Proposal, Part Three (140/141)

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Justin was delighted when the Strikers arrived at his manor for the Ascension season. “I see you have worked another miracle in inducing Striker to accept my hospitality,” he told Wisteria when he kissed her hand in greeting.

Her face was as unmoved as always when she answered, “Indeed, my lord. What could be more inexplicable than spending a holiday with one’s dearest friend?” No one who looked upon her would ever suspect her of having a lustful thought for any man, much less of the full extent of her tastes, Justin reflected as Nikola took his wife’s arm and the viscount led the two inside. An entourage of a dozen servants and employees accompanied them. Part of Justin was jealous of Wisteria still, not merely for marrying Nikola, but for accomplishing what Nikola had never allowed Justin to do: giving him wealth to match his station.

They had arrived in time for supper; Justin had arranged no guests or entertainments for the first night back in Gracehaven, assuming they’d be tired from the journey. The three spent a few hours after supper deep in conversation in Justin’s cozy parlor, but the couple did retire early, around ten o’clock. But when Nikola shook his hand good night, the blond lord murmured, “We’ll call after the servants are abed.” The implication sent a thrill of desire humming through Justin’s veins.

Justin resisted the temptation to hurry to his own chambers to await them. He dealt with a few odds and ends in his study instead, as was typical of him, and then retired. He left the door unlatched after his valet departed, and settled on the sitting room’s chaise in dressing gown and slippers with a book while he waited for his lovers. The long time apart had in no way diminished his ardor. He knew he ought to do something to break this addiction, to better brace himself for the inevitable ending, but Justin did not know what. Withdrawing from them while they were still willing was madness itself. He needed to make the most of this while he could.

The door opened quietly, without a knock. Justin rose from the chaise, but pleasurable anticipation shifted to apprehension as Wisteria and Nikola entered. Both were attired as if for a formal event: Nikola in a suit of Anverlee blue with silver embroidered lapels and cuffs and a lace jabot, Wisteria in a dress and short jacket of the same colors. Justin fought back the sense that something must be wrong and smiled to them. “My lord, my lady. I feel quite underdressed for the occasion; I did not know we were going out.”

Nikola looked to his wife; he was nervous, which did nothing to settle Justin’s own mind. Wisteria was calm as always. “We do not intend to, my lord.” She moved to him and took his left hand. “I apologize for the lack of warning. Nikola and I thought we ought to do this properly.” She turned back to her husband and asked him, “Perhaps we should let him have the chance to dress?”

“Perhaps you ought to tell me what occasion I am dressing for?” Justin kept his voice light. Surely this is not how they would end this affair with me. Surely they did not accept my hospitality only to tell me they no longer wished to share my bed.

Nikola was shaking his head. “No, we should just ask.”

“Ask what?” Justin said impatiently.

The Haventure man strode to his side and took Justin’s left hand, standing beside his wife. Nikola’s gloved fingers trembled with nervousness. They glanced to each other, and then together sank, Nikola dropping to one knee and Wisteria in a deep curtsey. “Lord Comfrey,” Wisteria began. “We wish to ask you to do us the very great honor of becoming our husband.”

“Will you marry us, Justin?” Nikola lifted his head to meet Justin’s gaze, expression as serious as his wife’s, eyes beseeching.

Justin stared at the two, blinking in mute shock. Then he yanked his hands from theirs and stumbled back a pace. “This joke is in extremely poor taste,” he snapped.

“We’re not jesting.” Nikola rose, took a step towards Justin, and stopped as Justin backed away again.

“You’re already married! You can’t do it again and you certainly can’t to a man,” Justin snarled, voice low but harsh.

“Er,” Nikola said. “Actually.” He looked to Wisteria for support.

“I believe we can.” Wisteria got to her feet

What? Have you both gone mad?”

“No, Nikola would know if we had. I’ve been researching the law involved,” Wisteria said. “The practice of polygamy, defined as one man marrying more than one woman, was criminalized in Newlant in the third century. The standard marital contract further includes clauses specifying that both marital partners are currently unwed, and that neither will marry another. But there is no actual law preventing a woman from marrying multiple men. There’s a law prohibiting sexual congress between men, but there isn’t one prohibiting a marriage between two men. Nikola and I have made some seemingly-innocuous modifications to our marital contract which happen to have the effect of removing the clause which prohibited both adultery and multiple marriage. So there is no legal reason you cannot marry either or both of us.”

Justin stared between the two; even Wisteria’s calm manner could not soothe the combination of insult, outrage, and suppressed longing that seethed within him. “And which of us would be the husband in this ludicrous arrangement? Do you imagine Nikola could be my lord and master, or I his?”

Nikola’s lips twitched in a hint of a smile. “We have gotten this far without one or the other of us turning into a woman, Justin. I daresay we could sustain that trend.”

“I don’t see why you cannot be husband to each other,” Wisteria added. “You have both already shown yourself willing and able to protect the other.”

His sense of insult leeched away, leaving him weak in its absence. Forgetting his manners, Justin sunk onto the chaise; he no longer felt equal to standing. “But a marriage is confined to one man and one woman. Everyone knows that.”

“Indeed. It is a fact so obvious to every person in Newlant that the law has never seen the need to define it as such.” Wisteria perched on the edge of the chaise, not quite close enough to touch. “Since the Sanctity of Marriage Act was repealed in the fourth century (to remove the requirement that one’s family approve a marriage) there is no actual law that defines the term ‘marriage’. It is, instead, defined by each marriage contract for the specific parties entering it. The law that makes sexual congress between men illegal would likely still make it a crime between you and Nikola even if you were wed, alas. Although there’s some legal wrangling even there. There’s a fifth-century act that criminalized weddings and sexual congress between races. Because the authors could not criminalize existing marriage without violating the constitutional prohibition against ex post facto laws, the law included specifications that intercourse between already-married persons was legal. Well, the miscegenation portions of that act were eventually repealed, but the whole act never was so that clause legalizing relations between married persons remains in effect. One could argue it would apply to the two of you, if you accept Nikola’s proposal. I do not have great confidence in the effectiveness of such a maneuver, however.”

“We’re not saying we should publicize the marriages, Justin, if you accept.” Nikola sat on the other side of Justin, putting a hand on his knee. “We’d be pariahs even if we won the legal fight, I know. Society would revile us.”

“But it doesn’t need to be public,” Wisteria said. “Nikola can officiate the marriage between you and I, and that would make me technically Lady Comfrey so I could officiate for you and he. Or Nikola could designate me to perform it, if say you wished to accept him and not me.”

Justin looked between them, lost. He turned at last to Nikola. “Why?” he asked, plaintive, unable to articulate beyond that.

Nikola folded Justin’s golden-brown hands between his white-gloved ones. “Because I love you. Because I have always loved you. I want to share the rest of my life with you. I love Wisteria as well, but there is no choosing between you; it’s like asking which do I need, food or drink? I cannot live without both.”

Wisteria slipped her arms about Justin’s waist and snuggled against his back. “I feel the same, Justin. But you know that. I always wished to wed both of you.”

Nikola’s hands tightened about Justin’s. “If this is not what you want, my love, say so and nothing need change between us.”

“We’ll understand. If you want your own normal family someday. A wife you need not keep secret.” Wisteria had her cheek against Justin’s broad shoulder. “Or if you only want to marry one of us, for that matter.”

He closed dark eyes against longing. “You know I have never been faithful, not even to you.”

His blond lover chuckled, drawing near enough to kiss the side of Justin’s throat, above the lapel of his dressing gown. “You do not think we care about a thing like that, do you?”

“You might have lain with a hundred others, and I would not mind as long as I might be the hundred-first,” Wisteria said, echoing his own words of nearly a year past. “If you wish to consider the question longer, you may of course. There is no need to answer tonight.”

Justin squeezed his eyes shut against the tears that threatened to overflow. “Yes,” he managed, seizing Nikola in a hug so tight the slighter man squeaked, but Nikola held him in return just as fiercely. Justin laughed, tears flowing down his cheeks, and twisted to the side to embrace Wisteria as well, pulling them both hard against him as he leaned back against the wall. “Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. We are all three mad, and perhaps that is the Savior’s blessing on us because I hope never to be sane. I never want to be anywhere without you. I love you both.” He breathed out, feeling a part of his soul unclench from its tightly-guarded knot, feeling a freedom he had never known before. “I love you both,” he repeated, and then he could say no more as his elated lovers kissed him.

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