unavailable, but confirmed that Sypha was authorized to contract Soma for any and all measures.

Sypha was the final word on how to proceed if Trevor was unable to provide it.

When they pulled up to the precinct Sypha threw the cash to the driver and dove out of the cab. Mounting the front steps, she paused to take a deep breath and settle. You don’t dash into a police station looking like you are out of control, she told herself.

Calmer, she opened the door and stepped inside.

---

Isaac was not happy. This was not supposed to be how the interview with Belmont went.

He could never admit it, but he despised Godbrand. The man had the finesse of a wrecking ball, was loud, brash and foolish. Working with him tried Isaac’s patience and more than once he’d seriously considered asking for a transfer. He didn’t, because Isaac had taught himself to endure.

He could tolerate almost anything and at least Godbrand understood their partnership. Isaac gave him free reign on the little things and Godbrand obeyed once Isaac stepped in. I should have stepped in earlier, he thought unhappily, looking at Belmont through the one-way glass. In reality, Trevor had endured a hell of a lot of pressure from them, and Godbrand had probably had that punch coming for years.

If only I knew what I was looking for, he thought again. The Belmont murders had been the biggest case he’d ever worked at the time it had landed on his desk. At first it had seemed incredibly promising. The boy had texted his cousin two nights before the fire. The parents had been executed and then both the home and the gallery destroyed the same day the newspapers had leaked the story.

Then it started to fall apart.

When they interviewed the cousin, they’d been adamant that they never told anyone. They were young and terrified. Furthermore, they could find no evidence that Trevor's friend had told anyone.

The newspaper had refused to reveal their source and then won the court case protecting the source. The journalist who'd been the contact for the source spent over a year in jail and still didn’t break. The fire had incinerated everything and there were no records of ties to mob sources anywhere. Even the forgeries were next to impossible to track.

Whether the art world liked to admit it or not, the Belmonts had primarily dealt in real artworks. The FBI didn’t have the resources or inclinations to pay to send an art historian all over the planet to confirm what was what. So the case languished and was quietly moved to the back of Isaac’s desk.

But he never forgot it. Even though Godbrand resented it and his supervisor rolled her eyes every time he brought it up, it nagged at Isaac.

Trevor had always said he didn’t know anything about the forgery business, but he wouldn’t even talk about exactly how he’d found out. The Belmont would disappear for months on end and Isaac would think that the mob finally got him. Then the man would show up again, applying for a driver’s license, a work permit, or more recently, a fighting license. Because the case was still considered open, Isaac was able to keep tabs on Trevor and on his finances in the past two years.

When the lump sum came in, it’d been what Isaac had been waiting for. He got the warrant and the tech to track it back. And what do they find, but the account that paid Trevor was strung together with a set of other accounts, one of which was the account that they’d previously been unable to identify. But now they could.

Modern technology and international cooperation was a wonderful thing, Isaac mused, watching Belmont shift through the glass.

Isaac had fudged a little. He’d let Trevor believe that Vlad had used Alucard’s account to make the Belmont payments, but that wasn’t entirely true. It was more that the money that was put into Alucard’s account came, in a very convoluted way, from the same account that the payments to the Belmonts came from. The problem was that Isaac couldn’t look further than that.

The minute that Vlad Tepes had come into the picture, Isaac had been called into his superior’s office and told in no uncertain terms that he was not to investigate anything related to the Tepes. He could continue to research what happened to the Belmonts, but there was to be no contact with the Tepes family, no warrants for Tepes accounts and absolutely no word of FBI investigation remotely associated with Vlad Tepes.

So basically, stop, without telling me to stop, Isaac thought.

Isaac remembered Trevor’s face when he’d heard his parents had been murdered and his childhood home burned down. He had counted on Trevor being willing to help him. If Trevor consented to returning a portion of the funds he received to the Tepes accounts and Isaac could obtain traces showing where that money went once it went in Tepes’ accounts, technically he was following Belmont's money, not Tepes.

But there was something there, Isaac thought suspiciously.

He knew Belmont at this point, and Trevor had been shocked by the implication that Alucard Tepes was involved. Stunned and then immediately defensive. It was almost like… Isaac closed his eyes and groaned. “Godbrand, wait here. Do not, I repeat, do not go in there without me.”

Isaac stepped into the hallway and pulled out his phone. Pulling up a search engine, he looked up Tepes family and scrolled quickly.

Son of a bitch, he thought when Alucard Tepes’ face filled the screen. Please keep your badge out in case I need to call my lawyers… His name is Adrian, he’s my teacher. He’s nobody…

The agent firmed his mouth. For years he’d known in his gut that Trevor didn't know anything about his parent’s death. But this, this was a hell of a coincidence. It was time to get some answers. He opened the interview room door and stepped inside. Trevor looked up at him, waiting. Isaac came over, sat down and deliberately didn’t push the microphone button to record.

“There is precious little time now, Trevor. You need to tell me about Alucard Tepes, and you need to tell me now.”

----

Class was over and Adrian had a massive headache. He was tired of listening to Shaft’s tirade on Adrian’s inability to do his job correctly.

Do your own damn job then, the painter thought, but knew better than to make this worse. The simple fact was that if he told Shaft to go fuck himself like he desperately wanted to, he would have no income and would have to take the money his parents kept depositing into his account. The money that he had repeatedly asked his father to stop depositing, but was told it was his, whether he wanted it or not. Rather than arguing with his father about the money, it was simplest to quietly give it away.

The money in that account funded the Tepes scholarship and helped those who were talented and deserved a chance. That money meant a future for artists who weren't as lucky as he was. It made it possible for them to be able to afford the outrageous tuition at the school. Adrian never wanted to use that money on himself.

He was an adult and his parents already paid for his tuition separately from the outrageous allowance he received every month. He could work and he would pay for what he was allowed to pay for with his own money. 

Furthermore, if Adrian quit this class he would be abandoning his students. Most of them were really lovely people and they would be stuck with a teacher that hated them and would teach them to hate art. Adrian couldn’t do that to them or to himself. Better to bite his tongue and rise above this entire conversation.

“You will fail Belmont, or I will change the grade myself.” Shaft said triumphantly. “It’s not his work, and even if it is, he is trash.”

Adrian’s head snapped up and he stared at the professor. “You are asking me to willfully agree to fraudulently failing a student because of a personal bias.”

Shaft snorted, “As if you haven’t done the same! It’s hardly an uncommon practice. Teaching is personal, and bias will always creep in.”

Adrian shook his head slowly, and the professor’s face flushed. “No. If I have that much of a bias, I would recuse myself or give the student’s work to another professor to grade. I wouldn't embrace my bias as unavoidable. It's unfair. Furthermore, it’s unethical.”

“Watch yourself Alucard! I have given you free hand with this class and you had best heed me on this,” Shaft shook his finger at his TA. Adrian looked at the angry, bitter man who didn’t care who he hurt, so long as his pride was satisfied.

The TA drew himself his full height and started to speak. His phone rang and the ringtone was his father. Probably for the best, Adrian thought and looked up at Shaft. “Excuse me, I have to take this call.”

Shaft’s eyes widened and then narrowed. He shook his head and stormed out. Adrian took a deep breath and answered the phone. Without preamble his father’s accented tones rumbled out of the device. “Adrian, what is going on?”

“Hello Father, I am afraid you’ll have to be more specific.” Adrian’s mind was everywhere but here. He wasn’t being sarcastic, he was serious. “There are several things going on for me right now. Was there one in particular you were wondering about?”

“I am wondering why the most expensive lawyer in the east coast is dealing with the FBI on behalf of a Trevor Belmont and I am footing the bill?” His father said with a slightly amused, slightly exasperated tone. “I was told that you authorized this.”

Adrian closed his eyes. He had meant to text Vlad and tell him but between teaching, the argument with Shaft and the sporadic updates from Sypha and Cruz, he’d had his hands full. “I apologize sir, I meant to get in touch with you but I have been in the middle of teaching. I had a student who was pulled out of class by the FBI and from the little I gleaned, it appeared to be harassment. What I know of his history suggested that he might not have representation and I am—”

“Full of it,” Vlad finished for him, gentle but firm. “You’ve never called on one of my connections before.” His father fell silent.

You knew this was coming, Adrian thought with resignation. “It’s complicated,” he said and felt relieved when his father laughed.

“What isn’t? Listen, let me ask you this. Is everything alright? With you? I am not worried about this Belmont; Soma is the best. But you sound… uneasy,” Vlad seemed at a loss to describe how Adrian sounded.

“Actually, I am not alright,” Adrian said in a small rush. “I am a bit of a mess right now and I don’t know what to do, on several fronts.”

“I will come see you,” Vlad said instantly, deadly serious and concerned. “I can be there in… six hours, depending on the flights.” Adrian could hear the startled protest of Vlad’s assistant and the abrupt cut off their voice. He had to smile. He knew his father was holding up his finger and giving his assistant the look. Adrian had seen it several times, aimed at others and aimed at himself.

Warmth spread through Vlad’s son and he struggled with the comfort of knowing his father would drop everything to help him, but the need to handle life on his own terms. Vlad always meant well but he was incredibly protective and sometimes it left Adrian feeling managed, rather than assisted.

“That is a wonderful thought but I must decline. I cannot take you away from your work,” Adrian said and his father grumbled. “Furthermore, I need to handle these issues on my own. But thank you, really. It means a great deal to me that you would offer. I need to mention as well, I intend to pay for Soma myself and I would appreciate it if you would allow me to.”

“I thought… I had hoped that your using Soma…” Vlad fell silent and Adrian felt something pass between them. It felt heavy and somewhat sad. He couldn’t have said what it was but he felt its weight. “I am very proud of you Adrian,” Vlad said quietly. “You are quite the man.”

Adrian sat heavily and closed his eyes. He felt fragile and uncertain. He could count on his hand the number of times his father had called him a man. Acknowledged him as a peer and not a child. “Thank you, Father, I am trying to be. It is hard.”

Vlad’s voice was rueful but admiring. “Anything worth having is. If you won’t let me come see you now, could I convince you to come home this weekend? We could talk about how you resolved these issues and I would like to hear about what happens with Soma and this Belmont.”

If I can get anything resolved in three days, I suppose, Adrian thought stoically. “I will try Father but I cannot promise that. I had plans with Sypha and—”

“Oh bring her! I would love to see her again!” Vlad’s grin came through the phone. “See if she can still best me at Ferbli. I’ve been working on it and damned if this won’t be the time I finally get her.”

Adrian grinned. His father had taught his best friend the traditional card game of Ferbli, which was loosely like poker but the cards were the magyar kártya deck and the rules were somewhat different. Lisa and Adrian only played under duress. Vlad was far too good at the game and crowed with delight every time he won.

It had been with great pleasure that they’d witnessed Sypha’s triumph over Vlad in the third round of the fourth game. She seemed to have a natural gift for the card game, although she kept claiming beginners’ luck despite beating Vlad consistently eight times in a row thereafter.

His father had been shocked, then furious and then utterly charmed. When Sypha gave him a sly grin and laid down her vakon hívás on the nineth game, Vlad had thrown his cards down, leapt to his feet and hauled her over the table with a roar of laughter and a great big hug.

He had declared that Adrian had to marry her or he would. Sypha had batted her lashes and asked if Lisa came with the package. That had done it; Vlad had adored her ever since.

“I will ask her, but she has been busy lately." Adrian repressed a longing sigh. "She’s seeing someone.”

“Adrian what?! She’s been stepping out on me! That hussy!” His father laughed. “Might she be seeing a certain artist currently in police custody?”

What?! Adrian thought, startled, how did…

“Your mother mentioned that Sypha was seeing someone named Belmont.”

Adrian’s blood froze. Oh Mother, you didn’t tell him I…

“Let’s just say I was surprised. You and Sypha always seemed so close; I had just thought it was a matter of time.” The ice melted, Lisa had obviously just mentioned it in passing and not the whole matter. He should have known better; his mother was not a gossip. “Bring Belmont too, I would like to meet him. See who Sypha chose over me,” Vlad was grinning, Adrian could hear it in his voice.

“I will see what I can do,” Adrian said. Asking Belmont to the Tepes home should be amusing. He tried to picture Vlad and Trevor together and repressed his snicker. That would either go really well, or horribly wrong.

“Will Mother be there?” He could count on his mother to help keep the peace.

“Actually yes, we should do something fun. I cannot remember the last time all of us were home together.” There was a murmur in the background and Adrian caught that his father was now late for a meeting.

“I need to go,” the painter said easily, “but I will text you and let you know how many to expect. Thank you for calling and checking everything was alright.”

“I will let Eva know that there will be three of you,” Vlad said just as easily, and Adrian rolled his eyes. As if by saying it, it would come true. “I look forward to it. I miss you. Take care.”

“You as well, Father,” Adrian said and gently hung up. “I love you.” 

It appeared he was going home again this weekend.

--- 

Now I'm walking again
To the beat of a drum
And I'm counting the steps to the door of your heart
Only shadows ahead
Barely clearing the roof
Get to know the feeling of liberation and release
Hey now, hey now
Don't dream it's over
Hey now, hey now
When the world comes in
They come, they come
To build a wall between us
You know they won't win

-"Don't Dream It's Over," Crowded House

Chapter Text

“Alucard Tepes? I don’t understand,” Trevor said and narrowed his eyes at Isaac.

The FBI agent sighed. “Look, Trevor, I don’t know what your connection to the Tepes family is, but I cannot believe you would protect them when they were involved with what happened with your parents.”

That’s not possible, Trevor thought again, I can’t see Adrian coming from people who would do something like that. “I’m not protecting anyone." He said, "I don’t know Vlad Tepes beyond the usual media stuff and what I needed to know for the scholarship.”

Isaac raised his eyebrow and turned his phone to Trevor. Adrian stood beside a tall, dark, strikingly featured man and a stunning blonde woman. ‘Tepes Family Donates Wing to Hospital' screamed across the headline. Adrian was gorgeous in a black tuxedo, hair pulled back into a bun and the faintest smile. The graceful ease with which he stood between his parents spoke volumes and he was a fascinating mix of both of them.

Trevor’s heart squeezed painfully. He felt far too much when he saw Adrian held between his parents. He didn’t know it, but Isaac saw it too and wondered. “As I said, I don’t know Vlad Tepes. I know Adr—Alucard Tepes through art school and very casually at that.”

“Trevor, whatever they promised you, whatever is holding you back from—” Isaac began and Trevor shook his head furiously. You don’t get it, he thought and tried to explain.

“Look. I just don’t believe you.” Trevor shrugged. “I like you Isaac, I don't know why to be honest, but I do. I appreciate that you kept looking, kept at it, but this is flat out wrong. There is no fucking way that the Tepes family was involved with the killing of my parents. It’s Vlad fucking Tepes. Why? Why would he bother with forgeries, why would he kill anyone? The man is so powerful he doesn’t need to kill anyone, he could just buy his way out of whatever the issue was. Besides, he has nothing to do with buying and selling art.”

Isaac spoke softly, but intently, “Sometimes there is no such thing as enough power for people Trevor, sometimes money isn’t enough. You should understand that. It happened to your parents; why wouldn’t it happen to Alucard’s?”

Trevor snarled, but he couldn’t argue with that. Some days he wondered if he would ever know the whole story. Because it was an ongoing investigation, many of the details were only rumors. With neither the FBI or his own family talking to him, Trevor had to make do with bits and conjecture.

“Look, it’s obvious that you care about Alucard Tepes. That’s fine, I am not interested in him. All I want to know is why the Tepes were making payments to the Belmonts. Why they were so big and why there were so many,” Isaac coaxed, posture relaxed and head cocked. 

“I don’t know. Have you asked them?” Trevor threw himself back in his chair and sighed. “What did they say?”

Isaac seemed to be thinking. The first sign of irritation appeared in the flex of his jaw. He lowered his already quiet voice. “I would but I can’t. I’ve been told not to even breathe in Vlad’s direction.”

Okay, that is a little suspicious, Trevor thought and tried to ignore the flare of doubt.

“You though,” Isaac looked at him. “You can ask whatever you want.”

Trevor stared at him. “Are you serious? You want me to ask Vlad Tepes about his finances?” Trevor laughed incredulously. The idea was absurd. “What do I say? Hey nice to meet you, uh, no biggie but a source I cannot name suggested that you might be doing something highly illegal with my parents, who by the way committed international fraud before getting murdered in a mob hit but don’t worry, I am a great influence on your son.”

Issac looked at him calmly. “Maybe not exactly like that.”

He’s serious! Trevor thought and felt a hot wave of anger pass over him. “You know what Isaac? Fuck you. You let Godbrand drag me through campus, down here for a punch that we both know he had coming for years. You’re asking me to put my personal relationship with Adrian on the line and for what? To suggest that his father might be participating in something illegal? And what if he is? Then what? I’d be putting myself in harm’s way for—”

“But I thought you said that Vlad would never do that,” Issac interrupted. “Vlad would never do anything illegal. So what harm would there be beyond the awkwardness?” Trevor snapped his mouth shut and glowered at the federal agent. “All I am saying is think about it,” Issac said, all reason.

“Oh I will think about it, I think about kick—“ Trevor snapped back and the door opened.

“You had best not be speaking to my client without representation. Has he been Mirandized?” A slender brunette man stalked in and looked at Godbrand, who was staring holes into Isaac’s head.

“Is this your lawyer?” Isaac asked Trevor. I have no fucking idea, he thought and wished he knew what Sypha was doing. When she said she was calling his lawyer he’d been surprised but he didn’t think she’d actually do it. He had every intention of pleading guilty. Lying would make it worse and Issac had witnessed the whole thing. This man looked expensive. Trevor could practically smell the billing hours.

The brunette filled the empty air easily. “I’ve been sent on behalf of Soma Cruz.” That’s nice, Trevor thought, who is that? “You are Trevor Belmont, yes?” Trevor nodded and the man smiled. “Excellent.” He looked at Isaac. “I will need the room.”

Isaac got up, looked at Trevor and said, “It could mean knowing.”

And you know that is all I have ever really wanted, Trevor thought. I need to know who killed them and to know that I could at least right that part of the horror that I brought on my parents. I can never take back the part I played, but I could at least know there was justice. I need it and I always have.

Trevor looked down at the table and closed his eyes as he heard the sounds of the agents leave. You don’t have to make a decision now, he told himself. What decision, you aren’t doing this! I’ve been told not to even breathe in Vlad’s direction. No, there is no chance you are even considering this. Adrian would never forgive you and you have a chance with him now. All I want to know is why the Tepes were making payments to the Belmonts. What does it matter, maybe he was buying art? The chance that Vlad was involved in my parent’s death is so fucking slim… It’s slim but not impossible, is it? 

It could mean knowing. “Fucking Isaac,” Trevor snarled aloud and his lawyer, who’d been in the process of getting out his cellphone, paused.

“Was that the one who assaulted you?” the man asked and Trevor blinked.

“Uh, what?” Trevor asked, confused. “I punched Godbrand. I assaulted him; he didn’t punch me.” How much do you cost, because this should be obvious?  he thought. I am in handcuffs and Godbrand is wearing a bruise.

“Just a moment please, I am calling Mr. Cruz. He will want to hear this,” the man said and finished dialing. Within moments there was a smooth, calm voice on the phone. He introduced himself to Trevor, told him everything would be fine and that with the information he had, he thought he could have Trevor out of custody within the hour.

Promises, promises, Trevor thought and opened his mouth to speak but Soma and the other lawyer were discussing what had been happening with Isaac when the lawyer had come in.

“Yes, I agree,” Soma was saying. “Clearly unscrupulous and obviously intimidating. We can argue that he was attempting to ensure that Trevor would confess before receiving proper consultation. Furthermore, if they haven’t Mirandized— Trevor? Trevor were you read your rights? You know, the ‘right to be silent’ and all of that?”

“Hi, uh, no I wasn’t, but I did it. I punched Godbrand, ugh, Agent Godbrand.” Trevor said.

“Wasn’t he,” there was the sound of the lawyer shuffling paper, and then a stillness. “Impeding your ability to leave the student lounge?”

“Well, Isaac locked the door so people couldn’t get in, but Godbrand put his foot against the door so I couldn’t leave when I unlocked it and tried to exit.” Trevor said slowly. Where are we going with this? he wondered.

Something that might have been amusement was in Soma’s voice and the lawyer in the room with Trevor openly smirked. “So you were falsely imprisoned with two federal agents. I was told that you were also shoved or thrown against the door hard enough that a third party could hear the sound of your skull hitting the door from outside the room. Have you been medically examined?”

“Um, no? I mean I bumped my head but I was okay…” Trevor was at a total loss. Medically examined?

“Were you under arrest at the time you were leaving?” Cruz asked him.

Trevor shook his head and then realized Cruz couldn’t see him, so he said, “No. I only punched Godbrand after he got in my face and then I was put under arrest. Before that they were questioning me about an old case.”

“Do you have reason to believe you were considered a suspect in the case or were you a witness?” Soma asked, brisk and businesslike.

Trevor laughed, “Nope to both. I am a family member of the victims and have been interviewed more times than I can count. I’ve never been able to offer anything useful.” He sobered. “Unfortunately.”

“My sympathies, Mr. Belmont, that must be difficult.” Cruz’s voice was pitch-perfect sympathy with just enough warmth that Trevor almost believed he meant it. Almost. “So would you term the actions of these agents to be harassing in nature?”

“God yes. They called me a dozen times last week and then showed up, yelled at me in my class and then withdrew me from it after interrogating my teacher and—” Trevor clued into what was happening here. A slow grin spread across his face. “Mr. Cruz, I think I like you.”

 “Oh I definitely like you, Mr. Belmont.” Soma chuckled. “This will be fun.”

---

The last thing Sypha thought she would see was Trevor laughing when he exited the police station. She leapt up and ran to him, tears stinging her eyes. “Trevor! Thank God, I am so grateful you are alright!”

He got a good look at her face and immediately drew her close. “Sypha, oh, no, I am alright. It’s okay, really, I am just fine.”

She held on tight and gave into her tears. “I was scared. Mina told me that they were charging you with assaulting an officer and I just—”

“No babe, no, it’s okay. That was actually… kinda fun,” he said, surprise and pleasure eking out of his voice.

Sypha drew back in surprise. “Fun?!” Did they drug him? she wondered. He had a sloppy grin on his face and seemed almost giddy.

“Actually, yeah.” His grin was huge. “I finally got to punch someone who has been an utter asshole to me for years. When he thought he finally got me cornered and to be honest, so did I, I got to see him get repeatedly kicked in the nuts by my lawyer to the point where he is apologizing to me while he is purple with anger.” Trevor sighed dreamily. “Better than sex.”

Sypha jerked back, “Excuse me?” You take that back or I am gonna

Trevor’s eyes widened and then he just laughed. “Not sex with you of course. Sex with other people.”

Sypha scowled, “Trevor Belmont, you had best not be having sex with other people unless it is Adrian, and furthermore, if you are having sex with him you had better gimme the dets.”

Trevor picked her up and whirled her around before dropping a kiss on the tip of her nose. “I fully intend to have sex with him with you.” He grinned wickedly, “At least once in a while.”

That’s it, Sypha thought. She punched him in the gut, hard, and he whoofed out air. “We’ll see who gets there first Belmont.” She told him tartly.

“Nice one,” he said weakly from his hunched over stance. “Uh, ladies first?”

“Damn right you ass. I’ve been panicking out here and you’ve been dreaming of Adrian’s dick.” Sypha glowered at him as he gingerly stood up. “I saw him first!”

Trevor’s smile eased into something sweet. “Actually I wasn’t. I promise. I’m sorry you were panicking. Truthfully, I was too there for a while. Thank you for calling Soma, he was amazing.” His smile grew rueful. “Although I suspect I will be paying out my ass for him.” He looked back at the station. “Worth it though.”

Uh oh, Sypha thought. She hadn’t decided how to handle that part yet. Adrian had been adamant that Trevor was not to pay and told her that Soma already had his instructions for payment. “Yes, well, I think we have a lot to discuss. Let’s get you home.”

“We have our extended media class in 40 minutes, don’t you think—” Trevor began and Sypha took his hand.

“Trevor, you need to take this afternoon,” she said as gently as possible. “We need to talk. I hate to bring you down from this high and I am so grateful that this wasn’t as traumatizing as I thought it would be... but you need to consider what you will be facing on campus tomorrow.”

For a split second she saw everything inside of Trevor. It was like peeling a peach skin. At first, the peach looked great and whole and pretty. Then you put the knife to the skin and watched all that pulpy mess ooze out like it’d been pounded with the back of a wooden spoon. And the skin ripped, and your fingers sunk into the softness in a bruising, punishing way. It was horrible.

“Adrian,” he whispered, anguished. “Does he know?”

“Yes, he knows.” Sypha nodded and thought, do you realize what you just did Trevor? His opinion was the first one you worried about. She resisted clapping with glee; Belmont was half-way in love and hadn't even kissed the painter yet. “He was very worried. I can confidently say that he was sure you were innocent from the beginning and just wanted to make sure you were okay.”

Trevor nodded, somber. “So now I only have to convince all my teachers and classmates that I am not a dangerous, law-breaking criminal from the Belmont family. Oh wait. Never mind.” He heaved a sigh. “Fuck.”

Sypha gave him an understanding pat on his arm. “It will be hard but not impossible.”

Trevor gave her a small smile. “Good thing I don’t give a shit what other people think.” He raked a hand through his hair.

If only that were true, Sypha thought but simply nodded.

“Let’s go home,” Trevor said, draping his arm over her. He stiffened. “I mean… I meant, uh, if you would like to come—” You darling man, I could eat you up, she thought. I love you too.

“Where you are? That’s home.” Sypha said, and put her arm around his waist. “I knew what you meant.”

Her phone buzzed and Sypha looked at it. “Ah. Adrian just got word you’ve been released and would like to know if you are alright. Also, he has your bag.”

Trevor frowned. “How did he find out so fast? Tell him I am fine.” Sypha typed in a response. “And if he could bring my bag by the apartment that would be great, I need to grab my notes on… actually, no, I will get it tomorrow.” You don’t want him to see your place, she thought and made a decision. 

“Oh shit, sorry, I already sent the address to him and asked him to bring it… and yep, he asked what time he could bring it by?” Sypha looked at him innocently and pretended not to see the utter irritation that flashed in his eyes. Believe me, it is a good thing, she thought. He needs to see you and you need to see him. He doesn’t care about your history. You are the one with the hang-up on his money, and you need to get past it to get to Adrian.

“Sypha, he’ll probably get mugged on his way there. Tell him not to walk. If he wears his gold chains it’ll happen for sure. Tell him no jewelry, tell him to borrow someone’s clothes, tell him—” He groaned. “I’m being ridiculous.” You care so much and you can’t even admit it to yourself, she thought, sadness and frustration welling up inside her like an overflowing bathtub.

“A little bit,” she said gently. “Tell you what. Let’s get food into you first, and then you into me,” Trevor’s grin was filthy, “and then we’ll sort out the rest together. I want to hear it all.”

“That is a plan I can get behind,” Trevor said happily. When Sypha turned to flag a cab, he smacked her ass playfully. “Also an ass I can get behind.”

Sypha looked over her shoulder, “You mean an ass you can get under.”

“Tell you what, lover,” Trevor cooed, as he draped himself over her, “We’ll see who climbs who first.”

---

“So that’s it, that’s how it all went down,” Trevor finished, watching Sypha dig through his closet. Her cute ass was wriggling madly as she hunted for a T-shirt that was long enough for her to wear as a reasonable version of a dress. Her clothes had been unfortunately tossed on the half-dissected engine on the floor of his ‘dining room.’ There were pieces in it that he wanted to use for a sculpture. They hadn’t realized where her clothes had landed until they’d collapsed on the couch. She’d spied them, streaked in grease, over back of the couch and alerted him via a screech that still rang in his ears.

She’d climbed him first, but he’d finished it. And what a finish, he thought, still blissed out from the incredible orgasm. There was definitely something to be said for foregoing condoms. Sypha had gotten an IUD last week and Trevor had gone with her. There’d been something hilarious but terribly sweet about exchanging their clean test results and then making out in the elevator like it was prom night. He was pretty sure whomever was manning the elevator security cameras had been forced to excuse themselves for a quick self-care session in the bathroom.

Sex with Sypha had been fantastic before but now… well, he was spoiled for life. Funny, he wasn’t worried about it though. Every day with her he became surer about what she felt for him. Everyday he came closer to telling her everything about himself. To telling her he was pretty sure he loved her.

“Trevor,” she popped out of his closet with his old Smashing Pumpkins hoodie and yanked it over her head. It hit mid-thigh and looked utterly adorable. “You have to tell Adrian.”

Trevor sighed. “Do you realize what it’s going to sound like? What I would be accusing his father of? And I don’t even believe it.” He paused, “I think.” I don’t want to believe it but I can’t help but wonder.

Sypha snorted. “It’s bullshit. Once you meet Vlad and Lisa, you’ll understand. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t need answers, that you don’t deserve to put your mind at ease on the whole thing. And honestly? Vlad should know that the FBI has these questions. Who knows? He might even be able to give them some insights.”

“You could ask him. You know him and I—” She was shaking her head. Fucking hell Sypha, can’t you see how impossible this is for me?

“No Trevor. I can go with you and I happily will, but he needs to hear this from you. See what it means to you. I really think he will understand.”

“And what about Adrian? Damn it Sypha, I’ve said some really terrible things to him and I have been wrong at every turn. I can’t believe you didn’t tell me that it was him that gave out the scholarships. That you helped him pick my application!” I’m still reeling from that, he thought.

When Sypha had heard that he knew Adrian’s money paid for the scholarship she’d been ecstatic and told him he should have seen how excited Tepes had been over his application. She’d resoundingly agreed with his choice and had concurred that Trevor should be granted the full tuition and living expenses. The digital artist had crowed that if she’d known it was Trevor, they all would be in bed together by now.

She’d been horrified when it became apparent that Trevor hadn’t realized Adrian dealt with the applications personally and had thought that his only involvement in the scholarship was his money. She’d cried, saying she’d broken her best friend’s confidence and had still been sniffling when they got out of the shower. Trevor felt badly but the flattery of knowing that Adrian and Sypha chose him over the other applicants? His ego was granite and so was his cock.

“I told you, I couldn’t tell you! You shouldn’t even know now, if I hadn’t blabbed like an idiot!” She sniffled and Trevor immediately got up.

“No love, don’t.” He didn’t even catch what he said, but Sypha did. “It was an honest mistake and I am so grateful you made it. It might be a quick moment of dismay for Adrian later, but I swear I will say nothing until the time is right.”

He tilted her chin up and kissed her forehead. One hand on the small of her back, tracing little patterns that drew her into him. “Meanwhile,” he continued, “it’s hot as fuck to think about. I mean, he chose me Sypha. You chose me. For my art. For the realest and frankly the rawest part of myself. Before you ever met me!”

“It’s gorgeous.” He kissed the ginger arch of her eyebrow. “It’s humbling.” He pressed his lips to her soft cheek, right on two freckles that kissed each other. “It’s perfect.” He captured her mouth. “I love it.”

“I love you,” Sypha murmured into his mouth, and Trevor’s hands tightened on her jaw. What?! She does? How is that possible! How could someone like Sypha love me? How did I get so lucky? 

Her brows came together. “I know it’s sudden and too soon but I—”

“I do too. Love you, I mean.” Trevor said, finding the words so much easier and truer than he’d thought. It was still terrifying and still echoed in his ears when he said it, but when Sypha’s stunning eyes flew open, as blue as the porcelain beads in his mother’s favorite necklace, he found words he never knew he had. “I think I did from the moment you introduced yourself in Extended Media. You are a badass. And sexy. And brilliant. I can’t believe you want me. I can’t believe you love me.”

Her lips were soft and welcoming, and so was her body as she yielded against him. "How could I not? Kind, funny, dangerous," she punctuated every word with a little nip or lick, "intense, a little sad, mysterious, loyal...you are irresistible." She pushed him back on the bed and he grinned.

His hoodie was half way over her head when there was a knock at the door.

--- 

You keep your distance with a system of touch
And gentle persuasion
I'm lost in admiration, could I need you this much?
Oh, you're wasting my time
You're just, just, just wasting time…
…I made a fire, I'm watching it burn
Thought of your future
With one foot in the past, now, just how long will it last?
Now, have you no ambitions?
…Something happens and I'm head over heels
I never find out 'til I'm head over heels
Something happens and I'm head over heels
Don't take my heart, don't break my heart
Don't, don't, don't throw it away
And this is my four-leaf clover
I'm on the line, one open mind
This is my four leaf-clover

-"Head Over Heels," Tears for Fears

Chapter Text

Adrian’s hands were shaking and he told himself this was so ridiculous. He’d been in a state of semi-panic all day and it was not going well. Sitting in the drawing room after the conversation with his father, he’d stared at Trevor’s duffel until there’d been voices at the door that finally broke his reverie. He’d had to rush around and straighten everything while the other TA had waited for him to clear out. Fortunately, Grant was a sweet man and had been very easy about it.

He still didn’t know what he would do about Shaft’s threat. He was cleanly torn. There was no way he could fail Trevor unless it was warranted. His own sense of integrity refused that outright, even to save his own job. But what good would quitting do? It didn’t solve the actual problem of Shaft willfully failing Belmont or the possibility of it happening to someone else. Or if it already had happened, Adrian thought unhappily.

The TA had felt ill all day waiting to hear about what happened to Trevor. The rumors swirling around campus were frustrating and terrible. Adrian felt helpless. He was only too aware that such rumors would stay with Trevor forever now. He would never escape them while he remained on campus. As someone whose identity was frequently assumed immediately and often before he was ever introduced, Adrian knows what a burden this could be.

His fingers flexed on the duffel in his hand as he raised his fist to knock on Trevor’s door.

Carrying Belmont’s bag through the rest of his day had been bizarrely intimate and he’d been hyper-aware of it. Adrian had indulged in a little fantasy about having picked up the wrong bag this morning from the apartment that Trevor, Sypha and he shared. Imagining what it would be like to return home to them. To share a meal with them and then… Adrian felt his cheeks heat.

What is going on with me, he wondered again. I’ve never thought about sex so much in my whole damn life as I have this past month! To be fair to himself, the fantasy had only started after Mina, Soma’s associate, had called to let Adrian know that the lawyer fully expected Trevor would be released without being charged. When she’d called him again, 45 minutes later to confirm that indeed, Belmont would be released in the next half an hour, Adrian had felt immense relief and then immediate curiosity. What had happened?

He hoped that Trevor might tell him. He looked around one more time, wondering if this would be the only time he would ever be invited here. The apartment was considerably farther from campus than Adrian’s condo and in a part of town he’d been to maybe twice. Each time he’d been uneasy and this was no exception.

Adrian had been very aware of the burnt-out street lights and the broken bottles on the pavement when he’d mounted the steps. The door was supposed to lock but he’d discovered it didn’t when he’d stopped to try to read the names beside the buzzers. He couldn’t see anything through the elaborate graffiti liberally sprayed across the front of the building, but then someone had come through the door without using the handle. He’d caught it and realized that the latch was broken.

The stairs had smelled horrendous and there were stains Adrian didn’t want to think about on the walls. Belmont is brave to live here, Adrian thought, and immediately was embarrassed by his privilege to never have to consider living in a place like this.

He knocked on the door, the first rap quiet and the following two louder as he realized that Belmont might not hear him. Adrian glanced over when the neighboring door opened and a half-naked girl popped out. She scowled at him, breasts bouncing in a fishnet top. “You are not pizza!” She declared and slammed the door shut.

“Sorry…” Adrian said, his flush dark, and jerked his head back when Belmont opened the door. The painter was completely off guard. This left him unprepared for the combination of a smile, miles of tanned skin that glistened slightly, incredible shoulders that tensed and danced under a slight sprinkle of freckles and a bare chest he wanted to cast in bronze.

Oh yes, Adrian thought as he watched the faint glow of the hallway light pick up the golden reds in Belmont’s chest hair as they shimmered around his nipples, you are stunning. What made his jaw drop though, was the elaborate crest picked out in black over Trevor’s heart and the “Honor Above All,” scrawled above it. He has a tattoo! Adrian thought. Immediately, it was the sexiest thing he never would have thought of.

For a moment and then two, they just stared at each other; Trevor smiling and Adrian’s lips parted and eyes wide. Damn it, Adrian thought unsteadily. If Trevor was an ice cream cone he’d be experiencing massive brain freeze right now from trying to deep throat Belmont with his eyes. Desire had dropped into his composure like a calving glacier into the ocean. I want him so much I can’t stand it. I have to get out of here, right now, the painter thought.

“Your bag.” He held it out and Trevor’s hand closed over it. “You live far from campus. It’s nice. Nice place. I hope you are well. See you next week,” Adrian said like he was reciting his date of birth and mother’s maiden name at the DMV.

“Hey! Wait a second,” Trevor said, following him out into the hallway, still carrying the duffel. Adrian turned and tried to look at anything but the way Belmont’s abs moved and… oh be still my stirring dick, the blonde thought, his pants are unbuttoned and Imma just…

“This is really kind of you. Thank you for bringing this to me, all this way. As you said, I live far from campus.” Trevor laughed, “Although I don’t know how you could think this place is nice; it’s gracious of you to say so.”

Adrian nodded and abruptly understood that it would seem like he was agreeing that the place wasn’t nice. “No pecs—problem! I mean, no problem.” He enunciated like he would get $100 for every vowel. Hold it together and get the hell out of here! he thought. “It is nice. Has character. Pizza starved neighbors. It’s nice.”

Trevor grinned. “Did Danielle come out in something fun again? You’re blushing.”

“What? No! I mean yes. I mean her top left little to the imagination but I don’t blush. I just… it’s warm in here.” Adrian shifted, tucking his hands deeper into his coat. The truth was he was shivering but it wasn’t from cold.

Trevor smirked, “Danielle is very friendly. I am not surprised you are warm.”

Adrian felt his blush deepen and wished he could be as cool as Trevor seemed to be half-naked. “She was not happy I wasn’t pizza. If she’s been nice to you, she obviously sees something in you that I was lacking.” Wow, really Adrian?  He thought. That was smooth and super confident, way to make conversation.

Trevor’s brow raised and he looked at Adrian slowly, giving him the once over. It took everything in the painter not to shrink. Belmont’s gaze felt like hands and it was shocking how much he wanted to lean into it, to step into that chest, bring his hands up, cup his cheeks and… Trevor snorted and Adrian went cold. Please don’t, please just don’t make fun of

“Danielle must be really drunk then, you look great.” Trevor grinned and Adrian blinked. Wait, what?

“She seemed okay to me?” the TA said and gulped when Trevor stepped toward him. It was completely unfair that he could see the ripple of muscle work it’s way across Belmont’s entire body. Once again, the blonde wondered where Trevor worked out because the man was tanned and built like he tossed bales all day.

Trevor’s duffel shifted and there was a crackling in it. Belmont looked down at the bag with a curious expression, “What is that?”

“Oh! The Sun chips you left on your bench. I tucked them in there.” You need to apologize for Shaft, Adrian thought. Belmont bent down to rummage around in his duffel. “Listen, I just wanted to say that I am really sorry for Professor Shaft, I should have warned you—”

Trevor withdrew the bag of chips. “Are you that hungry, Belmont? Like right now?” It was irksome to apologize to the top of his head and his pants were gaping at the back. The top of his ass should not look that amazing, Adrian thought and blanked out on everything but that forbidden, enticing valley. I just want to lean over and trace my fingertips down…

“You tried to, remember? My first class.” Wait what? I don’t remember touching your ass?!

“Don’t worry about it. I have been dealing with his kind for years. Not your fault. These are for you.” Oh not your ass, just Professor Ass, okay.

Trevor looked up and offered him the bag of chips. “I’m sorry?” Adrian asked, brain still making his fingertips tingle with hope.

Trevor looked amused. “These chips. They are for you. I owe you chips, remember?”

I do not remember… I… Helpfully, his brain reminded him what it felt like to straddle Belmont, feel all that strength and fury vibrate under him, strain against his hands and buck up against his cock.

“Oh, that.” He said. “This is a full bag and it was like four…” He trailed off as Trevor took his hand, chips and duffel forgotten. Heat raced up Adrian’s arm. His whole body felt immersed in a warm rain, sunlight peeking out of impossible blue skies and dancing over a million diamonds sliding over his body. The painter tensed and he swallowed hard, mesmerized by those astonishing blue eyes.

His eyes are unbelievable, Adrian thought, wondering if he would ever be able to mix such a radiance out of his paints. I could spend my life trying and still not capture that blue or those tiny flecks of violet. The twisted crease of the scar that ran over his eye somehow just accentuated the brilliance like God thought the sculptor needed an exclamation mark.

“Adrian.” Trevor said tenderly. His voice was wrapped up in rough stubble and soft strokes. Adrian’s mouth went dry. The sculptor stood slowly, still holding his hand. They stood so closely that a deep breath would bring their chests together. The TA could smell clean soap, faint cigarettes, that metallic tang and the faint nuttiness of malted barley. Trevor’s hair was damp and this close, Adrian realized his skin was dewy too, like he’d just showered.

Trevor’s dark lashes covered his eyes as his gaze dropped to Adrian’s mouth. Awareness slapped across the painter’s face as that burning gaze scorched his lips. Reflexively he licked his lips to cool them and Trevor loosed a tiny groan. “I just…let me…” Belmont murmured, and cupped Adrian’s cheek. Twin fangs of excitement and fear pierced the TA’s throat and he held his breath.

When Trevor leaned in, the world slowed to timeless instant that shimmered like fish scales in sparkling water. Everything was perfect, poignant, right. And then Belmont was kissing him.

Adrian had been kissed before. Okay, not lots of times and apparently those kisses were the equivalent of him splashing around in one of those kiddie pools with a dumbass blow up palm tree attached to it, but it had happened. If he’d had any idea that kissing could be a tsunami of sensation that unleashed riots of satisfaction under his skin, he might have sought out the experience more often.

As it was, he was pretty sure it had more to do with the skillful man currently devastating his mouth in a masterpiece of lips and tongue. He kisses like he knows what I want, Adrian thought. He kisses like he understands what’s in the dark shadows of need and he’s offering them a slow waltz into my mouth. Trevor’s stubble scraped over his cheeks, a landscape of raw demand, and his thumb traced small circles on Adrian’s skin.

Trevor’s mouth was a complex balance of unrestrained fire and controlled welcome. It was like sinking into an inviting warmth that got hotter the further in you went. It was seductive, but there was a real risk of coming away from the embrace burned. Like an astronomer looking at a solar eclipse, the chance for Adrian to experience something he might never, ever have again outweighed his fear of the danger.

The painter tentatively brought his hands up to Trevor’s shoulders and lightly brushed his fingertips over the damp skin. Trevor’s breath hitched sharply and Adrian startled, breaking the kiss. “I’m sor—,” he started to say and Trevor urged him back with a firm hand on the small of his back, calloused thumb still on Adrian’s cheek.

“Touch me,” Belmont murmured against his lips and prickles of anticipation raked across Adrian’s belly and down his thighs. Lightly, exploring, the blonde stroked down into the tantalizing hair that had entranced him from the moment he’d seen the brunette stretch in the drawing class. The little yes” the sculptor muttered into his mouth emboldened him to curl his fingers into the chest hair and give a little tug.

Trevor nipped his lower lip and it was Adrian’s gasp that broke the kiss this time. It was just a moment and Belmont found his mouth again, licking into the parting of the painter’s lips and lightly dipping his tongue inside, the tip just grazing Adrian’s tongue. He moaned Trevor’s name into that exquisite tongue and couldn’t even be embarrassed by how wanton he sounded.

I was right, Adrian thought, his focus while creating art would carry over to bed. This is what it feels like to be ravished, to be completely undone. I think I love it. Don’t stop, don’t let this end, just… Trevor’s hands crept up into Adrian’s hair and pulled him deep. This time, when Adrian gasped, Trevor just swallowed it, lapping at his lips like the painter was sweet tea on a hot day. The fists in his hair were divine insistence, urging Adrian to feel, to take, to yield. He did all of it.

When Trevor eased back from him, Adrian blinked like someone had just turned on the lights. “Thank you,” he murmured and felt like an idiot. Who does that? Says thank you after being kissed? Anyone who’s been kissed like that, his brain told him.

Trevor grinned. “Oh you are most welcome. I have wanted to do that for a while now.” His gaze gentled. “Actually, I need to thank you. Not just for that kiss, although it definitely warrants gratitude, but for everything else you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t be here right now, if you hadn’t helped me.”

Adrian winced, “Please don’t. I didn’t do anything. Sypha did. She called Soma and arranged it; I just paid for it. It’s only money.”

Trevor’s face transformed. Gentle sweetness and banked desire winked out of existence and was replaced with a sharp watchfulness that cut into Adrian so quickly he didn’t even feel the pain. At first.

The grip on his shoulder became uncomfortable and Belmont hissed, “You did what?”

Adrian was confused, alarm slowly reverberating through him and dampening the honied haze of desire. Something was really wrong and he was only just now cluing into that. Adrian had no idea what it was. “Paying Soma Cruz? Isn’t that what we are talking about?”

“You paid for my lawyer? Why!” Trevor asked him, abruptly releasing him and stepping back. It was maybe a foot but it felt like Trevor had moved to the other side of the moon. The physical distance ripped into Adrian and left him aching.

What did I do wrong? He thought. Did he not feel that between us? Frantically he replayed the last ten seconds and stiffened. My money. The money of the entitled and talentless Alucard Tepes. The nobody.

---

He’d known the moment he’d opened the door. Maybe it was because he was riding the high of Sypha’s declaration of love. Maybe it was the slight tremble, the audible swallow or just the faint mist of rain on Adrian’s blonde hair. Whatever it was, Sypha had been right, and Trevor had been so blind. Adrian wanted him and the knowledge was staggering.

It made Trevor tease, it made him flirt and when he’d looked up at Adrian and saw those parted lips, it’d made him want to seduce. And I did, he thought triumphantly, tasting eagerness on Adrian’s tongue. Everything about the blonde was enchanting. Truthfully, he wasn’t sure who was seducing whom. The painter smelled like flowers and licorice, the very faint sharpness of turpentine, and clean but old homes.

The fabric of the TA’s three-quarter-length jacket did nothing to hide his very real and very hard desire for Trevor. The sculptor was actively willing himself not to grind into him like bear trying to itch its back on a tree.

The blonde tasted of sweetness, something like rose water, and a tranquil, cool quiet. Adrian’s lips were hesitant and surrendering, which made everything in Trevor narrow into an intense need to take and possess.

There was something in the delicacy of Adrian’s touch and the little noises of surprise every time Trevor deepened the kiss or stroked over his hair, that made Trevor suspect Adrian’s sexual experience was extremely limited. Sypha’s ‘we need to be gentle,’ echoed like a gong in his mind and he worked to keep this kiss light.

The possibility of the trio seemed very real to him now. Adrian was far from immune to him. Whatever the painter may think of Belmont’s history, lack of respectable background and financial situation, could be overcome with desire and a mutual respect for each other’s art. There were some issues to hash out obviously, but if this kiss was any indication there was more than enough attraction to overcome them.

When Adrian moaned his name, Trevor felt victorious lust flood him. I knew my name would sound so pretty when you’d say it like that.

I should tell him everything, Trevor thought. Tell him I was wrong and I am sorry. Tell him thank you for the scholarship. Tell him about what I thought of his art from the Xpose article. Tell him I think he is gorgeous. Trevor smiled, remembering the first time he’d seen Adrian’s mane of blonde hair and cool golden eyes. Eyes that even now were unfocused with lust and then lost beneath unreal, long lashes.

It’d been stunning to see them so close again and to really look into them. There were threads of amber, copper, gold and even cream in them. My favorite part was when desire widened his pupils though, he thought. Yearning for me; for my mouth on his.

Trevor reflexively tightened his hands in the painter’s hair. It was damp and soft under his hands and when the blonde instinctively thrust his hips into his, Trevor thought he might fall to his knees right here in the hallway.

Shit, the hallway, he thought, they were in the hallway of his apartment building! The idea that he was kissing Adrian Tepes in the rundown, rank corridor of his close-to-condemned apartment complex was enough to have him easing back. This wasn’t what he wanted to give him, and it wasn’t what Adrian deserved.

“Thank you,” Adrian whispered; the sincere, almost sleepily contented tone laced with kindled passion. The blonde’s flush deepened and Trevor was utterly captivated.

The smile that Adrian’s flush brought to the sculptor’s face was huge and satisfied. “Oh you are most welcome. I have wanted to do that for a while now.” Tell him Trevor, the time is right. “Actually, I need to thank you. Not just for that kiss, although it definitely warrants gratitude, but for everything else you’ve done for me. I wouldn’t be here right now, if you hadn’t helped me.”

He saw Adrian’s wince and the blonde’s eyes dropped for a moment. When they met his again, Trevor felt Tepes’ reluctance. “Please don’t. I didn’t do anything. Sypha did. She called Soma and arranged it; I just paid for it. It’s only money.”

If the painter had kneed him in his liver it would have been less explosively painful. Trevor’s pride and his shields came to full alert within a single breath. No. He didn’t, he couldn’t, how did he… His hand tightened on Adrian, as his brain screamed at him that the painter had. It’s only money. Is it though?

“You did what?” Trevor growled. He could see Adrian was confused. It wasn’t cute. It only reminded Trevor that Adrian wouldn’t even understand why this was an issue for him, why the sculptor shouldn’t just take the money. Like the brunette should be grateful to have it forced on him. After all, I am a Belmont; taking money is just what we do, right? Trevor thought with rising fury. It’s all we care about!

The painter spoke slowly, as though Trevor was stupid. “Paying Soma Cruz? Isn’t that what we are talking about?”

No, it was not, he thought, but it damn well is now. “You paid for my lawyer? Why!” Trevor asked Adrian, suddenly aware he was holding the TA too tightly and was too angry to safely touch him. The sculptor released him and stepped back.

Something came over Adrian’s face, uncertainty, alarm, a flash of what might have been hurt and then, like a storefront closing for the night, utter blankness. It was fascinating. Trevor hadn’t realized until right then how good the painter was at hiding his emotions.

“I beg your pardon,” Adrian said, icy calm. “I thought I was helping. I forgot that Tepes money is so repugnant to you, that you’d rather sit in prison.” It was like the painter slashed Trevor wide open. There it is, he thought. There is what he really thinks of me. All passion and certainty avalanched away from the brunette in a deadly cascade.

“So sure, are you?” Trevor snarled. “That’s where I would end up, because that’s where all Belmonts belong isn’t it? I don’t need your money; I don’t want it! Stop throwing it at me, I told you! You can’t buy me!”

Adrian’ smile was humorless and cold. “As if I would want to buy you. As if that’s something I do. You assume a great deal, and know nothing about me.” Something was bleeding out of Trevor, something vital and warm and hopeful. Rising up in its place was a cold grief that numbed out his anger and made him want to break something.

“How can I possibly ever know anything about you?” he retorted. “You share nothing but your money, the one thing you think gives you power. But your secrets? The thing that might make you vulnerable? Well, why would you share that with a lowly nobody?” Trevor’s voice was rising and his fists were so tight they were tingling.

“What the hell is going on?” Sypha asked from the doorframe and Trevor turned to her. Worry and concern were etched across her face and he saw that she’d finally just gotten dressed in her own leggings and his hoodie. He’d forgotten she’d squealed in horror when Adrian had knocked and shoved Trevor out to the door before diving back into the closet muttering about ‘terrifying’ the blonde. She had not appreciated his smug suggestion she just answer the door naked.

It might have gone better if she had, Trevor thought despairingly.

“Adrian paid for Soma,” he said and Sypha nodded. Trevor absorbed the implications with another huge blow. “You fucking knew.” Betrayal was bitter in his mouth. I love you. I know it’s too soon… I won’t risk him. I’ve known him for a year.

He looked back at Adrian. “You just get whatever you want, don’t you? It doesn’t matter what anyone else wants, what anyone else feels.”

“Trevor, stop. You don’t know what you are saying.” Sypha was wrenching on her boots, and stepped into the hall. He looked at the woman he loved and felt like a fool.

“No, I know exactly what I am saying. Maybe it’s you who didn’t. Maybe you don’t know who you really want. Tell you what Sypha,” he looked back at Adrian, “Tepes. Why don’t you two figure it out and let me know, hmmm? I think I am done with company tonight. Get the fuck out.”

Sypha’s eyes were huge and alarmed. “Trevor, wait a minute, we need to…” He stalked past her, grabbed a plastic bag for her clothes, and was shoving them into it when she came back in the apartment. “Stop! Stop! What are you doing! Talk to me!”

It was the note of panic in her voice that made him look up. Maybe he would have talked to her; maybe he would have listened. But there was Adrian standing behind her, tall, black coat elegantly swept around him, face pale and tense as he looked into the small, shabby apartment that Trevor called home. Son of a bitch, Trevor thought, ignoring the pang of shame.

He shoved Sypha’s bag at her and used his hand to propel her toward the door and Tepes. It was only at the doorframe that she finally fought him. “Trevor don’t do this, I am begging you, please don’t…”

It was destroying him, hearing this, seeing her panic and Adrian’s impassive face in the corner of his eye, like they hadn't just been wrapped up in each other like the world could end and no one else existed.

Trevor stopped shoving her. When Sypha turned, he made himself say it. “I don’t want you here. I don’t want him here. Please leave me alone.” Her jaw dropped, her chin trembled and he knew she was going to cry. He shut the door in her face.

--- 

See the stone set in your eyes
See the thorn twist in your side
I'll wait for you
Sleight of hand and twist of fate
On a bed of nails she makes me wait
And I wait without you
Through the storm, we reach the shore
You give it all but I want more
And I'm waiting for you
With or without you
I can't live with or without you

-"With or Without You," U2

Chapter Text

The entire ride back to Adrian's condo Sypha held it in. Her skin felt brittle, like black paper that stayed together after it's been burnt. If you touched it, it would disintegrate. Even the Uber driver must have realized something was up because he didn't try to make conversation.

Adrian didn't look at her and he didn't speak to her. She knew though, she could hear it in his breath. He was as close to tears as she was. She wanted to comfort him but it just wasn’t in her right now.

When they stood on the step of his condo building and Adrian coded in his passkey for the door, he finally looked at her. “I’m sorry Sypha, he was angry with me and then he took it out on you.”

Don’t do this, not here, not now, she thought. I can’t, just let me do this in private, Adrian.

“Please, your apartment. I can’t out here, I just can’t,” she said. He nodded and held the door. The journey to his front door was weighted silence and when he turned the doorknob into the space, Sypha pushed past him into the kitchen. She threw her bag across the counter, whirled and screamed at the ceiling. It was incoherent, angry and filled with despair.

Out of the corner of her eye she saw Adrian slowly take off his coat and hang it up. Moving like he’d broken something, he pulled out the chair at the small table in the corner of the kitchen and sat.

Why had Trevor been like that? Why was this happening?! How could I be so wrong?! She couldn’t believe how cruel Trevor had been. The playful, kind man who’d touched her with aching tenderness and looked at her like she was the first sunrise he’d ever seen, had been so bitterly angry and so emotionally remote that it’d flayed her alive. Her scream tapered off into a whimpering moan. Throat raw, Sypha slumped to the floor.

This love hurt, it broke her bones and inserted poison into every hollow inside of her. And she had no idea what had happened to have this outcome. Whatever had gone down in the hallway had destroyed any hope she had of the trio, and now, she was realizing, possibly any chance she had with Trevor.

No, she told herself, as she wiped tears that streamed liberally down her face, he’s not escaping that easily. This is fixable and I will be damned if he can tell me he loves me and then kick me out of his life.

With a deep breath, Sypha looked up and saw him. Ram-rod straight, staring into space, expressionless, Adrian was horribly pale. He picked mechanically at his nails and his jaw was clenched so tight that her own ached in sympathy.

Sypha had exploded to get her pain out. She knew her best friend; inside, he was imploding. The painter would be internally compacting the anguish over and over in an attempt to make it small enough that he could bury it. It would hide away inside him, rotting and festering, unless she could get him to talk about it.

She stood and grimaced at the streaks of grease she’d left on the wood floor. Probably left it in the Uber too. Whatever, I will clean later, she thought, and came over to Adrian. Kneeling in front of him, she carefully put her hands onto his thigh. He jerked back, hard, and stared at her like he didn’t know she’d been screaming her guts out five feet away.

“Adrian, what happened?” she asked him, and it was like a child’s sandcastle and the eager tide. He just fell apart. She didn’t try to push him for the words and she didn’t try to make sense of it. She just held him as he collapsed into her, overturning the chair and draped over her until she had to put out an arm to stay upright. It hurt just as much as Trevor’s rejection, to hear Adrian’s tiny, choked sobs. What the fuck had happened? She wondered again.

Her arm had gone numb by the time he’d managed to calm down and she gave up trying to support them both. Instead, she gently eased herself down, keeping a firm hand on his head where she’d been stroking his hair and brought him with her. They ended up in a funny tangle on the kitchen floor, Adrian’s head on her chest, listening to her heart beat.

Shock, envy and dismay all warred for dominance as he told her about the kiss. He told her how it had felt to be held and adored by a mouth that seemed to know and accept everything about him. The freedom and hope of believing that Trevor might want him, and then realizing that once again, being a Tepes had ruined everything. Damn it, Trevor, she thought, fighting to remain quiet, if only you could have stayed calm and asked instead of jumping to conclusions!

Unfortunately, she could see just how it had played out in Belmont’s mind, including how he’d roped her into it. I should have told him from the beginning, she thought, although this is exactly why I was trying to figure out how to tell his stubborn ass. Still, she wished she’d handled it better, that the outcome might have been different, for all their sakes.

“The worst part is, I think I love him.” Adrian said. Sypha’s heart stuttered and sprouted wings. “How do I love him, Sypha? He hates me and I love him? How pathetic is that? What is wrong with me? I don’t even know him!”

She stroked his hair and inhaled his lavender and licorice scent. How ironic was it, that twe would both fall in love with Belmont, right when he decided he wanted nothing to do with us? She thought wryly.

Adrian shuddered. “And here I am feeling sorry for myself, when I not only kissed your boyfriend but I made him kick you out. I’m such a shithead. I am the worst friend,” Adrian started to get up and turned to her.

His hair fell down like a curtain scented of rain and faint paint thinner, brushing beside her ear and softly stroking her shoulder. Sypha looked at him, and he looked at her. He was heartbreakingly beautiful. Lovely, soft and tragic; thick lashes with winking gold between them. There was such a simmering emotion here, a deep and abiding understanding.

“I am sorry,” he said softly, and swallowed, “I had no business, no right and I…” Sypha touched his cheek, ran her thumb over his lips. I would kiss you, she thought, if I wasn’t so sure it would break you right now. She wondered if he would kiss her back; if he might understand what was behind it. But he was too raw and the moment was all wrong.

“I love him too,” she said with a sad smile, letting her hand fall away. “The dumb asshole.” Adrian’s laugh was more of a sob than anything. “Do you know that I love you too?” she told him. “I am not upset you kissed him; I am happy for you. I am sorry it ended so badly though. He is not easy to love, but holy, is he worth it. When he holds you, the world just slips away.”

Adrian closed his eyes and sat up. He dragged his hand through his hair and sighed. “We need to talk.”

Sypha trembled, and something thick and terrified try to claw into her throat to hide. I can’t take another rejection today, she thought and took a breath. “Alright. Absolutely. Could we get off the floor though? I’m getting cold,” she said.

Adrian jumped up and offered her a hand. “I’m so stupid, I am sorry! I didn’t even think of that,” he drew her up and she staggered into him. Her leg had gone to sleep. When she looked up at him, he looked at her mouth. “You kept me warm,” he murmured, and his tone skittered up her spine like seeking fingertips.

Suddenly, Sypha knew, whatever her best friend was going to say, it wasn’t going to be a rejection. She swallowed, her stomach fluttering like a plastic bag caught in a fence on a windy day. Looks like today is going to be a big one, she thought and tried not to get her hopes up. She failed miserably and shivered with anticipation.

“You are cold,” he said, brow furrowed with concern, “Let me get you a throw. I can turn the fireplace on.” She nodded and shook her leg to wake it up. He led her to the counter and put her hand on it, making sure she was balanced and stable before he moved away. She watched him cross the living room and took a minute to let the tingling sensation in her leg ease.

Looking around her, she smiled. The redhead had been here before and liked Adrian’s place a lot. They’d talked about moving in together once her lease with the twins was up and she had secretly hoped that the invitation might be extended to Trevor as well. Now that seemed impossible.

Belmont would like it too, she thought with a sad sense of irony. It was within walking distance to campus and surrounded by galleries, pubs and a neat mix of thrift stores and boutiques. It wasn’t terribly trendy, but more like comfortably artsy. The apartment itself was light and airy, original wood floors and tall white walls. It’d been beautifully restored and Vlad and Lisa had gifted it to Adrian when he graduated high school. The painter had known this school was where he wanted to go since he was sixteen.

Adrian had packed it with art. There were paintings, sculptures and drawings everywhere. He had crammed walls with it and then left some walls completely bare. There was an appealing symmetry to it that she was certain had been instinctive, rather than by design. Some of the furniture he’d taken from his room at home, some he’d inherited and some he’d bought and refinished or painted himself. Everything was comfortable but somehow elegant. Much like the man that lived here.

The blonde started the gas fireplace and moved to the low white couch for a knitted throw. She had to smile. They’d found the afghan together at an estate sale. It was incredibly 80’s, with neon colored flowers and a black background. Her leg finally allowed her to walk forward and she headed toward the couch. Just as she was about to sit, she remembered.

“My pants!” she said abruptly and was grateful she hadn’t sat on the pristine white.

“What? Oh, wow, what happened! It looks like you were attacked by—black slime? No, by brownie mix?” The painters face was completely bewildered and Sypha started to laugh.

“Brownie mix?” she wheezed, and he snickered too.

“Well that or you shit yourself, but I wasn’t going to say it!” he said with a helpless shrug. Sypha laughed harder and he joined her. It was cleansing somehow, easing the tension between them and settling her.

“It’s grease, but it might as well be shit. I don’t think I will ever get it out. Do you have a pair of leggings I could borrow? Maybe a t-shirt too? I am pretty sure I got grease on Trevor’s hoodie as well,” she grinned at him.

“I do, hang on,” he said and stepped toward the door to the next room. He turned, “Actually just come with me, it’ll be faster. Just don’t sit down on anything, ha ha.” Sypha stuck her tongue out but followed him down the hall, past his studio space, the bathroom, the spare room and into the room at the back.

It was large and faced out over the smaller buildings on the edge of downtown. The evening was coming on now and long shadows filled the room and fell over the bed. It was a quiet space, black sheets, black duvet and three trailing ivy plants in a window box five feet above the bed. There were only three paintings on the walls. All were large, and dominated the room.

Sypha had always been surprised by the artwork as they were undeniably erotic in a way that seemed uncharacteristic of Adrian. It was hard for her to put her finger on exactly why for the first one, which hung to the left of his bed. It was abstract slashes of color in bold red, white and black and somehow gave the impression of speed and heat.

The second one hung across from the bed and she’d often thought it was an interesting choice to wake up to and to fall asleep looking at. She knew it was Adrian’s work; all smooth oils, painfully delicate, realistic details and lovingly rendered colors.

It was a close-up of a long hand pressed into the pale skin of an undefined body part. Privately, Sypha thought it looked like a throat, but she’d never asked. Under the skin of the ‘throat’ was a riot of blooming flowers that looked like they were buried under a transparent curtain.

The last one, opposite the abstract, was entirely black and white; two hands clasped together tightly. There was something in the way they fit together that looked like twining bodies caught in ecstasy. It was a clever illusion and skillfully depicted. This one was also Adrian’s work, but older. His style was evident but not as clearly defined at the hand on the flower ‘throat.’

Adrian crossed over to his closet and opened the doors. “Maybe turn on the lamp?” he suggested offhandedly. Reaching over to the honey-toned wooden bureau, she flicked the switch on the beaten copper lamp. A warm glow cast out and his closet illuminated at the same time. There was an overhead light in the closet and Sypha had to grin. Adrian’s closet was neat, tidy and opulent. It was his pride and joy.

Rows of black and more black dominated the space, but there were splashes of plum, maroon, sapphire and navy in there as well. There was a small row of hats and then floor to ceiling shoes almost exclusively in, surprise, surprise, black. They were polished to a high gloss and lovingly arranged.

Beside the closet was an art deco vanity in need of varnishing, with a small jewelry box and hooks with various chains and necklaces hanging from them. A tiny, delicate porcelain forest nymph was draped in the velvet and silk ribbons that Adrian would use to tie his hair back for art openings. Beside it, in a frame she’d decorated with seashells, was a picture of them.

She crossed over to the frame and picked it up, feeling a squeeze around her heart. Adrian was laughing into the camera and Sypha had her eyes closed, smiling with her cheek pressed into his shoulder as she took the selfie. They’d taken this together just a few months ago, on Sypha's birthday.

They’d gone to the beach on his parents’ private island with two other friends and everyone had gotten stupid drunk, spending the weekend splashing around and playing in the sand. It had been ridiculously fun and Sypha had collected a literal suitcase worth of seashells. She’d made this frame from some of the shells and printed the photograph. She had given it to him, as a thank you.

There had been a point on that trip when she’d looked over at Adrian to see his head thrown back, sun spearing through his hair and cheeks rounded from laughter. She’d been achingly aware that her desire had never really died and had thought then that she might never really get over him. I should have known then, she thought, I should have done something then. I never should have let it get to this.

“I love that picture,” Adrian said softly and she looked up. He was standing, one arm braced on the closet door, and the other in the pocket of his pants. “It makes me happy to see it everyday. Just like our bats, by the hallway mirror.” Bat Company, she thought with pleasure. It’d been something she’d made on the computer for fun after they’d dressed up as vampires for Halloween. He’d reacted like she’d gifted him a Caravaggio or something.

“It was a great time,” Sypha agreed, “it makes me happy to see it too. We should go back some day.” She gently put the picture frame back down and looked up at him. Surprise skated across her when she registered that he was staring at her. What are you thinking? she wondered and was just about to ask him, when he turned back to the closet.

“I think you should just wear one of my sweaters or a blouse. They’ll hit you just above the knee and we can hike up the sleeves.” She couldn’t see his face but she could hear his smirk. “We can roll it up to the shoulders and it should just hit you at the wrist.”

“Hey! I am not that short!” She said indignantly. His murmured, “mmmm,” was not convincing.

“Listen punk, I could still kick your ass anytime, okay?” She grinned at his mock cringe.

“Terrifying, truly. Sweater or blouse?” he asked.

“Let’s layer for now,” she answered, and he tossed the silk blouse, then the sweater.

“I’ll grab your bag of clothes. If you toss out your hoodie and your leggings—” Sypha was already stripping off the pants, intent on ensuring that the grease stay rolled up inside them. She looked up.

Oops, she thought as her skin tingled, I wasn’t thinking.

It wasn’t like he hadn’t seen her in her underwear before. She had modelled in it for his artwork. Granted, it was usually her plain black sports bra and boy shorts and this was a purple lace Brazilian with her ass hanging out, but he couldn’t really see that much, just the barest bottom curve as she bent over. But he’d never looked at her like this before. He’d never looked at her like he saw her nakedness before.

Adrian’s flush was sweet. His death grip on the closet door handle was endearing. But the molten desire in his eyes? That was ridiculously sexy. I knew it, she thought, straightening slowly and stepping out of her leggings. His gaze travelled up her bare legs and for the first time in a long time, Sypha felt nervous. What does he see? What does he think? She wondered and resisted fidgeting.

She’d always told herself that he would have to make the first move. There was too much on the line for her to risk ruining their friendship with a misinterpretation. On the other hand, Sypha had been looked at with lust before, and she knew that was how Adrian was looking at her now. His eyes seemed glued to the hem of her hoodie and for an agonizing moment, Sypha didn’t know what to do.

Testing, she put her hands on the hem and carefully started to lift it. When it reached the inner curve of her upper thigh, Adrian abruptly jerked and said, “I should go, I’m sorry, I didn’t—!” and Sypha stifled her sigh.

She let the hem fall again and said, “Stop. Please.” Her best friend’s face was flaming, but he did stop, halfway to the door and his back to her. “Just stay there a moment, I will finish changing. You are right, we must talk.”

She yanked the hoodie over her head and slipped the black silk over her shoulders. It was cool and sleek against her skin and smelled like her best friend. My best friend, whom I desperately want to make my lover, she thought. Who is so shy and worried, that he wants me and can’t say it. Who might never be able to say it… But I saw it. There was no question. That’s twice now.

Sypha is used to taking charge, but this was terrifying. She cared so much about the outcome to this encounter, and it could go horribly wrong if she pushed too hard. For a moment, she just stood there, blouse open down the middle, hands clasping either side of the shirt, and staring at the floor, thinking. Like a tongue scraping over her, she felt it and looked up.

Adrian was looking over his shoulder at her. Lips parted, eyes dilated and hands clenched, there was no mistaking the longing on his face. The anxiety there though, so sharp that it might have been fear, settled everything inside her. She understood what she needed to do.

“I want you,” she told him, keeping her tone even and quiet. His eyes widened, honed in on her face and he inhaled sharply. Please let that be a good sign, she thought and continued. “I always have. I’ve been afraid of hurting you, of ruining our friendship, of losing someone that means everything to me.”

His cheeks flushed and he turned slowly to her. He’s not running, she thought with rising hope. “I wasn’t kidding, that other day in the drawing class. Neither was Trevor, we—” That was a mistake, she thought immediately, watching pain etch itself like acid across his face. One step at a time, she reminded herself and took a breath.

His words tumbled out in a soft rush. “I’m afraid of disappointing you,” Adrian whispered. “I couldn’t bear it. You are so beautiful and you are everything I don’t deserve. It should be enough that you are my best friend. It was enough. But then…” He looked away. “I am not Belmont. I can’t be him and I know that. He can give you things that I can’t and I want you to be happy.”

This is his hang-up, Sypha realized. He is comparing, as though he and Trevor are two meals I am deciding between. Can't he see that we are all ingredients that could make a feast together? That we could all share ourselves? 

Sypha reflected that it would be a potluck like no other, but decided that might be a bit much to confess right now. “Do you believe me when I tell you that I know who you are? I love who you are?” She asked him, taking another step. His head rose up and he looked at her.

“Yes. I believe you love me for who I am; you have always made me feel that way,” he said, and nervously tucked his hair behind his ear.

“Can you trust me when I say that I don’t want more than that from you?” She watched his face as she stepped again. Closer. He’s terrified, she thought with dismay, as he shuddered and looked like he would bolt. She decided to make it plain. She was all in now anyway.

“I wanted you before Trevor was ever in the picture. I still do. I don’t want you to be Trevor. You could never be and that’s a good thing. Belmont could never be all the beautiful things that you are to me. I know it seems impossible right now, but I need you to trust me. This is right.”

She took another step and felt the silk flutter on her thighs. Adrian’s gilded eyes were on her face and he was listening. “The three of us? There is something there, something special. We balance each other, compliment each other. If we can just figure out how to communicate and work past all this bullshit, I swear, it could be the best thing that ever happened to us. To all of us.” Believe me, Adrian, I know it.

She stopped in front of him and looked up at him. “I don’t want to push you and I think we both need space and time today. We need to talk this out, be clear between us before we tackle the Trevor issue. But first, I want to repeat: I want you. I always have, and you would not be a disappointment.”

Despite the seriousness of the moment, she found she could grin and dip into the history and humor between them. “If you wanted, all you’d have to do is lie there and take it. Believe me, I get wet just thinking about it.” His throat bobbed harshly, and she could tell from his jaw he was biting his tongue.

It was a surprise to them both when he brought his hand up, tentative, soft and hovering just over her shoulder. “Yes, you can touch me. Please. I would like that.” She told him, excitement spurting inside her chest. She grasped his wrist and brought his hand down. It fell over her collarbone, thumb dipping down toward her breasts and fingertips pressing into her throat.

It was like his hand was a generator that turned the lights on in the house of her body. Feelings and nerves she hadn’t even known she possessed turned on and started talking in unison. Every part of her was chanting his name. If you only knew, she thought, just what you mean to me. What making love to you would mean.

“You are always so soft,” he murmured, reverence and wonder in his voice. His thumb stroked just above the valley of her breasts and she held her breath. “So perfect. Every time I drew you, it struck me. Every time.”

So much wasted time, she thought, so much longing when we could have been together. When his hand drew back, she moaned quietly and his eyes flew open. “I’m sorry! Did I hurt you?” he asked.

Sypha shook her head and exhaled in a shaky whoosh. “No, not even close. You felt…” the words tumbled by her, somehow just not enough. Incredible, amazing, perfect, divine…  she thought, and said, staggering. Being touched by you is right. It is like coming home.”

The knitted brow smoothed out and he smiled, gentle and hopeful. “Yes, exactly. It felt right.”

Take it slowly Sypha, she thought, let him lead. It was one thing for her to open this up between them, but she knew he needed to ease into it. She had yet to determine exactly how deep his fear of sex and fear of her disappointment went for him and until she could, she would wait. You can discuss it now; you still need to talk, she thought.

“I would like to have a conversation about this with you, right now if you can." She smiled, working for comforting. "I just want to be on the same page. I think its clear we want each other,” his grin was relief and anticipation all in one, but again, she saw the uncertainty. “But I would like to make some plans, if that is alright?” she finished.

Adrian took her hand and brought it to his lips. Oh damn, she thought as everything hot and pulsing inside of her melted down into honey that oozed into every pore. He was elegant romance and shy anticipation.

“'Making plans' sounds like my Sypha,” he whispered against the back of her hand.

--- 

Trying hard to control my heart
I walk over to where you are
Eye to eye we need no words at all
Slowly now we begin to move
Every breath I'm deeper into you
Soon we two are standing still in time
If you read my mind you'll see
I'm crazy for you
Touch me once and you'll know it's true
I never wanted anyone like this
It's all brand new
You'll feel it in my kiss

I'm crazy, crazy for you

-"Crazy for You," Madonna

Chapter Text

Trevor paced his apartment and swore. There simply wasn’t enough space in the damned place for a proper pacing and he was only becoming more frustrated. He didn’t want to think about Sypha, the sweet feel of her soft skin pressed up to his. Her murmured, “I love you,” and the storm of joy that blew through him to hear it. Her instant defense of Adrian. The wounded tremble of her lips as he shut the door in her face.

He didn’t want to think about Adrian and his little gasps of pleasure. The cool softness of the painter's hair in his fist and the yielding dip of surrender into Trevor's hand. The fascinating and awful mask that replaced that soft, sleepy tenderness. The sharp icicles of bitterness as he suggested Trevor would be in prison if not for Tepes money. A small part of Trevor told him that it was very likely the sculptor would be unless he’d be able to post bail, but the brunette didn’t want to hear that.

When the knock on the door came, Trevor whirled, ready to do battle and pissed as hell. I said leave me alone! he thought angrily and wrenched the door open. He had to blink and adjust when Danielle smiled slowly at him and raised her brow. She extended his duffel to him and said, “You forgot this.”

“Yes, thank you,” Trevor took it from her and she clucked appreciatively. When the chip bag crinkled in his duffel, Trevor ground his teeth.

“Looking really good there Trev,” she commented. “I like your ink.” Trevor worked for patience. He hated being called Trev. It was a bittersweet memory of his father and he didn’t care to be reminded.

At first, Danielle’s attention was flattering and lately it was amusing. Right now, it was irritating the hell out of him. He was not interested in Danielle and thought he’d been very clear about that. However, she continued to find reasons to run into him while wearing things like this mesh top. With nothing underneath it.

“What does it mean?” she asked him leaning on the doorframe and thrusting her breasts out, “honor above all?”

Fuck all, if I can’t get Tepes to stop spreading his money around, he thought.

Like a gnat that wouldn’t stay out of his ear, he heard Isaac’s voice. Sometimes there is no such thing as enough power for people Trevor, sometimes money isn’t enough. No, Trevor rejected it. Not possible. Not even Isaac thought that Adrian was involved. But maybe that’s where it comes from? Like father like son?

“It means to never forget that when you lose your honor, you’ve lost everything. Look, Danielle, I hate to be rude but I need to—” Trevor leaned against the door and that was a mistake.

“Then don’t be rude,” she smiled, coy and kittenish as she edged past him into the apartment.

Son of a bitch, he thought with frustration. It wouldn’t do to piss her off. She lived right next door and usually was fairly quiet. As the walls were paper thin here, it was best for his ability to sleep if they remained cordial. “I was actually headed out; I need to go back to school.” He said and Danielle trailed her finger over the back of his ancient plaid couch.

“Or you could stay in,” she said. “I heard you tell the little kids to get lost and I thought you might like a distraction.” Danielle smirked at him. Trevor wasn’t surprised she’d heard the argument. Probably everyone on the damn floor did. In his exasperation, he missed the innuendo. His neighbor spread her hands as if to show him something. “I was interested before but the audio show has led to a bit of a…itch for me. Would you like to scratch it?”

Holy fuck, she heard us, Trevor thought with shock and displeasure. The fucking walls. Trevor never blushed, but he felt heat rise to his cheeks as he recalled Sypha’s cries when she rode him. How she wailed out his name and told him to never stop fucking her when they switched. How she'd screamed, "Oh my God, again?!" when he'd found the right angle and she'd erupted around him.

He bit the side of his cheek to hold in his groan. Unfortunately, the memory didn’t just elevate his blood pressure.

“So you are interested,” his neighbor purred and glided toward him. Oh hell no, Trevor thought with a mixture of alarm and annoyance. He made an undignified dash to the door and took refuge in the public hallway.

“Nope, so sorry Danielle,” he said from the safety of the hallway. “I am very much not. Its been a trying day and the last thing I need is…more company. I appreciate it, really, but that is a firm no.” It’s a HELLLLL no, actually, he thought but decided he didn’t need to go into that level of detail.

Danielle pouted from his living room. Get the hell out, he thought, temper spiking. She slowly came out and then leaned on his doorframe.

“You’re interested,” she nodded toward his pants, and he resisted rolling his eyes. “I don’t bite,” her smile became sassy and inviting, “unless you want me to.” All I want is for you to leave, Trevor thought. Before he could answer, she scowled.

“Whatever, maybe what you really want is a threesome with that redhead and blondie,” she straightened and sauntered over to her door. “Count me in if you do,” she tossed over her shoulder. “We could be neighborly.”

“Thanks, but that’s not happening,” Trevor said and escaped to his apartment. As he shut his door, he became aware of how painful it was to hear himself say that. It’s not happening.

He turned slowly and looked at his apartment, really looked at it. This is what Adrian saw, he thought and hated himself for caring. It was close to sparse but not quite. The sole furnishings were a worn but solid plaid couch, a floor lamp from the 70’s, a banged-up coffee table and mismatched plastic chairs around a tiny round table he’d rescued from a remodeled diner and cut down to a regular table height before he welded the foot back on. There were two piles of books on the coffee table, one open and facedown.

Currently the table and chairs were covered with a plastic tarp with engine parts, tools and debris. There was nothing here that wasn’t at least a decade old and that wasn’t second hand. There was nothing here that he gave a shit about. Everything could disappear into the non-descript garage sale where it had come from and he wouldn’t miss it.

Where am I in here? he wondered and shook his head. What the fuck does that even mean? There’s plenty of me in here.

There was a long piece of contractor’s paper taped to the hallway wall with a couple of pencil stubs on strings between them so he could add things as he thought of them. In the middle of it was a sketch that was becoming exceedingly intricate and captivated him. Unfortunately, his inspiration for it was reflected in the working name he’d titled it. Trio. He looked away.

There was a column of metal whirling up from the floor tucked into the far corner. Something like a cross between a pillar of flame and the vortex of a hurricane, it was one of the pieces he couldn’t bear to part with. Trevor hated having it shoved in the corner but the floors were weak and it was heavy. It needed the support of the cross beams to make sure it didn’t go through the floor. Once in a while he rotated it and dreamed of having it displayed where he could walk around it.

There was a print out of one of Sypha’s digital landscapes that looked like something from an alien world hanging by the window. He’d loved it immediately for the sculptural landscape feature spearing out of the middle like some evil queen’s tower. It was one of the only things he’d bothered to frame.

The other was a color picture of his parents. He’d printed it from the Belmont International Gallery website before it had been taken down. He didn’t have any other photos of them, but the one from the newspaper. That one was laminated and tucked into the mirror in his bedroom.

When the house and gallery had first burned down, he’d reached out to his uncle. He had asked for a picture of them, preferably one where he was with them. He never heard anything back. Whatever, it doesn’t matter, he thought and wished he could finally believe it. Stepping around the gutted engine behind the couch and down the little jag that was too tiny and narrow to actually be considered a hallway, he stood at the door of his bedroom.

It really was little more than a mattress on the floor, a bureau with mismatched drawers and a closet with no door and piles tumbling out. The only thing of note was the contents of the two shelves he’d installed along the far wall. They weren’t pretty but they were solid as hell. They had to be. They held the maquettes for the sculptures he liked but couldn’t keep.

That was the one problem with working with his materials. Between size and weight, he couldn’t take them with him. But the tiny models that he created to work out the welds, the supports and the load-bearing needs, those he could.

They were still heavy but considerably more manageable. Besides, there were actually only five of them. Sometimes he would keep the others for a while and then let them go as he moved on to other things. These five were the only ones he wanted to keep. With a heavy sigh he went over and took ‘Today; Become’ off of the shelf. He heard Adrian’s words again: You can feel the strain to evolve, to move forward and shed the weight of this form. 

I wish I hadn’t been late to class, he thought. I wish I had heard what he said about this one.

No, you don’t.

Yes, I do.

Why? Why do you give a shit about it? Other people’s opinions about your art don’t matter.

It won’t stop you from making it but let’s not pretend you don’t care at all. Especially knowing he bought them.

Knowing Adrian bought ‘Today; Become’ was difficult. That piece held a great deal of himself in it. Parts that he was uncomfortable knowing that Adrian might have seen. He had actually almost kept the sculpture. It was small enough that he could have and there had been a great deal of meaning in it for him.

But Trevor was cut-throat about his art. Yes, he created to please himself and because it would not let him rest until it emerged, but he was very aware that without being able to sell his art there would be no other way to make a living at this.

Trevor had heard a quote somewhere that being a professional artist was like snipping bits of your skin off and selling it. You knew it would scab over and heal but it still hurt and there was still an intimate part of you out in the world. He wished he’d kept the quote; he’d felt immediate kinship to it. He put the maquette back and went to his closet to get a t-shirt.

Her scent hit him like a ton of bricks. A richness like the smell of fresh coffee, floral notes and sun-warmed earth mixed together. Sypha. I love you, he thought helplessly and wished he didn’t. Just like he wished that the tears that rolled down his face would go away.

Twenty minutes later, he left his apartment, torn jeans, undershirt with a plaid long sleeve tossed over it and a beanie tucked into his pocket, alongside his heavy leather gloves. It was almost summer and the days were warm, but there could still be a chill in the evenings. His chains rattled. He’d taken the crosses off to protect them from where he was going. 

The bus ride was almost forty minutes and two transfers and he still had to walk almost four blocks into the quiet industrial sector. He was headed for the scrap metal yard to work himself into exhaustion and hopefully find some items for ‘Trio.’ Trevor considered himself very, very lucky to know Striga, the owner of the local scrap metal and recycling plant. He’d hunted down the junkyard as soon as he’d come into town and had initially been dismayed to discover that there wasn’t the kind he was traditionally used to.

Instead, he’d located a highly organized, efficient, tidy operation in three separate locations. Striga herself had started with a basic recycling program when she’d returned from her fourth tour of military duty in the Middle East. While technically honorably discharged, she continued to disappear at times for assignments that she didn’t discuss.

When she wasn’t off doing God-knows-what, you could find the tall, muscular woman operating the compactor or wielding the forklift like an armored tank as she moved the bales of scrap metal or plastic. She was eye-catching and disciplined and Trevor had liked her the moment he met her. Although she was almost twice his age, he’d considered making a move until he’d met her partner and polar opposite two weeks later.

He’d been sorting by hand, looking for hollow metal tubes for an artwork, when the navy Mercedes had pulled into the yard. Trevor had paused to adjust his bandanna and stare. He liked cars; they were functional sculptures.

A tall, stunning woman dressed to the nines had parked, headed over to the car crusher and waved. Striga had immediately stopped the machine, hopped out and embraced her like she’d come just home from war. It’d been an obvious indicator they were together.

Through employee gossip, he’d found out that they’d been together for over a decade and were dedicated to each other. Content to stay friends with Striga, he came to realize it’d been for the best. Striga was honorable, orderly and dedicated but there was very little room in her life for fun or fantasy. There was no point in living without either in his opinion.

Morana was striking, but very cold to him. Not a surprise, considering she was the city treasurer and a politician. Trevor seemed to instinctively piss off anyone in authority and, though she hid it well, he didn't think she liked him. Fortunately, he barely ever saw her, and just lately, Striga either. Now that school was in full swing he had less time to hang out here.

Striga had given him a key to the scrap yard only, telling him he could come and go as he wished and even leaving a bin for him to store items he found while he was sorting. He would trade time or money to have a coworker with a truck drop them at his studio.

His arrangement with Striga was amazing. She got free labor for the hand-picking piles, which usually was the expensive part of owning a scrap metal business and he got virtually all of his materials free. The few times he did end up paying, it was her cost. She didn’t mark up for him.

He felt very lucky and didn’t know that Striga felt the same. She’d watched the cameras closely the first dozen times he’d let himself in in the middle of the night and then she never did again. Truthfully, he worked far more than the cost of the materials he took. Striga never would have agreed to this arrangement otherwise.

As he approached the chain link gate; he heard the growling and grinned. “Hey baby girl,” he called out and the growling broke into a low whine. Cyclops was waiting for him, a big, sweet pit bull mastiff with brown and grey mottling. Striga had told him that the dog was a rescue, having been abandoned by her owner when she’d lost an eye in a dog fight. Trevor’s introduction to her had been slow and with great respect for the animal’s space.

Cyclops was big and she was protective, but once she’d decided Trevor was her friend, she would follow him around all night and beg for cuddles. She’d firmly settled for him that he wanted a dog someday, but in the meantime, he loved spending time with her. “I brought you a treat!” he told her and withdrew the Milkbone.

Over the summer, after he won the Tepes scholarship, he’d splurged on new-to-him boots, welding mask and, after asking Striga if it was alright, a box of Milkbones for Cyclops. He carefully parceled them out for her and felt real pleasure every time she woofed her thanks.

Undoing the padlock, he withdrew the chain and opened the gate, bracing himself. Almost 200 pounds of happy pup launched herself at him, licking happily. “Whoa! Whoa! Alright, it’s been a while! I know!” He laughed and she sat back, giving him a soulful look.

“Here you go sweetie,” he held the treat out to her and she delicately nibbled it from his fingertips. Tousling her head, he noticed that the lights in the trailer at the back were on. That’s weird, he thought, and turned to re-lock the gate. He heard a high-pitched yapping and a door slam. He made a face. Striga must still be here, because Morana was. Worse, her little bitch of a dog was with her.

Trevor despised the tiny chihuahua with a passion. She looked darling and sweet but was positively vicious. The first time he’d met her, he was expecting a dog like Cyclops and had been careful not to make sudden moves or loud noises. It didn’t matter. Morana had told him the dog’s name was Lenore, put the animal down between them, and before she’d even turned around, Lenore was yapping and growling at him. Trevor hadn’t even moved yet.

When he did move, to back away, Lenore charged him and bit his jeans, tearing a good hole in them. Morana had been apologetic, but also suggested to him that he should be less threatening to small dogs. As though breathing had been the problem, he thought.

Since then, he just tried to avoid the animal. Every time he couldn’t avoid Lenore, he just didn’t move. He had accepted that his meager sewing skills would be needed after every encounter. Trevor had never hurt an animal in his life and never would, but sometimes he just wanted to punt that bitch to the moon.

“We should just avoid that whole shit show, hey girl?” he said to Cyclops and moved into the scrap metal yard with an unerring sense of direction. The picking pile he wanted was at the back but he made a quick detour to the industrial waste pile first. He was looking for piping for the piece he'd been working on the first time Sypha and he had made love in his studio.

It turned out it wasn’t going to be quick. Striga was there with the forklift and a spotlight. Trevor winced. It looked like one side of the pile had caved and tumbled into the pathway. Eying it, he could see that was exactly what had happened. It looked like someone had piled three industrial ovens at the bottom left, not thinking of the weight issue. What a dumbass, he thought and strode forward. He waved and Striga nodded to him before killing the engine.

“Fucking moron loaded this; can you believe it?” she said in her measured tones. Trevor shook his head.

“They should have known better,” he said, “New guy?” Striga grimaced.

“Yep, hired two newbies last month,” she said, tightening her ponytail and cracking her neck. “Let me tell you, no one has any honor anymore. Neither one had the decency to try to earn their pay. They just took the money and did shit like this.” She waved to the mess. “They are both gone now,” her smile was satisfied until she looked back and then she scowled. “And I’m still cleaning up their messes, unfortunately.”

“I’m sorry Striga. I don’t understand why people are willing to sacrifice their honor for money. I never have, actually.” Trevor hadn’t meant to say anything except that he was sorry. Apparently, he was still raw from the argument. Never forget that when you lose your honor, you’ve lost everything, he re-played in his mind.

“Yeah, that makes sense to me, you’re just that kind of guy. Remember, if the art thing doesn’t work out, I have a place for you here. Everyone needs to make a living.” Striga gave him a respectful nod.

“It’s my intention to make it work but I appreciate it.” He grinned, “Thanks in no small part to your scrap, I gotta say. It’s been quite popular lately.”

Striga’s brows rose, “Sell some art, have you?”

“Actually I have, and I have a showing coming too. Down at the Ainav Gallery, next week.”

Striga frowned and shook her head. “I don’t know that place; where is it at?”

“In the Château plaza?" He said, "About three blocks west from City Hall?” Striga’s face cleared.

“Of course, there’s that antique auctioneer there, right?” Trevor nodded.

Striga whistled. “That place is upscale Trevor, nicely done.” She smiled at him, a small thing, but genuine. “Just think, when you hit it big, I’ll be able to put out a sign, ‘Trevor Belmont’s Art Supply Center.’

He laughed appreciative but rueful. “Yeah, no, I actually work under an alias.” He felt his lips firm. “Belmont isn’t a popular name in the art world.”

Striga nodded. She knew some of his history and knew it was a sore point for him. “What matters is your intentions, Trevor, not what they think.”

“What matters is my honor, Striga.” He said, voice low and tight as he thought of Adrian’s ‘it's just money,’ comment. “Intentions don’t mean anything if I can be bought.”

She looked at him curiously. “Trevor, that doesn’t make any sense. Intentions are the most important thing. Trevor Belmont can be bought, but it’s your intentions around the selling that matter.”

How could you think that of me? He wondered, anger and hurt rising. “Striga, how could you say that? I am not for sale and I cannot be bought! Intentions be damned!”

She cocked a brow and calmly said, “Correct me if I am wrong, but doesn’t the Ainav sell art? Your art, that people can buy?”

It was like she’d slapped him. “That’s different! That’s not my honor, that’s not my integrity, that’s—” My heart, my guts, my soul. It’s me, he thought. The quote came back again. It’s the pieces of me I cut off and sell.

“It’s you.” Striga said. “Don't feel bad about it!" She shrugged. "All of us are for sale; the question is what are our intentions in the transaction. I don’t want to get into it, but believe me, some of the shit I have done was with the best intentions. It didn’t change the fact that I sold parts of myself that I shouldn’t have, but it does let me sleep at night. At least in your case, your selling doesn’t damage your honor or your principles.”

For just a moment he could see her regret and then it was gone. “Anyway, I appreciate you wanting to distance yourself from money and what it usually means,” she crossed her arms, muscles rippling, “but it doesn’t have to be at odds with your honor. There are ways to use money honorably and morally.”

He didn’t want to hear this and he didn’t want to believe it. Worse, he didn’t want it to make as much sense as it did. I’ve lived the last five years hating money, hating what it took from me, resenting its hold over my family and my past, vowing to never be influenced by it or beholden to it, he thought. I’m such an idiot.

“Striga… I don’t know what to say. I just…” he gestured helplessly. “I feel like a fool.” He was so transparent; he felt like a screen door. 

She touched his shoulder briefly, obviously unsettled but trying to be considerate. “Look, ignore me, I don’t do advice or heart to hearts, that isn’t me. I’m probably saying it all wrong. It’s none of my business anyway; I just thought it was a funny thing for you to think. Especially because you are so honorable. In my experience, that usually comes from people who are being very intentional about how they live their lives.”

It was humbling but it also stung. How could I not see this? How did I not realize? “Do you see that a lot?” he asked without thinking, “People living intentional lives? How can you tell?”

Striga laughed, a rare thing but surprisingly enchanting. “No, actually. Most people live to survive. They react, they give into their feelings and they scurry around like the shit they do matters. That’s one of the reasons this place," she gestured to encompass the scrap yard, "is successful. People’s thoughtlessness. We make things with the intention of throwing it away when we don’t want it anymore. We are terribly entitled.”

She sneered and he saw the ugliness of her experience in it. “What’s worse is most of us only give lip service to caring about each other. We care when it’s convenient or not at all. You know how you tell? Someone who is kind when they don’t have to be. When it does nothing for them to be or even works against their own interests. When they hold all the power, all the money and all the privilege, and they still choose to be kind.”

Trevor nodded. The last thing he’d been recently was kind. To anyone. Striga fluttered, an uncharacteristically anxious movement from her. There was the faintest clench of her jaw and she cracked her knuckles. She’s embarrassed, he thought. Maybe I wasn’t the only one to have a bit of a revelation tonight.

“Thanks, Striga. I needed to hear this tonight. I have a lot to think about.” He put out his hand to her and she shook it.

“You’re a good guy Trevor, give yourself a damn break already,” she said, serious and still a little flustered. “And if you’re gonna stay for a while, check out the car parts pile, there is half of a ‘57 Belair in there that I am taking home to make a loveseat out of. She’s gorgeous and you’d appreciate her.”

“Striga!” Morana’s voice carried over the heaps. Striga stepped to the side and bellowed back that she was coming.

“Guess I will finish this up tomorrow, have a good night okay?” She clapped him on the shoulder and got back into the forklift. When she barreled past him, he waved and so did she. Someone who is kind when they don’t have to be. When it does nothing for them to be or even works against their own interests. When they hold all the power, all the money and all the privilege and they still choose to be kind.

He didn't want to think about it, but the thoughts came anyway. Adrian teaching the drawing class with excitement, patience and gentleness. Adrian explaining lighting to Nathan and Hugh with infinite patience. Adrian bringing his duffel across town because he asked him to. Adrian thanking him for kissing him. 

You assume a great deal and you don’t even know me.

I could say the same though! he thought defensively. Tepes assumed so much about me when we first met and then… and then... he treated you with respect in the drawing class, covered for you with Shaft, defended you to the FBI and then made sure you had a lawyer.

Because he thought I would go to prison otherwise! Because he thought that was where I belonged!

Really Trevor? He called a lawyer for you because he was trying to get you out of something you’d done? Or because he was concerned?

And either way, wasn't it still kind? Panic started to creep cold fingers up his belly and he argued with himself, sure that this couldn’t be as bad as it was starting to look. Yes, but I didn’t ask for help! So what if it was just kindness on his part?! I didn’t want that! He should have known! He needs to stop throwing his money at me, it’s humiliating.

Wait, it’s humiliating? Why is it humiliating?

I can’t reciprocate it. I don’t deserve it. I don’t want a hand out! He should know, he should…

How would he know?  Trevor's voice of reason asked. He doesn’t know that you are Chris Wise. He doesn’t know that you won the scholarship.

Adrian made the scholarship and made it possible to apply anonymously; he couldn't even gloat or seek out gratitude from whoever won it, his brain calmly supplied. There is no ego trip, no feel-good moment, nothing. There's nothing in it for him. For all he knows, you don’t like him. You’ve never told him different. He doesn’t know that you know his involvement in any of these things.

So when I told him that I can’t be bought, the only context he had was the lawyer. Trevor groaned. No wonder Adrian had been so confused. It’s just money. What had been Tepes intentions when he said that? 

Suddenly Sypha's intentions when she defended Adrian from Trevor looked completely different. Suddenly the whole scene in the hallway looked horribly cruel and unbelievably unreasonable. On Belmont's part. Damn it. He sat down on the edge of a fridge and looked at Cyclops, who put her head on his knee. “What the fuck have I been doing?” Trevor asked her and she whined at him.

--- 

I don't know why I did the things I did
I don't know why I said the things I said
Pride's like a knife, it can cut deep inside
Words are like weapons, they wound sometimes
I didn't really mean to hurt you
I didn't wanna see you go
I know I made you cry, but baby
If I could turn back time
If I could find a way
I'd take back those words that've hurt you
And you'd stay
If I could reach the stars
I'd give 'em all to you
Then you'd love me, love me
Like you used to do

"If I Could Turn Back Time," Cher

Chapter Text

Nathan Graves loved his drawing class. He didn’t think he would and had put off the requirement until his second semester. Now he was really grateful that he had. He’d been told by a friend to try to get into Shaft’s class; not because of the teacher but because of the TA. At first, he’d been hesitant because the insinuation had been that Adrian taught the class himself.

Even though Tepes was semi-famous, Graves wasn’t sure that he wanted to drop $10k on a class taught by anyone without a Ph.D. He’d carefully watched the drop date, but let it breeze by. Adrian Tepes was amazing. He had a natural talent and a gift for explaining things. The TA was faithful at responding to emails, staying late, being available in his studio, listening to Nathan’s concerns and had even steered him to a Youtube channel that had step-by-step instructions he could follow when he was working at home.

Hugh and he both felt lucky to be in the class, especially given that they were having more trouble than expected with some of the concepts. Whatever, he thought, I’m not a drawer and with Adrian helping me, I will pass this. “Today we are looking at the human form,” Adrian said and Nathan felt his heart sink. Oh no, he thought. There was a collective murmur of unhappiness from the class and the TA smiled.

“I promise, it’s not as bad as you think. We are going to start with what you know—drapes and the movement of fabric! Then we will add the shape of the body underneath it. Deep breaths everyone, you got this!” The painter’s eyes were kind, and he paused. “Here is the fun part. I need you to split up into groups of 5-6 people. One person will be the model and the others will sketch. The one who models will be given extra time to complete this assignment, however, be aware that you will need to make extra time in your schedule outside of class. Take five minutes and find your groups please.”

Nathan looked over at Hugh, Annette, Tera and Iris. He grinned. It’d been a stroke of luck to have them all in the same class and the group had become fast friends. The girls were quick studies and fun to be around. Of course, they all had crushes on Adrian but that could only be expected. Nathan had to admit that for a hot minute, Tepes had made even him question his heterosexuality.

The group instinctively gravitated to each other and it was decided that Annette would be the model. She had previous history with drawing and this was her major, so she had an advantage over the rest of them. As they settled into the group, the door opened. “Belmont,” Hugh whispered at him and Tera’s grey eyes perked up.

The brunette woman thought Trevor’s moodiness was ‘totally intense’ and that he ‘oozed sexual energy.’ It had only gotten worse when she had snuck a peek at the sculptor’s board coming back from the bathroom at the second class. She declared his work amazing and had gushed about ‘bad boys’ when the freaking FBI came for Belmont. For Hugh’s part, he said that Trevor seemed to have gotten a bad rap; the man was nice, just reserved.

Nathan didn’t know what to think. At first, he hadn’t liked Belmont’s attitude toward Adrian but that had calmed down after the first class. Then when Shaft had said those completely inappropriate remarks about Trevor’s work, Nathan instinctively felt indignant on the sculptor's behalf.

Everyone could see Belmont working in class and he was obviously producing something. If Tera was to be believed, it was really good. Nathan trusted Adrian to make that call. He didn’t trust Shaft. It was almost like the professor believed that Belmont should automatically fail just because of his history.

Granted, it was bad history, but Nathan didn’t see how that was Trevor’s fault just because his family had been shady. Shit, the guy had been sixteen when everything went down. If I had to live with some of the dumbass things sixteen-year-old Hugh had done, well, it would suck, he thought.

The gang had talked about whether to say anything to Belmont about Shaft when he came back. If he came back. In the end, Hugh and Iris had argued that Adrian would tell Belmont and Adrian would protect him from Shaft.

The door swung wide and it wasn’t Belmont. It was Professor Shaft and Nathan instinctively looked to Adrian. He was the only one to look back immediately, and he caught the fear and the anxiety on Tepes face. Oh shit, he thought, and suddenly realized that maybe Adrian was just as much at the mercy of this asshole as Belmont was. That maybe Adrian’s kindness and confidence was a shield that he extended to protect his students.

The TA swallowed and settled his face. He looked at the class and said, “Please get started. Remember, look at the movement of the fabric. If you focus on that, I promise, you will find the body emerging under it. I will be back in a moment.”

“Belmont?” Shaft asked as Adrian stepped forward.

Nathan heard Adrian’s low, “Not today, but…”

“So he’s missing again? This would be the fourth class now!” Shaft snarled and Adrian shook his head.

Again, low and obviously attempting discretion, Adrian answered, “No, that’s not correct. He was removed from class against his will last time and—”

“He registered late, missed two classes right off the bat, got tangled up with the authorities and you have no idea where he is today! I see he is still registered though and I am telling you, this is an automatic fail!” Shaft’s voice carried into the classroom and Nathan looked around. Everyone was staring at the scene unfolding at the door.

“Please Professor Shaft, let’s continue this in the hallway,” Adrian said and Shaft stepped back. The TA closed the door and the class broke into a dull roar. Nathan didn’t even realize he’d stood until he spoke in a pitched hiss.

Shut up! Shut up!” He waved his hands frantically and whispered, “I want to hear this! Shut up!” He strode to the door and listened. Dimly, he was aware of everyone else coming up behind him but thankfully they stayed silent.

“No, I am sorry, but I respectfully disagree. I cannot count those absences against him. He submitted the assignment that was worked on for those two classes and you and I both know that the first class is just an adjustment class anyway. At best, he missed—” Adrian’s voice was soft but there was a note of unhappiness in it that clawed into the soft insides of Nathan’s belly. This is not good, the student thought.

“Tepes, you are on incredibly thin ice here.” Professor Shaft sounded pissed. “Are you telling me that you are willing to throw yourself on this sword for Trevor Belmont? Have you thought about this? Why would you do that?!” Nathan didn’t have to strain to hear him, his voice carried and he made no attempt at masking his words.

“What you fail to understand sir, is that this is not about Trevor Belmont for me.” There was a plea in the words but also an assuredness that made Nathan want to cheer. “I know it is for you, but for me, this is about fair standards and practices applied to all students, regardless of personal feeling or,” the TA paused, “personal vendettas.” Holy shit, Nathan thought alarmed, this is bad. This is worse than I thought.

“Fucking A,” Iris whispered at Nathan’s elbow, “Tepes has balls.” He nodded and listened at Shaft’s heavy breathing.

“Think what you want about this 'personal vendetta.' But this is the obvious conclusion of all the presented facts. One: Belmont comes from a line of forgers; we cannot trust anything he submits to be his own work,” Adrian started to protest and Shaft’s voice rose. “Two: Four absences is half of the classes thus far and completely inexcusable. You have one assignment from Belmont? Today was supposed to make two. Where is the other one?” Adrian was silent, but Nathan could hear a tiny sound of distress.

“Three: He is setting a precedence of disruption in the class that is completely unacceptable and you are tolerating it. You are encouraging it by excusing his behavior!” Shaft seemed to catch himself on the last sentence and lowered his voice.

“Now, here is what you will do." Shaft sounded coldly certain. "You will send him an email letting him know he can come pick up his assignment and he will drop the class. I will even speak to the department about giving him a partial refund so that he doesn’t bitch about it. But he will not continue in this class and he will not pass it. Am I clear?”

“That is fucking wrong,” Hugh growled out and there were murmurs of agreement behind Nathan. Graves held up his hand in a shushing motion and the noise ceased immediately. What will you do Adrian? Nathan thought and already knew that what the TA did would determine what Nathan would do. There was a deep, sad breath from Adrian and the blonde spoke.

“I am sorry to refuse you, but I must. I cannot do that.” Shaft sounded like a tea kettle whistling when it was ready. Adrian continued. “Again, I cannot help but feel that this is malicious. I am willing to believe that you cannot see that, but I am asking you to reconsider your emotions on the matter.”

“Never,” Shaft exploded, close to a yell before he dialled it back, “Belmont is not passing this fucking class!”

Adrian sounded exhausted and unbelievably forlorn. “We disagree on the details of Belmont’s attendance, his work and his mark in the class. I am afraid that if you want to have that email sent, you will have to do it yourself. I might have a solution however, that would remove both of our opinions from the issue. I have spoken to Grant Danasty and he would be willing to grade—”

“Fuck that!” Shaft said and made a noise of contempt and disgust. “You are finished Tepes. You will never TA again and I will—” Nathan stepped back and turned to the class. The looks of shock, anger, disbelief and uncertainty were well matched to his. Strike while the outrage is hot, he thought and spoke.

“Who here likes Adrian and wants him to stay as our teacher?” All the hands went up. “Who here is willing to go with me, right now, to the department and make a formal compliant about Shaft’s treatment of Belmont and Tepes? Even if you don’t care about Belmont, that could be you out there just because Shaft doesn't like you. If we all do it, he can’t blanket fail the class because the school can’t allow that. It would be a giant lawsuit.” Students were nodding with excitement and looking around.

Iris was grinning, and Annette whispered fiercely, “Fight the motherfucking power, Nate!”

“Let’s fucking do this then, follow me.” Nathan opened the door.

-----

When Trevor woke up, bleary and pissed, he knew today was going to suck. He’d stayed late at the scrap yard, far later than he intended and worked until his back screamed alongside his mind. As a result, his body felt like an old man and was moving like it too. His brain was wrapped in bubble wrap and bouncing around like a cork in a hurricane. The first thing he thought of was Adrian and Sypha and he groaned and tried to think of anything else.

He crept to his knees and leaned against the wall. Several minutes went by as he stared at the sun moving across the maquettes. Right about the time he thought his knees had probably locked, he realized that the sun shouldn’t be that low on the wall. He jerked and immediately regretted everything. “Son of a bitch!” he yelled as he toppled back onto the mattress and frantically patted for his phone.

When the screen lit up, he loosed a stream of swears that he was fairly certain had the neighbors thinking he was either fending off a demon, or having the best sex of his life. He was late for Adrian’s class. And by late, it had been over for two hours and counting. I am the shittiest person, Trevor thought and repeatedly bashed his head into the mattress.

A boiling hot shower, four no-name brand Tylenol, some careful stretches and Trevor was moving with only a slight limp. Dragging his cargo pants on he grabbed the nearest t-shirt and the ancient Joan Jett logo reminded him which way the front was. He took a moment to add his crosses back onto his chains and hooked them up to his belt. Fingers lingering on the wooden one the size of his palm, he shook the sad feeling off.

He darted to the kitchen and swore. He needed to go grocery shopping and had meant to go yesterday before the shit storm with Adrian and Sypha. Eyeing his options, he cut the mold off the bread, scraped at the already scoured peanut butter jar and sniffed the half-finished canned fruit in the fridge. It seemed safe. He bolted it down over the sink and stuffed the almost-bare slice into his mouth.

Grabbing the drawing that was due off of the corner of his table, he carefully rolled it, banded it and put it in his duffel. Seeing the increasingly sadly rumpled bag of Sunchips made him grit his teeth. Slinging the straps over his shoulders, he headed down the stairs. It wasn’t until he hit the street that he remembered he hadn’t brushed his hair. “Come on Belmont, get it together!” He raked his fingers through his hair and ran after the bus.

It was late afternoon when he arrived at campus. Dashing off the bus he started toward the art building. Adrian was a junior and had a studio in the building somewhere. He started to lope down the pathway between the Digital building and the Soft Fashion department. “Belmont! Way to fight the man!” a man called to him and Trevor slowed to look back. Someone he didn’t know waved enthusiastically and Trevor automatically waved back.

What the fuck? he wondered and started up again. “Way to go Belmont!” said a curvy female as he passed her and it hit him like an errant golf cart manned by a drunk caddie. Issac and Godbrand, he thought and groaned. Well, it could be worse.

He would take looking like a bad ass over being perceived as a criminal. Trevor snickered. After all, Godbrand apologizing to him had made him feel like his dick was 10 feet long. His brain rudely interrupted his glee. And who do we thank for that? Oh, that’s right, I didn’t thank him; I bit his head off. I need to apologize. Trevor made a face. He hated apologies.

It’ll be worth it though. Maybe he’ll kiss you. Ooooh, maybe you could give him an apology blo—

“It was a long time coming, Belmont, thanks from all of us!” An older man held the door for him and gave him a huge grin.

“You’re welcome?” Trevor said, completely confused.

“Just wish it’d been last year but at least it happened!” The man skipped down the stairs and Trevor stared at him until the door shut. I wasn’t here last year, Trevor thought and shook it off. He could figure it out later. In the meantime, he needed to drop this assignment off before the end of office hours.

He approached a person at random and asked where the painters’ studios were. He was directed to the west wing and took the back stairs. When he came out on the fourth floor he paused. Why didn’t I think to ask which studio? Trevor thought, looking at the long line of doors in dismay.

The sculpture studio had eleven offices total and they taped the names up on doors. Apparently, the painting and drawing department was too good for that.

Thanks to the syllabus, he knew it was “the third one from the big portrait” but quickly realized that was not a great description. He walked slowly down the corridor, hearing music and voices from some of the rooms. No one had their doors open but as someone who didn’t like interruptions, Trevor could understand that.

So beautiful, he thought, as he went past Botticelli’s Venus taped into the window of the door. Each door had a big window in it and everyone had covered theirs with something. He had to grin at the giant Calvin and Hobbes poster in the next one. Whoever that was, he approved. Third from the big portrait.

There were four possibilities and he dismissed the first one. The art on that door was Warhol and instinctively Trevor knew it wasn’t Adrian. The others though... he looked again.

Da Vinci was classic, but the Renaissance man wasn’t his best and seemed almost cliché. The Bruges was beautiful but fairly religious... There was a delicate collage of Kahlo, Raphael, and Bernini that seemed likely, but he was thrown by the Amano work. Adrian didn’t seem like a video gamer but what did he know?

Sypha, he thought suddenly, as it clicked. He grinned. She liked Final Fantasy. That’s where the painter would have seen it. The delicate, pretty figures seemed just like him. Trevor approached the door and heard voices.

Ah shit, he thought when he heard Adrian’s low laugh, he's here. Trevor stepped to the side of the door, quietly set his duffel down and pulled out his drawing. He debated knocking but didn’t wasn’t sure how he could begin to apologize. What he would say? Hey sorry I acted like a grade-A dick after a mind-blowing kiss and then skipped out on class because I stayed up stupid late having all the angst and feels like an emo high schooler.

Yeah, no thanks.

Plus, he had no idea who was in there with him. With the door shut. Making him laugh in that throaty, erotic, hot honey way. Jealousy is stupid and pointless, Trevor told himself and almost believed it. Trevor pulled out the chips too. They would get to Tepes if he had to carrier pigeon that shit to him.

He eyed the opening under the door. It was actually pretty big, almost a full inch but his work was rolled. He needed to flatten it out and slide it under. Was there anything in the way of the door? he wondered. For that matter, was there a way to only slide it partially in so the TA wouldn’t immediately come to the door? It’s not that I want to run away, it’s more like I want to…escape.

Looking around, Trevor didn’t see anyone so he pushed his duffel aside, got on his belly and looked under the door. His eyes had to adjust to the brilliant afternoon sun streaming into the room. There was no question this was Adrian’s space. It was neat and tidy, smelled strongly of oils and paint thinner and quiet artsy music played out of a stereo nestled between two vines of something purple and fuzzy.

There was a clothesline with hooks and canvases in various states of progress hanging up. He couldn’t see them but got the vague impression of color and bodies. Under it was a small desk with a laptop currently open and running with a stack of portfolios beside it. He’s grading, Trevor thought.

There seemed to be a chair or a couch beside the door, he could just see the brown edge. But beyond that, there was Adrian’s easel. Or more accurately there was his soul.

Unlike the rest of the space, there was a certain amount of chaos here. Brushes in cans, rags in the floor, splatters and crumpled paper. There was still an order and restraint to it and Trevor would bet money that Adrian carefully cleaned up every time.

There were three easels set up, all supporting a large, wide canvas currently on its side. It was in the beginning of being and was already somewhat sketched in but he couldn't quite make it out. The background was dark and somehow liquid-y, as though looking into water. I’ve never seen his work on such a large scale, he thought. It looked like a pair of hands cupping a head but there was something in the hands and in the head.

He strained to make it out and then heard a quietly appreciative murmur from almost right beside the door. “Simply gorgeous. You are so talented. This right here? Beyond sexy.” It was a man’s voice; someone he didn’t recognize.

Trevor felt an unhealthy surge of possessive adrenaline. Exactly what was sexy?

Unhelpfully, his brain answered: the softness of his hair, the yield of his lips, that helpless grind of his hips, the little noises he makes, the taste of his mouth, the…

“I wish I could take credit for that, but it's just inherent in this case.” There was a longing in Adrian’s voice and Trevor’s blood pressure rose.

Exactly what is inherent?! His temper asked. Cool it Trevor, he’s not your boyfriend, you don’t have the right to be angry. Damn it we kissed yesterday, he wanted me, I…

A breathy sigh. “Can I be honest here?”

There was a smile in Adrian's murmured, “Yes." Trevor’s whole body tensed.

The man’s voice was filled with desire, “I would fuck that face, right here, right now.”

--- 

It's the terror of knowing what this world is about
Watching some good friends screaming
"Let me out"
Tomorrow gets me higher
Pressure on people, people on streets
Turned away from it all like a blind man
Sat on a fence, but it don't work
Keep coming up with love
But it's so slashed and torn
Why? Love
Insanity laughs, under pressure we're cracking
Can't we give ourselves one more chance?
Why can't we give love that one more chance?

-"Under Pressure," Queen & David Bowie

Chapter Text

Trevor was so furious his whole body tingled. He’d be damned if he wouldn’t interrupt this cozy little session before Adrian could get on his knees. Like a tidal wave, the vision he'd had in the drawing room of the painter doing just that for him, slammed into his mind and his heart ached.

Adrian laughed again, pleased and rueful; it was like a wet lick up Trevor’s throat. The painter said, “Honestly, I think that is normal for everyone who sees him. Our natural state of being you might say. It’s his face. Always intense, always smoldering. I love that look too, but I don’t think it will fit with the forest and the softness of the atmosphere.”

Wait, they aren’t talking about something between them but something they feel for someone else! His elated relief was tempered with curiosity and a touch of jealousy. This is an ugly reality for you Belmont, he told himself, jealous when you have no right to be. Trevor found that telling himself that did nothing to lesson it. His feelings for Adrian ran too deep and the situation was too uncertain right now.

There was the sound of papers rustling and suddenly Adrian stepped into view. Graceful, exuberant and focused, the painter had been alarmingly close to Trevor. He went over to the canvas wearing paint spattered black slacks, a plain black apron and a red long-sleeved shirt. His hair was caught up in a bun, soft tresses floating carelessly. Red did beautiful things to that blonde hair and gave him a faint flush, or maybe that was just the situation.

The desire that slammed Trevor wasn’t unexpected but the soft longing was. He is wearing color, Trevor thought. What does that mean?

“Look at the gentleness of her hands here,” the TA gestured to the inner curve of the fingertips on the canvas resting on the easels, “and look at the sketch titled, ‘Affection.’ I think it will look like he is leaning into her. It would be romantic and suggest the bond.”

There was the sound of papers shuffling again, and then the other man’s voice, “I don’t see one titled that?”

Adrian looked startled and paced back over. For a split-second Trevor thought he was going to open the door and started to inch slowly away. More papers rustled and then Adrian said, “Oops, we must have left it in your studio, one second!”

Oh shit, Trevor thought and started to scramble back. It was too late. The door swung open and when Trevor looked up the blonde was still turned toward the room but moving forward. “Just stay put I will—ah!

Adrian plowed right into Trevor, who’d only managed to get onto all fours at that point. To save the painter from doing a faceplant he had to do a bizarre and uncomfortable twist that had his back bellowing in anger.

Adrian looked up, confusion, then dawning awareness and finally rising anger. “What the hell?! Why would you—? You! You deliberately tripped me! Seriously? Unbelievable!”

“Wait, I didn’t—” Trevor began and thought the TA would get up. The brunette started to release him, forgetting about Adrian’s temper. The temper that got him into trouble the first time they met. The temper that resulted in the two of them tussling on the floor in the cafeteria.

So when the painter reared back, Trevor wasn’t remotely defending himself. He thought Tepes was just getting up. Adrian’s fist had double the impact and he was strong.

“Motherfucker!” Trevor wheezed and saw red. “What the fuck is your problem?! It was an—“ He managed to block Adrian’s second fist with his elbow and swung back. At the last second he remembered he didn’t want to hurt Tepes. His punch became an open-handed slap against the side of the painter’s face.

Outrage bloomed on Adrian’s face and he stared down at Trevor. “Did you just...? Did you just SLAP ME?!” His look was so incredibly insulted that Trevor snickered. Adrian looked like a duchess who just discovered someone shit the bed.

“If you’re gonna act like a child...” Trevor began in his best lecturing voice and Adrian shifted to pin Trevor’s shoulder under an elbow and the other arm with his hand. It left him wide open to the slap the painter delivered to the side of his head and Trevor’s ears rang.

Adrian laughed smugly and said, “Not so funny now, is it?! Ha!” Trevor couldn’t bring his hand up to reach Adrian’s face so he settled for slapping the closest thing. The minute his hand connected to Adrian’s ass cheek with a audible smack, they both blinked.

Trevor didn’t imagine the sudden tense and then full body, shuddering melt from Adrian. Holy shit, he liked that, the sculptor thought, instantly turned on. It didn’t help that Trevor had liked it too and his own body immediately reacted to Adrian’s response.

There was the sound of a throat clearing above them. “I think I’m gonna go now, but you two have a good time.”

Long legs stepped over them. Trevor caught a backwards glance and grin from a tall, slender brunette as he quietly shut the door to his studio. Calvin and Hobbes, Trevor thought appreciatively.

Adrian was staring at him, lips parted and breath quick. He hadn’t moved from his straddle of Trevor’s belly and it was a front row seat to the semi-aroused state the painter was in.

“You know,” Trevor said with seductive amusement, trying not to drool from the view, “I’m totally up for spanking. You could call me Daddy if you want.”

Adrian made a disgusted noise and tried to wiggle off. “Wait, that’s—“ Trevor said but it was too late. The blonde slid his ass over Trevor’s extremely hard arousal. The sculptor hissed and bucked into the painter’s ass. “Adrian,” he whined and looked up at the TA.

Desire, confusion, anger, helplessness and uncertainty warred with each other in the blonde’s eyes. Trevor remembered his impression of limited experience from their kiss. “It’s alright,” Trevor said, touching the fading red mark on Tepes’ cheek and already regretting his rash reaction. “I really don’t want to hurt you.”

Those golden depths ignited and Adrian bent down to him, hovering inches above his lips. “Tell me you don’t hate me,” Tepes whispered. “I need to believe it.” Shock was hugely tangible for Trevor and he was quickly swamped with regret.

I fucked this up so bad, Trevor thought. “I don’t hate you,” he said sincerely. “I never have and I’m sorry I—” and Adrian was kissing him. Trevor groaned into that eager mouth. Teeth scraped over his lips and clinked against his, as the painter’s tongue licked his with unrestrained passion.

Rationally, he knew that the unpracticed nature of Adrian’s kiss shouldn’t be as mind-meldingly hot as it was. However, knowing that he was among a select few to taste that cool, quiet mouth made it that much more blistering.

There was something warming under that calm tranquility and Trevor mused it was Adrian’s enthusiasm manifesting itself and begging for plunder. The brunette wrapped his arms around Adrian and kissed him back, winding his fingers into those soft, fragrant tresses. Adrian murmured happily and Trevor gave a little tug. The answering gasp was like a flowing river under the ice of his composure and the spring thaw was coming.

He slid his other hand up to cup Adrian’s ass and squeezed gently. Definitely a VW trunk, he thought, and sexy as fuck. The door to the back stairway opened. Trevor registered it but didn’t readily interpret its meaning. Legs in patterned tights and combat boots tiptoed around them and then a whispered, “Wow, that is hot,” made Adrian’s head jerk up.

The painter immediately flushed crimson and scrambled back. Trevor bit back an oath. He hated interruptions.

“Ugh, sorry Sara, Julie,” Tepes said, looking at the floor.

“Don’t be! I am not; believe me!” the one woman said and the other looked down at Belmont.

“You lucky son of a bitch,” she said cheerfully and Trevor grinned. He was feeling very lucky right now. And if you hadn’t come along, maybe even luckier, he thought.

Adrian nodded to them both and they kept moving with a decidedly happy skip to their step. “Um, maybe we should get out of the hallway,” Tepes said and stood. He offered a hand to Trevor, who took it and got up. When Adrian went to let go though, Trevor didn’t. Not this time, he thought, this time, I get it right. Awareness flooded Tepes face and Trevor took a deep breath.

---

Adrian couldn’t believe it. The last 48 hours had been an upheaval like no other. He was so turned around that he couldn’t untwist himself. The kiss with Trevor, the sculptor’s hideously cruel rejection, weeping so hard the blonde had felt like he had vomited his guts out, only to have them burn with desire from the revelation with Sypha, their wonderfully terrifying conversation and their agreement on what might happen going forward.

Adrian had laid in bed half the night, torn between trying not to get his hopes up and imagining all the possibilities. It should not have been a surprise to him that he woke up hard as hell from a scorching dream of Sypha riding his cock while Trevor thrust into his mouth. The sexual energy had tumbled through his morning yoga. Fully aroused yoga, he thought again with chagrin. It had lasted all the way through his practice, his breakfast smoothie and half his shower.

It finally led to an intense orgasm under the pounding water that ended with him whispering their names and feeling slightly embarrassed but still low-key hot. Adrian felt his blush rise remembering. His dread and excitement at seeing Belmont. The annoyance and then worry when he failed to show.

Then the horror of knowing what was coming, the moment Shaft opened the door. His utter shock when Nathan Graves and the entire class exited the drawing room, filed past him and the professor and headed down the stairs.

Neither he nor Shaft had known what was going on and after establishing that to each other, they had followed. His shock could not have been greater to see his entire class packed into the art department office and hear Nathan’s ringing tones demanding that he speak to the department head right now. Shaft grabbed Adrian’s arm and asked in a hissed whisper, just what the fuck was going on? The TA had no answer for him.

The department head affectionately known as the Captain because of his propensity for wearing a sailor’s cap and jacket had emerged from his office and Nathan started speaking. Adrian had not been able to keep his jaw from hanging open. Then the tears had come and he’d quietly sat down in one of the waiting chairs and listened to his entire class do the right thing.

When he looked up, Shaft was gone. The co-chair of the department, Charlotte Aulin, was standing just inside the door and looking at him. Catching his eye, she motioned to him to follow her. More than anything, Tepes didn’t want to leave. He wanted to hear everything but he knew she was right and it wasn’t appropriate for him to be here.

When Charlotte closed the door to her office, it all came out in swift disclosure. The teaching alone without guidance or assistance, his insane office hours, being the sole contact for emails and for extra help when the students needed it, the rubber-stamped grading, his fear of Shaft and his love of TA-ing.

She’d been incredibly supportive and lovely, repeatedly telling him that teaching assistant positions should never be so stressful or so arduous. When Aulin apologized to him, he calmed quickly. Embarrassed, as he was never one for public emotional scenes, he quickly realized what he’d done.

If he’d had any idea how wretchedly hopeful he had looked—pale, forlorn, delicate figure with liquid golden eyes, when he begged her not to take his class away from him—he would have felt badly. As it was, there was no manipulation or guile in his intention and his integrity struck her as deep and true.

She’d told him that it was obvious that some things were going to have to change, but she would do her best to ensure that he remained with that class. Aulin was unexpectedly frank with him and told him that it was highly likely he would remain as the TA, simply because all the professors had a full load this semester. She couldn’t promise him anything of course and didn’t want to lead him on, but the department was down two maternity leaves and a sabbatical right now.

The whole disclosure was the span of fifteen minutes and when they stepped back out of her office, they could see that his class was still in the foyer of the art department. The secretary was passing out forms, which Adrian could only guess were grievance forms and the Captain was nodding seriously.

Charlotte suggested that that class should be cancelled for today and that she should be with him when he told the students. She walked him back to the classroom to wait for the students return, asking him about how his classes were going.

At the top of the stairs, they heard a crash from the drawing room and saw the concerned crowd standing outside the closed door. Charlotte made it to the door first, only because Adrian knew what was happening. He understood Shaft better than most. When the door opened, the collective gasp was enough for Tepes. He didn’t even have to look.

Later, when he saw the room, the TA understood that Shaft had experienced some kind of break with reality. He was grateful it was taken out on the room and no one else. Adrian had shuddered to think what might have happened if he’d been there alone, or worse, if Trevor had been. The room looked like a riot had taken place; supplies strewn, easels broken, student art destroyed. The sheer, malicious destruction was unbelievable.

Adrian almost felt sorry for him, almost felt badly, and then he remembered his uneasy feeling that Shaft might have done what he tried to do to Belmont, to someone else. That he might have destroyed someone else’s hopes and dreams before.

He didn’t smirk when security took the professor out. He didn’t join in the applause of the crowd or the whoops and cheers. Instead, he sent a tiny meditation of thanks into the cosmos that the festering wound of the professor’s presence was removed from the campus. Removed from his life. Removed from Belmont's. Likely permanently. Tenured professor or not, this was well beyond something Shaft could come back from.

There was no returning to the classroom that day; it was a crime scene that belonged to the police now. Returning to the office with the co-chair, they found that the class had been moved to a nearby empty room and Adrian slipped into the back.

The Captain was in the middle of explaining how grievances worked. He was assuring the students that the department could and would protect them from retribution from Shaft, including having their work graded by someone else. Iris was insisting that it be Tepes and the TA’s heart felt like it might burst.

Adrian watched the co-chair come up to the Captain and whispered in his ear. The Captain jerked, blanched and shook his head. When he looked at Adrian, Tepes came forward. He wasn’t sure if he should speak or not, but at this point he had no idea if he would ever see this amazing group in the classroom ever again. At the very least, the TA wanted to comfort them and he wanted to say thank you.

He didn’t look over to see the Captain and Charlotte watching him as he spoke to his class. It was too bad really, because it would have settled much of his concerns about his worth to the department and what the fall out of his confession would be. When the two would discuss it later, they agreed that he was brilliant and poised given everything that he’d been through that day.

Calm, well-spoken, and diplomatic while remaining unbelievably warm and kind, he’d broken the news about the classroom destruction with minimal fuss and the perfect pitch of sympathy. He promised nothing about how it would play out, but listened with attentive compassion. When he had thanked the class for reporting Shaft, there was no bad mouthing the department or the professor, but rather noting how important integrity and accountability was in every power structure and system of governance.

He’d ended with a promise to the class that the art department would take not only their concerns seriously, but that they took the hideous disrespect to the student's work and private property very seriously. Tepes had reminded them of the student counselling program on campus and urged them to take care of themselves in the aftermath of today.

The Captain didn’t even try to add anything beyond asking that the students provide an itemized list of what was in the classroom that might have been destroyed. He explained that they needed to provide it to the police and to the insurance company so they could replace the items as quickly as possible. He also added that the department would be working with Adrian closely to ensure that this disgraceful incident didn’t impact any grading related to destroyed work.

The co-chair had told Tepes he could leave, but asked him to stay on campus until the police were done as he might be needed for a statement. The moment he’d gotten to the fourth floor he’d knocked on Grant’s door and thanked his lucky stars that the other TA was there.

Grant was incredulous, then concerned and ultimately cackling over the story. His friend told Adrian he was gonna be fucking famous. No one had wanted to work with Shaft and hated taking classes from him. Grant had previously confessed that even the other professors despised him and avoided working with the man whenever possible.

As always, Danasty was a balm of hilarity and support to Adrian and he felt considerably better after talking to him. Grant asked him about one of the pieces the painter was working on for their class together and they’d gone back to Adrian’s studio. They’d literally just picked up his sketches when the police called and asked if they could meet him. When they arrived, Grant was looking through the drawings appreciatively and Adrian told him to just take them back to his studio.

By the time Trevor was kneeling in the hallway, the police had been gone for twenty minutes, Grant had come back with the sketches and was positively entranced with them. Tepes couldn’t blame him. Adrian had sketched Belmont from memory but was proud to say he’d captured him very well, especially the look he’d had right before Trevor had kissed him. That was the portrait that Grant had sighed and fluttered over, before declaring he wanted to fuck his face.

Adrian had to agree. He understood the sentiment, even as he felt the twinge of irritation. If anyone was fucking that face, he didn’t want to know. Well, unless it was Sypha. Then he definitely wanted to know. Maybe watch too. He blushed harder, grateful that no one could read his thoughts.

He’d been completely unprepared for Belmont being in the hallway and had been mortified that Trevor might have heard him talking with Grant. Might have heard them talk about how devastatingly attractive the sculptor was. Might have heard Adrian talk about his need to paint Trevor, so fierce it was fast becoming an obsession. The piece he was working on for his midterm was going to be Trevor and Sypha and had been rattling around in his head for over a week now.

On top of his humiliation, the hurt from yesterday had tumbled into him, fresh, sharp and painful. It mingled with his relief that Belmont was alright and warred with his irritation that Trevor had clearly been in the midst of attempting to slide his work under the door and avoid him.

The slap had been insulting but also ignited something inside Tepes. I don’t think I want to admit how hot that whole thing was, he thought again and resisted a shiver. But when he said he didn’t hate me, that was all I needed to know. Sypha had told him that he needed to ask that question, straight up. To stop letting it torment him and just know. She couldn’t tell him herself and he understood and respected that, but she’d been right. He needed to hear it.

Trevor was looking at him with that intense gaze and Adrian’s lips still tingled from the kiss. He couldn’t believe he’d been basically making out with Belmont in the hallway at school. Thank God it was just Sara and Julie, they were friends and sweethearts. They wouldn’t gossip about it. What was happening to him? He never did things like this! His eyes dropped to those lips again and he thought, Whatever is happening, I wish it would happen again.

Trevor’s lips moved and the world erupted with possibility. “I’m sorry you thought I hate you. I don’t. What I feel is complicated and I am not great at talking about stuff like that. The things I said yesterday were unfair and uncalled for. I blew it and I know it. I keep fucking up with you and I hate it. I want a chance to talk, a chance to… get it right.”

Adrian’s eyes flew to his and he thought his smile might pop his eyes out. “I want that too; I want to know you. I want to understand.” He took a risk, “I really like you. A lot.”

Trevor grinned, “Oh good, I thought that you just made out with all the people you found on the floor.”

Adrian blushed and gave him a look. Belmont was clearly teasing and stroked a thumb over his cheek in a small, soothing motion. Grant’s door cracked open and they both jerked to look at him. He looked embarrassed but also really happy.

“Listen, guys, I am dying here because ya’ll are cute as fuck,” he sighed sadly, “although now I know I have no chance with Belmont.” Trevor’s brow raised in amusement, “But you should know that literally everyone on the floor can hear you. Can I suggest that you might want to go back to the nearest apartment? For complete privacy?”

I am going to die of humiliation, Adrian thought but he nodded. At least Grant didn’t let them get too far. The door next to Grant’s opened and a blonde man’s head popped out. “Damn it Grant, some of us were enjoying the show. Spoilsport!” Adrian took Trevor’s hand and tugged him into his studio as Grant and John argued good-naturedly. Tepes quietly shut the door and turned to Trevor.

“He’s right, we have no privacy here.” Adrian took a breath. “Would you please come home with me? I want to continue this conv—"

Trevor pushed him up against the door and took his mouth in a searing, urgent kiss. Quick, clever hands snaked behind him and undid Adrian's apron. The moment that the apron was loose, Trevor’s hands made their way under his shirt and up his torso. The blonde was quaking, gasping, overwhelmed. The sculptor’s hands were hot, firm bliss with exploding stars under each finger tip.

“Oh, we’ll continue, believe me,” Trevor muttered into his mouth, “you have no idea. I cannot breathe but to want you.”

Adrian just melted. There was no other response to such an irresistible need, especially when he understood it so well. “Trevor,” he whispered into the sculptor’s mouth and Belmont growled.

“And when you say my name like that, I want to do everything to you. I want to give you everything,” the brunette said and lifted the apron over his head. He dropped it on the floor beside them and nuzzled in to taste Adrian’s neck. Oh my God, the TA thought and arched into Trevor.

“You like that, don’t you?” The question came in a low, sensuous tone and Trevor scraped his teeth over Adrian’s jugular. The painter’s tremble and defenseless thrust was completely involuntary and felt utterly right. He found his voice, as he laced his fingers through Trevor’s hair, “Yes, it’s—” The stubble from Belmont’s face worked its way to the hollow in his collarbone and Adrian’s breath hitched.

“It’s what?” Trevor asked, practically purring when Adrian whined.

I can’t.

I can.

This is incredible.

I’m in my studio.

I just want to let him inside.

If you moan like that, everyone will hear you.

I just need to touch.

Please taste me.

The thoughts were jumbled and incoherent and words wouldn’t come. They were lost forever when Belmont’s hands found his nipples. Adrian moaned and jerked the sculptor’s hair hard. Adrian opened his mouth to apologize but Trevor was already speaking.

“That’s it,” Trevor grated through clenched teeth and hefted Adrian up against him. Holy fuck he is strong, Adrian thought, concurrently alarmed and extremely aroused. The painter hasn’t been picked up since he was twelve and fell off the ladder in the library. His father had been there instantly and carried him to the sofa. This was nothing like that. This was urgent dominance and desperate need.

Trevor turned and eased him down onto the couch, moving over him with sure hands. It wasn’t until the crinkle of the papers on the fabric that Adrian realized where he was. Trevor pushed his shirt up and licked up his scar. His scar was insanely sensitive and it was like Belmont had kissed his cock.

“Yes, oh my god, I just—!” and that was when he saw Trevor’s face. His heart tripped and he looked down.

--- 

I was made for loving you, baby
You were made for loving me
And I can't get enough of you, baby
Can you get enough of me?
I was made for loving you, baby
You were made for loving me
And I can give it all to you, baby
Can you give it all to me?

-"I Was Made for Lovin' You," Kiss

Chapter Text

Adrian moved like a dream under his hands. It was like that first kiss but somehow even better. This time Trevor knew what was between them. He knew Adrian would shudder and arch under his touch and each time the blonde did, it was glorious certainty that this man would be his.

When those long, elegant hands wove into his hair, Trevor cheerfully consigned all rational thought to oblivion. Concerns of being quiet, worries about who was listening, what might be shared as gossip later; nothing mattered but the shimmering moonbeam he was discovering under his fingertips.

If Trevor wasn’t positive that Adrian had no idea how tremendously erotic his reactions were, he might think the painter had practiced those gasps, trembles and flutters. They ignited forest fires of want under his skin and arrowed straight to his cock. When Trevor touched flat nipples as soft as water, he thought of rose petals and secret gardens. Then Adrian yanked his hair, and all Trevor could think of was getting inside him.

“That’s it,” Trevor managed, gritting his teeth to stop himself from biting into a neck that arched like Adrian would under him. It throbbed inside of him, the need to take, to plunge, to pull cries of pleasure and the plea of his name from the painter. As it was, every yes was a firm stroke up his body and every helpless whimper a slap of lust.

Don’t hurt him, be gentle, he thought and desperately scrambled for tenderness. Trevor didn’t think of himself as a thoughtful or soft man but he understood that would be important right now. Adrian deserved nothing less and no matter what, he wouldn’t fail him.

Belmont lifted the blonde into his arms and struggled not to whimper. It would have been a terrible combination given his currently cross-eyed expression, as miles of Adrian’s strong, leggy muscles wrapped around his hips. When he eased the TA down, he was well aware they were crossing a threshold that Trevor wasn’t sure he could come back from.

Powerful emotions that he had no business feeling were rampaging through him like bulls in the streets of Spain. Trevor wasn’t sure that the possibility of his heart being trampled wasn’t a real a danger here. But he was willing to risk it. When he pushed up Adrian’s shirt, he groaned. He’d seen this torso across the room before, but damn if it wasn’t even more entrancing up close.

There was that fascinating scar again, and Belmont needed to taste that pink skin. He licked over it and Adrian bucked hard enough that Trevor surged up to check his expression. Then, out of the corner of his eye he saw it on the floor. The painter was speaking to him, but Trevor wasn’t really listening anymore.

The drawings, Belmont thought. He’d somewhat registered the papers on the couch when he set Adrian down on it. Now though, he really saw them. It was so bizarre to see his own eyes, thoughtful and a little dreamy, gazing back at him. He picked it up slowly and just stared. Do I ever really look that soft? He wondered, noting his scar was perfectly rendered, even the funny quirk at the end.

There was another one, half under the couch and he bent to retrieve it. Wow, I had no idea I could look that forbidding, he thought, amused and a little sad. He was clearly mid-snarl and furious. I wonder how familiar this face is to Tepes, he thought with a pang and wished his temper didn’t factor so strongly between them.

Something quieted in the sculptor, strengthened and settled. He couldn’t believe Adrian had drawn these from memory. As far as he knew, the painter had never sketched him in the flesh. Trevor looked up at Adrian and saw huge embarrassment, resignation and a great deal of apprehension.

“I’m flattered.” The brunette said, and meant it. It was humbling and overwhelming to be seen with such a discerning eye. To be invited into an artist’s world in such a pervasive way. Adrian’s face broke into a lovely smile. Trevor continued, “I don’t think I’ve been drawn or painted since I was a teenager and that was my mother, so it’s definitely not the same.”

Adrian’s eyes gentled. “My mother painted me too.” His smile was small but sassy, “I cherish it fiercely, but it’s terrible. A painter she most certainly is not.”

Trevor knew his smile was bittersweet but he couldn’t help it. “My mothers’ wasn’t terrible. She wasn’t Rembrandt, but she had talent. It’s gone now. All of her works are; they were lost in the fire.”

Adrian’s eyes disappeared under those long lashes for a moment and when he looked up at Trevor, they were poignant with grief. “I honestly cannot imagine. I am so sorry.” The sculptor believed him and it sweetened the moment between them.

Still, he had to stifle a sigh when Adrian sat up. Although he’d already come to the conclusion that the moment was lost and rational sense suggested that they don’t do this here, he felt frustrated desire creeping in. Damn it.

“We really should go back to my apartment,” the blonde brushed back his hair, a faint blush on his cheeks, “there’s um, lots of ears here and—”

“Thin walls here,” Trevor finished for him. “Yeah, it makes sense.”

Adrian was clearly struggling to repress a shy grin. “I have to tell you though; I wish that we could stay and the other people could go.”

Trevor’s smile was slow and pleased. “How close did you say your apartment was?” he purred happily and put out his hand.

---

Adrian couldn’t believe how ridiculously close he had been to having sex with Trevor Belmont. I was going to have sex on campus. In my studio. Within earshot of Grant, and John and Sara and literally everyone. I’m Trevor's teacher. I know better. I

He looked over at the brunette. Trevor’s hair was ruffled by the breeze and he was whistling something catchy. There was a twinkle in his blue eyes and a distinctly smug swagger in his step. I did that, Adrian thought with a little thrill. Belmont had been quite cheerful since Adrian had mentioned he wished they could stay. Alright, since I kissed him, he thought.

The painter still couldn’t believe he’d done that. There was sexual apprehension for him that meant he never instigated romantic affection, but somehow, in that moment, it had been such a huge need that it overcame it. He doesn’t hate me, he thought with joy. In fact, I think he likes me.

Really Adrian? His brain responded sarcastically. The man had every intention of fucking you on that couch; I think you’re good.

Yes, he thought stubbornly, but that doesn't mean he likes me. There is such a thing as hate sex. Or so I have heard. Anyway, there was nothing mean or cruel in the way he touched me. When he told me he doesn’t hate me, I could tell he meant it. He shivered as they reached the edge of campus and turned down the block. Trevor looked over at him and arched an eyebrow. Adrian felt his lips twitch. He could practically read Belmont’s mind and felt his cheeks heat.

If we were alone… he thought and felt a twinge. I wish it was like this with Sypha. I wish I wasn’t so afraid. His desire for her was huge, but the fear there was significantly greater. If he messed it up... He didn't know why he was so afraid but it was likely a combination of knowing about her sexual prowess and having an enormously important connection to her.

If he could have that same overwhelming reaction with her, there was no question that they would have made love by now. He blushed, remembering what touching her had been like. If being touched by Trevor was like being in the center of a storm of lust, then touching Sypha was like diving into an ocean of pleasure. It was vast and it was true and if you went too deep you felt like you were drowning.

It was terrifying and it made him falter. But he trusted Sypha, more than he trusted even himself. She understood him and she loved him. There was time to explore their desire and he knew she would give him the space to set his own pace.

He looked at Trevor again. The way the sculptor moved made everything in the painter tense and melt at the same time. There is no pace for Trevor but full-throttle, he acknowledged. In a way it was great. In another way it devoured him and made him afraid. He couldn’t decide if it was better to be swept along or to have time to think it through.

Trevor looked back at him and laughed. “Alright there, Legs. If you’re gonna make moon eyes at me, at least let me hold your hand.” Belmont put his out and the painter felt his heart gleefully jump on to the Ferris wheel and climb to the top. He took Trevor’s hand and felt the sculptor’s callouses slide up against his palm. The brunette squeezed his hand gently and Adrian felt it against his heart.

I love him, the blonde thought and for the first time, it was with acceptance. When they stopped at the edge of the sidewalk and waited for the light to change, the painter listened to the sound of Trevor’s chains clink and the crosses move against the metal. “Can I ask you something?” Adrian glanced sideways at Trevor and saw the brunette’s lips curve.

“I was waiting for that, actually.” Trevor ran his thumb over the back of the painter’s hand. “Your stare was a little too speculative.” Adrian opened his mouth to apologize, not wanting to break this lovely moment, but the sculptor continued in a teasing tone. “You can ask and depending on what it is, I might answer.” He turned his head slowly with an unabashedly sensual gaze, “But if it’s sexual, I promise I’ll answer.”

Despite himself, Adrian swallowed hard. “Um, it wasn’t going to be, but that’s only because I hadn’t thought of a sexual question.”

Trevor looked seriously amused. “I need to make a better impression then,” he said and pulled Adrian to him. Wait, we’re— and coherent thought was lost against lips that took him fast and deep. The world ceased to exist except inside the glory of Belmont’s mouth, the feel of his hand in the painter’s hair and his light touch on the underside of Adrian's jaw.

Tepes forgot his nerves, his question, his uncertainty and found only hot, flowing life pulsing between them. It throbbed in time with the rhythm of his heartbeat and called to the painter of ancient need and timeless certainty. He didn’t know it but the same thing had happened to Trevor, the first time Sypha came under his tongue.

I could do this forever, drifted like a leaf in the river of Adrian’s consciousness. This is forever, right here.

Neither man knew the beautiful picture they made to the crowds flowing around them and how many people sighed over the two young lovers lost in each other. Hearts fluttered and lips curved. It was spring in many ways that day.

---

Sypha was curled up on the couch, laptop on the coffee table and tablet in her hand. She looked over the reference picture and gave a critical eye to her draft. She had completed the sketch and was starting to layer it but there was something in the render that wasn’t working. Adrian and she had dinner plans before catching up on some Netflix. Not Netflix and chill, she thought, but soon.

She was looking forward to some gentle flirting this evening and if she played her cards right, maybe even subliminally convincing him to kiss her. She had it all worked out in her head, where she would sit on the couch, linking her hand with his and leaning in until…

She heard the lock release code on the door and grinned. Saving her work, she started to put the tablet down when she heard Trevor’s voice. Holy shit, she thought with excitement. It was immediately tempered with intense curiosity that Adrian had brought him here, and fear that Trevor wouldn’t want to see her.

“Okay, because you are letting me hold your hand, I am gonna ask. Is this place yours? Because I could fit my damn apartment in your foyer.” Sypha felt a sharp pain and keen exasperation. Don’t do this. It doesn’t matter Trevor, really. It was immediately followed by: Wait, you are holding hands?

Adrian’s laugh was low and uneasy. “My parents bought it for me. I tried to pay them back but they won’t let me. As a result, it’s in my name but…”

“Gotcha,” Trevor interrupted. Sypha winced. There was an edge there and it was pride. Come on Belmont, she thought, you don’t want to be judged for your family. Don’t judge him for his.

“Your apartment was small, so what? I liked it.” Adrian’s voice was sincere. “Your creativity was everywhere in it. You are literally living in your work. There’s such immersion there that I envy; it is so dedicated. Was it a car engine?”

Trevor laughed and there was real delight in it. “Yes, and you are cute. ‘Living in my work.’ Come on. Are you trying to tell me you don’t have a studio in here somewhere? I don’t believe—” They had come around the corner and Trevor saw her. Sypha stood slowly, heart aching.

Sure enough, they were holding hands. The digital artist was pleased that she wasn’t so small-hearted that she couldn’t genuinely be happy for them. Now if she and Trevor could make headway, well, the world would be pretty damn perfect.

Adrian gave her a small smile and a slight nod. Sypha could see her best friend squeeze Belmont’s hand before he let go. Trevor stepped forward and she took in the look of him. He looked happy and soft. He looked beautiful and she loved him so much. Belmont looked back at her and said, “I’m an asshole.”

“Yep, what else?” Sypha said.

He took a step toward her. “I was wrong and I’m sorry.”

“Yes, you were and thank you, I appreciate that.” She linked her hands, careful not to sound too eager or too judgmental. She wanted a real resolution here, not just a patch job. “What else?”

Trevor’s brow furrowed and he cocked his head to look at her. “I love you?” he offered, softly and a little unsure. Her heart simply broke. It was like he didn’t think she would say it back. You don’t get out of my love that easy, Trevor Belmont, she thought.

She smiled tenderly, “I love you too, so very much.” He grinned, a blooming flower that had found sunshine. He started forward quickly. “But I am still waiting,” she finished, brow arched.

Trevor paused, looked completely confused and looked over her face searchingly. He finally said, “I’m sorry, what do you need me to say? I will say it.”

Sypha looked at him, and understood that he really didn’t know. She stepped toward him, encouraging, but steady. “Why? Why were you like that to me? It was unbearable and I need to know why. What was the reason?”

Trevor grimaced, but approached her with his arms open. “Ah shit. Yeah, that’s completely reasonable and really hard, but I will try. Can I touch you first? I just want to—”

Sypha jumped him and wrapped her legs around him for a huge kiss. His mouth was hard and yearning under hers. She smelled that warm, nutbread and hot metal scent of Trevor and welcomed the flip-flop of her heart and stomach. This man was home.

When his tongue met hers, she dived in, working her hands into his hair. They would be alright; she could taste it in his kiss. And I can feel him getting hard under me, she thought with answering desire. Yep, we good. His fingertips pressed into her hips and she murmured, “I’m gonna fuck your brains out tonight and you’re going to tell me you love me while I do it.”

“Now that is a whole ass plan,” Trevor growled back at her.

Out of the corner of her eye, the digital artist saw Adrian, blushing and obviously trying to discreetly slip out of the room. Uh oh, is he jealous? She wondered. Embarrassed? Uncertain what to do? But when he moved to the side, she could see he was aroused and it was like an open-palmed slap on her ass.

Oh please, she thought, just get in here and we’ll do it any way you want to. I’ll fuck you until you see stars. Hell, Trevor can fuck you and I’d happily blow you while he does it.

Sypha jerked her head up, pinned the blonde with her eyes and put out her hand. “And where do you think you are going? Get your ass over here. This is a makeup kiss damn it. If we are all finally friends, you should be in here.”

Adrian’s eyes went huge and he pointed at himself as if to say, “Who me?” It was sweet, innocent and hilarious. What it shouldn’t have been was unbelievably sexy. She knew it was just Adrian's uncertainty, but his sensual innocence was tremendously hot.

Just as she was wondering if she’d pushed too hard, Trevor said, “Please, Adrian? You belong here with us. It’s so good to finally not be fighting. We can just hug if you’re all kissed out.” Fuck you Belmont, she thought and made a grumbling noise.

Trevor grinned. “I mean,” he purred, “I do have a responsibility to all my lovers to give kisses equally. Sypha is behind. I’ve definitely favored you today.”

Damn braggart, she thought and playfully punched his shoulder, “How many kisses?! I need to catch up!” He puckered dramatically and she clapped a hand over his mouth. “Not you! Adrian! I’m apparently behind multiple times?!” Without looking directly at him, she could see the tall blonde considering. It was the indecisiveness that helped her decide.

She looked at Trevor and wiggled her brows. Let’s get him, she thought and knew he understood when he smiled against her palm. Her lover squeezed her hip three times in rapid succession as affirmation.

When he put her down, they turned as one to Adrian. “So, this is how it’s going to go,” Trevor said slyly and with obvious anticipation. “You can kiss one of us, but then the other one is going to do something.”

“Uh, what? I um, you two are, I mean you were, I just—” Adrian was stuttering, but Sypha noted that he did not back away. A quick glance also confirmed he was still very turned on. Just wait gorgeous, she thought.

“If you want to kiss Trevor, I would like to watch.” Sypha said and tried not to speak with such breathy desire. She didn’t want to make him nervous so she told him exactly what she intended. “I won’t touch you unless you want me to. I might touch him though, because I can already imagine how fucking hot you two kissing would be and I just… need to.”

Trevor chuckled, “Oh there will be touching babe, don’t you worry.”

Adrian looked wildly between her and Trevor. Settling his gaze on Trevor he asked, “And if I kiss Sypha?”

“Well, I would really like to blow you while you do, but—” Trevor started to say, spreading his hands. Adrian’s little gasp of shock made her want to moan. Have mercy, she thought, if those are the sounds you make; I am gonna explode.

Trevor’s sounds tended to be feral and needy. She had wondered what would Adrian’s be. Would he growl and dominate like Trevor? Or would he moan, melt and submit? It seems he might tend towards surrender and she adored it. She needed to taste it against her mouth and feel it under her hands. I want to feel it inside me, she thought and her desire layered higher.

At the same time, she didn’t want Trevor to come on too strong. What do I know though? If Trevor’s been kissing him as much as he says, he’s obviously doing something right. Maybe more assertive was a good idea. “I would love to kiss you,” Sypha said with a happy shudder and took another step forward. She indicated Trevor with her shoulder, “And he’ll behave, don’t worry.”

The brunette pouted. “Besides,” Sypha said, eyes locked with her best friend, “Belmont’s not gonna shut up about how amazing it was to kiss you, and well, I am doing my best not to be jealous.”

Trevor started to circle Adrian and she could see him gently stroke a hand over the painter’s hair. When the blonde trembled, Sypha felt her desire stoke into a roar. Soon. Take it easy, she told herself, trying to ignore the molten inferno happening between her thighs. Oh, you’ve got it bad my friend, it’s just a kiss. No, it’d be a beginning to something I have wanted forever.

“Kissing me…amazing?” Adrian whispered; eyes glued to her.

“Oh yes,” the sculptor purred from beside him. Sypha stopped in front of the blonde and looked up.

“See?” she whispered. “He’s a bragger.”

“But I didn’t do anything,” Adrian said, confusion warring with desire on his face. “He tripped me. The kiss just... happened.”

Ah, Sypha thought, thank you for that tidbit. “Well then, may I just happen to kiss you?” She asked, “I believe I mentioned that you could lie back and take it.”

Adrian’s golden eyes were turbulent. “Yes, I mean, you did and I do, I just think—!” Sypha gently put her hand on his cheek and smiled.

“I really love you,” she whispered and went on her tiptoes. Eyes on his, she said, "You should kiss me, we both want you to." But inside, she thought: Moment of truth. She waited with a huge lump of nerves in her throat. She couldn’t actually reach his lips unless he leaned into her and if he didn’t, well…

His lips parted and he cupped her jaw. When his eyes dropped to her mouth, she knew he was going to kiss her and she instinctively closed her eyes. For an infinite eternity, she waited in the dark. She felt his hand tighten on her cheek, felt his breath against her lips and then he was kissing her.

It was like watching a flawless raindrop slide down a window. You follow its path with your eyes, trace over the cool glass with your fingertips and lose yourself in the myriad of color and miniature worlds waiting inside that single drop.

Measured, easy, timeless perfection waited on his lips and it was like she turned into a bird. The world was infinite, vast and falling at her feet. She’d told him that being touched by him was like coming home. Being kissed by him was being carried over the threshold.

There was a hint of warmth on his inner lip and Sypha could taste the spring breeze there. Everything in her tumbled into his mouth. When he sighed into her lips, she fit herself against him, reveling in the way they suited each other.

You want me, she thought with immense satisfaction, and slowly rocked into his hips. He was extremely hard and it made her belly clench with need. It was her turn to moan and Adrian’s hand slipped from her jaw to fist in her hair. When his tongue caressed hers, Sypha let her head drop back and yielded.

“My beautiful Sypha,” he murmured against her mouth and his hand drifted down to cup her breast. Oh fuck, yes, she thought as she instinctively thrust into him again and whimpered. His touch was so light, so soft and he hesitated.

“Please,” she begged against his mouth, “don’t stop, I want you to.”

Long, elegant fingers traced the shape of her breast and teased her nipple. It caused keen splinters of pleasure to tumble through her. I should have known he’d be a natural, she thought, or maybe it’s just me. Maybe he’s just made for me, made to touch me, made to drive me crazy with these sensations.

His tongue traced over her lip, tender and light as petals. Adrian brought his hands to her shoulders and eased back slightly. Sypha tried not to hiss with displeasure. I don’t want this to end, she thought, but tried to stay calm.

When she opened her eyes, he was looking down at her, waiting. He wasn’t quite making eye contact. “Again? Please?” she asked in a husky voice. Adrian broke into a huge grin and met her eyes, before he gave her a kiss on her forehead.

“I’m glad that was okay,” he said, fumbled and clarified, "I mean that I was okay."

Sypha sagged. “Okay is the understatement of the century,” she said. Her best friend blushed lightly and nodded.

"Kissing you, that was more than okay. It was...You were..." he seemed at a loss for words.

“That was so hot, I might need to reconsider all my life choices,” Trevor said from behind them, voice distinctly thick.

The pair turned to him. Sypha hooted while Adrian let out a startled “oh!”

Trevor had sat down in the armchair behind them, slung one arm over the back and the other over the front of his cargo pants. He was casually stroking his cock through the fabric that was doing absolutely nothing to hide his seriously interested state. Liked the show, didn’t you? Sypha thought and knew she’d be asking him for details on his kisses later.

“What?” he said, unashamed. “That was smoking hot. I didn’t want to interrupt and frankly, it was damn considerate of me not to!” He leaned forward slightly. “Personally, I think we should just find a bed somewhere in here and continue. Who’s with me?”

I am, Sypha thought instantly, and felt the sudden tension in the arm of her best friend. Restraining her own needs, she reminded herself that all of them needed clarity before taking that step. “I would love that too and would definitely return to this later. However, you owe me--actually us,” she glanced at Adrian, “a conversation about yesterday.”

Trevor winced and sighed. “Sex would be more fun.”

Sypha grinned, “Oh I am sure it would be, however, talking and communication has been a problem for all of us. It’s secret spilling time Belmont, let’s have it.”

Trevor threw himself back into the chair. “Motherfucker.”

“Um, no thanks. Threesome at some point in the future is an enthusiastic yes, but mother-fucking is a solid no from me.” Adrian deadpanned and Sypha giggled. Even Trevor cracked a smile and Adrian preened happily in response.

“Tell you what,” the blonde continued. “If I might?” he looked at Sypha and she smiled. “I have some news as well, and to be frank, there is plenty we all need to discuss. Why don’t I fix something in the kitchen and we can sit down? Maybe some food might help.”

Trevor jumped up. “Food, hey? Yep, lead on, I will food the hell out of your kitchen.”

Sypha laughed, and took both their hands, “Look at us, all happy and shit.”

--- 

We've known each other for so long
Your heart's been aching but you're too shy to say it
Inside we both know what's been going on
We know the game and we're gonna play it
And if you ask me how I'm feeling
Don't tell me you're too blind to see
Never gonna give you up
Never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry
Never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you

-"Never Gonna Give You Up," Rick Astley

Chapter Text

This day was something out of a dream. Not only did he get to kiss Adrian—three times!—but he also made up with Sypha, had the promise of some epic makeup sex with her in store and then watched Adrian and Sypha kiss like they were fragile, spun glass rotating in a sphere of light. It'd been sweet, sexy and oddly poignant. Fucking hell, it couldn’t get better.

Okay, so the idea that Adrian had been given a fucking apartment was giving him a complex and he was positively dreading having to try to explain what happened yesterday, but all in all, things were definitely looking up.

He followed the blonde into the kitchen and smiled at the potted herbs in a weirdly cute flower pot that was shaped like the Venus of Willendorf. Granted, the whole apartment was upper class but Adrian had packed it so full of art that he felt right at home. After all, art was a language he understood his whole life.

“What do you guys feel like?” Tepes asked and Trevor shrugged.

“Whatcha got?” he answered and the painter opened the fridge. He peeked behind Adrian’s shoulder and his jaw dropped. The fridge was packed with food. There were things that Trevor hadn’t tasted in months and if that was actually salmon, that would be years.

“Did you just buy the store?” he asked incredulously. The sculptor regretted his comment immediately. He’d already reacted poorly to the apartment and had heard the answering unhappiness in Adrian’s voice when he’d explained his ownership of it. Trevor tried to soften it. “I mean, wow, you knew I was coming, huh?”

Adrian fluttered his hands, giving the brunette a nervous smile. “I actually never eat like this. I usually buy frozen fruits and vegetables and do smoothies. This was my mother. I went out with her last weekend and she told me she’d ‘send some extras from their dinner party’ back in the car and yeah, it’s ridiculous.” He sighed. “I love my parents but sometimes I wonder if they will ever see me as an adult.”

“Only child?” Trevor asked, eyeing what looked like genoa salami and reminding himself that his dignity was important. More important than genoa salami? He wondered. Maybe?

“Mmm, yep,” Adrian said and started pulling things out of the fridge. “Still not sure what that says about me, ha ha.”

Trevor clucked sympathetically. “Yeah, that’s tough, but it could also just be a mom thing.” Pull out the salmon Adrian, pull out the salmon, for the love of Gordon Ramsey, please just… Adrian pulled out the salmon and Trevor wanted to hug him.

The blonde said, “I was thinking some poached salmon with dill and le—”

Yes!” Trevor said gleefully and far too loudly. Embarrassed, he cleared his throat. “I mean, that sounds great.”

“I’m with Trevor,” Sypha said equally happily, watching them both from the island. “I can’t remember the last time I had fish that wasn’t breaded and deep fried. Could we do some appetizers while we wait? I was hungry an hour ago and I promise to help if I get fed.”

Adrian made a distressed sound. “You know you can take whatever you want, why did you wait? You don’t have to ask!”

Sypha’s smile was sweet, “Hey I know; I just forgot! I was in the groove with my art, you know how it is.” Mollified, Adrian smiled back and nodded toward the fridge.

“That goes for you too Trevor, go nuts, I can’t possibly eat all that and I am going to have to freeze the cheese and salami.” Trevor took that as his cue. “Which honestly, is just not as good.” The brunette wrapped his hand around the genoa and tried not to moan like a cow in heat.

“Actually!” Adrian looked up. “You two should take some home! I was going to make a tray and drop it in the student lounge but this would be better!” Trevor tensed and looked over at Sypha. She was grinning and her eyes flicked to the sculptor.

“Absolutely, that would be awesome, thank you and thanks be for Lisa’s classic mom move,” Sypha sauntered over to the fridge and casually snuggled up to Trevor as Adrian reached into a cabinet. “Be cool, it’s his way,” she whispered to him and the sculptor took a breath. “Talk later, I promise,” she murmured again and then spoke in a normal voice.

“I’m making the appies. You have all this fresh fruit and I’ll be damned if it’s going in a smoothie.” Keeping one hand clamped on the salami, Trevor eased back from the fridge to give her space. Then he saw the beer. Pride warred with Adrian’s invitation to go nuts.

He looked over. Adrian was oiling a pan and Sypha was piling fruit on the counter. “Ooooh, snap, your Mom sent the Copain Syrah!” Sypha said happily. She looked up suspiciously, “She knew I was coming over, didn’t she?” Adrian laughed.

“She knows about our weekly date, yes, so I am sure that was a consideration. Please have some; she sent four bottles and you know I can’t drink on my own. I’m sending some with you anyway. Trevor? Would you like some—? Wait! Actually! Do you like beer? Why my mother sent it, I don’t—”

Trevor was already behind him, giving him a from-behind hug with the salami slung around Adrian’s front like a weird meat offering. Not the meat I want to give you but the symbolism is nice, Trevor thought. “I love your mom. Ask her if she’ll adopt me,” he mumbled into Adrian’s shirt. He inhaled the scent of paint, flowers and licorice and felt happy.

Sypha laughed, “Oh, that’ll happen as soon as she meets you! Why do you think she sent Adrian home with one of my favorite wines? Lisa is incredibly generous and thoughtful, it’s amazing.”

Is it really that simple? It’s just money. Kindness. What are the intentions? Am I going to resent their success or be gracious in the face of generosity?

“Um, Trevor? I’m all for the hug,” Adrian said with amusement, “but that salami’s weirdly phallic and right there in my face, so could you put it down please?”

Trevor grinned and deliberately inched it up towards Adrian’s mouth. “Oh c’mon, it won’t be the last time my salami is in your face.”

“Oh no, tell me you aren’t making a sex joke with a two-foot genoa salami?” Adrian said dryly. “You are setting up expectations you can’t possibly fulfill.”

Alright Adrian, Trevor thought, impressed, not so shy, now are you? Let’s see how you react to this. “I never said anything about having a two-foot dick, that’s ridiculous.” Trevor said, lightly tapping the salami on Adrian’s chin. The blonde grumbled and batted it away. “I do, however, feel a kinship with the girth of this genoa though, just saying.”

“Ha! What utter…” Trevor ground into his ass and Adrian yelped. “Holy shit! You—that’s—wow.” Trevor stepped back with a smug grin and Adrian looked over his shoulder, cheeks burning. “So, um, okay. My mistake.”

“Just wait until he swings it,” Sypha said, leaning against the counter, lips parted and eyes hot. “Have I mentioned I love you two together? Like sooo much love? Why should salami face smacking be so H. O. T. I do not know, but gimme.”

“Speaking of salami’s in your face.” Trevor wiggled his eyebrows at Sypha. “Can a man add things to our 'to do' list tonight?” Sypha grinned and arched a brow. Hot damn, he thought.

Adrian took a deep breath that made Trevor look over. The blonde was looking intently at the counter. Shit did we— “Okay, so I am going to fight through my horrid humiliation here,” the painter said in a quiet voice, “and just ask you, Sypha. How do you,” he indicated Trevor, “uh,” he made an 'ahem' sound, “with your mouth?”

Trevor went hot. He’s thinking about blowing me right now, he’s actually thinking he might and meanwhile all I want to do it go on my knees and do that to him and— Sixty nine, his brain helpfully supplied with the remaining blood that wasn’t re-routing to his cock, you are thinking of a sixty nine.

“Oh, fuck me,” the sculptor groaned, “I’ll be so good, I swear. I’ll give a seminar. I’ll make a step by step pamphlet, just let me—”

“Hey, he was asking me, Genoa Girth. Go play with your salami,” Sypha said, sticking her tongue out. Just wait until I get to that tongue tonight sweetheart, he thought.

She eased on by Trevor and came alongside Adrian. Sypha touched the blonde’s arm, looked at him and smiled, “I need a cutting board and a knife for the fruit first, but then let’s talk.”

---

Sypha was willing Trevor to be calm. She’d watched him struggle with the casual offers of food and knew that he was really trying. It was one of his quirks that he could sneak food off her plate but if she offered, it somehow changed the dynamic. His tease with Adrian had been incredible to see, especially when Adrian blushed so beautifully and actually batted his eyes at Trevor when he declared it was his mistake.

She wanted to applaud Belmont’s restraint in fading into the background when Adrian asked her about getting Trevor’s dick into her mouth. She knew what it’d done to her to hear it so she could only imagine Belmont’s inner monologue. Thankfully, the man just took the salami and a knife and waltzed off to the couch.

Truth be told, it was a fair question. Sometimes her jaw would ache, but thankfully, that cock was its own reward. Even if it hadn’t been, Trevor always made it worth her while. Working alongside her best friend, they used the tasks they were working on to skirt the embarrassment of having such a frank discussion. They’d talked about sex before but it was always her sex with someone else and usually how terrible it had been.

Sypha wasn’t a bragger, so she didn’t go on-and-on in the past about the good lays but she’d touched on them for sure. Now, she was incredibly grateful for those conversations because she already had a basis of language that they were both comfortable with.

“He’s really good at directing, he wasn’t kidding about that. I like it when he puts his hands in my hair and kinda moves me around; it’s hot and I can watch him,” the digital artist said conversationally. Adrian hissed and Sypha threw him a sideways glance. Whoops, too much? she wondered. “Sorry, TMI?” she asked casually, inwardly wincing.

“No, actually it’s incredibly sexy. I just…” Adrian stopped slicing potatoes and looked at her. He swallowed. “The idea of this is overwhelming. Like, I want it, so bad, you don’t even know but it feels huge. I wish I could turn off my brain and just do it.”

Oh sweetie, let’s get started, I promise, we’ll re-route your brain ASAP, she thought. Instead, Sypha put her hand on his arm. “I wish I could help you with that, really. All I can tell you is that we both want you more than you can possibly imagine, we’ll wait for you and we’ll be gentle with you.”

Adrian winced, “I feel like such a child. It’s just sex.” You don’t believe that though, she said silently, or you would have had sex already.

“But it’s not.” Sypha said slowly, feeling her way through the conversation. “It’s never been for you. It’s wrapped up in a vulnerability and a giving that is really meaningful and beautiful. I’m just realizing now that there’s also a fear of the unknown in there. I respect that. Would it help you to know that I am scared too? I want it to be perfect for you and I am afraid of disappointing you.”

“You know,” Trevor’s voice came from the living room, and Adrian put his head in his hands. “We could all just get drunk and—”

“Trevor Belmont!” Sypha snapped out. “Put some music on and stop eaves-dropping you dick for brains!”

“Just a thought,” Trevor grumbled, “the man is gorgeous and I just want to jump his bones. If alcohol would help, and we’re all clear and good with that, then why the hell not? Just want some ass.”

Her best friend peeked up from his hands and grinned. Nicely done Belmont, Sypha thought, appreciating that he’d successfully overcome the moment of Adrian’s insecurity with humor.

“Better stick close Sypha, if I get him drunk and you’re unavailable, I am going for it,” Trevor stuck out his tongue at her and she returned it. Good for him, she thought, he planted the idea of a one on one possibility.

It wasn’t the end game she wanted but she could understand how the idea of your first time in a threesome might be daunting as hell. It might very well be simpler to give him a one-on-one first and then go for the threesome.

“Anyway,” Sypha said as Trevor messed around on the sound system, “you are worth waiting for and you aren’t the only one with nerves. I was actually thinking, if you wanted to be with just one—”

Music boomed out and RuPaul’s “I’m that Bitch” bounced into the room. “I-I-I'm that bitch/that's the way it is/Don't-don't-don't you wish,” Adrian sunk down behind his hands again and Sypha whooped, “It’s my fucking jam! Adrian! Adrian, what—?”

“I’m not sure I am ready for this level of disclosure with Belmont,” Adrian muttered, face beet red. “He already thinks I’m ridiculous.” Amusement bloomed. RuPaul’s Drag Race was their Netflix date night. They’d only discovered the show over the summer and had slowly been making their way through the seasons. They were currently on Season 9 and were fiercely opposed on who should win.

“Stroke it like a petting zoo and take it for a ride,” Trevor came around the island, hips swaying, lips singing and sass level three hundred. Her best friend jerked up, eyes wide and jaw hanging. See? Don’t assume Adrian, Sypha thought gratefully. I told you, he’s complicated.

“He think I'm a catcher, but tonight I wanna pitch,” Sypha sang with Belmont and he picked her up for a twirl. “In case you missed the chorus, girl, I'm that bitch!” He set her down and sashayed over to Adrian with his arms out.

The blonde looked so bemused and incredulous that Sypha had to grin. Her best friend took the hand of her lover. Trevor spun Adrian into a tight whirl, they laughed together, and Sypha felt her heart burst. This is what I saw from the beginning, she thought, I knew it could be like this.

---

“So I’m sure that Shea Coulee is going to win. She is so fierce, gorgeous and talented, I adore her! I’d also let her rail me until I pass out, but that’s beside the point,” Sypha was saying as she took the potatoes out of the oven. “I adored Aja, but she was gone too quick.”

“Fair, fair,” Trevor said, “Shea is the fiercest of queens and owns the runway with that sashay. Aja was a darling. What about you, Adrian?” the brunette turned to him and the blonde smiled shyly.

“I’m partial to Sasha Velour myself,” Adrian restrained the need to apologize for the obvious choice. Sypha had told him multiple times he was basically cheering for himself. “She’s so elegant and lovely. She’s never catty and seems very focused. I respect that.”

“Also, true,” Trevor said sagely, “Her makeup game is flawless and her art on point.” He took the pan of salmon from the counter and turned to the dining room table. “I favor Peppermint myself; she lives up to her name and is tremendously fun.”

Adrian finished stirring the poppyseeds into the dressing and followed Trevor out of the kitchen. “So, during the finale, when—” Trevor began loudly and Adrian and Sypha shouted in horror at the same time, drowning him out.

Belmont laughed and bent over to put the salmon on the table. Sypha came over and smacked his ass. Adrian shivered slightly, thinking of Trevor’s smack in the hallway. It seemed this did something for him. He didn’t know whether to ask where his smack was, or try to pretend it didn’t affect him. What is acceptable and what isn’t? he wondered.

“Don’t forget Adrian; he likes that,” Trevor said saucily, looking over his shoulder at the blonde. What?! How did he—? Sypha’s firm slap on his ass snapped Adrian out of his shock and he immediately loosed a breathy, ‘ohhh.’

Oh wow, that’s a ridiculous sound, he thought with dismay.

Sypha was looking at him, biting her lower lip and true blue eyes wide with sensuous humor. She kissed his shoulder lightly. “I’m telling you; you are anything but disappointing,” she said, sounding breathless, “the sounds you make are… intoxicating. I could eat you with some whipped cream and a spoon.”

“I’m a simple man,” Trevor said, watching them from the other side of the table. “I’d just spread you over this table myself, but that’s me.”

“I’m not saying I wouldn’t do that too,” Sypha argued and Adrian stared at her. “What?” she caught his eye. “We’ve talked about pegging, you know I dig it.” Holy fuck, I’m going to have to excuse myself. His dream came back to him, but this time she was behind him, soft breasts pressed in his back while she murmured she loved him. Sypha fucking Trevor while I am below them and he’s thrusting into my mouth, using me like…

“I take it, the idea has appeal?” Sypha said with fierce satisfaction.

“I’m in on this, especially if I get to demonstrate some cock worship of my own on him,” Trevor said happily and sat. Holy shit, he had the same thought about me, he saw it too and I need to just… Trevor looked up at him and smirked. “I promise to be very reverential, Legs.”

Adrian had to pry his fingers off his chair so he could pull out Sypha’s. “Thanks,” she said and dropped into it.

The painter sat down slowly and had to adjust before he put his napkin in his lap. “Yep, so much worship,” Trevor murmured and Adrian put his fingers to his temple. Don’t be embarrassed, the blonde coached himself. He’s not, you can do this, just tease back. You are older than him and you aren’t a child. You’ve flirted before. Sort of.

“Trevor, seriously—” Sypha began, but the painter interrupted her.

“The table certainly is tall enough. Less talk, more knees, Belmont,” Adrian said calmly, cheeks only slightly red. He reached for the salad and carefully spooned some on his plate.

Trevor waited until he looked up and started to slide under the table. Adrian froze mid-reach for the salmon, eyes wide and jaw hanging. “Later Belmont,” Sypha said tartly. “Put some food in your mouth instead and then words. I’m still waiting for words here.”

Trevor’s eyes flicked to Tepes and he winked. “Until next time.” Adrian had a sudden, insane image of Trevor sliding under the table at the next boring gala he had to attend, unzipping his pants and licking his clever tongue over the tip of the painter’s cock. Pumping him slowly before hot, humid breath warned him of the impending wet heaven of his mouth. Working his cock into a slow state of insanity until Adrian had to explode inside him. Tepes exhaled slowly. That would be an insane risk to take and yet…

“You’re thinking about it now,” Trevor said with no small amount of smugness. “So am I, but in the meantime, you’re hogging the salmon. Also, I promise, it’ll be better than what you are imagining.”

“You wish,” Sypha retorted, “I’m better at head and you know it. You’re better at hand jobs.” Do they have any idea how unbearably hard I am right now, listening to this? the painter wondered. If the plan is to tempt me until I can’t stand it, its working.

“You are assuming that,” Trevor said indignantly. Sypha always said it was annoying how good she was at blowjobs when most of her partners really sucked at reciprocating. He made a mental note to ask Trevor for some tips on that. God have mercy. He felt himself grow redder.

“We’ll just have to blow him together and ask.” Sypha said smoothly. I can’t listen to this or we’re fucking on this table, right now.

“So what happened in the hallway?” Adrian interrupted abruptly, offering the salmon to Trevor.

The brunette blinked and gave him a pained look. “Low blow, Tepes.”

Adrian smiled sympathetically, “I’m considering changing the subject as a matter of self-preservation. I am in an uncomfortably hard state right now.”

Trevor cheered marginally, “Alright, that helps.” He sighed. “How much do you know about my family?” Oh shit, Adrian thought helplessly. I didn’t realize. Trevor looked at him and grimaced. “Don’t do that. You look like I just ran over your dog.”

The painter blinked and looked away. I’m sorry, I just feel badly that something I did made you feel the loss of your family again. It reminded me that I never apologized for saying those horrible things about them.

Sypha reached out to both of them and they took her hands. “Don’t punish him for caring about you, Trevor. It’s not pity; it's friendship.”

Adrian nodded. “I don’t pity you. It’s impossible to pity someone as fiercely independent as you. You are scarily competent.”

Trevor grinned, “I’ll take it, thanks.” He sobered. “Scary is better than pathetic, criminal or tragic; all of which I have heard before.”

The blonde laced his fingers with Trevor’s and gently squeezed. The sculptor looked at their hands as he began to speak.

--- 

Oh, twisted
Under, sideways, down
I know you're getting twisted
And you can't calm down
I see you under the midnight
Love darts in your eyes
How far can you take it
'Til you realize
There's magic in your eyes
I got a hold on you
I got a hold on you tonight

-“Magic," The Cars

Chapter Text

“I never wanted to be a painter.” That was easy enough to admit. “It was a big deal in my family to be honest. Everyone was a painter but me and I fought it like crazy. Despite everything, fights with my parents, aunts, uncles, I prevailed and was left alone to ‘dabble with trash,’ as my uncle called it.” That still stung and Trevor tried to shrug it off.

Sypha murmured unhappily and Adrian squeezed his hand again. It was strange to have them empathize with him but the warmth he received from their feelings was nice. “Anyway, I made friends with the local junkyard, converted the backyard shed and toiled worry free for years. Sure, I had to accept the bullshit painting lessons, easels, oils, canvas, you get the picture—that I got for Christmas, birthdays, Ramadan, Kwanzaa, you name the holiday and the passive aggressive painting bullshit was there.”

His grin was wicked. “I was very good at converting these ‘gifts’ into cash,” he casually removed his hands, using the excuse of eating some salmon. In reality, he needed the space. “Holy shit, this is good Adrian, wow, thank you.” The blonde smiled.

“Anyway, gift converting is how I was able to afford my first welding torch and mask.” Trevor said, hand wrapped around his beer. “Needless to say, I enjoyed that subtle ‘fuck you,’ every time I picked it up.” Sypha laughed and Adrian cracked a smile. If only it could last, the brunette thought.

“I think my mother was starting to get it, to be honest. She had a small piece I had made for her on her desk in the study and I really think she liked it. My father was more resistant. To be fair, I think he got a lot of shit from the family, especially because I was their only kid and the gallery owners' son. It was a pride thing and I was a blow to that.” Trevor hated that the last sentence came out wistful. He couldn’t change the past.

“Anyway, one Sunday, when I was sixteen, I came home unexpectedly early. I heard an argument between my mother and father.” He shifted uncomfortably and took a swig of beer. Just get on with it. “They didn’t really argue in front of me, and being a bit of an asshole, when I heard my name, I, well, I listened.”

“Only natural,” Sypha murmured, potato forked and waiting. Is it? he wondered.

“Yeah, well, anyway,” Trevor rubbed his eyes. I hate this, he thought and plowed on. “My mother was arguing that I should know, that I might understand because I was getting older and the risk was getting higher. That ‘they’ would assume I knew and if I didn’t, I was in danger. My father argued that I was too young and too rebellious. I couldn’t possibly understand and besides, ‘the backers’ had been assured that I didn’t know. So, me being the young dick that I was, busted in and asked them what I was supposed to know.”

“Ah shit,” Sypha winced and popped her potato into her mouth.

“Yep,” Trevor said, lips firmed in resignation. “So my father told me. He told me that the Belmonts had been forging. That everyone was in on it, like a fucking family tradition. That he was proud of the work they’d done. My mother tried to temper it. I think she read my horror faster than he did. She said that there was more to it than they couldn’t get into yet, but I needed to know now. I needed to keep the secret and one day, she hoped I could be proud of them. Proud.” He took a moment to eat and wished that this meal could be honored with something other than his family’s shame.

“I was so angry. I was so disillusioned. I said horrible things. I told them I hated them. It was the only time my father ever struck me. I said that they were—” Trevor bit it off and shook his head. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You were young, you were angry and your world was ending.” Sypha said tenderly. “Give yourself a break.”

“You don’t understand,” Trevor tersely retorted. “I never spoke to my parents again. I came home early because I had forgotten my duffel for the weekend. I had a rugby tournament out of the city and left without resolving anything. I refused to take their calls and texted them that I didn’t want to talk to them.” He shook his head regretfully.

“Two days later Isaac and Godbrand are knocking on my hotel room door to tell me I was an orphan. That the last thing I ever said was that they were money-grabbing whores who didn’t deserve the Belmont name.”

“Oh Trevor,” Adrian said and stood up. The brunette’s head snapped up and he watched the blonde come around the table. What is he going to do? the sculptor wondered. Effortless grace, Adrian knelt beside him and took his hand. Soft, gentle strokes were administered across his palm. They calmed and confused him.

Liquid golden eyes looked up at him and Trevor was shocked to see they were swimming with emotion and tears. “If you cannot forgive yourself; please let me. I forgive you,” Adrian said.

Denial, anger, hope and impossibility of this truth, rolled through Trevor like thunder over an endless plain. I forgive you. But what does that mean, how can you do that? Weren’t you listening?

Suddenly Sypha was on the other side of his chair, kneeling and holding his hand. “And I do too. Let it go my love, be free of it. Your parents understood. One argument doesn’t replace a lifetime of love.”

Trevor had no idea what forgiveness might mean to him. Forgiveness given so easily and gently, like a cool hand on a fevered brow. The sculptor looked back and forth between them for a moment then closed his eyes.

“You cannot forgive something you don’t understand,” Belmont said carefully. “I killed my parents. I told someone. After they told me I had to keep the secret, I texted my cousin to ask them if it was true and if their parents had told them the same thing. I sent the text and two days later my parents were executed and my home and the gallery was burnt to the ground. I didn’t know they were involved with the mob; I had to find out from the newspapers.”

His hands reflexively clenched. Trevor wanted to draw back into himself. Sharing this was the hardest thing he’d done in years. But there was abundant understanding on his left and endless acceptance on his right. While he didn’t know what to do with either, he knew only a fool would pull away from it.

But I don’t deserve it. I don’t know if I have it in me to give back, he thought. You didn’t ask for it; they just gave it. They aren’t asking for anything, there is nothing here but giving.

Warm, wet skin brushed over his hand and Trevor’s eyes snapped open. Adrian was cradling his hand to his face and delicate tears streamed into his palm. As he watched, he kissed the sculptor’s hand. Are those tears for me? Trevor thought in shock. He cannot remember the last time someone cried for him out of sympathy.

“Who told you that their deaths and your text were connected, Trevor?” Sypha said gently. “Do you know that for a fact?”

Distracted, Trevor didn’t immediately grasp the significance of Sypha’s question. “Uh, I don’t remember. I think Godbrand mentioned it at some point, something about too much of a coincidence. It wasn’t one. There was never any other suggestion of why this happened or how the newspapers broke the story the same night my parents died.”

“There was never anyone prosecuted for their deaths.” Trevor didn’t know it because he was fighting to keep his voice even, but the fury in his face was poignant. “The court documents, warrants and case files are all sealed because it’s an ongoing investigation. Even the journalist who broke the story wouldn’t talk.” He sighed bitterly. “Not even to me.”

Adrian exhaled shakily and let Belmont’s hand go with a last kiss. Trevor had only a moment to feel the loss of it and then the painter laid his cheek on the sculptor’s thigh. It was strangely comforting and Belmont instinctively stroked his hair. He is so accepting, the brunette thought, how did I ever think he could be a proud asshole? His heart is entirely too kind. It was worrisome to him and his protectiveness surged.

“Trevor, look at me,” Sypha said and he met her eyes. Fiercely intelligent awareness peered out of an endless blue. “Did you ask your parents to stop the forgery?”

The sculptor flinched and felt his temper rise. “Yes of course I did! I threatened to leave and never speak to them again! I told them I would rather lose everything but still have our pride than—”

“So,” Sypha said, calmly interrupting him, “you did everything in your power as a teenager to convince them to leave a business that was risky and a lifestyle that threatened their safety?”

I can see what you are trying to say but you don’t understand. “Damn it, Sypha,” Trevor started but she continued.

“Rather than the naturally logical conclusion that a perilous lifestyle they’d been leading for years had caught up with them, you decided that your one text to a family member led to their deaths?” Sypha looked at him. “Did you even ask your cousin if they told anyone?”

“You make it sound simple. It was a fucking mess!” Trevor said with bitter frustration. “No one would talk to me; no one would tell a 16-year-old kid anything. Social Services was on my ass, I had nothing and I couldn’t let them know that! I had to figure it out so fast—”

“I know, my love, and I am not saying you did anything wrong.” He could see it in her face and the understanding there was breathtaking. “I’m not. You came through this with more grace than anyone could ask.” Adrian nodded against his thigh.

Trevor swallowed hard, undone. “But the timing…” he whispered.

“Alright, the timing is bizarre, but so is the timing of your parents’ argument.” Sypha said and rubbed his hand absently. “Maybe when your mother said that the risk was getting higher, she didn’t mean because of your age, but because of something that had happened? Maybe because they’d tried to get out? Maybe their partner was demanding something they couldn’t give? There’s a million reasons why the timing could be what it was!”

Trevor just stared at her. These wounds were old. Sutured, compressed, scabbed and partially buried, he’d never really had the time or ability to cut out the infection, cleanse the wounds and sew them shut for a proper mend. There had been no time and then no inclination on his part, to try to look at them and make some sort of peace with it.

This is the first time he’s tried to tell anyone what really happened. He told the FBI everything except the content of their argument. There were no clues in it anyway and his shame had been too great. Once there’d been hope to talk about it with his family but every message he’d sent had remained unanswered. The one time he tried to physically approach his uncle, he’d been rebuked so bitterly that he never attempted contact ever again. He’d accepted he was alone and that it was his fault.

But here was this woman who loved him, who looked at him like there was something worth seeing and told him that maybe the greatest shame he’d ever known wasn’t his to carry. “She’s right, you know,” Adrian said quietly, tilting his head up to look at Trevor.

When Trevor opened his mouth, what came out shocked him. “I need to believe it was my fault. Otherwise, it means that my family abandoned me for no reason. That who I am was easy to let go. If they blamed me, at least there was a reason they let me disappear and never looked for me."

“Fucking assholes,” Adrian said vehemently, "Their loss; you are amazing." Trevor barked out a laugh even while his heart stumbled.

“You swore! I don’t think I’ve heard you swear since you called me a fucking disgrace in the cafeteria!” Trevor grinned at the memory. How angry, how gorgeous and how disdainfully annoyed Adrian had been.

“I didn’t understand,” the painter said, rearing back and looking at him with painful intensity. “I am sorry for what I said then. I had no right to say that and it was wrong. I’m so sorry.”

Warmth spread through Trevor and he reached out to that lovely face. Thank you, he thought and said it. “Thank you, but it's alright, really. You weren’t wrong about most of it, actually. Right down to the pie-fucker, although that I can explain.”

Adrian shook his head fiercely. “No. It’s not alright. You aren’t nobody, least of all to me. I shouldn’t have assumed any of it. If I had known you at all, I would know that you are spectacular. Your honor, your pride and your integrity would never be sacrificed for anything. They are such a deep part of you that no amount of money would tempt you to give them up.”

Incredibly touched, Trevor looked at the earnest certainty in Adrian’s face and smiled. “It’s funny you should say that,” Belmont murmured. “A friend of mine reminded me recently that, as an artist I sell parts of myself off all the time. That we are all for sale but it's my intentions in the process that are important. There’s this quote that I love that goes something like, ‘Being a professional artist is snipping bits of your skin off and selling it. It’ll—”

“Scab over and heal but it still hurts because it's your intimate self walking in the world.” Sypha finished for him.

“Yes!” Trevor said with a grin, “You’ve heard it too! Where—?” Sypha nudged her chin at Adrian and Belmont looked at the blonde. Adrian was covering his mouth with his hand and there was an odd expression on his face. “What?” he asked.

“That was Adrian. He said that.” Sypha said, grin huge.

You are fucking kidding me, Trevor thought, stunned. “No, really?! Ha! I must have read it in Xpose!” Adrian burst out laughing and shook his head. Okay, Trevor thought, it is funny. I’m quoting him to himself!

“Nope,” Sypha said with a snort, “that was in the student newspaper afterwards! You were creeping on Adrian after Xpose! Capital ‘T’ thirst there, lover!”

This is unbelievable, it’s like it was meant to be, he thought and was terribly amused. “Well yeah, I mean, did you see those pictures from that interview?" Adrian was cackling by now, tears streaming, and Sypha was nodding with a knowing smile. "The one of him leaning on the wall beside ‘mort din nou’? You don’t even want to know how many times I came—” 

“Wait, wait, wait,” Adrian said, gasping with laughter, “did you say that you came to my picture?! Are you kidding me, seriously?!” You make it sound like it only happened once, Trevor thought.

Sypha retorted, “Trevor and half the campus, Adrian. I mean, come on, are you really that surprised?” The blonde’s eyes were huge and he nodded.

Really? Trevor thought, at the same time he accepted that it shouldn’t be a surprise that Adrian was oblivious.

“I’m not naked in that though!” The painter said, wiping his eyes and looking back at them. “I just look like me! I’m not even doing anything, just looking at the camera!” Trevor and Sypha looked at each other and then back at him.

“Yeah, you just look like you.” Trevor said. “Completely gorgeous—”

“Captivating,” Sypha chimed in.

“Haunting,” Trevor continued.

“Divine,” Sypha added.

“Perfect,” Trevor finished.

Adrian wasn’t laughing anymore but his eyes were aware and wide. “I’m not though.” His eyes slid helplessly to Sypha, “I’ve told you. You know how I really am. I’m always…” he looked pained and closed his eyes. “Inadequate.”

“How could you think that?” Trevor asked him fiercely, and Adrian fluttered helplessly.

“I am not saying this to be cruel Trevor, but what you thought about me in the beginning? Everyone thinks that.” Damn it, Trevor thought with dismay. Adrian continued, “I don’t belong anywhere, especially in my parent’s world. I never have. I am so privileged, I know that. I don’t lack for anything and I am loved. But…” he hissed in frustration.

“There is nothing that you aren’t judged on, that isn’t reflected back onto your family name. There is nothing that is just yours. Everything that I do," he ticked it off on long, slim fingers, “being an artist, saying something about a political party, attending a gala with a friend, wearing a ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirt, all of it, becomes about how I was raised, what my father’s opinion on the issue is, whether I am ‘being rebellious’ or not or if I am 'making a statement.'”

His snort was disgusted and annoyed. “It’s bad enough that I have to ask permission to be allowed to pay for my own things, but I cannot even have my own opinion without it belonging to him. No wonder he still sees me as a child. How can I grow up when the world wants me to be him?”

“Oh Addy, no,” Sypha said, stroking his hair.

Trevor knelt beside him. “I don’t want you to be him. Hell, I don’t even know him, and I know that. You know you said you shouldn’t have assumed? Me too, Adrian. I’m sorry for it, truly. When I look at you, I don’t see Alucard Tepes. I see Adrian, an incredible artist, my friend and the sexiest man I know." Trevor sighed, a rueful expression playing on his lips.

“Did your money and fame get in the way for me? Yep, it sure did.” Adrian winced and Trevor hurried on. “But you know what? That was my hang-up and my family, not yours. By you just being yourself, I got over it. You can’t help what people are going to think, but you can live your life authentically. And you are.” As Trevor spoke, he heard himself and understood that he wasn’t just talking to Adrian, he was talking to his own insecurities.

“People look at me and see my parents,” Trevor said. Adrian’s eyes were wounded and he started to shake his head. Trevor put his hand out and touched his cheek before he continued. “They look at you and see yours. They are wrong about both of us and it’s on them. You see me,” he looked over at Sypha and smiled, giving her his other hand. “Sypha sees me, and I am beginning to believe that is all I need. If we see each other, give that to each other, the rest can fall away.”

“To be clear,” Sypha cleared her throat. “I didn’t look at either of you and think of your parents. I did think about your dicks and how you’d use them though, so I am guilty of making snap judgements too. Just to be totally up front about that.”

Adrian snorted and Trevor grinned. “Actually, full disclosure, when I saw you too, in those cute leggings and the strawberry sweater? I wondered if those legs would look just as fabulous naked and around my waist.” His smile was satisfied. “They do, on both accounts.”

“I just thought you both were beautiful,” Adrian said. They turned to stare at him and he blushed. Trevor raised a brow and Sypha tapped her knee. “What?!" Adrian muttered. "I didn’t say I didn’t have those thoughts later.”

Oh yeah, ya did, Trevor internally crowed. “Exactly when did you have these thoughts and what were they?” he asked innocently and watched the painter’s face move comically from dismay, denial, amusement, lust and settle into embarrassment.

Adrian cleared his throat. “Umm, this morning?” Sypha’s eyes met Trevor’s and she was grinning victoriously. The painter continued, “And they were uh, the three of us?” Adrian’s eyes went huge. “Oh shit. Actually, ha ha, like fifteen minutes ago.”

“So who was fucking you?” Sypha asked and Adrian sighed.

“You mentioned pegging,” he mumbled and Sypha whooped.

“You owe me Belmont! I win!!!” Sypha leapt up and did a victory dance.

Trevor made a loud cough, and she froze. “I mean, I ugh…shit.”

Adrian was looking back and forth with dawning understanding. “You bet on who I wanted to have fuck me?” Trevor couldn’t tell what he was thinking from his voice and tried to play it cool.

“It was just for a laugh. It was more who you’d think of first. Whoever won could pay $5.00 or go down on the other for an hour.” An idea came to Trevor so abruptly and wonderful that he grinned. “Actually, about that—”

“Well the joke is on both of you then.” Adrian said, chin in the air. “Yes, I thought about Sypha pegging me when she mentioned it. But this morning, I woke up from a dream where Sypha was riding me and holding me down while you held my jaw and thrust into my mouth. So technically, you both were—”

“He wins,” Trevor said, mouth dry and cock at the ready.

“Oh yeah,” Sypha exhaled out in a whoosh. “Which reminds me, we need to talk consent and kinks.”

“Bottom says what,” Trevor said quickly.

“What?” Adrian asked her in amazement and Trevor smirked.

“Called it!” Trevor said.

To his utter surprise and delight, Adrian arched his eyebrow at Belmont and said, “I know a switch when I see one.” Holy shit, he’s— “I did some research Belmont; I know more than you think.” It was the most darling thing Trevor had ever heard. He pictured an earnest Adrian sitting at this table with his laptop and googling, ‘How to fuck a Belmont.’ It should have been laughable. It was blindingly hot.

“Excellent,” Sypha said and leaned over to take Adrian’s hand. “Let’s finish eating and negotiate then.”

The blonde stood and stretched his back out. Still seated, Trevor was eye level with his pants. That eyebrow came to him again. I know more than you think. The sculptor caught his hand halfway out to touch and leashed it back. Sypha and he had agreed. No one was fucking anyone without making sure boundaries were established.

I don’t want to hurt him, Trevor thought, and I want it to be good. He quashed his groan, watching the shirt press against Adrian’s lean frame. So fucking good. “So I'll start because I am easy. Unless you want me to wear a chicken costume, I am good with whatever,” the brunette said. “And depending on what sexual favors you’ll give me, I will wear the costume.”

Just as he hoped, Adrian laughed. “I’ll keep that in mind but as far as I know, that’s not a kink of mine.”

“Do you know what your kinks are?” Sypha asked smoothly as she picked up her wine.

Adrian’s smile wavered. “Ugh, not exactly. I have some guesses but I don’t know for certain of course.”

Sypha nodded calmly, “That’s perfectly understandable so we’ll need a safe word. “No” is usually workable, but we haven’t discussed kinks yet so I’m going to vote to choose something else just for complete clarity.”

“Pick an artist you can’t stand,” Trevor said drily, “it works well.” For some reason Adrian snickered.

“I know one. Styria,” he murmured and Trevor started. What? he thought, instantly thinking of next Friday's joint showing.

Carmilla Styria?” he choked out and Adrian nodded.

“Ewww, yeah, okay, that’s one I can agree with.” Sypha shuddered. “She’s such an egotistical bitch and her work is so overwrought. You say that in the middle of sex and it’s like instantly flaccid.” Adrian nodded sagely.

“I’ve never seen her work,” Trevor said and it was true. He’d intended to look her up at some point but hadn’t had a chance. Hadn’t worried about it. I trusted Hector, he thought with dismay. He made a mental note to go online as soon as possible. Maybe make a phone call to the gallery.

“She’s horrible,” Adrian said firmly. “But perhaps difficult to remember as a safe word, any suggestions otherwise?”

“Well, you know how I feel about Picasso, would that work?” Sypha said and both men nodded. “So Styria or Picasso, as safewords.” She said, “Great. Moving on: Consent and refusal. To be utterly clear, I have a high sex drive and it’s highly likely that at some point I will make advances that you are not interested in at the time.”

She held Trevor’s gaze and he knew she was protecting Adrian’s pride. I don’t expect him to be as sex-driven, Trevor remembered, and nodded slowly as she spoke. “Being told that you are not interested will in no way offend me. It is your body and you share it with me; I am not entitled to it. I don’t consider it rejection whatsoever to be told ‘no.’ I consider it courtesy.” She turned to the painter and continued. “I don’t force myself on people and I expect you to respect that by telling me when you don’t want to. That goes both ways and I expect you to understand that.”

Adrian nodded emphatically and said, “Yes, absolutely, I promise I would say something. You must as well.” She nodded.

“Without question, the same for me as well.” Trevor said. “I don’t get offended; I just go jerk off in the sh—”

“Uh huh, anyway,” Sypha said, giving him a withering look. What? I was just saying! He thought. “If you are interested in being with me but in a different capacity for example, being offered an alternative, foreplay with orgasm denial, cuddling, massage, hell, going for a walk, are all wonderful and welcome options. Please keep the lines of communication open and offer what you would like to.”

Ah, I see, Trevor thought guiltily and spoke up. “Yep, those are all awesome alternatives and I myself really love cuddles.” Adrian gave him a distinctly amused and exasperated look. The sculptor could almost see him thinking, yeah whatever. Trevor threw up his hands. “What?! I do! I am all about the cuddles and I love it! Do you know how often I got to cuddle before this year? Never! Ask Sypha, I love it!”

“He does actually, he isn’t making that up, it’s fabulous. As a bonus, he’s a furnace too, it’s great.” She said.

“Okay, I am sorry,” Adrian said with a sweet and hopeful smile. “That makes me very happy actually. I’d love to snuggle up and I’ve wondered what cuddling up to your chest would be like since our first kiss.”

Well come on over,” Trevor said and put out his arms gesturing toward his chest.

“Belmont, seriously, we aren’t done here. Hold on to the thought, please.” Sypha looked at him and he nodded in disappointment. She was right of course but he made a mental note to yank Adrian into his lap as soon as possible. Strictly for cuddles, he thought with wicked humor.

“I love to watch and I love to participate.” Sypha continued after taking a few bites of her meal. “If I am watching, I’m usually pleasuring myself but if that makes anyone—”

“Yes please,” Adrian said, fingers twisted in his napkin as he studied the ceiling. “And me too.”

“Hell yeah to it all,” Trevor said and smirked. The idea of seeing the two of them go at each other while he watched made his belly clench with anticipation. Watching Sypha wrap herself around the blonde’s long frame as Adrian thrust inside her and they moaned together. Watching her clamp her nails into that smooth skin and—

“I am not opposed to hair pulling, slapping anywhere but the face, and up to the point of bruising. I do not like biting to bleed or bruise, and absolutely do not like cutting. Teeth for nips, indents, even red marks, is fair game. I am happy to demonstrate if you are unsure.” Adrian shook his head and so did Trevor.

She continued. “Toys, fingers, cocks”—she paused, “and yes, that was intentionally plural; are welcome where ever they’ll fit. I don’t like being made to bleed or being called names and will most assuredly use the safe word in those circumstances. I like to command just as much as I like to beg.” Sypha took a sip of her wine.

The painter had given up all pretense of eating and was sitting back in his chair, napkin winding and unwinding. His breath was hard and his face rapt. Trevor happily munched away and watched the blonde stare at Sypha like he would swallow her whole. I definitely like to watch, he thought with a smile.

When the red head spoke again, there was eagerness in her voice. “If either of you prefer to be submissive or passive, I am more than happy to take charge. I’m good at it.”

Adrian hissed and shifted, clearly easing the constriction of his pants. Trevor completely understood. Sypha’s forthrightness was always hot. He’d heard this before but now he had images to accompany these words, memories of her commands and pleas. Now he could see what it was doing to Adrian, and it was incredibly erotic. “Restraints are more than welcome, whether its hands or something else, unless the surface is really abrasive and I need my balance. I never want to be choked out, but I am partial to a hand around my throat. Given the risks involved, this I will demonstrate. Trevor, could you please?”

“My pleasure,” he said and stood. Normally he would have shifted his aching cock to the side but when Adrian loosed a tiny moan and Sypha bit her lip, he decided this was more fun. When he reached her, Sypha looked up at him and her deep blue eyes told him she was just as caught up in how insanely sensual this was as well. Her eyes glittered like fresh snow under an endless sky and there was a vast depth of yearning in them.

He touched her lips, soft, warm with that slightly pouty bottom lip and dragged his fingertips down to her throat. He spread his hand against soft skin and trusting surrender. When he gripped her neck firmly, her pulse pounded against his palm and Trevor murmured, “Lover.”

“Lover,” she echoed back at him, longing and desire flushing her cheeks before her eyes slipped past him. He looked back at Adrian. The blonde had leaned forward in his chair, one hand painfully gripping the edge of the table, eyes fixed on them.

“Please,” Adrian whispered, innocently erotic invitation, “could you show me? On me?” Sypha gulped against his hand and Trevor’s cock twitched. What he could ask me for, Trevor thought, in that voice. The things I would do.

“Of course,” Trevor said and Sypha whimpered.

“Unfair,” she murmured and he grinned. He turned to Adrian and came around the edge of the table.

Enjoying the mounting anticipation, he came alongside the painter and then neatly stepped behind him. When he swept those long blonde tresses to the side, he fisted his hand in it and pulled gently. Adrian’s reaction to his hair being touched when they’d kissed before made Trevor virtually certain he would like this.

The throaty purr that the tug elicited from the TA made Trevor growl. There was lust, there was need and then there was this. Whatever it was he wanted from Adrian was steeped in such vital, pervasive, all-encompassing emotion that it was a little terrifying. Just like Sypha, he thought and felt disbelief he could need two people so much.

He wrapped his hand around a slim, strong throat that arched with acceptance against his palm and felt the door snap shut. He wasn’t one to believe in destiny but this was more than coincidence. The art sale, the quote, the scholarship, Sypha in his class, Adrian as his TA, the trio, this shared desire… the utter perfection of it, like dominoes into place. It was like this connection, this bond, had been waiting for him and sending flares out into his universe. Pounding on the doors to his heart and telling him to be honest, to trust. To love.

Damn it, he thought, looking down at the man under his hands. Who was I kidding, I loved him before I ever met him. I love him just as much as I want him. Trevor wanted inside Adrian so badly he was ready to beg. To truly beg.

Your honor, your pride and your integrity would never be sacrificed for anything. Trevor had to smile, even as he despaired. Never say never, he thought and watched as those insane golden eyelashes fluttered. “It would be a little different if I was facing you from the top or bottom but this should give you an idea. Something you’d like to try?” He worked to keep his tone reasonable and not the demanding entreaty he wanted it to be. He loved that Sypha enjoyed this. Trevor wasn’t interested in hurting her or anyone for that matter but there was a trust, a surrender to this that was incredibly beautiful and erotic. If both of them liked it, well…

“Yes, I think we can add this to the ‘most definitely’ column,” Adrian said with a catch to the words when Trevor released him. “I like how you hold my face or my hair when you kiss me. I like to be held.” He caught himself. “Um, do you?”

Trevor smiled, “I’ve yet to encounter a kink I don’t like,” he stated smoothly and added, “and you aren’t wrong about the switch, if you are so inclined.” It was intensely pleasing to see Adrian bite his lower lip and think about it. I’ll take you any way you want it and take anything you want to give, Trevor added silently. He’d told Sypha the same thing and it’d been bliss to discover how well matched they were.

“This is a perfect segue way for the last item I wanted to touch on tonight,” Sypha said smoothly as Trevor returned to his seat. “I would like it clear between all of us that there will be times that two of us may want to peel off into a couple for activities. It could be anything from going to a movie to sex. Given that—”

Surprisingly, Adrian interrupted her. “I understand that, Sypha, and I fully expect that you and Trevor would need time to yourselves.” The painter’s smile was tender. “There is no resentment or concern on my part.” He picked up his fork again.

Sypha looked at Trevor and he arched a brow. She grinned and looked back at the painter. “Uh, Adrian?”

He looked up from the salmon he was collecting on his fork with an absent, “Mmm?”

“Has it occurred to you that I might be talking about you with me?” Sypha asked him. “As in, I might want to just spend time with you, like we have for the last year?”

“Oh yeah, of course. I meant more—” Adrian started and Trevor cut in.

“Or that I might want you all to myself so we can practice cuddling?” Adrian softened and gave him a happy smile. Let’s be really honest here, Trevor thought. “Or that I might want to have you under me and wailing just for me as I fuck you on this table?” Adrian’s hand crept up to his throat and Trevor ached all over again. “Maybe I’m feeling possessive and I only want you to beg for me. For my touch. For my tongue. Maybe your orgasm is just for me today.”

“As long as I get dibs on him and the counter tomorrow,” Sypha finished with a cheeky wink. “After all, I am behind in kisses, we need to at least stay equal on orgasms.”

“You both, um, want to have sex with just me?” Adrian said, confused. Trevor’s exasperation warred with his intense need to show the blonde just how much he wanted to have sex with ‘just Adrian.’

“What part of me touching you in your studio involved Sypha? Or in the hallway for that matter?” Trevor asked him and didn’t wait for an answer. “Adrian, I told you, I can’t breathe but to want you. That goes for fucking you and cuddling you and anything else that comes up.” Inspiration struck. “This trio is an equal partnership of desire. This is not Trevor and Sypha invite Adrian to play. It never was. Ask Sypha. The first time she and I had sex, we agreed on that before we even touched each other.”

“Really?” Adrian whispered, and looked at her.

“I swear it.” She told him. “Trevor is not kidding. The trio was always the end game. Sexually, emotionally, physically, relationship-wise. It was always the plan. The three of us are more together than we are separate in all areas of our lives, not just sex. Yes, there are pairings within it, but the trio is the foundation. For example, unless I am mistaken, Trevor would not care to look at boots for two hours with us.”

Trevor shuddered and made a face. “Hell no. Two hours? How many pairs does a person need? I mean—” He looked at Adrian who was studiously not looking at him. Wait, this is the man who wears a different pair every time I see him. Yeah, but they are all black, surely they can't all be different… He looked at the rising color on the blonde’s cheeks. Trevor sighed. “I’ll remember to carry one of my novels with me at all times.”

“As an added bonus, think about him wearing nothing but his thigh-highs,” Sypha said calmly and Trevor choked on his salad. It was too late; he could see it and it was gorgeous.

“Add a new kink to my list,” Adrian murmured happily and Trevor’s cough turned into a roar of laughter. Sypha looked satisfied.

“I may have thought about it myself,” she said and stroked a fingertip over her lip. “Anyway, as I was saying, it’s simple enough for most activities to request space and time without confusion. For sexual activities, given the spontaneity of such things I was going to propose an open-door policy. If you’d welcome the involvement of a third, even if it’s just voyeuristic, you leave the door open. If you wouldn’t, you close it. If you are in a public area perhaps—” She paused. “It occurs to me that I was thinking of this in relation to when we are living together. For now—”

“If I might interrupt?” Adrian asked and Sypha nodded. “I was, that is I had been thinking for the last hour, but it might be too soon or too much and if you don’t—”

“Here?” She interrupted him with a smile and he grinned. I don’t understand, Trevor thought, looking between them.

She turned to Trevor, “Last year, Adrian had asked me if I wanted to live here with him.”

“Now I am asking you too,” Adrian said softly. “There is plenty of space, especially if you would like to share a room with Sypha.” Holy shit, Trevor thought, excited anticipation warring with hesitant uncertainty and pride. “Also, um, eventually that is, if you wanted to share a room with me.” Trevor groaned under his breath. “Either of you.” Adrian took a breath. “Both of you.”

---

I was alone, I never knew
What good love could do
Then we touched, then we sang
About the loving things
All night, all night
Oh, every night
So hold tight, hold tight
Ooh baby, hold tight
Any way you want it
That's the way you need it
Any way you want it

-“Any Way You Want It,” Journey

Chapter Text

Infinite possibility stretched out in front of Adrian. It was as though he’d been admiring the sky in a puddle and decided he wanted to splash in it. Stepping into it is a discovery that it's actually an ocean filled with everything he could ever need and he could swim for eternity. The things that Trevor had told him, all that Sypha had outlined, built into this overwhelming bridge of understanding that linked them together in an undeniable path.

If his heart had hands, it would have both of them securely clasped into its chambers and building them houses in there. The trio had always been the end game. They’d both wanted him from the beginning. Not just his name, his work, or his connections, but a relationship, his innermost self, his desires. The most basic aspects of him.

Even the unknown ones, he thought with anticipation and trepidation. It was hard to say which was greater in him right now; gratitude that these two incredible people somehow found him as erotic as he found them, or fear that he might break that illusion. He hadn’t been joking about doing research. Adrian believed in education and arming yourself with knowledge. It made him feel more in control and helped with his anxiety.

Neither of them had mentioned his inexperience, although Sypha knew. It was a blessing and a curse that she did. But Belmont might not. He was fairly certain Trevor had guessed though, as the sculptor had always been incredibly gentle touching him. He might have thought that was Trevor’s default, except for the intense possession he’d heard in Belmont’s voice when he’d suggested that Adrian’s orgasm might just be for him, or the tastes of dark passion that had edged into their kisses.

He was certain of it, when Trevor had his hand wrapped around the painter’s throat. Adrian could feel his desire in the tension of his fingers and the subtle rasp of his breath. The blonde swallowed hard. It was exciting but also daunting to be wanted that much. To hope to fulfill such a thing. But he wanted to try. Here was that opportunity and it started with this invitation.

There had been no question of wanting to live with Sypha, he’d wanted that eight months ago, but it would cost her to break her lease and they’d agreed to wait. It was coming up in less than a month now and he knew she'd told them that she'd be moving out. Tepes’ would bet money that Trevor’s was a month-to-month. Furthermore, Adrian wanted him out of there. He wanted him here and he wanted to become part of Trevor’s life.

If Adrian was honest with himself, he’d thought about it before. The three of them here in his apartment, living and loving alongside each other. Perhaps it was the understanding, the safety, or the care that had been waiting in Belmont’s hand when he’d placed it against the blonde’s throat, but something inside of Adrian had settled into acceptance and he knew he would ask before the evening was through. I love him, I trust him and I want to be with him, he thought. If he is here, all of this becomes simpler.

“Now I am asking you too,” Adrian said softly. “There is plenty of space, especially if you would like to share a room with Sypha. Also, um, eventually that is, if you wanted to share a room with me. Either of you.” Adrian took a breath. “Both of you.” Trevor’s face was a whirlwind of emotion and the painter plowed on.

“I don’t expect an answer right now of course, that isn’t fair. I have thought about this before and it’s not a snap decision.” Insofar as I’ve never wanted anything as badly as I want you two, he added on silently. “I want you to know that I actually already moved my studio into the exercise space to free up an extra room. It wasn’t a big deal to do, I had only spread out anyway because I figured I might as well. I have the guest room of course and there’s already a queen bed in there but there is now the empty—”

“What will you do when you have guests though?” Trevor interrupted softly and Adrian sighed.

“This is so embarrassing to admit because it’s hardly a ringing endorsement for moving in, but I don’t. Ever. I had it set up for when my parents came to visit and they’ve never stayed here, they stay in the hotel on the other side of campus.”

Trevor’s face grew stormy. “No disrespect, truly,” the brunette said carefully, “But having your folks stay here seems like something that would matter to you. I saw you cooking. You like entertaining and you like making a home; don’t you?” The painter felt his heart melt a little more, even as he flushed. Adrian wished his pale skin didn’t give him away so easily. Although it only ever seemed to be an issue with those I love, he reflected.

“I do, you are very perceptive," he admitted. "I… value what a home is. My parents gave me a lovely home and a lovely life, it was just… different.” He felt his fingers in his hair and forced himself to stop wringing them. He hid them under the table and twisted the ends of his napkin instead.

“If it matters to you, I would like to think that they would make the effort.” Trevor said gently but firmly.

Belmont’s protectiveness was a comforting sweater. With a vibrating cock ring, the blonde thought, as his desire responded to the possessive thread in Trevor's tone. Focus, he reminded himself and spoke again. “It’s not like that. They would stay here but my father’s security team would have to sleep on the floor and the spare room. They'd have to share a bathroom. He treats them like family. He would never ask them to be that cramped and uncomfortable. It’s actually sweet.”

"One night of them on the floor wouldn’t be that big of a deal, given what it would mean," Trevor murmured. "At the very least, tell me that they’ve come for supper?”

“I have made my mother supper here twice, but you know who my father is. He’s very busy and very important, it’s just...” Adrian felt embarrassment rise up and worked his way through it. He believed that honesty was always best. “I’m making excuses,” the blonde admitted. “I hear it. You don’t have to say it.” The understanding on Trevor’s face made it easier. He didn’t push Adrian and the painter felt gratitude. “I promise I’ll explain it better, later; I’m not avoiding the topic but I don’t want to get side-tracked from the reasons I would like you to consider moving in here.”

Sypha smiled at him and nodded encouragingly. Adrian continued, “As I said, I actually already moved things around so there are two empty or essentially empty rooms. I left the bed because I know Sypha has that double, but she’s slept on the queen once and—” His best friend interrupted him excitedly and he grinned. It was a good thing; his throat was dry and he took a swallow of his wine.

“It’s an orgasm to sleep on,” the digital artist was saying. “It’s like one of those firm but soft deals and it’s literally amazing. He got it for his parents and let me tell you, they are missing out. I’ve told him I would leave most of my furniture for the twins or donate it but, well—shit! Sorry Addy, go ahead, I’m just excited!” She gave him a rueful look and he shook his head.

“No, actually, you should speak! You’ll remember what’s important to the person moving in better than I will,” he protested. It’s easier for you, you’re better at speaking about things than I am, he thought. You don’t get flustered.

But she wasn’t going to let him get away with that. “Nope, you got this. I promise I’ll add in anything that I think you’ve missed at the end.” Her smile was sweet but her eyebrow told him that she knew what he was thinking. He couldn’t help his sheepish grin. She knows me too well.

“Okay, well, umm, let’s see. I would consider this our home, not ‘Adrian’s home that you live in.’ I’d be happy to incorporate any of your items into the space and/or take down or reconfigure anything that doesn’t work for you. We can paint your rooms or…” You sound like a property manager, he thought helplessly. He stole a glance at Trevor and couldn’t tell what he was thinking.

“Anyway, we could redecorate.” the painter blushed harder, “You could pick whatever room you want or we could— I feel ridiculous,” he said abruptly and looked away. “I’ve never asked anyone to live with me except Sypha and that was as my roommate. We can still do that if it’s simpler, if that’s what you’d like.”

Trevor cleared his throat and Adrian was suddenly sure he was going to refuse. No, please, I need you, he thought with panic. We need you. His head snapped back around and he gazed at Trevor with naked hope and fear. “I am doing this wrong, all wrong!” he said. “What can I say that would convince you? I just want you here. Both of you. Please?”

Trevor raked his hand through his hair. “Adrian, this is an amazing offer. I’m unbelievably humbled… but I-I might not be good at this. I have hang-ups.” Trevor’s laugh was stilted. “You don’t know me that well, and I am not an easy person to be with.”

Yes I do, the painter thought, and yes you are. “We’ve managed alright,” he said instead and Belmont snorted. “Okay!” Adrian admitted, “It started out badly, but aren’t you happy where we are right now?”

Trevor’s face melted into such joy that it was simply dazzling. “Yes.” He said simply. “Yes, I really am. Alright, Adrian, yes, I would love to live with you.” He looked at Sypha. “With both of you.”

The redhead stood and went to Belmont. She slid into his lap and took his mouth, murmuring, “The best of men. You’re so good to us. I love you so.” He groaned against her mouth and licked into her lips. Her tongue met his and Adrian abruptly realized he was biting his knuckle and openly staring.

It’s rude to gawk, he thought and wondered how the open door was supposed to work in times like this. He started to look away, but Sypha broke the kiss. When she stood, Trevor smacked her ass and stood with her. The painter gulped, trying to ignore the twitch in his cock from the smack. I should show them their room, he thought and stood as well.

“I imagine you’d like to see—” he started to say and Sypha stepped into him, twining her arms around his neck. The scent of fresh flowers and earth in the heat of the midday sun plumed up against his face and he inhaled deeply. There was a faintly rich scent too, but infused with such vibrancy that it danced across his skin. It was familiar, comforting and deeply sensual to him. I just want to eat that scent up, swallow it down like ice cream and taste it on my tongue for hours, he thought.

“Oh yes I would,” she said, “but first I’d like to kiss you, if that is alright?” It’s always alright, he thought and nodded. Gentle fingertips touched his cheek and a firm thumb traced under his jaw. There was such competence in her touch, it left him weak. Wanting.

"Adrian? You have to come to me, your lips are currently too far away,” she said and he jerked.

“I’m sorry, I’m so stupid,” he muttered and bent down. The thumb tightened on his throat and his eyes flew to hers.

That blue, so sharp and clear it might have been chips of labradorite, peered up at him with an endless tenderness. “Don’t say that about my Adrian. He’s a good man and does incredible things that humble and awe me constantly. He’s sexy and kind and smart and talented.” His moan was unexpected and softly erotic, even to him.

She stroked over his lips and the painter trembled. She spoke in an almost whisper. “I love you very much you know. I want only kindness for you, even from yourself.”

“I love you too, Sypha, more than you’ll ever know,” he whispered, lost in her. If I could only show you, he thought, and tried. Hesitant, soft strokes down her spine drew her into him until she pressed snugly into his chest and he bent to her lips. It was shock and arousal to discover traces of Trevor on her lips. Then it was joy. This is what they taste like together, he thought and was staggered by it. These were his beloveds, his housemates, and soon, his lovers.

Trevor’s heat and flash was channeled and tempered by Sypha’s warm comfort and vivacity. There was a sweetness edged to the whole thing that spoke of infinite promise. Adrian slipped the tip of his tongue into her mouth, seeking to taste the three of them together. When she nipped it, he gasped, and she fisted his hair.

“I just want to taste your neck,” she murmured, urging his head back. Yes please, he thought, feeling his pulse hammer in his throat like an invitation to her mouth and then her lips were there. His exhale was harsh and his hands on her spine flexed into needy claws. It feels divine, he thought.

She licked up his jugular and then scraped her teeth down lightly. His choked request of, “Harder. Please,” startled him and her fist tightened in his hair. This shouldn’t turn you on so much, his brain told him while his dick cheerfully told it to shut the fuck up, Captain Cock was in charge. Sypha’s teeth sunk into the side of his neck and Adrian whimpered.

I think I might like a bit of pain with my pleasure, he thought and couldn’t even feel ashamed. Instead, he felt like he was learning how to walk on water and there was something unfathomably thrilling in the mist ahead. It was calling his name and he wanted nothing more than to answer it.

“Fuck, you are so responsive it’s addictive,” Sypha muttered and bite him again, just a touch harder. Bliss tumbled from her mouth, dripping golden grains of pleasure into his belly. Dimly, he was aware of Trevor moving alongside them and then felt the sculptor take his hand.

The pleasure vaulted skyward when he felt his fingertips in Trevor’s mouth; sharp teeth scraping as the sculptor suckled. His eyes flew open, seeking Belmont and the blonde realized he was on the verge of panting.

Trevor had his hand around Adrian’s wrist and the other under the hem of Sypha’s dress. Right at the moment when the painter belatedly grasped that he was taking all the pleasure instead of sharing it, Sypha slid her hand over the front of his pants.Sypha, he gasped and thrust against her. He was absurdly aroused and her touch was like lighting in a midnight sky, igniting his lust toward an explosive release.

I’m too close, he thought with dismay and dread briefly overrode his desire. I can’t disappoint them, he thought and managed words. “Wait, wait,” he gasped out. Sypha paused, and Trevor stilled.

“I—” Just fucking say it, he thought, and had to close his eyes. “I’m stupidly close to coming,” he said weakly and made himself face the disenchantment. But when he opened his eyes, he saw two very satisfied faces. It confused him.

“Now would be a great time for me to mention that we don’t need condoms,” Sypha purred, and his jaw dropped. “We’re both clean and I have an IUD,” she finished with distinct relish. Holy fuck I can…

Trevor licked the painter’s finger and said, “I call dibs.”

Sypha hissed, “No fucking fair Belmont!! If you think—”

“Dibs?” Adrian asked and watched Trevor’s slow, sensual grin. The sculptor arched a brow and started to kneel.

Awareness flooded Tepes. “Oh shit, oh my lord, no, you don’t understand, I meant like, we should stop. I should, I mean I want to— I haven’t done anything for you!” Thank heavens I didn’t major in English, the painter thought with despair.

“Adrian, it doesn’t work like that,” Sypha said gently and turned to Belmont. Doesn’t it? the blonde thought. Trevor looked confused for a moment and then he took Adrian’s finger out of his mouth and rose back up.

Eyes on the painter, he slowly brought the blonde’s hand down to the front of his cargo pants. The painter’s eyes followed. “Feel how hard I am, Adrian, seriously. Watching you, touching you, pleasuring you? It is incredible; it gives me pleasure.”

What? I don’t understand; I haven’t even touched you, the blonde thought and then Trevor pressed his hand gently forward. The painter had been astride Belmont aroused before and the sculptor had ground up against him semi-aroused in the kitchen. This was something else. “Fuck me.” Adrian said with wonder and a little concern. Belmont groaned and rocked against his palm.

“I would be happy to,” Sypha said with a little murmur, “as would he. ”

The painter bit his lip. How would that even work though; he feels unreasonably big, Adrian thought with uneasiness and tried to remember the things Sypha had said about relaxing and breathing. What his research had suggested was possible. What his body was telling him he wanted.

“That we should definitely talk about first, but yes, hell yes, I do,” Trevor said with a decidedly husky tone. The painter relaxed marginally. Belmont wasn’t expecting him to instinctively know what to do. They would discuss it first. Worry yielded to desire. The heat of Belmont seeped into Tepes’ palm. It was like holding cooling steel; warm, hard but yielding.

I wonder if he’d like this, Adrian thought, and carefully curled his fingernails to scrape over the fabric around the rigid tip. Belmont inhaled sharply and the blonde licked his lips, entranced.

“Yep, I clearly am not getting off on watching how glorious you look pleasured by touching me. Not me, noooo way, I got this hard just because I love salmon. ” Trevor muttered and Tepes found he could grin. He took a breath.

“But wouldn’t you like to watch me touch you?” the blonde asked him and Belmont actually whimpered. The sound made Adrian feel powerful and he was a little bolder. “I could use my mouth, but you’ll need to tell me what to do.” Trevor’s eyes pinned him under blue flames, not unlike the welding torch the sculptor used to create his art.

“I want that. I want you. I can’t seem to explain to you how much.” Adrian’s desire flared. Trevor continued, “I had an idea though, and I think it’s a good one. Want to hear it?”

Adrian nodded and Trevor smiled. “Sypha?” he asked and looked over. “Read my fucking mind,” he hissed passionately and the painter followed his gaze. His jaw dropped and his mind blanked out amidst the massive implosion of his self-control.

Earlier, he’d thought her sunflower sundress was charming. The row of flower buttons that dipped down front and the black lace hem were both sweet little details that kept it from being too cutesy. Unfastened now, with navy lace peeking out, the buttons weren’t endearing. The tiny flowers were heralds of welcome to soft swells of skin he wanted to lick over. The black lace on the hem was erotic frame to curved, white legs that splayed wide in the dining room chair. Between her thighs was her hand, moving in slow, steady strokes as they watched.

Adrian’s control slipped around like lubed feet on a skating rink. Just let me, he thought, I could… You are kidding yourself, his anxiety retorted, you have no idea how to touch her.

She arched her brow. “I did say I liked to pleasure myself while I watch,” she said.

“Makes you want to get on your knees, doesn’t she?” Trevor asked him, eyes locked on Sypha.

“Yes,” Adrian managed, unable to take his eyes off of the movement of her hands. I want to taste her. To set my mouth against her thigh and lick down until I—he thought and Trevor clapped a hand on his shoulder.

“Good, because I lost the bet remember? And since it was kinda your fault, you’re gonna help me.” What?! Adrian thought with excitement and anxiety. For a moment he wondered if he’d voiced his internal monologue.

“Trevor,” Sypha began, withdrawing her hand and shifting forward. Even in the midst of his turbulent emotions, Adrian was very aware of his disappointment that the skirt shadowed his view. Go down for an hour… he thought with spiraling craving that ballooned inside his limbs and made him buoyant. Then he remembered Sypha’s annoyance with terrible oral. Fuck, he thought, torn. He wanted to but he didn’t know what he was doing. I don’t want to fail her like her other partners did.

He tuned back into the conversation and realized that the two artists were communicating with a bunch of facial expressions. “What are you saying?” he asked, abruptly feeling like a child caught between two parents who were trying to have a private conversation within his earshot.

Sypha winced and answered him. “I’m sorry, that was rude and I, we, didn’t mean to cut you out. To be blunt, I didn’t know Trevor was going to suggest this and I—I don’t want to pressure you. I wanted to focus on you…the first time.”

Adrian was touched that she’d worry, but frustrated by his own inexperience. Even she wasn’t sure he could do this. “Please don’t," he sighed sadly. "Don’t try to manage me like I can’t make a decision for myself. Am I nervous?” He rubbed his face, “Yes, okay, I am nervous and I fucking hate it and I just—”

“Sypha, give us some time here please,” Trevor said. “Go to the bedroom. Get comfortable, and if you know where to find something suitable, blindfold yourself.”

“Trevor,” she said again and the sculptor gave her a look. Adrian felt his lips twitch; ordering Sypha to do anything was a crapshoot. Surprisingly she went, looking back as she left the room. Adrian looked at Trevor and the brunette pulled up a chair and sat.

“I’m gonna tell you something I’ve never told anyone,” the sculptor said without preamble and tapped his knee.

“You want me to sit on your lap?” the painter asked incredulously while simultaneously thinking, Yes please. Preferably naked and I’ll just bounce around. On your—

“Oh wait, hang on.” Trevor stood, shrugged off his T-shirt and then sat down again. “Snuggles, remember?” Look at that chest, it’s like my own personal cuddle altar to worship at and I just want to lick every—

“Less staring, more snuggling. Now, Legs,” Trevor said and opened his arms.

Adrian started to perch on his knee, doing his best to not blush and feeling somewhat absurd as he tried to figure out how to fold himself in. Trevor simply scooped him up like he weighed a stack of portfolios and settled him against his chest, wrapped up in his arms. “You are so strong, it’s really hot and kind of alarming,” the painter blurted out.

Trevor paused. “I would never hurt you,” he said seriously.

The blonde smiled and shyly put out his hand to touch the black crest. “Maybe just a little? You apparently figured out that I am partial to spanking. Which I didn’t realize myself, so thank you. I think.”

Trevor’s hand drifted towards Adrian’s ass. “Let me rephrase that then. I would always respect the safe words.” The blonde smiled. There’d never been a doubt of that for him.

“I trust you. I know that,” he answered happily and put his cheek against Belmont’s warm shoulder. Home, he thought. Trevor’s wide palm settled against the curve of his ass and he squeezed firmly. I wonder if I could take one or two of his fingers, the painter thought abruptly and clenched in response. I just might be—

“My first time was not pretty,” Trevor said and Adrian instantly came back to the present. Was nothing easy or kind to Trevor in his life? Tepes wondered, anguished. The blonde stirred and murmured unhappily.

“I won’t get into the details right now but I should have known better,” Trevor sighed. “The moment was wrong and it was not the right partner. I did it anyway. I was left with some really ugly feelings about it and a healthy dose of fear.”

No, Adrian thought, a bad taste rising in the back of his mouth, please no. “Trevor, did someone hurt you?” he asked and looked up. The brunette sighed again, deeper.

“That’s a complicated answer, Adrian and I can’t—I don’t want to ruin the mood. Fuck it, I am doing this all wrong.” He stroked the painter’s back and Adrian gave into the touch with melting surrender. “I was telling you this because I wanted to tell you about my second time. About learning with the right person. Maybe I’ll just skip ahead.”

Belmont looked at him. “Listen, Sypha and I don’t want you to do anything you don’t want to. I saw your face when you saw what she was doing. You want to touch her, to share her pleasure, and give her pleasure. I think I have a way for you to do that without any pressure.” He continued to stroke down his back and the painter leaned into that wonderful, firm palm.

“I did some reading, but I know she’s experienced and I know she has expectations and she’s been frustrated in the past and I just—” Adrian could feel his panic creeping in and stealing the lovely calm of Trevor’s caresses.

“Wait a minute, hold up, shhh.” Belmont kissed him, slow and deep. Exhilaration seeped into the blonde’s bones. He knew how wonderful these kisses were and how much Trevor enjoyed them too. This he could do without worrying. Trevor’s fingertips eased through the tips of his hair to find the back of his neck and stroked gently. Love shimmered like a setting sun over the ocean inside Adrian and he melted into his lover.

With an easy smile, Trevor broke the kiss and continued to stroke the back of his neck. “What if she didn’t know if it was you or me?” The blonde blinked and thought, What? How?

“That’s why I wanted the blindfold. She won’t be able to see and I’m thinking we can even tie up her hands so she can’t touch. She likes that, so it’ll only add to her pleasure. We’ll tie back your hair so she can’t feel it and we will both touch her.” Anticipation and lust unfurled like a cat stretching in the sun inside of the painter’s belly. This might work, he thought, but what if I—

“I will be right there.” Trevor continued and Adrian released the breath he was holding. “If you are worried, you can hold up one finger and I’ll nod yes or no to let you know if I think it’s going well. I give you my word; I will be honest. Two fingers and we switch out, but I will switch back after a couple of minutes. Three fingers means you are good and I will sit back and watch.” Trevor grinned, “I'll just take off my pants and stay a while.”

Adrian snorted and bit his lip. “She doesn’t want to hurt my feelings.” He swallowed and hated his self-doubt. “I’m afraid she won’t tell me because of it. Won’t tell me that I am not good.”

Trevor’s face was understanding and he nodded. “I get it, I really do. That’s the beauty of this though. You and I don’t speak, and she is blindfolded. Believe me, you’ll get an honest response. You’ve seen her with me, so you know she’ll speak up if she wants something.”

That’s true, she is very forceful with him. The stretching cat grew into a lion with fangs and claws. Maybe she’ll be forceful with me. Buck into my face, wrap her legs around me, tell me exactly how she wants me to touch her. The painter’s exhale was not steady.

“You mentioned guidance and I have some tips for you, if you want them.” Trevor said and kneaded the blonde’s shoulder lightly.

Adrian nodded eagerly and whispered, “Yes please. She spoke highly of you; said that you had stamina and were through.”

Trevor chuckled, “You are both so good for my ego, it’s going straight to my head. Well, both of them actually.” The painter snickered.

“So oral. It takes some getting used to, but it can be addictive.” He licked his lips, “Especially Sypha. Once you go down, you don’t want to come up until she does, believe me.” Adrian’s breath caught in his throat and he ached to try, to taste, to know.

“Okay so, start slow and work your way into it. There is no fucking rush. Porn lies; it takes time to do it right, especially starting off with a new partner. Honestly, that is half the fun, learning what they like.” Trevor’s hand settled against Adrian’s collarbone and he pressed gently, blue eyes on the painter’s golden ones. “Discovering how much you like to give it to them.”

With a flash of insight, Adrian understood that Trevor was talking to himself just as much as he was talking to the blonde. In a way, he is telling himself to go slowly with me, Tepes thought and remembered the impression of burning passion in their first kiss. Someday I want to taste that heat without any restraint or concern, he thought.

“Explore fearlessly.” Trevor continued, eyes sliding down to Adrian’s throat. “While you are, listen to her. Her breath, the way her hips move, when her thighs try to close, these are all cues that let you know if it's good, if you should go faster, what she likes. We are both very lucky because Sypha is amazingly good at giving cues. She’ll literally say, “faster, harder, yes, right there.” Trevor stopped and grinned. “Feeling up to this are you?”

Adrian reddened and ducked his head. His cock was pressing insistently against Trevor’s bicep and he just realized he’d been rocking slightly into that muscular swell. “I am imagining how it could be, what I want to give her,” he admitted.

The sculptor groaned and put his forehead against Adrian’s. “I understand completely,” he said and shifted just enough that the painter could feel his cock, hard, ready and eager against his hip. “Let’s just say, I’ve thought the same about both of you and more than once. I have one more tip though. Last one.”

I’ve thought about it too, the blonde reflected and wiggled against Trevor’s cock experimentally. The sculptor’s hands tightened for a moment. “The tip?” The painter asked, and rocked slowly into the cock steadily hardening against his ass.

“I was thinking the whole thing, but we could start with the tip and work— oh, wait, you mean the suggestion for Sypha. Ah, yeah, um…” Adrian laughed, gratified with what appeared to be a genuine loss for words on the part of the sculptor. The painter wasn’t the only one that happened to evidently, and it made him feel better.

Trevor shook his head like there was water in his ears and then perked up. “Right! So, giving someone else an orgasm? It’s really no different than when you’re touching yourself. You start off slow and usually end with a hand cramp.” Belmont grinned. “That’s when you know you’ve done it right.”

I can do this, Adrian thought. He understands and he won’t let me fail. “You won’t leave though, right?” The painter asked anxiously. “I am excited about this, but I want to know that she won’t be left wanting. I need to know that she’s been taken care of… if I can’t, if I don’t—"

“I promise that won’t happen; you have excellent instincts so trust them. Sypha is not shy about what she wants, just listen to her. But helllll no; I am not leaving. Not for anything, unless you want me to. Actually, we should have a signal—” Adrian shook his head fiercely.

“No, really. We don’t need one, I want you there. I feel better about it.” He managed to smile. “You're my wingman.”

Trevor kissed his cheek and drew back. “I want to be there too. Not because you need me, but because I promise that by the end of this, more than one person will have come because of you.”

---

I'm gonna take a little time
A little time to look around me
I've got nowhere left to hide
It looks like love has finally found me
In my life there's been heartache and pain
I don't know if I can face it again
Can't stop now, I've traveled so far
To change this lonely life
I wanna know what love is
I want you to show me
I wanna feel what love is
I know you can show me

-"I Want to Know What Love Is," Foreigner

Chapter Text

Sypha took her time. Whatever Belmont was doing involved sitting down, she’d seen him pull out the chair as she’d left. I handled that poorly, she thought with regret. She’d seen the resignation in Adrian’s face when he’d realized that they were having a silent argument behind his back. Treating him like a child, she thought with disgust.

It was dumb and stupid, but Trevor had come out of left field with his suggestion. Every time they’d talked about this before they’d agreed that Adrian would be the focus of their attention the first time. Obviously, Belmont thought differently now and she wasn’t sure why.

When he’d guided the painter’s hand to his cock, she’d thought for sure that he was making the point as to why pleasuring Adrian was gratifying for them. She agreed with it and decided that it wouldn’t hurt to show her best friend how much she enjoyed watching too. How pleasure could be shared by more than touching.

She’d known that Adrian would worry about the give and take. It was his natural inclination to give far more than he would ask for and she wanted to make sure that he was as relaxed and satisfied as possible before he tried to offer things that might be more than he was actually up for.

It isn’t that I am nervous, she thought as she opened Adrian’s closet and looked for the ties. No, I’ve had oral before, dozens of times. Just not from Adrian, my best friend, whom I’ve pined after for— She closed her eyes and leaned up against the door frame. Okay, I am nervous, she thought unhappily. Nerves help no one and Adrian will think you are nervous about what he’s doing.

Well you are nervous about what he is doing, her guts responded.

“I am not,” she muttered and resumed her search for a tie. “I’m nervous about freaking him out, about him not liking it and being afraid to tell me, I just…motherfucker, I don’t want this to mean so much and this was simpler when I was just going to touch him, and fuck, fuck, fuck, this is why Belmont is doing this that asshole!” She laughed ruefully.

This was happening to Adrian in the kitchen and he saw it, she thought. Good for you Trevor but why’d it have to be me? You could have volunteered, you dickhead. But that’s why, her brain responded. His dick. Adrian was concerned, remember?

“Great. Now I have to just play it cool and not—” she found the tie, a simple black silk with tiny sapphire Fleur de Lis. When she reached for it, she could see the tremor in her hand. “Freak out,” she muttered and grabbed it. She turned around and stared at his bed. How many times had she imagined being in it with him? Arching over him, under him, wrapped around him? In those visions it had always seemed organic, primal, right.

“Let it just be that simple,” she said prayerfully and stepped to the bed. The next thing she faced was whether or not to strip. Sypha was not shy and Adrian had seen her almost naked before anyway. “But this is different. Seeing everything at once might be too much. On the other hand, it might help to see what he’s getting into.” She muttered fretfully and after a minute realized she’d just been standing there staring at the bed.

“Alright, that’s enough of this.” She whirled to the floor length mirror and strode over to it. She looked pale and uncertain and that would not do. In a fierce hiss, she lectured herself. “Listen bitch, this is dumb as hell. You wanted this and you are damn well gonna enjoy it. You are going to strip down, get in that bed, lie back and chill. In fact, you’re going to get started, because no one knows how long they’ll be out there and if you get started maybe it’ll make it easier for everyone!”

It worked. Sypha felt a portion of her confidence come back and she stared herself down as she undid the buttons of her dress and slipped out of it. Underwear or no? “Make it simple, simple is better. Off is simple. Naked is where we are going anyway.” She undid her bra and tossed it on the floor. When she slipped off her underwear, she looked at herself and thought, Nothing is changing. You are the same person and so is he, you’re just becoming lovers. “That’s it. No biggie.”

She thought about Adrian under the lights in the studio and moaned. “The biggest biggie. Fuck, I am wet just thinking about him.” So think about him, she thought and moved to the bed with the tie in her hand. Pulled back the covers and shivered as she slid over them. Imagined him in them naked and thinking of her. Sypha could smell him on the fabric and felt her nipples peak in response.  I want you, she thought, I want you to want me too. I want this to be good for you.

Sypha lay there for a moment, the moonlight streaming through the window onto the bed, the quiet warm light of the lamps turning the room into a cozy, secretive dream. She looked at the painting of the hand pressed into the flowering flesh and yearned. Let’s bloom together, she thought. As she tied her blindfold in place, she heard Adrian laugh and her heart eased. Tonight, my love, we become your lovers.

---

She’d closed the door and for a moment, Adrian took that to mean Sypha had changed her mind. Trevor didn’t even pause; he reached around the painter and turned the knob. When it swung open, Adrian could only stare. Like a pagan offering laid out to appease the dark Gods, she lay waiting under the moonlight that splashed over his bed.

Sypha was a sculpture of firm curves and pale skin. Flames tumbled over her shoulders and spilled onto his black pillows. Breasts delicate and rounded for his palms, nipples taut and pink, rose and fell with her breath. The gentle slope of her belly fell between soft, ample hips sheltering the valley of sensual secrets between her thighs. Smoldering embers burned there with heated promise. Her legs were strong and muscular, and as he watched, she curved one leg up. She was an impossible monument of surrender.

She’d tied one of his neckties over her eyes and her lips were parted in silent yearning. As he watched, she licked her lips and fisted her hands into the covers. He’d been aroused already but seeing her like this, waiting for him, was an ache so deep it seemed to be in his bones.

She’s bewitching, he thought helplessly. She’s gorgeous. She’s a goddess anticipating homage and I want to worship on my knees. With my mouth. And my tongue and my fingertips and my co— Trevor touched his shoulder and raised a brow. Adrian looked at him and mouthed, “Oh my God.” Belmont’s grin was wicked and he wiggled his brows.

The sculptor held up the sash from Adrian’s summer coat and indicated he would bind her wrists. Adrian nodded and stepped over the threshold with him. Nerves that had been simmering in his throat shoved their way back into his brain. How can you even think about touching her? Look at that stunning perfection, she’s everything and you’re—

Sypha gasped as Trevor took her wrist and brought it above her head. It ended in a distinctly happy purr and she offered her other wrist. She does like that, he thought and remembered what Trevor said. She’ll tell you what she wants. He took a deep breath, retrieved a hair tie, and bound his hair back.

The whole time he couldn’t take his eyes off her. Her chin was angled up towards Trevor as the sculptor looped the sash through the bed frame to tie off her wrists. When he bent to kiss her shoulder, she smiled. “Tease,” she said. “You know where I really want to be kissed.”

She spread her thighs and Adrian caught his breath. A feathery shimmer of copper framed delicate flesh he ached to trace with his fingertips. She is so soft, so graceful and— Trevor slapped her, hard enough that the painter could hear the sting, right over that sensitive skin.

Sypha yelped and jumped. What?! Stop! Adrian was shocked and distressed. The sculptor drew his hand back and it was obvious he was going to do it again. The painter was on the bed, between her legs and putting out his hand over that soft cloud to protect her before he even realized what he’d done. She arched into Adrian’s palm and whimpered.

She’s softer than I could have guessed, like warm sunshine on my skin, he thought. Tender, fragile, flawless and he—. Furious, he looked at Belmont and shook his head, mouthing, “No!!” Trevor blinked and looked confused. He held up three fingers with a quizzical look. Adrian nodded adamantly, scowling, and Belmont held up his hands in appeasement. He moved to the side. He missed the sculptor’s satisfied grin when he settled into the blonde’s armchair.

I can’t believe him! I can’t believe he would do that! Adrian’s temper coupled with his need to sooth. “Sypha,” he sighed soundlessly and gently stroked her pale thigh. When she trembled, he worried that it might still sting where Trevor slapped her, and instinctively bent to kiss the top of her leg above the knee. When his lips touched her skin, Sypha arched gently and murmured, “Please.”

The quiet plea eased into his soul as though he had stepped into a warm bath. There was comfort here, beauty, and such boundless welcome that he felt nothing but eager acceptance. It was easy to touch her, to trail his lips up her thighs and stroke his palm gently over the heart of her. When she rocked into his hand with a quiet moan, his desire swelled over the walls of anxiety and he was lost.

Taste her, take her, she is yours, his heart seemed to say and Trevor’s, it can be addictive thundered in his ears. Lightly, he outlined the shape of her lips, and she whimpered a tiny, entreating, “yes.” Spellbound and emboldened, he parted her and his fingertips sunk into slick, warm flesh. The snap of her hips was helpless and so was the wail that passed her lips.

There was no denying the pleasured notes in her voice or the unmistakable plea of her legs as she tried to edge closer to him. She wanted him, wanted what he was doing. “Gorgeous,” he whispered and followed his fingers with his tongue. Everything narrowed down to Sypha. Her taste, her scent, her heat and her need; she was mysterious discovery and potent fulfilment pouring into his mouth. She was everything.

Energy sparked across his tongue; it was like kissing a waterfall. The raw power, pounding insistence and essential life force under his mouth was intoxicating and filled him with lust so fierce it seemed to seep out of his pores. Instinctively, he sped up his strokes and firmed his touch. Trevor was right, he thought. Each tremble, moan, gasp and flex was a treasure map he could follow with ease. By the time his tongue found the firm, hot bud hidden in her wet folds, a powerful, demanding voice inside of him had taken control.

Hearing her cry his name brought him a moment of surprise, but then intense satisfaction pounded inside of him. I did this; she’s calling for me. The need to hear it again clawed impatiently in his ribcage. Come for me, he thought, let me taste it, let me feel it, and he delicately nipped.

---

The blindfold was torturing her. She’d known both of her lovers were there, she could hear them moving. When Trevor had tied her hands back, she’d assumed that Adrian had decided he wanted to watch first. It made sense to her and the thought was exciting.

Fully prepared for Trevor's clever, firm and relentless hands, she’d deliberately teased him when he’d kissed her. His slap was shocking and firm. It was hot as fuck, but it startled her. She’d felt the sudden give of the bed and then a light, cool, long hand cupped her. Adrian, she thought instantly and whimpered as she moved against him. He trembled and she tried to hold still. There was a pause and she heard Trevor move from the side of the bed and sit down.

Awareness bloomed. Trevor goaded him, she thought and wondered what that meant. Please Adrian, she thought, nerves rising, don’t do anything you don’t—

She thought she heard the quietest murmur of her name, filled with such longing that it smashed through the nerves and plummeted into her desire with the force of a bulldozer. Then he was touching her. There was a dream-like quality to it that slicked over her, and trembled under her skin in a constant hum like an idling engine. He is touching me, he is making love to me, she thought, and begged, “Please.”

Her partners tended to fall into two categories. Most preferred to go down on her as quickly as possible, treating it as a side quest to the main event. That could be good or bad, depending on how good they were at it. Sometimes, much more rarely, they would revel in it and would touch her like it was their life’s work to make her explode.

Trevor was a reveler and to her utter joy, it appeared so was Adrian. However, that’s where the similarities ended. Trevor’s touch was demanding, sure, possessive. Adrian’s was steeped in romance and tenderness. Where Trevor would command her orgasm, the blonde was coaxing, teasing, giving. There was infinite generosity here and it fed into her pleasure with each stroke and lick. He was seducing her with his adoration.

I should have known, she thought and bit back his name again as he traced a pattern with his tongue over her. There was no stopping the buck of her hips or the plea of “Yes, don’t stop.” But there’d been a reason for the blindfold and she was trying to respect that. No matter what, she didn’t want him to stop touching her. I might die if he does, she thought.

It was ridiculous in a way; she’d never needed romance or seduction. Usually Sypha enjoyed a firm hand and a fast build, but not this time. He was undoing her with his endless patience. From the little murmurs of pleasure he made when she moved against him, the hand kneading her hip that had drifted up to caress the underside of her breast and the occasional rasp of his teeth against her folds, he was everything she never knew she wanted.

Every tiny thing was magnified tenfold in the darkness of her blindfold. Every touch was a surprise that tumbled over her in the surf of pleasure. It built slowly, kindled heat into her belly that spread and slicked over her skin until she writhed against him, her gasps taking a keening edge of anticipation.

Dimly, she thought she heard a groan that could only be from Trevor but it was lost under Adrian’s tongue flicking up against the source of her desire. It was such a sharp stab of pleasure that she forgot herself and sobbed out his name. Oh no, she had a second to think before Adrian nipped her over the same spot.

There was no pause or moment to breathe as her release rose up abruptly. “Again, please, oh please, I’m close, I’m so—” He took her in between his teeth and urgently kneaded her flesh. The sensation had her writhing against him, all thoughts of care or tenderness lost in the impending climax. She wound her legs around him and used her heels to urge him close.

Adrian, yes, yes, just like that!” she choked out and strained against her bound hands. The sensation of floating, falling, suspended in a universe of pleasure so vast and huge had her cresting. “Oh my God I’m going to come, I’m—" and he framed her entrance with two knuckles and circled inward firmly. The pressure was divine and she fell.

Her orgasm exploded out of her with the force of an eruption and she bucked hard into him, starlight dancing inside her limbs and climbing out of her lips. “I love you, Adrian. I love you, please, I want you inside me, I need you,” she managed before it dissolved into an incoherent wail.

---

Trevor knew he’d owe an apology to Adrian later but from the way things were going, he figured that he’d be forgiven. The painter had no way of knowing that Sypha would be just fine with the smack he’d given her. Just as he’d thought might happen, Tepes had been shocked and then protective.

The idea had come to him after Adrian had said that he needed to know she was taken care of. He was such a gentle, tender thing, sweet and worried, Trevor thought again. What he really needed was to just touch her. The look on Tepes face when he’d seen Sypha in the dining room had said it all, and if the painter could just get back to that headspace, everything would come naturally.

And coming was definitely going to happen, he noted with a silent groan. He’d never been so fucking quiet in his entire life. It was killing him but was also strangely arousing. Belmont had never been in such a situation before and it was blisteringly erotic. Sypha was completely naked and open; Adrian was fully dressed and ensnared. He never would have guessed that this would be as just as intimate and just as arousing as being on the bed with them.

Sypha was drowning, he could hear it in the edge of her cries, and see it in the restless, beseeching movements of her limbs. Knowing what she tasted like, the heaven of her skin and the tang of her desire, only added to the insanity. It was so different to see her like this. From this vantage he could catch all the nuanced trembles, facial expressions and all the little gifts of desire that she offered.

Adrian was transforming in front of him, tentative gentleness giving ground to loving intensity. His focus was palpable and the sounds he was making as he moved between Sypha’s thighs was undoing the remaining remnants of Trevor’s control at an alarming pace. Trevor could literally see him gorging on the power of his ability to give pleasure and to find his own bliss in the giving of it.  

Seeing the blonde rock into the mattress as he worshipped Sypha made Belmont wish he could slide under him and just open his mouth. Lie there and take it while Tepes fucked his face. Instead, he’d undone his pants, palmed his cock and tormented himself with pleasurable frustration. This is the hottest thing I have ever seen, he thought and bit his lip.

Belmont was agonizingly hard and ‘stupidly close to coming,’ to borrow Adrian’s phrase. As though it was a bad thing, Trevor thought again with a pang. As though he wasn’t allowed to unless we did first. It was unbelievably sweet but also a little worrisome. The sculptor stroked himself slowly and tried to ease back from the sharp edge of coming.

In his case, it could be a bad thing. Trevor rarely had a reason to try to come quietly and suspected in this case it would be impossible. The last thing he wanted to do was to interrupt. So when Sypha cried out with a particularly keen sob and he groaned instinctively, he swore in his head and froze. Good going Belmont, he thought unhappily. Your timing is terrible. Then it got worse.

“Adrian!” Sypha wailed with a tone that could only be termed begging and Trevor winced. Ah, shit, he thought, certain it would break the moment, but the painter just growled with approval. The sound gave Belmont goosebumps. Damn, look at him, the sculptor thought with a deep ache of lust. He’s lost in her, lost to this.

Her breathless response had Trevor’s whole body breaking out in a sweat. “Again, please, oh please, I’m close, I’m so—” She arched hard, pulling her hands desperately and twining her legs tightly around him. Do it, Belmont thought, give it to her. “Adrian, yes, yes, just like that!” Adrian brought his hand up between her thighs and cradled her closer.

Fucking hell, I could come from this, Trevor thought and could practically taste her climax.

“Oh my God I’m going to come, I’m—" and she did, body spasming into the mattress, throat working, lips parted and gasping. Her toes curled prettily against Adrian’s black shirt and Trevor groaned, squeezing his cock with a punishing grip to stop his answering orgasm. “I love you, Adrian. I love you, please, I want you inside me, I need you,” she begged him, ending with a broken sob that made Trevor hiss. He wasn’t the only one.

Adrian’s groan was throaty and needy. “Yes, Sypha, I want that too,” he told her in that darkly honied voice. The painter eased over her and lifted her blindfold. “I love you,” he said and kissed her.

“I can taste me on you,” she whispered into his mouth and Trevor gave in. That’s it, the sculptor thought and started to ease his pants down so he could completely free his cock. When the painter eased back and put his hands to the button on his slacks, Sypha’s gaze found Trevor’s and she licked her lips. When her gaze dropped, she whispered, “Trevor.”

Adrian turned to stare at him, eyes dropping to his hard length. The blonde’s cock was arrogantly demanding attention as well, and when he looked at the sculptor there was a visible twitch from his rigid length. Oh fuck me, Trevor thought as naked lust warred with wild need in those golden depths.

“I want inside of Sypha, but I want your release too and I want you both and I don’t know how to do it,” Adrian almost wailed, so desperate and forlorn that it would have been laughable if he wasn’t so clearly distressed. Trevor’s smile was wicked and a little feral.

“Untie Sypha,” he said, “we’ll do this together.” Adrian nodded and clenched his jaw, staring at Belmont. He didn’t move. Trevor stood and kicked off his boots, easing his pants down. When Adrian gasped, Belmont couldn’t help but preen. "You make me so fucking hot," he told the blonde and thought, I just want to destroy him. He started to move his hand up his cock.

When Adrian’s eyes flew to his, Trevor was surprised by the certainty he saw in them. “Don’t. That’s for me. Please.” The unexpected command did nothing to calm his lust. The animal inside of him strained forward. Belmont strode over to Sypha and unceremoniously wrenched her bonds loose. He didn’t wait for her to get completely free, but whirled and yanked Adrian to him.

When he tasted Sypha’s arousal on the painter’s lips, he simply broke. “Adrian, damn it, I want to be gentle,” he ground out, working the painter's shirt out of his waistband and almost tearing the garment in half. When one perfect nipple was exposed, he bent to suckle vigorously. The blonde bucked against him and cried out, falling back to the bed.

Trevor, yes, oh, oh!” Adrian keened as he arched. The sound of his name drilled into the sculptor’s mind.

It’s not enough, I need it, Trevor thought deliriously. I need him. I want inside of him, I want… and he heard Adrian’s plea again, like a warning bell in his head. I want inside of Sypha but I want your release too.

Sypha arched over the blonde, hand fisted in his long hair before she scraped her teeth over Trevor’s ear. “His dream, let’s do it,” she murmured to him and then gasped as Adrian’s mouth found her skin.

Hell yes, he thought and Adrian’s hand found his thigh and crept up.

Inside, inside, inside that pretty mouth, chanted through the sculptor’s mind and he made himself pull away from that elegant hand. Licking his way to the waistband of the black slacks, he unsnapped them. He lifted Adrian’s hips and tugged the pants down as gently as his frenzy would allow. He grinned and then gulped when he saw the Gucci waistband.

He dropped the slacks on the floor and felt like a god looking down on his sacrifice. Adrian and Sypha were exploring each other’s chests and Adrian’s cock was a long, hard line beckoning Trevor to join them. He nipped Sypha’s shoulder and she purred, raising her head to watch. Trevor slid the black briefs down and when the painter’s cock sprang free in a hard, proud proclamation of his desire, Trevor groaned appreciatively while Sypha whined eagerly.

Adrian bucked up and whimpered, “I need you.” Both Sypha and Trevor took it as their cue. Sypha took his mouth, tugging his head back by his hair. Trevor took his cock with an animalistic urgency that bordered on violence.

He’s perfect, he’s gorgeous, I just can’t, I have to, I want… “Adrian, you are fucking unreal,” Trevor growled and licked up that glorious length. When his mouth closed over Adrian’s cock, Trevor could taste him. Dark, potent, heady passion fell over his tongue and he thought he might shatter right there.

"Trevor," the painter whimpered and Trevor couldn’t wait. He released the painter’s cock with a wet slurp and slapped Sypha’s ass hard.

“We do this now or I’m coming right here,” he said to both of them. Sypha hissed.

“Yes,” Adrian agreed in a breathy acquiescence. “I’m… I want you both to fuck me.”

It was so bluntly erotic that Trevor couldn’t stand it. “Sypha, pillows at the baseboard,” he ground out and she was already moving, tossing them to the end of the bed. Eyes on Adrian, the sculptor stood back and pointed to the baseboard.

“I’m not going to fuck your mouth this time. I don’t want to choke you and I won't be able to stop.” Adrian whined unhappily and Trevor exhaled sharply.

“No one can deep throat on their first try and I'm too close. I want this to be good for you, Legs. Trust me.” Adrian nodded, attentive posture and heaving chest. “You’ll control how much of me you take into your mouth and when the time comes,” Trevor paused and managed a laugh, “and it’s going to come really fucking quickly I should warn you—you can decide if you want me to come in your mouth or—”

“Yes, oh my God, yes,” Adrian was nodding eagerly, eyes dropping to Trevor's cock with open yearning, hair spilling out over his shoulders and golden eyes glistening.

I can’t believe this is real, this is happening, Trevor thought and had to close his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, Sypha had knelt in front of the blonde and was easing back into the pillows, drawing him down with her.

How much I want this, Trevor thought, how much I need to see this.

“I can’t wait,” she told the blonde, “Let me,” and guided Adrian's wrist to the baseboard.

Trevor’s grip on the wood was painful and he held himself in check. I want to see his face, he thought, I want to see her take him. He was well aware it might finish him before Adrian could get to him, but there was nothing he wanted more than this.

Adrian looked up at Trevor and smiled, settling his hand over the sculptor’s. “Together,” the painter said, meeting his gaze before he looked down at Sypha. The blonde touched her cheek and smiled. “I love you,” he told her and Trevor’s heart stumbled. The connection, the magic that flowed between the three of them, was staggering.

I love you both, so very much, Belmont thought.

“Together,” she agreed and settled her palm against the men’s joined hands. With her other hand, she grasped the painter’s shaft and guided him to her entrance. “I love you,” she whispered and arched into him, infinite welcome. Trevor’s groan merged with the blonde’s as Adrian’s grip on his hand became unbelievably tight.

Sypha,” Adrian gasped and she circled his waist with her legs. Belmont saw her hand on the blonde’s shoulder flex and Trevor felt the mirroring sensation on their joined hands. She moaned when Adrian thrust into her and the sculptor’s orgasm tripped dangerously close.

I’m not going to make it, he thought, watching the painter’s amazing ass clench against Sypha’s calves.

Adrian brought his other hand up to the baseboard and snapped his hips forcefully into her. “Yes!” the red head cried, “just like that, Adrian.” Her breasts swayed in time with his thrusts and Trevor could hear how wet she was, a liquid squelch exclamation point that was the soundtrack to his very own orgasm.

“Holy fucking hell,” Trevor rasped out, “you’re so fucking beautiful, both of you. I’m going to come just watching you.”

Adrian looked up quickly and whimpered unhappily. "There is time Adrian, believe me, we will get to it," Belmont said and bent to kiss him. Adrian's mouth was eager and pure, sensual sin when he nipped Trevor's lips. The blonde broke the kiss, tossed his head and looked into Trevor's eyes.

“Do it then," he said with shocking command. "Tell us what you see as we watch you come for us.”

There's that sass and pride, Trevor thought as his cock twitched in response.

“Holy shit, Adrian,” Sypha groaned. “That’s so hot I—” The blonde reached down between their bodies and the rest was lost in her wail.

Golden eyes met his again and Trevor could see Adrian’s own need. He’s close, the brunette realized, and gave in. When Belmont palmed his own cock, they both shuddered and Sypha twisted her head to watch over the edge of the baseboard, parting her lips as though she could taste him.

“I wish I could tell you how gorgeous you both look,” Trevor said, timing his strokes with Adrian’s thrusts. His climax climbed swiftly and he struggled for words. “What it's like,” gasp, “to see you fuck her like that, hear how wet,” pant, “she is for you, hear the way you talk to each other.” Both of them were transfixed, their hips moving in time with his strokes.

Sypha’s eyes fluttered and she arched up with a helpless half-laugh, half-sob, “I’m going to come, again.” Adrian’s gaze snapped back to her and he growled with approval.

“Adrian,” her hips met his in a frantic race to the finish. “Trevor,” her eyes opened and she stared up at him. Adrian looked up as well, liquid golden eyes locked onto his face. “I love you,” she sobbed out and convulsed, a magnificent ballet of fulfillment that moved against Adrian in a timeless dance of satisfaction. Trevor saw her release reflected in Adrian’s eyes before his long lashes hid them as the painter shuddered with her, whispering her name and going limp. It undid Belmont and his own climax hit him with the force of a locomotive, ramming through his body.

It was enormous, endless earthquakes that shook him from skin to bone, right into his heart and soul. Every cell, every fiber, was etched in pleasure; the names of his lovers seared onto his lips. In the far recesses of his mind he understood that there would never be any getting over them. These were his life mates, made for him. Perfect for him. Perfect to him.

“My lovers,” Trevor whispered reverently and sunk bonelessly to the floor.

---

Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who's there
Feeling unknown and you're all alone
Flesh and bone by the telephone
Lift up the receiver, I'll make you a believer
Take second best, put me to the test
Things on your chest, you need to confess
I will deliver, you know I'm a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith

-"Personal Jesus (Holier Than Thou Approach Mix)," Depeche Mode

Chapter Text

Adrian woke to the deep navy of the night lightening into a pale cobalt and blinked at it. Why can I see the sky? he wondered and shifted slightly. Warm skin slid against him and he stilled. The night slammed into him with full force and awareness flared. He was still at the end of his bed, and facing the window.

Carefully, he turned to see the top of Sypha’s head nestled in the crook of his arm, her body and his covered with a quilt from the guest room.  Across from her, Belmont lay stretched out on his belly, deeply asleep with his face pressed into the pillow and one muscular arm stretched across them on top of the blanket. Adrian could feel the warmth of Trevor’s palm on his thigh.

How can he be warm? the painter wondered. Trevor was buck naked, hairy ass in the air and blanket kicked off to the side. Looking over his muscular flanks, the curve of his spine and the adorable contrast of his white ass compared to his tan everywhere else, Adrian felt deep, abiding love.

I almost told him, he thought and felt the keen edge of indecision. In the glorious perfection of the trio’s lovemaking last night, the painter had felt the invincibility of their shared passion. It was a bond so deep and true it had welded onto his frame and seeped into his marrow. When Sypha had come under him, speaking his love for her seemed natural. When he’d looked up at Belmont the words were right there, dangling like ripe fruit from his heart and his tongue. The time had been right and the words felt organic.

But he’d unravelled before he could speak his truth to Trevor. The feeling of Sypha shuddering while he was buried deep within her, while eye level with Belmont’s gorgeous cock, had made it impossible not to come. Embarrassed, he recalled the deep lethargy had almost immediately taken over him. The shame diminished when he remembered that Sypha had collapsed too, snuggling up to him and kissing his chest before passing out. He’d only stirred when Trevor had dropped the quilt over them.

I kissed him. Adrian struggled to recall the details. Yes? We spoke; what did I…? With a flash of real alarm, Adrian remembered.

“Trevor?” A cool breeze and then the weight of the quilt.

“Shhh, Legs, go back to sleep. I just got a blanket so you two didn’t freeze.”

“You are so good to us, thank you.” A touch, a warmth as the sculptor pet his hair.

“Oh, my pleasure.” Even with his eyes closed, the painter can hear the smirk in Belmont’s voice. “We were all sooo good to each other tonight. High fives all ‘round. Now, go the fuck to sleep.”

“You’ll stay? Be here with us?” Even in his blissful, warm haze, Adrian feels the fear, slow to rise but still present.

“Yes lover, I am here. I would cuddle you, but there’s no room. I’ll lay down on the other side.”

“This is home; you are home. Home now. With us.” Adrian said with conviction melting into a slurred finish. He can feel sleep creeping back up on him as his fear ebbed away. Trevor would stay. Trevor would be with him.

Quiet now and then softly, so softly, beside his cheek, “Yes, home is where you and Sypha are.” Belmont’s mouth tender on his cheekbone and then brush over his lips, lulling Adrian back into the deep velvet of sleep.

“I love you, Trevor,” he murmured before giving into the darkness.

Oh no, Adrian thought and winced. Damn it, I have no idea how he took it. I have no idea if it was alright, or if it was too much. There was so much going on last night. I don’t want him to feel smothered, or like I am asking him to love me in return. I don’t want him to feel like I am manipulating him.

Wait, he said that home is where you and Sypha are. Did he mean just the two of us, Sypha and I? Or the trio together? Real alarm spiked in him. Did he think that he wasn’t part of last night? Guilt struck; he’d always been afraid of how the dynamic might work with three. Trevor had watched them the whole time; he hadn’t actually participated.

That’s bullshit, part of him protested immediately. The connection had been so visceral and the union so strong. When he was touching Sypha, he felt Trevor there with him. When he’d found his release, it had been with his eyes on Belmont. The painter’s orgasm was in no small part because of things that Trevor had said and done.

It would not have been the same without him, Adrian thought as he grew hard from the memories, he was a vital part of what happened.

The painter stifled a groan, remembering Trevor’s passionate touch when he stripped him and put his mouth on the blonde’s cock. Adrian had been ridiculously close to coming right there. The conversation about how Trevor would finish had been the only reason Adrian lasted as long as he had.

He had to know what I meant when I said I love him. I mean, it’s love, how could you misinter— A chill went through him and a sick taste cloyed in the back of Adrian’s throat. Oh please, no, what if he thought I meant love like…

Adrian had been exposed to the fickle use of love and sex in the upper echelons of his parents’ world and the art world. Both circles seemed to treat love as a commodity; something dramatic, overblown and used to sell tabloid magazines until the inevitable break up. Or worse, as something to use against each other, secretive and forbidden, to only confess around the lunch table when discussing how a meaningless fuck in a hotel made your life more exciting and how boring returning home to your spouse was.

He’d despised such ‘love’ and found it repulsive. Adrian counted himself extraordinarily lucky that his parents did not participate in such disgustingly vapid behavior and indeed were esteemed for the longevity of their union and its obvious strength. The blonde always wanted what they had; devotion, respect, equality, adoration, fascination, love, and yes, an obvious attraction to each other that had spanned almost three decades now.

Given the world that Adrian came from, it was completely reasonable for Trevor to assume that the painter had meant love in that shallow, trite sense. As though it was a casual nothing, something to toss around like money on the nightstand. The blonde felt sick.

You share nothing but your money, the one thing you think gives you power… Trevor had claimed that Adrian tried to have power over him before, would he see it as another way of trying to manipulate him? What if he thought that this was just another attempt to control? the painter agonized.

Why the fuck didn’t I stay awake?! Now the moment was gone and he had no idea what to do.

It was easier with Sypha. They’d already confessed their love for each other as friends before, it seemed natural to say it as lovers. Maybe that’s the key! Adrian thought with hope. Maybe I wait for him to reference it and depending on his reaction, I can just say I meant it as a friend or as a lover.

What if he doesn’t bring it up? his doubt asked him. What if he just leaves? That sick fear of inadequacy rose up in his throat.

Adrian felt very brittle at the idea that Trevor might find his love a reason to leave. There was a prickle in his nose and the blonde felt pressure around his eyes that could only mean that he was going to cry. For fuck’s sake, he thought and decided it was time to get the hell out of here before his lovers woke and found him having a panic attack.

Quietly, he gently extracted himself from Sypha and slid out from under the covers. Naked, he stood and looked at the two people he adored and loved. The revelations of the night before cascaded through him: the confessions from Trevor that broke his heart, the agreement to live together, Sypha’s stunning list of sexual preferences, discovering his ability to give and receive pleasure in a thousand different ways…

He saw his future laid out in his bed before him and felt it climb into his throat. Overwhelmed and fully aroused, he crept out to the laundry, found a pair of his yoga pants and quietly went to the main bathroom. It was spacious, cool and the sky was a lovely shade of blue, close to Sypha’s eyes. Looking at himself in the mirror, he saw Alucard Addrine Tepes and stared.

You can’t tell that I have made love and found love, he thought, but I know it. I refuse to apologize for it. If my love is too much for Trevor, let it be honest between us. It’s not as though I can stop loving him now. What’s done is done, and I have so much I want to give him.

What if he leaves though? his heart asked him and the prickling tears returned.

Would it hurt less in the future? His brain retorted. If he leaves because of how I feel, he will be leaving someday regardless.

But in time he might love you, if you don’t push now, his heart pleaded.

Questions and doubts loaded up like dirty dishes in the sink until he couldn’t look in the mirror anymore. I need to clear my head, he thought. He’d never practiced in here before but he didn’t want to run the risk of waking his lovers just because he was having a crisis of confidence.

He found the cool tile offered good grip and the space reasonable for a moderately rigorous session. As a bonus, he could watch the sky lighten and the clouds move by. As always, the movements calmed him and helped him to feel more comfortable in his body. By the time he came out of the last warrior pose into downward dog, his thighs were pleasantly humming and he had a light sheen of sweat.

Stripping off his pants, he started the shower, and grabbed some toiletries from under the sink. When he came up, he caught his reflection in the mirror and just looked again. Gorgeous. Captivating. Haunting. Divine. Perfect. Adrian wasn't stupid. He was aware that he had nice skin and a good bone structure, but the idea that he would be considered that attractive was a little staggering.

I mean look at me, he thought with a critical artist’s eye. My hair is unruly, always wanting to do that curly thing at the front that makes me look like Bo Peep. My nose is too narrow, my face is stupidly long, my eyelashes are so lengthy they collect dust from the shelves I pass. I am a little too pale and my eye color is annoying; it can look like I don’t have an iris. And of course, there is my giant ass scar.

He touched the scar and shivered, remembering Trevor licking over it and Sypha tracing it with her fingers. It was a gift that neither of them seemed to mind it, however, he would be the first one to admit it wasn’t pretty. But it would feel weird to not have it anymore and it reminded him of how precious every day was.

Half the campus has come to my picture? He thought and laughed. They just wanted to make me feel better, he decided and shook his head. He turned on the shower and murmured happily. The heat felt divine and he liked to be clean. He lathered up and started humming RuPaul again.

He was mid-rinse when he realized he hadn’t opened the door. If Trevor or Sypha were looking for him, they might think he wanted to be left alone as he’d been in here for almost an hour now. An open door means you would welcome company, he thought and a slow sensual smile worked across his face.

Shower sex was something he’d heard of, but was never sure how that would work. Probably no one was even up yet, it couldn’t even be 6:30 am but just in case, he could crack it open. Finishing his rinse, he stepped out of the shower and opened the door, peeking out.

Belmont was seated on the hardwood floor opposite him, long, muscular legs parted and out in front of him. His head was against the wall, face to the ceiling, eyes closed and lips parted. His hand was between his thighs, wrapped around the top of his cock and pumping lazily. Adrian gasped, watching his pink cock head play sensual peek-a-boo.

Trevor’s chin came down and those lashes fluttered open. “Good morning,” he said casually, hand maintaining its steady tempo. The painter licked his lips and managed a nod.

“I woke up and you were gone, so I came looking for you,” the sculptor continued, as though they were discussing the right way to set the dining room table. “You have a nice place.” Adrian’s own cock was rising to the occasion and he resisted the urge to demurely cover himself while Belmont happily jerked off without compulsion.

“We have a nice place,” Adrian corrected softly. This is your home now too, he thought and willed Trevor to accept it.

“Good point Legs, we definitely do.” His hand sped up slightly as he looked the painter up and down. “Anyway, the door was shut and I heard you panting a bit, and then the shower, and it made me hot.” Trevor smirked. “Thinking about you made me hard as hell. Wondering what you were thinking about and wondering if it was me. I didn’t want to disrespect your privacy; the door was shut.”

Trevor shrugged, a smile playing on his lips. “Like I mentioned, I don’t get offended, I just take care of myself. Go about your business like I am not here. Just ignore me.”

Ignore that? the painter thought incredulously. Ignore the offering of pure sexual ecstasy splayed out on the floor and begging for sampling? Not fucking likely. Adrian watched Trevor’s shoulders flex and the glint of his chest hair. He’d never tried to seduce anyone and was afraid it might be a laughable exercise.

On the other hand, Belmont could be very playful and silly in his advances and the painter had never found it anything but erotic. Maybe that would go both ways, if this attempt went sideways. Gathering his courage, the blonde pushed his hair to the side and opened the door wide.

Eyes on Trevor, he sunk to his hands and knees. The water dripped off of him onto the tile. Soaking wet, Adrian slowly crawled forward.

“Holy fuck,” Trevor exhaled sharply and let his cock go. The magnificent length fell to the side and smacked his thigh. Both men swallowed hard.

Eyes on the prize, Adrian thought, salivating as he reached the sculptor’s ankles. Belmont hissed and reached for him but the blonde smiled and bent his head to lick his calf instead. The painter could practically feel the blunt press of Belmont’s cock against his lips as he worked his tongue upwards, the sculptor’s leg trapped between his.

When he reached the side of Trevor’s knee, he nipped with a happy murmur. “I should always jerk off outside of the bathroom,” Trevor said breathlessly. “It’s a happenin’ place to be, like a 7-11 or something.” Adrian snorted and dipped down. The arch of the sculptor’s foot curved into the cleft of his ass.

“Oh,” Adrian said, enjoying the wet slide of his ass on Trevor’s skin. “Wow, that’s ohh, mmm,” he slid again and felt the drag edge deeper into the valley, “I like that.”

“You and me both,” Trevor noted and groaned. “Watching your face when you discover something that turns you on is the hottest fucking thing. You don’t know what you do to me.”

“You should tell me,” Adrian said eagerly. “You were very good at it last night.” He rocked gently again, edging upward until his mouth was inches from that pretty, swollen cock head.

“If my dick had a voice it would be begging for your mouth.” Trevor rasped out. “Your lips are so pretty and your tongue is,” Adrian used his tongue on the crease of hip and thigh, “a fucking miracle. Adrian.” The painter ran a finger down Trevor’s cock and palmed his balls.

The sculptor’s fists were clenched beside his thighs. “I’m also trying to remind myself not pin you down and fuck you until you scream my name.”

But that sounds perfect, Adrian thought with a zing of lust. He licked over the top of Belmont’s cock.

“Not helping me remember,” Trevor said, breath harsh.

“Mmmmm,”Adrian murmured teasingly. Trevor’s skin was shockingly soft. Against the rigid hardness of his cock, it was a heady mix. Just as Sypha had entranced him with her spice and tang, Trevor’s flavor surprised him. The sculptor tasted slightly sweet and menacingly potent. The Belmont jerked and thrust toward him.

“Adrian,” his lover growled and reached for him again. His hand stopped partway. “Please, can I touch you?”

As though I have real power here, Adrian thought stupefied. Trevor could touch him if he wanted. The blonde knew he was strong, but he was certain that the brunette was stronger.

He’s giving me the power to guide this. It was thrilling and a little nerve-wracking. But once he touches me, it’ll be over and I want to please him. I want to explore. Perhaps there is a compromise, Adrian thought with anticipation.

“You may touch my hair,” he said, eyes looking up as his tongue carefully circled Trevor’s cock. “Oh! And my throat please. See if you can feel yourself inside of me.” Those blue eyes flashed hot. Trevor wrapped one large hand around the wet mass of his hair and the other against Adrian’s throat. Unconsciously, Adrian bucked against his leg and moaned. “Yes, just like that,” the painter implored.

“Fuck, I would do anything when you ask so nicely in that velvet voice.” The deep notes in Trevor’s tone underscored his desire. “Tell me lover, do you want to see how much of my cock you can fit in your mouth?”

That’s all I want from the world right now, the blonde thought.

“Yes, Trevor, oh, just let me…” Adrian wiggled forward and opened his mouth. When the sculptor’s cock slipped past his lips he whined, and Belmont inhaled sharply.

He liked that, the blonde thought hungrily and did it again. The sculptor had been right last night, he wouldn’t have been able to do this if Trevor had ridden his face. But someday, he thought eagerly.

Thanks to his talk with Sypha and his eyeful last night, he was prepared for the gag. He was completely shocked by how deeply he loved it. Being inside of Sypha was a physical manifestation of being welcomed into her heart. Having Trevor inside of his mouth was like trying to swallow the sun. The soft slide, the sensation of over-fullness, the sweetness of Belmont’s panting breath, the reflexive twitches of his belly under the painter’s hand, they were feeding into his desire in delicious cupfuls.

Carefully, he tried to duplicate the swirling sensation Trevor had done to him last night and Belmont’s hips snapped into him. For a moment, the sculptor angled into his throat. Lust exploded into Adrian. Yes, do it again, he thought. I want it again, give me that gorgeous length until I can’t breathe.

“Fuck! Legs, are you alright? I am sor—” the brunette’s words ended in a throaty groan as Adrian delicately slipped his shaft back down. Trevor’s hand on his throat caressed gently and there was wonder in his voice, “I can feel me inside you. Fucking hell Adrian, I’m not going to last long, I am warning you.”

As though that wasn’t exactly what I wanted, the blonde thought with rising smugness. As though I don’t want to feel you come apart under my mouth and fill me up with you.

He angled his head up so he could see Belmont. The image of blazing lust looking down at him, eyes so blue they seemed to glow, lips parted and throat working, made the blonde instinctively grind on his calf. “Fuck, yes,” Trevor’s lips curved into a wicked smirk and his voice was low and forceful. “Ride that shit.”

The painter did it again, carefully timing his slurping pulls on Trevor’s cock with his rocking. Too slow, he thought fretfully. He eased back. When Belmont’s rigid length audibly popped out, wet and hot into his palm, the blonde instinctively wrapped his hand around him. The brunette muttered a prayerful oath.

“I wanted to go faster and I can’t when you are that deep. I’m sorry,” Adrian said, anxiety blotting out pleasure. “I can—"

“Hey,” Trevor’s hand moved from his throat to his cheek. “I’m not complaining! Seriously, look at me, do I look unhappy to you?” Adrian met his eyes and there was an inferno of longing and tenderness there. The painter caught his breath.

“Come here,” Belmont said, and pulled Adrian’s hair to bring his head up. The blonde shivered happily and nuzzled all that lovely chest hair on his way up. Astride Trevor’s lap, their cocks gently kissing, Adrian’s cool wetness against Trevor’s intense heat, the pair looked at each other.

“I wasn’t going to say anything, but I think I should,” Belmont started and Adrian’s heart broke.

I knew it, he thought, as his brows knit and his lips trembled.

“Wait, it’s not bad, hold on! Why would you think it would be something bad?” Trevor looked alarmed and the brunette dived for his mouth. Hands on his flushed cheeks, Trevor’s hard, demanding lips on his and arrogant tongue seeking entrance, the painter felt his nerves fade. Adrian yielded completely into the sculptor, opening up to him like an envelope under a letter opener.

“That’s it,” the sculptor murmured, “there’s my beautiful Adrian.” The kiss gentled and Tepes muttered bad-temperedly. Trevor grinned against his lips. “Want it hard and fast do you?” the sculptor asked him.

So what if I do? Adrian thought and reached between them to grasp Belmont’s cock. The stuttered ‘whoosh’ that the brunette made was gratifying. “Don’t you?” the blonde asked coyly as he tightened his grip and met Trevor’s gaze. Unbridled need spilled out of his eyes and Belmont swallowed.

“Maybe,” the brunette ground out. “Maybe I want to see you make me come.”

“Maybe I want that too,” the painter said as he pumped in time with the grind of his hips on Trevor’s leg. This shouldn’t be as hot as it feels, I should feel ridiculous, Adrian thought. Instead I want to fuck his thigh until I come from it.

“Maybe I could do the same to you?” the brunette asked between his teeth, jaw clenched as he quaked against Adrian. The blonde smiled.

I’m not sure that’s so smart on my part, I don’t want to disappoint you, he thought. He spoke slowly and teasingly. “I don’t know, I mean, I want to stay focused… on the task in hand, so to speak.” The sculptor’s eyes narrowed.

“Did you just—” His head fell back as Adrian ran his thumb over the tip of his cock in a circling motion. “Fuck you are good, so damned good.”

The painter’s heart stumbled and longing filled him. “Say it again,” he whispered.

Trevor’s chin came back down and he looked at Tepes. “You are so, so good.” Adrian swallowed hard and looked at the soothing understanding in Trevor’s eyes.

Do you know I love you? the blonde wondered. Did you believe me?

Trevor smiled slowly. “The way you touch me, your responses. You are just what I need; just what I dreamed you’d be. You are perfect.”

The blonde’s long lashes gave him cover so he didn’t have to meet that penetrating, observing stare, but Trevor wasn’t having it. He put his hand on the painter’s jaw and brought his chin up. “Look at me, Adrian.” Hesitantly, he did.

“You are perfect to me; do you hear me? I love everything you are doing, everything you give me.”

Do you love me? Adrian wanted to ask but he couldn’t. Instead, he kissed Belmont’s wrist, shimmied back and started to lean down.

“Uh, if you do that, I’m coming in your mouth,” Trevor rasped to him and Adrian gave him a cheeky smile before he fit the tip of the sculptor’s cock in his mouth. “Ooookay then,” Belmont hissed.

It took a moment but he found he could move his hand and his mouth in a matched tempo with a speed that pleased him. “Fuck yes, just like that, you’re amazing, that’s—,” Trevor urged him. The hand Belmont had in his hair was tight and rocking in time with his movements. “Adrian, fuck, you are going to make me—.” The painter purred deep in his throat and Trevor came with a strangled shout.

I miscalculated here, the blonde thought, even as he gloried in it. That sweetness and power erupted across his tongue and splashed down his throat. It was more than he was expecting and the sculptor’s spend ran down his chin and onto Trevor’s thighs.

The painter made a sad sound of loss, and Belmont pulled him back abruptly. “Spit if you need to!” Trevor said with concern and the painter shook his head with a grumpy frown. Belmont snickered, “You look like an offended prince. I’m just saying, I don’t expect you to—”

Adrian swallowed and brought his fingers to his chin, sweeping up some of the come and bringing it to his lips. “That’s because I am offended. I’ve wanted this since I met you, I’m not going to spit when I finally—”

Trevor yanked him to his lips and kissed him. “You,” he nipped Adrian’s lower lip, “are so fucking hot,” he licked over the painter’s chin, “and tasting me on you, makes me want you all over again.” He slipped his tongue into Adrian’s mouth to share. The painter sucked greedily.

“Trevor, tell me that you’ll fuck me soon,” the words tumbled out. “I need it.” Well that is honest, he thought, chagrined.

Belmont’s lips curved playfully but his eyes were hot and needy. “Believe me, I want to, but it’s not something you jump into, Legs. Or in this case, pound into.”

Adrian whined, “You don’t have to be so careful with me, I trust you.”

Trevor leaned forward and placed his hand against the blonde’s throat. “It’s because you trust me, that I want to be careful. Like I said, I want you to scream my name. Not scream ‘stop that hurts.’ That being said, I’ll pack up some lube tonight and bring it over.”

Anticipation unfurled in Adrian and he smiled hopefully, “You promise?”

The sculptor groaned and gave him a kiss with spicy heat in it. “You make it hard to be good.”

“I happen to like you hard,” Adrian said smugly, unable to keep the satisfaction out of his voice.

“That seems to happen a lot around you,” Trevor said and eased him back. “And speaking of hard, there is a not-so-small matter my mouth needs to attend to.”

“Wait! Just a second,” the painter said anxiously. Belmont stilled and looked at him inquiringly.

“What were you going to say?” Adrian asked him, “Before you kissed me?”

“Huh? What was I…? Oh! Right. Yeah,” Trevor slipped back to look at him. “I wanted to ask you; do you think sex with me is disappointing?”

Adrian startled hard, disbelief and concern scratching under his skin. “What!?! No! No! That’s literally not possible!”

“Why?” Trevor asked him, face gently amused but eyes serious.

“I want you so badly, it hurts sometimes!” The painter earnestly tried to communicate how incredibly desirable the brunette was to him. “It’s such an aching need inside me. Just to touch you, to hold you, it turns me on.”

“Yes, exactly.” Trevor said with obvious satisfaction. “So why don’t you believe you do the same for me?”

Adrian blanked out. What? he thought. It’s not… it’s just that I… I do?

“I can see it in your face sometimes when you are touching me,” Trevor said tenderly and brushed back a lock of blonde hair from the painter’s face. “You think you aren’t measuring up. I want you to know that’s impossible. You are heaven to touch and I feel really lucky to be with you. When you touch me, there is nothing but immense pleasure.”

Love swelled up inside the blonde and he snuggled up into Trevor. “I feel exactly the same way,” he murmured happily.

“Excellent,” Belmont said with satisfaction. “Now, let’s see if I can make you scream.”

--- 

You got the peaches, I got the cream
Sweet to taste, saccharine
Cause I'm hot, so hot, sticky sweet
From my head to my feet
Do you take sugar?
One lump or two?
Take a bottle, shake it up
Break the bubble, break it up
Pour some sugar on me
Ooh, in the name of love
Pour some sugar on me
C'mon fire me up
Pour your sugar on me
Oh, I can't get enough

-"Pour Some Sugar On Me," Def Leppard

Chapter Text

Sypha joined them in the shower. While it was a fairly tight squeeze, there was something wonderfully sweet about washing her hair while she soaped Trevor’s back. This is how it’s supposed to be, Adrian thought, happier than he could remember being in a very long time. And if it ended up with her quivering between them while she gasped out their names, well, it was a very good morning.

There was a moment around clothes. Sypha was easy, she could just roll up pant legs and shirt sleeves. Trevor was harder. He had a naturally more muscular build and his shoulders were not going to fit into any of Adrian’s shirts. Under normal circumstances the blonde salivated over them but in this moment, he was frustrated by the inability to provide Belmont something fresh to wear.

“It’s fine, I’ll just wear my clothes from yesterday,” Trevor shrugged, nonchalantly. He’d already pulled his jeans on and was hunting for his socks. Adrian, who despised wearing the same clothes twice in a row, simply couldn’t understand it.

“No, I know I have something, just wait a minute,” Adrian replied, “it’s completely uncomfortable and unnecessary for you to wear those.” And if part of why he wanted the sculptor to wear his clothes was a touch of possessiveness, well, that was his business.

He missed Sypha’s eyebrow arch at Belmont and Trevor’s sassy wiggle back as he dug into his chest of drawers. When he happened upon the sweater he snorted. It was a sweater that one of his mother’s cousins had gifted him three Christmases ago and he’d never worn. This was perfect.

“I got it!” he crowed happily and leapt up. Trevor and Sypha were sitting on the bed and talking about their extended media class when they looked over.

“Fuck, yes!” Sypha laughed out and Trevor’s face underwent several degrees of disbelief, terror and then such comic anxiety that the painter struggled to not give the game away. If you had any idea how charmingly gorgeous you are, Adrian thought, I would be in even deeper trouble than I already am.

“What?” Adrian asked innocently, “I think Trevor will look very sexy in this.” He batted his lashes at the sculptor, who was clearly trying very hard for a neutral expression.

“I’m not really a sweater guy and it’s very um, beige,” Trevor managed weakly and Sypha snickered.

“I think you should try it on,” the redhead coaxed and took it from Adrian. “Oh! It’s so soft! Is this cashmere?” she asked and Tepes, who’d been trying to hide his grin behind a thoughtfully placed hand, could only nod.

“It’s a cable knit, exclusive holiday design from Armani,” he managed to get out relatively deadpan.

Trevor shook his head. “That’s expensive and I will get something on it for sure.” He looked inspired, “Actually, I have to go into the studio and it might catch fire! Surely you have like a black t-shirt or like, anything else?"

Not a chance, love, Adrian thought with mirth, I’m not saying anything until you put it on. “Oh, that’s totally alright, I haven’t worn it. The color is terrible on me but I bet it would look wonderful on you! Try it on,” he tried his best doe-eyes. They had worked before, like when he was eight and decided to color in the design on the Oriental carpet in his father’s study with his paints. “Please?” he asked with a pleading tone.

Watching Trevor’s internal struggle was terribly amusing and touchingly sweet. The sculptor’s hands flexed on his knees. “Look at his face,” Sypha murmured to Belmont in a stage whisper, “you can’t let Adrian down.” She winked at Tepes.

With a heartfelt sigh, Belmont put out his hand for it, stood and tugged it on. He made a high, sad sound when he caught a glance in the mirror. “I look like Scott Kardashian and I hate myself,” Trevor muttered. Adrian couldn’t hold his laugh in and exploded. It actually looked good on him, but was totally not Trevor at all.

“I’m sorry! I know! I know it isn’t your style, but holy,” the blonde wheezed, “that is amazing and you are such a good sport! Imagine having to open it in front of your cousin and say thank you! You did better than I did!”

“Fuck you, Legs, I’m gonna get you so good for this, I swear,” Trevor grumbled and reached for the edge of the sweater.

Adrian put out a hand and ran it along the bicep that rippled enticingly under the soft fabric. Trevor's shoulders did fit in it. Barely. “Do you promise?” he asked, looking at Belmont through his lashes.

It was like the sculptor’s brussels sprouts had been traded for ice cream. He leaned into Adrian and positively purred into the painter’s mouth, “Oh babe, I vow it,” he said and tugged Adrian’s hair back. Setting his teeth to the blonde’s jaw, he nibbled.

This is insane, how can I want him again already? Adrian thought as each rasp of Trevor’s teeth caused uncontrolled shivers. He clutched Belmont close and laced his fingers through his hair.

A camera flash broke the moment and Sypha murmured unhappily. “Shit, sorry! I just wanted to get Trevor in that sweater, so I could blackm—” She was already running as Belmont dived for her.

When the painter stepped forward to join them, his toe hit something that skittered across the floor. Adrian went down on his hands and knees to see it and saw the glint of metal under his bed. It took some reaching, but he got it. Pulling it out, he realized he had the tiny, hook-like blade that Trevor had pulled on him when they’d first met.

Why does he have this? Adrian wondered and turned it over in his hand. It was clearly handmade, somewhat crude in rendering but cleverly designed. It could be looped around a finger and hidden in your palm with ease. He carries this all the time then, Adrian thought. Why?  This wasn't a pocket knife, it was more like...a concealable weapon. Something about it gave him a chill and he slipped it into his pocket.

The blonde took a minute, listening to them barter out in the living room. There was clearly some piece of furniture between them. Sypha was finally persuaded to never share said photo with anyone in exchange for what sounded like an anatomically impossible position in a semi-public setting of her choice. The painter wasn’t sure who won that round, but the joy in his heart could have powered the entire block he lived on.

Breakfast was tremendous fun. Trevor had rescued dinner off the table last night after he’d tucked them in. When Adrian had asked how he’d had the energy, Trevor had just smirked and said he should have believed Sypha about his stamina. Unable to resist, Adrian had quipped that he’d believe it when he rode it. He had successfully dodged Belmont’s fast grab, only to be cornered and spanked by Sypha. No one had believed his squirming was an attempt to get away.

It’d been a pleasure to throw together a breakfast scramble with the leftover salmon and potatoes and add chives and eggs. It was so much more fun to cook for someone else, especially when they took such obvious pleasure from it.

He watched his lovers devour it with the leftover fruit while discussing what their day would look like. When Trevor asked him what class he was TA-ing today, Adrian had suddenly remembered Shaft and blanched.

“Adrian! What is it?” Sypha had asked alarmed and half way out of her chair.

The painter shook his head and waved her back. Taking a deep breath, he started to tell them. Trevor’s face was hard to look at; dangerous fury flaming off of him. Tepes stopped twice to tell him he was okay and this story would end well, but the sculptor was vibrating by the time the TA got to the conversation outside of the classroom with Shaft yesterday. “Adrian, stop. Just stop. You can’t do this. I won’t let you.”

Confused, Adrian stopped and looked at him, “Do what?”

“I know you; you stood up for me. That bastard would have fired you and you would have let him. You need to call him and tell him that you—” Adrian shook his head and Trevor exploded, pushing back from the table, rearing to his feet and raking his hand through his damp hair.

“Damn it, Adrian! I won’t see you lose something that you love over me! I’m not saying I am not gonna fight this, but I want you out of it! Shaft will take it personally, if he hasn’t already. He’s in your fucking department, he will make your life a living hell and I can’t let that happen! I owe you so much and I can’t stand it already. You cannot do this!” Trevor’s protectiveness and indignation was another bloom in the rosebush of Adrian’s love for him, but this was entirely unnecessary.

“Trevor, you don’t owe…” Adrian said, rising slowly and Belmont gave such a pained sigh it broke his heart. You don’t have to feel this way, the painter thought and put out his hand. It’s alright already, and you don’t even know

Motherfucker. I did not want to tell you like this; I was going to find a better way.” Trevor tensed and then in a rush, he said. “Look, you’ve already… You gave me the Tepes scholarship. I am C. Leon.”

Dimly, Adrian was aware of Sypha’s hiss, but it held no meaning for him. Trevor? Trevor was C. Leon? Pleasure slithered in a giant tentacle around his shock. Of course he was. That level of talent and creativity? It makes so much sense, I can’t believe I didn’t— Wait. Tepes money. The money Belmont had always belittled, from the family he sneered at. The money he adamantly stated he didn't want and would never take.

What was rising up in the blonde was ugly and blotting out the sunshine he’d been basking in. What was breaking apart inside of him made him want to crawl away into the shadows that stretched endlessly ahead. “You… you always said that you didn’t want my money,” he whispered it, afraid that if he raised his voice, he might lose control.  

“Adrian,” Sypha said softly, and Trevor shook his head at her, eyes on the painter.

“I swear, I didn’t know it was your money, not until after Issac and Godbrand came to the classroom. It wasn’t—I didn’t. I know how it might seem, but…” the brunette raked his hands through his beautiful hair.

I love you, Adrian thought. I thought that was enough. I thought I was enough. He hated that he wanted to cling to that more than this hideous truth. But he was a Tepes and he had pride.

“Adrian, I thought the scholarship money… I didn’t know.” Trevor hissed in frustration. “I thought it was your father’s.”

Adrian’s laugh was bitter and broken. “That’s worse,” he said and felt a numbness creeping out from his guts. I never want to be used to get to Father. Not that. I am not him. “I couldn’t buy you, but my father could?”

Trevor’s head snapped up, fury distorting his face and he snarled, “No one fucking bought me, least of all Vlad Tepes! I made a choice to apply for a scholarship that happened to have his name on it! I didn’t even know you when I did it! Ever since I met you, you’re the one throwing your money around! I’ve never asked for anything from you!”

Adrian’s pride took huge bites of his grief. “Why would you? You already got what you wanted!”

Trevor took a step forward, fists clenched and hissed, “Have I, Adrian? Are you so sure?”

Adrian felt like he’d been slapped. What does that mean? He wondered. He looked at Trevor’s tense frame and fisted hands. Fucking hit me then, it would hurt less than this, and the words came. “You made me ashamed of who I am! I doubted everything and felt like I was wrong for trying to help you! You fucking guilted me about it! Oh, how you must have laughed at stupid, pliable Alucard Tepes and his pathetic little crush on Trevor fucking Bel—!”

“STOP!” Sypha screamed at the top of her lungs and both men jumped. The redhead was standing on her chair and glaring down at them across the table. “Shut the fuck up, both of you, good God, just stop. This is horrible and you are saying awful things just to hurt each other! Just LISTEN!” Her stare drilled into both of them.

“Both of you have horrible hang ups about money and it’s going to stop!” She stomped to emphasize it. “Right fucking now!"

She was still yelling as she turned and stabbed a finger at the blonde. “Adrian! Trevor is trying to protect you from Shaft, remember?!” The painter stared at her. That detail waded back to him over the lake of pain he was swimming in. She continued, “I’m gonna break a promise to Trevor and you’d damn well better make it worth it.” The brunette made an alarmed noise and she barreled on. “He’s wanted to tell you this for a while but he was afraid of your reaction.”

“What?” Adrian whispered. “You knew?”

“Yes! I knew but I respected that he needed to tell you himself. Trevor was terrified you would think he wanted your money, when in fact it’s the one thing he would never ask for! He genuinely thought the scholarship was some kind of bequest parceled out by a committee. He needed it so he could stop destroying his body with fighting just so he could afford to be here. You,” she shook her head at him, “never want to be used for your money, but then get your back up when someone accepts what you’ve offered?”  

“You should have seen him when he realized it was you,” her face was filled with sadness and wonder. “Proud, flattered, humbled, delighted and so, so, scared. I told him he should ask for your help next year and he flat out refused. He didn’t want you to think that’s why he was interested. The man cares about you, and you and I both know you would have helped him if he but asked! But he didn’t want your money. He didn’t want you to ever think he wanted anything but you!!”

She took a quick breath, long enough for Adrian’s temper to start to crumble. What have I done? he thought. She is right. She is completely right and I have let my own bullshit ruin this. I let my pride matter more than my love.

You,” she pointed at Trevor, “never want anyone to assume money matters to you! That you are human and need help! You would never sacrifice your principles for it, and that is so admirable, but rather than just say that, you’ll cut off your nose to spite your face! Just tell him how you feel and ignore his money. If it makes you uncomfortable, tell him that. Don’t let him think that you used him; that’s far worse than anything else he might think about your finances!! Is your pride worth losing him forever? Because that’s how this would play out and frankly, the dumbest shit I have ever heard!”

She took a deep breath and visibly tried to calm herself. Quieter, but no less passionate, Sypha looked at them. “Take two fucking seconds and realize that your fears are well matched! Trevor will never use you for your money or your connections because that would sicken him. He has too much damned integrity to do that. He probably should because he could use the fucking help but he won’t.”

She whirled to Belmont, “And Trevor, Adrian would never try own or control you with his money—has he ever asked you to repay anything, even after you scorned him? You told him about the scholarship and his first response was fear that was all you wanted from him, not that you owed him now! For fuck’s sake, he could have used his affluence or money with Shaft, but he fell on his sword instead. He gives you things like the lawyer and food and does the scholarship because he cares deeply about sharing what he has to make a difference.”

She stomped again. “Both of you are ridiculous and infuriating and I love you so damned much, but right now, I just want to be happy! We are going to be fucking happy or I swear something violent is gonna happen!" She stabbed at their chairs with her index fingers. "Now sit!”

They sat.

Sypha seized her mug of tea and took a huge swallow. Belmont stared at his plate and there was a long moment of tense silence. Suddenly, Trevor said, “I feel like my mother just scolded me for sneaking all my Halloween candy and making myself sick. But I am also kinda turned on right now, and the two together is weirding me out.”

“Hard same,” Adrian said, eyes on his hands, and couldn’t help his snicker. It was wonderful elation when Trevor joined in, a warm hug reaching out to the blonde inside Belmont’s laugh. Sypha surveyed them calmly over her mug and arched a brow.

“I don’t think I have ever been told off in such a sexy and classy way.” Trevor said with admiration and a chuckle that rumbled through him. He fisted his hands on his hips and mimicked Sypha's voice, “We are gonna be fucking happy!”

“Or else!” Adrian tossed back with a grin.

“You fucking dicks!” Trevor cackled.

“Stupid men and their stupid drama!” Adrian wheezed, tears leaking from his eyes.

“Now kiss!” Trevor howled, smacking his palms together dramatically.

“I’m in favor of that,” Sypha said coolly, and took a sip. “And stupid men had better be grateful that their mouths are good for other things besides talking.”

Trevor pounded his fist on the table and laughed until he couldn’t breathe. Adrian was holding his sides and crying with laughter. “Stop! Stop! It hurts, owww!” Adrian gasped, the stitch in his side aching. It didn’t help that every time he looked up, he saw Sypha casually consuming her breakfast and shaking her head.

He didn’t use me, whispered his heart, the truth of it weaving between the almost-hysterically relieved howling. He really doesn’t care about my money or my family’s affluence, in a good or a bad way. I am just Adrian to him. It kept lapping at him, washing away the humor and leaving the pain of the words he used to wound the man he loved.  His tears of laughter slowly turned into tears of shame and he abruptly stood.

Trevor looked up, the smile on his face slowly dropping. “I’m sorry,” the blonde whispered. “I’m so sorry, she’s right.” If only you would reach for me, the painter thought and knew he didn’t deserve it. He tried to wipe his tears away again. “Fuck, I’m such an ass, I do have such a stupid hang up and I shouldn’t have—”

Belmont pushed back from the table and opened his arms. “Legs, don’t—”  He would hold me still, Adrian thought and rushed to him. This time, climbing into the sculptor’s lap was as comfortable as breathing. This time there was no embarrassment, only security and aching relief. I don’t deserve you, but oh, I am so grateful you would be here with me, he thought.

Trevor stroked his hair and listened to Adrian’s half-coherent apology that rambled into his past experiences with ‘friends’ who were friends until they revealed their actual agendas. He got side-tracked into how much he loved his father and didn’t want to be part of that world but would never really escape it. About how glamorous such a lifestyle appeared but it was actually a hideous trap where even the tiniest mistake could be humiliation that you would never escape from.

By the time he’d finished, Sypha had seated herself beside Trevor and was stroking the blonde’s leg and passing him Kleenex. “Wow, I need to shut up,” Adrian said tiredly. “All of that just sounds like the lamest excuse and has nothing to do with the fact that I never should have assumed anything about you and I’ve done it too many times now. All I can offer you is my apology. Again. I am sorry. More than you know. It’s a me problem, not you.”

Trevor tilted his head up and looked at him. The painter winced. I bet I look hideous, he thought. “Do you know how much you are not a problem to me? I want to know everything about you and here you are, apologizing for letting me get to know you. Do you remember how I told you that you didn’t share your secrets?” Adrian felt stricken and he sniffled again.

“I was wrong, Adrian. I was so, so wrong and I am sorry. You’ve shared your secrets all along. I’m the one who let them build up between us and I shouldn’t have. That is my fault and I am sorry. There are things I need to tell you and I—” Adrian’s ass started to vibrate and they both jumped. He leaned to the side to retrieve his cellphone.

“I’ll turn it off, one—” he looked at the screen. “Oh, it’s my mother! I’ll just answer and ask to call her back or she’ll just call again. One second, I’m sorry.” Trevor smiled, rubbing the painter’s thigh.

“Hello, Mother,” Adrian said as he engaged the call.

“Hi Lisa!” Sypha yelled happily, “I miss you!” The delighted, low laugh of his mother echoed in his ear.

“Tell that lovely woman hello back from me, please!” Lisa said. Adrian handed the phone to Sypha, taking the moment to dry his eyes and inhale deeply. Trevor kissed his forehead and wiped his tears away.

“Don’t cry, Legs, we were both wrong. Thank God for her, hey?” Adrian nodded, emotions still knitting back together. He leaned into Trevor’s hair petting and sighed. Thank God for you both, he thought and wished he was brave enough to say it.

Sypha chattered happily and then paused, eyes flying to Adrian’s. “Um, no, I think it must have slipped his mind? Hang on, I will check with him, but I would totally love to! Would—my boyfriend? Ohhh, Trevor! Yes,” she cleared her throat, “that boyfriend, the Belmont boyfriend, of course.” She laughed. “Yes, of course, what other boyfriend is there?” Her eyes were huge on Adrian’s, and he snickered quietly.

Oh lord, he thought, Mother. Then he remembered Vlad’s invitation and stilled. That was probably what she was asking Sypha about. I don’t know if this is a good idea. Father can be… but Sypha was already asking him.

“You forgot to ask us to come home with you this weekend, didn’t you? You must have,” she arched a brow, “had your hands full?” Her grin was huge. “I am game for it; I can do my class work in the car.” She looked up. “Trevor? Do you have anything?”

Adrian held his breath, but Trevor’s hand never paused in its strokes. “Just make sure I eat with the right fork and it should be cool.” The blonde’s eyes jerked up to Trevor’s face but he was looking at Sypha. You’d come home with me, the painter thought and released the breath he’d been holding.

Sypha laughed and uncovered the phone. “We are in! Yes, absolutely— oh, we’ll share a room please. Yep, in Adrian’s wing would be perfect! Um, hang on, sorry.”  She looked at them again. “She wants to stock the bar in the room guys, any requests?”

Adrian felt Trevor’s subtle tense and closed his eyes. It’s just her way, he thought. The thin, scalpel edge of dejection was keenly sharp against his delight to share Belmont with his parents. Would you ever trust it? he wondered. Is it fair to expect him to? I mean you did just jump all over him.

“Sunchips would be really nice, actually,” Trevor said, “and maybe Adrian will finally eat the ones I bought him then too. Tell her thank you, please.” Sypha grinned and nodded.

“Hey Lisa, Sunchips have been requested, please and thank you. Actually, he didn’t ask for it but Trevor seemed to really like that beer you sent home with Addy last—Yep! He shared the Copain and I felt utterly spoiled, thank you so much. I know, I always think of that too. It was tremendously fun and I think we should do it again. I still have the sketch you did of Adrian as an emo teen. It’s too bad the Pictionary paper was so thin because I tried to scan it high-res…”

The blonde tuned it out as he looked at the warm, stubbled jaw above him and the beautifully corded throat his nose was tucked against. I need to do better by him, Adrian thought. He just gave me so much and I need to acknowledge that.  He leaned into the tanned throat and gave a gentle kiss. “Mmm, kitten kisses, I can go for those,” Trevor said and looked down at him, stunning and sensual.

“Thank you,” the painter said, “for being willing to meet them.” Thank you for giving me another chance, he added on silently. Thank you for forgiving me so easily.

“It’s not a big deal. It will be nice,” Belmont started, but Adrian put his hand over his mouth and just looked at him. Tracing his fingertip over the pink and white exclamation point that framed the fractured ice-blue eyes and brushing his fingertips over lashes, cheekbones and finally lips; Tepes trembled.

“It is a big deal to me. I love them and I… care, a great deal, for you.” Coward, his brain snapped at him but their fight had left him shaken and raw. “I want to share you with them. I want you to see how it really is with my family and not just what’s been printed and photographed.”

Trevor’s smile was a little sad and his gaze slid away. “I want to be a part of your life and I know that your family is an important aspect of that.” When his eyes came back up, the sadness was gone and wicked humor was in there. “Besides, there’s gotta be some premium spots to fuck in that place, right?”

Adrian laughed and give him a sassy smirk. “Wait until you see the pool. Uh, pools.”

Trevor groaned, “Oh snap, pool sex is a long-time dream.”

“It wasn’t for me, until right about now,” Adrian murmured and a prickle of anticipation skated over his skin.

---

I've been lonely, I've been waitin' for you
I'm pretending and that's all I can do
The love I'm sendin'
Ain't makin' it through to your heart
You've been hidin', never lettin' it show
Always tryin' to keep it under control
You got it down and you're well on your way to the top
But there's somethin' that you forgot
What about love?
Don't you want someone to care about you?
And what about love?
Don't let it slip away
What about love?
I only want to share it with you

-"What About Love?" Heart

Chapter Text

Sypha watched Adrian finish up the sandwiches and place them in the paper bags. He’d insisted on making them both lunches as he was assembling his. “Okay, there you go. Lunches are ready and we’ll meet up at 12:30 at Trevor’s studio so I can stalk C. Leon’s work and fawn over it, right?”

“You need to get moving,” she reminded the blonde for what felt like the twelfth time. “Your class starts in 25 minutes and you are never late.” Don’t start now, she thought, not with yesterday hanging over your head.

She didn’t want to say anything but she was worried about the implications for his work as a TA. He’d finally finished telling them what happened and it’d been a huge relief to know Shaft was gone. She was torn between being wanting to bring cupcakes to every student in Adrian’s class and being tremendously uneasy about how Shaft had snapped.

When Adrian had recounted the destruction to the room, Trevor’s shoulders had clenched and Sypha knew he had a death grip under the table. His eyes flew to hers and she gave the tiniest nod. They were both thinking about what might have happened if Adrian had still been there. Her stomach rolled.

“I need to clean—” Adrian started as he wrapped up the baguette and Trevor cut in.

“You cooked. We’ll clean. Don’t worry. We’ll see you at the lab and you can tell me how amazing I am.” He grinned, “I look forward to showing my appreciation for the crits.”

“Hey, maybe I will have some tips for improvement, you never know,” Adrian said drily.

“I’ll take more than the tip, babe but we could start with that. Either way, dick always improves the atmosphere of the studio.” Hey! she thought, and punched him. “What? It did for you too, admit it!” he protested.

Adrian’s eyes widened and he opened his mouth to ask. Later, Addy! She thought and interrupted, “Twenty-three minutes now!”

The blonde nodded reluctantly and headed toward the door. The brunette and the redhead trailed after him. “Would you like the… oh surprise, black sweater? or the, hmm, shockingly black jacket?” Trevor asked him playfully.

“I don’t want either. I want to stay! I want to snuggle between the two of you and make out. Hell, I would even settle for the tip right about now.” He looked at them both and pouted. “I could skip class. I know you two are gonna stay here and—”

Sypha yanked the sweater from Trevor and flung it at Adrian. “You’ve never skipped in your life and I know you love this class. We won’t do anything too exciting, and if we do, we’ll send you some sexts, ok?”

Adrian’s brows were in the stratosphere, and he almost squeaked, “You’d send me pictures of you two having sex?”

Twenty minutes, for fuck’s sake Addy! Run!” Sypha said with a laugh.

“But the nudes…!” He protested with a half-laugh, half-whine as she shoved him out the door.

“Yes! I promise to text if anything happens!!” She shouted down the hallway and he gave a victory arm raise as he jogged away.

When she closed the door and turned, Trevor was gone. What the hell? she thought and looked from side to side. She heard the dishes being cleared and grinned. If he wanted to do the dishes, far be it for me to…

Son of a bitch,” Trevor hissed, and she could hear it in his voice. Fury, despair, disgust.

Oh shit, she thought and bolted for the dining room. When she came around the corner, she saw the rigid set of his shoulders and the painful grip he had on the back of the chair. He’d started to stack the dishes but then put them down. “Trevor, talk to me,” she said carefully, crossing over to his back. He didn’t turn to look at her, instead, he was transfixed by the pile of plates stacked on top of each other.

“What would have happened?” he asked her in a tight whisper. “If he’d been in that room? If that fucker had—” Trevor shuddered. “I put him in danger, Sypha and I never would have been able to live—”

“Shaft is not your fault, don’t say that. That is entirely that fucker’s own issue,” Sypha said. “And Adrian wasn’t hurt. He is safe and it’s over.”

“Is it?” He asked her, voice thickening. “What would have happened now, if you weren’t here?” Oh Trevor, she thought, looking at the whites of his knuckles. “Why can’t I ever say the right thing to him, Sypha? Why do I keep fucking this up!” He slapped the chair back hard and it skittered, despite being caught under his other hand.

“Because he matters to you, Trevor,” she told him. “The more he matters to you, the harder these things become. The more it means to say them and the more invested you are in the outcome. You were right to tell him, it was just the timing and the situation. This was not your fault; he said some terrible things to you.”

“He told me he loved me last night,” Trevor said with such bitter grief that the small, furry creature of Sypha’s heart curled into a protective ball. “I thought…I hoped…,” he shook his head. “I should be grateful he said he cared about me after that fight, but all I could think was that I’d been wrong to think it meant anything in the first place. He was half-asleep, it was his first time, he didn’t know what he was saying and it’s impossible.”

Sypha’s head felt like it would fall off, she was shaking it so hard. “No, Trevor! No, if he said it, he meant it! Adrian doesn’t throw the word ‘love’ around, ever. And really, is it such a surprise? He wouldn’t have gotten into bed with you, asked you to live with him, have you meet his parents, unless he did.” Tell him, she thought, he has the right to know.

“I’m conflicted about telling you this. Lisa, Adrian’s mother, told me,” Sypha rubbed her forehead, “ so I’m technically not breaking confidence here. However, I want your word that you won’t ever bring this up, even in a fight.”

He finally turned to look at her and Sypha moaned forlornly. Trevor wasn’t crying but he was close. “Let him keep his secrets, Sypha. God knows I have, and I've brought nothing but misery to him.”

Oh my dearest, no, she thought and wrapped herself around him. There were no judgements or questions from her and she felt his large frame quake against her. “It’s alright love,” she told him, “You are here with me. You are safe, I have you.” There was a wetness on her shoulder and Sypha tightened her grip.

She was used to Adrian’s tears. He never let them out in public, but she’d discovered that he was incredibly tender-hearted and sensitive in private. But Trevor’s tears were a new part of him for her and it was heart-breaking. He acted like they were acid, wiping them away on her shoulder hard enough that she was worried he might abrade his skin. It’s like he is punishing himself for crying, she thought and drew him firmly down to the floor with her.

He resisted climbing into her lap, so she pushed him back and draped herself over him, half-spooning, half-covering him. “I love you.” She told him. “Crying is a good thing. Let it out. You are safe here.”

“Damn it, Sypha, I don’t want to cry. I hate crying. It solves nothing and it’s weak,” Trevor tried to snarl but it came out far more pleading than she was sure he would have liked.

“That’s not true,” she said calmly. “I know you don’t look at Adrian or I, and think we are weak when we cry. So why would you think that about yourself?”

“I’ve never seen you cry and Adrian? He’s different, it’s just a natural part of who he is! His crying is a sign of his resiliency. For me, it’s weakness. I couldn’t cry, there was no time and it wasn’t safe. You have to… be tough, hold it in. I can’t be afraid… don’t show that you are.”

“Everyone is afraid at some point, Trevor,” Sypha whispered, stroking his hair. He crumpled like a discarded coffee cup.

“Oh my God, I love him, Sypha and I can’t do this. I will never be what he needs and if he got hurt because of me… I can’t…” That’s two for two, she thought as her joy and sorrow twirled together. Now if only they would tell each other and fucking hear it, as the truth it is!

“You already are what he needs, Trevor. Did you two fight? Yep. Did you say you were sorry and forgive each other? Yep. Did he go to you immediately for comfort? Yep. That tells you everything! That’s what happens when people love each other.” She kissed his shoulder. “What’s important is you didn’t give up or let it fester. You trusted each other in the end.” She stroked his hair, just as she’d seen him do to Adrian. “What I cannot believe is how tender you are with him and with me and how cruel you are to yourself. Why Trevor? Why not give yourself what you give to us?”

“It’s not the same Sypha. You two, you are beautiful." His voice was thick and he coughed. "What I’ve done, who I’ve had to be? It’s ugly. There is real ugliness there.”

“What you’ve done is survive. Whatever it was, whether you want to tell me or not, I am grateful for it and I would ask you to do it again.” He jerked, hard and stared at her in disbelief.

“You don’t know what you are saying,” he said.

“Did you murder anyone?” He looked so pained she felt a moment of dread.

“You heard about my parents…” he whispered with a broken mutter, eyes sliding away from hers.

“So that’s a no, then,” she said firmly. “Have you raped anyone?” He made a horribly revolted noise and shook his head hard. “Then there is nothing you could have done that would give me pause. Anything and everything you’d done to get here, brought you to me the way that you are.” She brought his chin up and looked him in his eyes. “And I love you for who you are, not who you think I want you to be.”

Tears tracked down his cheeks and the endless blue beckoned an inner hell that hurt her in every molecule and neuron. She stroked his cheek. “And whether you know it or not, so does Adrian.” Trevor shuddered against her and his grip grew painfully tight. “Let me show you, Trevor." She asked him, "Let me love you.”

Sypha took his mouth in a gentle slide of lips and tongue and tasted deep grief. “Let it go my love; be with me here and now,” she coaxed against his mouth. She stroked his face and his hair soothingly, willing him to breath with her, let him ease into what she was offering.

His breath hitched and the sun cast little sparkles of eternity across their joined forms. “Sypha,” he murmured against her and sighed. Yes, she thought, you are mine and what once was cannot have you anymore. In this moment, only I can touch you. You belong to me.

“I am here and I want you now and always,” she said and rose up over him. Eyes on his, she unbuttoned his shirt and placed her hand on his heart. “You are everything to me.” His face made her want to weep. Adrian wasn’t the only one who questioned his worth. With Trevor it was easier to miss because he hid it with humor and temper, but the fearful yearning etched on his face couldn’t spell it out clearer.

So let us be plain, she thought and bent to kiss him. When her lips touched his throat, he groaned and it was like the wail of a violin just before the bow strings broke. Clean, sharp and edged with that sound of shattered tension, she felt his surrender to her and could have wept. That’s it, find yourself in me. Accept the truth I would give you, she thought.

Careful caresses down his torso drew quiet moans and sharp gasps. When he reached for her, she softly brought his hand to her mouth. “Let me give you this, please. Let me adore you.”

“I love you,” he whispered to her. She gave him the words back and touched his flesh with reverence. Every piece of clothing that parted was another barrier that peacefully lay down under her love. Each stroke of her fingertips built palaces of devotion over old scars. Her lips planted forests of trust that allowed all shame to retire and rest. Under her hands, she mapped every space of grief and built altars for their future.

When all clothes were stripped away and they knelt, faces cradled in each other’s hands, she told him again. “I love you and everything you are. You, Trevor Belmont, hold my heart and I trust you with it.” Hear me and believe it, she thought.

Under the warmth of the sun, he stroked her like she was salvation itself. She could feel everything there was to say in his touch. “You make me believe it was all worth it, because it brought me here, to this moment with you,” he said, raw emotion underscoring the words. She laced her hands with his and slid into his lap.

Eyes on his, she rocked gently into him, yielding welcome as he slipped inside her. “Trevor,” she whispered and arched against him, taking him deep. The speed built between them as desperate need outpaced soft surrender. But the tenderness remained, cocooning them in this space of magic and light. When Sypha cried out his name and shattered above him, she held onto him tight. She didn’t let go, even as the storm of heat and urgency took them both tumbling over the cliff together.

Languid and peaceful, they lay together. “We have a problem,” Trevor mumbled under her, rousing her from the half-sleep state she'd fallen into after they'd collapsed.

“You are still inside me, I came twice and the sun feels great. I fail to see the problem,” Sypha huffed back.

“We promised Adrian we weren’t gonna do this,” Trevor said, lazily squeezing her ass and dipping his fingertips into the dark cleft.

Damn it, she thought with sleepy awakening. He was right and— A slow grin spread across her face. “Actually Belmont, we didn't say that. We promised him pictures if we did.”

Trevor opened one eye and peered at her, matching her grin. “Where's your phone?" She leaned over to the pocket of her shirt and grabbed it. "You said you came twice?” he asked her as he reached between them. She could only moan as his fingers traced over her. “I think we can do better,” he purred happily.

---

Adrian’s grin lasted all the way to campus. He was unlocking his studio door to grab his portfolio for his class when Grant popped out. “There you are!” his friend hissed and looked around. “Get in here!”

Startled, Adrian crossed the hallway and Grant yanked him in and whirled. “Hasn’t anyone said anything to you?”

Confused Adrian shook his head, “About what?”

“About yesterday! About you and Belmont! About everything! It's all over campus! Charlotte was here looking for you to talk about it!" Grant’s eyes were huge and he was gesticulating wildly.

Adrian blanched out and felt his cheeks burn. “Oh my God, are you serious?! How can anyone know?! I mean, it’s been less than a day and it was just the three of us! Trevor and Sypha are still at home and I just got here! Is nothing private anymore?!”

“Wait, what?” Grant asked him confused, and then dawning realization made his eyes huge. “Wait! You fucked Belmont?!? And Sypha!! Dude! I need all the dets! Holy shit this is-!”

Adrian wanted to crawl into a hole and die. Me and my fucking mouth, he thought. “What were you talking about?” he asked Grant weakly.

“Fuck that, I want to hear about your threesome!" Grant waved frantically, eyes huge. "You lost your virginity in a—”

Grant!,” Adrian hissed and made a shushing motion, looking around wildly.

“Sorry!” he whispered back, “But that is totally epic goals! They are both so fucking hot and you are the luckiest son of a bitch.” His friend groaned needfully. “Just tell me that Sypha got on top! I’m gay as hell and I would go down on her in a heartbeat. Like, she just seems so commanding. I just want her to step on my balls and tell me I like it.”

Adrian just stared at him. “Grant, what the hell—?” he started to ask, alarmed and also faintly intrigued.

“Wait, wait!” Grant interrupted excitedly. “I just want to know; did you pitch or catch? I feel like Belmont is a pitcher, no offense, I just got that vibe—”

“Grant!!” Adrian yelped. “I cannot believe you would—”

“Adrian, seriously stop holding out,” Grant said indignantly. “Give me something at least, I mean, like, how big is he?”

Out of nowhere Adrian suddenly got the image of a genoa salami. He inadvertently snickered, “Let’s just say that I’ll never look at genoa the same way ever again.”

Grant groaned, “I fucking knew it, he’s so built, like old school Paul Newman or Marlon Brando or some shit. I bet your jaw broke in half. Can you even sit down?”

Adrian gave up and burst out laughing. After a moment Grant joined him. “I’m sorry," his friend said. "I am just so jealous. When you two were on the floor, well, his pants didn't leave much left to the imagination and he has dick for dayyyyys. There are practically no interesting lays on campus this year and you bagged two of them. You are blessed, I swear.”

Adrian felt a weird sense of pride. “Trevor’s amazing, in all sorts of ways. Sypha is equally and um, just as you might imagine. I understand on both accounts and I agree, I am so very lucky. But really, what were you trying tell me before?”

Grant looked blankly and him for a moment. It was like watching an accelerated art render video, as he remembered. “You’ve been promoted to sessional lecturer!” he blurted out breathlessly.

The painter’s breath whooshed out and he hissed, “What the fuck?! That’s impossible!” Tepes was only a junior. Sessionals were graduates or very, very rarely, seniors. A junior was unheard of.

Grant gaped. “You swore. You never swear.”

Seriously, the painter thought, people need to stop. I am a grown man, I can swear!

Grant’s smile was a little wicked. “One night with Belmont and Sypha and you’re doing threesomes and throwing the F-word around… do you smoke now too?”

“Shut up Danasty and tell me what you know!” Quickly Grant sketched it out. Shaft had been fired without severance or payout. All the other professors had a full load and his students had unanimously agreed that they wanted him as their teacher, even filling out a survey so it was on record. Charlotte herself would over see Adrian’s teaching and grading and would be working with him to ensure impartiality and syllabus standards would be kept.

Just as Grant was winding down, Adrian's phone chimed. The painter's head was reeling as he absently withdrew his cell, put his thumb over the lock and looked down. “Holy shit!” he hissed and quickly jerked it to his chest. She actually did it, he thought and immediately needed to get somewhere private.

“Hey, you alright? What’s going—are you blushing?” Grant asked him as concern merged into amusement. “What was in the text?”

“Umm, nothing.” Just an overhead view of Trevor going down on Sypha while she smirked into the camera and he grinned around his busy tongue. “Grocery list.” Adrian mumbled sheepishly. She’d captioned it, “Class is in session,” and all he wanted to do was be in class right now. Maybe kneeling with the other student and alternating licks—

Danasty looked at him suspiciously. “A grocery list that makes you blush like that?”

“We are really late for class, we should go," Adrian couldn't meet his eyes and flushed deeper. "I um, need to go to the bathroom, could you please let the prof know I’ll be right—”

Grant’s grin was huge and shit-eating. “You got a fucking nude.” Adrian couldn’t help his small swallow. Grant’s jaw dropped and there was a distinctly envious pitch to his voice. “You got one of both of them!”

“What am I, wearing a sign?” Adrian said under his breath. His phone buzzed again and it took everything in him not to see what else Sypha had sent. As soon as I am alone, he thought.

Grant grinned and slapped his knee. “I cannot believe it and I am in love. You don’t even know how lucky you are.”

That brought a pang to the blonde’s heart and he managed a smile. “Actually, I really do.” And I won’t forget it again, he vowed.

--- 

I wonder how we can survive
This romance
But in the end if I'm with you
I'll take the chance
Oh, can't you see it, baby
You've got me going crazy
Wherever you go, whatever you do
I will be right here waiting for you
Whatever it takes or how my heart breaks
I will be right here waiting for you

-"Right Here Waiting," Richard Marx

Chapter Text

Trevor had held his breath when Adrian visited his studio. It was one thing to admit to being C. Leon but another to being Christopher Wise. The sculptor fully intended to tell his lovers about Christopher Wise at some point but the time wasn’t right. If he was honest, he was still a little raw from the scene over the scholarship and just wanted to make it through the weekend with the Tepes. He was nervous enough.

Belmont needn’t have worried. He didn’t have a major work remotely close to completion. The barest skeleton of Trio littered the space and everything else was at the gallery or in class for grading. The gratification had been intense when Sypha and Adrian wandered around asking a trillion questions about the equipment, his process, where he got supplies and inspiration.

When he’d made a joke that he’d already agreed to move in, they didn’t have to gush, they’d both looked genuinely confused. It’d done nothing to tame his ego.

It’d been embarrassing how excited Sypha had been to show the blonde the sketches on the wall. Then the painter admitted that he’d shown Trevor’s drapery sketch at the TA meeting last week. Apparently, everyone had been fascinated by the faces he’d teased out of the folds while still adhering to the assignment. Later, Sypha told Trevor he shouldn’t be surprised but he was.

It’d been a pity that the sculptor had class after lunch or he would have been able to add another bout of studio sex to his repertoire. He’d had to wait until they got home to properly say thank you to both of them. Trevor repressed a groan from the memory.

Watching Adrian’s face when Sypha swallowed the blonde’s cock had been memorable. He’d thought those golden eyes might actually erupt when Belmont had spread her thighs, fit himself to her and thrust in time with her dips as she plunged over Adrian’s cock. She’d moved like a dream between them, hot, slick invitation and deep throaty purrs. She really was the sexiest woman on the planet and she was all theirs.

It’d been fucking hot when the blonde had sunk his hands into her hair and met Trevor’s gaze. When he started to instruct the sculptor on how to fuck her Belmont could swear he felt his cock get harder. Sypha’s needful clench in response to Adrian’s commands had made his eyes cross.

There was a definite dominate streak in Adrian that neither Trevor or Sypha had guessed at. It was unbelievably erotic and made it all the sweeter when Tepes melted into them. When the blonde had arched and sunk onto the sculptor’s fingers later that night, his eager mouth busy on Sypha, Trevor had to actively remind himself to take things slow. It’d been a near thing with the painter wailing out his name so prettily. All in all, the evening had definitely been outstanding.

Friday came faster than Trevor would have thought possible. Between giving his notice at his apartment, finishing up the second draft for his sculpture class, meeting with Charlotte Aulin to confirm how the grading would work for the drawing class and accept the apology of the school, which was a fucking trip and a half, and moving Sypha and himself to Adrian’s, time just flew by. Not Adrian’s place, he thought, reminding himself, our place.

It wasn’t that he didn’t believe that the blonde meant it, it was just taking some getting used to. Trevor had been without a real home for years now and he was both scared and humiliatingly grateful for what it meant to him to have one now. The apartment was a place in the world where he belonged and was wanted. He grinned. It was very clear how much he was wanted there and it made him feel incredible.

He hadn’t intentionally avoided bringing his things over, he’d just been busy and was used to living out of his duffel. But in the midst of unpacking Sypha into the guest room, Adrian had casually asked if they shouldn’t just take some laundry baskets to Trevor’s place and load up whatever they could, seeing as they had the borrowed car and all.

When the sculptor had looked up, the painter was studiously hanging clothes in the closet and Sypha was grinning at Trevor from ear to ear. He hadn’t missed the blonde’s quick glance over to see how the sculptor was taking it when he reached for the next shirt to hang up.

With a warm tingle, the brunette remembered his surprise and then his pleasure at Adrian’s obvious hopefulness. With his heart in his throat, Trevor had said sure, why the fuck not. In less than fifteen minutes he found himself unlocking the door to his apartment.

He’d counted himself lucky that he’d already boxed up his maquettes or else he would have had to refuse. They wouldn’t be unpacked until he’d had the Wise conversation. It’d been hilarious and then painfully endearing how obviously interested Adrian had been in everything in the apartment. It had neatly bypassed his shame at the shabby interior.

It had been bizarre how much Tepes and Sypha liked the diner table he’d customized. It was coming back to the apartment and he still wasn’t sure how he felt about that. The real moment however, had been with the sculpture in the corner, Torrent. Unable to box it, he’d just draped a sheet over it for now.

Sypha had made a beeline for it and told Adrian he had to see a finished work. The blonde’s gasp had been poignant when he saw it, and for a terrible instant, Trevor was sure that Adrian had put two and two together. After a long moment, the painter had stroked it and then the questions had started. The sculpture was an earlier piece and that seemed to have saved him from being recognized. The chatter between his lovers had been excited discussion on placement in the apartment and it’d immediately found a home in the living room. Nothing they could have done would have made him feel more loved.

Just this morning he’d come out to Sypha circling it with her mug of tea and Adrian slicing bread in the kitchen and commenting on the frustrated emotion whirling out of the center of it. It was strange and beautiful to be so seen and known by both of them. Trevor had no idea how he’d gotten so fucking lucky but he was going to keep it, no matter what.

Halfway to the sculpture studio and juggling the extra duffle of clothes that he had for the weekend, Trevor smiled. Adrian said that his parents were sending a car to pick the trio up after Sypha’s last class. The painter was supposed to meet Trevor at 2:30 pm in his studio and they would wait for her. The sculptor already had several thoughts about how they could pass the time.

His cell phone rang with a special chiming buzz that told him this was a call for Christopher. When he checked the caller ID there was a dollop of anticipation. Ainav Gallery. Why were they calling? How incredible would it be if he’d sold something else? They hadn’t discussed splitting the bills yet butCarmilla, he thought immediately and resolved to ask to speak to Hector. He hadn’t had the chance to call yet, he’d been too busy.

Trevor picked up. “Hello?”

“Christopher Wise please,” came the soft, mellow voice of Hector, the artistic director. Trevor grinned. He liked Hector. The man was delightful to work with. Thoughtful, calm, perceptive and almost uncomfortably sensitive to the temperaments of those he worked with, Hector was an artist’s dream collaborator. 

“Hector! Good to hear from you, how ya doing?” Trevor asked, ducking into one of the niches with a stone bench. He set down his loads and paced.

“Lovely, thank you.” Hector was as placid as a lake at sunset. “I am very much looking forward to your showing next Friday. I am eager for you to meet Ms. Styria and have an opportunity to meet more of the local artistic community.”

“Yeah, about that actually,” Trevor said easily. “What can you tell me about Carmilla? I’ve heard some things and they aren’t good.”

There was a poignant pause at the end of the line and then Hector delicately cleared his throat. “Exactly what have you heard?” the man asked and there was a note of disapproval there that set Trevor’s teeth on edge.

“I’ve heard she’s got an ego, is generally unpleasant and her artistic talent is somewhat questionable within the art community,” Trevor rattled it off like a grocery list and just as neutrally. He liked Hector and didn’t want to damage a valuable relationship, but he also needed to know that his first major showing wasn’t going to implode.

Hector’s laugh was a dry, tight thing. “Oh, is that all? Sounds like another artist to me. Tell me Christopher, do you always put credence into rumors? Wouldn’t you like to decide for yourself?”

Trevor couldn’t argue with that, but he trusted Adrian and Sypha. “Alright, fair enough but let me ask you this. Do you like her?”

Hector sighed. “‘Like’ is a strong word. I will say that I genuinely respect her and her work is very sought after right now. I would not have paired you two if I didn’t really feel that your artworks would show well together.”

Trevor winced. No wonder Hector had been displeased. It had been his decision to match them for the showing. “Alright Hector, if you can promise me that Styria will at least be respectful, I can live with this.”

There was a pause. “Take this as you will Christopher, but I make it a policy to never make a promise I don’t absolutely know I can keep. You are asking me to make a promise regarding the behavior of someone whom I have no hold over, no personal ties with and no real leverage. I am not comfortable making that promise.”

Damn it, Trevor thought ruefully. Hector wasn’t wrong but the sculptor didn’t like it either. “Alright, but I should warn you, I don’t deal with assholes well.”

This time Hector’s laugh had a note of pure humor in it. “Again, take it as you will, but that doesn’t surprise me in the least. All I ask is you be yourself and that you show up.”

“It’ll be cool. I will be there,” Trevor said and mentally reminded himself that he needed to find something to wear.

“Excellent, I look forward to it.” Hector cleared his throat delicately and something about it caught Trevor’s attention. He listened intently. “As you know, you sold two pieces last week, the teasers that we put out for the show.” Trevor murmured his assent.

“We are putting out the remaining three this coming week. One tomorrow, one Wednesday and one on Friday morning. I’m very happy that I finally have permission to inform you that your first two pieces were sold to none other than Alucard Tepes, the son of Vlad and Lisa Tepes. Have you heard of the Tepes family?”

Trevor had to take a minute to allow his grin to subside. He didn’t want to laugh in poor Hector’s face. Truth be told, if he hadn’t found out before, it would have been a huge shock. As it was, he couldn’t help himself. Low key smart ass was basically his trademark, really. “You don’t say. That name is familiar to me… wait, I have heard of them. They are kinda famous right?”

“You could say that,” Hector said earnestly. “Alucard is actually a rising star himself, although he works in paints.” He paused, “I can send you some articles on them, if you are curious. There was a rather gorgeous feature in Xpose last year of his oil, ‘Mort din nou.’ His work is beautiful and Alucard is quite fascinating himself, in an ice princess sort of way.”

Trevor snorted and had to fake coughing for a moment to hide it. Ice princess, holy hell, that was perfect, he thought. Ostensibly, he only melts for a select few. The sensation of Adrian’s hips bucking up against him while Trevor’s cock was buried in his mouth had the sculptor reminding himself he had a walk yet in front of him. It would be an uncomfortable one if he had to walk with his duffel hiding his erection.

“Sure,” he managed to sound somewhat normal, “email them to me, please.” He could replace the ones he’d tossed out. His grin spread. Maybe sit outside the bathroom door and wait for Adrian with them. That worked beautifully last time and wouldn’t be the first time he’d jerked off to those photos. Or the last.

Trevor heard tapping and then Hector said, “I’ve made a note to do that after we’re done here. Anyway, I am telling you about the purchase for a couple of reasons. Firstly, Alucard left a request that he be permitted first offer on your other works.”

Now Trevor did gasp. “He what?” Hector’s smile came through the phone.

“I believe you see what potential we have here,” Hector said with a touch of warmth. “To be blunt Chris, you could very well end up selling everything you’ve made on Friday night.”

Fuck that, Trevor thought with dismay, delight and disbelief. Isaac and Godbrand will be so far up my asshole—I can’t take more of his money—I would just give it to him—its just money, didn’t he say that?—he wants more of my art, oh my god, I’m gonna jump him so hard when I see him—I’m gonna lick every single inch of his body—

“However,” Hector broke his mile-a-minute thoughts, “given that you are a newer artist, it might not be smart to sell one collector all of your works.”

“Huh,” Trevor managed, working on clearing the gridlock of sexual images currently clogging his brain waves. He was just fine with giving Adrian the works until the painter begged for mercy. No, works, like art work, his brain whispered. Paging something other than your cock to participate in this conversation.

“On the other hand, someone of his status and fame is a boon to have connected to your name. You might even be able to have something of a bidding war if there is enough interest. Tepes can certainly afford it.” Trevor held back his snarl. Adrian wasn’t a cash cow to moo on command and the sculptor never wanted him to be, for him or anyone else.

“Which brings me to the last thing I was calling about,” Hector continued after Trevor didn’t respond. “It likely goes hand-in-hand with the request for first offer. Lady Tepes called and requested your contact details. She would like to commission something for Alucard’s birthday.” Hector’s smile was obvious through the phone.

Oh shit, Trevor thought, and practically dropped the cell. “Fuck me,” Trevor breathed in a wheeze.

“Yes, exactly. Played right, that commission could launch your career into the stratosphere. What would you like to do about it?” Hector asked and Trevor just shook his head.

“I don’t know,” Trevor said honestly. “Let me have the weekend to think about it?” Let me meet Lisa, let me somehow explain this mess to Adrian, let me absorb this insanity for a hot minute? Trevor thought unhappily. The fight about the scholarship was still fresh and while they hadn’t discussed it again, he felt the weight of it between them.

“Of course, I would expect you need some time. There is a lot to weigh and consider.” Hector paused again. “I would encourage you to have an answer by next Wednesday at the latest though. Given the showing and the pieces.”

“No pressure,” Trevor muttered and Hector laughed his light, dry laugh.

“This is the art world Christopher; it is nothing but pressure,” the man murmured and Trevor stuck his tongue out at the phone good-naturedly. “Don’t shoot the messenger.”

Trevor had to laugh. “Okay, you got me there. Listen, I have to go but thank you. I’ll talk to you Monday.” Hector said his goodbyes and Trevor hung up.

He stared at the phone until the time clued him in to the fact that he couldn’t drop his bag at the studio anymore, he had to run to class now. He took off, mind still racing.

---

“Adrian!” a light, high female voice called and he turned back, pulling his roller bag out of the way. Maria, he thought with pleasure and smiled. She waved enthusiastically, her youthful features and light blonde hair seeming to sparkle in the sunlight. The young woman was a painting prodigy and in her final semester at the college.

Maria was three years younger than him and had come to college in her teens. Adrian had been flattered and then charmed by her earnest nature and friendly overtures. The two had become friends and even painting partners for class they’d taken together over this past summer. Her portrait of him as a Renaissance prince hung in the art department. It made him laugh every time he saw it.

“Hey! Headed somewhere?” She asked him, catching up to him and smoothing down her hair as she indicated his suitcase. He failed to notice the hopeful glance she gave him or the way she angled toward his body. They continued walking down the path together.

“Yep, headed home to visit my parents this weekend. Should be fun,” he said with a little laugh, thinking of Trevor’s hopeful questions about the privacy of the pools in the mansion.

“Wow, that must be nice,” Maria sighed. “I bet not eating the cafeteria food is a real treat. Eat some caviar and think of me,” she laughed.

A tiny trickle of embarrassment ran through the blonde and he made a non-committal sound. “What does your weekend look like?” he asked her instead and she laughed again.

“Oh, you know, the usual. Painting, painting, painting! Hey, that reminds me, I wanted to say congratulations on your promotion.” She batted her lashes. “No one deserves it more.”

Adrian shook his head absently, distracted. “That’s so sweet of you but it’s just the circumstances.”

“No!” Maria said sharply and startled the painter enough that he turned to her. She flushed and said, “I mean, give yourself some credit. Everyone knows that you worked yourself to the bone for Shaft and taught that class yourself. You earned this.”

Something about the way she said it made him hear Sypha again, Half the campus…  He immediately thought, not Maria though, she’s just a kid! Brushing it off, he just nodded and breathed a sigh of relief as the sculpture building came into view.

“Where are you going anyway?” Maria asked him, slightly breathless from keeping up with his long legs. Out of consideration, he slowed for her and nodded toward the sculpture building.

“I am meeting my… friend,” he finished lamely and immediately thought, Uh oh, you need to talk about this with Trevor and Sypha. What are we? Alarm built abruptly. What are they telling people? Would they understand why I can’t?

“Oh nice! Who do you know in the sculpture department?” Maria asked, looking at his face again. If he’d turned his head a scant three inches, he would have seen desperate adoration and a seriously potent crush.

“You might have heard of him.” The painter’s smile was full of emotion and Maria’s watchful eye despaired. “He’s new this semester, but very talented, his name is—”

“Legs!” Trevor called and Adrian jerked. Belmont, you cannot call me that here! He thought wildly and whirled. Trevor was jogging down the path toward them and for a moment Adrian just blanked out, watching his muscles move under the cut off t-shirt and the shift of his thighs in his camouflage pants. I just want to bite his arms, right where that curve of muscle meets his elbow, the blonde thought, unaware of his rapt gaze.

Belmont grinned and stopped in front of them. “Hey babe,” he murmured and leaned in. Adrian jerked back with a hiss and looked away. He wasn’t fast enough to miss the confused hurt on Trevor’s face and his heart ached.

“Maria, this is my friend, Trevor Belmont,” he said stiffly and Maria looked wildly between the two men for a moment.

“Nice to meet you,” she said finally, and then took off down the path at a dead run.

“Son of a bitch,” Adrian whimpered unhappily and Trevor put his hand on his arm.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t realize she was into you, or I wouldn’t have… in front of her. Poor kid,” the sculptor clucked sympathetically. “I can understand the feeling.”

“Wait, what?” Adrian asked, head snapping up. What are you talking about, she’s not

“Maria?” Trevor said, giving him a confused look. “She’s half-in love with you. It’s totally obvious.”

“Son of a bitch,” Adrian said with great depth of feeling and covered his face. Not Maria, he thought helplessly. That was a total mess. How would he handle this? A chill crept over him. Would she tell anyone? He dropped his hand and stared at Belmont. The sculptor’s face was gentle sympathy and he reached for the painter’s hand. Adrian softly shook his head.

“We need to talk,” he said simply, “In private.” Belmont’s face became guarded and his hand fisted before he withdrew it slowly and put it in his pocket.

“Let’s go to my studio then,” Trevor said shortly and strode forward.

Minutes later, the blonde settled against the welding table and looked at his lover. He’d been hoping to go down on Trevor on this very spot today but one look at Belmont’s set jaw told him that wasn’t happening. “I’m sorry,” he started simply and Trevor nodded, shoulders falling slightly. Encouraged, Adrian continued.

“Growing up with my family, there was always someone watching. The one rule was to never give them something to see. To talk about. If you needed to explode, you do it in private. If you need to break down, you do it in private. If you need to argue, you wait until you are alone. You never air your business in public.” Trevor’s head was angled, considering. Here goes nothing, Adrian thought and wished desperately for Sypha.

“You never, ever, do something considered scandalous. You don’t get drunk, you don’t make provocative or political statements and you especially don’t… commit sexual acts in public. Anything consider—” Trevor was grinning. Why was Trevor grinning? he wondered, confused.

“I know you’ve only just begun to explore your sexuality Legs, but a kiss is hardly a blip in the sexual acts screen.” The sculptor chuckled and spread his hands. “You act like I showed up in a leather thong and tried—”

The painter shook his head slowly, face unbearably sad. Trevor’s smile slowly fell away. “No Trevor, it wasn’t the kiss. It’s the fact that we are both men.”

Belmont snarled, “Are you fucking kidding me, Adrian?!” This is bad, the painter thought and tried to explain. Unconsciously, he crossed his arms defensively.

“It’s not my parents, they could care less. As long as I am happy, they are. It’s the public backlash. My father—”

“Your father is alright with you living in a prison where you cannot be who you truly are? Who gives a fuck what the public thinks! This is your life and I’ll be damned if—”

“Trevor, look me in the eye and tell me that you’ve never given a damn what people have said about you. To your face and behind your back. About your family. Your parents.” He knew it was harsh but he didn’t know how else to cut through the anger.

The sculptor inhaled sharply. “That’s different,” he whispered after a moment and Adrian heard the shift in his voice. Relief flooded him, even as his heart hurt for dredging up pain for Belmont. It would be alright if they could just communicate.

“Is it?” the painter asked quietly, straightening from the table. “You know how hideous it can be. I couldn’t do that to my parents and I couldn’t do that to you.”

“I don’t give a fuck,” Belmont said, watching the painter step towards the brunette. “You’re mine and I want the world to know it.” Adrian’s smile was sweetly slow.

“I know it. You know it,” he stepped closer and Trevor closed the gap. “Can that be enough?”

“Adrian,” Trevor rasped, low and urgent. “It’s not fair.” He cupped the blonde’s face, blue eyes molten desire and possession. “You’re mine.”

“I know, lover, I know.” Adrian ran a finger over the scar over the brunette’s eye and Trevor sighed. “When Sypha gets here we’ll make a plan. I meant to say something sooner, I didn’t even think about it and I am sorry. Truly.”

“How sorry?” Trevor asked, the corner of his mouth quirking.

Adrian’s grin was sensual welcome. His hope for blowing Trevor cannon-balled back into the present. “Sooooo sorry,” he said and licked over Trevor’s lips. With a groan, Belmont fisted his hands in his hair and dived in. When Adrian’s head was forced back and he felt Trevor’s teeth on his throat, Tepes cried out his name, low and beseeching.

“When you say my name like that,” Belmont nipped and the painter gasped. “And make those sounds I just,” he worked Adrian’s shirt open with quick hands. “Want to fuck you until you can’t breathe but to exhale my name.” His fingernails danced over Adrian’s scar and the blonde arched into him in a hard quake.

“I want that,” the painter sobbed out as Trevor’s mouth chased his hands down the puckered line. “I want you, so very much. Please, I don’t want to wait anymore.”

“You are so,” Trevor nibbled his ribs, “fucking,” his collarbone, “pretty,” back to his mouth. When Belmont plunged his tongue into Adrian’s mouth, Tepes found the worn leather belt and tugged. I want you inside me, he thought and gave a particularly sharp jerk to work the tip of the belt out of the loop. It just snapped in half. Horrified, Adrian broke the kiss and looked down.

“Tearing my clothes off? That’s hot,” Trevor said, voice thick and the painter looked up to a cheerful smirk.

“I’m so sorry,” he started and Trevor laughed. “I got it at the Salvation Army and I can get another one, it’s fine.” He paused, “Actually though, let me just get my chains off, I don’t want to lose my crosses.”

Infinite grace, Adrian sunk to his knees. “Please; allow me,” he said, eyes on Trevor.

“Well fuck,” Trevor said, lips parted, tongue darting out to the corner.

“That is my hope, yes,” Tepes murmured as he carefully worked the broken belt off and gently placed the chains and their crosses onto the welding table. “Sometime I want to know about those,” he said and went to work on Trevor’s zipper.

“Nothing much to tell,” Trevor said, “I like my chains, had them since—oh wow.” Adrian had slipped his hand inside the opened zipper and stroked Trevor through his briefs.

“Since when?” Adrian asked coyly, curling his fingers under the sculptor’s balls.

Belmont continued, a little less steady, “Since I was thirteen and I—” His hips thrust forward as Tepes pressed his lips to the tip of Trevor’s cock, nipping gently through the cotton.

“What about the crosses?” the painter asked huskily, pushing Trevor’s pants further down his hips. He groaned when he felt Trevor’s large, calloused hands brush over his forehead and weave themselves into his hair. The way the sculptor held him was such a complex mix of control and tenderness and he could never get enough.

“I made the three wooden ones with my Father when I was little.” There was a yearning in his voice that made the blonde pause. “The rest I collected, well except the hammered metal one, I made that, uh, two years ago? Anyway, I like ‘em. They are small sculptures, intricate, beautiful—” Adrian eased down the waistband of his briefs and licked over the blunt, broad tip that peeked out at him. “Beautiful,” the sculptor repeated, looking down at him.

“You make me feel beautiful,” Adrian said and finished stripping his underwear off. Belmont’s eyes darkened and he reached out.

“Legs, let me—” Trevor started and the painter shook his head.

“Not this time, gorgeous,” Tepes said, “I want to show you how terribly sorry I am.” He grasped Trevor’s cock and licked all the way up the underside of his shaft. “So, so sorry,” he whispered and sunk down on that magnificent length. Belmont’s hands tightened sharply in his hair and Adrian’s cock ached. I love this, he thought.

Curl your tongue, drop your chin, he reminded himself and eased his lover’s cock deeper into his mouth. He’d been taking notes and when the sculptor shuddered, he knew it’d been time well spent. The painter carefully suctioned out his cheeks and loosened his shoulders.

“Holy fuck, Adrian,” the brunette whimpered and the blonde groaned deep in his throat, splaying his hands over warm, taut thighs. Trevor thrust, and instead of trying to match it, the painter just relaxed into it. Belmont sunk all the way inside and hissed in pleasured surprise. “Mother of—” He thrust again and the sensation of fullness was heaven.

The painter cupped his balls and squeezed gently. “God bless Google,” Trevor said reverently and Adrian snorted. Well, he’s not wrong, the blonde thought blissfully and danced his fingers back, pressing experimentally. Belmont gasped suddenly and Tepes walked his fingertips firmly over the spot again. Found you, he thought.

“I’m sending a thank you card to Steve Jobs,” his lover managed, voice uneven.

Sure now, the painter traced spirals over the spot and the sculptor’s breath grew ragged. “Maybe a fruit basket.” His thrusts sped up and Tepes rocked instinctively, finding only air to press up against. Suddenly, Trevor’s leg was there between his thighs, a divinely hard force against his insistent cock. The painter whimpered and Belmont stroked his cheek while he fucked his mouth.

Adrian’s eyes flew up to Belmont’s and intense need poured out over him. “You know I like it when you ride me,” the brunette ground out. “You’ve been so good to me, so perfect. Now be good to you; show me you can be.” The painter simply liquefied. He loved when Trevor talked to him like this; it made everything turn to honey and gold sunlight in his body.

There was a sound of a key turning in the door and Tepes froze. Trevor grinned and looked down. “It’s Sypha, she has a key,” he whispered, “let’s give her a show.” The vision the blonde had in the drawing studio weeks ago slammed back into him. Sypha telling him how to move, what to do. His skin heated and he moved his hips against the sculptor’s calf. His rigid cock pressed up against his lover. “Hell yes, Adrian,” Belmont hissed, “just like that, let me feel how fucking hard you are.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Tepes saw Sypha slowly open the door and peek in. “Awfully quiet in—” she started to say. Her eyes latched onto them and her knowing smile became an ‘o’ of surprise. The painter ground against Trevor’s thigh and batted his lashes. Like what you see? he thought mischievously. Trevor waved nonchalantly. The redhead swallowed hard, quickly wedged herself in the room and locked the door behind her.

“Hello Ms. Belnades. Fancy meeting you here,” Trevor said, trying for a casual tone that was ruined by the note of tension in it. He quaked against the blonde as Adrian swallowed against the length that steadily increased its surging speed.

Sypha unceremoniously dumped her bag, portfolio and suitcase and jerked her shirt over her head. “Hello Mr. Belmont,” she looked down and her lips parted. “Mr. Tepes, sweet God you look gorgeous. Now,” her lips curved as she unhooked her bra, “don’t worry about answering, you’ve got a dick stuck in your throat.”

Trevor’s laugh was a short bark that ended on a moan. She untied her wrap skirt and Trevor palmed her breast, thumbing over a nipple that was already hard. Adrian reached up and cupped her, slipping his pinky under the edge of her underwear and over the slick parting of her lips. Holy, she’s already wet, the blonde thought as his cock twitched.

“Fuck!” Sypha moaned and shuddered into their hands.

“We are giving it our best shot,” Trevor said as he bent to suckle her nipple. Adrian slipped another finger under the fabric to stroke her. He wanted to be inside her while Trevor was inside him. He shivered. The idea of pleasuring both of them at once was a keen blade of need and the painter wanted it more than anything.

“Yeah, I can see—oh, yes,” she whimpered and thrust into the blonde’s hand. “I am a little jealous though—faster please, Adrian,” and he happily obliged. “I need to catch up.”

“I’m rather close here darling,” Trevor gritted out and the painter hummed happily. “Fuck, um, quite close now.”

Give it to me, Adrian thought, need curling in the pit of his belly, I want to taste you come and know it was because of me. He slipped a finger inside Sypha and she gasped.

“I guess I’ll just have to occupy myself with Adrian’s dick then, until your face is available?” Sypha said breathlessly.

Wait, what? Tepes thought abruptly, thumb and finger still busy in her slick folds.

“That sounds perfect lover,” the sculptor groaned as he pressed a hand against her throat. Sypha purred and leaned into his palm. Adrian whimpered when he felt her clench and he writhed against Belmont’s leg.

Trevor isn’t the only one close, he thought and gave her another finger. The redhead gasped and rocked against him.

“I fucking love this,” Trevor growled, one hand on Sypha’s throat and the other in Adrian’s hair. “This is paradise right here. I could do this forever—” Adrian bobbed his head gently and Belmont’s breath whooshed out, “buuuut I’m gonna come.” Sypha took Trevor's mouth in an urgent kiss and sunk her hand into the painter’s hair, her fingernails scraping over his scalp.

Adrian murmured mmm-hmmm in his throat and Trevor jerked into him, shuddering heat and incredible strength. The painter eased back slightly, wanting to capture the sculptor’s flavor on his tongue as he felt the wet, full gush of Trevor’s come splash down his throat. “Holy Adrian,” Belmont muttered and Sypha laughed.

“Pretty sure that’s not in the ten commandments,” she commented and squeaked when Adrian kneaded her pulsing bud between his knuckles. “It should be though. Holy Adrian, indeed.”

Trevor staggered a little bit and Adrian cupped his ass to hold him close, sucking the last of his release off of him. “Would you look at him?” he asked Sypha, “just gorgeous.” She murmured agreement and together they stroked over Adrian’s hair gently. “You’re so perfect,” Trevor said and with a sigh, Tepes let Belmont’s cock slip from his mouth.

“I love the way you taste,” the painter said, unaware of the adoration in his eyes and how Trevor’s heart squeezed painfully in response. “And” he looked at Sypha, “I love the way you taste.” He shifted back on his heels and turned to her, cupping her ass and urging her forward.

“Oh! Wait, I was going to—” she started and he pulled her underwear to the side and parted her with his fingers. “Well, someone’s in a good—Adrian!” she shrieked softly as he slicked his tongue up between her lips.

“Man knows what he wants,” Trevor observed cheerfully. “Fortunately, so do I,” he said as he got on his knees.

----

I ain't got a fever, I got a permanent disease
It'll take more than a doctor to prescribe a remedy
I got lots of money, but it isn't what I need
Gonna take more than a shot to get this poison out of me
And I got all the symptoms, count 'em one, two, three
First you need (That's what you get for falling in love)
Then you bleed (You get a little and it's never enough)
And then you're on your knees
(That's what you get for falling in love)
Now this boy's addicted 'cause your kiss is the drug

-"Bad Medicine," Bon Jovi

Chapter Text

It was maddening. Trevor wasn’t answering his calls and Godbrand refused to consider seeing the man again. If Isaac wasn’t so frustrated, he could laugh over how the whole thing had gone down with Soma Cruz but right now, he simply couldn’t. The federal agent knew that the answer was staring him in the face but he lacked the context to make it all fit together.

Every time he tried a different approach; tried to ease around the Tepes name, he was stonewalled. Isaac had quietly put feelers out to some friends in other departments and had been told, not unkindly, that he was royally screwed. In a country where no one was supposed to be above the law, this was just one more time he had seen that the law was different if you had money, power and the right phone numbers. It had always disturbed him and this was just the final straw.

Isaac was not a foolish man and he was patient. He didn’t want to lose his job but he also had a specific set of reasons for his occupation. If those reasons no longer held true than he needed to reconsider his vocation. Everyone knew that corruption existed, but he had entered this field with the understanding that when it occurred, it would be rooted out and exterminated. He truly believed that the overall goal was to uncover the facts, commit to the ideals of justice and combat the depravity. The FBI were agents of truth in a world of lies. They cut the dead flesh from the body to save what they could and ultimately, they would prevail.

Now, he wasn’t so sure. Vlad Tepes, intentionally or not, had shown him that the depravity of humankind could corrode the highest offices of the land and he was powerless to even complain. There had to be a way to get the information he needed, find a crack inside the Tepes world and rectify this festering wrong.

The crack is Trevor Belmont, he thought, looking at the sculptor, laughing in the sun and moving toward the huge black machine purring at the curb.

It was clear that somehow Vlad had bought Trevor, although once again, Isaac felt that wasn’t quite right. Belmont’s shock in the interview room had been genuine as was his obvious hunger to finally know what happened to his family. But there was something there with Alucard and the connection was too coincidental. Just that morning he’d received word from Trevor’s landlord that Belmont had given notice and what do you know? His forwarding address was an apartment in Alucard’s name.

Isaac eyed the petite redhead between the two men and wondered. He’d looked into Sypha Belnades and it was completely unclear where she fit. Granted, her past was interesting as well, although more because she seemed to have completely thrown her upbringing out the window and her family had absolutely no idea. That in itself suggested a certain deceptive ability that made her involvement with the Tepes family all the more suspect.

She too had moved into the apartment. Was she a lure for Belmont? A side piece? A con artist? Through the mirrored glasses, Isaac watched Alucard say something to Trevor with an expression that could only be termed suggestive. I had not considered that, Isaac thought, somewhat surprised at himself. For whatever reason, he had a hard time imagining the rough-mannered, proud, scarred Trevor Belmont with the polished, graceful, elegant Alucard Tepes.

When he saw Sypha pat Alucard’s ass through the open limo door as Trevor handed off his suitcase to the driver, Isaac stopped trying to analyze the dynamic. Clearly he didn’t understand it and at this point he wasn’t going to be able to pinpoint it by guessing alone. Why are you even here, he asked himself again and knew that the answer wasn’t a good one. He’d intended to try to speak to Trevor but when he had seen the trio coming out of the sculpture building together, he'd instinctively followed them.

This is your day off, he told himself, and this is pointless. But there was a bitterness in Isaac’s mouth and he was tired of the greying edges of right and wrong. Justice was either blind or it wasn’t, and unlike his colleagues, he had not forgotten that. I just want to see where they are going. If there is an opportunity to possibly speak to Trevor, I can try. Or perhaps… his eyes drifted to the license plate: VDT 13.

Perhaps it was time to strike a little closer to home.

---

Sypha watched Trevor’s face when he saw the stretch limo and tried to hide her grin. I know, right? she thought and turned her back to Adrian so she could give Trevor a wiggle of her eyebrows. He gave her a WTF look but his spine straightened slightly. Attaboy, she thought.

“When you said your parents were sending a car, I was expecting, I don’t know, a church van or some shit. I forgot who you are, haha.” Trevor said with only a tiny thread of uncertainty in his voice. "That is a sweet ride and I kinda want to just pop the hood and poke around."

Adrian’s grin was polished silver in the sunlight. “That’s the nicest thing you could have said to me,” his smile dropped into a welcoming curve and he pitched his voice low, “and you've already ‘popped the hood’ in the nicest way possible.” His golden eyes flew to Sypha and she bit her lip, still tasting a trace of Adrian’s spend there. It’d been cock worship in its purest form when she and Trevor knelt before him and competed to see who really was better at head. Tepes swore he couldn’t choose.

She stuck her tongue out at Trevor as she handed her bag to the driver. Belmont had cheated as far as she was concerned. He’d walked his fingers back into the valley of Adrian’s ass to stroke over that sensitive ring of muscle. She’d caught his triumphant smirk when the painter had gasped his name. I one-upped him though, she thought with satisfaction. She’d slapped the blonde’s ass hard and he’d come almost instantly. As far as she was concerned, the competition is still ongoing for best head.

“Julius, how nice to see you again,” Adrian said politely and chatted briefly as he passed his suitcase over to the driver. When he ducked into the cool interior, she followed close behind, smacking his butt lightly when the driver turned. The limo smelled faintly of leather and cigars and then she smelled the roses. Adrian was laughing as he turned to her and offered her one long-stemmed white rose from a bouquet that spilled over the seat opposite him.

“My father sends his regards,” he murmured. “Apparently, he intends to ensure your Belmont boyfriend measures up.”

He passed over a small creamy card with a bold flourish of writing. Dear Ferbili Champion, no one could deserve you but I am willing to give him a chance. For you. Regards, your humble admirer, she read and grinned.

“I adore him so much,” she said, and tucked the card in her pocket. “I don’t really see Vlad as humble though.” The painter nodded with a sardonic expression.

“I have no doubt that Father thinks he is, with no question that that is not in fact, the case,” Tepes agreed.

Trevor was climbing in behind her and she heard his small exhalation. “This is better than a church van,” he said and Sypha laughed.

“Brilliant deduction there, Belmont,” she said and Julius shut the door behind Trevor.

“Can he hear us?” Trevor asked in a low voice, pointing to the privacy glass and Adrian shook his head.

“You would have to yell or open the sunroof,” the blonde said. “My father values his privacy.”

“There’s a sunroof?” Trevor said with barely contained anticipation and jerked his head up. Sypha grinned. Five bucks says he opens it… and sure enough he already was kneeling under it, pushing the little button to retract the leather cover. Sunlight poured in over him, haloing him in a little spotlight. For a moment, Sypha could see how achingly young he was; dazzled, unguarded and genuinely captivated.

You deserve everything we can give you, she thought. She laughed with glee when he opened the roof and launched himself up to yell at the world, “I'm Trevor fucking Belmont! And Godbrand can. Lick! My! Sack!”

Adrian rolled his eyes and looked at her. “You were less profane your first time,” he said and Sypha arched a brow.

“Actually, I am pretty sure I called on God multiple times… My latest prayers were a direct result of your attention.” It was pure joy to watch Adrian catch the insinuation. His smugness merged into a keenly embarrassed awareness that bloomed in a blush across his cheeks. She knew progress was being made when he licked his lips and actually engaged with the sexual innuendo.

“I believe we were both worshipping our respective deities,” he murmured, locking golden desire onto her and Sypha leaned forward.

“Ever had sex in this limo, Adrian?” she purred and his eyes went wide. Maybe not as much progress as I thought, she mused as his throat worked.

“Hey what? Who’s having limo sex? Us? Because I am inviting myself to this party,” Trevor said as he collapsed back against the seat. "I'll even smoke a cigar after." He nodded to the inlaid box on the console.

“I—uh, we—,” Adrian began and Sypha laughed good-naturedly. It was his parent’s car and there was a driver. Both wouldn’t stop her, but she knew it would give him pause.

“Maybe on the way home; but I could use a drink to rehydrate right now,” she said smoothly and leaned across to the built-in bar.

“I’m sorry, what?!” Trevor yelped and manhandled her to the side, opened the fridge and whispered a prayer.

“Belmont! If you push me any—" she started to say, even as she grinned. Adrian burst out laughing.

“I am going to love showing you all the ridiculous things about being a Tepes,” the painter said happily and Sypha felt her heart leap. This was one of a handful of times that she’d ever heard her best friend talk about his social status as a good thing. Bless you Trevor, she thought and felt the knitting of the trio tighten just that little bit.

Trevor turned from the bar with a slow smile. “I could give two shits about you being a Tepes, but I have to say I have loved all the things you’ve shown me so far, Legs. Every inch in fact.”

The blonde matched his smile with a huge grin, “Well I keep trying to show you what I feel like from the inside but you just—”

“Motherfucker, Adrian, limo sex is gunna happen if you keep tempting me with your sweet ass,” Trevor groaned and tackled the blonde back into the seat, straddling him and cupping his face. “I want to, so badly and you know that! The one time in my life I am trying to be considerate and—”

“No,” Adrian said quietly, deadly serious. “Don’t say that, you are incredibly considerate. You’ve done nothing but care about my feelings and Sypha’s since we’ve first met.”

“Aww, Legs, you don’t—” Trevor started to say with teasing affection and Sypha spoke up.

“Agreed on all fronts, Adrian. Our Belmont certainly likes to think he’s a hard ass, doesn’t he?” She snuggled in beside them and tangled a hand in Adrian’s hair, another down the back of Trevor’s pants. Warm, fuzzy and lush, his ass curved into her fingertips. “But he’s one of those little Peep chicks at heart.”

Adrian snickered but his unusual eyes, caramel in the shadow of the limo, stayed serious. “Absolutely.”

Trevor’s jaw dropped with mock indignation. “Dude, I am not a Peeps chick! That’s so harsh! I did bare knuckle fighting and whooped some ass, I will have you know! I at least have the dignity of a Rice Krispie Tr—wait, what color of Peeps?”

“Why should that even--?” Adrian asked with a snort and Sypha chortled. Classic, she thought.

“As a painter, you should understand the nuances of the color palette choice here. I mean really Tepes. The dulcet tones of the green Peep would reflect my inner dignity, the deep calm of the blue Peep my utter—”

“As opposed to your non-existent external dignity. You're pink,” Sypha said drily. “You are definitely a pink Peeps. Pink for all that asshole you constantly like to flash around.”

The sculptor’s mouth opened to deliver something blistering; she could see it in his expression and gave him a saucy leer, but the painter held up a hand.

“Wait, are you serious?” Adrian interjected, “There’s pink Peeps?!”

They both turned to him. “Wait, you’ve never seen a pink Peep?” Sypha asked him incredulously.

The blonde looked defensive. “I thought you were joking! I’ve only ever seen the yellow! How many colors are there?”

Trevor started to laugh, “This is fucking gold right here, I can’t believe you’ve ridden in a limo but don’t know—”

The painter huffed and jerked his chin up. “I hardly think my lack of cheap Easter candy education is a reflection of—”

“Hot damn, I fucking love when you talk to me like that. It’s so sexy. Like a duchess talking to her servant who’s displeased her,” Trevor wiggled his ass against Adrian who blinked and stared at Trevor like he’d just revealed he was a Muppet by birth.

“Excuse me?” the painter asked, even as he arched into the movement, black silk shirt riding up.

His pale skin was already heating up. Sypha smacked Trevor’s ass and both men whimpered. Gets you every time, she reflected.

“You’d be a purple Peep,” Trevor quipped, “Royalty even when ridiculous.”

Holy shit, yep, Sypha thought and grinned, nuzzling into the soft waves of Adrian’s hair.

“You called me a duchess, Belmont,” Tepes said with accusation, even as his hands slid to the sculptor’s waistband.

Limo sex is on, the digital artist thought happily and dipped her fingertips into the top of the cleft of Trevor’s ass. He wiggled happily, urging her fingers deeper.

“Such a pretty mouth, so aloof and snooty when it wants to be,” Trevor murmured as he leaned in and Sypha licked Adrian's ear.

The blonde jumped with a yelp, “Ow! That hurt!” He pushed the sculptor back and put a hand over his thigh. When his fingers came away, there was blood.

“Adrian!” Sypha exclaimed with concern and clapped her hand over the wound.

“Oh shit! I’m so sorry, fuck, it’s my knife, here let me—” Trevor gingerly reached into his pocket and winced. “Yeah, it’s caught on some loose string, hang on.” He turned the pocket inside out and a small blade that folded in on itself was ensnared in a tangle of string from the seam of the pocket. The tangle had teased the end out.

“What the—?” Sypha asked, staring at it. Why do you carry a knife like that? It was clearly handmade, compact for hiding and, as he opened it, she could see that it was purely defensive, the loop in the thing made to hide in the palm of your hand. With the knowledge of all women of a certain age, she suddenly knew exactly what it was for. “Trevor, oh no—”

Her eyes flew to his and he swallowed. Lord God, why would you allow that to happen to him, she thought as her fears were confirmed, has he not suffered enough?  “It’s not a big deal.” Trevor said and Adrian murmured unhappily. “I made it… a while back. Now I just, I have it. It comes in handy.” He tried for levity, “Unless it’s stabbing my boyfriend, then it’s really not.”

“Trevor, come here,” Sypha said and held out her hand.

“Please,” he said with a warning edge buried in his voice, “I don’t want to make this a thing.”

“I just want to hold you,” Sypha said, “We don’t have to talk.” There was a painful need in his eyes and she knew he wanted to but he was afraid of what might happen. What he might say. Despite all the questions she had, she knew that Trevor had to chose the time and place for that discussion. If he ever would.

Adrian stirred beside her and removed her hand from his thigh before using it to urge her up. He followed behind and together they surrounded Trevor. When they closed around him, he quaked against their frames and his breath hitched. Slowly they sunk back against the floor, propped up against the seat and Sypha slung her legs across both of them. I would protect both of you from everything that has happened, she thought, I would give anything to take back all the damage, all the hurt, all the misery. If I ever find out who hurt you, my love, I will--

“I was enrolled in self-defense classes when I was twelve,” Adrian said quietly. “My mother didn’t say anything at the time but two years ago she mentioned that an associate of my father’s had made a suggestive comment about me a week before. Given that they couldn’t always be with me, and we were surrounded by staff and strangers constantly, it suddenly seemed absurd to her that they’d never considered the possibility of—anything.”

Twelve, Sypha thought and shuddered. She'd seen photos of him in the mansion at that age. He was beautiful of course, but achingly innocent. The idea that anyone could think--

“Aikido and maybe judo, right?” Trevor mumbled, voice subdued and sad. Sypha stroked his hair and down his spine. It’s okay, I promise, she thought.

“And jiu-jitsu,” Adrian laughed softly. “Scoped me out when we fought, hey?”

A bit of life returned to the sculptor’s voice and his chuckle was brief but genuine, “That wasn’t a fight. I was too busy checking out your ass to fight properly.”

“Oh whatever, you’re just mad I ended up on top!” Adrian scoffed, a little bit of that tone that Trevor termed, ‘duchess’ creeping in. That brought a purr of approval from the sculptor and Sypha relaxed fractionally. The worst of it was over now.

“Oh hell no, I looooved it. You can be on top whenever you want, Legs,” Trevor crooned and the blonde blushed. It’d been on the table since the beginning but thus far Adrian hadn’t taken him up on it. Sypha suspected that he was waiting for Trevor to top first before crossing that bridge. Truthfully, she wondered if he ever would. The way he surrendered to both of them was gloriously submissive.

“There is that really great pool table in your wing, next to the library,” Sypha said nonchalantly and Adrian laughed, perfect teeth glinting against pale lips.

“Oh right, like Trevor would just climb up on…” he trailed off as Belmont nodded enthusiastically, shaggy hair falling into his eyes.

“I certainly imagined you fucking me into it,” Sypha said with no small amount of wistfulness. Just lifting my skirt and

“A twofer!” Trevor agreed with pleasure, “Just two asses in the air!”

“Or one ass on the table and one in the air? Do you think you could multi-task while he fucked you?” Sypha asked casually as she gave him a final squeeze and drew back for a bottle of water.

“For a taste of you? You bet I could,” Trevor said and nodded when she indicated the bottle. She tossed one to him and he cracked it. The painter was just looking back and forth between them, a completely torn expression on his face, elegant eyebrows knit.

“I thought I had a rich fantasy life,” he finally managed when Trevor took a swig of his water and then offered to him. The painter took it and a healthy swallow. “I am beginning to realize I had no idea the possibilities.”

“I told you,” Sypha grinned and stretched out on the seat, kicking her sandals off, “we are better together.”

“Better orgasms, better food, better art—” Trevor ticked off and Sypha had to chime in.

“Better art, hey? So I am not the only one?” she reached for her bag. “You two feature in my midterm work in a pretty big way.” She booted up her computer and tried to keep a straight face. She hadn’t meant to show them yet, but it seemed like a good time. Something to ease the tension. She’d been working on it on the side, just as a personal project, but had come to really love it.

“I confess that you two might also be in mine,” Adrian said in a small rush. “I hope that is alright. It’s just what I saw between you two, the first time I saw you together.”

“That sketch that you’ve been drooling over from my apartment? Up on the wall in the apartment studio now? It’s called ‘Trio,’” the sculptor murmured.

“Oh, that sounds just lovely, guys,” she said, the tiniest smile on her lips as she turned the computer screen towards them. “Mine is called, ‘Let’s Fuck,’ and I have to say, I feel like the name suits.” Adrian’s eyes practically popped out of his head and Trevor’s smile was wickedly pleased. Just about what I thought might happen, she thought.

What had started as a fantasy sketch based on the painter’s dream had become a practice in light and tone renders. She was quite proud of it. Adrian was splayed out over a tangle of sheets, golden tresses dripping over the side of the bed, wrists bound and tied to a bedpost. His arch was wanton abandon and he seemed to be straining against his bonds. Trevor was staring down at him, wearing a pair of black boots and looking like a conquering barbarian. His expression was caught between a smirk and a groan; one big hand stroking the blonde’s cheek while Adrian worked his mouth around Trevor’s cock. She rode the painter behind Trevor, hands splayed across the sculptor’s chest from behind, cheek captured in Belmont’s other palm and eyes on Adrian. 

“I feel like I caught Trevor’s expression fairly accurate to life, wouldn’t you say Adrian?” Sypha’s tone was innocent sweetness. “It’s totally the look he gets when his cock is in your throat, isn’t it?”

“I look like a warlock or a conquering king or something,” Trevor said, leaning in to study it. “You are fucking talented Sypha, holy shit. I vote we blow this up for the bedroom. Might not be able to use Staples like I normally do though.”

“You—” It came out as a gasped squeak and the painter cleared his throat. “You are not showing this in class, right?!”

Sypha did not miss the flash of pain on Trevor’s face. She had always known that they’d never be able to be open about the trio. Adrian was simply too famous. That had suited her just fine, for a half a dozen reasons. It was, however, a serious miscalculation on her part in regards to Trevor’s pride. It would be important to him to stake his claim and have a family to point to. The moment Adrian had mentioned it in the studio, she’d seen it all over Trevor’s face. We’ve handled his pride poorly a couple of times recently, she thought, and rushed to soothe.

“No, I never intended that, I was just joking about this being an assignment. Can you imagine? I think Professor Cho would have a panic attack.” She paused, “Or ask for a copy. Hard to say with her to be honest. Either way, this is for us. I am not sharing your gorgeousness.” Sypha smiled, “It started as a joke but I very much love it now.”

“It’s scorching hot,” Trevor agreed and laughed. “I’m not sure why you put me in the boots though, that’s all Adrian.”

Sypha arched a brow, passing the laptop to Adrian, whose fading blush came back full force. He didn’t look away though, she noted. “Because you look amazing in them?” the painter said quietly, studying the image now, tracing their forms with one long finger.

“Couldn’t have said it better myself,” Sypha said happily. “I would love to see you in them.” She met his eyes, “Spank you in them.”

Belmont’s grin was sultry and seductive. “Well shit, if you both wanted to see me in them, why didn’t you just say so? Adrian, pass yours over, let’s do this!”

The blonde looked down at his feet and then at Belmont’s. “I don’t mean to be an ass, but not a chance in hell. You’ll stretch them and they are Versace. You wear what? A size twelve?”

“Um, good eye,” the sculptor said with surprise, “Are you that discerning with all my measurements?”

The painter coughed and murmured, “I have a good eye for anatomy.” He cleared his throat as they both snickered. “My point is that my feet are smaller. If you wanted to shop fo—wait a minute!! Where are we?!” He pressed a button on the console and Julius’s voice answered politely. A quick conversation seemed to only add to Adrian’s excitement and he told the driver to take the exit off of Highway Five and head downtown to “Lindenfeld’s.” It took Sypha only a moment and then she clapped her hands.

“Lindenfeld’s!! Yes! This is going to be amazing!” She launched herself over to Adrian and kissed him enthusiastically, her teeth clinking against his as she laughed.

“Most definitely,” the painter murmured against her lips and sunk in. Oh, she had a moment to think before her mind plunged inside his mouth. His tongue was clever, adoring and tinged with veneration as it danced across hers. She felt his hand against her bare arm as he carefully traced up to her throat and cupped her cheek. Sypha settled against his lap and dipped her hands into his shirt.

“I am not complaining,” Trevor drawled from above them as he cupped her breasts from behind. Hello, Sypha thought happily as his skilled fingertips caressed her. “But anyone want to tell me what Lindenfeld’s is?”

Adrian broke the kiss to grin up at Belmont, “It’s your new boots, my sweet.” He gasped as Trevor pressed his palm into his throat and finished, “About 15-20 minutes away?” Sypha tilted her head back for a kiss. Trevor obliged her and brought his other hand up to her neck. Ah, yes, please, she thought. When he squeezed gently, she felt her pleasure spike.

“How quickly do you think we could get Sypha to come?” Trevor asked Adrian, mouth on hers. Like this? Pretty damn quick, she thought. Adrian slipped his hand between her thighs and stroked. She looked down to watch and the demanding, firm grip that held her throat with love refused to yield. She moaned appreciatively for it, and for the questing, sensitive fingers that traced over her lips with inviting entreaty.

“Quiet now my love. I bet you can be silent for us?” the blonde crooned at her and she felt Trevor’s hand tighten slightly. I agree, she thought, it’s so hot when Adrian talks like this.

“Let’s find out,” she said. Adrian brought his hand up and covered her mouth. She noticed he was careful to leave her nose free for breathing but his grip was firm.

“Let’s make sure,” the painter whispered, voice low and hungry. The digital artist gasped and rocked against his hands. This was a different kind of restraint but desire burned strong now. She could feel Adrian’s arousal against her thigh and the sculptor's against her shoulders as he stroked her nipple. The blonde's hand sped up as Trevor leaned over to kiss him.

---

In the end it was good he’d kept his hand over Sypha’s mouth because she’d climaxed with a distinctively feminine keen. Adrian resisted a contented sigh. It was amazing to him how instinctively they all managed to fit together. He’d been worried about how that would work, but it never seemed to be an issue.

Sypha had simply turned around, mounted him and opened her mouth for Trevor. The brunette had bent over both of them, harsh breath and rippling muscle. When the sculptor had stroked his thumb over Adrian’s lips, tucked one blunt edge inside his mouth and told them both that they were so damned pretty when they fucked, Tepes had been lost. He always came quickly when Sypha was on top anyway; something about the control and the way she moved.

It was incredibly erotic to watch Sypha slide off of him and mount Trevor, Adrian’s spend spilling onto her thigh. Trevor had a habit of using his mouth or fingers to taste their combined flavor as though he was taking communion and today was no exception. Somehow it was simultaneously romantic and blisteringly sensual. He had licked his fingers before raking his nails down her back. 

They were rougher with each other than they were with him and while it wasn’t his thing, he loved to watch them. They didn’t really give up control to each other so much as hold the reins together. Sypha would bite, Trevor would slap. Sypha would challenge, Trevor would tease. Trevor would demand, Sypha would claim. In the end, they raced with each other to fulfillment and refused to allow the other to be left behind. That included him, he’d found, much to his continued joy. It was always something, whether it was Trevor’s warm washcloth routine for all of them, Sypha’s urging of water for everyone or an extended hand from one or both.

In this moment, when Sypha collapsed with a whimper on Trevor, Belmont looked over and him and growled, “Hold her while I finish, I want to touch my lovers when I come.”

“Fuck that is hot,” Sypha murmured and Adrian had to agree, even as he moved to the seat beside them and took her back against his chest. Trevor adjusted to thrust deep inside of her. “Oh. My,” the digital artist gasped and bit her knuckle. Her lashes fluttered and one long leg extended into the air, toes curling on the sunroof cover.

She pressed against Tepes and whined deep in her throat. The painter was hypnotized by the movements of their hips, the obscenely slick sounds they made together, the glistening wetness between them. He hadn’t realized he’d reached out until Belmont rasped, “Yes. Touch us. You’re here inside her with me and I want to come with your hands on me.”

Adrian’s eyes snapped up. Trevor was a vision of fracturing control; glistening muscles, sweat caught at his brow, lips parted and the edge of his teeth peeking. His eyes were the endless blue of a burning desert sky and the words that had teetered on the blonde's tongue for days now, came knocking on the doors of his lips. Then Belmont smirked, that roguish, knowing arrogance. “Come on Duchess; say my name in that nice way.”

“Call him Your Royal Peepness,” Sypha interjected with a sarcastic tone, but her attempt at defiance was ruined by her pleasured cry as Trevor angled higher. Adrian’s moment was gone but he didn’t even miss it.

“Quiet brat, the men are talking,” Trevor clucked scornfully and Sypha smacked his chest with a fluttering hand. Oh she’ll make you pay for that, Adrian thought, and groaned as he watched her delicate flesh engulf Belmont.

“Fuck you,” she gasped out and the sculptor laughed, dropping a kiss on her outstretched calf.

“You are babe. And I’m taking it like a champ,” he groaned, as Adrian slid his hand between them. He spread his fingers to allow Trevor’s shaft to move between them while he framed her entrance.

Sypha hissed and kissed the underside of the painter’s chin. Lazy but firm, the blonde moved his hand against both of them. “Yes, oh—that’s, Adrian,” she whispered against his skin and Belmont sped up fractionally. He’s close, the blonde thought and squeezed gently. It was like being caught between two elementals seeking equilibrium—Sypha’s wet curve, Belmont’s hot crush—and he spoke.

“So beautiful,” Adrian curved his fingers, sliding with the thrust. Sypha nipped his throat and he shuddered. “Everything I could ever want, everything I need. So perfect, so gorgeous.” He danced his fingertips over where they joined and Trevor convulsed with a groan, panting and muttering endearments about his lovers.

There’d been a bit of a scramble for clothing when the limo had slowed and then a collective laugh when they realized it was just the first light into the city. Still, Adrian had yanked his clothes on quickly and opened the sunroof for fresh air. He had realized his mistake when Trevor popped up, buck ass naked and shouted, “I just had sex!” The car beside them honked appreciatively and Belmont waved before the blonde could yank him back down.

If Julius hadn’t heard that it was a damn miracle…Adrian thought again. It was a blessing that all the staff was loyal, well-paid and had signed non-disclosure agreements as well. He would never admit it because he didn’t want to encourage him but after the initial alarm had passed, it was hilarious. He took another swig from his water bottle, watching Sypha try on hats and Trevor talk with Saint Germaine, who was just a delightful character.

Saint Germaine was famous in the right circles. Every time that Adrian came to Lindenfeld’s he learned something new about the man. Saint had lived an incredibly eclectic life and spent a great deal of his time out at estate sales, auction houses and living a nomadic life. He would even go overseas if he thought it would be worth it. As a result, he had one of the most incredible collections of second-hand fashion, art, home décor and furniture in the country. Lindenfeld’s was the great meeting of money and taste and all the Tepes adored it. For Adrian, it meant that he could indulge his love for quality without taking his parents money and still afford to eat. Most of the time.

It was a pleasant surprise that Saint was actually here; more often than not, one of his clerks would be helping him. Several of Vlad’s iconic capes had come from Lindenfeld’s, Lisa’s wedding veil and literally every clothing item Adrian bought for himself came from here. By far his favorite item and certainly the one with the most sentimental value for his family was the La Peregrina.

Vlad had wanted something unique and beautiful for his 20th wedding anniversary gift to Lisa and had been consulting with Winston’s and Cartier. He was frustrated by his options, wanting something timeless and historical.

Saint had called him in the middle of the night. A two and a half minute explanation revealed that the pearl gifted from Prince Philip II of Spain to his wife Mary Tudor of England, before making its way to the Bonaparte family, and finally being purchased by Richard Burton for none other than Elizabeth Taylor, was available for approximately the next 13 minutes. Currently set with diamonds, rubies and pearls, it was a steal because they would bypass the auction house. Germaine would broker for a fraction of the fee and guaranteed authenticity. Would Vlad care to purchase it?

One transmitted photo, a call to Vlad’s personal broker and the Taylor-Burton pearls became the Tepes pearls. Between the necklace and the story, it became another headline for people to sigh over. Even their son agreed that it was terribly romantic.

Every time his mother wore it, Adrian had to admit that absurd as the cost was, and he could only guess, the necklace was exquisite. There was nothing quite like it in the world and the setting was the perfect balance of outrageous and elegant. But it was the way his father looked at Lisa when she wore it and the way she would touch it and look at Vlad, that was why he valued it so. It was one of those things he would likely never part with because of it.

Trevor laughed loudly and clapped a hand on Saint, who was telling a story about smuggling Greek statuary that sounded risque. Sypha looked over and grinned. It slapped him across the face as he unexpectedly saw Sypha in the necklace, diamonds winking and pearls glimmering against creamy skin.

It was sudden, abrupt and uncomfortable and the implications sucked the air out of the room. Thirty years from now, what would it be like? Would his lovers still be his? Would his parents still be with him, or would he actually have had to resolve the legacy of his parents and their staggering wealth? Adrian wasn’t ashamed to say that he had actively avoided thinking about his inheritance and the Tepes legacy. His intention had always been to funnel a healthy chunk to his extended family, into the Tepes scholarship, donate to a few organizations that were close to his heart, and leave the rest for any children he might have.

Adrian wasn’t blind to his own propensity for comfort and quality, but he also knew that the money he was given monthly would always be far more than he could ever use. He was painfully aware it was a fraction of what was actually in the family's name. On the other hand, he thought looking at the two people he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, I could take care of them. We could live on the island year round and leave everything behind. I could—

Sypha turned to him, “Saint says this one came from Germany, he thinks 1924? I adore it. What do you think?"

“It’s beautiful,” he said and meant it. Soft wool the color of lush berries, it framed Sypha’s face like a bloom and highlighted her eyes. “Let me get it for you, I am buying Trevor boots, this can be your gift."

Sypha laughed and shook her head. “No thank you, I can get it! I just have to decide between the grey and this one.” Out of the corner of his eye, the blonde saw Trevor’s face and his little fantasy came crashing down. The painter suddenly understood that there might be a bit of a tussle at the cash register and his exasperation rose.

He will never be a kept man, Tepes thought with frustration and appreciation. But your mother is not a kept woman and she shares everything with your father! he argued with himself. It’s different though, she came into the relationship on equal footing financially. They made their fortune together. Well, mostly. He made a mental note to ask his mother how she navigated that. She was not Belmont by any stretch but it couldn’t hurt to get her point of view.

With shock, Adrian realized that he had a lump in his throat. Would he never be sure of himself with Belmont? Would it always be a question of history and money? The blonde loved the sculptor with a painful intensity. The idea of always holding that insecure, sick ball in his stomach when Tepes tried to give him anything, hurt. He couldn’t imagine it, didn’t want to.

The painter took a breath and looked up to see Sypha watching him in the mirror. Her brows rose and he stood. “I’m just going to grab a tea from next door, anyone want anything?”

Armed with the drink orders, he stepped toward the door. The moment he was outside his phone buzzed. Are you alright? What is wrong? Sypha messaged him and he wrote back quickly, afraid she might follow him. He just needed a moment.

Everything is okay, he texted, was thinking about how to get Trevor to take a damn gift without complaining 😊

Easy, she wrote back immediately, make it a joke. Tell him until he fucks you, he will be punished.

Now there is a thought, Adrian thought with a small grin as he strode forward. He thumped solidly into the tall man who stepped out from beside the building. “Oh no! I am so sorry, I beg your—” You, he thought, once again drawn to the utter assurance and unflappable composure.

“Alucard Tepes,” Agent Isaac said. “I would have a word with you, if you please.”

--- 

Color me your color, baby
Color me your car
Color me your color, darling
I know who you are
Come up off your color chart
I know where you're coming from
Cover me with kisses, baby
Cover me with love
Roll me in designer sheets
I'll never get enough
Emotions come, I don't know why
Cover up love's alibi
Call me on the line
Call me, call me any, anytime
Call me I'll arrive
You can call me any day or night
Call me
-“Call Me,” Blondie

Chapter Text

Saint was a fascinating man and Trevor liked him on sight. Normally someone with fastidious manners who dressed like he couldn’t decide if he wanted to channel 1980’s Prince or a bored monarch at the opera wouldn’t be Belmont’s first choice, but the man was charismatic. His stories about Italy made Trevor instantly nostalgic for the trips with his parents but it soothed, rather than stung.

He’d quickly come to the conclusion that Germaine was a flirt and proceeded to enjoy an easy banter and then friendly debate on the homoeroticism in Roman statuary. They hadn’t even made it to the boots yet but like a bird with something shiny, Sypha had found the hats. Seemingly content just to watch, Adrian lounged on the couch. For some reason, the little smile the painter wore as he held court from the crushed velvet sofa brought that portrait, ‘The Prince,’ to mind.

“But apparently the Pope kept them for his own personal collection so, oh, almost 10 years ago now, some poor sod wandered around the Vatican with a box of phalluses and tried to match them up!” Saint gave a dainty snort.

Trevor roared with laughter. It was too easy to see some blushing scholar in the dead of night holding up dicks to the statues and muttering, “too big,” “too small,” “just right.” He clapped a hand on Saint and tried not to wheeze. “My folks forgot to mention that when we toured.”

“To be sure, it is not part of the standard spiel,” Saint Germaine winked at him. “But I like to think that there are those of us, present company included, who understand the importance of the full picture when it comes to art history.”

Trevor grinned, “Absolutely. This is the kind of art history that I would never tire of hearing.”

Germaine arched a brow, “I might have another story then, although this one is about—” Trevor’s ear caught Adrian telling Sypha that he intended to buy Trevor’s boots. Fuck that, Belmont thought instantly, I can do it myself. I don’t want you—

“Perhaps that story is a little much, I apologize,” Saint said smoothly and Trevor’s attention snapped back.

“No, I am sorry, I just remembered something annoying. Please, I do really want to hear it.” Belmont urged, offering an apologetic smile. Out of the corner of his eye, Trevor saw Adrian stand.

“I’m just going to grab a tea from next door, anyone want anything?” the blonde asked. Moments later, Adrian was gone and Sypha wandered over to them, a brilliantly cherry mauve hat in her hands.

“Ah, madam, excellent choice,” Saint said smoothly and put out his hand. “I will place it by the till for you if you would like.”

“Thank you Saint, that would be great. Before you run off though, tell me, is there anything that Adrian has on layaway?” What does that mean? Trevor wondered. Why would Adrian have anything on layaway?

Saint smiled. “Indeed, he does, would you like to see it? Our little secret of course. You are thinking for his birthday, I presume?” Trevor started slightly, thinking of the commission request. Just how soon was Adrian’s birthday anyway?

Sypha batted her lashes, “Why Saint, you know me so well.”

“Mr. Belmont, would you be able to make an excuse to Mr. Tepes when he returns?” Saint’s voice was conspiratorial. “We’ll need to go into the back for a moment.”

“I take it this is something Adrian wants and you are thinking of getting it for him?” Trevor asked Sypha and her grin was huge. “I’ll think of something; go, have your fun.” They walked off arm in arm.

“Why layaway?” Trevor mused quietly, eyes roving over the hats, scarves and handbags. Usually you put things on layaway because you couldn't pay for it up front. Why would Adrian need to do that? Finding nothing interesting here, he wandered down the aisle, nodding to one of the clerks arranging knick-knacks on a shelf. He came to the foot of a winding staircase and went up. It was quiet but brightly lit, the sun streaming in from giant windows at the end of the loft. A large painting hung at the top of the stairs. Finely rendered in oil paints, it depicted a pirate’s chest overflowing with gold coins, strings of pearls and gems winking in dim light. A lovingly polished brass plaque adorned the entire span of the top of the frame. He read the spidery script: “The Infinite Corridor.”

Okkkay, Trevor thought with amusement, and stepped into the room. The space downstairs was ridiculously organized and spread out like a fashion magazine. This was different. Still filled with beautiful things, it was more haphazard, shelves featuring all manners of items. It’s a treasure trove, Belmont thought, feeling more at home than he had down below. It wasn’t so different from his thrifting really. It was all a matter of hunting and he was an excellent adventurer.

He picked up a small paperweight with a swirl of gold and red in the center. $25—the tag said. Okay, it’s different, he thought as he carefully placed it back. No touching Belmont, he told himself. It wasn’t an unreasonable price truthfully, but simply unobtainable for him in his current circumstances. He needed to remain watchful of his finances and keep his goals in mind. Being with his lovers made that part of him relax somewhat but he needed to stay aware or he could find himself in serious trouble.

Scowling, he put his hands in his pockets and turned. Sypha was right, you have a hang up, he admonished himself. Of course I do, there is no back up plan for me. No other chance. Nothing else I could do.

He stopped in front of a rack of ties and belts, staring unseeingly at them. Is this what Adrian feels? What about Sypha? I know they are passionate about their art and I know it matters to them but what if they can't make a go of it? What would they do? Where do I fit in there?

Frustrated with this train of thought, he flicked his hand against the belts. The leather parted and something geometric caught his eye. “Hello, what are you?” he asked, distracted and grateful for it. He extracted it from the pack and held it up to the light.

It was handmade; braided and wrapped leather, slightly worn but surprisingly supple. The buckle though, that was what had caught his eye and looking at it, his interest deepened. It was a little longer than his thumb and shaped like a diamond but the edges were sheared off and indented. Rising out of the diamond was another one, but folded upward to create a three-dimensional form. Delicately threaded in the center of it was a silver chain.

“You are entirely too cool and I think I need you.” It was a sculpture and paying for art was not something Trevor generally blinked at, although he rarely bought. Still, the price tag made him wince. I’ll just hold it for a moment and see if I—

He heard Adrian’s voice. The words were muffled but the tone was coldly furious. Instantly alert, he gripped his find and charged over the window. Looking down he saw Isaac. Motherf--

He couldn’t see Adrian but he could hear him, just above the hum of the street. “You suggested that he caused his parents death. If you think I would consider anything—”

“You! Son of a bitch!” Trevor exploded in a hiss filled with venom and whirled for the stairs.

----

Carefully, Adrian composed his face and narrowed his eyes. “I have nothing to say to you.” You humiliated my beloved and dragged him through the campus in handcuffs, he thought. You drove a wedge between us because I had to call a lawyer.

Isaac was tall, contained and dressed entirely in black, save for a vermilion red Pashmina scarf that was neatly tucked into the neckline of his coat. It wasn’t that cold, Adrian thought, even as he appreciated the elegant exclamation of color against the clean lines of the trench coat. The agent spread his hands, all reason and tranquility. “I am not here in an official capacity whatsoever.”

“Excellent,” Adrian said coldly and made to step around the man. “Then we are done here.” Be gone before Trevor sees you and the good mood is ruined, the painter thought. I would guard his happiness from you.

“I had hoped to speak with you but I suppose I could find Trevor for another discussion,” Isaac said calmly.

Adrian whirled and felt his temper flare. “This is harassment and Soma will have a field day. We will get a restraining or—“

Isaac was studying him with those endlessly patient eyes. The predator he’d seen in them was stalking now and Adrian felt a deep unease. He trailed off and the federal agent spoke. “You love him; how interesting. I had not considered that possibility. It seemed…unlikely.”

Oh no, Adrian thought with serious concern. Trevor made him far too transparent to too many people. He would have to work on tempering this reaction down as far as possible. He forced himself to plunge into that placid, numb place that he reserved for his interviews and public appearances with his parents.

“What a charming thought. Of course, not one I would share with you, even if it were true.” Adrian replied in a completely neutral tone. He was aware that this was like facing down a hungry lion with no fence between them. There was no question that Saint would show the agent the door the moment he tried to interact with the trio in his shop, but the damage would be done. Adrian was under no illusion that the tale would reach his father as well, should it come to that.

Shit, he thought, now there was a mess. Father would not care to be associated with a person of interest to the FBI.

Immediately Adrian bristled at his own thought. Trevor was not a person of interest. He was being systematically harassed and that was something that his father would understand and would not tolerate. In fact…

“My father would not take kindly to your continued attention to my friend,” Adrian said with a hint of warning. It was love that had him invoking his father’s formidable name in defense of Trevor, in a way that would never occur to him to do for himself.

Isaac’s smile was ice glinting in a winter sun and there was something unpleasant under the surface. “Your father has an intriguing history with your friend. You might very well be right.”

The painter simply blanked out for a moment. Years of hiding his emotions served him well. His face remained impassive, seemingly considering. Internally, he scrambled to dodge plummeting panels of the stained-glass windows of his heart. The longer he absorbed the agent’s words, the more the colorful glass fell onto him, until the ground was glittering shards. That's impossible, there's simply no way, he thought instantly. How? But the agent's face remained impassive, his eyes direct.

There was no history, his brain whimpered. There can’t be. He’d never heard either of his parents mention Belmont International Gallery and as far as he knew, they’d never bought from them either. Which actually, was something of a surprise considering how prestigious BIG was within the artistic community. Wait, hadn’t there been a couple of purchases from BIG for… No, that wasn’t for the Tepes collection, that had been a gift to the National Art Museum. Two portraits…

The painter suddenly realized that the silence had been absolute for too long.

“I am afraid I have no idea what you are referring to,” Tepes said calmly, arching a finely wrought brow. “My father has never met Trevor.” That he could state with certainty. There had been no hint of recognition or suggestion of it when they’d spoken on the phone. For Trevor’s part, he was certain the sculptor would have told him ahead of time, especially given their conversation on the scholarship.

It wasn’t like there was some conspiracy to hide something from him.

“That may be true, but Lord Tepes knew his parents. Did business with them,” Isaac paused, “Eight figures worth of business.”

That’s impossible, Adrian thought immediately and opened his mouth to refute it.

“Not all at once of course,” Isaac continued. “Their business ties lasted a few years.” Well that can be explained—“and only ceased with their deaths.” The emphasis that the FBI agent put on the word deaths made his world shiver and the stained-glass windows in his heart trembled again. The hungry lion had pounced.

“My father had nothing to do with that.” Adrian worked for serenity. Never show emotion, he recited like an incantation. Breakdown in private. Don’t give them anything to talk about. “Any business that he conducted with the Belmonts—if he did at all— would have related to the purchase and sale of artwork. He has an extensive collection and—“

“Yes, he does,” the FBI agent interrupted. There was a small crook at the side of his mouth that couldn’t decide if it was a grimace or a smile. Despite himself, Tepes’ fingers itched for his sketch pad. “As does your mother. But all those purchases go through his broker, do they not? And there is usually a referential addition to the Belmont Art Trust Collection website. Neither of these things happened in this case.”

Doubt was a rotting fruit on his tongue and Adrian said nothing. There are many things I am not privy to, he told himself, it doesn’t mean there is something underhanded at work. He hated to wonder, even as those measuring, confident eyes found his. The blonde wished ardently that Isaac would look away. But he didn’t.

“Furthermore, these were personal transfers,” the man said, lobbing rocks with the cruelty of a schoolboy. “The money came from a discretionary expense account and correlated with an influx of funds from several sources. I am still tracing those back to their source but your parents put a sizeable amount of their own cash into—“

“Stop.” Adrian made himself laugh, a dry husk of his normal melted honey tone. Inside, he was wailing. “This is absurd and insulting. No wonder you are not here in an official capacity! If any of this were true the Justice Department would—“

For the first time, Adrian saw an emotion rise from the depths of Isaac’s guarded eyes. His skin prickled and he stopped speaking immediately. It was pure self-preservation in the face of something terrifying. “Your father is an extraordinarily powerful man. Justice doesn’t always survive such influences.”

Adrian took a step back and Isaac’s overpowering menace disappeared just as quickly. There was a small tell though, when the agent carefully straightened his cuffs and tilted his head. It was enough of a careless, needless motion that it underscored his sincerity.

He’s not lying, Vlad’s son thought with such deep horror that it threatened to scream through his skin and fill the air with a soundtrack of wails. But he could be wrong, his heart shouted desperately. If my father had anything to do with the deaths of the Belmonts…

Trevor, the painter thought and knew it would be over between them. There would be no forgiveness for that amount of sin, that pain ran too deep and too strong. And could you blame him? Adrian asked himself. Would I still be in love with the son of someone who had a hand in the destruction of my family? Besides, he doesn’t even love you. He cares for you and wants you, but that’s a far cry from the kind of love that would survive such a thing.

“You love Belmont.” It was not a question and the painter did not respond either way. “You love your father. I wonder,” the FBI agent said carefully. “Which love might spur you to ask the most important questions?”

“And what questions might those be?” Tepes asked sarcastically, fear hammering nails at the base of his throat. This was a public execution and all he could do was hide the damage until he could escape.

“Why are they lying to you?” Isaac asked simply, hands in the pockets of his coat.

“Oh, now it is they?” The blonde scoffed, even as his mind creaked in protest at the new weight. Not his mother too. There was no bearing his father much less if his mother was implicated. He would not survive the certain decimation of his heart.

“Yes, although I confess, I haven’t been able to determine any connection between Christopher Wise and Vlad as of yet. “ Not Mother, Trevor. As though Belmont and Father were—

The FBI agent shrugged, a tiny shift of his shoulders. “It appears that you didn’t even know that it was Trevor when you made the purchase. It may have been an incredible coincidence. But how many can you accept? How many will I?”

The tiniest whimper escaped the painter and he quickly firmed his lips. He’d suspected of course, but this was confirmation. It’d nagged him when he’d seen the sketches of ‘Trio,’ but the blonde had told himself it was impossible, just a coincidence. It became a shattering certainty the moment Sypha had uncovered ‘Torrent,’ at Belmont’s old apartment.

How stupid could you be? his brain had screamed at him. This was why Wise’s work had seemed so familiar and the same reason he’d kept copies of some of C. Leon’s photographs that were submitted with his application. That deep sense of knowing, connection, seeing oneself in the mirror of another’s soul. Here it was again and riding on the cape of a profound agony.

Did Belmont think he was a fool? Did he simply not care if Adrian knew? Did he think that the painter wouldn’t mind? Worse, did he intend to hide it forever? The ugly part of the blonde’s mind, the part that was always on guard against being used, spoke up abruptly. How many coincidences around money are you going to ignore? it had asked him.

Like a landslide, the love had buried it all with calm reason. It was entirely possible that Belmont had no idea Adrian had bought his work. He’d struggled to remember if Trevor had caught that part of the presentation in the drawing class. He recalled that the sculptor had come late that day but it was a blur with the FBI showing up.

His mother and he had left instructions that Alucard’s purchase remain sealed until after the show because he hadn’t wanted additional media for the opening. Wanted to be able to be genuine when he met the artist whose work touched him in such a profound way. The irony of course, was this particular artist had touched him far more than he'd originally thought.

Trust him, his heart had said. Whatever the reason, this is his secret and you have no right to confront him about it. You assumed the worst before, do not do it again. Instead, he’d allowed that wonder that always overtook over him when he looked at the sculptor’s work to seep in.

It filled him, brilliant as a breaking dawn through dewy grass and he’d put his hand out to touch. The moment his fingertips had swept over the twisting metal, faintly glowing like it was filled with buried embers, he’d known it for certain.

How many identities did Trevor have? He’d pondered, almost amused. How long will he lie to you? His wounded heart had asked. Until he can trust you, his brain retorted. It’s up to you to give him that space and love to make it possible. You destroyed it before when you accused him for the scholarship; will you repeat your mistake?

So he’d said nothing and only spoke the truth of his admiration for the breathtaking piece. But that night as his lovers slept, he’d touched the glittering metal with his heart in his throat and reminded himself he was lucky. That he had more than he deserved already. But still he ached.

The next morning he’d called the gallery in the safety of an empty classroom. He’d given Hector permission to tell Christopher Wise who’d purchased his art and about the first option on all of his works. He’d be damned if the piece in the sketch he’d seen in Trevor’s studio would go to anyone but him. And that was before I knew it was ‘Trio,’ he thought possessively.

“Christopher Wise is a talented artist. So is Trevor Belmont.” Tepes hedged, as his mind raced. A painful clarity descended, the chill of a mountain wind in the sweltering room of his emotions. Of course, that would be why, he thought and felt marginally steadier.

“If the FBI hadn’t insinuated that Trevor was involved, perhaps he wouldn’t need a pseudonym.” Perhaps he wouldn’t believe he murdered his parents! he snarled inwardly. “You suggested that he caused his parents death. If you think I would consider anything you have to say, you have delusions of—“

Isaac’s sharp disbelief was plain and it was troubling. Adrian paused. “Now that was something you didn’t know, wasn’t it?” Maybe there was an opportunity here for him to get some answers for his lover.

“Godbrand told Trevor that the text he sent to his cousin was the reason that his parents were murdered. However, his cousin never texted him back and none of his family will speak to him.” Something about the disgust in the man’s gaze prompted the blonde to continue. “Trevor knows nothing about how the case is progressing and is tormented by it.”

Isaac’s mouth compressed unhappily. “The case is ongoing and I cannot—“ Adrian hissed and stepped around him. It shocked both of them when the FBI agent put out his hand and settled it on Tepes’ shoulder. His grip was urgently tight. “He didn’t.” Isaac said in a quiet rush. “His cousin never told anyone. You can only share th—“

The door slammed open hard enough that the cheerful greeting bells clanged with terror and fell to the ground. Deadly rage stepped out onto the sidewalk. Isaac’s hand tensed and the painter’s breath caught in his throat. He’d seen Trevor angry before but this was something else.

The patched camo pants and scuffed army boots that he’d always thought were cute seemed menacing now and the faded picture of the monster from Aliens seemed somehow less laughable as it leered from Trevor’s chest. The torn edges of the sleeves framed tensed muscles that bulged with anticipation. The trio of chains and their crosses clinked quietly as the cords in the sculptor’s neck stood out, running a line of tension down his entire arm to his clenched fist. His knuckles were white and the vein in his forehead pulsed.

When the Belmont spoke, it was low and filled with barely contained malevolence. It wasn’t a warning or a threat. It was a vow. “Touching him was a big mistake, Isaac. You messing with me is one thing, but putting your hands on, Adrian? You’ve crossed the line.”

This is ridiculous, Adrian thought, even as his heart thrilled at Belmont’s protectiveness. Okay, hot, but still.

“I am not afraid of Vlad T—.” Isaac began, even as he removed his hand carefully.

Trevor’s scoff was filled with derision. “He is not your immediate problem. I was speaking for me.” His smile was unfriendly, but triumphant. “Although, Vlad sends his regards.” He nodded behind the two men and Adrian closed his eyes when he heard Julius clear his throat.

This is a whole other problem, he thought with dismay.

“I’m going to have to insist that you step away from Master Tepes, sir,” Julius murmured quietly.

This is going to be a huge disaster if I don’t do something right now, Adrian thought, as people coming out of the coffee shop behind Julius nudged and pointed.

“I am a—“ Isaac began, reaching for his badge.

“Don’t do that,” Adrian said coolly. “All my father’s men are armed and you haven’t identified yourself prior to reaching. He would be justified in shooting you and I do not want that.”

“Speak for yourself,” Trevor said softly, even he shook his head to Julius, who ignored him.

“Master Tepes, please move away from this man,” Julius said and the painter did, backing up to Trevor who stepped in front of him.

Julius relaxed slightly and came around to Isaac’s front, subtly standing to the side of Trevor, creating a barrier between Tepes and the agent.

Oh for the love of—Adrian thought, I am a grown man and there is no danger here! “I am fine you two. Isaac was not threatening me. Please, people are staring.”

Isaac had not moved and now he looked to Trevor, “There is only so much you can avoid for so long Belmont. This will not end well if you do not ask.”

Ask what? Adrian wondered, inhaling sharply.

The sculptor hissed. “I won’t, and I don’t believe you.”

Isaac regarded him calmly and simply said, “I think Alucard does.”

Trevor stiffened and he took a step forward. “What did you tell him? Why? I won’t let you hurt him or his family, Isaac. You’ve overstepped yourself and if you think—”

“Please stop,” Adrian said quietly, putting his hand on Trevor’s shoulder and giving a gentle squeeze before his hand drew away. When he tried to ease by the two men, he found himself blocked. Irritation rose, but he was mindful of the audience they had garnered.

With an inner wince, he noted that two women standing across the street had their cell phones out and were likely recording. Motherfucking hell, he swore in his head. He would have to call his father right away so the publicist could prepare a statement.

He spoke from behind two shoulders, on the step of Lindenfeld’s and in a low, urgent tone. “Agent Isaac, thank you for the words you gave me prior to this interruption. I am afraid I have nothing else I can say in regards to your queries. I lack the knowledge to answer your questions. I will consider, and please note the emphasis I put on consider, what we’ve discussed. If I have anything further to add, I will be in touch. May I have your card?”

There was a flicker of surprise in the agent’s eyes before his gaze settled on Julius. “May I reach for my badge and my card? I am a federal agent, although, I would stress to all present, that I am not here in any official capacity.”

Julius nodded and Isaac deftly plucked a card from his long coat and presented it to the bodyguard, who took it.

Trevor growled, vibrating with anger. “Are you fucking kidding—”

“Please, there is a crowd, please, Trevor,” the blonde begged and used the shield of Julius’ body to stroke a heart into Belmont’s back. The sculptor shuddered but thankfully fell silent. I love you, the painter pleaded, please, let us deal with this in private.

“Let’s go back to Sypha,” he said to Trevor before turning to Julius. “We will be a while yet still. I have purchases to make.”

“Of course, sir. However, I will remain here.” He kept his eyes on Isaac. “As a precaution.”

Damn it, there was no way Father wouldn’t hear about this now, he thought bitterly.

“I am leaving. Alucard, please call me. I beg your pardon for any misunderstanding.” The agent turned and moved toward the onlookers. He didn’t hesitate or look at any of them and the crowd simply parted for the tall, dark apparition who disappeared as silently as he’d come.

---
One man come in the name of love
One man come and go
One man come, he to justify
One man to overthrow
One man caught on a barbed wire fence
One man, he resist
One man washed on an empty beach
One man betrayed with a kiss
In the name of love
What more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love?

-"Pride (In the Name of Love)," U2

Chapter Text

They watched Isaac move into the crowd until he disappeared.

“Motherfucking piece of shit that I would just—” Trevor turned to Adrian and took his arm. “Inside. Now.”

Julius cleared his throat again, in such a way that made Adrian’s already strained nerves shriek in protest. Trevor turned to the man; teeth bared. The driver didn’t bat an eye as he spoke, “My instructions are very clear, sir. Master Tepes is not to be harmed. By anyone. Friend or—”

Oh no, Julius, don’t, Adrian thought, but it was far too late.

“Fucking friend.” Trevor snarled again and Adrian felt the hair on the nape of his neck stand up. Trevor had been pushed too far, too fast by this scene with Isaac and they needed to get somewhere private now.

“Stop, both of you. Trevor, let’s go. Julius, I assure you I am fine, he will not hurt me. Please, give me a moment here to finish up and we will be on our way.” He opened the door to the boutique and locked eyes with Belmont. The moment stretched out like an ancient bicycle tire that had been overinflated. The cracks were showing now and the slightest pressure in the wrong direction would cause an explosion.

With a bad-tempered jerk, the brunette strode through the door and Adrian followed him. Thank you, Trevor; thank you, the blonde thought and then realized the sculptor was moving. Belmont stalked to the back of the store and Tepes skipped to catch up.

“There you guys are!” Sypha said with a laugh before she got a good look at Trevor’s face. “Oh shit, what…?”

“We need a minute Sypha; please just distract Saint? Please, I must talk to Trevor.” The redhead nodded and headed in the opposite direction, one worried glance back. His pause had caused him to fall behind the sculptor again. His apprehension grew as he saw Belmont barrel through the door to the restroom. Not willing to draw attention, Adrian refused to run, but his step was quick when he hit the door. He half-expected it to be locked but it opened under his hand.

The space was small, elegant and clean. Towels were piled by the gleaming sink and there was a faintly fresh cotton scent in the air. The lovely oval mirror over the sink showed him that his eyes were too huge, his skin too pale. Anxious awareness stared back at him with the pleading sadness of a fawn lost in the woods. Don’t do that, he thought, trying to firm his chin.

Where--? He started to wonder but as the door swung shut behind him, he saw Trevor out of the corner of his eye. Dark intent rolled off of Belmont like mist off the side of a mountain and the blonde’s anxiety peaked hard. “I’m—” Adrian started to apologize, but it was too late.

“You are mine,” Trevor grated harshly and roughly pushed him against the door. “Tell me, I need to hear it.” There was something burning in his eyes, like a forest fire looming on the horizon, seemingly far away but much closer than you would think.

He’s far too angry, Adrian thought with alarm and a flare of awareness, and we’ll both be burned.

“Trevor, it’s not about that—” the blonde started, reaching up to grasp the tense wrist that pinned him to the door.

“The fuck it isn’t,” Belmont growled at him, and wrenched the hem of the silk shirt out of the waistband of his slacks.

Wait, what—Adrian had the chance to think before strong palms stroked up the scar on his chest. The thought was lost in the powerful sensations sweeping over his torso and falling into his limbs.

“You want me to watch. To be silent—” Trevor’s thumb stroked over the blonde's jaw in time with his hand on bare chest, thumb dipping down to press against the side of his windpipe. There was no stopping the flutter of the painter’s eyelashes as his eyes rolled back in blissful surrender. “While Isaac manhandles you and I do nothing?” His mouth followed his hand over Adrian’s jaw, retracing his steps in the snow of the painter’s skin. He bit down, frank, forceful demand, until the painter moaned.

Yes, just like that, the blonde thought as the door to rational thought swung closed.  He forgot where they were, he forgot who he was and he forgot everything but the burning heat spreading under his skin and the release sought, that could only come from the man touching him.

“You want me to let the damned limo driver protect you,” Trevor nipped down his throat, each edge of his teeth sending shudders through Tepes. “While I pretend to be your friend?!” The outrage was so bitterly unhappy that it cut through the heaping mounds of lust and the painter's eyes flew open.

Blue so fierce it seemed to unravel from Trevor's eyes stabbed into the blonde with miserable fury. “Fucking say it, Adrian. You belong to me.”

“I do,of course, but…” the painter started to say, his tone placating. Belmont snarled, a wild, angry warning.

“You,” the brunette spat out with poignant frustration, “Are,” he grasped Adrian’s wrists and drew them up over his head, working one wide palm around the joined limbs. “Mine.” The last word was a hissed vow that tangled everything inside of the painter into a tight, airless knot. There was no request in these words, only demand to acknowledge what they both should already know.

It was a lashed cord between them, pulling tight and thick until there was no breath lost between them, no sensation that wasn’t felt by the other. The world spun. Suddenly the blonde found himself pressed heavily into the door, Trevor’s substantial frame a solid, hot weight against his back.

“There is no escaping it, Adrian,” Trevor crooned into his ear, somehow loving, somehow threatening. “No escaping me now.” Desire twined with nervousness. I don’t know what he is saying, what he is doing, the painter thought, breath coming in small gasps. I’m not trying to… That darkly satisfied voice, right in his ear, “Mine.” A hot, wet lick on his throat, just under his ear. The voice was Trevor, but there was something in the shadows that was riding shotgun inside him. “No ‘buts,’ ‘ifs’ or ‘ands.’"

Tepes tried to understand what was driving this. Surely the sculptor knew that there was no question of their relationship. We all belong to each other, he thought. He knows that, doesn’t he? Or is it that he…

He felt Trevor’s fingertips push his hair to the side and then, suddenly, there was a divine, tugging pain. Belmont had latched onto his neck and set his teeth on the tender flesh. Adrian squirmed against the sculptor with a whimper, unsure if he was trying to get away or arch closer. It didn’t seem to matter to Trevor. The brunette cradled him, hair pulled firmly to the side, teeth gripping firmly, skin caught just as surely as Adrian's body was. Bizarrely, it felt protective, just as much as it felt possessive.

I can’t survive this, Adrian thought wildly. It was delirium, to be touched with such intense focus. To feel the need slapping against his skin from Belmont’s frustrated words, and live the translation of it into desire in those strong, clever fingers. The sculptor was sowing fields of it; healthy, potent crops springing up as though Adrian’s nerve-endings were the rivers feeding it.

He still couldn’t move. For a moment, he wondered what would happen if he really tried. The helplessness should have disturbed him. The complete loss of control should have horrified him. He’d fully intended to demand Trevor let him go immediately. But when he opened his mouth, the sound Tepes made was the purest note of submission and he didn’t even know it.

But Trevor did, and it infused his throbbing, impotent fury with a heady certainty.

There was a slow, hard grind against his ass and Adrian keened, lost but to beg. “Oh yes, more, give it to me. Trevor please. Please.” Belmont did it again, just as slowly, and flexed his jaw, teeth digging into the sore spot on the painter’s neck.

Adrian gasped and made a low, needy sound as he felt the unmistakably hard length of Trevor’s arousal. He tried arch back, to curve his ass more firmly into the rigid heat and Belmont bit down a fraction harder. It hurt and Adrian gave a little cry, but the sculptor had already released the skin from his mouth.

“Not a chance, Tepes.” Belmont licked over the abused spot. “We’re not going anywhere until this is solved. You seem to be confused about what we are, and that I just won’t tolerate.” Adrian’s pride prickled. That is more than enough, the painter thought with rising temper and Trevor thrust against him, hard enough that the blonde squeaked. His cock was caught between his hip and the door with a slight pinch. Despite himself, Adrian’s lust catapulted into the sky.

“You wanted me to fuck you, right? Well, I am, but…” the brunette’s thrust again, adding a little slide that dragged that glorious length against the valley of the blonde’s ass. “Huh," there was undisguised satisfaction in Trevor's voice. “That ‘but’ can make all the difference can’t it?”

Adrian wanted to make a quip about butts in general but his mouth seemed unable to form sounds that weren’t prayerful little pleas. How did he know how much I needed him to touch me like this? The thought crawled through the torrid want. I didn’t even know it. With shocking competence, Trevor was decimating him. Thought, pride, protest—none of it existed in the protective snare of his lover’s body.

We aren’t even undressed, the painter thought with bewilderment, while Trevor’s scraping journey across his ass elicited another frantic pant of desire from the blonde. But somehow, he is fucking me. He was hyper-aware of the fully aroused state both men were in. And it’s everything I wanted and nowhere near enough.

The need for skin on skin was steadily building, but Trevor was relentless. The brunette maintained a continual, throbbing thrust that worked its way inside his body until Adrian was writhing. He wanted relief from his fabric prison; he needed the heaven of the sculptor’s skin against his.

I always wondered what it would feel like, if he touched me without restraint. It is as consuming and blistering as I thought it would be. It was a descending skyfall that blanketed him in an endless sunset. It set fire to his flesh in a rainbow of color. It was fulfillment and uncertainty, a kiss upon the brow and an oath in a foreign language. It was belonging.

“Say it,” Trevor murmured in his ear, breath warm on his cheek. “Tell me you want me, you want this. Tell me you are mine.” He thrust again, dipping low between the painter’s thighs, brushing up against his trapped shaft as the sculptor ran his hand alongside the blonde’s narrow hips. Every touch, every full body press was seeping into Adrian’s flesh like a cement roller laying new road. What new roads are we making?  He wondered, what will I look like after this?  “You know it’s true and I want you to admit it,” Belmont coaxed.

I don’t even know what I am admitting to! The blonde thought with frustration. I don’t know what point you are trying to make! But it didn’t even seem to matter, his body had already answered for him. “I am,” the blonde whispered, something coiling inside of him, some rising, pulsing creature unfurling its wings under his ribs. What is he doing to me? What does this mean?

“You are…?” Trevor persisted, pushing his collar further down and setting his teeth on a taut tendon. He bit down and Adrian gasped. It danced on the edge of pain, bright, screaming and filling his brain with careening pinwheels. Certainty dropped into the heart of the storm. He’s marking me, leaving a physical indicator of his possession.

“I am yours,” he sobbed out, undone by the purposeful claiming, unaware of how much emotion lay behind those words. That winged creature under his ribs spread its limbs and smiled. He was free falling into that mouth, filling the sharp teeth with his surrender, bliss running down Trevor’s throat and filling his belly with everything he had to give.

Trevor groaned into his throat, deeply pleased and hungry. “Say it again. You belong to me.” He bit, higher towards the throat, and just as hard. Adrian gasped. The pleasure and sensation of being obtained was heady and overwhelming.

“I am yours Trevor, I am. You are the only man I want. Please, touch me, just—” the painter was abruptly released, his arms falling as Belmont yanked his hips backward. Adrian braced against the door and the sculptor snaked his hands around the blonde’s front; deftly unsnapping his slacks and dipping his hand inside them. Hot, calloused fingertips cupped his shaft. Adrian broke, curling his fingernails into the wood of the door and rocking with abandon into that blissful grip and against the promise in Trevor’s cock. “Oh my God, we can’t here, I can't-I-I will. Fuck me, Trevor, please, please —”

“You are mine.” Belmont crooned into his ear sweetly as Adrian fucked his hand. “None of this bullshit façade, fucking friendship pretense. No questions, no doubts. I can’t stand it; I won’t.”

Alarm blossomed in the midst of ecstasy. There is no other choice, Adrian thought. I told you this. I thought you understood. It’s not how I want it to be, but how it has to be. “Trevor, I can’t promise—” the painter began, an anxious edge of concern, and the sculptor interrupted him.

“Don’t.” Stroke.

I don’t want to lie to you, the blonde thought, even as his mind sunk right back into that glorious grip.

Stroke. “Belong to me, here and now,” the brunette growled. His words were underscored with emotion. Stroke. “Stay.”

Does he think I want to leave? Does he think that I even could? There is no loving another man like this; there is no other need like this! His love blossomed out like tea steeping into the waters of his desire. When Tepes spoke, it was with such devotion that Trevor was stunned by it. Humbled by it. Swayed.

“I will never leave you. I want you. I need you. More than you know.” He reached back, and stroked his fingertips over the side of the sculptor’s lower back, the fabric hot and soft. Trevor’s breath caught and his hand on Adrian’s cock stilled. “There is no question for me." Adrian told him. "I am yours. Whatever you need that to be; I want to give it to you. I am yours.”

“Adrian,” Belmont murmured against his hair and eased back. The comforting, exciting, forbidden weight was lifted and for a moment the painter was actually sorry.

It’s better this way, he told himself, if he’s calmer, than he is rational. The storm inside his lover was abating and it would be alright. A little shudder went through him. What it had felt like to be caught inside this, and how much he had liked it? He could examine that later, when it was safer.

He was turned slowly and that’s when he realized his mistake. Anticipation slammed back into him with the force of the earth rushing up to meet a skydiver. Trevor wasn’t calmer and there was nothing rational in his face. The moment sharpened with vicious lucidity. The brunette’s eyes seemed to glow with a supernatural assurance, jaw set determinedly and the tiniest smirk playing on his lips. The smirk seemed to say, ‘I will take everything from you and you will love me for it.

That’s the problem though, isn’t it? Adrian’s heart said quietly, I already do and you can't take what I would give you without question.

“Whatever I need?” Belmont asked, eyes locked on Adrian.

The painter’s heart plummeted like a ripe apple falling from the tree. This is why you don’t promise without knowing what you are saying, he admonished himself. A harsh exhale. The flex of a jaw. Whatever was mine to give freely, the blonde thought, I would give to you.

“If I can give it; I will,” Adrian said, and he meant it. Even the things you might not want, he thought, like this love that would devastate everything in everyone’s lives.

“Look in the mirror,” Trevor said and pointed to the sink. He stepped out of the way for Adrian, who blinked and jerked his head towards the sculptor.

And see what? he wondered, confused and a little afraid. “Why?” the blonde asked, and moved to slip his cock down into the confines of his clothes and close his slacks.

“Don’t,” Belmont snapped. “Just look. Tell me, what do you see?”

Apprehensive dread spilling over his lust, Adrian shifted uneasily. Trevor slipped to the side and glided up behind him. A firm hand on his back propelled him forward and Tepes’ hands flung out to grasp the sides of the sink. “What—” he began, when Trevor’s hands snaked around his front and pulled him tight once more. With one to his throat and one to his cock, the sculptor resumed his wicked, grinding movements on his ass and rhythmic strokes. Trapped between the sink and his lover, Adrian struggled to stay calm.

I can’t hold out against this, he thought frantically. I can’t hold out against him. He fervently worked to keep his gasping moans hushed.

“I’m still waiting,” Belmont drawled, “Tell me what you see.”

Adrian couldn’t look beyond the gorgeously erotic splay of skillful hand on his welted throat and the contrast of tan tendons flexing against pinked, rigid cock. It was unbearably vulnerable and scorchingly erotic. Adrian’s lust escalated with an eagerness that left him reeling. Trevor held him, a darkly possessive phantom that hovered over his shoulder and murmured into his ear, “Look at you, you are so beautiful.”

Adrian couldn’t look. There was something terrifying about this. In an unfocused blur, he could see the man Trevor was telling him to look at; a panting and shuddering form in the corner of his eye. That man was lost to reality, lost to responsibility, lost to everything and everyone but what was happening here. He gripped the sink and closed his eyes. The darkness offered him no escape, as the lust clawed and writhed inside of him.

“Adrian, look at yourself.” Trevor said, tempting, demanding, unrelenting. “Look at what we are together.”

“I can’t,” the painter said with a desperate, pleading whisper. “It’s too much.” There was a sharp pull on his hair and suddenly that mouth was there; a piercing, feral bite that seemed to take a bloody taste of his heart. Tepes’ eyes flew open.

Unbidden, his stare met the drowning honey gaze in the mirror; those wide, frantic eyes and he was caught.

Look at me, he thought in a daze, absorbing every obscenely intricate detail. The flex of his belly, the heaving chest, the flickering agitation in his darting tongue, the pale, parted lips and pink flush on his cheeks. The hard, relentless movement of Trevor’s hand over his cock and his white-knuckled hold on the sink. There was something in his eyes that was blind to reason, running rampant like an unleashed, wild thing.

It's like I could be anyone, anything. It's like there is no one else in the world but us.

Trevor released his bite. “Magnificent. Seductive. Mine.” The brunette snapped the words like they were kindling, eyes on Adrian. When the blonde’s gaze found his, Belmont smiled, a knowing, keenly pleased beast showing its fangs.

Mine, lover,” the sculptor rasped. “Mine to care for, mine to pleasure, mine to hold, mine to worship. You know it.” He pressed his hand to Adrian’s throat, “And I know it. No pretending. No avoiding. Mine.

The blonde's climax was cresting; a huge, overwhelming force that was crushing him just as surely as Trevor’s words were. “I’m going to—” he gasped out. Belmont was already turning him, falling to his knees. Adrian was devoured by that wet, hot divinity and felt the scrap of teeth that had collected his surrender in tiny stinging points of conviction. He covered his own mouth to muffle his strangled shout, unable to look away.

Eyes on his, Trevor reached up and pulled the blonde’s hand down. The painter’s whimper only seemed to urge the sculptor on. Their gazes were locked on each other, the honesty and need as forceful as a wind tunnel between them.

When his lover pressed two questing fingers into the valley of Tepes’ ass, the painter exploded into Trevor’s mouth. With a half-hissed, exultant groan of his lover’s name, Adrian rocked into him and fell back against the sink.

Trevor fisted his hand into Adrian’s hip and kept going. The sculptor dipped a fingertip inside of him and rotated gently. “Oh fuck, Trevor, it’s too much, it’s too—ohhhh my God,” as he spasmed shamelessly into Belmont’s mouth. This was pleasure so immense it toppled pain. This was agony so sublime it tumbled into the void of desire. “Yes. Yes. Yours. Yours." His mind was imploding, burrowing for any way to communicate this. " Mă distrugi.*The Romanian just spilled out.

Trevor rumbled affirmation in the depths of his chest and his fingers thrust shallowly into the painter. Tepes was Icarus too close to the sun; glorious, terrified, found, and suddenly falling. The painter finally broke the shared gaze, his head dropping back, blonde hair tumbling down, hips thrusting shamelessly as he clung to sanity.

I love you, he thought and found another way to say it. “Te iubesc; sunt al tău*,*” he mouthed, barely a sigh, barely a sound.

---

“So, inevitably I had to tell her that I was flattered but not interested,” Saint delicately coughed. “I would rather have fucked her husband.” He smiled faintly. “Which, actually, I did do, later that evening.”

Sypha cackled with genuine pleasure. “That is fantastic, holy shit! Good for you; that’s how you do it!”

“Thank you,” Saint arched a brow. “I like to think it was poetic justice.”

“The best kind,” Sypha agreed and smiled.

Saint looked up and offered a smile of welcome. “Ah! Mr. Belmont!” Sypha turned and looked up, opening her mouth to greet him. His hand gripped the back of her head with firm proprietorship and he fit his lips to hers for a quick, hard kiss. He caught her off guard and was practically vibrating with emotion. When his tongue darted in, she tasted Adrian and her eyes flew open.

What had happened? She wondered with growing unease. Tepes would never risk sex in Lindenfeld’s. It was too exposed, too dicey. Trevor’s eyes were banked possession and the embers of a fury so hot she could feel it on her skin. Not now, they seemed to say to her and she swallowed hard. “I missed you too,” she managed and Saint Germaine chuckled.

“I would take a welcome back kiss too, if you were so inclined,” the man said drily. The digital artist could see her lover visibly work for calm in his eyes. What had happened?! She wondered with real alarm. And where was Adrian?

“I’m afraid I tend to be a touch covetous,” Trevor said and Sypha blinked. Covetous? Who are you? she wondered and resisted a snicker. It was like Adrian had stepped out of his mouth for a moment. “I only kiss my lovers like that.”

His control was completely in place when he stepped around her chair to Saint’s. He bowed slightly and with stunning grace. Where did he learn to do that? Sypha wondered with surprise. He took the man’s hand and kissed the top of it with gallant aplomb. “Hopefully this will at tide you over.”

Saint’s grin was sweetly shocked and it was charming to see him slightly flustered. “And they say chivalry is dead.” He fanned himself with delicate exaggeration. “My thanks Belmont, I suddenly feel nineteen again.”

“And you don’t look a day over twenty-five,” came Adrian’s quiet quip. Sypha whipped around and took him in. There was a faint blush on his cheeks and he approached her with his eyes just over her shoulder. It took her a moment but she realized that his collar was done up, all the way to the top. She only noticed because he never wore his shirts like that. His hair was slightly mussed and draped over his shoulders, not tucked behind his ears and tossed back.

“Oh,” Saint fluttered, “Bless you! I just might have to kiss you!”

There was a low, threatening noise from Trevor that made her eyes flare wide. It was effectively lost in the sudden and abruptly loud exclamation from Adrian as he laughed, a little strained. “Trust me, my compliments are more exciting, Saint.” He turned to Sypha and smiled but she could see that his defenses were fully engaged, eyes painfully neutral. “Any luck with boots for Trevor?”

Play along and get the fuck out of here, Sypha thought with concern. Something was wrong and the two men needed privacy to resolve it. Part of her wanted to scream in frustration. Would it never be simple? Could they never just be happy?

“Oh yes!” Saint said with real joy. “I found some things in the Infinite Corridor and I have—”

“My belt! Shit, I’ll be right back; sorry.” Trevor turned to go, but Saint stood.

“You found a belt in the Corridor?” Germaine asked and the sculptor nodded. “Excellent, well let’s just go there then. I made a small pile by the mirror for you.”

Trevor smiled, slow and easy and offered his arm to Saint. “Let’s have a look, shall we?” Saint batted his eyelashes and sashayed over to the younger man.

“So gallant,” he murmured and took it. The two men started down the aisle together. Sypha stood and Adrian put a hand on her shoulder. When she turned and looked up at him, she could see his eyes were still guarded.

“It’s alright. We are alright. I am just—" He tucked his hair behind his ears and she saw it. Angry red and purple with indented teeth marks peeked out from the collar of his shirt. It looked fresh and painful.

Jesus,” Sypha hissed unhappily. What the fuck Trevor! “That’s a fucking bite.” Adrian flushed bright red and quickly untucked his hair. She didn't miss the tremble of his lips and regretted her outburst. Fuck, I didn't mean to shame him!

“Wait!" she said urgently. "I mean, it’s whatever, as long as you are okay with it. I don’t like biting like that, but so what? It doesn’t mean you can’t.” She took a breath, “I’m sorry, I'm not judging I promise. It just surprised me. It looks like it hurts.”

For a moment, just a glimpse, Sypha saw his confusion, his love and his awe. “It aches but it’s…comforting. I want to talk to you about it later. I don’t know, exactly, what just happened, but I think,” he swallowed, “I think Trevor might… I mean, he is very protective. It’s sexy, but it’s also—I love him. It makes me happy, that he feels like that.”

The worry and concern untangled inside of the redhead. It made sense, sort of. They’d had an argument, made up and now were being careful about—“Wait, why was he protective?” Adrian’s face changed and he firmed his lips.

“Agent Isaac was here and no, we cannot talk about it right now. I won’t risk anyone overhea—oh fuck, I can't believe I forgot! I have to call my father right now.
---

You don't want to hurt me
But see how deep the bullet lies
Unaware I'm tearing you asunder
Ooh, there is thunder in our hearts
Is there so much hate for the ones we love?
Tell me, we both matter, don't we?...
…Oh come on, baby
Oh come on, darling
Let me steal this moment from you now
Oh come on, angel
Come on, come on, darling
Let's exchange the experience
It's you and me
It's you and me, won't be unhappy

-"Running Up That Hill (A Deal with God)," Kate Bush

Chapter Text

Saint knew who Trevor Belmont was of course. The young man had immediately reminded him of someone the moment he’d entered the boutique but it had taken him a while to place Belmont. When Miss Belnades had mentioned his last name, it had clicked.

Germaine made it a point to know a little bit of everything and he had an excellent memory. As someone who adored art and relied on a network of contacts to make his business successful, he’d brushed up against the Belmont International Gallery more than once. Furthermore, Dominic Belmont had been a stunning man and Saint always looked twice at a good looking man.

Trevor looked like him; same solid build and richly dark hair. Young Belmont was less refined and rougher than Dominic had been, but that just added extra spice as far as Saint was concerned. The man’s piercing blue eyes and that captivating, warm charm though? That was all his mother, Penelope. 

Saint suppressed a sigh. He’d liked the Belmonts quite a bit. He certainly hadn’t been intimately acquainted with them but had dealt with them a number of times and considered them friends. He'd known about Trevor but never met him.

It had shocked him when the scandal broke. He thought himself an excellent judge of character and the Belmonts had seemed honorable to the ground. There had never been anyone prosecuted for their deaths and the forgeries that they’d created were still out there, although as far as he could recall, only a handful had ever been confirmed. Normally scandal was just delicious broth but this one had saddened him.

Why the Belmonts had done forgeries when it was clearly such a tiny element of their business, but held such risk, had always bothered him. As a business owner Saint knew one bad sale, one whiff of fraud and you could lose everything. It certainly cost them everything in the end. It puzzled him then and it baffled him now. I suppose we shall never know, he thought sadly and gazed at their son.

He was a looker, and if Saint was thirty years younger, he would give Ms. Belnades an elbow aside. For that matter, if he’d been of a different mind, he might have booted young Belmont out of the way to get to her. The girl was charming, and if Saint was so inclined, certainly his type—bold, intelligent and kind. She had a singular eye for fashion and a fabulous sense of humor. Unlike many women who were as attractive as she was, she wasn’t vain. Saint preferred to be the vain one in a relationship, thank you very much.

Together, Belmont and Ms. Belnades were a striking couple and judging by that kiss, very much in love. His romantic heart fluttered. Young love was always so dreamy and passionate. Ah well, he needed to focus on the task at hand. He bent down and opened the box, presenting the contents to Trevor. “These would be your staple wardrobe boots. They combine a flexible and re-solable Blake stitch construction with premium calfskin uppers and—” Belmont’s mouth was quirking and Saint paused. “I take it this was not what you had in mind?”

Trevor looked down at the boots he was wearing and Saint did his best not to cluck sadly. Truthfully, if he’d been permitted, he would give this man a makeover. Belmont should be wearing Givenchy or perhaps Dior. A sleek suit with a crisp, open throated blouse, perhaps a silver chain with a cross, since he seemed to have an affinity for them. At a minimum at least Calvin Klein slacks and a blazer. Not, the business owner squinted at the faded label on boots that should be in the garbage, Merrill? What was that anyway? Such a travesty!

“I was thinking something more like what Adrian wears,” Trevor said, flashing that gorgeous smile.

Saint felt his heart flutter again. Careful now, you know better than to fall in love, he told himself. That’s just foolish. Unfortunately, Saint knew he was a bit of a foolish man. Count on a Tepes to bring him someone else to love. Adrian had introduced Germaine to Sypha in last year. It’d been all of ten minutes before Saint was ready to take her home and feed her cake while they watched fashion week together and gossiped about the royal families.

He already adored the Tepes family to pieces. He’d known Vlad through mutual acquaintances and they quickly became friends. When he’d met Lisa, Saint had known that they would last. The owner was fond of telling people that he’d seen them falling in love from a mile away. When they’d had Adrian, he had been happy for them but disappointed; after all he didn’t care for children.

One visit with the young family to drop off the Victorian pram and wish them well had changed his mind. The lovers were clearly blissful happy. The babe was beautiful and right from the start, incredibly reserved. Watchful with those unusual eyes, the boy seemed to see everything and remain above it all. Adrian had grown into an even more gorgeous, aloof and proud man.

Saint thought him too serious at times, after all, when you are young, beautiful and rich, you should be living it up. Adrian actually went out of his way to live a quiet life and Saint might have held that against him, except that kindness and tenderness made him a soft touch. I am weak for a good heart, he thought. He’d seen Adrian with his mother and father. There was no one more kind, loving or devoted to his parents than the Tepes heir.

Still, the family could be odd. Take this layaway business. Adrian refused to charge his purchases to his parents account, instead paying installments on items before taking them home. It was bizarre, especially given that Saint couldn’t fathom where else Adrian got his money but his parents. It’s not like he works for it, the man thought, so why the charade?

But some things you never asked a customer about, and certainly not one that was as loyal as Adrian Tepes. However he wanted to pay was his business, and he always paid, which of course was what Saint cared about. “Boots like Mr. Tepes? Of course, I beg your pardon!” Pleased that he wouldn’t have to attire this wonderful specimen in frankly lackluster ankle boots, Saint dropped the box unceremoniously. “Were you looking for black leather? A heel? Mr. Tepes tends to wear knee-highs…?”

Belmont smirked and Saint accepted that the flutter in his heart had melted into a full-throated pounding. Trevor's smile was lethal. “I was thinking, you know, ‘baise moi’ boots,” the brunette said.

It took Saint a good moment to understand and when he did, he couldn’t help his pleased smile. ‘Fuck me’ boots, now that was something he would be very happy to sell Belmont, he reflected.

“Mr. Belmont, I believe I have underestimated you,” Saint purred. Trevor laughed, an appreciative, warm sound. “Would you allow me to select some things for you?” the older man asked and Trevor smiled. Germaine consigned his heart to perdition.

Didn’t John Lennon say, ‘All you need is love?’ he pondered as he went down the stairs to the shoe area. Really, what could it hurt to love one more beautiful creature? He was so very charming after all.

---

Sypha watched Trevor charm Saint with a clever mix of flirting, honest observations and genuine pleasure in the owner’s company. Belmont could be completely endearing what he wanted to be, she knew from personal experience, but this was next level. She suddenly wondered when Trevor would have had the opportunity to act this nuanced ballet of manners and innuendos in the past.

I wonder if he would ever tell me, she thought.

She had looked up the scandal on one of the library computers. The redhead didn’t ever want him to see it in her search history. Sypha believed in knowing what she was up against and she needed to know exactly what the extent of the scandal was and the implications for the future. What she’d found broke her heart and made her angry.

Trevor was never expressly accused of anything but the things the FBI chose to say ‘no comment’ to, left a lot of open-ended questions. Left room for the casual observer to wonder about the rest of the family.

If you met him, you would know instantly that it’s all bullshit, she thought again, watching Trevor’s face. There simply wasn’t anyone she knew with more integrity. Why was Agent Isaac here? she wondered unhappily. What did he want and why won’t he leave Trevor alone? She watched Saint pull out the first boot and winced. She certainly understood where Saint got the idea, but that was yuppie to the ninth degree and not Trevor at all.

She could tell from the sculptor's face that he was going to correct the mistake and smiled. Her phone vibrated and she pulled it out. An email from a classmate on a group project distracted her from the ensuing conversation and then Trevor nuzzled her neck. “Whatcha doing?” he asked her, snaking a hand around her hip.

“Answering an email to an overly anxious classmate and getting felt up by my boyfriend,” Sypha answered him. He snickered and his hand snuck upwards.

“Technically I was snuggling, but I am happy to feel you up babe,” Trevor cupped her breast and she batted his hand, pressing the send button on the email.

“Save your energy lover, Saint is going to have you prancing any moment now and you’re gonna need it.” Sypha retorted drily. “If you get less than a three-inch-heel I will be shocked.”

“I can take it,” he grinned, “especially if it means I get sexed down.” Sypha rolled her eyes even as she giggled and his hand snuck back up.

Entirely too clever for your own good, she thought, even as her breath caught.

“Yeah, you can take it, but can you walk in it is the bigger quest—” Trevor was giving her a saucy grin and she raised a brow. Alright, what am I missing? She thought.

“Yeah, there was a time in my life not too long ago, where I wore heels fairly regularly for about five months,” Trevor snickered. “I’m sure it’s like riding a bicycle.” He nuzzled her again, and nipped at her neck. It was a touch too hard and she shied away. She kept her hand on him to maintain the connection, but shook her head.

“No, I don’t like the biting, remember? Sorry,” Sypha said, and meant it. She didn’t want to turn him away but she also didn’t want to be bruised. “I just want to remind you that I don’t want to be bitten too hard, please.” His face was confused for a moment and then a blush rose on his cheeks.

“Shit, I am really sorry, I did forget that,” he murmured apologetically, his hands dropping away.

No, don’t, I do want to be touched by you, she thought.

“I know,” her smile was understanding, “I’m not upset with you and I do want the snuggles, just no bruises please.”

She leaned in and kissed him, cupping his face. His fingertips were gentle on her hair and he sighed.

“I’m feeling…a touch possessive right now, I apologize,” he offered, quietly. Sypha nodded and burrowed into his arms.

“It's okay, really. Adrian told me Agent Isaac showed up.” Trevor stiffened. “That fucker. I don’t blame you. I would knee him in his—” Sypha broke off as Trevor’s mouth curled in a snarl.

“You would be able to!” he exploded quietly. “He won’t let me do anything. Motherfucking Julius was allowed to protect him! Me? I had to just take it, watch it happen and do nothing.

“What would you have done?” Sypha asked him soberly. What choice do you think there was, Trevor? she wondered.

“Honestly, Sypha? He put hands on Adrian. I was going to deck him but then Julius was right there, hand under his coat and I suddenly realized—” he raked his hand through his hair and prowled the length of the shelf with his hand, touching items at random. “I suddenly realized that I was powerless. I couldn’t do anything to stop this without making it worse for him. People were watching. Isaac could sue him for serious money or get shot or I could get… there were consequences that I’ve never had to live with for reacting in a way that seems very natural to me.”

“You didn’t realize just what it meant to be with him, did you?” She asked him. This is a huge blow, she thought with real sorrow. It never occurred to her that Trevor hadn’t understood just how famous Adrian was. How much of his life was lived behind doors and how that would extend to anyone with him. She'd understood it but she'd also had time to absorb it. It also suited her circumstances well.

“No, he told me but I just—,” he shrugged helplessly, “I didn’t really think about what that meant. I just wanted him and to hell with it all.”

You wanted him, but this is him, she thought ruefully. You just wanted to pretend it wasn’t.

Sypha went to him and covered the tapping fingers with her hand. Miserable blue eyes met hers and her heart bled for him. It isn’t fair, she thought, for any of us but especially for a man who had such pride and integrity. “I had time to, Trevor, you haven't. I understood what it meant and I should have warned you, but I thought you understood it. His fame? Being a Tepes? The pressure is enormous and you never are really alone when you are in public. Even being his friend isn't without it's exposures.”

“Fucking friends. That’s what we would be in public, forever?” The hand under hers fisted and he jerked. “So someone could hit on him, right in front of me and I would have to bite my tongue?”

“You want the good news or the bad on that front?” Sypha asked him and he gave her a pained look.

“There’s good news?” he asked her with an unhappy sigh.

“Adrian gets linked to women all the time in the tabloids. Literally every single one of them is false. You know this, personally, now.” Trevor’s small smirk was a relief but that stubborn glint worried her. “There was even a small article on me when we started hanging out. His publicist released a statement that we were just classmates.” She smiled ruefully, “Ironic, don’t you think?”

Trevor hissed; smile gone. “Sypha, I don’t know if I can do this.” He spread his hands. “I live very honestly.”

Excuse me, what? she thought. Why does this make us liars? She narrowed her eyes. “Being private isn’t dishonest. It’s a shield for our right to live without interference. Adrian is on the phone right now with his publicist, protecting what he loves.”

“I understand protection, Sypha. Hiding what we are to each other?” Trevor shook his head. “That isn’t protective, it’s lying. You haven’t thought about what this would really mean, to have to deny—.”

Sypha felt her temper rise. “Of course, I’ve thought about it! I just know that he is worth any sacrifice I have to—.”

There was a movement on the stairs and they both turned. Adrian stood there, a pale, golden figure, remote and delicate on the top step. He was looking at them, his face unreadable. Shit, Sypha thought, how much did he…

“Why are you discussing this in public?” the blonde asked softly. There was a tense edge to his voice.

Damn it, she thought and exhaled.

Trevor lowered his voice when he spoke, but there was an answering bite to it. “Because it needs to be resolved? Because it came up?” He gestured in a tight sweep. “We are alone up here and—”

Don’t, she thought, Adrian is right! She struggled to keep her temper and her mouth both locked down.

“I could hear you halfway up the stairs, but you didn’t hear me until the top,” Adrian said, clearly trying to be reasonable. “All I am saying is that perhaps we could keep this tucked away for the vehicle?”

“And all I am saying is that perhaps this is insane and I need a minute to—” Trevor hissed back and Adrian turned and looked down the stairs.

“Ah! Saint!” His voice was pleasant and inviting. “What did you uncover this time?”

Sypha watched Trevor’s face burn with fury. He gripped air in two open claws before fisting them down into his thighs and turning to stalk to the window. Sypha took a step forward and then stilled. Give him his space, she thought. She didn’t agree with him and he knew it. Best to just give him a minute.

---

Something was going on. Saint was nobody’s fool and he lived for drama. He had heard Adrian asking Belmont and Belnades to stop discussing something. That in itself wasn’t an issue but the blonde's body language when he had asked was very interesting. Whatever they’d been discussing had upset the Tepes heir. He’d only seen Adrian unnerved a handful of times and could tell immediately.

It was funny really. It was because the man was reserved and cool that his tells were obvious when they happened. It was always his hands; clenching, toying, playing, or in this case, fisted in his pockets.

The tension in the air when Germaine had climbed the stairs to the Infinite Corridor was as thick as a wool blanket and just as itchy. It had lain heavy between his shoulder blades and scratched against his skin. When Adrian stepped aside to let him and his assistant through with the boxes, the blonde murmured a polite excuse and disappeared down the stairs. It had been exceedingly disappointing as Germaine was hoping to have his expert opinion on a pair of exquisite Victorian-style black leather thigh-highs that he’d come across only a month prior.

There weren't many men he would have thought might be able to pull them off, but Trevor was leggy and frankly, just sassy enough. He had hoped that Belmont wasn’t so angry by whatever was going on that he would be offended if Saint had chosen wrong. If anything screamed ‘fuck me boots,’ though, it was those, he thought again with a grin.

The look on Belmont’s face when they’d gotten to that box had been amusement, admiration and relish but Miss Belnades' face had been particularly gratifying. “Those,” she’d whispered, voice throaty. Saint had murmured an agreement and Trevor had accepted the gold zebra striped Chanel shorts he would need to wear to try them on without hesitation.

And stripped without hesitation, Germaine remembered.

Propriety had dictated that he give Belmont his privacy but Saint might have taken his time turning around. The owner fanned himself just remembering. Trevor was all rippling muscle and easy strength, just like a classic movie star.

A real one, he thought happily, not those pretty faces with plastic abdomens that Hollywood churned out like disappointing party favors these days.

It’d been Germaine’s sincere and genuine pleasure to smooth the leather up and over those fabulous thighs, the red interior disappearing as he tightened the laces. Trevor even let him tie the top in a bow, inches from a very tantalizing bulge. Frankly, that had been the thrill of Saint’s whole damned month. There really was nothing like a solidly corded thigh, brushed with hair and sun-kissed flesh that was wrapped up in leather. He sighed longingly.

When Belmont stood up, tiny shorts barely covering his ass, the amazing package that Saint was doing his best not to mewl over cupped lovingly in black and gold leather and those outrageously long legs encased in gleaming black, the owner thanked God that he had cameras in the store because he would be keeping this footage.

The brunette sauntered over to Sypha and shook his ass in her face with what could only be termed talent. Saint was pleased that his assistant’s gasp covered his own. The man could move and the store owner never would have guessed. Trevor had obviously spent some time in heels before. Still, when Ms. Belnades had smacked his ass with a half-glazed stare and a jaw-drop that had taken a good fifteen seconds to snap shut, Saint had to hide his moan with a cough. 

Germaine had to actively resist making it rain in that moment. The owner had been in the middle of thinking Sypha was the luckiest woman in the world when the wheeze from the stairs had made him turn.

It was always the hands, he reflected as he looped the security feed back. Mr. Tepes’ hands gave him away every time.

The blonde’s fisted hands had been practically crushing the newel post, lips parted and eyes wide as he looked at Trevor. Adrian was very, very good at hiding his emotions, but in that moment he was an open book. Saint had suddenly wondered exactly what was the nature of the relationship Belmont and Tepes shared. There was nothing 'friendly' in that needy, possessive stare.

It was enough of a clue, Germaine thought, and then there was the fistfight at the till over the boots.

He frowned. That was a bit unseemly, frankly, he thought again. They had argued about who would pay for the boots and shorts and Trevor had actually jerked on the blonde’s hair at one point. Part of Germaine was fascinated to see Adrian so furious, and part of him had started to be concerned about the possibility of having a brawl in his shop.

It had ended with a hissed exchange between the two men several paces away from the till. Germaine had desperately wanted to eavesdrop but Ms. Belnades had kept him busy by asking him about his upcoming travel plans. It seemed that Tepes had won because he paid. There was something about Belmont’s smirk and the fact he murmured, “punishment indeed,” when he collected the box made him wonder exactly how Tepes had won. If Tepes had won.

At least they didn’t fight over the belt, he thought. Although it was a hint unto itself, wasn’t it? It certainly fit into the ‘punishment’ aspect. I mean what conclusion could one draw from the facts? he reflected.

Belmont could wear heels like a pro and selected a belt that was made out of BDSM gear. And he was built like a warrior, seemed absurdly strong and was obviously dominant as hell. I knew that loving him made sense, Saint Germaine thought as his life-long submissively bottom heart yearned.

It almost makes me proud of Adrian, Saint thought as he typed in the approximate time he thought the trio arrived. He started to fast forward, noting with interest Trevor’s abrupt race down the stairs. Well, you don’t know that for certain, maybe Adrian just wants hi… Saint watched the high speed movement of Belmont moving in a straight line from the door to the bathroom and Sypha talking to Adrian before the blonde followed him. 

The minutes ticked by and no one emerged from the bathroom. In another angle, he can see Ms. Belnades and himself chatting happily over the three items Mr. Tepes had in layaway. A smile crept over Saint’s face.

Oh dearest Adrian, I didn’t think you had it in you, he thought and felt real pride even as he chuckled. Literally. And in public no less! Saint almost wanted to hang a sign up on the bathroom door. If there was anyone worth throwing your reservations out the window for, it would be young Belmont.

Finally, Trevor emerged and closed the door behind him. Saint paused the video and looked at the man. Saint nodded at what he saw in Belmont's face. Excellent. He picked up the phone and paused, gazing at the frozen frame of the man before he dialed the number by heart.

---

I try so hard not to get upset
Because I know all the trouble I'll get
Oh, he tells me tears are something to hide
And something to fear
And I try so hard to keep it inside
So no one can hear
Hush hush, keep it down now, voices carry
He wants me, but only part of the time
He wants me, if he can keep me in line
-"Voices Carry," Til Tuesday

Chapter Text

Trevor knew what was coming but didn’t want to discuss it. It was too close to home for him and he was raw from it. I don’t know what came over me, he thought. I bit him, bruised him, I-I completely lost it. Oh bullshit, you know exactly what came over you; don’t fucking lie.

The sculptor considered himself a simple man. Sure, there was some sorting to do in the boxes of his heart, and the attic of his mind could use a good spring cleaning, but overall, his needs and his emotions weren’t complicated. Take love for example. He loved two people in his life. Yes, they were different, and yes, the way he expressed and felt love for each of them was distinctly separate, but the basic aspects of loving them were the same.

Protect, provide, nurture, adore. Really simplistic stuff, right? Apparently not, he thought sourly as Adrian and Sypha discussed drive through versus restaurant. He’d said he didn’t care and he’d meant it. Really, he just wanted to be quiet for a moment and give himself a chance to finally unwind. Fortunately, they were content to leave him to his silence.

To my brooding, really, he thought, because there is nothing I can do about this situation and I refuse to regret what I did. Especially because Adrian liked it. There was no denying Adrian’s intense response and glittering surrender to being possessed and marked by the sculptor. It had awakened a fanged beast waiting in the dark and Trevor wasn’t sure he could lull it back to sleep. It’d been an overwhelming need to claim and imprint himself on Adrian.

I’m not sure I want to close off that part of myself with him anyway, he reflected and remembered the foreign words the painter had gasped out. He wanted to ask what they were and had forgotten. Belmont suppressed a groan and shifted. Best not to think about all of that right now.

The hold between the men had never seemed so tenuous as it had on the steps of Lindenfeld’s. Watching Julius defend and care for the man he loved; unable to even speak lest he make it worse. What the fuck was I supposed to do with that? he thought unhappily.

He’d had to shut up and pray that Isaac wouldn’t do any further damage with all that bullshit about the Belmonts and the Tepes. As if Adrian needs one more reason to question why I am with him, Trevor thought, fisting his hands.

Staying silent while Isaac once again brought his world down around him went against every instinct Trevor had and he had hated it. So much for protecting, the brunette thought, looking at the soft smile playing on the painter’s mouth as Sypha told him French fries didn’t count as lunch. It was an old argument between them and even the sculptor felt his mouth quirk.

Sypha reached out and touched the painter’s lips with an exasperated grin and Trevor’s heart clenched. He’d never been in this position before, where he had to hide his love. He couldn’t touch, couldn’t claim, and couldn’t protect what was his.

Thank God I can with Sypha or I might not make it, he thought. Adrian is mine, dammit and I can tell no one. I can do nothing.

The impotent helplessness was nauseating and too close to the emotions regarding what happened with his parents. It twisted inside of him like a writhing snake, eating his pride, his heart, and his self-worth with venomous bites. I can’t protect, he fretted, and I already knew I couldn’t provide.

He’d somewhat come to terms with the fact that he would never financially support Adrian and by extension, Sypha. It wasn’t something that he absolutely had to do, but it was important to the sculptor that he contributed. But he couldn’t. There was simply was nothing he could provide that the man couldn’t simply buy for all of them with his fucking pocket change. Including my art, he worried again, pleasure and pain orbiting together.

The discovery of the blonde’s love for his art had made that simpler in a way. He had decided that he would simply give Adrian whatever artwork struck his fancy. Of course, if he wanted every single piece, I might have a problem, Trevor thought but brushed that aside. He couldn’t imagine that was possible.

Now I just have to explain Christopher Wise. That would be another painful conversation and given how tumultuous everything was right now, he just couldn’t see it ending well.

That left nurturing and adoration remaining; two things that Sypha did significantly better than he did. It came easier to her and more authentically. I’m not romantic, he reasoned, and I never have been. I am not soft and I am not giving. I demand, I challenge, I take. I love fiercely but it’s not ‘comfortable’ and it never would be. I’m just not built like that.

Belmont wasn’t good at restraint and tenderness. He always communicated his devotion better with his body and his actions than his words. He looked at the bruises on Adrian’s neck and winced. Whether the blonde liked them or not, no one could say that was romantic or comfortable.

Once again, he was left wondering why Adrian was with him and the brunette didn’t care for it. He could have anyone and being with me has brought him nothing but trouble, he thought bitterly. Does he wonder if it might be simpler; more gratifying to be with someone from his parent’s world? Does he regret how quickly this has all happened?

It was staggering, really, when you thought about how quickly they’d gone from strangers to friends to lovers. Adrian had welcomed him into his life with aching vulnerability.

That is just his way, he reflected. You’ve seen him with Sypha. Besides, you are his first lovers, he thought, trying to ignore how his heart snarled back ‘only’ to him. He invited you to live with him, come home to his family with him…

Yes, but he confused affection and lust for love before, remember?

Affection and lust are more than enough, more than you ever could have expected. It should have been enough.

It would have been enough for you before you loved him, Trevor mused.

Was there a before? It seemed the sculptor had been in love with the blonde forever now. There was no question for Belmont why he was with the painter. The love he had for Adrian was a rapidly expanding universe and it blotted out the sun. Twinned with Sypha, it was a galaxy of possibility.

Not knowing if it was reciprocated by the painter, whether Trevor would be allowed to keep the trio despite all his shortcomings left him terribly vulnerable. With every new issue, he felt another rung in the ladder fall away and that beautiful spiral of stars slip further into the blackness of space.

Was lust and affection enough? Would it tie the painter to him in ropes of love as securely as Trevor was chained to him? The doubt scooped out his serenity and flung it on the ground with the glee of a baby in a highchair.

If you would just take him like he wants you to, that fanged beast hissed and Belmont shoved it and the colossal yearning it summoned, aside.

He’d never meant to draw it out or leave his lover wanting, but he was afraid of it now. Trevor was terrified of how much more there was to feel, how much more of himself would be exposed in the taking, and if it would be the final thing Adrian needed from him before he let his troublesome lover go.

There was no question for him that Sypha would stay with Trevor, love him and support him. It was just her way. That would be the biggest reason he might survive such a thing. She would stay with Adrian too though, and there was no denying that the situation would split her cleanly. He could never ask her to do that. No. It would be better to let her stay with Adrian and Trevor would…

Stop! Don’t think like that! You aren’t giving up on anything without a fight! Be in the here and n—

“Trevor? That work for you?” Sypha asked him and he tuned back in. They had decided that the limo would stop at a local bistro and Sypha would run in to grab everything. If he hadn’t been so immersed in his own thoughts, he would have wondered why Julius couldn't have done the errand but that was lost on him.

“How hungry are you?” Adrian asked the brunette and Trevor shrugged. The sculptor was actually very hungry; he’d been nervous about the weekend so he skipped breakfast and this emotional tempest wasn't helping. Unfortunately, he didn’t want to spend any more money today so he would just have to suck it up. The belt, although he was immensely pleased with it, was an unexpected and costly expense. He needed to make up the difference.

Trevor touched the sculptural buckle absently and said, “I’m good; something small—just a banana or apple?”

Something inexpensive, he thought. Meanwhile, his casual stroke of the belt was like a neon sign to his lovers what the actual issue was.

“I’m really hungry myself,” Sypha said cheerfully. “I’ll just get an extra side of something added on for you then, cool?”

Trevor nodded and passed her his wallet. “I have cash in there, just use whatever you need for mine.”

Adrian looked thoughtful. “You know, sides reminded me that they make an incredible pasta salad here with olives, peppers and genoa.” Trevor did his best not to pout. Watching them eat genoa was going to hurt.

“Count me in on some too,” the blonde continued, “Instead of the tea. I think there is some bottled water in the fridge and I’d rather have the food.”

“I was going to get the pasta too! Should I just get a family size? It’s huge but we can just eat whatever we can. It would be like $2.50 each then, especially if we went three ways?” She looked at Trevor, “Pasta salad okay with you?”

Hell yeah, are you joking?! he thought but just grinned happily before nodding.

“Good stuff, alright, I will be back then,” the red head popped out of the idling limo and headed toward the door. She turned and trotted back quickly, tapping on Julius’ window to see if he needed anything. Trevor stopped watching their exchange when Adrian cleared his throat.

“I owe you an apology.” The blonde said with surprising firmness. Trevor blinked. “I made an assumption about your understanding of what my expectations were and I shouldn’t have done that.”

Something about the word ‘expectations’ set off alarm bells in Belmont. He worked for calm and simply gazed at the blonde.

It was the painter’s turn to blink. He obviously thought Trevor would say something and when he didn’t, Adrian gave a small flutter with his hands before continuing. “Yes, well, as I said, I am sorry.” He clutched his hands on the knee of his pants. “About the scene with Isaac. It was ugly and I know it was hard for you to see and I am sorry—”

“Do you know why it was hard to see?” Trevor said as neutrally as possible. This was exactly what he didn’t want to talk about but if they were going to, then he wanted to cut the bullshit.

“You have history with Isaac, I know. You didn’t like him touching me. It was very sweet and I appreci—” The blonde stared as Trevor felt his face undergo what was probably a hilarious mix of fury, incredulity and amusement.

“Sweet, mmm?” Trevor forced himself to stay still. He was amused but also angry. I would have fucked you on the sidewalk if you’d let me, the brunette thought. It would have been so cute, right?

“Tell me Adrian, exactly what part of what happened in the bathroom was sweet? Was it you begging me to fuck you as I left my teeth marks on you? Perhaps watching you fall apart under my hands in the mirror? Or the way you fucked my mouth when you came? Inquiring minds would like to know.”

The blonde flushed and swallowed hard. “Wel—I, um, I meant more like… thoughtful?”

Trevor’s mouth quirked. Oh there had been thoughts, but none of them could be termed particularly adorable.

“I can’t think when you look at me like that,” the blonde finally said and shifted slightly, brushing the crease on his pant leg.

“Like what?” Trevor said, enjoying the game. Adrian flustered was one of his favorite pastimes.

“Like you’d,” a hitched sigh as the blonde looked at the window and twisted his hands, “eat me alive. I—we—communication is important, you know.”

“I thought we communicated just fine in the bathroom.” Deliberately the brunette spread his legs. “I’m willing to repeat myself as many times as needed. For the sake of communication.”

When pale harvest moonlight met Trevor's eyes, Adrian distractedly cupped his own shoulder and pressed his thumb into the bite mark on the side of his neck. The feral creature of lust and possession within the sculptor stretched luxuriously and flexed its claws.

I’m a simple man, Trevor thought again, watching the slight flutter of the blonde’s eyelids as he pressed, and this adoration I can do.

“Tell you what Legs,” the brunette purred, patting his thigh. “Why don’t you come cuddle me, and I promise to listen attentively as you tell me your expectations. We can…” he licked his lips, “negotiate.”

Watching Tepes attempt to give him a repressive glare while trying to curb his obvious interest in the suggestion was entirely too endearing. The man was just so damn appealing.

“I am not sure that is a good idea,” Adrian said demurely. “We really do need to talk.”

Trevor inwardly groaned. He really didn’t want to talk about how he wasn’t allowed to touch or react in public. I am already fully aware and it is hard enough—

Adrian was looking at him and there was something on his face that Trevor couldn’t quite comprehend. It made him pause and consider exactly what that expression meant. There was determination but there was also—

“Tell you what,” the painter said calmly. “We talk about this for five minutes and then snuggle for five minutes. If we haven’t talked long enough by then, we repeat until we are both satisfied?”

“How satisfied?” Trevor asked cheekily. I can think of several different ways we could

Tepes sighed heavily, leaned back and crossed his arms and legs. “Never mind, I can see that your mind has taken backseat to what is currently in the driver’s seat right now.”

Trevor couldn’t help it, he grinned. “God, I love it when you go full duchess on me.”

I’m going to regret this, he thought but said it. “Alright, I promise to behave for five minutes in exchange for snuggles for five minutes after." I am sure I can distract you for longer once you are in my lap, he smirked, but wisely kept that to himself.

Adrian tucked his hair behind his ear and the tragus piercing teased Belmont. Why was it so sexy? Was it because it was unexpected? Or maybe because it was just—

“Do you know that the only reason I want to buy you things is because I want to take care of you?” The question was an unexpected branch in the path and whacked Trevor with a coniferous slap. It was too close to what he’d been thinking about in terms of providing only moments before.

“And how do I take care of you, Adrian?” he shot back defensively. “By watching someone else protect you? By pretending you mean nothing to me?”

“How do you want to take care of me?” the blonde asked him.

I want to love you without fear, Trevor thought immediately and bit it back. There was truth and then there was truth and neither of them were ready for that confession.

“I want—” Something I can’t have. I want the trio to be ours without question and I want a future without barriers, “to know that we don’t have to live afraid of discovery. That we can be genuine most of the time.”

Adrian’s smile was a pitiful, shattered thing. “More than you will ever know, I yearn for that too. I want to be able to hold your hand with Sypha’s in public. I want to go to your art showings and say, ‘Yep, my boyfriend is brilliant,’ without it being front page news. I want everything that means for the future.”

The blonde covered his face with his hand and sighed. It was such a tired, miserable little puff, like a lonely wind in an abandoned gully. Trevor’s anger simply broke clean.

How could he be angry knowing how sincerely Adrian meant that? Knowing he felt just as trapped as Trevor?

But he could make a choice to live candidly, to reprioritize— he started to think and stopped. Why? Because of you? You are his lover, not his beloved. It hurt to think, but Trevor knew it was trueWhy would he put you ahead of his family? You already knew where his loyalties were, yet you’d punish him for doing exactly what you expected. He gives you a great deal already, why do you need this?

But Trevor knew why. Just as he was helpless to stop loving Adrian, he was helpless to stop what that meant.

What is the solution then? You can’t force him to love you and publicly acknowledge you. He looked at the form of the man he would do anything for. And you aren’t willing to let him go.

“Could there be a compromise of sorts here?” Adrian asked, dropping his hand.

Compromise. Trevor tasted the word in his head and spread his hands.

The blonde leaned forward, face intent. “I know you don’t believe me; how bad the harassment could be if the trio became public. How much damage would be done.”

That’s not the case, Trevor thought defensively, it’s that I think facing it head on would be simpler, cleaner and less painful than

“Sypha and you are a couple. She is already publicly established as my best friend and no one looks twice at our association anymore.” Adrian looked at his hands. “You and I being seen publicly friendly will be more accepted once we’ve all been seen together in situations where you two are obviously a couple. It would make sense that I would be close with my—”

“It's not just the inability to touch you as my lover, you know.” Trevor was surprised he’d spoken but just rolled with it. “It’s knowing that Isaac could do whatever the fuck he wanted to you and I could do nothing because someone might see. That someone might speculate. So, I had to let someone else protect you.”

Adrian gave him a considering look. “The protectiveness goes both ways. I know what you went through with your parents was horrible and I never want you to go through that again. Because of me.”

It would be worth it though, if I could be with you free and clear at the end of it, Trevor thought.

“There would be no end to the speculation and the invasive hounding,” the blonde continued.

“Gossip dies at some point, Adrian. Do I still encounter the Belmont bullshit? For sure, but—” The blonde shook his head gently and the sculptor fell silent.

The painter continued. “Tell me Trevor, have you Googled me recently?” He withdrew his phone from his pocket. Suddenly wary, Trevor slowly moved his head to indicate the negative. “Have you looked yourself up?”

Oh fuck, the sculptor thought, whatever this is cannot be good.

Adrian’s long, slender fingers moved over the screen and then he passed the phone over to Trevor. It was an email from someone named Sala and cc’d to Vlad Tepes.

To: aatepes_thefirst@vania.net
CC: Lord_vdtepes@vania.net
Date: Thursday 10:13 am
Subject: Trends- Belmont/Shaft

Good morning Gentlemen,

As discussed, the fall out from Shaft has been closely monitored by the agency and I am happy to report it is being contained. The emphasis has been on the destruction of property charges as requested.

Specifics on Master Alucard’s request: we have successfully obtained a gag order on the use of Trevor Belmont’s name for this incident. Soma was quite clever in this regard and once again, a true pleasure to work with. Neither Belmont, nor any of the other students, have been mentioned by name in the coverage. The school cooperated fully with this and is united with us in protecting the privacy of the students. 

In the meantime, the internet searches on Alucard have tripled, as expected, while searches for Vlad’s statement on the matter surged 700 percent since it’s release. Coverage of the statement and the story have appeared 113 times in American newscasts and 286 times… Trevor skipped through the statistics, his heart pounding in his chest. His eye caught on the next line.

The school confirmed two separate attempts at acquiring Alucard’s resume in the last 12 hours and we are aware of a piece underway regarding his promotion. Soma has also issued an updated NDA for the department’s review and believes that they will sign again. 

I would once again advise reconsideration of this association.

There was a Twitter trend suggesting that father and son might be estranged because Alucard is working. The agency suggests withholding a statement on this matter until at least 50,000 retweets before making a decision. At that time, you may wish to discuss quietly withdrawing Alucard from the workforce until such time as it is advisable to return.

“What the fuck,” Trevor hissed and glanced up at Adrian. The blonde was looking out the window, face carefully blank. His fingers were tangled together, knuckles white. The sharp points of white teeth worked over the edge of his lip in tiny scrapes, as though he could furrow a hiding spot into them.

The sculptor didn’t want to read more but he also didn’t want to walk into Vlad Tepes’ house without knowing what he was up against. This was a level of invasion he’d never fathomed and it suddenly occurred to him that his experience with the press might have been the tip of the iceberg. Which was utterly terrifying. He looked down again.

As I am sure you are aware, the Belmont scandal was international news. As of yet, only two papers have issued articles, (which they have retracted after Soma’s contact) speculating on the association of the Belmont son with the Tepes heir. I have enclosed them below for your perusal.

I am sure I do not have to stress to either of you the potential issues the Tepes family would face if the association was in any way substantiated or resumed. Any further suggestion of a connection, however tenuous, would have serious ramifications on multiple fronts.

My understanding is that this is the boyfriend of Sypha Belnades, whom I have previously indicated was a minor risk association on her own. This would raise her to a moderate risk but I understand that the family has personal reasons to maintain that relationship. If possible, you may consider approaching Ms. Belnades about severing this association. I leave the matter to you.

Regards,
Sala

He clicked on the newspaper articles that were attached and scanned the first one. He couldn’t make it past the second paragraph.

It always came back to what his parents had done and that was something Trevor couldn’t escape. There were huge raging sandstorms scraping under his skin but the grief was a steady downpour of exhaustion over him. Grief for the past and for the future that would never escape it. He carefully put the phone down and closed his eyes.

What will he do now? Trevor wondered. I’m sure that the scene with Isaac made this a hundred times worse. With bone-crunching terror he wondered if this ‘compromise’ wouldn’t be a soft goodbye.

What kind of compromise would good-bye be?

The best one for him, he told himself honestly.You are trouble and he knows it. This proves it. No, he already told you what his compromise was…

How can he live like this? the brunette agonized, the stress must be astounding.

“I have received these updates on my actions and my ‘trending impact’ since I was fourteen.” Adrian grimaced. “Nothing like knowing that your preference for black clothing might indicate an association with a gothic subculture you know nothing about.”

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Trevor shuddered. “Your clothes?!” Well, Salvation Army was about to get a major boost in advertising, he thought wryly.

Adrian met his eyes. The sorrow that simmered in his lover's gaze was ancient, twisted and pleading. It was a striking, sickening contrast to the exotic beauty of the painter. In that instant Belmont understood that the blonde thought Trevor would be the one to leave. Because of this. It cleanly stripped all his defenses and all his qualms.

You have no idea what I would endure to be with you, Trevor thought.

“I never want to ask you and Sypha to go through this.” Adrian held his gaze, the tiniest tremble of his chin. “I would protect you both from it, as much as I can. My parents chose this life and have done their best to mitigate its impact on me. You and Sypha don’t have to be subjected to this.”

Sending you these fucking reports? Trevor thought. Making you aware of every tiny scrutiny and judgement? That’s not mitigating shit, that’s cutting you off at the knees.

The painter’s gaze slid to the side as he continued. “You’ve seen me on campus; I live a relatively quiet existence.”

You mean you live in hiding, Trevor thought, a monsoon of understanding watering the tenderness sprouting. Inside the emerging garden of compassion, the possessive creature prowled.

“Every once in a while, some reporter tries to interview my neighbors," Adrian fidgeted, "or some student who doesn’t even know me, but I swear to you that—”

I can do adoration, Trevor thought and patted his knee. “The five minutes is way up; get over here.”

Adrian looked startled and then opened his mouth. Trevor rolled his eyes and switched seats, coming alongside the blonde. He hauled Tepes over his thighs without further discussion. “You promised,” he said reprovingly. Stroking soft hair and tense shoulders, the sculptor spoke again. “I am not going anywhere,” he said adamantly.

The painter sagged heavily into him and exhaled in a long whoosh. “I thought you might… I was afraid…” Tepes whispered and stopped speaking as he tucked his face into the side of Trevor’s neck.

“Not a chance. I will be honest with you. I don’t like it Adrian. In fact, I fucking hate it,” Trevor continued. “I can’t promise I can accept hiding forever, but I think you are right about compromises.” Adrian’s spine went rigid again.

I’m sorry lover, but I am not promising you something I can’t give. “I think we need to talk about this as a trio, and figure out how we are going to deal with it in the future.”

“Trevor, I told you, I cannot publicly acknowledge the trio without hurting my family and I won’t do that. I can’t.” The panic was back in his voice and it was a possessed chainsaw hacking away at everything in its path. Despite his empathy, Trevor felt the buzzing blade under his own skin.

I know you won’t and that is the part I need to come to terms with. I need time to know what I am willing to live with.

But he didn’t say that. Instead, as calmly as he could, Trevor said, “Like I said, I think we need to discuss this as a trio. You’ve given me a lot to think about and I am content with your plan in the meantime. Sypha and I can be a couple; you can be our friend. Besides, we’ll be mostly alone with your family this weekend, right?”

There was no answer for long enough that Trevor became aware that Adrian was holding his breath. “I want my father to meet you. I want him to see in you what I see in you,” the blonde finally whispered, complex notes of grief and concern played by an orchestra of despair in his voice. 

No,Trevor thought instantly, you said that they wouldn’t care, you said that—

“Sala has given him a bunch of information now.”

And we both know whatever is publicly available on the Belmont name is horrible, Trevor thought with a sinking feeling. He suddenly remembered the sarcastic narrative he’d given Isaac in the interview room. A great influence indeed.

Adrian drew back slowly. “I’ve never brought a lover home to them.” His pale hair fell down like an empathetic curtain, hiding him from the sculptor’s gaze.

“Because you’ve never had a lover before,” Trevor responded gruffly, the roots of emotion surging forward, thick and gnarled into his lungs. Love, possession, helplessness, grief, joy, fear—they were a riot of agony held within his breath and caught in the tightening constriction in his chest. He was trapped and he knew it.

“Yes, that is true, but…” the blonde sighed and tucked his hair behind his ears, slowly bringing his eyes up. “I never bring people home. Sypha was the first friend I brought home since I was a child. I’ve never brought a um, romantic interest, home.”

How can you want to lie about something so important? Belmont thought and absorbed the immediate slap of realization. Because it’s not as important as maintaining the approval of his family.

His heart was quieter, but no less insistent when it asked him, What if it was maintaining the love of his family? That made his heart weep. The more he heard about the Tepes’ the more he wondered if Adrian had any real understanding of what love was. Of what it could be.

I can give him this, if only for now, he thought and spoke. “As I said, I am Sypha’s boyfriend this weekend. That’s what you parents think anyway right?” His guts clenched with unhappiness, but time was the only thing that he could give them both right now.

“Yes,” Adrian said softly, voice filled with resignation. “That’s what my parents think.”

--- 

And when all this gets old
Will it still feel the same?
There's no way this will die
But if we get much closer
I could lose control
And if your heart surrenders
You'll need me to hold
We are young
Heartache to heartache
We stand
No promises, no demands
Love is a battlefield

-"Love Is A Battlefield," Pat Benetar

Chapter Text

Sypha understood what it meant to be with Adrian. Pressure was something that she was familiar with, although of course, not on such a scale. Being an international celebrity was not something she would ever understand, if she had her way. Privacy though, now there was something fundamentally ingrained in her for years now. It’d become a way of life: be as open as you can about what you can and keep the rest of it for yourself.

She was content to live her life in Adrian’s shadow and foolishly, so stupidly, she had assumed that Trevor would be too. After all, he’d been subjected to hounding, speculation and intense scrutiny with the deaths of his family. She couldn’t imagine having everything about your life rifled through like a raccoon had overturned a trash can rummaging for scraps. It was violating and it was disgusting.

Surely he could not want a return to that? she thought, as she stroked Trevor’s hair. I just can’t believe he would. That beautiful face was tired, anxious and unhappy. She stroked over the puckered scar, at least three days of scruff and another, smaller scar under his cheekbone. His lashes weren’t long but they were thick, tiny velvet shades shielding his eyes.

Even in sleep, his thick brown brows tensed. She smoothed back his hair and placed her thumb over the crease, rubbing gently. He murmured, the tiniest plea. She was pleased when he relaxed. No, this whole question of exposure could not make him happy.

Don’t do that, you have no business assuming anything about what he wants. You’ve made mistakes there with him, she thought, with rueful awareness, don’t repeat them. The digital artist felt the anguish splash onto her heart with acceptance.

It had all seemed so straightforward and simple in the beginning. Like an idiot, she had thought she understood the hearts of everyone involved. No, not an idiot, she told herself, remembering the mantra of her therapist. You are human, you make mistakes. Mistakes do not make you less worthy.

Sypha resisted the voice of her mother wiggling in there. Mary Sypha Belnades! Pride is a path to damnation… Wasn’t that why she’d gone to therapy in the first place?

Progress, not perfection, she reminded herself and took a cleansing breath. No, the truth was that she was trying too hard. You cannot force people to come to conclusions, they must reach it on their own, she thought. You should know this better than most. And Sypha did, she just needed the stability.

I want us to be happy, I want to know that everything we need is right here. She looked at the way Adrian curled into Trevor’s chest and the protective hand the sculptor had laced through the long blonde tresses and sighed. Adrian’s bruises were showing and she stared at the marks contemplatively.

She sat back in the limo seat opposite them and brooded. Lunch had been less strained but the spark of joy that was usually present between them had been missing. She suspected that Adrian had told Trevor that they couldn’t publicly be together but she didn’t know what agreement they’d reached on that. She knew that one or both of her lovers would fill her in at some point but there’d been such an obvious exhaustion in both of them. The nap had been an easier thing to propose then yet another conversation that would be emotionally draining.

It was harder than she had ever thought to let things take their natural course. Sypha is used to action, control and decision-making. After all, she’d run the household in her parents’ home since she was ten. Thanks to extensive therapy, she understood that her need for control and stability was directly related to forced maturity and unattainable expectations.

Still, it would be so much easier to just tell them both that they loved each other and get over all of this! Yes Sypha, breaking their trust, forcing your methods of conflict resolution and treating them like emotionally constipated children, she thought admonishingly, that would work perfectly to obtain the results you desperately want here. She sighed and drew her feet up under her.

Old habits die hard, it seems. She snorted gently. Trust love to make her question everything about herself. There had been so much going on with the two men that she has spent much of her time just listening and her own doubts and fears have been pushed to the side for too long. Pause, reflect, then react, she thought again, another mantra she’d encoded into her psyche supplying her the wisdom she craved.

The truth was that everything that they needed was right here. She just needed to be patient. She needed time; they all did. There was such love between them all but the friction of history, emotion and expectation was a constant assault on the love the two men shared. Once again, she was grateful that she had resolved all her own identity issues last year. I need to be present to both of them, she thought, I need to put them first in all of this.

Her eyes drifted to the bites again, half hidden in the shifting strands of hair that danced and glimmered like wind-swept wheat as the car moved. The bruises shocked her still and she couldn’t believe Trevor had done that. More to the point, she couldn’t believe Adrian liked it. But like it he had, she thought, remembering the wonder in his voice, that beautiful half-smile playing on his mouth.

The redhead winced, remembering Adrian’s flush and instinctive hiding of the marks when she’d seen them. Shame was something she never wanted to give her lovers—they’d been subjected to it enough. You know all too well shame kills the soul and destroys any hope of communication. “You fucked that up,” she muttered to herself forcefully.

She ran her hand over her face, feeling the faint stirrings of a headache. Drink water, she thought automatically and reached for the water bottle. What was it about the bites? She wondered idly, the faint purple like an insignia of possession on his flesh. Are you jealous? She examined that.

It was true that sometimes she felt awestruck by the fierce, all consuming love that seemed to arc between the two men. Her love with both of them was softer, easier, more… comfortable, the word came to her. Yes, exactly. It was stable and compassionate and giving. It was love that gave her great peace.

Adrian shifted, his knees curling a little more compactly, the hand on Trevor knees gripping a little more tightly and the press of his cheek into the brunette’s torso just a shade firmer. He looked anything but peaceful. Her heart ached like his bruises must.

No, she decided, I am not jealous. I am sad. This is not a love that is comfortable and perhaps it never will be. I don’t understand the biting and it’s the first part of either of them that I genuinely don’t understand at all. It makes me feel grief in a way, because it is something that I can’t give them.

Intellectually, Sypha knew it was alright that she couldn’t be everything to her lovers. No one can be everything to someone, she told herself. But that deep well of formative history that she had grown from left its mark in more ways than one. Accepting that truth in her heart was hard. Failing to support, deliver and express the love that was needed for the two that she adored more than anyone else in the world was a blow, even if it was in such a tiny way.

Do not see it as your own failing, she thought, working it through. See it as an essential part of the trio. They can give that to each other, be that for each other. The thought made her guilt ease. Remember Adrian? So concerned he could not give you what Trevor could? She reminded herself. You told him that Trevor could never be what your best friend is to you. It is true and it is alright! That is why you all need the trio—we are everything together!

Calm settled over her. It would be alright. They would figure this out together. There was such love here, even the pain and the grief spoke to that, she thought. You could not have such agony without colossal love behind it.

The limo made excellent time and Sypha was surprised when the vehicle slowed at the cast-iron gates. She looked up from her computer and looked out the window. At the gate you could see nothing but forest. The first time she’d been here it had confused her. For all you could tell, it was a private park.

Her lips curved. That was for the public to think of course. The Tepes’ valued their privacy and there would be no long-range camera shots to be had from any angle on their property. Apparently one time a low-flying helicopter had attempted such a thing in the eighties and somehow Vlad had managed to secure a no-fly zone for the first three thousand feet above his entire property. Considering it was 3.5 square miles outside of a major city center, that was simply incredible.

There would be no approaching from the water either. Vlad and Lisa owned the lake in its entirety. Occasionally there would be an article discussing the billions in lakefront property that sat undeveloped. The sheer expanse of wildlife that flourished because of it, meant that most of the public tended to simply view it as a sanctuary and appreciate it as such. Actually, that is how he got the no-fly zone too, she remembered.

The trees dappled the sunlight against the window of the car as the limo traveled the paved road inward. Several minutes passed and once the limo stopped for a doe and fawn that sauntered across, stopping to gaze with serene confidence at the shining, purring construct waiting ten feet away. Sypha rolled down her window and poked her head out.

The digital artist knew from her other visits that Lisa was firm on not scaring the wildlife and leaving them be as much as possible. It was lovely then, that there was no honking or inching forward—they simply waited. Sypha appreciated it and the soft eyes of the pair were nothing more than curious as they moseyed along.

Up ahead there was a break in the trees and Sypha risked keeping her window down to watch the gap close. They eased through the trees into the clearing. My second home, she thought, and knew it was true. She loved this place, and she loved the two people who called it home.

The vast estate was nestled in the heart of the woods, the lake shimmering in the low-hanging sun and the mansion laid out like an antique doll house, trimmed in arches and turrets. She’d always thought of castles as being imposing, dank, creepy. Then she’d seen the Tepes home.

It was caught between a timelessness and contemporary space that spoke in hushed whispers to each other. There was something medieval about it’s imposing lines and clean strength but a touch of feminine charm in the arches and scrolling trim kept it from truly being a castle. Massive, immaculate and proud, it sprawled out over the landscape with riots of roses, lilacs, hedges and white lilies nodding like adoring crowds around it. She quite simply loved it.

She looked over at Trevor, debating waking him to see it, and noted that he’d finally relaxed. He’d leaned more into Adrian and he held him less as though the blonde might escape but rather as though they were embracing. No, she thought, he’ll see it later. There were more important things than a great view.

By the time Julius had pulled through the second gate and under the porte-cochere, Sypha had stowed her items, put all the windows up and locked the doors. The moment the car stopped, she jumped out and shut the door. It locked behind her. She didn’t want to wake the men but she also wanted to ensure no one could open the door and see them.

Julius opened his door, and blinked when he saw her. “Ms. Belnades; my apologies I wasn’t fast enough to get the door for you,” he said.

Sypha gave him a blinding smile. “Nope, not at all! I am just super excited to be here. The boys are just taking a nap so I left them for now, but I expect they’ll be along shortly.” Julius’ face remained impassive. “Could you help me bring in our bags in the meantime though, please?” she finished and he smiled. Relief eased the slight tension in her belly. She had no reason to think he might argue with her about leaving the men alone, but his smile told her it wouldn’t be an issue.

“Of course. Why don’t you go ahead and I will put the bags in the foyer of Master Tepes wing?” the limo driver said and Sypha blinked. She’d forgotten because it was so rare for Adrian to insist on something, but his wing was not attended by any servants. The sole exception was Eva and her daughter Elise, but only for housekeeping and only when he was not in residence. Privacy, she thought again and prayed that Trevor would come around to it soon.

She smiled, nodded and headed up the stairs. Her knock was answered by a security officer that she recognized and he smiled at her. He murmured that it was a pleasure to see her again and she replied the same. When Sypha stepped inside she breathed deep. The house always smelled so beautiful. The beeswax the servants used, the quietly warm and sensual perfume of Lisa, Vlad’s cigars and rich musk, fresh flowers, old wood and contentment—it settled something in her and gave her a soothing stroke of peace.

She mostly knew her way around, having been here several times now. She was less familiar with the private quarters that housed Vlad and Lisa’s suites but she’d been invited to their space to see a collection of Adrian’s paintings the third time she’d visited. It was an entire wall in the sitting room and was utterly darling; a tiny gallery of child finger paintings, imaginative slashes of color and shape and the obvious, earnest efforts of someone who appreciated expression with both.

The one that had been the catalyst for the visit to their quarters had been completely endearing—a crayon art of a long, crooked man with dark hair and a cape, a blonde woman with huge eyelashes and a heart for a mouth and a tiny round blob with yellow hair, yellow eyes and impossibly long arms reaching out to circle both of them from the shelter of their bodies.

She had grinned at the large, determined letters of “A d R I A n” in the corner. Even at that age, he had been clear on his name. It had also been the last one that had the bold scrawl of Vlad, “Alucard, age 4” under the child’s careful lettering. Even his father had accepted it as a losing battle, she remembered thinking then, hiding her smile.

Still, the patriarch’s obvious pride and pleasure in the early family portrait had been so filled with love that she’d been a little envious. Her parents loved her but they would never be so easy with their adoration. On the other hand, she reminded herself, that ease of adoration was not without its expectations and its cost.

Shaking the memory off, she took the sweeping waterfall stairs, running her hands over the snarling dragons and twining roses carved into the marble bannister. When she came to the landing, she took the left set of stairs and continued up towards Adrian’s suites. She wanted a bathroom and then maybe a swim.

There was a maid she vaguely recognized at work in the hall, a temporary polishing station set up on a folding table. One of the glass cases was open and several silver pieces out on the table. The maid paused in her work, putting the intricate menorah down beside the polish and cloth and bowed to Sypha.

As always, it was disconcerting and she smiled uneasily. She looked idly at the polishing table as she went past and wondered again why silver was so damned popular throughout the ages when it required constant work. Each piece was probably some family heirloom. Vlad was very serious about that and Adrian had given her a thumbnail of the Tepes family tree once. She knew that their family line was extensive and could be traced ridiculously far back.

She sped up as she neared the double doors to Adrian’s suites and opened the door to his sitting room, spotting the dining table and kitchen through the open door at the end of the room. The space was lovely, quiet shades of grey, black and navy and filled with light.

It was similar to his apartment in terms of style but the touches of wealth were heightened significantly. The cloth in the curtains, the lines of the furniture, the grain of the wallpaper, the gleam of the wood, even the frames on the art—everything worked into a chorus of wealth. It also didn’t smell like him to her.

Pleasant yes, and certainly like the lavender he favored and clean, older homes. But there was no licorice undertones and most importantly, no fragrance of paints or turpentine. The smell of his vocation was essential to who he was and it always struck her as a little sad that it was missing from his childhood home.

She noted the blinking light on the small machine beside a sheaf of envelopes left on the side table. Huh, she thought but then nature insisted she move on. She took a door on the side and found the bathroom with a sigh of relief. When she washed her hands, she smiled at the clutch of lavender in the tiny vase and the print of Vampire D over the bidet.

Sypha wandered through the sitting room, past the dining room with the massive painting from Adrian Stimson, ghostly shadows of bison smeared into drifting snow like mirages of the past. In the kitchen she took a moment to peer out the window into the gardens that stretched into the pastures. The horses were grazing, little figures against the green.

She heard someone outside the door and realized that Julius must have dropped off the bags. Time for my swim, she thought happily and headed back out to the sitting room to bring them in. It wasn’t until she had dragged everything over the threshold, shut the door and turned around that she saw the blinking light again.

It was a digital message center and she didn’t have the passcode for it. Hope it’s not urgent, she thought with a shrug. She looked at the envelopes beside it and made a cooing sound. It was a bunch of invitations to art openings, concerts, parties and events. She checked the dates—all for this weekend. When she saw the one for Anish Kapoor she whooped. Trevor would freak out! she thought.

They’d discussed artistic inspirations and Anish was a big one for him. She wasn’t sure that he would actually want to meet the man, after all, Anish liked to lean on his high-brow status to such an extent that even she had to roll her eyes. Even just to see the exhibit, though… Sypha put it on the top of the pile.

Carrying her bags to the hall with the bedrooms she paused. In the apartment they’d all been sleeping in Adrian’s king size in a happy tangle, but she didn’t know what he would want to do here. That hurt a little to accept, but this was his home turf. She opened the door to the guest room she’d stayed in before and dumped her bag. Unzipping her suitcase, she found her bikini and started to strip.

---

Vlad ended the call and stretched his neck to one side. Taking a deep breath, he absently rubbed his brow and then typed a few more notes in his laptop before saving it. He checked the time. He had approximately fifteen minutes before his call with the chancellor and he— the intercom chimed. Biting back the sigh, he pressed the button. “Yes,” he said, the faint accent threaded through the command to speak.

“Your son and his guests have arrived,” came the voice of his assistant, Andrei.

Both guests have been attended?” Vlad asked with anticipation. There was a pause and then the man spoke again.

“According to Julius, yes,” said Andrei. “I have only seen Ms. Belnades myself. She said that Mr. Belmont and your son are napping in the limo. They have yet to appear.”

Vlad shook his head. It was not a significant thing in the safety of their home, but very unlike Adrian to allow even a whiff of implication. He must be very tired, the elder Tepes thought and felt a flash of fury at the art teacher Shaft and this ‘Agent Isaac.’

“Of course. Leave them be. It has been quite the week for Adrian,” he continued, a gentle brushstroke over the awkwardness of his son napping in close proximity with another man. They would be on the other side of the vehicle of course, but it was the appearance of the thing.

“You have the call with the chancellor right away sir, but I also have Sala on the line about the Lindenfeld’s matter.”

No quick walk to greet Sypha then, he thought with apology. Such was his lot in life and this had to be handled.

“Please transfer it in then and chime the line when I have three minutes remaining, thank you.” He hung up without waiting for confirmation of his instructions. Vlad knew his assistant. More to the point, he was a man who knew his words carried weight and would be obeyed. It had always been that way for him. He controlled the world around him, shared what he wished and stared down everything else with ruthless will and enormous pride.

The phone chimed again, he picked it up and heard the ‘click click’ that indicated the secured line had engaged. “Sala, speak to me,” he said and listened for a moment.

“That’s absurdly fast,” he murmured unhappily. “Have they identified the Belmont yet?” He flexed his fist. “That’s not good, damn it. Yes, I know you did, but—” He stiffened.

“What do you mean he touched my son? Wait, what? Repeat that. La dracu,*” he hissed, “a lover's spat?! That's absurd! Yes, send it to me now.” Moments later his laptop chimed.

He opened the email and clicked on the video, noting the corresponding source link as Youtube. Everyone was the paparazzi these days, he thought grimly and watched the clip. It clearly started in the middle of the conversation and thankfully was across the street from the scene. Between the breathing of the person filming and the passing traffic, you couldn’t hear the content of the discussion and that was a blessing. He looked at the body language of Agent Isaac with fresh interest.

After Adrian’s call, Vlad had tapped one of his contacts and had Isaac’s personnel file on his desk within 45 minutes. It had been impressive, but nothing earth shattering. The photograph had suggested a contained, intelligent man. Tepes knew who he was, having kept tabs on the Belmont investigation from the start, but he’d never seen Isaac on film or in the flesh.

A trickle of awareness warned him that perhaps he should have paid closer attention to the lead agent on the case. The man’s face was impassive and there was an alarming amount of restraint and care in the man’s movements. When Isaac passed his card to Julius, Vlad snarled. You crossed the line; he thought and made a mental note to obtain the card.

Sala cleared his throat. “My Lord?” he asked quietly.

“A moment,” Vlad said shortly. Sala was silent again. He watched Isaac walk away and Trevor turn. Wait, what was that? he thought and backed it up again. He played it once more and took a deep breath. He backed it up and watched one more time to be sure. It was subtle but it was there.

Adrian had been touching Trevor’s back during the conversation with Isaac. Julius’ body had been blocking it. It looked suggestive but he suspected that his boy had been trying to get Trevor to stop speaking and defuse the situation. Still, it didn’t look good and perception was everything, he thought.

“Sala,” he said, “Soma must handle this. Now.”

He watched Trevor grab Adrian’s wrist and the look of concern on the blonde’s face. Adrian did not tell me about this part, he thought and wondered when his son started keeping things from him. He is tired, you are reading too much into this. When Trevor turned to Julius and snarled, there was something on his son’s face that tripped through his heart.

No, Vlad thought, tingling dread stretching over him, it's far away and you cannot be sure. It wasn’t possible and he would not consider it.

“Oh shit, he is pissed!” the person holding the phone camera said. He could see why people were commenting about a ‘lover’s quarrel.’ There was a lot of emotion there.

Like father, like son, he thought as he watched Trevor’s face. Dominic’s temper had been a match to his own at times.

“I want this pulled and it cannot show up on any news feeds. Is it possible?” Vlad asked, working to control the anger in his words.

Sala sighed softly. “I can try, my Lord. Fortunately, it only has 3,000 hits but the algorithm has shown the numbers are rising swiftly now.”

“Then Soma better work fast. In the meantime, reach out to Youtube for me.” Vlad hung up and pushed back from his desk. He needed a moment before speaking with the chancellor. He checked the clock. Seven minutes.

Quickly he crossed the study floor, opened the door and strode over to Andrei, who looked up with surprise. “I have to check on something, I should be back in time for my call but if not, tell him to wait. I would not be long. Please email Soma and tell him to contact Sala immediately. Oh! And I should like some socata* please, with a dash of lemon waiting for me when I return.” He kept moving, mindful of the time.

One of his security team stood to follow and he waved her down. “I am going to my quarters; I will be back shortly.” His tone suggested she would not follow. The woman sat back down with a nod.

Long legs had their uses and he found himself standing in the hall of his quarters in short order, only slightly out of breath. Placing his palm on the lower panel and pulling his ponytail to the side for the imprint of his ear, he was granted access to the inner room. Three doors greeted him and he chose the last one. Another security code, an eye scan and the door clicked open.

This was his personal vault. The other two doors were Adrian’s and Lisa’s. Such was the price of fame. Things like family photos, videos of Adrian as a child, report cards, Lisa’s love letters and the personal ephemera of life had to be kept under lock and key. Or in this case, steel and digital scans. They were more valuable on the open market than much of his extensive collections. His staff was vetted, trusted and had been with him for decades in most cases, but some lessons had been hard learned.

Lisa had the code to this space, just as he had hers. Or so she thought. He’d changed his only four days ago when he’d brought the painting back and stored it in here. He would change it back to the one she had, once he returned it to the loft. Vlad hated lying to her. He’d sworn not to and he knew it was wrong. But she would never know. The whole thing was a fucking mess and he would protect his family no matter what or it would have been for nothing.

Still, as he stepped into the vault and the light went on, he felt regret. Regret for what he could never share, regret for the loss of two people he had admired and called friend until the very end, and regret for the lies that continued to swirl through his life and the life of their son.

It seemed fate would bring the families together again, even if it was just through Sypha, Vlad thought with resignation.

He approached the painting and turned it. I had no business bringing this home, he thought again as he looked at the children and wished he understood the compulsion to do so.

Penelope had captured Adrian’s solemn gaze and that slightly sweet exasperation perfectly. Vlad looked at the little boy whose hand was tangled in his son’s hair and wondered what he looked like now. He plucked the letter tucked into the frame out and put the painting back against the wall, facing inward. Opening the envelope, he read it again:

Dear Vlad,
I hope this finds you well. I read the article on your son and immediately thought of this. I confess, I toyed with whether to paint it or not given the circumstances…

When Vlad returned to his study, his socata, and his waiting call with the chancellor, he had a faint ache at his temples and his heart matched the throb. Would that this visit with Trevor Belmont be my chance to get to know the son of my two friends, perhaps even offer him the care I couldn’t before, he thought with yearning.

But when Vlad unlocked his laptop to make notes, with the chancellor happily extolling the virtues of the latest bill, he saw the paused Youtube video and wondered.

Would it be safe? Could his family associate with Belmont? Had the stigma and scandal died down enough? Sala certainly didn’t think so but…

He looked at the frozen frame of his son and frowned. Perhaps it wasn’t the scandal that Belmont brought with him that I should be worried about, he thought again as he studied Adrian's face, trying to ignore that flutter of fear.

---

After my picture fades and darkness has turned to gray
Watching through windows, you're wondering if I'm okay
Secrets stolen
From deep inside
The drum beats out of time
If you're lost, you can look and you will find me
Time after time
If you fall, I will catch you, I'll be waiting
Time after time
You said, "go slow"
I fall behind
The second hand unwinds

-"Time After Time," Cyndi Lauper

Chapter Text

Even tucked into the deep pockets of sleep, Trevor would know that sound anywhere. It was a distinctive one. A satisfying snick that ended with a rounded clap; hooves on gravel. A quiet whicker of contentment and the restless snort of docile impatience. Sounds he had not heard in years brought instant awareness that pulled an internal fire alarm. A life that he thought was gone came rushing back to swamp him in the vulnerable depths of sleep.

Waking to the golden light of the limo, Trevor blinked groggily, confused as to where he was. Did I fall asleep coming back from an opening again, and Mom and Dad left me to sleep in the limo?

The crimson leather and white roses were a tiny funeral service to that assumption. 

They are gone, he thought dully. And it was my fault.

Helpless and unguarded, grief was a casket on his shoulder and Trevor was the unwilling pallbearer. The afternoon sun burned his skin like an accusation, as though it might cremate him in retribution.

There was a slight shift against his torso and under his hands. He looked down. Like a rumpled angel who’d fallen asleep under a pew, Adrian was curled into him in a compact knot. The black slacks and black blouse were slightly crumpled. His fingers were curved against Trevor’s torso, golden tresses spilling over the sculptor’s thighs and partially obscuring the painter’s face. The blonde's breath fluttered the tips of his hair, turning them into little waving hands.

Love was a million creeping insects scurrying inside the brunette’s heart, tunnelling, building, molding and creating new worlds hidden from view. Adrian was precious, he was perfect, and he belonged to Belmont.

What I wouldn’t do for you, Trevor thought and sighed. The sculptor was not happy about what he had agreed to, but he was at peace with it for now. It was difficult for him to do anything but agree, given the reality of Adrian’s public exposure. 

As much as Trevor despised it for coming between them, he couldn’t fault the Tepes’ fear of it. He remembered the press after his parents’ death and it was awful. It looked like it could be even worse than he’d thought.

The difference is, he acknowledged, I don’t give a damn about public opinion as long as Adrian would stay.

But the brunette wanted to make a good impression on Lord and Lady Tepes. It was essential to his plans and Trevor knew now that he was fighting the legacy of his family in the Tepes’ eyes. Even if the trio couldn’t publicly be lovers, Belmont would strive to settle for privately. It would never work if Adrian’s family would not accept it. 

What if they don’t? He wondered, fear niggling at him. Do you really think he would choose you over them? You are lying to yourself if you think that you have a choice here. If you want to stay with him, there is no choice.

A soft huffing sound—and he suddenly remembered why he had woken. His head jerked up and Trevor saw them. A group of black horses, peace incarnate, meandered across the vast expanse of pasture the road lead down. A thudding ache rose up under his chest and he held his breath. 

Friesians, Belmont noted immediately. Long black tails, dripping manes of shadow against glossy coats that gleamed in the low sun; these regal creatures of power and might flowed together like coffee pouring into a mug.

Against the fiercely romantic sun spearing through the trees, they seemed to glide like their mythical winged ancestors. Winking like the white of an eye among them was a pale, elegant Arabian, delicate but strong, and two stunning Appaloosas, splotched in white and black. 

It was because the white mare caught his eye that Trevor saw him appear, like a rising sun behind the moon. The brunette just stared. 

Emerging like a brass button through a buttonhole, was a horse of pure gold; delicate forelegs, strong haunches and a long tail of fluttering metallic like the wings of a butterfly. It was like the horse was made of water, absorbing the afternoon sun into its flesh and rippling it back like a mirage. 

I know this breed, he thought, fascinated and unaware he was holding his breath. But he couldn't place it.

The horse’s coat sparkled like a polished pirate’s coin in the sun. Trevor had never seen one that brilliantly golden and for a moment he was sure he was seeing things. 

The palomino teasingly nipped at the Arabian and suddenly they were prancing and bucking beside each other as the herd jostled around them. Two Friesians caught up in the frolic flashed from absolute stillness to abrupt diving and rearing. 

The moment was caught in his breath, soft sheen and flung manes, the rise and fall of flesh that was cultivated power and majesty. It was inconceivable that creatures so huge, so powerful and so physical could move as though the laws of gravity simply didn’t exist. 

God, they were all so gorgeous, he thought as his heart danced in his chest. All long limbs and flawless splendour, the unusual herd nudged each other like small children waiting for Santa and tossed their manes. 

The sculptor opened the door of the limo and squinted at the bright light. The horses paced and grazed, ghosts of a time in his life that he left behind. They were a reminder that he hadn’t outgrown that life, so much as he’d had to abandon it. 

Carefully, he edged out from under Adrian and lowered the blonde down to the leather. The painter curled even tighter; a leggy, sleek kitten seeking a patch of warm sunlight. Trevor’s heart squeezed painfully and he crouched down to kiss Adrian’s head. His lover stayed nestled; arms pillowing his head. 

Trevor quietly shut the door behind him and stood there, waiting and watching. 

One of the big black Friesians whickered and broke into a trot. The white Arabian followed suit. Suddenly, the small herd was frolicking through the grass, sunlight shimmering on gleaming muscles. His breath caught and something in his soul ran with them. He could swear that they were laughing at each other now, nipping and whinnying as they spread out over the lawn edging closer to him. The wind kissed the horse tails into swaying and bees hummed as Trevor stepped away from the car, through the arch and down the stairs to the overflowing beds.

Rich earth, sappy green buds and a faint scent of hay and manure layered on the low, crisp aroma of the lake water and the tangy green of cut grass. Breathing deep, the brunette couldn’t smell anything that wasn’t wild.

The flower beds spread either side of him; spears of larkspur thrust up from riots of white roses. Deep crimson lilies nodded alongside vibrant carpets of Scottish moss and creamy calla lilies. Proud Siberian irises as big as his fist were lovingly cuddled by the silvery felt leaves of lambs’ ear and dusty miller. The scents and colors were an orchestra that somehow sang a chorus of wild elegance to him. 

“Speaking of wild elegance; you are so beautiful, pretty things,” Trevor crooned at the horses, before he even thought about it. 

Old habits died hard, he reflected as he made his way down the generous path. 

Talking little snippets of nonsense in an easy ramble, he paused to take his chains off and pocket them before moving past the flowers and stepping on the grass. Large brown eyes regarded him calmly and ears swivelled toward the scruffy human with the melodic voice.  

He’d picked up the habit of talking to horses from Morning Star, his rodeo horse. When he’d nagged long enough, his father had finally caved to the logic of a thirteen year old boy. She’d been a beautiful sable Mustang with a half-diamond splotch on her forehead that looked like a rising sun.

It hurt to remember her and he felt her loss like a missing child searching for his mother in the supermarket. Morning Star had been both fiery and loyal and they’d trained together. He’d been extraordinarily lucky with her and they’d understood each other on a fundamental level. The connection had been pure magic.

The sculptor hadn’t thought of her in a while and it still felt like a punishment to do so. In so many ways, she’d been his first love. Just one more thing that died in the mess of what my parents did, he thought, and the mistake that cost me everything.

It was a sliver jammed under his fingernail that he didn’t even know what had happened to her. Losing her had been like losing the last part of his family. She was considered part of the assets of his parents' criminal activity and had been seized. 

Haughty pride and high spirits, the Arabian cantered in an easy lope around the herd and stopped a few paces from the sculptor. She was so close that Trevor could see the twitch of her flanks and the shiver of indignation on her snout.

“Come now gorgeous girl,” the sculptor murmured, wishing for a carrot or some apple. “What might your name be?” The horse snorted and stomped her foot as if to say, ‘try harder.’

“Oh, believe me, I understand,” he said conversationally. “A strange man indeed, but I promise,” his tone dropped seductively, “I know how to treat a lady.” 

Her flocculent ears pointed toward him, grey eyes considering. Her coat shimmered, health and energy a glowing aura around her. There was no chance he wouldn’t try to touch her. It was an unquestioned hunger to capture something stolen; reclaim it here and now in this other life.

“You are so damn pretty,” Trevor murmured soothingly, “but you know that, don’t you? Clever girl like you.”

Silhouetted against the low sun, she stood haloed in sunlight, a reminder of a life that was no longer his, and a time where nothing had limits but his own skill. It pulsed inside of him, sweet and sharp longing. To touch her would be opening a window into his own soul and letting in the chinook after a long winter. He extended his hand to her, the soft skin of her nose twitching as her nostrils flared. 

“Come now my lovely,” he coaxed. “I promise to be so nice.” The horse tossed her head gently and danced in place, but she did not run. 

It was pure, delighted triumph when she nudged his hand; her impossibly tender skin slightly cool against his palm. Horses’ noses were one of the softest things on the planet and he stroked gently. Trevor felt a prickling in his nostrils and recalled the scent of fresh hay, the excitement of the crowds and the feel of being so in tune with Morningstar that they moved as one. 

I have missed this, he thought, the weight of loss and longing like an overloaded grocery bag that was going to splatter the milk everywhere when it broke.

“You like to run, don’t you?” he asked her, hands remembering the shape of a horse like reuniting with a lover after a forced estrangement. He trailed his hand over strong shoulders and admired her gorgeous shape. She was well-formed, sleek without the weakness of ankles, or sharp withers that could be a problem with Arabians. 

“You make me want to ride again,” he told her as she shifted against his shoulder. “All agile elegance and sparkling life. There is nothing quite like it, really.”

Trevor’s grin was sinful as he thought about being inside of Sypha in the limo while Adrian’s hand slid between their bodies. “Okay, there is one thing like it in my life right now, but that is just for me, and you wouldn’t understand.” 

The white hide rumbled with her whinny. “Don’t laugh! Believe me, it’s amazing.” 

Her neck rounded as she turned toward him and again, he had the impression she was arching an eyebrow. “Right,” he continued apologetically, “not conversation fit for a lady’s company.” 

She tossed her head and he laughed. “Sass and pride,” he grinned. “I can relate to that. I appreciate a woman who has both. You should meet my Sypha, she’s--”

There was a flash of spun gold and a thunderous pounding as the herd broke into a canter towards the far side of the lawn. Trevor felt the mare tense to follow and reluctance split his joy. He let his hands fall.

“It’s alright. You are made to run, sweetheart and I won’t keep you.” His wistful tone was not lost on his ears but he couldn’t help it. “Go on and be with them.” The horse turned toward him, pawed at the ground and snorted.

It’s like she’s waiting, he thought, limbs tingling with anticipation.

With regret he told her, “Oh, I can’t. I haven’t ridden in years, much less bareback. I wouldn’t want to disappoint you.” The herd was trotting now, towards the edge of the lawn. The mare looked toward them and whinnied.

When the golden horse circled back, Trevor realized, he’s not as deep gold as I thought. The tint of the limo windows had dampened the glitter of him. The horse was almost exactly the tint of Adrian’s hair and glistened like sunbeams stirred in cream. 

Cremello, the word popped in. It’s a Cremello. But that was his color, not the… 

”Holy fucking hell, you are an Akhal-Tekea aren’t you?!?” he asked, careful to lower his voice from the shout that had risen up as the revelation had struck with the force of a meteor. 

He’d seen the breed before of course, but not the Cremellos. The golden ones were rare and expensive as hell. The Cremellos were the crown jewels of Akhal-Tekea breeders and would never be rodeo animals; Trevor had only seen them in photographs. 

The stallion blinked at the sculptor and stepped to the mare’s nose. She nuzzled him and the palomino horse exhaled sharply.

“Girlfriend?” Trevor asked quietly and the stallion pranced to the side, away from the man. “Skittish, mmmm. That’s alright. I was telling her to go ahead anyway.”

The mare stepped into him, rocking Trevor to the side. “What? I’m not in the way.” 

He stepped back again and she followed. She wants me to ride. The excitement jumped into his throat even as he tried to talk himself out of it. His limbs were aching to have even a moment of what he remembered.  

“Promise to take it easy? I’m very out of practice and like an old man now,” he told her and she rolled an eye back to him. The herd had kept moving and her ears swivelled toward them. You’ll fall on your ass, he thought and didn’t give a shit.

“To hell with it,” Trevor said, guiding her to the steps. Grasping her mane, he used the second step to launch himself onto her back. 

He was further back on the Arabian than he would have liked, but at least he had a good grip in her mane. Which was fortunate or he would have fallen for sure. His mount wheeled and then; playfully, joyfully, she bolted. 

Oh shit! Trevor thought, unable to even catch his breath. He automatically adjusted his legs, brought his other hand to her mane and edged closer to her withers. When he didn’t immediately tumble off, Belmont started to breathe again. She was fast, fluid and incredibly responsive. Someone had spent time and money in training this horse.

Well shit, he thought, I’m in love! and laughed; a joyful, rich sound. 

The rightness of it swept over him, wonderful memories surfacing into being and clinging to the back of his throat like hot chocolate thawing frosty lungs. Then his mount tossed her back feet in a little dance and the golden horse came alongside her. The two underwent an intricate frolic much like little birds bathing in a puddle.

“Come on now! I’m old and breakable, remember?!?” Trevor gasped, even as he laughed. She moved under him; a creature of thunderous speed and rippling muscle that stretched toward infinity as though it could be obtained. 

I’d forgotten, he thought, what this felt like. It was a clean pain, edged with a lacy sweetness like a blade crusted in frosting.

It took a moment for him to find the Arabian’s rhythm and then he just forgot everything. Riding a horse was the closest thing to flying. When he was on one, Trevor Belmont didn’t exist. There was only a gilded hero adorned in accolades soaring on his Pegasus. It was what captured him from the start and coaxed a small boy to nag his parents into horseback riding lessons.

The herd kept pace around them; jostling, sleek forms that sought for a means to leave the pesky restraints of gravity. Trevor knew just how they felt, and a slow, sly smile worked its way across his lips. He stroked the Arabian’s neck and bent low over her, voice tantalizing promise, “What do you say, pretty girl, want to go for a real ride?” 

The whistled yelp he’d used on his uncle’s ranch to get the cattle moving worked just as well on the horses. They stampeded toward the edge of the lawn in a flight of carefree exuberance, skirting the forest like wheeling birds in a summer sky. 

Eager, agile and fast, the Arabian wove her way through the glistening midnight and the pounding tempo of creatures built to soar filled Trevor’s ears. Approaching a small, lightly wooded area threaded through the side of the open expanse, the sculptor used his heels to press the Arabian toward a break in the trees. 

The Akhal-Tekea was so close he could have switched saddles, if only the horses were wearing them. As it was, it would be death if he fell right now. 

I would die happy then, he thought and felt a whoop bubble up. “I’m Trevor Fucking Belmont!” he bellowed happily as the herd thinned out, dividing at the line of trees. The sculptor slipped into the path between the woods and the thicket.

He let his head fall back. The sun was warm against his face, planting citrus kisses in a warm orange glow against his eyelids. For a moment, as he always had on horseback, Trevor felt a freedom from everything. There was nothing here but speed, wind and a unity so simple and fundamental that it avalanched joy inside of him. Nothing but the animal, the scent of sun-warmed wood and the feeling that all the meaning he needed in his life could be found inside this moment.

For the first time in weeks, he felt restored and balanced. There were no questions here and nothing but the ride. The sunlight flickered through green leaves, a kaleidoscope of gold that dappled his closed eyelids in a patchwork of shadow. It surprised, and then humbled, that he could feel tears prickle the edges of his eyes. 

Nope, we aren’t doing that, he thought. We are racing for all we are worth. 

He opened his eyes as the herd wheeled to follow the broken curve of the woods. The trees thinned and the herd merged back together, the Arabian in the lead as they galloped up a small rise and eased around a low stone wall with massive lilac shrubs just starting to bud. When they came around the other side of the lilacs, Trevor saw the estate spread out in front of him. 

That’s a fucking castle, he thought, awed and alarmed. It looked like a cross between a vampire’s lair and Sleeping Beauty’s fortress. He’d seen pictures of the Tepes estate in Time magazine when he was a boy but had only the impression of wealth, power and the certainty that it’d be a bitching hide and seek setting. As he recalled, the interior was equally impressive, all old beauty and historical wealth.

What would it have been like to grow up here? He wondered and felt the weight of such a thing press on him. It had been bad enough being in the gallery. Once Trevor had knocked some of the priceless artworks over when he’d been moving some boxes. The look on his father’s face...

He shook his head and deliberately looked at the imposing manor. With several more years under his belt since the first time he’d seen it, Trevor could appreciate the sculptural presence of building. He wasn’t much for gardens but he enjoyed the way the riotous blooms simultaneously softened the looming presence while also framing it in an underscored civility. 

Apparently Vlad Tepes didn’t believe in hiding his light under a bushel, he thought, humor and anxiety warring flavors in his mouth. 

He wondered about the woman that would match such a man and pictured Adrian when he was teaching. He imagined Lisa Tepes as equally cool, calm and self-possessed. 

It is easy to see why Adrian had problems, he thought, the rising anger smearing the happy bliss of his ride. Vlad was likely demanding as hell and Lisa remote and disapproving. 

They were just so fucking lucky their son is unbelievably tender hearted, he thought. I would have told them to shove it years ago. It would take every scrap of patience Trevor had not to get involved. The painter loved his parents dearly and the sculptor wanted to make this work.

The horses galloped up a sloping rise that met the edge of the manor and Trevor grinned. Behind the building, the land fell away toward a vast expanse of water that shimmered crimson and fire like the tail of a comet. 

There was a landscaped complex of raised beds, statues, plots and arches that stretched across the back lawn and worked its way down the slope in vast terraces of stone and rampaging color. There was a low stone wall with blooming tea roses and several statues, beds and bushes laid out before them. Behind it all, the vast expanse of the lake joined the lawn that melted into sand and rock several hundred feet away.

Several Friesians broke off toward the shoreline but Belmont was not ready for this to end.

“What do you think baby? I think we can take it, don’t you?” Feeling the animal gather herself under him, they surged over the wall in one seamless leap, clearing the flowerbed with ease. For three beats of his heart, the sculptor was airborne.

“Whoohoo!!” Trevor crowed and lined them up for the next wall. 

The Akhal-Teke stayed with them, hugging the corners in a synchronized jump while the remaining Friesians peeled off, favoring a wheeling arc over the back lawns that skirted the lake. 

The garden beds were tiered toward the water front like giant’s steps where flowers had sprung up in the footprints. They navigated the corners in tight wheels and the golden horse slowed before joining the Friesians, who were now approaching the lake for a drink.

Just like barrel racing, Belmont thought and murmured encouragement to his mount as they came around two hedges with a vined awning. 

It was a blur of black, what sounded like a damned hellhound, and his mount neighed with terror. When she reared Trevor didn’t fight it. He let go, allowing himself to be launched into the hedge. 

Boxwood embraced him and tore at his arms as he dropped like a stone into it, crushing the yielding shrub and slicing branches. “Fuck! Damn it! OW! Son of a—" he stopped thrashing when he heard the threatening growl. 

When he looked up, he was facing down an actual, fucking wolf. Three of them.

--- 

 

She's got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Where everything was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Now and then when I see her face
She takes me away to that special place

And if I stared too long I'd probably break down and cry

-"Sweet Child 'O Mine," Guns 'n Roses

Chapter Text

Lisa had a headache; the chairperson was frustrating her to no end. She despised teleconferences and the emergency CORC meeting was exhausting. 

They had finally agreed that they must mount an effective response to the attack and subsequent kidnapping of the 43 schoolgirls within the district that the UNWWV had been operating in, but they were fundamentally divided on what the response should be. There were UN forces in neighboring Nigeria, but who could be spared and what resources could be marshalled, was a coordination argument that had gone far into the afternoon. 

All her reasoning had been steadfastly ignored and sidelined by the chairperson, Clarence. Why even have a doctor if you aren’t going to listen to the ramifications of ceasing our vaccination work in order to send the medical and military personnel to the next country over?, she thought.

Lisa was arguing in favor of splitting the teams and spending a longer period completing the vaccinations but getting a head start on pursuing the schoolgirls. Two other committee members concurred, but there was a core of the committee that was in favor of simply abandoning this round of vaccines in favor of pursuit.

Knowing what it took to get the vaccination roll out approved the first time, Lisa was not in favor of full abandonment. The chairperson had repeated insinuated that she was heartless not to prioritize the well being of the kidnapped girls and she’d muted herself to give her space to call him a stupid cămașă umplută*.

It’d taken the edge off, and now, ninety minutes in, they were finally moving into the logistics of the suggestions. She was listening to the representative from the European Union discuss the fact that their team was the closest to the kidnappers and most mobile to assemble, when inspiration struck.

Muting again, Lisa emailed her assistant Catherine and requested she locate the briefings on the vaccine rollouts from last month, specifically the Nigerian ones. Moments later the answering email popped up. Lisa scanned the information, checked that she was still muted and said, “Dodge this Clarence, you glumă jalnică*

She put up her digital hand in the conference and waited. When the countdown in the corner of her laptop flashed three, she composed her face and folded her hands. Neutral was always best. The camera came on and Lisa saw her face on the primary screen. 

“Thank you for allowing me to speak. Further to the comments of Natalia, I have noted that there is in fact another team, specifically in the western part of Nigeria who is also administering vaccines. They were deployed only two weeks ago, which is why we don’t have them on the roster."

“However, if you refer to the minutes from the briefings on placements,” she sent the email with the highlighted passage, “you can see that a team of 32, with a platoon of soldiers, two tanks and a mobile unit was deployed a mere 157 kilometres from the current location of the kidnappers.”

Excited utterances that were quickly muted broke out among the committee and the debates started with renewed gusto. The camera winked back to the chairperson and Lisa noted with satisfaction he was reading in earnest.

Forty minutes later, Lisa’s headache was pounding, but triumph was a salve on her mood. 

“The vote passes.” Clarence said with a sniff. “I need to make the call to the Nigerian team to see if they could deploy as well. Please break for 25 minutes and we will reconvene accordingly. Twenty five minutes precisely.” Lisa smiled and set the timer on her watch before she sat back in her chair and rolled her shoulders.

The headache brought her fingertips to her temples and she sighed. She needed fresh air and to stretch her legs. When she opened her eyes the ache behind them gave her pause. Sighing again, she pressed the button for her assistant.

“Yes, Lisa, how may I help?” Catherine asked.

“Excellent news, I think we might have this wrapped up in time for cocktails.” Catherine’s happy murmur made Lisa smile. “Exactly. Unfortunately I have a truly spectacular headache brewing. Could you please order me some tea and something… actually, salmon, raclette and dill pinwheels on sourdough. Yes, just two, I don’t want to ruin supper.” Lisa listened for a moment and sighed. “Yes, you are right, I will take the Tylenol too, just one though please.”

“I am going to walk in the gardens but I don’t need an escort, I will take the dogs. Please just leave it on my desk. Only you, Catherine; I have the documents spread out. Of course, and thank you.” She hung up.

Truthfully, she just wanted to be alone, but Vlad would be unhappy if she didn’t take someone with her. The dogs were a compromise. She looked over at the dark, muscular, long forms flopped on the couch. 

“Seară*, Conte*? Where is your—ah,” the shaggy head popped out from behind the couch. Liquid chocolate eyes with a hint of maroon peeked from midnight fur and then a rhythmic thudding as the dog wagged her tail. 

“Come on, Devora*,” Lisa said with a playful grin. The big wolf hybrid stretched patiently and then stood. Lisa opened the French doors to her garden and breathed deeply. 

“Run,” she said and then laughed as the black blurs bulleted out into the fragrant grounds. She stepped down and inhaled again. The stone walls and hedges artfully provided sliced views of her home and property while keeping her shielded from any prying eyes in the lake or woods. 

There was no risk of anyone spying on them but they’d planned the landscaping accordingly anyway. Vlad had insisted and she’d understood.

Intruders had been an issue in the past until Vlad had made his statement against those who dared to take photos of her in the privacy of the estate. When she was carrying Adrian, a photographer had snapped her asleep in a lawn chair at the edge of the lake.

Eight and a half months pregnant, she’d tired in the afternoon sun and sat down to rest. There she’d fallen asleep, thick braid over one shoulder, ankles in the cool water, white dress rippling easily around her calves. 

She'd been holding her belly gently; Adrian had been dancing the night before and kept her up. A soft smile had played on her mouth and the peace in the shot was poignant. 

It had been a stunning photograph and the image had been celebrated as a symbol of maternal love on the cover of Newsweek.

Lisa had loved it the moment she’d seen it. She’d also felt violated.

Vlad had been furious and protective, upset about her emotional upheaval so late in her pregnancy and the audacity of the photographer to trespass on his land. She smiled. And you don't cross Vlad Dracula Tepes, she thought with love and pride.

It wasn’t even that the photographs were scandalous or worrisome, rather her husband had wanted to set precedent for crossing the line of public and private with the Tepes family. Two weeks later, Lord Tepes owned both the agency that the photographer was working for, and the paper that had sold the image to Newsweek. He fired everyone involved in the matter.

She’d felt it was a tad extreme but also understood that it was a message to the media about infringing on the privacy of their family and a preemptive move to protect their unborn child. 

The irony of course was that Vlad Dracula adored that photo and had a large print hung in his study. Truth be told, she felt happy every time she saw it. There was something sweet about her billowing dress, windswept hair and protective hand on her belly. 

My baby, she remembered, touching her gently sloping stomach now as she looked across her garden. If she concentrated, she could still recall the press of her son as he nestled inside her womb. Love and devotion was a deepset joy in her limbs. 

I wonder about this Belmont, she thought again, returning to the train of thought she’d been entertaining on and off for the last two days. 

When Vlad told her that Soma had rescued him from trumped up assault charges with the FBI, she’d had some concerns. A quick call to Mina and an internet search had assuaged all her fears. Lisa felt pity for the young man. He was alone in the world, having lost his family in a truly horrific manner. 

She wandered down the tiered sections of the garden, caressing the extended honeysuckle vines that waterfalled over the stone wall and smiling at the darting games the dogs were silently playing in the garden. 

Lisa felt a little worm of concern in her guts again when she thought about Trevor and Adrian. She knew that her son would not bring someone home to them that he didn’t trust, not even for Sypha, so obviously they were at least friends now. 

Sypha had been the first friend he’d introduced to her since he was twelve. Lisa didn’t count the casual acquaintance’s of her colleagues children. 

In what capacity was Trevor visiting? She wondered. Were they just friends or also lovers now? Is he still the gorgeous jerk, or was he now ‘Beloved’?  

Like every mother, Lisa worried that her child was treated with the love and respect that she believed he deserved. There was no question of Adrian being cherished by Sypha if they’d taken that step, but this young man seemed unpredictable.

There was no way to untangle the Tepes wealth and prestige from the matter and she was sorry for it. It meant that she needed to walk a fine line of caution and welcome with Trevor Belmont. She trusted her son's judgement but she had also experienced the heartache of being leveraged for who she was.

With another rub for her forehead, she considered her husband's reaction if Adrian now had two lovers. She had not said anything to Vlad for a number of reasons, but had worried how best to support her son if the revelation came about. She knew it would be fireworks even in the best circumstances and suspected that Adrian might forego any disclosures whatsoever if possible. Part of her grieved that and part of her accepted it.

But would his lovers?

She thought about Mina’s explanation of what had happened at the art school between Trevor and the Agent Godbrand. Belmont is not one to play the subtle game of deflection and withholding, she thought ruefully. Still, if Adrian asked it…

The three young people might choose to keep their relationship to themselves if it was the case.

Love is never easy, she thought and had to laugh out loud. She knew that better than most. Devora peeked around a hedge at the sound of her chuckle and immediately melted back into the underbrush.

She heard the thunder of the horses somewhere to her right and coming around this side of the house. 

Sounds like they’re having a run, she thought happily and moved toward the edge of the garden so she could have a look. The three fanged shades spread out around her, silent companions of shadow and happy panting.

“Whoohoo!” came a masculine yelp of pure glee and a laugh that instinctively made her grin in response.

What in the world? She wondered and the sounds of the herd slowing corresponded with a clattering landing. Someone was jumping? Wait, in my garden?!  That instantly dismissed the possibility of Adrian or a stable hand. None of the servants would dare and her son hadn’t messed with her flowers since he was twelve. He knew better.

Her stomach tensed. It could be some joy seeker or random hiker who found the horses and decided to take them for a spin, but experience told her that she couldn’t risk it.

“Pază,*” she said forcefully and snapped her fingers twice. Immediately her dogs fanned out, muscular menace and slinking watchfulness. Devora merged to her side and kept pace. She took out her phone and started backing up. 

It happened so quickly. Luna came around the bend with a young brunette man on her back and Seară and Conte surged forward, leaping at the horse and roaring with fury. Luna reared and the rider went flying into her boxwoods. 

Damn it, she thought as the hedge abruptly acquired a man-sized dent in it. It would never be the same.

Annoyed and still concerned, Lisa pressed the emergency code into her phone and hovered her finger over the send. “Apăra!,*” Lisa called to her dogs and they fused out into a triangle formation, Conte leading.

“Fuck! Damn it!” The voice was low, annoyed and oddly amused. “OW!” Lisa winced as she heard the rip of clothes and a tousled head of russet hair appeared, leaves and spikes of brown mixed into each other like a deranged bird had tried to build a nest. 

“Son of a—" The man’s face appeared and Lisa blinked. He was attractive, young and rugged, a long scar running down the side of his face, brilliantly blue eyes and great shoulders. He froze, eyes on the three dogs that were pacing toward him.

“Who are you?” Lisa asked him, keeping the dogs between them.

He slowly brought his eyes up and then winced. “Um, hello Lady Tepes.” 

Awareness prickled over her. The man obviously knew who she was so what the heck had he been—

“I’m Trevor Belmont, Sypha’s boyfriend?” He started to wave and Seară snarled. He froze again. “I ugh, would really love to not have, ‘Eaten by wolves while gardening’ be my obituary so could if you just could please—”

“Stai jos*,” Lisa said, “Pază.” The dogs stopped moving and Devora returned to her side, sitting down, ears pricked toward Belmont. Lisa put her hand on the massive head and stroked, considering. 

Part of her accepted immediately that this was Trevor. 

Gorgeous jerk indeed, she thought, taking in the tanned face, strong bone structure and small curve of his lips that suggested he might have a truly incredible grin. If this was the man, he had poor impulse control. And where was Adrian? Better to be cautious.

“Do you have any identification?” She asked coolly. The man sagged. 

“That would be smart. An intelligent person would, but I gave my wallet to Sypha to pay for lunch after Lindenfeld’s and she still has it. I know this is dumb but Adrian is in the limo asleep and he would—”

This was Belmont, she thought with amusement, exasperation and a concern that was swelling quickly. This was not who she was expecting, but she could see it. He was charming, attractive and irreverent. 

Oh Adrian, she thought with a pang, if you aren’t in love already, you will be. She wondered again exactly what they were to each other.

“What is my son’s address?” She asked Trevor, face impassive as he rattled it off. Lisa knew she shouldn’t but she was curious. Just what was Trevor to her son? “What painting hangs above Adrian’s bed?”

“There isn’t one, but there is a truly exquisite one of two hands clasping beside it and across from the bed there is a gorgeous one with flowers blooming under the skin.”

Her watch alarm went and the dogs tensed. Time to get back to work , she thought and looked at Trevor. “Stai jos,” she told the animals and then “la usurinta.*” 

Suddenly the dogs were surging toward Trevor, whose eyes went wide. He inhaled sharply. Lisa was surprised and then impressed when he didn’t move, but put out his arms, palms up. 

“Come now pups, we could be such friends,” he said in a low voice and Conte reached him first, massive pink tongue licking out into his palm before stepping into the hedge to whine hopefully. 

The dogs liked him already, she noted with interest. 

There was that laugh again and the man threw his arms around the animal. “Oh, you are so fluffy! Big bad wolf my a— hahah .”

Remembered yourself, didn’t you? Lisa thought with amusement. “Welcome Trevor. I need to return to my call but it was a pleasure to meet you. Please be more careful in the future.” She turned to go and called Devora to her side. She hadn’t taken more than a step when the urgency of Trevor’s voice had her turning.

“Lady Tepes!” Trevor called out. “Nice to meet you and sorry about your plants!”

There was an earnestness in it and the anxiousness of youth, but what brought the smile to her mouth was the sweetness. She turned. 

Here he was, a head in the middle of a swarm of affectionate black fur, broken bush limbs, trampled leaves and a half-torn shirt, and his first thought was her plants and making a good impression. 

Her fears eased. Whether this man loved her son or not, he had a kind heart and that boded well for the future.

He continued, a handsome Pan wreathed in vibrant green. “I beg your pardon for my foolishness. I will pay for this damage; I-I am sorry for this terrible introduction. I had hoped to make a good impression and I am painfully aware this was not it.”

Lisa softened completely. 

She wondered if Trevor understood how much concern and desperate pride was inside those words. He was so young and really, not very good at hiding his emotions. She could see why Adrian was drawn to him.

Her face eased into a smile and his expression drew into one of adoration. “Your smile is just like his,” Trevor said softly. He blinked and a tiny knit of concern grew between his brows. “Excuse me, I meant--”

Lisa grinned. Oh you love him so, don’t you Mr. Belmont, she realized and wasn’t sure what she thought of it yet.

“You meant that I look like my son. Thank you Trevor; there is nothing you could have said that would please me more. I adore Adrian and his smile brings me great joy.” 

She gestured carelessly, lying gently to allow him to save face. “I never cared for that hedge anyway, you’ve done me a favor in ensuring it needs to be replaced. I should be paying you for removing it.” 

Replacing it, at the size it was, would run four figures. There was not a chance that this scruffy young man, with the torn pants and worn boots could afford it.

“I am glad I could be of service then,” Trevor’s smile was wicked amusement but worry edged in again. “Truly though, I apologize for frightening you.”

Lisa waved that away, “You didn't frighten me Belmont, really. More importantly, I am awake now for my extremely boring conference call. I look forward to welcoming you in a less dramatic manner this evening. Have fun exploring.” Devora padded beside her and she made her way back to the open doors of her study. 

It would be an interesting weekend, she thought with happiness and a touch of nerves.

---

First time you feel it, it might make you sad
Next time you feel it, it might make you mad
But do be glad baby when you've found
That's the power makes the world go 'round

And it don't take money, don't take fame

Don't need no credit card to ride this train
It's strong and it's sudden, it can be cruel sometimes
But it might just save your life

-"The Power of Love," Huey Lewis & The News

Chapter Text

Where are they? He wondered as he shut the limo door. 

Neither Sypha nor Trevor were in the car and a quick look had determined that there was no one around. Adrian knew that the feeling of being alone was just an illusion. Security was everywhere here. 

He took a deep, steadying breath and stretched. When he rotated his shoulders, the blonde felt the bites and quickly brought his hair forward to cover them. It would be a disaster to reveal them.

I need to change into a turtleneck, he thought and turned toward the building.

His smile was small but happy. He’d grown up here and loved the space as a reminder of a time when he felt safe and cherished. Studying it, he could acknowledge that it would always feel like a haven to him, but only from the outside world. There were expectations here that he still struggled with and resisted submitting to.

Only his apartment felt like a true sanctuary to him now, without exceptions or rules from internal or external sources. His smile broadened. Only his apartment was a space where he could truly be himself, and now, there were people he could share that with. People he loved and felt known by.

It was a short walk to his quarters and pleasant enough. There were faces of people he’d known for years and objects that he remembered seeing when he was several feet shorter. From Sergei, the butler, he found out that Sypha was swimming and Trevor was exploring the grounds. 

As he shut the door to his suites, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was something of a relief to just be by himself for a moment. Opening his eyes, he saw the blinking digital messenger. 

It was ingrained in him to check it immediately. When he was a child, this was how his parents left him messages and instructions. Essentially a glorified answering machine, the family still used it in place of cell phones from time to time. 

He pressed in the code and heard that there was one message waiting. His mother’s voice poured into the room, warm and happy. His smile returned.

“Hello and welcome to all of you! I apologize that Vlad and I are scheduled in meetings for the afternoon but I am happy to tell you that we packed Friday in order to clear the decks for tonight and tomorrow!” There was the sound of papers shuffling and a pen scribbling. 

Lisa continued, “Sadly, Vlad has meetings on Sunday, and I will have to disappear for a couple of hours on Saturday morning to go into town, but otherwise we are very much looking forward to catching up and meeting Mr. Belmont!”

There was a murmur that Adrian recognized as Catherine’s voice, his mother’s assistant. “Yes, thank you Catherine. Sorry! Where was I? Ah, yes!” 

“Beside the machine, Eva should have left a number of invitations we’ve received to events scheduled for this weekend. We were thinking that it might be fun to attend something, only if you would like to, of course. Have a glance and see if something catches your eye. I’m afraid that I only had the chance to discuss this with Vlad this morning and didn’t warn you to bring something fancy.” 

She paused and then laughed, “So you know what that means, Sypha! Time to call Saint! My treat, if you please; I so want to pick something out with you!”

Adrian grinned. His mother loved to shop with Sypha. The women shared similar taste, although dressed as differently as you could imagine. They were spot on with each other’s style though and had great fun together. 

“This offer extends to Mr. Belmont as well, of course. I am sure that Saint could find something for him. I should be done with my meetings in time for supper. Vlad will join us after the second course. Please, enjoy yourselves and welcome again—I am so thrilled you are here.”

Adrian stored the message so he could play it for Sypha and Trevor. Saint would be thrilled, and probably bring half the damn store. Adrian hadn’t missed the man’s eyeball on Trevor. It’d been amusing, and just a touch irritating. 

Saint didn’t mean anything by it, the blonde thought. Trevor is gorgeous and it’s perfectly reasonable that he would admire him. He has great taste, after all, those boots were Oh lord have mercy, the boots.

Pure, unadulterated lust pounded in time with his headache. Those had not been the boots he’d thought Trevor wanted. He’d imagined a nice pair of equestrian boots or perhaps some leather knee-high combat boots. 

The thigh highs in black leather and elegant flared heels? Those ridiculous shorts with the gold stripes? Adrian wheezed. Fucking hell, that was something out of a dream I never knew I needed. 

For whatever reason, he’d simply never thought of Trevor—strong, muscular, overwhelmingly masculine Trevor—as the type to wear heels. 

But he hadn’t just worn them, he thought with a groan. He worked them. Teaches me never to assume anything.

It had taken everything in Adrian not to go join Sypha on the couch and spank that ass within an inch of Belmont’s life. It had done things to the blonde to see him like that. 

It was something of a shock to think he might take great pleasure in feeling those boots wrapped around his hips. The painter had certainly thought about what it might be like someday to have Trevor under him, but this had been an immediate, visceral need to stake his claim.

You learn something new everyday, he reflected with a wry twist of his lips. Trevor wasn’t the only possessive one.

It was a fire in his blood to try out the situation in Sypha’s drawing at the earliest opportunity. The idea of being taken by both his lovers at once? Leather warmed by pressing into his skin? To be tied down and used?

He shuddered with anticipation.

This excited desire was entirely Sypha’s fault and he had to remember to thank her for it. Multiple times and as thoroughly as possible. These thoughts did nothing to calm his semi-aroused state. He started to imagine Sypha in leather as well, and decided that a cold shower might help with his headache and his arousal. 

The painter moved toward his bedroom, unbuttoning his shirt and working it off his arms.

When Adrian passed the guest room, he saw Sypha’s bags and paused. The blonde hadn’t had the chance to speak to his lovers about whether they would be comfortable sharing his bed here, in his parents home. This was an answer to that question and he felt crystalline frost creep into his heart. 

No one would come in these suites without Adrian’s express permission, which is why he’d thought—

It was for the best, he told himself, shaking it off. When he entered his room he tried to ignore how huge and lonely the bed seemed and finished stripping.  

told them we had to pretend, he thought. I told them that we couldn’t let anyone know. We can’t. 

The thought just made him more unhappy and he padded over to the bathroom across the hall. He could have used his own shower but this was a small way to be close to them. Sypha’s toiletry bag made him smile and he traced his fingertips over the silly crocodiles and rainbows pattern.

When he saw himself in the mirror, he stared. The bruising from the bites had spread significantly. I will have to wear high necked shirts for weeks, he thought with dismay. 

The blonde touched the one over his collarbone and the sweet ache made him moan. I would wear a damned paper sack for the next month to feel this, he acknowledged. 

It was pure heaven to immediately recall what it felt like to be devoured, possessed and claimed when he touched the mark. It took the painter right back into the heart of Trevor’s desperate need for him all over again. 

I don’t know what I became in that moment, he remembered, thinking of his whimpered pleas and wanton words. 

You are devastating me, he reflected, how true those words were.

I haven’t spoken Romanian in months, he thought. The last time had been supper here at the family home. Vlad liked to have meals in Romanian for the practice. He said that it kept Adrian grounded in the mother tongue. The painter didn’t mind really; it was a pretty language and he didn’t use it otherwise, except for the occasional interview or public engagement.

But using it with Trevor, to confess his love to him; there was something about that that was terrifying. It bridged his past with his future in a measurable link that felt like it had consequences yet unknown. Finding no answers in his reflection, he turned from the mirror and turned the shower on.

Cold water poured down and Adrian warmed it slightly before stepping in. He hissed with unhappiness and decided that he wasn’t worried about being aroused enough to warrant this misery. He turned it up to warm and sighed happily.

Soaping briskly, he thought about going to find his lovers and see what they were doing. Mention his mother’s invitation and make some decisions, maybe sneak a kiss or a quick—. No, he thought and closed his eyes. 

It wasn’t fair to either of them to tell them they couldn’t touch him and then tease them by doing it himself. For the first time he acknowledged just how difficult this really was. 

He’d known that it would be; it made him just as unhappy as Trevor and he’d been grateful that Sypha was content to go along with it. He couldn’t handle adding her unhappiness in there as well.

The speed with which he’d become accustomed to touching them was staggering. Reaching for Sypha’s hand, smacking Trevor’s ass, a casual kiss, flirtatious glance. Hell, even the morning goodbyes would be missed. 

He grinned. Trevor had started it. They’d been headed out the door the second morning and the sculptor had whirled abruptly, held out his arms, and exclaimed, “We fucking forgot!” 

Sypha and Adrian had blinked and the brunette launched himself at them, enveloping them in a ridiculous sprawl of a hug. 

“Get used to it,” Belmont had crowed, while his lovers grumbled and laughed. “Every morning now; I want my fucking hugs and kisses!”

With pain, Adrian realized that it had been only a few days and he knew he needed that exuberant embrace to start his days for the rest of his life. The idea of foregoing it was like waiting all day for someone to remember it was your birthday, but no one did. 

It’s just for the weekend, he told himself. Maybe we can compromise a bit, touch when no one is looking. Just here in the suite.

After all, he’d already set the precedence of privacy in his personal quarters years ago. No one would dare enter it while he was in residence. Well, his father might knock until someone showed up, but that would be it. 

I will pull the curtains, Adrian decided, and I will lock the doors. That would do the trick. He didn’t normally, but he could use the excuse of his guests; if anyone even noticed.

Happier now, an acceptable compromise reached in his own mind, the painter shut off the shower and resolved to ask his lovers to move into his room with him. The blonde would be damned if he’d spend his nights alone too. Adrian wrapped his towel around his waist and went back to his bedroom. 

In his personal bathroom, he set about detangling his hair, completed his skin care routine and opted to tie his hair up rather than blow-dry. He’d pulled on his black briefs when he heard the suite door open and froze. 

Who would —, he thought, and then he heard Sypha singing to herself. Adrian grinned. He stepped into the hall to greet her and heard the words.

“Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto thee,” she murmured and his smile fell away. The painter knew something was seriously worrying her if she was singing a hymn. 

He opened his mouth to ask her what was wrong and she stepped into the hallway. Eyes on the floor, she moved with unselfconscious grace. Her body was one long, creamy contour; a gorgeous mix of soft and firm. 

The bikini top was already falling away as she stripped, and her gracious breasts swayed gently. Soft pink nipples pebbled in the cool air and flirted with his gaze. Salt water rolled down her long, strong legs and the band of her bikini bottoms pressed into the lovely curves of her hips and belly. 

His greeting merged into a quiet exhale, a gentle southern wind of desire that pressed warmly against her skin. “Sypha,” he murmured as he fell into the easy pleasure of his love for her. 

She startled, head swiftly rising and body freezing like a doe searching the wood. Her face was vulnerable, aware and then she smiled. 

“Hello there,” she said softly. “I like your outfit.”

“Yours is better,” he said thickly, already imagining what the salt on her skin might taste like. “Although, frankly, you could wear a plastic bag and still look beautiful.”

She snorted; smile gentle and playful. “I think you are thinking of yourself,” she said, starting toward him again.

“No, my lovely one,” he said seriously, wishing for just a moment that she could glimpse herself through his eyes. “You are stunning.” 

She paused at his words, blinking, and he watched a droplet of water descend the contour of her bicep to nestle into the fragile skin of her elbow. Her pulse pounded there and he felt it’s throb twin with his own. 

“Adrian,” she said softly, “I know what I look like. You don’t have to—“

He stepped forward, suddenly sure of himself and what he wanted to do. “Ah, but you see, I do. I do have to, because there is no other response when I see you. I love you and there are an infinite number of ways for me to show you that.” 

The painter stepped forward again, watching the humour in her face fade and be replaced with a sweet anticipation that he could taste in the air between them.

Deliberately, he closed the distance until he could reach out and touch her. When his palm cupped the side of her face, she leaned into his hand and sighed. 

“I want to show you each and every way that I love you,” he told her. “Words are an important part of it.”

“I am grateful you think that, when you look at me,” she said, blue horizons over still waters meeting his eyes. “I feel lucky to be with you.” 

She reached up to cup his wrist as he held her face.

“Sypha, my love, you are a gift. If anyone is lucky it is me.” 

He bent his head and ghosted his lips over hers. She tasted like the afternoon shade from the relentless sun; faint traces of the saltwater layered over her natural, rich scent. The tips of his fingers meandered into her wet hair and he licked over the fullness of her bottom lip.

“Adrian,” she murmured against him and splayed her hand on his chest. 

She is everything, his heart whispered to him. Tenderness was feathers on the wings of desire and he wanted to fly with her. This woman understood him to his bones. When he was with her there was no questioning, no doubt and no fear. She loved him and he trusted that with everything inside of him. 

Her hand trailed up his arm to find his cheek, and stroked gently. “Come to bed with me,” he asked her and felt her lips curve against his. “Let me love you.”

“There is nothing I want more,” she rasped against his mouth. “I love you so much, Adrian.” 

I know it, he thought, humbled all over again that she would choose him. I want to feel it inside of you.

He trailed his fingers down the curving give of her spine, feeling her resilient muscles quiver and filled his hands with the generous flesh of her ass. When he lifted her, she gasped and pressed into him. The wetness of her bathing suit was an arousing contradiction of heat and cool. It scraped against his willpower to take it slow and savour her. 

Her lips firmed against his and moved with eager urgency. When they shivered together, he licked into her mouth and groaned. 

“I want you inside of me,” she whimpered and the smouldering heat in his belly waltzed out into his limbs like falling petals. With an agreeable murmur, he carried her down the hallway and into his bedroom. 

Her yielding softness stopped him from throwing her down on the bed. Instead, he eased her down and untangled himself from her. Her face was confused for a moment and then cleared as he drew the curtains and turned on the lamp. When he turned back to her, she grinned wickedly. 

“Don’t forget your underwear,” she said sassily. 

Her hands moved down to the band of her bikini and a wonderful idea came to him. 

“Wait, Sypha,” he said and she stilled. 

He leaned down and ran a fingertip down her cheek, across her throat, between her breasts and dipped over her belly button. She arched into him; open, welcoming, and willing. 

“Would you please do something for me?” he asked quietly and her face gentled so sweetly that his lust revved down and his heart dipped back into that tender place of reverence.

“I would do anything for you, Adrian. You have only to ask.” Wickedness came into her grin. “If it’s sexual, you don’t need to ask; just fuck me.” 

It was a joke but he knew she meant it. She’d been very clear about her sexual preferences and it’d been a blessing to him. 

The painter liked having the guidelines because he knew that anything inside of them would be welcome. He could touch her and know it would be what she wanted, what she deserved. The blonde could be with her without fear of her disappointment.

Let me show you, he thought, what you mean to me.  

“Would you let me,” he swallowed over the nerves, “tell you how to touch yourself?” It sounded so strange when he said it out loud, but he needed to be able to guide this, to show her.

Sypha’s eyebrows arched and then she grinned saucily. “Oh wow, I love that you want to instruct me. Tell me, lover, do you want me to call you ‘teacher’?”

It was a sudden, provocative and alluring idea. I never considered that, he thought, but she actually just hit upon how I am going to do this without blushing. 

“Not this time Sypha, but I will definitely stow that idea for later because it is hot as hell.” 

“Let’s just say, I have been imagining you telling me to earn my grade for a while now.” She wiggled invitingly and Adrian had to bite the side of his cheek. 

Focus here, he thought and took a steadying breath. 

“Why don’t you get comfortable,” he suggested, gesturing to the pillows at the head of the bed and once again she looked puzzled. 

He knew that Sypha was used to speed; used to coming quickly and hard. But he also knew from his experience the first time that he had touched her, that her capacity for pleasure was vast and had surprised even her. 

There was a generosity there that she denied herself, he thought. It made him sad in a way. She was so assertive and confident but there were little pockets where you could see her push her own needs aside in favour of caring for others. 

Let me take care of you, he asked silently. Let me show you that you deserve to be worshipped. 

She removed her bikini bottoms and moved to the pillows, settlinginto them. Half sitting, half lying down, she was a queen in recline. Spreading her legs, she arched a brow to him and waited. 

How would you touch her? he thought and then opened his mental portfolio of instructional techniques.

The blonde sat in the armchair at the end of the bed and settled in. Sypha opened her mouth, but he beat her to it. 

“Close your eyes,” he told her. She grinned and closed them. “Take a deep breath and listen to your exhale.” 

He could see her do it and the tiniest relaxation of her limbs. He repeated the request three times, until her hands were lax on her belly. 

“Touch your cheek,” he asked her, and watched her respond like it was a game of ‘Simon Says.’ 

No, with love, he thought and immediately clarified. 

“Touch your cheek like you would touch mine.” Her hand gentled, stroked. “Perfect, thank you.” Her smile was quick, but less certain. 

“Keeping that type of touch, I want you to slowly caress your eyebrows.” She did, tracing them with a questing fingertip. “Over your eyes,” she paused on her eyelid, brushing the eyelashes, “and now your mouth.” 

Two fingertips pressed into the full bottom lip and parted them.

“Feel how soft they are, how abundantly giving,” he murmured, observing the small crease that formed between her brows. 

She doesn’t understand, he acknowledged, but prayed that she would by the end. 

“There’s that smooth corner at the very edge; it’s kissable, tender, stunning.” Her fingertip found it, minuscule movements that made him ache to taste that patch of skin with his tongue. 

Would I taste her love there? The blonde wondered, and felt certain he would.

“That spot, I could spend hours just there,” he told her. “It’s a tiny sliver of everything you are, a perfect diamond in the gemstone mine of Sypha.” 

She swallowed hard and her eyebrows knit in a yearning plea. When her hips shifted, he knew she had started the journey of becoming lost in her own flesh. 

“Lick your fingertips,” he asked her and the tiniest peek of pink winked out. 

“Adore the cleverness of your tongue. It gives so much—pleasure, comfort, love,” he watched her feather the pads of her fingers against her teeth, “both words and deeds of immense joy are possible because of it.”

“Slide your hand down your throat; can you feel the pulse under your palm?” The redhead’s hand moved down, a firm press against the vulnerable column. She nodded slowly. 

“Feel your pulse jump with desire, knowing that you will have everything I want to give you before this is through. You will know your own beauty under your fingertips, see your body through my words. I would give you this because I love you.”

A tiny moan escaped her and her free hand clutched the covers in a spasm. His answering clench was instinctive, and made his breath hitch. 

This was like capturing a butterfly. You had to be clever, fast, distracting but above all, so very gentle. There would be no damage to her colourful delicacy. As much as he wanted to hold her, it was more important to him to see her fly with assurance when the moment was over.

“Squeeze, just a little,” the painter told her and watched her fingertips dig into her throat. His own hand clenched reflexively. There were only a few times Adrian had felt her throat in his hand, but he knew it was a heady and powerful thing to feel against his skin. 

Sypha’s body tensed and then went utterly pliant. Shapely legs curved naturally and her nipples peaked. The blonde bit his tongue and gritted his teeth, quiet for a moment before he spoke. When his voice slipped out into the room once more, it quaked with quiet devotion.

“Trace your collarbone, feel the strength and the exquisite shape of it.” Delicate steps of her fingers along the bone had him mimicking the movement on his own skin. “It’s like the arch of a sapling reaching toward the sky, holding limitless potential inside of it.”

When he told her to cup her breast, her response was entranced. There was no guile, no coyness and no teasing now. Her movements were devout, intent and deferential. 

“Feel the soft weight, like holding a rain cloud? It’s the most fragile, pliant, stunning thing in the world and it’s your own flesh.” She shuddered and brought her other hand up to cup the opposite breast. 

Yes, he thought instantly, you are feeling my words inside yourself now.

“The warmth of your skin and that flawless crease under your breast is a soft retreat from the world. I would rest my head there for eternity and listen to your heartbeat.” Her fingers stroked lazily, thoughtfully. 

Adrian could feel her skin on the pads of his fingers. “I can smell you there; rich, warm, like the sunlight on freshly tilled earth. That smell is home to me. My heart hides there.”

Her murmur was pleading, peaceful assent, lips parted with yearning and body poised. “Lightly, like I was kissing them, brush your nipples.” 

She sighed into her own touch and stretched like a waking cat caught in a sunbeam. He fancied that she was sinking into the covers and imagining they were his touch.

I don’t want this to end. It was a greedy, selfish animal inside of himself. She is caught in it now, comfortable inside her own skin. She would do anything I asked her to and have faith that it was right.  

It was intoxicating to be trusted like this. It was captivating to witness and he couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of this sooner. 

I wish Trevor could see it, he reflected and then smiled. They would just have to repeat this sometime. 

“Do it again please; feel your skin heat with desire and give it back to yourself. My mouth against your breast.” She gasped, arched, whimpered. 

God have mercy, he thought, as he strained to stay calm. You are stunning. 

“Your pleasure is all there; you deserve to feel it in every stroke.” Her face was the shimmer of sunlight on leaves, glittering, alive, ethereal. Bewitched, he held his breath.

“Adrian,” she moaned and he smiled softly.

“Sypha,” he corrected gently. “You are doing this; you are giving yourself this. Give yourself more.” When she didn’t argue but rolled her nipples between thumb and finger with a keening whimper; he swallowed hard against triumph, love and lust. 

That’s it, darling, feel your own glory and allow it to smother you in adoration. 

His own desire was a caught bird in his throat, beating furiously against the confines of his own tissue. The painter shuddered with her, aware he was perched on the edge of his seat, fingers biting into his thighs as he worked to keep his voice even and light. 

There was no way he wanted to break the spell. Seeing Sypha immerse herself in her own divinity was everything he could have wanted. 

When her breath caught, he spoke again, “Firmer now; touch your ribs. Feel each one, like clasping roots that hold your heart. They are strong, open; they cover a place of rest and peace for anyone you invite into your life.” 

Like a child taking the steps for the first time, she tiptoed delicately down them.

“There is skin so soft it’s like kissing your eyelids, right under the last rib.” He sighed with longing. “Your whole belly is like that, a warm kiss against my body when I embrace you.”

“Adrian, please,” Sypha murmured beseechingly. “I want you to—“

“I know, love, and I will,” he interrupted, his murmur dripping devotion in tiny wringing bursts. “Be my hands for me, just a while longer.”

She curved into her own palms and moaned. “There is that tiny scar above your belly button from your piercing,” he watched the ligaments in her hand move like pipe organ pedals as she travelled down. “I’ve always loved it. Two tiny moons, orbiting each other.”

When her index finger walked the edge of her belly button, he resisted his oath. He was thinking about tracing a similar pattern over sensitive, slick, firm flesh and he was sure she was too. Instead, he scraped fingernails over his thigh and practiced the breathing techniques from his yoga.

“Cup your hips and squeeze gently,” he said. Adrian didn’t try to hide his groan when she pressed her fingertips into the ample flesh and bucked up helplessly; her breasts rolling, throat a long plea of desire.

“Yes love, just like that, just how I would hold you as you moved under my mouth.” His voice was rough and urgent, lost in her discovery. “I love it; how your body begs without any need for words. How generous you are with your desire, giving me everything I could ever dream of in the dance of your limbs.”

Sypha’s breath was gasps now, uneven puffs of necessity that raced toward fulfillment. But her hands stayed where he’d directed them. Adrian smiled. 

I am here love. I won’t leave you wanting, he thought.

“The skin on the inside of your thighs, can you feel it?” He watched her hands make a vee that framed the apex of her thighs. “I’m at a loss to tell you how soft it is. Only that it feels like moonlight under my hands—patient, mysterious, giving, embracing.”

She stroked down, wonder on her face, eyebrows knit in a vulnerable plea. “Do you know, the first time I touched the heart of you, I couldn’t believe how delicate you were.” He watched her cup herself, the quick snap of her hips an ancient welcome of carnality against her open palm. 

His desire was a steady throb in the back of his throat. To taste, to touch, to unite; he wanted it. But Sypha’s pleasure was paramount. She deserved to be put first and he would give that to her. If she would let him.

“I couldn’t believe how incredibly giving your flesh was. It was like you’d taken your love for me and manifested it into a liquid embrace.” His laugh was harsher than he would have liked and he let it taper off. “I suppose that is exactly what you did. It was a full immersion into heaven. It was gorgeous.”

“Adrian, touch me,” Sypha said, voice husky with need and desire. “I’m ready and I want you.” Her body shifted restlessly and her eyes found his. Blooming bolts of color, like sunlight through midnight-blue stained glass; there were falling angels plummeting from them. 

I am touching you, he thought and smiled. 

There would be no race to the finish here. It might have been different if her pleasure was not so abundantly clear to him. The movement of her limbs, the taut nipples, the faint liquid sound when she arched--she was caught in passion now and he knew it.

“Ah, but love, there is nothing but time here,” he said soothingly. “There is no rush and no need for you to do anything but be pleasured.”

Her eyes dropped to his obvious arousal. “But you want me,” she murmured. “You are just as ready.”

“Of course I do; I ache for you. But seeing you like this? Lost in your own flesh, appreciating your body through my words? This is everything, this is pleasure. You are divine, Sypha, and your skin is a bridge between my heart and yours.”

She laughed but it wasn’t filled with humor; it was filled with wondering wistfulness. “I don’t know how you see that in me, but I am grateful for it. Humbled by it and inconceivably aroused by it. I just don’t want you to--”

“I am as pleasured as you by this. And speaking of pleasure, please close your eyes and take a deep breath.” Now she laughed with easy amusement. 

Don’t think about it, he silently urged her, allow yourself to fall back into it. He regretted the interruption but it couldn’t be helped. With luck, she would return to that pliant state of bliss and let her worry fall away.

She closed her eyes and breathed. He let it draw out and lingered, watching the tension in her muscles lesson. 

“You are beautiful; I want you to feel what I see, inside of yourself.” He heard the wish in his voice; the honesty and need. “You have wings, Sypha, and I love seeing you use them.”

“Yes,” she murmured to him, a sigh, a prayer, an ask. “I would give them to you.”

“Now, bring your fingertips to your lips and kiss them--gentle now, so gentle.” He watched her obey, feather light kisses to each one.

“Draw them down your body, light, easy--my mouth is following your hands--show me, love. Show me where my mouth should go.” Sypha’s exhale was a cresting excitement but her hands stayed tender. They journeyed over her breasts, down the cradle of her hips and over the smouldering ember curls at the join of her thighs.

When her fingers slipped between the part of her lips, they moaned together. She arched wantonly and spread her legs further. He could see her fingers move in measured strokes and Adrian swallowed hard. He could practically taste her on his tongue; heated passion and feminine secrets.

“There is a sanctuary inside of you, a welcome like no other.” Her jaw worked. “It is a pilgrimage of adoration to pleasure you, to place my mouth on you, and pray for the rapture,” he told her. 

“Adrian,” she said, breath harsh and eyelids fluttering. “I feel like you are touching me with your words, like they are hands on my body.”

The painter smiled. “That’s because they are, love.” He thought she might laugh; he thought she might swear. But she didn’t.

“Of course they are,” she murmured quietly, the last syllable caught on a moan and a slick crinkle of sound.

Sypha, he thought as his whole body stiffened in response to the tiny song of lust.

Her thighs trembled and her fingers moved steadily. Miniscule shudders worked over her belly, tides of passion steadily moving in time with the moon that was her hand.

“Your body speaks a language that whispers poetry to mine.” Adrian said. “I can read it and I can hear it. I can write it on your skin and speak it against your lips. The trace of a fingertip, the brush of my mouth, the edge of my teeth. These are sonnets of desire, longing,” Sypha shuddered, “and love.”

One hand found her nipple and her legs drew up. Her mouth parted and the gasps were becoming ragged now. The restless twisting of her limbs as they sought blossoming euphoria had him without words. 

For a moment he closed his eyes and remembered what it was like to be deep inside of her. Remembered the feel of her climax; like an earthquake bridging the flesh between them. “Don’t rush it Sypha; let yourself sink into it like honey into tea. I want it for you; that sweet, hot rise and slide. It’s a falling star, and when it lands, it will explode inside of you in a plume of golden light.”

“I feel it now,” she sobbed out. “Like a balloon pressing against my skin from the inside, a tickle at the base of my spine.”

Yes, Adrian thought and fisted his hands together. It wouldn’t be long now; her climax hung between them like steam in the air.

He hadn’t lied to her. He wanted her desperately, but this was just as pleasurable as finding his own release. 

In some ways moreso, the blonde thought. I will never forget what it was to see her like this. To know that I could give this to her.

“Stroke a little firmer now, my gorgeous one.” She arched into her hand, skin flushed and dewy; breasts rising with her gasps. If only you could see yourself, with stars caught under your skin and shining in every bead of sweat.

“Adrian. Adrian. Oh, Adrian ,” she panted, heels pushed into the coverlet, muscles clenching in her belly and legs. “I, yes, oh my God…!” The shaking was taking over her now, her eyes closed, lower lip caught between teeth and body moving with its own need.

“Give it to both of us, Sypha. Let me see you fly, let my words carry you.” It was a velvet command but the weight of it was the final caress.

With a fractured whimper, the redhead arched one last time and bucked rhythmically against her fingertips. He measured it in the lick of her tongue against the top of her lip, the gentle curl of her toes, the tendons that stood out in her thigh, and knew when she was floating. 

He wasn’t ready for her to stop flying, even as her hands fell away from her body like a cliffside plunging into the sea. “Exquisite,” he murmured and stood quietly. She lay on the bed; chest heaving, eyes closed, legs splayed. When he cupped the softness of her inner thighs she startled, but his mouth was already on her.

“Adrian! Oh! You--!” Her fingers thrust into his hair and he groaned against the flushed, wet heat on his tongue.

I belong here, he thought. I would stay here forever, if I could. It was no secret in the trio that he loved to be on his knees. It was primitive in a way--a means to express his devotion in service to them. He’d known that he liked to please, and that he liked to take care of those he loved.

But what the blonde hadn’t expected and what he was still understanding about himself, was the rush of power it gave him. The painter loved it. It was unbelievably intoxicating to be like this; knowing that they liked it, knowing he was good at it, knowing they watched him, and were pleasured by watching him as much as they were by what he was doing. 

Adrian never sought power out in his life, having been born into more than he cared to have. But this was different. This was the security of shared passion, an expression of profound love, and the promise of a lifetime together. 

This was power that came from inside him, and was based solely on the depth of love they all shared. Adrian could give the fruits of this power to his lovers without strings or fear.

The painter could taste it in Sypha--these shared flavors of the moment and the future. This was power that was joint; held and grown within the trio. When he was here, worshipping, offering, adoring; the power was deep, strong and true.

Her fingers dug into his hair, fingernails scraping his scalp while her hips rose in an undeniable plea. She was whispering his name now, as though it was a meditation of enlightenment to unlock secrets of the universe.

When he suckled gently, her gasp was a threshold of emotion so immense that it plummeted inside him like two birds of prey locked together in a falling sky. I love you, he thought. Beyond anything I can ever express and anything I could ever offer. Know this now and feel the wealth of you inside every niche and alcove of your being.

He stroked up her belly, feeling the trembles of her muscles straining toward passionate oblivion. When he cupped the underside of her breast, he thought, soft as a raincloud.

“Adrian,” she moaned and curved into him, a slow, slick slide over his mouth accentuated by shaking limbs and caught breath. It was a fast climb for her now, he could tell in the way she pressed him closer, the heel that dug into his back, the nipple rigid against his palm.

Yes love. Explode, he thought. I am here and I will hold you through it.

With his fingers and tongue he decorated her with love in firm strokes; coaxing her to dive back into the beckoning bliss. 

“Yes. Oh yes, just like that. Oh, I love this, I love you, I--” and she went rigid, fisting her hands in his hair, arching and urging him as close as she could. It was beautiful. Caught in her limbs as they quaked around him, feeling her response to his attentions, he ached for her and had never felt more fulfilled.

She held onto him tightly and they stayed locked together, heartbeats pacing each other as the dance of her climax worked intricate steps onto his heart. When her body finally went pliant and her limbs fell away again, he was so full of love it pulsed inside him like a second heartbeat.

Adrian drew up alongside her and gathered her in his arms. “Beloved,” he murmured and she sighed.

“I’m sorry,” she whispered and he smiled. He didn’t even try to pretend he didn’t understand but there was nothing to regret here and nothing missing for him. 

“I am not,” he said, “this is exactly what I wanted. Everything I needed. I love you." He kissed her eyelids tenderly and murmured, "Rest now.”

---

No words to say

No words to convey

This feeling inside I have for you

Deep in my heart

Safe from the guards

Of intellect and reason

Leaving me at a loss

For words to express my feelings

Deep in my heart

-“For You,” Tracy Chapman

Chapter Text

The wolves weren’t leaving him. They kept pace as silent sentinels, and didn’t even fall back when the sculptor approached the horses again. It was both comforting and disconcerting. Trevor had never seen dogs like this; they were huge, gorgeous and slightly alarming. 

Fortunately the horses seemed to recognize them and didn’t startle when the wolves sleekly fell into step with the herd. There was something wild and stunning about watching the animals move together in timeless harmony.

Trevor didn’t try to ride again, even as he desperately yearned for it.

Having had that recklessly wonderful moment to himself, he wanted it again. But I don’t want to fuck up more than I have, he thought unhappily. 

Practically trampling Adrian’s mother hadn’t been on his to do list today and greeting her from his ass in a hedge was not an ideal start. On the other hand, she seemed amused, so maybe he'd gotten incredibly lucky. 

If she didn’t think he was a complete assclown after that he would consider himself fortunate. Now he just needed to swallow the blow to his pride. 

He’d hoped to at least be able to meet the Tepes’ on equal ground. All morning Trevor had told himself it didn’t matter; he was who he was and he had nothing to be ashamed of. It had sort of worked, simply because it was something that the brunette told himself every day since the scandal. 

Since the conversation in the limo with Adrian, however, the sculptor had been absorbing who his lover was to the public and how the world thought it owned a part of the blonde--a part that Trevor couldn’t have. 

There had been cracks shifting into the core of his pride and his internal landscape was reconfiguring. Lady Tepes was a landmark right in the middle of that conflict for him; a gatekeeper into a world that Trevor despised for its impact on his relationship with Adrian.

Worse, far worse though, was the understanding that there might very well be no compromise to be had on this matter. It was entirely conceivable that Trevor would have to continue to live this part of his life in secret. 

I don’t know if I can, he thought, the agony of his predicament blurring his gaze as he kept pace with the herd down the rolling hill. He watched the wolves dart into the treeline. It’s not in me to live leashed in such a huge way.

Coming here was a mistake, he thought. You don’t belong here and you don’t want to watch Adrian lie in every restrained movement and careful word. You don’t even know if you can lie convincingly enough to be believed, and you can’t make the choice for Adrian to tell his parents.

He remembered Lady Tepes’ piercing blue eyes and shook his head. Adrian was fooling himself if he thought she wouldn’t see it; there was no hiding anything from her, he thought ruefully. 

Anyone could see her intelligence and intuition were keen. Belmont knew he should probably be more concerned about that fact even as the image of Adrian's mother took form in his mind.

The sculptor had known it was her right away. He could instantly see where his lover’s beauty and poise came from. The regal shape of her face, fair colouring, elegant grace and cool gaze--even her grin--it all echoed the painter to him in the sweetest kiss on Trevor’s heart.

She grinned at you. A small smile formed on Belmont’s lips. I didn’t imagine that, he reflected as he absently broke into a jog to follow the horses. The herd was headed into an open pasture that had a tidy stable tucked into the corner. 

There had been warmth in Adrian’s mother’s demeanor and a genuine pleasure in her gaze. It surprised him, thinking about it now, to realize that he might have been wrong about her. 

He’d thought she was likely cold and withdrawn given how anxious Adrian was about acceptance and approval. Lady Tepes had been anything but and it made Trevor wonder. It was hard to reconcile those fucking status reports that Adrian had shown him with a woman so lovely. 

I can’t disappoint those I love, the sculptor heard again in Adrian’s pleading tones. 

Where did that come from? That deep-rooted belief of inadequacy? His shame and certainty he was a failure?  

Trevor shook his head, slowing as he approached the stable. You of all people know that understanding such things is complicated and almost impossible to accurately pinpoint beyond a doubt, he acknowledged. 

He paused outside the door of the stable, considering. 

Grabbing his phone, he texted Sypha and Adrian: “Do you think it’s cool if I go in the stables? Thinking I might saddle up a horse? ”  

He didn’t want anyone thinking he was breaking and entering. Waiting for a response, he looked at the herd again. He wanted to saddle up the golden boy so badly but that horse was worth more than Trevor could imagine. 

If anything happened…

Better to take one of Friesians, he thought. He would have taken the Arabian, but he thought she might want a break from the wolves--she’d stayed on the far side of the herd. Thinking about it, he put his hand on the stable door and pulled. It slid open with a rumble and he paused, checking his phone. 

What was Sypha doing ? He wondered. She hadn’t responded and Adrian must still be sleeping. 

He stuck his head into the stable and immediately registered that it was empty. Looking around he saw no one and heard no one. Trevor decided to risk it. After all, Lady Tepes might have already told everyone he was here, and he was worried about nothing. 

If anyone showed up he could just… and he saw it.

He hadn’t seen a bullwhip in over five years. Loss climbed over his defenses and spread out within him like a suffocating oil spill. It happened so quickly that it took his breath away. It was peeling his composure like a carrot under a knife and he bled out without even realizing it. 

Learning how to use a whip alongside his father. Braiding his first whips’ thong and Dominic attaching the handle. The sound of the cracker as it boomed out. 

The second time he competed in the Calgary Stampede, he’d won a silver medal and Penelope had put it on the mantle under the Brieling painting. His father had been so excited that he’d called up the whole family at 10 o’clock at night. 

It was painful to remember the joy and pride in his parents. It had meant so much to Trevor to have that approval. He remembered thinking then, that if only they could be like this for his sculptures…

It doesn’t matter now, he told himself ruthlessly. They are dead and there will be no more approval--for sculpture or whipcracking competitions. 

He approached the whip and closed his eyes. This close he could smell the leather and the oil. The backs of his eyelids only brought the face of his father and before he could stop himself, the brunette fell into the memory.

“Easy Trev,” Dominic’s smile was coaxing. “Remember, move the wrist naturally, let it flow.” 

His father was still taller than him at that point, a solid, warm presence of hope and love in his life. The neatly trimmed beard and side swept hair in the same dark tones as his son. Green eyes winked with good humor and encouragement.

The thirteen year old narrowed his blue eyes and tried again. The three foot length snapped out and the tiniest ‘crack!’ snapped out between them. Trevor’s grin was huge and his father’s even wider. 

The elder Belmont whooped loudly and charged. Arms open, Dominic’s strength surrounded Trevor, the scent of his father’s cologne caught in the hollow of throat and bone. 

Versace’s Dylan Blue, he remembered with a sharp, raw tug in his belly. 

The man hefted him up in a bear hug. “You got it! That’s the ticket Trev, you’re the man!” 

The boy laughed, the world topsy turvy from the security of his father’s embrace as he was swung around. How safe and loved I had felt. 

“Nothing can stop you now!” his father crowed.

They’d kept practicing until Penelope came out and reminded Dominic that it was a school night. She’d clapped her hands and kissed her son’s head when he showed her his new skill. 

When she’d murmured, “You can do anything, my dearest,” into his hair, Trevor carried that with him for days. It carried him through the usual arguments about his clothing and his artwork and the tense moment over his comment about his asshole uncle.

The tear fell before he even realized. 

“I miss you both, so very much,” he whispered in the stillness of the building. The memory of his parents, their warmth, their fragrance: it f