LPfiction

Category Linkin Park

Devil's Effect by Penelope_Ink & lpfan503

The Hardest Part

A/N: Welcome back! First off, we want to thank everyone who read Devil’s Drop. If for some reason you ended up here without reading that story, you have to read that one first or this will make zero sense. Here’s the link: http://lpfiction.com/story.php?id=16709


This first chapter picks up right where Devil’s Drop left off, and is more accurately called a “part two” rather than a sequel. As always, we appreciate your love and support of this and all of our other stories, both together and independently. If you need anything, including an account, you can email us at lpfan503@outlook.com or araphaxdeep@yahoo.com and we’ll take care of it. We sincerely hope you enjoy this!


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Chester paced back and forth in his kitchen, his mind flipping frantically from everything that was coming - going to Mark’s funeral, seeing all the guys from YRS again, seeing people from his past that he knew would show up to bid their boss a final farewell, comforting Ryan while he comforted Jason, watching as Amir would stand up to give the eulogy, and then there was the casket. He wasn’t sure if he could handle seeing Mark’s face again, a face that would have no life and expression behind it. He’s gone. It wouldn’t be him anyway...just his body.


The thought brought Chester to a stop as he placed his hands on the countertop and looked out over the loft. It was a mess. Not just his life at the moment, and his swirling mind, but the loft was a literal mess. Over the last few days Jason and Ryan had both moved into the small shared space. It had gotten a little crowded for Chester’s liking when Mike had moved in with his art supplies and music stuff, but now it was almost suffocating. Gone was Chester’s prefered minimalist living conditions, replaced by bags and boxes worth of clothes and personal items. There was Jason’s expansive collection of nice dress clothes - which almost matched Chester’s current outfit count - and Ryan’s duffel bags stuffed with t-shirts and jeans. The couch was shoved against the windows now, and its place was the queen sized bed from Ryan’s apartment, smack dab in the living room. It wasn’t made, and Chester’s eyes narrowed at the sloppy blankets and pillows that needed to be tugged and straightened into place.


Chester stood himself up straight, running his hand over his neck and face before he took off around the bar. He would make their bed, and then he needed a drink. Something to calm his nerves. Even his legs felt shaky, like he’d had too much sugar, even though he hadn’t ate or drank a thing since he’d been up.


He glanced toward the open bathroom door as he went. He could see Ryan standing at the vanity, messing with his hair, and Chester knew Jason was in there, too. Probably sitting on the lid of the toilet, in misery as he waited for the time to tick by.


But the bed was the next priority and Chester switched his focus to making it look neat and respectable, despite being in the living room for everyone who walked through the front door to see. I’m not going to make it through this. There’s too much stuff. Too many people. All we do is trip over each other. And it’s so loud. I never noticed how loud Jay and Ry can be. He shoved the negativity aside so he could straighten out the dark blue blanket and align the pillows neatly with at least a little peace in his head. It was almost relaxing to make the messy bed presentable.


Mike watched his boyfriend from his seat at the table, the thought crossing his mind that he should go over and help Chester make the bed. But it’s not our bed. That’s a little weird. He sighed and went to push his hands through his hair before he remembered it was already styled for the day. He looked down at the blue and gray striped tie he was wearing with the light gray dress shirt and dark gray suit pants. It wasn’t black, but he didn’t have a black suit, so it was going to do for today. Chester is already anxious and we haven’t even left the loft. Today is going to be a mess. Everyone around me is falling apart.


Not having Mark in his life wasn’t anything Mike wanted to dwell on for any length of time, but it was obvious that both Chester and Jason were not coping well with the reality of it, especially today. It made sense to Mike that Jason was grieving, but he still couldn’t wrap his head around Chester’s grief. But he knew that today was important for everyone in terms of closure, and whether he understood Chester’s feelings or not, he was going to be there for him. Mike patted down the front of his shirt and stood up to make his way through the mess of the living space to get to Chester.


“Can I help with something?” he asked softly, sliding his arm around Chester’s waist. “You know you haven’t eaten anything this morning, Ches. Maybe you’ll feel better with something in your stomach.”


Chester didn’t stop. Mike’s arm was around his middle, but he kept going. He fluffed the next pillow before placing it against the headboard. “I’m not hungry,” he said. “I could use a drink, if you want to play bartender.” He paused long enough to glance over his shoulder, catching Mike’s dark eyes. “I’m just going to finish this and then I need to go get dressed.” He looked down at his pajama pants and the thin t-shirt he had on.


Mike bit his bottom lip as he thought. A drink. Already? I wish he had a better way to cope with his emotions than alcohol. “You sure? On an empty stomach?” He really wanted Chester to rethink the drink, but Mike nodded his head and tried not to sigh. “Okay, well, what do you want? I’ll bring it up to you,” he offered, looking up at the loft bedroom.


Chester scooted out of his boyfriend’s arms to get to the other side of the bed, smoothing out the blanket as he went. “You’re right. It’s breakfast time. I’ll take a screwdriver,” he decided more from instinct than actual thought. Screwdrivers were usually served with breakfast at YRS. “Orange juice and vodka,” he filled in, knowing his lover wasn’t the biggest drinker. He put the last pillow in place before he looked up. Mike hadn’t moved, and for a second, Chester thought about retracting his wish. Maybe he’d ask for a piece of toast instead, but the words wouldn’t come out. Instead he mumbled a quick “thanks” and he was off to the bedroom, ready to change into his black dress pants and white button up shirt. He already had his slim, black tie laid out on the bed, and a black fedora to go with it. He could wear fancy hats now that he had the right haircut for them.


Mike barely glanced into the bathroom on his way back across the loft. There is so much stuff in here. Once things calm down and everyone is thinking straighter, Ches and I need to be looking for our own place. Jason is being nice right now, but who knows how long it will be before he’s tired of sleeping in the living room and wants his space to himself. We really need to start looking. Soon. He opened up the refrigerator and took out the juice, shaking it a little as he pulled down a glass to fill. Once he had the vodka in his hand, he contemplated the glass for a moment, unsure how much of each to add. He knew Chester wouldn’t flinch if the drink was strong, but he would be sure to say something if it wasn’t strong enough.


Ches usually does this. I’ll just guess at it, and hope for the best. I’m not a great drink maker. Brad would know. He made them all the time. I wonder how he’s doing. We haven’t seen him in a few days. I know he’ll be at the funeral. There will probably be a lot of people there I don’t know. I’m just going to hold Chester’s hand and stay out of the way. I’m just there for Ches. Mike finished the drink and put the orange juice away before he carried it to the stairs, being sure to watch where he was stepping. He could hear Jason and Ryan talking in the bathroom, but they weren’t loud enough for him to hear what they were saying.


Ryan stared at himself in the mirror. He’d been messing with his hair for the last thirty minutes, and for the last fifteen, he hadn’t really done anything to it. His shoulders slumped a little. It was almost time to go, and Jason wasn’t ready, that much Ryan knew. He’d watched as his boyfriend had gotten dressed, in his pressed dark suit and shined shoes, but Jason’s face still said, I can’t do this.


Ryan turned from the vanity, his eyes ghosting over Jason’s slumped posture. “It’s going to be okay,” he assured him softly. He glanced out into the loft. He could see the empty table, so Mike had disappeared somewhere, but he had no idea where, which was okay. They were all cramped, and the bathroom was one of the few places that felt private. He took a step closer. “If we can get through today, then everything else will be easier. Today is the hardest, Jay, but it’s only going to last a few hours.”


Without looking up, Jason reached for Ryan’s hand and clutched it tightly. “I don’t want to go.” All morning he’d been wrestling with thoughts back and forth, convincing himself that he could do it before the crippling anxiety hit him again. He knew Ryan would be there, but he couldn’t be the person Jason needed him to be out in public. It would be disrespectful to Mark to flaunt his relationship with Ryan, and that was what had him in the state he was in. Knowing he couldn’t just lean on Ryan made everything a thousand times worse.


The past few days had been busy enough with moving that the reality of a funeral had only been in the back of Jason’s mind. After the crazy last night at home, when they’d all gotten high together, things had been a whirlwind of activity. Selecting what he wanted to take and moving it all into the loft had been time consuming and mind consuming, leaving little room for thoughts of Mark to invade. But now there was no escaping from what had to be done. It was time to bury his husband, and Jason wasn’t sure he could hold it together. Though he’d been hiding his emotions for years, he somehow didn’t think he had the strength to do it today. Everything about this situation felt out of his control. He studied his black dress shoes and wished he could just disappear.


Ryan squeezed Jason’s hand before he maneuvered around to crouch in front of him. “What can I do to help?” he asked. Every statement of assurance and bit of positive outlook he’d offered his lover so far that morning, seemed to fall on deaf ears. He flipped his wrist just enough to see his watch light up with the time. They still had over half an hour before they needed to leave.


There wasn’t really an answer to that question. Jason reached his free hand out to touch Ryan’s face, finally looking at him. “I don’t think you can do anything,” he answered honestly. “Just promise me that you’ll still be here when it’s over. I love you, Ry.” Jason could feel his throat starting to constrict with tears. “I loved him, too. At one time I was in love with him, and it hurts. I… I just need you to understand that I don’t love you any less.” He wanted to explain himself better, but his emotions wouldn’t let him. It was hard to talk, especially about his twisted feelings for Mark.


Ryan nodded slowly. “I know,” he whispered with a hard swallow. “And of course I’ll be here. Jay, I’m not going anywhere.” He leaned forward, pressing a soft kiss to his boyfriend’s forehead. “How about I give you a minute...I’ll get you a glass of water.” He kissed him again before he stood up and left the bathroom. He felt an ache in his chest as he headed for the kitchen. He knew that Jason loved Mark, in some way. They all did. But it was different for Jason. This was his husband, his business and life partner for the past seven years, and now he was gone.


I can’t totally know how he feels. I’ve never lost anyone like that, but it’s gotta be hard. Even if he was going to leave Mark, it’s not the same. He took a glass down from the cabinet to fill it full of water, tugging at the dark dress shirt he had on as he did. He wasn’t used to dressing up, and everything itched. He hated the shoes he was wearing, with their tiny laces and no cushion to cradle his feet. The tie Jason had given him to wear felt like it was strangling him, and he felt lost in the dress pants. Usually his jeans were tight and form fitting, now he could move around with space to spare and it was awkward. I’m hopeless. Jason’s in there with his heart broken and I’m pissed that I have to wear something other than jeans and a t-shirt.


Ryan paused in the kitchen, the full glass of water in his hand as he blankly looked across the loft. He was probably as opposite from Mark as Jason could get, and that was a thought that had played over Ryan’s thoughts before. How could Jason have been in love with Mark, but also be in love with him? Somehow it felt confusing. People have a type, and that’s who they gravitate toward, or maybe that wasn’t true after all. Maybe it’s the person. Jay isn’t like anyone I’ve ever been with before but...he needed me. He looked toward the bathroom, the sudden feeling that Jason needed him now, too, hit him, and headed that way with the water.


By the time Mike’s feet hit the top of the stairs, Chester was already stripped down to his red underwear. Mike couldn’t help the sudden grin that hit his face, and he quickly tried to tone it down. It felt wrong to be smiling that big on a heavy day like today, but Chester’s tiny ass in his red underwear was too cute. “That didn’t take long,” he commented, gesturing at his boyfriend’s state of undress. “I brought your drink with me.” Mike held it out as he stepped toward the bed, ready to sit down and watch Chester get dressed.


The screwdriver was a welcome taste, as Chester took a few sips. “I need to hurry my ass on,” he mumbled before setting the drink on the dresser top. He looked across the room at his open closet, where his outfit was hanging, ready to go. “It’s going to be weird,” he said as he walked over and pulled the pants from the hanger first. “There’s going to be a lot of people there...people you’ve never met. People I haven’t seen in ages.” He pulled his pants up, buttoning them shut before he reached for the belt that had been with them. “Past YRS boys.” He looked Mike’s way for a second, hoping that his boyfriend would keep himself together, before he turned to take his shirt from the closet next. Chester knew the funeral would be full of sullen faces, kind remarks, and lots of hugs - hugs from young men he’d worked with in the past. There would be pats on the back, and kisses to cheeks. There would be questions about life and, more than anything, about how all this had happened.


Mike watched as Chester’s flames disappeared into his dress shirt. “I figured there would be a lot of people I don’t know. I’ll just stay out of the way. I’ll be right there by your side when you need me.” He knew he only had to make it through the afternoon, and then none of those people would be a consideration. YRS and everyone that came with it would be in their past. Well, except Ryan and Jason. But once we move out of here, that’s in the past, too. Ches and I will move on and it will be like none of this ever happened.


Chester buttoned the sleeves of his shirt before he stepped to the bed. He picked up his tie and stretched it out, to get it over his head. He went back to the closet, and the mirror that hung on one of the doors. “I’m kinda looking forward to seeing some of them. It’s crazy how people show up in your life, and then they move on and you never know how things turned out.” He tugged and straightened and looped the thin silk tie till his knot was perfect and just high enough on his neck to pass as respectable. “And I won’t know everyone either,” he added in as he grabbed a pair of polished shoes and headed for the end of the bed. “Mark was a businessman before anything else. There will probably be lots of people like that there, who only knew that side of him.”


“That’s so weird,” Mike said. “To think of Mark as anything but the… the person I knew him as.” He had to stop to choose his words carefully, knowing that saying anything negative about Mark now wouldn’t go over very well. “I wonder if any of those people know anything about YRS, or if that was Mark’s big secret. Seems like something he’d be proud of, you know?” Mike tried to imagine Mark before YRS and failed miserably. He could only see the boss exactly as he’d always been. Controlling, demanding, and relentless.


Chester pulled his foot up on the bed to tie his shoe. “Mark wasn’t one to hide things that were successful, and YRS was successful. He’d tell people, but he’d say it different.” He stopped, twisting to face Mike a little better as he reached out and barely touched his arm. “You remember when we first met? And I told you that I worked in video production? Well, Mark would do that. He’d tell people that YRS was a studio and he hired models. He always made it sound fancy and upstanding.” Chester’s eye contact with Mike dropped to the bed, his bottom lip trembling. “He could make anything sound believable. Make it sound like what you wanted to hear.”


Mike reached out and rubbed his hand over Chester’s back. “Hey,” he whispered, “it’s okay, Ches. I know he said a lot of things, more than I know about or want to know about. You didn’t know.” He scooted closer and pulled Chester into a hug. “After today, it’s done. A chapter in the past.” Mike was sure that they would be able to move on from YRS, and he was ready to say goodbye to Mark and start that process. “Come on. You ready to go downstairs? I know we need to leave soon. If we’re all going at the same time.” He looked thoughtfully toward the stairs. Jason needed to be there early, but he didn’t know if he, Chester, and Ryan would be tagging along behind or waiting a little bit.


Chester finished with his shoes before he stood up. He brushed himself off and grabbed his fedora from the bed. He pulled it on, and then picked his screwdriver up from the dresser. He took another drink, letting the feeling of the alcohol course through him. “I’m ready,” he said, motioning toward the steps with his glass. “After you.”


The downstairs looked like total chaos from the top as Mike led the way down. Standing by the bar, in the middle of all the boxes and bags of stuff, was Ryan, holding a glass of water. Jason was nowhere to be seen, and Mike looked toward the bathroom. The light was still on, but he couldn’t see Jason. He’s a total wreck this morning. I don’t know how he’s going to make it through the day. Mike paused at the bottom of the stairs for Chester to catch up. Ryan looked at them from across the room, and Mike didn’t know what to say. He looked uncomfortable, and Mike couldn’t help but think how strange it was to see Ryan in dress clothes. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t pull up a single memory of Ryan in a tie.


Chester was at the bottom of the stairs, nudging Mike to keep going. “Don’t worry, he won’t bite,” he whispered playfully in Mike’s ear before his attention turned to Ryan. “Are you guys ready?”


“Ready?” Ryan repeated, watching Chester coming closer to him. “I’m as ready as I’m going to get.” He tugged on his tie. “Damn, wish I looked as good as you do in this stuff.”


“Trust me,” Chester said, “I’ll be ripping this stuff off the moment it’s over.” He took a sip from his glass before he set it on the bar. He leaned a little closer to Ryan. “How’s Jay doing?”


“I took him some water, but he didn’t want it,” Ryan answered as he looked down. “He’s struggling. It’s going to be a sucky day, Chazzy.” He let out a sigh, and without asking permission, he picked Chester’s drink up and took a sip. He’d been expecting plain orange juice, and his lips twisted to a smile at the splash of alcohol. “Oh that’s good. And so not fair,” he hissed lightly. “I want one.”


“You can share mine,” Chester told him, nodding at the glass. “Not sure we have time to make another one.”


Mike almost made a comment about the drink sharing, but realized if Ryan was drinking it, then Chester was drinking less. He decided to ignore it, but he put both hands on his hips and looked toward the bathroom. “You should go get him out of there, Ryan. The last thing he’ll want is to be late. It gives the wrong impression. He’s probably not even thinking about that right now, but it’s important for him to be there first. He has to look everything over and then he’s got people to greet. The car to take him should already be waiting downstairs, so we need to get moving… and you’re the only one who is going to get him out of the bathroom.”


Ryan felt a little stunned. To hear Mike talk, Jason was headed for a day at the office, with hands to shake and things to look after. Seems so wrong. Jay’s the widower. He shouldn’t have to do anything but be sad. But he’s right about the time. “Okay,” he whispered, before taking one last sip of screwdriver. He let out a long exhale, and pressed his hands down his front before he turned to Chester. “Seriously, do I look okay? I know it doesn’t matter, but I feel like a monkey in all this.”


Chester was quick to slip his arm around Ryan’s shoulders, bringing him in for a side hug. “You look fine. Go get Jason so we can head out.”


“Okay,” Ryan agreed again. He flexed his fingers before he pulled away from Chester’s embrace. He headed for the bathroom, and stepped in, just over the threshold. His boyfriend hadn’t moved. “Jay? You ready? Mike says we need to go if we don’t want to be late.”


Jason took a deep breath and slid his palm down his black suit pants. “I’m not ready,” he stated flatly, “but we can go. Mike’s right. I can’t be late.” He stood up and looked in the mirror, mentally assessing how put together he looked. All eyes would be on him, judging his level of grief and how well he was handling it all. It was important to look put together, but not too put together. He had to be able to thank people for coming, to stand and accept the nice words people would tell him about Mark, without breaking down completely. He knew that he had an obligation as Mark’s husband to see that his life was honored today - that was most important. Not his feelings, his anxieties, or anything else. As it had been since they day they married, his most important role was that of Mark’s husband. Even though he wasn’t ready, he was determined he could at least go through the motions enough to get him through the day.


He straightened his black tie and buttoned the top button of his suit jacket. Everything was in place. There was nothing left to do that would put off the inevitable. Jason turned around and took his first real look at his boyfriend, a soft smile crossing his face at the sight of Ryan all dressed up. “Thank you,” he mumbled, reaching out to smooth Ryan’s tie before he grabbed his hand. He knew that he needed to get all the comfort he could before he had to get into the car that had been sent for him and Ryan had to stay with Mike and Chester. He hated that Ryan would become just another employee coming to pay his respects, but knowing that his lover would be waiting for him when it was all over gave him a little bit of strength. “I’m following you, Ry. As ready as I’ll ever be.”


Ryan squeezed Jason’s hand, and led the way. He saw Chester grabbing car keys out of the corner of his eye as he opened the door and he and Jason stepped out into the hallway. He thought about saying something, another stab at sounding encouraging, but he didn’t. He knew Jason was in his head - in his own thoughts - as he mentally prepared for this, and Ryan decided to let him have his space and peace to do just that. I’ve always been better at being the strong, silent type anyway. The thought made him smile softly as they headed down to the elevator. He’d been in Chester’s building so many times he couldn’t count, and so everything was familiar. The hallway, the elevator, the light that shone through the large windows down on the first floor, and the parking lot where the residents left their cars without care. His eyes widened in surprise, though, when he saw the black Lexus that had been sent ahead of time, chauffeur included. The man was out, holding the door open. “Wow, in style,” Ryan said under his breath as he walked with Jason over to the car.


Mike didn’t let Ryan get two steps closer to the Lexus before he reached his hand out and barely snagged the elbow of the other man’s shirt. “Hey,” he whispered as he held Ryan back a little, “you know you’re coming with us, right?”


The feel of Mike’s touch was jarring, and Ryan spun around, looking from face to face before glancing back at Jason, who was speaking with the driver. “No,” he said, narrowing his eyes slightly. “I’m riding with Jay. He doesn’t need to be alone.”


“You can’t ride with him,” Mike insisted, shaking his head. “The car is for family. Jason, and then they’ll go pick up Brad. And, well… it wouldn’t look right.” He looked at Chester for help, but he was looking at Mike in surprise. “You don’t want people to get the wrong impression, Ryan.”


“Mike,” Chester said, his hand going to the middle of the little circle they’d made, “Ry is right. He should go with Jason. He’s not family, but he might as well be.” He looked over Ryan’s shoulder at the car, where Jason was now looking back at the three of them. “It will hurt Jay’s feelings if Ry doesn’t go with him. That’s a boyfriend thing, right? Being supportive and all.” He looked to Ryan, watching as he nodded in agreement.


“Exactly,” Mike agreed. “It’s a [boyfriend thing. And Jason is supposed to be a grieving widower, not a widower with a boyfriend.” He shook his head firmly. “Ryan, you’re riding with us. Jason won’t be upset, any more than he already is. This is just how these things go.” He was about to call Jason back over to help him out, but it wasn’t necessary. Jason was already headed their way.


He stepped up to their circle, right next to Ryan. “Okay, I’ll see you guys there. We’ve got to pick up Brad, but it’s on the way. The driver didn’t know he wouldn’t be here with me.” Jason shrugged one shoulder and looked at Ryan, but didn’t reach to touch him. “I love you, Ry.” He held Ryan’s gaze for a moment and then looked at Chester. “Make sure he’s okay for me.” Jason didn’t wait for a response, but turned and lifted his chin a little and squared his shoulders as he walked back to the car. As much as he didn’t want to, it was time to be on his own.


Chester nodded in agreement, even though Jason was already gone, getting in the car. The chauffeur closed the door and rounded the Lexus to get back in the driver’s seat. Chester looked back at Mike, who seemed unphased and more determined, like they were on a mission as he swung around and headed toward Chester’s red sports car, which was across the parking lot. “Come on, I guess,” Chester whispered to Ryan, the two of them slowly moving to follow Mike. “I don’t think it’s right. You should have gotten to go with Jay.”


“I know,” Ryan stressed, his heart still beating a little fast. “But you heard him, he agreed with Mike.” He looked ahead, watching as Chester’s boyfriend made it to the car first. “How did he know? Did they talk about it before? Jay didn’t say anything to me about not riding with him to the funeral.”


“They must have talked about it,” Chester decided as he pressed the unlock button on his car keys. “They just forgot to tell us.”


****


Jason stared straight ahead at the greenery and flowers everywhere. He’d already counted the number of white roses in the arrangements on either side of the casket, and now he was trying to identify the various plants that made up the greenery displays. A handkerchief was wrapped in his hand, and he’d been using it to dab at his eyes every once in a while. None of it seemed real. No amount of mental preparation had made him ready for the reality of standing for an hour to receive Mark’s friends. Everyone wanted to share their best memories of his husband, and each nice word layered one after the other on top of the guilt he was feeling until it was suffocating.


Several times his eyes had drifted to Ryan, who was never far from Chester’s side no matter who else they were talking to. Sometimes his boyfriend had looked back, silently encouraging him with the brilliant blue eyes he loved. Other times, Ryan was wrapped up in a conversation he couldn’t hear. All Jason wanted was for Ryan to take him in his strong arms and protect him, but they were far from that moment. Amir was speaking, and though Jason wasn’t listening, he knew the words were straightforward and kind.


He shifted in his seat next to Brad, who was openly distraught, and wondered if people thought he was less affected than his cousin-in-law. Jason hoped his detachment came across more as shock than anything else. He didn’t want to break down in front of everyone, and especially not in front of Ryan. I know he said he understood, but there’s no way he could understand. I have a hard time understanding why I loved Mark. Why I still wanted his approval and his love, despite everything. Jason felt the tears springing up again as he allowed his gaze to fall on the open casket, and even though he couldn’t see inside from where he was sitting, his mind pulled up Mark’s face from when he’d stood alone, whispering to him earlier. He’d looked relaxed, the way Jason remembered he could be when they were dating and first married, when they would take vacations and drink wine on hotel balconies before making love all night. Before things changed. Before Jason was emotionally trapped and Mark’s true colors started to show.


Oh, hon, it could have been so different with us. If you could have just left the boys alone and only loved me. Jason felt the pinch to his heart as he thought about the number of people sitting in the very room right now who Mark had slept with. All I ever wanted was to be the only person you wanted. I really tried hard for you, Mark. He didn’t allow himself to think about starting the affair with Ryan, about falling in love with someone else. The guilt was easier to ignore if he focused on what Mark had done wrong, if he decided that Mark hadn’t loved him anymore and their marriage had been nothing but a business convenience by the time he fell for Ryan.


Before he knew it the service was over, and he was being led outside, a single red rose placed in his hands to hold while words were spoken graveside. He felt as though he were watching all of this happen to someone else through the lens of a camera. It wasn’t him feeling nothing but an aching emptiness. Jason Wakefield wasn’t standing at his husband’s graveside, watching him being lowered into the ground. He wasn’t the one standing back and watching numbly as so many of the YRS boys stepped forward to toss a single white rose on top of the casket. He wasn’t the one who stood longer than he should have, tears streaming down his face, before he knelt to the ground and added his red rose to the pile. None of it was him.


Brad stood back, watching as his cousin-in-law knelt next to the grave. The loss of Mark had touched so many, and as he looked around, that’s all he could think. These were your boys, Mark. They’re here, shedding tears for you. What will happen to them now? Chaz and Mike and Ryan. Even Amir and Devon and Caleb? And young Noah...they’ll be a little lost without you. And Jason. Oh, Mark, if you could only see how broken he is. He weeps for you, cousin.


Brad wiped his eyes before he headed for the place where Jason had sank to the ground, but hadn’t gotten up yet. Over the years, he’d watched Jason go from being another one of the boys, to being a touchstone in Mark’s life. The other half, when it came to personal affairs and business. He’d never mentioned it to anyone, but Mark spoke so fondly of Jason everytime he was alone with Brad. “He loved you,” he whispered as he crouched down next to his cousin-in-law, carefully putting his arms around Jason’s shoulders. “I know he had trouble showing it sometimes, and his temper could flare like the wild spirit he was, but he did love you.”


The seconds ticked by, and even though Jason wasn’t saying anything, Brad could feel the other man’s anguish. “I saw you in the future,” Brad whispered. “Your heart will be happy again, cousin.” He turned his head, pressing a soft kiss to Jason’s face. “We’re all here for you, don’t be afraid to lean on us.” He offered Jason one last squeeze before he stood up, gazing into the ground, and the sea of white roses that covered the casket, the testament of the empire Mark had built.


Jason wiped his face with his handkerchief before he stood up, his legs and knees shaky. Brad meant well with his words, but somehow hearing his cousin-in-law remind him that Mark did love him stung. It was hard to reconcile with the reality of how their marriage played out over the past few years. He turned away, unable to watch as the first shovel full of dirt hit the casket, the sound dulled by the layer of flowers on top. There were arms around him immediately to lead him away, and as Jason caught the familiar scent of Ryan’s cologne, a rush of gratitude swept over him. He didn’t leave me. Like he promised. Jason let his body sag into Ryan’s arms. “It’s done, now,” he mumbled in his lover’s direction, forcing his feet to move one in front of the other.


Ryan knew he couldn’t kiss Jason here, not with other people still around. The current YRS boys all knew, but Brad didn’t, and neither did most of the former employees, and the business associates that held Mark in such high standing. I can just be a shoulder to lean on till we get away from here, that’s what Mike said, and he’s right. I don’t want to do anything that would embarrass Jay. The word embarrass stung a little, even though he’d said it to himself. “You did a good job,” he encouraged his boyfriend, just as they got to a group of people Ryan wasn’t sure he knew. In fact, he knew he didn’t know them, but Jason lifted his head and pushed a smile as he pulled away from Ryan’s light embrace. He wasn’t sure, but he could only guess they were people who dealt in property, maybe from the past or the present, he couldn’t tell as words like square footage and Mark’s name were tossed around.


Ryan took a step back. Whatever the matter was, it didn’t have anything to do with him. He turned, automatically looking for Chester, and he found him only a few inches away. “I don’t know them,” he whispered with a nod toward the eloquently dressed pack of men, who had long coats and gloves on their hands, like they were worried they’d get dirty.


Chester shrugged. “Yeah, I don’t know. But do you see that guy over there?” he asked, trying to motion over his shoulder discreetly.


Ryan’s bright eyes glanced the way Chester was pointing, spotting a man dressed very much like them, in dress pants and a shirt, nothing as high end like the pack of real estate tycoons Jason was talking with. “No,” he said, his attention back on Chester. “Why?”


“He’s been watching us since we got here,” Chester whispered. “It’s kinda creeping me out.” He twisted around, just enough to see the man in question, and the moment he did, he was being waved to. “Shit. He wants us to go over there.”


“Maybe he was friends with Mark,” Ryan suggested. “It’s a funeral, surely it’s nothing bad.”


“I guess so,” Chester agreed. He glanced around, looking for Mike, but when he spotted him standing with Jason, actually listening and participating in whatever conversation was happening with the pack of overdressed gentlemen, Chester decided fuck it. “Come on, let’s go see what he wants.”


Ryan looked Jason’s way, but it was clear he wouldn’t be missed over the next few minutes, and so he followed Chester over to the stranger, who was standing by a ring of flowers, toward the back of where Mark’s casket was being buried.


“Hi,” Chester was the first one to offer once they were close. “Were you calling for us?” he asked, gesturing between himself and Ryan.


The man straightened his red and gold tie before he reached his hand out. “I’m Forrest Mullan,” he said, his voice coming out smooth and clean. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you both in person. Chester,” he said first, shaking hands, “and Ryan.”


“So you know us then,” Ryan was quick to sum up. The name Forrest Mullan didn’t ring any bells, and as he looked the man over - his gray dress pants and medium build with a head full of thick brown hair that matched his mustache - he didn’t recognize him either, even close up.


“I do,” Forrest said with a genuine smile. “I was an acquaintance of your late boss, God rest his soul,” he said, his voice dropping to a solemn tone. “I was very sorry to hear about his passing.”


Ryan and Chester looked at each other before they both added their agreement. “It’s been hard,” Chester offered.


Forrest nodded. “I’m sure it has been. Boys, please, don’t think badly of me for bringing this up now, but I’ve seen your work together, and I have a business opportunity I’d like to talk to you about.”


The word porn bounced through both Ryan and Chester’s heads, and Chester was the first one to say, “Oh, no thank you. We’re getting out of the business, now that Mark and YRS are gone.”


Forrest looked over their shoulders, catching sight of Jason before he looked back at them. “I did hear through the grapevine that Jason will not be continuing, but that’s not what I’m offering. Here’s my card,” he said, pulling a black leather wallet from his back pocket. “I’m not in the adult industry. I run a clothing line, and I work with professional models.” He handed both of them a card, with gold leaf lettering on it. “I like the two of you together; it’s a good look,” he stated as he took a half step back and scanned them up and down. “I think you would be perfect for a line we’ve been having trouble finding good models for. It’s specifically geared toward younger men of your persuasion, and I think you two could do wonders for it.”


“Modeling?” Chester mumbled as he looked down at the card Forrest had handed him. “Like, advertisements in magazines?”


“That’s right, among other things.” Forrest watched as both Chester and Ryan took a moment to study the cards he’d given them. “It wouldn’t be anything like what you did at YRS. That’s not to say there wouldn’t be some more revealing shots taken of the two of you, but it wouldn’t be anything that couldn’t be seen in public.” Forrest let a beat of silence pass as he looked back toward Jason, and his eyes fell on Mike. “Chester, I know you have a boyfriend,” he stated gently, nodding toward Mike. “So you’ll need to discuss this with him. I’d love to work with you, but relationships can become problems if both people aren’t okay with the situation in this line of work. There’s been no lack of…rumor,” he said delicately, “about the conflicts Mike had with YRS. He has a reputation for being difficult, and I can’t have that in my studio.”


Chester looked behind him, studying Mike for a second. It was true. Mike had caused more than one dramatic moment at YRS and with Mark. For me. He always did it for me...because of me. But this would be different. It’s just modeling. No sex or anything. He looked back at Forrest. “I understand. I’ll talk to him about it.”


“Good,” Forrest answered with a wide smile. “I see a lot of potential with the two of you. Take a few days and think it over and then give me a call and we can set up a meeting to go over things in more detail, if you’re interested.” He checked his watch before he offered them a friendly goodbye and another round of condolences for their loss, and then he was off, heading across the cemetery and out of sight.


“That was weird,” Chester mumbled as he looked down at the card again. “Score Clothing And Apparel,” he read out loud before looking at Ryan. “Never heard of them.”


“I think maybe I have. Score Clothing...I think I might have a pair of their jeans.” He grinned. “Models, Chazzy. He wants us to be real models! Can you believe that?”


Chester shook his head. “No. I mean, is it weird he asked us at a funeral?” He looked across the green grass, toward where Forrest Mullan had disappeared. “But, maybe it’s because he knew we’d both be here.” He shrugged before he slipped the business card into his pocket. “Being a real model,” he mused for the first time, “that would be fun, and we’d get to work together.” He was already smiling before his expression dropped. “Well, if Mike’s okay with it. He called Sexy Boy difficult.” He clicked his tongue and rolled his eyes.


“Well, Chaz, you know Mike can get, well, opinionated sometimes. Outspoken. Brash,” Ryan rambled as they turned to head back to Jason and Mike, who were seemingly saying goodbye to the men they’d been talking to.


“Okay, okay, I get it,” Chester sighed, bumping his elbow into Ryan playfully. “And he is all those things, but only because of how things were at YRS. You know, he’s protective.”


“I know,” Ryan acknowledged. “Even though he tried to protect you from me, too, which is just fucking ridiculous.”


Chester went to say more, to add in that Mike had been doing better with that as of late, but he was out of time. Mike and Jason were free, and a second later, the four of them were all standing together.


Mike reached out for Chester immediately, pulling him close. “I think this is almost done,” he said, more to Jason than to Chester. “We can head out whenever you’re ready, Ches.”


Jason watched Mike and Chester for a second and longed to wrap his arms around Ryan the same way. It had been a long afternoon, but Mike was right. He had spoken with nearly everyone, and most of Mark’s business associates had already gone. When he looked around, he saw tight pods of former YRS employees, talking quietly and probably catching up. The thought that these boys had gone their separate ways, but had spent months or years at YRS being intimate with others, crossed his mind. There were even people he’d worked with that had come to pay their respects. It was an odd position to realize he’d never given some of them a second thought, and some he wished he had time to talk with and find out how they were really doing.


“Would it be strange to offer to meet up for a drink with everyone?” Jason asked Ryan, motioning his hands in a wide circle around him. “There’s so many people here that would probably like to chat a little more.”


Ryan looked around, trying to follow exactly what Jason was saying. It seemed everyone who was left was an ex YRS worker, and that meant there could be gossip and conversation for days. “I think that’s a great idea,” he said, smiling to his boyfriend. “I’m sure we could all use a drink, and talking is never a bad thing.”


“You and Chaz are good at spreading information,” Jason decided. “Why don’t you two walk around and let everyone know where we’re going? I really just want to sit down for a minute, then we can go. Mike, come inside with me. We can finish that discussion about Mark’s investments on the way.” Jason took a deep breath as he folded the handkerchief and slipped it in his coat pocket. “There’s so much I didn’t know about,” he mumbled in Mike’s direction.


“Sure,” Mike said agreeably, letting go of his boyfriend and moving to follow Jason. “Ches, we’ll meet you guys inside, okay?”


Chester nodded. “Yup, we’ll tell everyone about meeting up, and then we’ll be there.” He spun away from Mike and clapped Ryan on the shoulder. “Come on.” They headed off, ready to say a second round of hellos to their old colleagues, and ones they only knew by their stage names, and as a bonus, they got to invite every single one of them out for a drink.


****

TBC

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