These Walls Are Built To Fall, 1/2Fandom:
Bandom (My Chemical Romance)Rating:
Light R (non-explicit sexuality)Pairings:
Made-up like a made-up, fictional, never-happened thing.Warnings:
Until I came up with a title, I'd been referring to this as the Vaguely Edwardian AU, so if historical AUs where the actual history is sketchy and vague and not allowed to get in the way of the gay romance are not your thing, this one my not be for you. Contains purple prose, accidental death of a horse at one point, Bert McCracken but not as a villain, and a sad lack of Ray (sorry, Ray!).Notes:
I'll take "Things that are not my fic for bandombigbang
so I shouldn't be writing them but there were snippets written for a meme and they ate my brain and hey, apparently I'm not alone in my desire for more historical AUs" for $500, Alex.
For a man who has yet to reach the age of thirty, Gerard has been many things in his time. Michael's older brother (if asked to rank all the things he's been in order of importance, that would likely come first) and his parents' son, and, nearly as important as either of those, the Lady Helena's grandson. He's been an artist, a poet (well, someone who writes poetry on occasion), and a dabbler (though without much success) in the musical arts. Since his father's death, he's been master of the estate, though he leaves much of the practical running of things to his capable (and often more level-headed than Gerard himself) valet, Robert. He has, very often, been drunk, or moody, or so lost in his own head that he only emerges from his studio when Robert knocks on the door and announces that if Gerard doesn't wish to be kidnapped and force-fed, he should come to dinner like a normal person.
For the last several months, Gerard has also been completely and devastatingly in love with the man who tends his stables.
Frank is the third in his family to serve in Gerard's family's stables, his grandfather having been hired by Lady Helena. Gerard has known him since they were both children--all of them were playmates once, Gerard and Michael and Frank and Robert and the head cook's oldest son, Raymond. But as they'd grown older, the constrictions of society and the roles and duties expected of each of them had put a strain on the friendships of masters with servants.
Gerard's friendship with Robert survived mostly intact, because Gerard depends on Robert to be both honest and stern with him, when necessary, and that leaves no room for undue stiffness or formality between them. But it's been years since Gerard or Michael did more than exchange a few polite words with Raymond when he serves them at table--polite words with a lingering fondness behind them, but neither goes out of their way to speak to him besides that, whereas they would once have thought nothing of traipsing through the kitchens to steal Raymond from his work so that he could help them enact some elaborate scheme.
As for Frank, Gerard has spoken to him a bit more frequently over the years; he's hardly an outdoorsman, but he does enjoy riding, and finds himself coming and going in the stables often. Frank always smiles at Gerard the same way he did when they were boys, but he also nods his head respectfully and keeps his hands behind his back and calls Gerard 'sir'. Gerard would say that by the usual standards of propriety, they have a good, easy relationship for a lord and a servant, but the easy intimacy they had as children is gone, and he often misses it.
He didn't fall in love with Frank, though, until the year after Helena died.
Gerard attributes his own survival after his grandmother's death mostly to his brother and his valet; Michael, who shared the same loss and constantly reminded Gerard he wasn't alone, and Robert, who listened patiently to his wildest, most melancholy ravings and carried him to bed when he was too drunk to walk. When Gerard was at his very worst, it was Robert who forcibly confiscated all blades, firearms, and bottles of alcohol in the house, locking them away and sleeping with the key under his pillow, and it was Michael who went to his brother and held his hand, and made Gerard promise not to do anything foolish--both of them knowing what Michael truly meant and couldn't bring himself to say aloud.
Gerard stalked through the house and and wrote things he would later burn and called the both of them interfering busybodies and other, more unprintable things, but the darkness that came over him passed. It took any thoughts of self-harm with it, but left in their place a desire to be gone, to leave his family's house until it was less painful for him to be there while Helena was not.
Robert stayed to manage the household, but Michael went with his brother to the Continent, and so did a friend of Gerard's from school, also named Robert, though known as Bert for short, and with a reputation even more scandalous than the one Gerard was beginning to earn.
Touring the Continent with Bert had been...interesting, to say the least. Gerard had done any number of foolish or reckless things, but he had never once forgotten his promise to Michael, and even when Gerard and Bert were at their wildest, Michael had never feared for his brother's life.
His brother's heart, however, proved to be a different matter. It seemed there were things Gerard and Bert had both speculated on while studying
the ancient Greeks, but never felt emboldened enough to attempt until they found themselves amid the ruins of ancient Greece itself.
Despite what accusations both of them might have been inclined to hurl at one another in the aftermath, it wasn't truly either's fault that their friendship did not outlive their infatuation. Later, Gerard would look back on the experience almost fondly, supposing that one's first heartbreak is, after all, a necessary part of one's education in the ways of love.
At the time, there were two major results of the experience: first, that Bert parted from the brothers on barely civil terms and made his way back to England alone, and second, that when Gerard and Michael returned home, Gerard found himself looking on Frank the stablehand with newly-opened eyes.
Of course, Gerard has no plans to act on his feelings. England is not the Continent, and he is no longer a young man on an adventure of self-discovery, but the master of the house once again, owing as much responsibility for the well-being of his people as they owe loyalty to him. The thought that Frank might permit any advance Gerard might make out of that loyalty, rather than because he returns Gerard's feelings, is as effective a deterrent as any thoughts of societal mores. Gerard cares for propriety and decency in the eyes of society only as far as he must, but he cares about his personal sense of decency, and abuse of power, especially in such a case as this, would be loathsome even to speculate upon.
It would be best not to let himself speculate on Frank at all, he knows--no good can come of encouraging these feelings, only foolish madness. But it seems impossible not
to think foolish, mad things, when every time Gerard goes to the stables, Frank is there: as honest and beautiful in his simplicity as any work of art Gerard has ever admired, undaunted and unafraid when a skittish or rebellious horse bucks or rears. Gerard spends entire afternoons considering Frank's hands, strong enough to rein in a galloping stallion, gentle enough to coax a newborn foal into the world. When spring turns to summer, Frank works bare to the waist and splashes water from the horse's trough over his head and shoulders, and Gerard watches sweat and water roll down Frank's skin and thinks shameful things, hoping he can blame his blush on the heat.
A wiser, more sensible man might choose to frequent the stables less often, but Gerard has never made any claim to either wisdom or sense, and he lingers there much longer than necessary before and after each ride he takes.
Gerard knows for certain that he's been less than discreet about the time he spends in the stables when Frank himself comments on it, polite as always, asking if there's anything further Gerard requires of him.
The question leaves Gerard at a loss for a moment, and he ducks his head, smiling sheepishly.
"I've just been thinking," he says at length. "When we were younger, I used to spend hours out here. Do you remember?"
Frank smiles, wide and unguarded. "Of course I do, sir."
Gerard toys briefly with a few scraps of leather tacked up on the wall, then stops, clenching his hand at his side. "You used to call me Gerard in those days, not 'sir'," he comments, striving for an easy, joking tone.
Frank bends his head over the harness he's repairing, the straps slipping easily through his capable hands. "I used to push you in the mud while the two of us ran about like heathens, as well, but if I were to do that now, you might not like it so well."Oh, wouldn't I?
, Gerard thinks, and bites his tongue. "Still. I should like to think that you and are I still friends, Frank."
Frank looks up, meeting Gerard's eyes, and he seems unsure and hesitant for a moment, but he smiles again. "We are...Gerard. Of course we are."
After that, the two of them speak to each other a bit more easily--not like equals, but Frank doesn't strive so hard to be deferential, and lets himself be a bit more open with Gerard.
That's how Gerard learns, eventually, that Frank has never been taught to read or write, and that he regrets that fact.
It quickly becomes apparent to Gerard that Frank being uneducated hardly means he's unintelligent. Given the chance to take an hour or so out of his day to study with Gerard, he's making quick progress with his letters. And so far those hours have been easy enough to steal--Frank always finishes his work in a timely fashion, and anyway Gerard is master of the house, and if it's his whim to have Frank in his study, the rest of the household staff may raise their eyebrows, but they'll also make do without him.
"You don't have to do this," Frank had protested at first, awkwardly. "I mean, of course you should do as you please, but I shouldn't like you to feel obligated on my account."
Gerard had smiled, hoping to conceal his own nervousness; it had been one of the first times he and Frank were alone in a closed room together, and Gerard had felt absurdly affected by the combination of privacy and Frank's nearness.
"It's no trouble," he'd assured Frank. "If you'd like to learn, I'm happy to teach you."
"Very well," Frank had said. He was so tanned from working outside that it was difficult to tell, and it was probably mere fancy on Gerard's part anyway, but he'd let himself imagine, for just a moment, that Frank might be blushing.
Since then, the time they spend together in the study has become a regular part of Gerard's day, and yet his heart still beats faster as the hands on his pocket watch near three. Frank comes at almost the same time every day, and they work together until Michael arrives at teatime. Sometimes they've successfully pressed Frank to stay for tea, but he still seems ill at ease with that, overly cautious as he handles the china and often at a loss to join in the conversation.
Gerard would like to believe that his main motivation in the endeavor has been a noble one, that he would do this for any servant who expressed a wish to learn. But he can't deny being glad for the chance to sit near Frank, or guide his first shaky attempts at writing with a gentle touch to the back of Frank's hand.
Sometimes, they've gotten distracted from strictly teaching and learning. The poetry of Coleridge, for example, is still a bit beyond Frank's capacity to read for himself. But upon finding The Rime of the Ancient Mariner
in one of Gerard's books, puzzling out a few stanzas, and asking Gerard about the rest, Frank had seemed so intrigued by the strange, wild tale that Gerard couldn't help but offer to read it to him.
They don't need
to be sitting close for this, but Gerard's copy of the poem has illustrations, fantastic engravings, which Frank leans in to see, too engrossed in the tale to worry about propriety for once. Gerard not only allows it, but shifts to let Frank see better, and--marveling at his own boldness--rests a hand firmly on Frank's back.
Frank stills at the touch, and then leans in a bit closer, eyes cast downward--to look at the book, of course. This close, Gerard can smell him; Frank always washes the sweat and dust of his morning's work away before coming to the study, but beneath the smell of soap and water there's another lingering scent, earthy and strong.
Gerard doesn't even realize he's stopped reading until Frank looks up, asking, "Go on?"
And Gerard means to go on, he does, but their eyes meet and Frank is strong and warm beneath his hand and they're so close, closer than Gerard can remember having been to Frank since they were children.
"Frank--" Gerard begins, low. Frank watches him, waiting, eyes wide with what Gerard doesn't think
They hear the latch click a moment before the door opens, and it gives them just enough time to draw away from each other before Michael enters the study, already talking about the latest scandal his friend Peter's become embroiled in.
Frank begs to be excused soon after that, and Gerard's attempts to catch his eye one last time meet with no success.
Frank doesn't come to the study the next day. In the morning, Michael's gelding steps into a hole and breaks its leg, and Frank rides to fetch the nearest veterinarian, who only confirms his suspicion that the kindest thing to do is put the animal out of its misery. Michael, who has been white-faced and thin-lipped with guilt and pity as he and Gerard wait, weeps unashamedly at the news, and Gerard ushers him inside while Frank stays with the horse, stroking its mane and murmuring low, gentle words until the end.
Gerard goes back to the stables when all is over, and finds Frank sitting there, quiet and subdued. He looks up when Gerard enters, and asks, "How is Michael?"
"Still upset," Gerard says, coming to sit beside him. "But he'll be all right." He looks across at Frank. "And how are you?"
Frank ducks his head, turning his face away from Gerard. "It's never easy, when something like that must be done. It's as if--"
"Yes?" Gerard presses, gently, and Frank shakes his head.
"Don't pay me any mind, it's...morbid and foolish."
"Morbid and foolish are my areas of expertise," Gerard tells him, very seriously. "Go on."
"The animals," Frank says. "When they look at you. It's...it's as if they're asking you to help them, and don't understand why this is the only way you can."
Gerard's unsure of where they stand with each other, after the other day in the study, but he can't hear Frank talk like this and not try to offer him comfort. He lays a hand on Frank's arm, fingers curling lightly around his wrist.
"Thank you," he says, at length. "It meant a great deal to Michael, that you stayed with the horse." Michael hasn't said this in so many words, but Gerard knows him. "And it means a great deal to me, as well."
"You're welcome," Frank says after a moment. He hesitates, then turns his hand so that his fingers brush Gerard's "Both of you."
Gerard's heart pounds in his ears. He feels like he ought to pull his hand away, and wants
to clasp Frank's hand and tangle their fingers together more firmly, and between the two he is paralyzed, and sure he's blushing.
"I should go back in," Gerard says, awkwardly, and Frank drops his hand away at once.
"As you say," Frank says, and there's very little of formality in his tone as he adds, "Goodnight, Gerard."
Frank begs off on their lessons for the next few days, keeping to himself in the stables. Gerard is torn between disappointment and relief; he's become so used to spending time with Frank each day that he hardly knows how to pass an afternoon without him, but on the other hand, it spares him from worrying about how he should conduct himself around Frank.
But Frank stays away, and Gerard finds himself with a greater worry, one that eventually drives him to seek Frank out, rather than waiting for Frank to come to him.
There's been a late summer storm brewing all day, and the clouds overhead rumble ominously as Gerard leaves the house. He squints up at the sky and considers going back inside, and then, impulsively, defiantly, breaks into a run. The storm is the kind that goes from nothing to a downpour in barely a few seconds; Gerard is perhaps halfway to the stables when the first drops of rain hit him, and soaked through by the time he reaches his destination.
Frank has been leading the horses in from pasture, and is putting the last of them in their stalls when Gerard arrives, standing before the open stable doors. Frank turns, catches sight of Gerard, and freezes.
"Hello," Gerard says.
"Gerard," Frank says, and then, "You...you're standing in the rain."
He steps toward Gerard, holding out a hand, and when Gerard takes it, Frank pulls him into the stable without so much as a by-your-leave, producing a blanket from somewhere--soft and clean, though there is a bit of a lingering smell of horse to it--to drape over Gerard's shoulders.
"Robert will have both our hides if you take a chill," Frank mutters, rubbing through the cloth as Gerard shivers.
"I was halfway here when it started," Gerard explains, wrapping his arms around himself. He hadn't felt cold while he was running, but now his teeth are chattering. "I would have gotten just as wet going back to the house."
"Yes, but then you would be in the house, with a warm fire and dry clothing," Frank points out. "Instead of--"
"--Instead of here, with you?" Gerard finishes. Their eyes meet, and Frank goes still, his hands on Gerard's shoulders. "You haven't come to the study in days."
Frank flushes, and it's unmistakable, tanned skin or no. "I'm sorry--" he begins, but Gerard cuts him off.
"You've no need to apologize," Gerard tells him. "I only wanted to ask--I've been afraid--if I've said or done anything to give offense--"
He's babbling, tripping over his words like an idiot, but Frank shakes his head.
"No," Frank says. "No, not at all. I've been worried that I
may have overstepped my bounds--"
"Never," Gerard assures him. He reaches out, his hand landing on Frank's arm and gripping tightly. "Not with me. Frank--"
When their mouths crash together, it feels unreal at first, dreamlike. But Frank's hands tighten on Gerard's shoulders, drawing him in, and Gerard's other hand comes up to frame Frank's face, tracing the line of his jaw with a thumb, and it's all more perfectly, blessedly real than Gerard could ever have dreamt it.
They stay that way for a few moments which seem to stretch out forever and pass too quickly all at once, and then Gerard breaks away, shaking his head as if to clear it.
"We cannot--" he gasps out, and that's all it takes for Frank to release him and step back.
"Forgive me," Frank says quickly, eyes cast downward. "I would never--"
Gerard shakes his head again, groping for Frank's hand. "There is nothing to forgive. But...nothing good can come of this."
"I know," Frank says, even as he clasps Gerard's hand tightly.
Helpless to stop himself, Gerard brings Frank's hand to his lips and presses a brief kiss to the knuckles. "It's madness," he whispers against Frank's skin.
"Yes," Frank replies, just as soft, and turns his hand over in Gerard's grasp. Gerard kisses his palm as well, and then simply leans into Frank's touch.
"Gerard," Frank whispers, everything he's not allowed to say echoing in one word. "What can we do?"
Gerard lets himself stand with Frank's hand pressed to his cheek for another moment, and then steps back.
"Nothing," he says, letting go of Frank's hand. "There is nothing--forgive me, I shouldn't have come."
"Gerard, wait--" Frank begins, but Gerard is already turning, running back through the rain.Part Two