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Paris is not a city
#1
26 December, 1891 — A Hotel in Paris

It was Boxing Day and Ford was in Paris. He hadn't expected to be in Paris. He had expected to be in Black's, and while he'd been dreading it ever since receiving the invitation, Black's was manageable. Black's was nearly public and relatively safe. Macnair could probably give him a Christmas present at Black's, or he could maybe subtly call things off at Black's if he was hoping to prevent Ford from making a scene (as though Ford would have wanted to), but he couldn't do anything at Black's that would really twist at Ford's heart. When they'd met up at Black's, though, Macnair hadn't had a drink and hadn't wanted Ford to get one either, and then they were out the wrong door, the not-London not-Hogsmeade door, and in Paris.

How was Ford supposed to hold himself together in Paris?

They'd been at a restaurant, eating food so rich and decadent it made Ford want to cry even without everything else that was going on. The bottle of wine was so good Ford was surprised each time he found his glass empty. They'd walked through a park decorated with so many beautiful lights that Ford's breath kept catching when they turned a corner. Once when they were far enough into the park that there was no chance they'd be seen, Macnair slipped his arm around Ford's waist while they walked. They'd checked in to a hotel and Ford's stomach had dropped even further at the realization that Macnair wanted this to be an overnight outing. They weren't supposed to surprise each other with requests to spend the night — it was something they'd agreed on, back at the very beginning — but they were in Paris and Macnair had gotten a hotel room, so how could Ford have said no?

It was up several flights of stairs. It was a room with a view. The chances that Ford was going to get through to tomorrow without breaking down entirely plummeted with each floor they climbed.

He tried not to look too closely at anything in the hotel room once they'd gotten inside, because he didn't think he could handle it. "No more surprises?" he asked Macnair. Merlin, no more surprises, please.

Bree made this because she loves me <3
#2
After a Christmas with Tatiana and his mother and the brothers who'd bothered to show up to their family dinner, the Paris getaway was blissful. Never mind that the tension from Tatiana's pregnancy still hung between them, and never mind that there were still unanswered questions about the trajectory of their relationship moving forward. All he was worried about was Greengrass' wide eyes, tousled curls, and the feeling of his flushed skin every time Valerian managed to sneak a touch.

By the time they arrived at the hotel, Valerian had downed one too many glasses of wine and was high on the bliss of a Paris winter and Christmas decorations. Perhaps his job and his family had weighed on him more than he'd thought; he hadn't smiled this much in months, not even when he and Greengrass spent their nights in bed together or when he'd learned he was having a child. He closed the door behind them, not bothering to examine the oversized bed or lit candles around the door before he focused on Greengrass.

"What kind of surprises do you mean?" he asked, playfully arching a brow.


#3
Ford didn't know how to answer that. He'd been expecting something closer to a yes or a no. He knew what kind of surprises he was thinking of: anything sweet and heartfelt, anything that would make his stomach drop out of his body again. A small, hand-wrapped Christmas present waiting on the bedside table. A massage in a warm bath with scented lotion. An offer to cuddle on the bed while Macnair read something to him. Ford was hanging onto his composure by a thread as it was, and anything like that would have pushed him over the edge. It wasn't like he could just say that, though. How would that look? Thanks for setting up this whole trip to Paris and planning out every minute of it, but please tell me there's also a present for me to unwrap somewhere up here?

He bit his lower lip. "Tonight has been — a lot," he started. "I mean, good, though. A lot of good. It's — Sorry. It's just feeling a little bit — overwhelming, I guess, considering..." Ford swallowed and looked at the floor. He wished he'd stopped himself one word earlier. Maybe if he'd just said things felt overwhelming he could have left it at that and waited to see Macnair's reaction, but now that he'd said considering there really had to be a consideration that followed. He didn't want to talk about Macnair's wife or her pregnancy or his future family, because this was Paris and he didn't want to sully this moment by bringing all of that up, but how could he avoid it now? He'd been thinking about it anyway, on and off throughout the night whenever his mind wasn't preoccupied, and now he'd come within a hair's breadth of saying it. They couldn't just ignore it any longer.

What he could keep ignoring, what he had been pointedly ignoring all night, was everything Cash had said at the club. Ford knew he couldn't avoid it forever, but he also didn't know how he was going to bring it up without admitting that Cash knew about them, which he didn't want to explain. That was one benefit of Paris, at least; he didn't have to worry about tonight making anything worse in that regard, unless someone had seen them leave the club together.

Ford squeezed his eyes shut for just a second, trying to focus. He looked up towards Macnair and said, all in a rush, "If you're trying to be so romantic as send off I'd rather know about it. I mean, if this is a really sweet, drawn-out way of saying goodbye I'd just — I'd —"

Bree made this because she loves me <3
#4
To say he'd been blindsided by Greengrass' reaction wouldn't have been completely accurate; it wasn't as though there hadn't been moments in passing that evening where he'd wondered what would happen between them and how things might change between now and the arrival of the baby. It was only that he hadn't expected to Greengrass to bring it up today. Or ever, really. He'd sort of been hoping that it would never come up and that they could continue their blissful nights together without any mention of it.

The playfulness immediately dropped from his expression, leaving a frown in its place.

"I wasn't," he said stiffly, now feeling rather silly about the extravagant room, the wine, the meal, the stolen touches. Had Greengrass spent the entire time thinking about, well... then end? "Unless..." He found himself shaking his unconsciously. "Unless you want this to be a goodbye?" Valerian certainly didn't, but he was too hurt—and prideful at that—to say so out loud, not when Greengrass had made assumptions like this after all the effort he'd gone to to ensure tonight would be perfect.

#5
"No, no," Ford said immediately. Too quickly. He should have taken time to think that answer through, because maybe he did want this to be the end. The past few months had his emotions swinging like a pendulum, which couldn't be good for his mental health. When he was with Macnair in the moment he was happy — sometimes, like tonight during dinner, so happy he almost couldn't stand it — but even in those moments there was the bittersweet undercurrent of knowing this was all going to end. Every moment he wasn't with Macnair had been miserable, and those moments far outnumbered the happy ones. Wouldn't it be better to put an end to it sooner rather than later? Hadn't he nearly said as much when he was complaining to Lestrange about how drawn-out the end of this relationship was turning out to be? And — given what Cash had told him in the private room — might it not be better to end things now, for other reasons, than to admit they hadn't been discreet enough and have to deal with the fallout from that conversation? Or worse, keep going until someone other than Cash, someone more dangerous, found out about them?

Ford let out a long breath and let his body deflate slightly. "I don't know," he admitted. "I don't, but I just keep thinking it will be. Any time we're together. I can't get it out of my head. And maybe that's—" He left off; he could not bring himself to say it was for the best.

Bree made this because she loves me <3
#6
He could have lived with the No, No, even if it was hasty and sounded like Greengrass was about to jump into a slew of excuses, but not knowing? His chest filled with dread, and Valerian was forced to consider the possibility that their months-long whirlwind romance would end in the city of love itself. He'd always been the one for a little flair, but this was too much.

Valerian backed up until his calves hit the bed's edge. He sat down, not taking his eyes off of Greengrass, his frown unmoved.

"That's wht? I already told you... You know how I feel." As if he hadn't made that clear plenty of times.

#7
Ford's chest tightened as Macnair backed up and sat down. He hated the stricken look on the other man's face, and the words I'm sorry were on the tip of his tongue. He could go straight to Macnair's side and kneel down next to him, put one hand on Macnair's knee and one on his cheek. I'm sorry. You've been so wonderful. I didn't mean it. You know I love you. Pretend I didn't say anything. Just me making myself crazy, but nevermind that — forget I said anything and let's go back to having the time of our lives in Paris.

He could have. The words were on the tip of his tongue. He even took half a step in the direction of the bed. A thought stopped him, and when it rang out in his head it didn't sound like his voice but he couldn't identify whose it was: Only you could spend months being miserable and then end up apologizing for it when you bring it up.

Ford swayed slightly on his feet. He didn't know what to say. He felt as though he could very well explode from all the pent up emotion inside, but he couldn't find the right words to let it out. He closed his eyes and ran both hands through his hair as though this could solidify some of the whirl of thoughts in his brain. He had been miserable for good long portions of the past few months, and whether or not it was his own anxiety making him crazy it was no less real for him. At the same time, he knew that this wasn't Macnair's fault. Not really, anyway, unless one wanted to go all the way back to his decision to get married in the first place. Ford had known he was getting married and still decided to be with him, though, so he thought he'd signed himself up for that whole mess. This situation was really just an inevitable product of the first one. If it was anyone's fault, it was Ford's for being so short-sighted, for not anticipating what this would feel like once it came up.

"It's — Maybe we should," Ford began. He wasn't sure he was going to be able to get through this, but he knew he needed to at least try to say it. Pretending that things could just keep on exactly as they were indefinitely was not sustainable since the news of the pregnancy, and especially not since his conversation with Cash, and it was time to stop pretending things were fine when they weren't. "Because having a family you're responsible for is different than just having brothers and sisters. And you're about to have a family, and I'm n-not part of it."

He thought that was probably the most succinct way to phrase it. The baby would take priority over him, in Macnair's attentions and affections. It should take priority over him. Ford couldn't begrudge Macnair a healthy relationship with his child — but he also couldn't see how that scenario left any room for him.

Bree made this because she loves me <3
#8
The words could have broken him. They might have had this conversation taken place in his bedroom rather in the middle of Paris. He might have shed a tear, might have stood up and immediately gone to Greengrass' side to hug him or offer words of comfort. But Valerian was hurt and confused and frustrated. It had been months since announcing the baby, and in that time Greengrass had admitted he'd loved him—gotten him to admit he loved Greengrass in return—and was now hitting him with this?

"Because I fully intend to abandon my love life simply because I had a child," he said dryly. It was easier to mask the pain than show it. He felt himself withdrawing into himself; he was still looking at Greengrass but he wasn't really looking at him, his gaze more of a blank stare than anything. There was an edge of bitterness to his words, but he refused to allow the depths of his feelings show. "Imagine if all men did that when they had a child. Nobody would have more than one child." They'd had this conversation before, back when he told Greengrass he was to be married. He wasn't going to resign himself to a loveless marriage. He'd never intended to. That's why Tatiana was the perfect choice, right?

#9
Ford bit his lower lip, and his eyebrows crinkled with hurt. He was trying to share something sincere, something that had been weighing heavily on his mind for months, and it sounded like Macnair was making fun of him. "It's different," he insisted quietly. "You know it's different." Ford wasn't going to try and defend himself here, or explain it if Macnair didn't understand. Married men spending time with their wives was all intrinsic to the family; it was something that contributed to, rather than detracted from, the support system their child had. Ford was an outsider in this scenario. Any moments they spent together were stolen moments, and here the phrase stolen moments wasn't just a romantic expression — they were literally stolen from Macnair's other responsibilities, from his wife and soon from his child.

He took a breath, trying to reset slightly. This conversation was going to be difficult enough without holding on to the hurt from Macnair's tone just now. "I don't want to lose you," he said. This should have been obvious, but restating it was something of an olive branch. "It's just — I'm going to."

Bree made this because she loves me <3
#10
His eyes dropped back to the carpet. He didn't need to look at Greengrass to see the expression on his face; he knew him so well, so intimately, that he could imagine his expression using the tone of his voice alone. It had only been six months now, but Valerian felt he knew Greengrass that well.

And yet, propped on the edge of the bed that was meant to be their refuge for the rest of the night, he couldn't have felt more like a stranger. He could have hated Greengrass in the moment had he not been so paralyzed by the heartache. How did he argue against a man's feelings?

"Because you choose to," he said quietly. Brokenly.

#11
Ford was looking at Macnair while he was looking at the carpet. It was strange how the tables had turned; of the two of them, Ford had never expected to be the stronger one. Macnair still didn't get it, though, and his response made that obvious. He didn't understand what Ford was saying about the inevitability of it all. Maybe he would realize it when the baby actually came, or maybe not. Maybe it just wasn't the sort of thing he'd understand. Maybe they were fundamentally different in that way, and their ways of looking at the world were too misaligned to find a peaceable solution. If that was the case, then of course Macnair would think Ford was choosing this. He'd probably think so no matter what Ford said, and no matter how much time passed. Ford certainly didn't feel as though he had a choice in this — if he'd had a choice he wouldn't have felt like he was being dragged through the last two months with no will of his own — but he couldn't reason Macnair around to his side of things if he still wasn't seeing it.

"Maybe so," he conceded, his tone matching Macnair's. He swallowed. Macnair looked as miserable as Ford felt. After a second, Ford crossed the space between them and sat next to Macnair on the bed. Without waiting to see how he would react, Ford wrapped his arms tightly around the other man, curling his whole body into his.

Bree made this because she loves me <3
#12
He didn't watch Greengrass cross the room, but he listened to the sound of his footsteps, leaned sideways as the bed cushion dipped beside him, and finally felt Greengrass' warm embrace wrap around him. His mask fell immediately. It was pointless to try to keep himself from crying; no matter how hard he squeezed his eyes or clenched his jaws his chest still shook and the tears still welled up in the corners of his eyes.

"You know I had to get married," he said, his voice still hushed and stiff. He should have learned by now that he could be open with Greengrass—he had a kind soul, but more than that, he loved him. He probably had learned, and had this gone any differently he could have been whispering sweet nothings into the crook of Greengrass' neck right about now, making promises about their future and naughty insinuations about all the things he'd do to him for the rest of the night. But Greengrass couldn't accept Valerian's truth or didn't understand it. Greengrass couldn't separate himself from Tatiana or the baby like Valerian had taken great care to.

"But I had to have you, too. I could have had both. I could have, if you'd only let me." It wouldn't have been easy, and maybe he'd always had to take time to reassure Greengrass that what he felt for Tatiana and for his child wouldn't impact how he felt for Greengrass. Maybe he should have taken more care to explain that loving Greengrass wouldn't make him a neglectful husband or father, because Greengrass loved his own family so much. But somehow he knew that no amount of explaining would suffice, because Greengrass had made up his mind already.

#13
Ford wished that Macnair would have just stayed quiet for a few minutes and let him hold him. He wanted to comfort him, but what was he supposed to say in response to that? The way Macnair framed it made it seem as though the only obstacle to the two of them being together was Ford's latest whim, which wasn't an accurate representation of things at all. Did Macnair really think that he'd have gotten to this point if there was any alternative? Ford had tried to reason through it a hundred times. He'd tried to come up with some way to get them through this. He'd even asked Noble about it, although without the details. Noble had just confirmed what Ford already knew: there was no way around it. Fathers had to be fathers first and foremost, and Ford couldn't conscious helping someone be a bad father. Not even someone he loved. Especially not someone he loved.

"I can't do it." He was still holding Macnair and he didn't want to let go, even though given what he was saying he probably ought to. "It's — I was okay with your wife. Or — not okay, but I was fine, because you said it was different and she didn't expect anything from you, and if that's how things are then who am I to say otherwise? But it's different with a baby." Here Ford did manage to pry himself off of Macnair, because saying this next sentence while embracing him would have just been cruel. "A child doesn't choose to have parents who don't love each other."

Bree made this because she loves me <3
#14
So this wasn't really about Valerian—it was about Greengrass' own morals and ideas about what a family should look like. Valerian had never asked about his father, assuming it was still a sore spot, but he could only assume that his father had loved his mother and vice versa. Valerian had never had that luxury; he was certain that his mother didn't love his husband, and his father didn't act like he loved his mother. A love match between parents was rare among people of his station.

Tears dripped down his face, but he didn't really feel sad. He wasn't sure what he felt. Bitterness? Offended? He was definitely annoyed that he'd misjudged this situation so terribly, and that he'd allowed himself to be vulnerable when he should have known that relationships like this never lasted. He distinctly remembered telling himself that, and yet he'd convinced himself Greengrass could be different.

"In no scenario would I ever have loved Tatiana the way I love you," he said. He wasn't arguing anymore—there was no point, was there? Greengrass made up his mind, and nothing he said would change how Greengrass felt. It had apparently been this way the whole time, except Valerian hadn't been aware. But he had to explain himself; he couldn't let Greengrass brand him a bad father before he walked out. "It would be like trying to love your own sister romantically, Greengrass. She was raised as mine. I either had to marry her or let her marry a man who viewed her as a shiny plaything. That was my way of showing I loved her." And showing that he was better than Charles Macmillan, but that was a subject he didn't think would earn him too many points with Greengrass.

"And no matter how my relationship with Tatiana is, I will love my child. I will be the father that he needs." Better than Eustace, at least. He'd never had a poor relationship with his father, but Valerian's relationship with his mother looked more like one that should exist between father and son. "I'm sorry you can't see that. I'm sorry you can't love me because of it."
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#15
Unexpectedly, Macnair's description of his relationship with Tatiana did strike a chord. It wasn't the first time that they'd discussed this or that Macnair had tried to explain it, but it was the first time that the nature of Macnair's marriage had come up since Verity had gotten engaged. While Ford still had no concrete reason to be suspicious of Swann, he also couldn't shake the feeling that he should be, so the idea of losing someone you cared about to a marriage that wouldn't be good for them hit close to home. There was no way that Ford could have done what Macnair had done, either legally or logistically, but if there had been? If he'd had the chance to give up on the notion of a loving marriage for himself in order to secure comfort and respect for Verity, would he have? Maybe. The only reason that was only maybe was because he wasn't sure that Verity would have wanted him to. She'd always been ambitious, and likely would have seen a comfortable marriage as a failure. If Grace were in a similar position, though — yes, of course he would have made that sacrifice for her. So in one regard, something clicked for him; Macnair's explanation of his marriage finally made sense, instead of just being something he could overlook long enough to spend the night.

(Not that it all made sense; saving someone from a potentially bad marriage was one thing, but sleeping with them was something else. Ford's only experience of sex had been with Macnair, and it had always been passionate and caring. He couldn't imagine any alternatives, so although he knew academically that it of course must be possible to do the deed with someone you didn't have that kind of relationship with, a part of him still thought that if Macnair was regularly sleeping with his wife he must be at least a little bit in love with her).

Ford sighed. Did he have this all wrong? He'd had the whole conversation with Noble, but he'd come into it with an initial assumption that Macnair carving time out of his family life to see a lover made him a bad father. Was that a bad assumption? Ford had no first hand experience with absentee parents, so he only had his own assumptions of what it would be like to grow up with one. His father had always been present, but that didn't mean he was a good father. Ford had always thought he was, up until he died and Ford discovered he had been keeping so many secrets about their finances. What if his barometer was off on this? Ford knew he couldn't stay engaged with the relationship if he was enabling Macnair to be a bad father, but what if Ford didn't even know what a good father was?

He reached for Macnair's hand and laced his fingers through his. "I do love you," he said quietly. "You're a good person. I think you'll be a good father." He had been convinced of that right from the start, which was why he'd been so convinced that the end of their relationship was only a matter of time. It was only after things had continued for months with no end in sight that Ford had started to wonder if Macnair really thought he could continue on after the baby was born — and now he was questioning whether even that mattered. Ford frowned at his shoes, feeling very small. "You're a good — brother, for lack of a better term."

Bree made this because she loves me <3
#16
Valerian glanced down at their joined hands, his heart jumping in his chest in a way it hadn’t since they’d first begun their relationship. It must have been his mind holding onto hope—or maybe his way of holding onto these last moments. Of course Greengrass wasn’t making it easy to figure out which made more sense between the physical affection and the praise and the affirmation.

You love me,” he repeated, running his fingertips along the back of Greengrass’ hand, “and you think I’ll be a good father and that I’m a good cousin” Not brother. Too odd. He look up at Greengrass and cocked a brow. “—but still it’s not enough?


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