Treaty of the Heart

To be read after Good Losers.
Finlay and Rory take a moment to clarify official state matters the day after the night before, and get creative with bunting.

A string of purple bunting flutters, caught, on the wrought-iron railings in front of the apartment. With a grim expression, Rory snatches it up and balls it in his fist. Finlay watches him carefully.

“I did the right thing,” Luke says with the strong, kingly certainty that’s been missing every time Finlay’s tried to be decisive, has tried to pin down the exact definition of right ever since growing close to Benjamin Moncrieff. Luke’s half-in and half-out the vestibule, sticking as close to the shade as possible, as the summer sun beams down on the other chiefs.

“You did,” Rory agrees, moving onto the next section of the railings and unwinding yet more bunting. This one spells the word ANARCHY.

The front door is wide open. Upstairs, Danny and Jessa gather their things for Lochkelvin — and maybe they catch a breath after the madness of last night, too. And this morning.

He remembers waking up to her. He remembers kissing her, kissing her in front of all of them, as though it was the right thing to do. As though she were his — and maybe that’s true now, in a way. He recalls the sun spilling across her fair face, her cherry-red lips, her fierce eyes widened with private knowledge that doesn’t take long for her to impart.

Luke’s abdicated, she’d whispered between soft lips, a warm but treacherous sound that, for whatever reason, made Finlay’s cock twitch in earnest. He’s done it. It’s over.

It’s not over. Not by a long shot. Finlay senses this implicitly, the same way he feels the hard, ancient slog that’s taken his country to the brink of self-determination.

Breaking up is hard to do. Unions, alliances, forged connections.

It’s harder when the public has already been betrayed.

It’s harder when they’re being whipped into a frenzy.

The public is a restless beast and it wants its pound of flesh.

Finlay doesn’t know what’s coming, and that keeps him up at night. Knowing Luke, being friends with Luke, keeps him up at night. He worries about him. He worries about his own role in all this. 

He doesn’t know what chaos a frustrated public is capable of.

He will in time.

Finlay leans against the car, pretending to be busy on his phone whenever his fellow chiefs glance anywhere near him. For now, Luke is safe. He’s safe when they’re together, and that’s something. But when the other chiefs don’t look at Finlay, his gaze slides back, automatically, onto Rory.

The earth has shifted. The sky seems brighter. Finlay’s heart constricts in odd, lurching ways.

There’s detritus throughout the street after last night’s demonstration. Litter blows in the summer breeze and skirts their ankles. Signs, leaflets, bunting and banners — the whole cobbled street is awash with it. It’s a change of scene from stumbling into the gleaming lobby of a five-star hotel, checking out bleary-eyed and brain-drunk, pushing through the revolving doors and barging into full-blown Edinburgh sunshine.

Busses had whizzed by. Double-decker tour buses, big chunky coaches from the continent. The clock struck an hour — an ungodly hour — and the daily cannonball fired from the castle, startling all of them. Life went on, and that seemed weird. That seemed wrong after what they’d all shared last night. The world should have stopped for them, should have offered them acquiescent, admiring silence. Perhaps awed applause, at a push. For no one in the history of forever has been as united, as connected, as the five of them last night.

How could the world not revolve around them?

It seems offensive to Finlay that it doesn’t.

It seems offensive that the world is as banal and as busy and as loud as it always has been. Despite the ground breaking, despite the earth shattering, despite the trail being blazed right behind them…

Finlay sighs. He knows he should focus on Luke’s abdication, he knows the single most important political act of this century is unfolding right now and that he has enviable access to its architect. But all he pictures in his mind is the smooth silk of Jessa’s thighs and the hot forbidden press of Rory’s mouth against his. The soft squeeze of Jessa’s wet cunt, the tight dig of Rory’s fingers.

He barely has to think of last night for his erection to leap optimistically inside his jeans.

“They’ve turned the place into a shithole,” Rory mutters, removing yet more bunting like he has no time for it. A street sweeper does similarly in the garden square across from them, but at least he gets paid for it. The Book Festival has closed unexpectedly owing to last night’s protest, though they’ve impressed their desire to re-open imminently. With the amount of shit left behind, Finlay surmises it’ll take more than a lone street sweeper to clear it all any time soon.

The Antiro symbol is spraypainted in red everywhere he turns, like an eye looking down on them all. On ancient stone buildings, on the white festival tents, on the grass and the cobbles. The message is clear: we are here and you can’t get rid of us. It’s history in the making — we’re history in the making — and we’ll take our place with the arrogance and superiority required of such a belief.

Finlay doesn’t blame them. He’s self-aware enough to know he’d be doing the exact same thing, in different circumstances, another person in another time, had he not been friends with Luke… Hell, maybe he’d even be leading the charge. Maybe he’d be Benji.

The idea makes him feel uneasy. And so he continues to silently peruse Rory, and it’s like the world calms at once.

Rory notices this time. He cocks a disapproving eyebrow in his direction. “Are you going to bother helping, or…?” The bunting dangles like rope around his forearm, like he’s a cowboy. Briefly, Finlay wonders what Rory would look like in tight chaps and a cowboy hat. He tells his brain to shut up.

“I see Luke isnae gettin’ dragged intae this,” Finlay drawls, picking himself up from the car like Rory’s persuaded him. Silly string has been sprayed over the railings, sticky and annoying. It’ll need hosed down, or at least a sponge. “Luke, make yersel useful and gie us a sponge.”

Instead, Luke gives him the kind of appalled expression normally reserved for the gravest offenses of etiquette. “Excuse me?”

“A sponge. Get me a sponge. And a bucket o’ water, tae,” he adds brightly. “Cheers.”

He waits until Luke leaves, muttering in distaste as he goes. Finlay thinks that if Danny had been there, the task would have been instantly passed onto him. But then — Luke is an ex-royal, so Finlay thinks he should get used to it and indulge in some elbow grease. Maybe he’d even like it.

It’s difficult, mornings after nights before — and it isn’t even morning anymore, which makes it even worse. They’ve dragged it out too long. At least last summer, there’d been a pact: things were done in secret, in the dark of night, and Finlay knew that. He almost kinda relished it, the switch between normal Rory and the Rory horny enough to let Finlay watch him come.

It was private back then, an act that only took place in the dreamiest darkness. But last night can’t be like that. Logistically, pragmatically. There are five people involved now and five people can’t just pretend nothing happened. That’d be madness, and Finlay is anything but mad.

He glances at Rory, taking in his fair eyelashes, the blond brows deepened with displeasure as he rips another smug banner from the railings.

“Spit it out,” Rory commands, and despite it all, despite who he is, Finlay is very good at following Rory’s orders. He wishes he could be stronger, better, to ignore him the way Jessa sometimes can. But he isn’t, not when Rory holds such sway over him.

The fucking tragic bitter irony of it all.

“Are we gonnae change? Us, I mean.”

For a while, Rory says nothing, still unwinding the bunting, his arm muscles getting one hell of a workout. “Did things change between us after last summer?” Rory eventually asks, not looking at him.

“Aye,” Finlay answers. It’s true. Things had been tense between them. Rory barely seemed able to look at him at some points. Time healed the rift, and the distraction of a whole bunch of girls — and, most notably, Jessa — had also seemed to smooth the irritations between them. But for a while, longer than Finlay had had the patience for, things had definitely been shaky.

“Then yes, probably.”

Finlay narrows his eyes at him. He offers his mess of a heart up to Rory time and time again under the belief that this, this will be the day it doesn’t end up smashed against a rock.

“Right.”

He backs away, gazing out into the glorious cobbled square. New Town. Georgian. Nowhere else in the UK looks like this. Nowhere else reminds him so sharply of Edinburgh and home. And so it’s here, of course, that his heart lies in ruins. It’s here that Rory will force him to bury the last of it.

“I’m leavin’.”

Rory’s head swings around. “What?”

“I’m gonnae go busk for a bit,” Finlay says noncommittally, and he’s making it up as he goes along, because he does want to leave. He wants to leave so badly, gather the remnants of his pulverized heart close to his chest, and run away through woods and trees and scream the everlasting fucking fuck out his raw, desperate voice. “May as well make some use o’ the Festival crowds.”

It’s like Rory can sense something is wrong. He’s good at that, Finlay thinks wildly, good at knowing when his world is about to be upended. He almost laughs. At this point, would it even be upended if Finlay left for real? 

Rory stops untying the bunting and comes to stand next to Finlay. 

Finlay has a burning desire to flee.

“Things don’t change,” Rory tells him in a slow, authoritative voice, “because of me. They always, always change because you get stuck inside your head and freak the fuck out.”

It’s a vicious slap of words in the most soothing tone. 

Distantly, Finlay wonders how long it takes a man to fetch a sponge.

“I know,” he eventually mutters. “I just — maybe I want ye tae change. Be a bit mair open, y’know?”

“I’m never going to write love songs about you,” Rory scoffs, like the idea is preposterous, like the majority of Finlay’s music isn’t just Rory and Jessa on a loop.

“Ye could gie me somethin’,” Finlay insists, because he knows he deserves more than Rory’s gray eyes asserting him dispassionately, especially after last night. “Ye liked it last night, did ye no’? Because I know I fuckin’ did, an’ I’m no’ too proud tae say it. And ye liked it last summer an’ aw. You’re the wan lyin’ tae yersel, ye daft fuckin’ cunt, and that’s whit I hate. That’s why I get stuck in ma heid. Because you gie me fuckin’ nothin’.”

“What exactly do you want me to do?” Rory asks — and it’s like he’s genuinely asking this time, as a way to make the frayed edges of themselves knit back together. To repair the damage his coldness does.

Finlay rubs the back of his neck awkwardly. “I dunno,” he mutters, and then, when Rory turns away again in exasperation, he blurts, “Kiss me.”

Rory doesn’t move. He doesn’t react in any way, but then Finlay realizes that his frozen form is a reaction, an act of self-preservation. Because unlike Finlay, he keeps it all bottled up — everything, his feelings, his moods, his words and thoughts. All of it fizzing and frothing inside of him, rarely unleashed, rarely penetrating the surface.

“I want ye tae kiss me,” Finlay says again, bolder this time, because at his heart he is a desperate, desperate man in service to a cold god. “I want ye tae kiss me because it’s whit ye want, no’ because the sassenach tells ye tae.” Finlay pauses, trails the toe of his scuffed Docs against the sharp black railing. “I dinnae want tae be yer revenge fantasy.”

Rory looks at him then, really looks. And maybe he doesn’t hate what he sees, the way Finlay sometimes does when he catches his reflection in the mirror — a mixed-up boy, who just wants things to be better. How can he be so roundly detested by certain folk, by himself even, when all he wants is to make life better? When it’s hope that flutters discordantly in his heart against fear?

He hopes for the best as he meets Rory’s gaze.

“Or what?”

“Ye kiss me noo,” Finlay says with more confidence than he feels, “or I walk.”

Rory scoffs slightly. “You’ll be back.”

“Mebbe. But I can still leave.” He spreads his arms, a here I am pose, take me or leave me. Rory continues to watch him with that inscrutable gray gaze. 

Seconds tick by until it feels as though Finlay’s standing there for a whole, tense minute. His shoulders sag. His arms collapse by his sides. A sigh falls from his lips like a dying breath.

He should have expected this. You can’t make a lad like Rory Munro bend to your whim. You can’t. And although he’s the exact opposite of religious, right now Finlay wishes to God that his heart and his cock could worship something other than outright male dominance. Someone who isn’t quite so English, quite so purebred, quite so fucking stuck-up and Tory.

It’s the latter aspect that causes the real deep shame. I mean, Jesus fuck, how did that even happen? When he wasn’t looking, when he wasn’t paying his normally total attention, Finlay caught feelings for a boy who believes in the polar opposite of everything he does.

The same boy looks at him now. 

And he says nothing.

Nothing.

Like silence is all Finlay deserves after pouring out his mangled heart to him here in a vandalized cobbled street full of millionaire luxury apartments.

Without wasting another moment, he storms over to the boot of the car. He hauls out his stickered guitar case and tosses it over his shoulder. Rory’s gaze remains weighty on him, like Finlay’s hauled that over his shoulder, too. There’s no way Finlay can return it, not even out of curiosity. He’s suddenly so bone-tired that it seems like he could drop to the ground at any second.

The slam of the car boot echoes throughout the quiet, respectable square. Finlay feels like kicking it for good measure.

With all the dignity he can muster — and he’s the first to admit that’s not a lot — Finlay pushes past Rory. 

He doesn’t get very far. A hand falls to his shoulder, right on top of his guitar strap. And it remains there, hot and heavy, the touch of Rory enough to make Finlay instantly halt.

“You’re such a fucking drama queen,” Rory mutters from behind him, and his voice sounds awfully close, close enough for his breath to make Finlay’s messy hair tickle his reddening cheeks.

Finlay glares into the middle distance. Another red Antiro sign is spraypainted on a nearby white van, attracting his gaze, but it’s not what attracts Finlay’s ire. His ire is the coolly burning, perpetually offended thing that’s replaced his heart, and that too is all Rory’s. In fact, everything else seems to fade away — all of it — Antiro and Westminster — until there’s just last night and Rory commanding his consciousness.

“I did like last night,” Rory states in a quiet tone, and Finlay swallows. His shoulder relaxes incrementally beneath Rory’s firm palm. “I’m just not like you.”

“I know,” Finlay responds in an instant, frozen but for the thing banging against his ribcage and trying to climb out. He wants to grab hold of Rory’s hand, the one still heavy on his shoulder. He wants to grab it to touch something, to feel skin against skin, to remember what warmth is.

Rory’s breath heats his ear. And then, ever so slightly, cautious lips brush against his exposed nape. 

Finlay’s eyes slide shut. The world tilts, and he wonders if he’s going to swoon dizzily into Rory’s arms like some romance heroine.

It’s nothing — but it’s a world more than before. A brief press of lips against his neck. From Rory Munro, it’s a fucking symphony compared to his earlier silence, and Finlay relaxes somewhat, he releases a labored breath and allows himself this kiss.

But at his core, he’s a greedy bastard. He knows this. Rory knows this. And so, when Rory pulls away, with the satisfaction that he’s placated Finlay for the moment with the most romantic gift he could have given, Finlay clutches at the pale hand on his shoulder and twists round to capture Rory’s mouth. 

It’s an onslaught, an outpouring. Finlay’s hands roam Rory’s jaw. They slide up his neck, to the neat edges of his caramel-colored hair. They grasp and grip and hold Rory in place, and it’s the most intense Finlay has ever felt, it’s the most dominant he’s ever been. It isn’t a kiss but a punch, something to wake Rory the fuck up and let him know how into him Finlay is. And Rory can’t disguise the soft muffled sounds from his mouth. He can’t disguise the small moans or — Finlay’s breath hitches — his hardening length.

Most importantly, Rory doesn’t pull away.

He doesn’t say no.

He allows himself to be pushed up against the iron railings. He allows his mouth to be bruised and crushed with the twisted lust of Finlay’s kiss.

And then he kisses Finlay back.

Their mouths are a tumult, of lust and broken groans tumbling from hot, bitten lips. It’s a fight as well as a romance, and they battle the way they always have done but through a kiss and not a verbal conflict. 

The ANARCHY banner drops from Rory’s arm to his polished leather brogues. Finlay, with effort, tears his mouth away from Rory and glances down to see the bunting tangled with the shoelaces of his ancient Docs. He wonders if this is anarchy — true anarchy — two guys kissing in public, two guys expressing love or something like it.

He meets Rory’s gaze, expecting the worst. But above his perfect, sculpted mouth, curiosity glitters in Rory’s sharp eyes, and he doesn’t hate this, he doesn’t hate him. Finlay wants to crow with joy at that, at his soul being soothed at last with Rory Munro’s rare validation.

“We’re good, then?” Rory remarks, a lazy inflection to his words. “You’re not going to sing some tragic dirge about how I broke your heart on the Royal Mile?”

Finlay suppresses his laugh — Rory knows him too well. Instead, he bends to pick up the fallen ANARCHY banner. With the flickering spark of spontaneity, Finlay bites out a grin and throws the bunting around Rory like a floral garland. Rory shoots him an unimpressed look, plucking at the ends of it, toying with the letter Y.

“Ye’ve broken my heart a fuckload o’ times,” Finlay murmurs, because it’s true, and it seems right to tell each other the truth now. “At least noo ye can help tae patch it up.”

And then, with a curving smile, Finlay pulls on the ends of the bunting — and drags Rory closer to kiss.

The Lochkelvin series concludes in the next book, Bad Winners.