Noble, 29

Sometimes the Answer Really Is Very Straightforward

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The inn was called the Spongecake, which would have made Geoffrey hungry if he’d been able to think about anything but the person inside it.

It sat low and squat. It was in the west side of town, a half-hour from the palace, from where Geoffrey lived. It was a little run-down, but well-built from dark, heavy wood, and had a bright sign hanging over the door, lit by a lamp and easily read even at night. Light was shining through the windows onto the street, but it didn’t look like there was anyone inside.

Geoffrey looked at it through the windows of his carriage, Janus’s hand in his. “He’s already in there.”

“Probably,” Janus agreed. “Doesn’t look very full, which means he’s probably bought the place for the night.”

“He may have bought it forever,” Geoffrey muttered. “It’s Giacomo’s sort of overkill.”

“I still think it’s a setup,” Dalton muttered. He was leaning against the side of the carriage, watching. He was farthest away from the window, sitting opposite Janus’s window. Geoffrey glanced at him. “Don’t look at me like that, I do. Bringing your enemy to a secluded location of your choice so you can kidnap or murder them is a classic. It happens in all the stories.”

“Stories aren’t real life,” Geoffrey told him. Then, feeling like he might be being an asshole again, he said, “I get what you’re saying and if it were anyone else, I’d think the same thing. But Giacomo wouldn’t do that. It’s too obvious for him.”

“Giacomo’s plenty obvious when he wants to be,” Javier reminded Geoffrey.

“It also doesn’t have to have been Giacomo doing it. Lydia could have lied to us,” Dalton pressed.

“Dalton,” said Janus, reaching across and touching his leg. “It’s okay. I’m worried too, but we already had this conversation at home.”

Despite himself, Geoffrey smiled a little at that. He hadn’t realized Janus thought of their house as home.

Dalton subsided a little, but he still looked nervous. “I want to go in first,” he said. “To make sure Giacomo’s really in there.”

“Dalton,” began Geoffrey.

“No, that’s a fair precaution.” Javier took Dalton’s hand. “You and I will go in and do that. We’ll tell the driver to leave if we’re not out in two minutes.”

As eager as Geoffrey was to go inside, he could admit that was a sensible way to approach it. “Okay,” he said. “Fine. Two minutes, and if you get in there and it seems dangerous, you leave right away.”

“We will.” Javier said, opening the door. He touched Geoffrey’s hand briefly. “It’ll be okay.”

Geoffrey nodded, and let him go. Dalton shut the door behind them, leaving Geoffrey and Janus alone. Geoffrey watched them disappear for a second to speak with the driver, then went inside the Spongecake. “Weird name for a tavern,” he said quietly.

“Yeah,” Janus agreed, also watching out the window. It was so quiet in the carriage. They were still holding hands. Geoffrey wasn’t sure which of their pulses was racing. He wished he had something to drink.

Fuck. Geoffrey turned to Janus. “I’m sorry,” he said.


“That I’ve been such an asshole. You were right, it was awful of me.”

Janus looked down at his lap. “Geoffrey, now really isn’t the time for this.”

“I know. We should talk about it for real, when we have time and everything.” Geoffrey sighed. “But I’m sorry. I’ve been…I’ve been treating you like my dad used to treat me. Like you were just in my way or just…” he shrugged. “It wasn’t fair and you didn’t deserve it and I’m sorry. You don’t have to say anything or accept the apology or anything. I just…wanted to say it.”

Janus was quiet for a few seconds. It must only have been a few seconds. Javier and Dalton weren’t back yet. Two minutes hadn’t passed. He sighed deeply. “I know you don’t love me. And I don’t think I love you either. And I know you think I only married you for the politics and to get close to Giacomo. But honestly, I only became friends with Giacomo because I had a crush on you.”

Geoffrey blinked at that, completely thrown. “Really?”

“Yeah.” Janus looked uncomfortable. “I’ve always wanted a cool older brother. I guess I idolized you a little. I really like you a lot, Geoffrey. And you were being an asshole lately, and that made it a lot harder to like you. But it made me realize that I still wanted to like you, the real you, not the version of you I’d invented in my mind before we knew each other. And I want you to like me too. Which maybe is selfish, but I want you to like me as much as I like you. I know you love Giacomo more than anyone, and I know we’re already married, but I can’t spend my whole life wishing that you cared about me.”

Oh. Oh, fuck. “I really am a screwup, aren’t I?” Geoffrey asked, shaking his head. “Shit. I like you, Janus. Maybe not as much as you like me, but I do like you. And I think I’d like you better if I got to know you properly, and…I just hope I haven’t ruined my chance to do that.”

Janus still wasn’t looking at him, and he shook his head. “You haven’t,” he whispered. He had tears in his eyes. “Can I sleep with you again tonight?”

“Of course you can.” Geoffrey put an arm around him, pulled him closer. “When this is all done, with Giacomo and Hans, we’ll go away somewhere too, just us and Javier and Dalton. We’ll spend some time actually getting to know each other.”

“I’d like that,” Janus said, voice so quiet.

“Why are you crying?”

“Because I…I don’t know. I just care about you a lot, Geoffrey.”

And that hurt Geoffrey’s heart. “I know,” he said, kissing Janus’s temple. “And I really am sorry I treated you so badly. I had no right to do that.”

Janus nodded, and he hugged Geoffrey, and Geoffrey hugged him back, held him like that for just a second. They were interrupted by the carriage door opening. “They’re in there,” Javier said, voice cutting through the quiet. “They’re not alone.”

“Neither are we,” said Geoffrey, still holding Janus. He let him go after a second, wiped his eyes for him. “Let’s go.”

“Yeah,” Janus agreed, and he let Geoffrey help him out of the carriage. Geoffrey smiled at Javier, and Janus took Dalton’s hand, and they walked together into the Spongecake.

It was bright inside, a dozen round tables scattered around, a bar on the northern wall. The bartender watched Geoffrey as he came in, nodded at one of two occupied tables, the one in the middle of the room. Giacomo was sitting there with Alfie, watching them. At the table behind them were two young men Geoffrey didn’t know, one looking like a southerner and the other with the angled face of someone from the west.

Geoffrey crossed to Giacomo’s table and sat down. The two people at the other table glanced at Geoffrey, but didn’t pause in the dice game they were playing. Giacomo looked good, fiddling with a ring on his left small finger. He’d been wearing that before, too. It was ugly and heavy, but he made it work. “You were supposed to come alone,” he said to Geoffrey.

“So were you.”

Giacomo smiled. He looked tired. “Yeah. Remember when we trusted each other?”

“We still do,” Geoffrey said. He felt like everyone was looking at him. “Otherwise why are we here?”

“To convince you to sign the peace treaty,” Giacomo said. “That’s why. We can’t play this game anymore, Geoffrey. People are going to die if you don’t sign it.”

“People are going to die if I do sign it,” Geoffrey countered. “And it’s just family here now. You can say what you mean, not what Hans wants to hear.”

“Nobody’s going to die if you sign it,” Janus said. “That’s the whole point, Geoffrey.”

Giacomo sighed, though Geoffrey did note that his eyes were on Janus as he spoke. But they came back to him, heavy. Everything felt heavy. “Geoffrey, you know me better than that. I always mean what I say. The crown wants you to sign the treaty. I want you to sign the treaty.”

“You want me to surrender?” Geoffrey asked. “After everything? All this, and you expect our family to just surrender?” After everything the two of them had built? All the plans they’d laid? All the work Geoffrey had done since Giacomo had disappeared, and Giacomo didn’t care about any of it. He just wanted to undo all of it with the wave of a pen. He just wanted to ruin House DiSheere and make it Geoffrey’s fault.

They’d promised, the two of them, after Stephan had escaped, that it would be them, their house, and no secrets. Giacomo was wearing green with gold trim, which Geoffrey hadn’t noticed until just now. House DiGorre’s colours. Janus was dressed more like a member of House DiSheere than Geoffrey’s own brother.

Dad had always said Geoffrey would drive their house into the ground, and Giacomo wanted to fulfill that prophecy.

“Yes, I do,” Giacomo said softly. “Because that’s what we need to do to survive.”

“Surviving isn’t winning, Giacomo,” Geoffrey said. This wasn’t his brother. This wasn’t Giacomo. Something was wrong. Everyone was looking at him like he was going to do something.

“Geoffrey.” Javier put a hand on Geoffrey’s arm. “You came here to ask him his intentions and he’s telling them to you.”

“You can’t just assume he’s lying because you don’t like what he’s saying,” Janus agreed.

“That’s not what I’m doing,” said Geoffrey, looking at Giacomo. There was hurt in his eyes, or fear. Or anger. Geoffrey looked at the two guys at the other table, who were pretending not to see him, badly. Spies, he thought. Sent by Hans or Dahlia or someone to make sure Giacomo behaved. What did they have on him? Was it just a threat to his life, or one to Geoffrey, or someone else? “Okay,” he said, standing. They had to get out of here. There was no point in staying. “Then that’s what we’ll do.”

Giacomo was watching him carefully now. “Do you mean that, Geoffrey? You only have one more day.”

“I mean it,” Geoffrey lied. Giacomo couldn’t speak freely as long as those two were here, so they still had to play. And Geoffrey could help him best by playing along right now. “I’ll sign it and have it sent to the castle in the morning.”

Giacomo sighed. “Okay. Thank you, Geoffrey.”

He gestured at Geoffrey, and the two at the other table stood up. “Hey,” Janus said. “You stay over…”

Janus was shoved aside. Something tight constricted Geoffrey’s chest for a second, and he couldn’t breathe, and the room was so hot, and everything got dark and quiet and still and the last thing Geoffrey saw before those things took over was Giacomo’s face.

He looked sad, Geoffrey thought.

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