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All The Effects Of Love (ch.14)

Title: All The Effects Of Love (14/15)
Author: honestys_easy
Rating: PG-13
Disclaimer: I have nothing to do with any of them, and in no way responsible for creating the awesome that is Brace. I don’t even live in New York anymore so I can’t even claim that!
Summary: Through the years of first glances, first kisses, first loves, Brandon Rogers and Ace Young had the perfect relationship. But when tragedy strikes, the couple discovers how much they truly mean to one another.
Author’s Notes: This is the sequel to my Chris/Blake New York AU Smile A Smile For Me, telling the story of Brace’s relationship that was a side story just dying to be expanded. The first story doesn’t have to be read to understand this one, but there are recurring characters and relationships among them in both. I hope you like reading this as much as I’ve loved writing it: I haven’t put this much into two characters and a storyline perhaps ever.
Huge thanks and much love to my beta, dreamerren, for the ideas and the planning and the squee and for “Duh!” one year ago that brought all of this to life. ♥



          Chapter 14

          January 2008

"Hey, honey?" the call followed Brandon into the kitchen as he tore himself away from the Knicks game on television long enough to refill his glass of beer. "D'you wanna get married?"

It was a good thing his pilsner glass was already resting peacefully on the counter, ready to be refilled, or else there would have been a fair amount of shattered glass on the floor and since he caused it, Brandon would have insisted Ace be the one to clean it up. Even through the kitchen door the words hit the older man like a blast of blustery winter wind rocketing up Fifth Avenue, knocking him so off guard he had to grab hold of the countertop for support.

Then he laughed.

It wasn't what he had expected to hear from his boyfriend during a Knicks game; surely, it wasn't something he expected Ace to ask at all, but certainly not when the team was having their worst string of luck in the past decade and Brandon was finally reconsidering that unspoken vow he made as a child to stick by his home team through hell, high water, or playoffs. Brandon shook his head; Ace knew better than to make conversation during a game, knowing that anything short of tackling Brandon, stripping off his clothes and ravishing him on the living room couch could divert his attentions. He had probably just been asking for another beer as well, or a top off to the bowl of pretzels stashed on the coffee table to ruin any appetites the couple may have had for dinner.

After leisurely filling his glass, remarking to himself that he apparently needed to get his hearing checked in his old age, Brandon walked back into the living room, an expectant Ace waiting for him with the game on pause.

"What did you say?" he asked, setting down the pilsner. The bowl of pretzels seemed untouched, and Ace was still nursing his first glass, the knuckles gripping the glass chalk white, as if to stop his hand from shaking.

Ace shrugged nonchalantly, as if he had asked Brandon if he wanted to take the plunge and order Mexican or Chinese takeout for the night. "We're not that far from Canada."

This time Brandon knew his ears weren't playing tricks, he watched Ace's lips move and after six and a half years of memorizing that beloved face he knew Ace was serious just from the look in his eyes. He stood frozen before his boyfriend, a dull buzz growing in his head as his eyes began to widen. "You're..." Brandon hadn't realized his mouth went dry until he spoke. "You're joking, right?"

There was that shrug again, and Brandon had no idea how Ace could be so flippant about this when he was coiling up with tension inside like a spring from these words, especially since he was the one who brought it up. "It's just a thought," Ace replied, his body relaxed like the Tuesday evening it was, like every Tuesday evening, but his eyes were a stormy emerald that revealed his intensity. "A friend of mine at work was saying - Luke; you know Luke, right? - he was just pointing out to me the other day, you know, the kind of legal benefits marriage provides -"

But Brandon wasn't listening past the word "marriage," which stuck in his brain and lodged itself somewhere deep in his gut, like a dead rat in a drainage pipe, rotting. He had always hoped his boyfriend would gloss over the happy, lasting marriages of his parents and his brothers with a passing look and never reflect on his own kind of union. Brandon never had quite the positive examples of love, marriage, and family in his past; he thought Ace was more aware of that, realized Brandon never had the schoolyard fantasies of playing house with either gender.

He had found the man he wanted to be with for the rest of his life, and for years they had lived blissfully, just the way they were. Why did Ace want to risk changing any of that?

"I'm not marrying you," Brandon blurted out, somewhere in between Ace rambling about military widowers' rights and the price of a Megabus ticket to Niagara Falls, and it stopped the younger man's flow of words short. The television's live pause function quickly wore out its effectiveness, and Ray Allen sank an effortless foul shot into the net, sealing the Knicks' fate.

The words shocked Ace still, a small exhalation of air the only indicator that he was still breathing. "I...didn't mean today," he clarified, finishing it off with a clipped laugh that hadn't fooled Brandon since 2002. "I don't even have a ring." He paused, pretending to be deep in thought; truth was, he had thought about this more than he would ever admit. "Though there is that upcoming 3-day weekend for Martin Luther King Day..."

"Ace." When the younger man looked into Brandon's eyes he knew there was no joking about it, and his words died down, suddenly more lost in those deep brown eyes than he had ever been. He saw sadness, empathy there, but beyond that was something he never experienced when looking into Brandon's eyes before: fear. "I'm not marrying you," he repeated, softer this time, more tender than the surprising outburst before.

Taking Ace's hands in his, Brandon took his seat on the couch, oblivious now to the woeful machinations of the basketball game. "I love you," he said first and foremost, because Ace needed to remember that no matter what else he had to say about the proposal; because Brandon never stopped feeling that way for nearly seven years, not even when Ace let slip that he never cared much for Michael Jackson's music. Like an instant reaction, a gut instinct inherent in Ace's DNA, he replied back with his own words murmured, not needed to be heard by Brandon's ears to know the sentiment rang true. "And what we've got is great...better than great. So great, I..." Brandon shook his head, rattling the stuck words, forcing them to reveal his feelings. "I never thought I could find something as wonderful as this."

Without pulling his gaze away from the older man's eyes, Ace raised their joined hands to his mouth, placing small yet deliberate kisses against each of Brandon's knuckles, hesitating only an instant on the fourth finger. "And that's why," Brandon continued with a sigh, "I don't want to risk any of it by changing anything between us. I don't want to change us."

"We won't change," Ace insisted. "I promise -" But he cut himself short; it was a silent vow between the two men that they would never make a promise to one another they couldn't keep. Ace could say with all certainty that he would love Brandon Rogers to his dying breath...but he couldn't promise that nothing would change between them; fortune teller, he was not. He looked down, breaking their stare, ears turning a shameful pink for almost making a promise he had no control to keep.

But as soon as his stare dropped Brandon picked it back up again, tilting Ace's head by the chin, cradling it between his forefinger and thumb. He wanted him to look him in the eye for this, to know what he said was sincere. "I already know I want to be with you for the rest of my life," he said, hint of a smile on both their faces because they knew it to be true. "I wake up next to you every morning and think, I've got to be the luckiest guy in the world." That thumb was brushing against the stubble of Ace's cheek now, softly caressing the skin, massaging the words in to soothe easily. "A piece of paper isn't going to tell me anything I don't already feel in my heart...that you're mine..." he inched his face closer, feeling the shudder of pleasure course through Ace's body over the words. "...and I'm yours."

He kissed him, Ace's lips tasting like Newcastle Ale and promises and salt; he tasted like love. When he retreated and Brandon brought back the satisfying knowledge that Ace's cheeks were now flushed with sudden desire, he wondered to himself how he could have ever lived for so many years without experiencing this very feeling. From the loss of his favorite dive burger joint to the abandonment of his family, change had never agreed with Brandon and he chose to avoid it whenever he could, and gripe about it when he couldn't. But he was happier here, now, with Ace, than he had ever been in his life, and he wouldn't want to change that for the world.

"Looks like you lost," Ace broke the silence with a change in topic, glancing over to the television to see Brandon's beloved team walk defeatedly away towards the locker rooms.

Brandon shrugged; he had gotten too familiar over the years with the sight for it to sting any more. "There's always next season."

Ace eased back onto the cushions of the couch, slinging one arm over Brandon's shoulders, not yet ready to lose the physical contact. "I just mean, legally, you know," Ace only rambled when he was trying to save face; it was as adorable now to Brandon as it had been on their first date. "It would probably be helpful. I'm really not looking to get married, married."

As the younger man took a swig of his now lukewarm beer, Brandon watched with a silent smile, the notion in the back of his mind that Ace had wanted him to say yes more than he let on.

***


          May 2008

He thought it might be like the first time he saw him, that undeniable, irresistible attraction to a man he only glimpsed from the theater rows above; then those eyes, that smile, that kick in Brandon's gut when he told him he was no longer alone. It could have been like their first kiss, a heated goodbye that turned into more, Brandon's mouth still scorched by the memory emblazoned on his heart. Or, the first time they professed a love they both knew was coming weeks ahead, holding each other while New York crumbled to the ground; Brandon knew he'd be saying those words a lot more than that one Tuesday.

But when he stepped into the hospital room and saw the heavy-lidded green eyes upon him, he knew it didn't feel like any of those other time; it wasn't like anything Brandon or Ace had experienced before.

This...felt like he was coming home.

"Hey," Ace could hardly be heard over the hum of machines and his voice was barely above a hoarse whisper from disuse; Brandon heard it anyway, saw his lips move and curve with great effort into a weak smile at the sight of his lover. Although he was awake and there was more color in his cheeks than before, he still looked worse for the wear, his face scarred and bandaged, eyes giving away the exhaustion in his body just to raise his head. But it was all worth it to get that first glimpse of Brandon as he walked through the door, Ace knowing in his heart that as long as he was by his side, everything would be alright.

Brandon couldn't tell if he wanted to grin or burst into tears; the overwhelming joy of hearing Ace's voice again, the relief, when he feared he was so close to never hearing that voice again...it was overwhelming. He chose to grin, though his eyes grew wet, the overflow of emotion commandeering his body, making him want to cry and shout and laugh all at once. "Hey," he replied, his voice a wracked mess from holding in his emotions for so long and then letting them all out, like a floodgate. Ace would want to make fun of that later, how Brandon wanted to say something witty or meaningful but nothing came of it, and if he did Brandon would simply shrug, blush a bit and take Ace's hand in his, glad that his love could still be there to joke.

"He's in stable condition for now," said Nurse Jones, her voice rising above the white noise of the room and the hushed sounds of the couple's words. By strict hospital policy the man shouldn't even have been in there, not before the patient stabilized for a longer period of time, but the Lord knew those two had been through enough that day as it was, and the moment Ace Young had asked for Brandon, Lakisha knew what she had to do. "But he's still very weak. You can't stay for long."

The grin now permanently spread across his face and his eyes still threatening tears of joy, Brandon barely heard the nurse's words or even acknowledged her presence in the room; all that mattered to him was Ace, his Ace, and reuniting with him after the worst day of their lives. Once one foot crossed the threshold of the hospital room the other followed swiftly, fast but deliberate steps to Ace's bedside like before, but under very different circumstances. Immediately he took Ace's hand in his, the brush of skin against warm, responsive skin, Ace's fingers curling into Brandon's palm the way they terrifyingly had not before.

"How are you feeling?" asked Brandon, never taking his eyes off of Ace's, afraid that if he looked away this would all be some cruel joke or a fulfilling yet empty dream.

Ace's brow creased for a moment, as if he were in deep concentration; then he answered slowly, carefully pondering each syllable. "Fluffy."

"He's on painkillers right now," the nursed piped up, anticipating Brandon's confused expression. "So that's about as coherent as you're gonna get him." But she noticed no chuckle or laugh from the visitor, no movement at all except for the sweep of a thumb over her patient's knuckles, carefully avoiding the IV line in his hand, moving delicate as silk. It didn't matter to him if Ace Young were cuckoo for Cocoa Puffs; Brandon only cared that he could touch this hand, look into these eyes, and truly see Ace when he couldn't for so long. Lakisha Jones knew well when three was a crowd. "I'll give you a few minutes," she promised, knowing she had to return soon to monitor the patient's vitals but wishing she could give them even more time. She wasn't surprised in the least that Brandon made no move to bid her goodbye as she left the hospital room and closed the door behind her.

Brandon could barely breathe over his own happiness; if he took any more than a faint breath he felt he could burst into tears of joy at any minute. Ace looked worn out from staying awake and lucid for so long, holding out on the hazy wave from the painkillers to stay with Brandon, to take him in. "What happened?" he asked in a raspy voice, attempting to grip the fingers in his hand but only succeeding in a slight squeeze.

Taking in a shaky breath, Brandon responded warily; he hadn't said the words aloud before, not yet, not to anyone. He didn't even know if he could get them out himself. They weren't the true words Brandon wanted to say to Ace. "You were hit by a bus." But much to Brandon's surprise they were easy to say, rolled off the tongue like summer popsicles or flakes caught on the first snow; it had only happened a few hours ago but it was already the past to him, a horrifying, life-changing moment, but a moment they now both had the fortune to look back on.

Ace paused another moment, breathing steadily while he focused on the mix of painful memories and relief in Brandon's glassy eyes. The fine tracings of a smile hinted along Ace's lips; if Brandon weren't watching him so intently he doubted he would have noticed. "Ouch," he deadpanned, a glint of mischief in his eyes. He mustered as much of a laugh as his body would allow while Brandon's smile shone for the both of them, his heart feeling rejuvenated after seeing that sparkle in his lover's eyes. If his body recovered as quickly as his spirit, he'd be out of that bed by next week.

With his laughter fading into a wistful, happy smile as he watched the life spread back into Ace's eyes, Brandon thought back on the events of the day like the pages of a photo album, flipping through memories both good and bad. How he felt like a hole had been punched straight through his body when he heard the news, and was then turned away...and now, how that hole had been filled again, patched in an instant from the look on his boyfriend's face, from his smile. He hadn't practiced, he didn't know what to say at this reunion, but the words he found came fast, deliberate, and straight from his heart.

"Marry me."

Ace was startled for a moment, wondering if his ears were playing tricks on him or if the morphine was having some strange, hallucinogenic side effects he wasn't aware of before. He opened his mouth to speak but Brandon cut him off before that; he knew he needed to explain himself first. "I know," he said, his voice choked with emotion in spite of himself. "I know what I had said before; that I didn't need a piece of paper to tell me I love you." Those three small words...he probably said them thousands of times to Ace before, each time with his whole heart behind his intent, but never before had they felt so real on his lips, so meaningful he felt he could weep from it.

But then the memories of earlier that day struck him, when a piece of paper could have saved him hours of separation and torment; when the head nurse looked at him coldly in the face and told him those words that meant everything to him weren't good enough. "But baby, we do," his voice cracked, a tear sliding down his cheek; he shook his head, trying to ignore it, but he knew once one was shed, more were sure to follow. "I spent hours here, hours, and they wouldn't let me see you or tell me anything..." He felt a sob rising in the back of his throat but he held it back, biting his lip for the sting of pain, just to get his mind off of his past troubles. It was an ordeal he would not wish on his worst enemy, but it was over now, and he was left with this man, the love of his life, hopefully beside him forever.

"I was so scared," Brandon leaned in closer to Ace, his voice barely above a whisper. "That I'd lose you. And I wouldn't even know."

"I'm right here," whispered Ace; Brandon didn't know if it was the painkillers talking or Ace's heart, but the sentiment was all the same. He shook his head, trying to will away the torture his boyfriend had endured that night while worrying about his fate. He would never let that happen again. "I'm not going anywhere."

No matter from where those words came from, they went right to Brandon's heart; he hoped they would ring true for a long, long time. He meant to make sure of that. "I don't want you to ever have to go through that," Brandon raised their joined hands to his face, pressing his lips against the back of Ace's hand, reveling in the pulse beating underneath that flesh; weak, but growing stronger from Brandon's presence. "Or have to deal with my family over my care." The older man had to remember he was the lucky one: Ace's parents were kind, open and loving, embracing him into their family almost immediately. Even though the past few hours had been hell, he had the luxury of knowing that once the Youngs arrived he would have full knowledge of Ace's condition and care; he also knew if he ever fell into a serious situation, Ace would never have that luxury. He shuddered, thinking about the pain he had to endure that day and how it would have been a world harsher for his love.

The silent pause between them was anything but awkward; Brandon held Ace's hand in both of his, curling the fingers over, feeling Ace's body react to him in the best way his state allowed, with just a tiny squeeze of his hand and a patient smile. Brandon never took his eyes off him, searching the deep green eyes before him to make sure they were real. When he finally spoke it felt like ages but each word was perfect, filled with more emotion and sincerity than he ever thought was possible. But when it came to his love for Ace, he learned a long time ago that anything was possible.

"I love you," he said, eyes tearing up once again in spite of himself from the feel of Ace's steady gaze on him, reassuring him; being the ever-present comfort that had been missing in his life for the past few hours. "More than anything in this world. And there is nothing I want more...than to spend the rest of my life by your side."

They were words Brandon had expressed many times before; it was a sentiment he knew they both held deep in their hearts, that throughout everything, any troubles good or bad that may come along the way, they would be together for as long as fate would allow. But he had never said it before with such meaning behind it, with the promise of something legal and binding behind the words.

"Ace...will you marry me?"

The younger man smiled, wishing his body would allow him to laugh at the ridiculous assumption that he would ever say no. It took all his energy to push past the pain and nod his head, grin as wide as his health allowed, only feeding off of the growing smile on Brandon's face as he received his answer. "Yes," he breathed out, though he was instructed not to exert himself too much by speaking; he felt, with all his heart, that Brandon deserved a full answer.

A sob escaped Brandon's lips but this time it was a surprising, happy cry, a sound and a sensation he never thought would come from him in all his days. He had gone through life abhorring change, relying only on himself and what he knew, what he could feel, to guide him. But that day taught him that the tides would flow, the wind would reign, and there were changes and events no one could plan for or expect to ever see. He had been so close to losing the love of his life, to losing everything, and he planned never to be so careless with his affections again. In life, there were things to let slide and pass by, and some things to hold onto: precious thoughts and memories, a smile crossing your lover's lips; a hand curved into yours, pledging love forever.

Brandon leaned in for a kiss, their first kiss since that morning when all had gone wrong, knowing that he'd hold onto Ace for as long as they both lived.

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
lillijulianne
May. 13th, 2009 07:40 pm (UTC)
awesome first line!

they are so sweet. i enjoy this because it's completely and unabashedly romantic, and sometimes in life that's just what we need :)
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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