”Well, son, what can you offer my brother here? He’s kinda secretive when it comes to his tastes in drinks,” Ian smirked.

”Sir, I..are you sure this is your brother? Because the photo…that’s my older brother Mallory, whom I haven’t seen for six long years,” Abernathy’s shoulders slumped as he was fighting the lump in his throat.

”The world is full of strange coincidences like that,” Ian spoke on a philosophical tone, ”I’m sure everything has a good explanation. What’s your name, young man?”

”Abernathy, sir, I’m the youngest of six, Mallory was the oldest. I mean, there was another boy before him, but I’ve been told he had a bad entourage, took the wrong path and ended up in juvie, where he committed suicide. I was only a few months old at the time. I couldn’t tell if it was true or not, but I always felt sorry for the brother I didn’t get to know.”

”Sorry? Why’s that, he was a stain on your family’s name,” Ian spoke in a gentle voice, moved by the younger man’s sincerity and sadness.

”He must have felt lonely, with no one to turn to, our parents weren’t affectionate and understanding. Not with Mallory, any way. And I imagine it must have been the same with Sinclair. That was our brother’s name,” Abernathy added, surprised to see Ian flinching.

”Hey, my older and supposedly wiser brother, what are you up to? Charming the god of the cocktails? If I were you, kid, I’d stay away from this man’s flirty ways. He’s already taken. Oh, damn!” Mallory changed his tone from lighthearted to ironic, recognizing the man behind the bar, ”is that what you Ashburn boys are making now for a living? No more luxury and privileges, now that the fool who worked to pay for everything is gone?”

”Please, give the kid a break,” Ian touched his brother’s hand, a sad look in his eyes. ”I don’t think he’s responsible for how those bastards treated you. Something’s telling me he’s in pretty much the same situation. Plus, he didn’t stain poor Sinclair’s memory, like the others most likely did. I’ll leave the two of you to talk.”

”Is it true what Ian says? You didn’t join the chorus of disapproving voices? Because this makes you a better man that I ever was,” Mallory’s voice was a lot softer, the ironic look in his eyes gone.

But Abernathy didn’t answer. Putting himself together, the young man collected the ingredients he needed, adding them into the shaker one by one. Usually, the bartender made a show out of the mixing and shaking part, he even invented a special choreography, but that particular night the joy was gone. He”ll explain the situation to Miss Nicky, the owner, later on, handing her his resignation.

It was not a hasty decision, Abernathy did a quick, but in deep evaluation of the situation he landed in before making it. All those rich, influent men populating the club that evening were there for Mallory, celebrating with him, most likely his family of choice. If his brother wanted to hurt him, he would destroy Miss Nicky’s business just to see him gone, deprived of his income.

”Here’s your mojito, sir, enjoy,” Abernathy poured the contents of the shaker into the glass. ”It’s on the house,” he added, the professional smile plastered to his face. ”Now, if you’ll excuse me, there are a lot of people waiting to be served.”

”Wait,” Mallory gestured with his hand, making his younger brother stop in his track. ”Why are you here? Last time I checked, you were studying finances, and were quite enthusiastic about it.”

”Last time I’d checked, you were more understanding, less vitriolic and judgemental. But that was a long time ago, people change,” Abernathy replied, his voice ridden with sadness. ”Now I really need to go back to work, if you don’t mind. Oh, and just for the record: I never asked anything from you, or used the things you paid for, thinking that they were for me.”

”Why did you leave? Were you treated the same way I was? Did you disobey their orders, speak your mind, defy the bastards? Sorry about my reaction earlier, I just want to understand,” Mallory extended a hand over the bar, touching his brother.

”OK. They wanted to marry me off to my boss’s daughter, a spoiled, capricious, immature socialite, and I refused. So the boss fired me and trashed my professional reputation. I’m grateful for this job, no one in their right mind would hire a financial analyst with no recommendations, especially one who was fired for severe incompetence.” Abernathy’s voice was linear, as he was mixing another drink.

”Well, there is someone, but you have to give the very best,” Mallory pulled a business card out of his wallet. ”Don’t thank me, even if you are convincing at the interview, the guy is the boss from hell.”

”Here you are, my precious boy,” Alastair came, hugging his husband from behind, ”Ian told me you were sweet-talking the bartender, and now I can see why,” he smiled.

”Look who’s talking,” Mallory feigned indignation, ”that brother of mine started first, I just continued from where he left off. Daddy, allow me to introduce you to my kid brother, Abernathy. Little brother, I have the honor to introduce to you my mentor, protector, lover, partner and husband, Alastair Stark. Today is our sixth wedding anniversary, and all those people you see in here are our friends and family.”

The bartender stared at his brother and the man he called husband, torn between disbelief and awe. The red-haired, green-eyed guy seemed at least fifteen, maybe even twenty years older than Mallory, but Abernathy could bet his life that his brother loved him with every fiber of his being, and was loved back. They were looking in each other’s eyes, lost in their own world, talking to each other without saying a word.

Suddenly, the bartender’s chest constricted in pain, a heavy weight crushing his soul. He couldn’t afford to be like that, free, uninhibited, comfortable in his own skin. Because of that, he would lose the affection of the only person who understood and comforted him, Nate Carrington. Proud of his sexuality, the twenty-one-year-old intern was ready to give Abernathy all the love he needed, but didn’t want to be somebody’s dirty little secret.

”Uncle Alastair, Mallory, there you are,” the voice of young man put a stop to the bartender’s trail of thoughts, making him focus on his job, ”do you have a spare minute?”

”Of course, Duncan, dear boy,” the redhead protectively put an arm around the young man’s shoulders. Had you not come to us, we would’ve searched for you in the crowd,” he paternally smiled. ”Come on, Miss Nicky graciously allowed us to use her office, so we can be away of curious ears.”

”I’m attracted to men…I wasn’t sure until six months ago, at the yearly party the DA’s office organizes, where I was surrounded by attractive girls all evening, and I didn’t feel anything for any of them,” Duncan abruptly started. ”That night, when I went to bed, I realized it was always like that, but didn’t have too much time to think about it, busy as I was with studying and working.”

”Were you interested in boys when you were a teen, did you have a crush or something like that? Sorry, dear boy, we are here to help, but need to find out more,” Alastair gave his great-nephew a sympathetic, understanding look.”

”I was the geeky kid, the one everybody avoided, so I didn’t have a lot of friends in high school. Male friends, I mean, because I was tutoring half of the girls. However, I fantasied about this guy, Hunt, the football team’s captain, all muscles, no brain, but for me, he was the ideal, the intangible. I kept everything to myself, he would have laughed in my face, had I told him.”

”Are you uncomfortable with your sexual orientation? Are you ashamed of being gay, do you want you were straight or anything like that?” Mallory asked his husband’s great-nephew.

Duncan tilted his head back, eyes closed, letting out a long sigh of relief. He knew that turning to his grandfather’s brother and his husband for advice was an inspired decision, and right then, he was congratulating himself for it. Both men were warm, supportive, and wise, they would understand his dilemma, giving him the best possible advice.

More than that, great-uncle Alastair could talk to his younger brother, Duncan’s grandfather Roderick, who would be surely disappointed in him for not continuing the family’s bloodline. With his younger son Raven and other grandson Tarann both gay, he put all his hopes in the twenty-three-year-old assistant DA, and the news that he also prefer men would break his heart.

”None of this,” Duncan answered, a little bit tensed. ”It’s my family’s reaction that makes me worry, especially my grandfather”s. You see, he hopes the family”s bloodline would continue through me, as the only male heir who’s not gay, or at least this is what he thinks.”

”So, you are afraid Roderick would reject or disown you over your sexual preferences?” Alastair slightly frowned. ”I’ll talk to him about this, explaining the whole situation, but I think you are worrying over nothing. I’ve come to know my brother very well over these past three years, and I can tell you his love will remain the same, no matter what.”

”Besides,” Mallory also spoke, ”you can go for a surrogate mother, the best solution of carrying on the bloodline. Also, you can adopt one or more children from the base, although this variant wouldn’t be so satisfactory for your grandfather.”

”What about Ramsey? What did he say when you told him?” Alastair turned again to his great-nephew, giving him a piercing stare. ”Oh, child, don’t tell me you didn’t talk to your father, either!”

”No, I didn’t, but I know dad will support me no matter what, the same way he did with Tarann, Raven and Mattie. However, it would hurt him to see grandfather’s disappointment, they care about each other deeply.”

”Don’t worry, son, I’ll talk to Roderick and everything will be fine, trust me,” Alastair spoke in his paternal voice, making Duncan relax instantly.

The young man sighed, relieved. He didn’t doubt his great-uncle’s words. Everything will be alright, he thought, a small smile playing on his lips.