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By the time he heard James return, his head was spinning, and he nearly jumped out of his chair. "Thank God!"
James walked into the room, grinning from ear to ear and carrying a couple of bags. "Sorry it took so long, but it died halfway to town. I had to mess with it for a while before I could get it going. It's gonna need a new set of plug wires and a bunch of other stuff. A rat or something chewed through one almost all the way, so it's basically running on three cylinders." He stopped and looked at Ryan sheepishly. "Let me go put this stuff away, and make some tea," he offered.
"I'll help," he offered, anxious to take a break. "We can eat in the dining room like real people," he said. "Nigel? Wanna meet us in there?"
He seemed to be growing used to his new charge's ways, because Nigel Winthrop stood and sketched a brief bow. "Yes, my lord."
Ryan sighed and followed James back to the kitchen. "It's so weird when he calls me that," he said softly as they passed through the dining room. "So you enjoyed the whole car thing, then?" James seemed to consider auto repair as play. Ryan had known guys like that, although he didn't quite understand it himself.
"Totally," James enthused, pulling groceries out of the bags. He'd gotten a bunch of vegetables and some rice. "That car is a classic. It's only got thirty thousand miles on it. Unbelievable. If you want, I'd love to fix it up for you." He looked over at Ryan. "Is vegetable fried rice okay? I figured it was simple."
"Yes and yes. I could pay you to fix it up if you want. I'm sure it's in the budget." He looked at all the things James had unpacked. "Can I do anything? Chop stuff up or anything?"
"Youdon't have to pay me," James said. "I love to work on cars. It would be fun." He looked back at the vegetables. "You can cut these up," he said, "while I put the rice on." He looked around for pans and utensils.
"Okay, but in exchange for fixing it up you can drive it whenever you like, okay?" Ryan set to work. He found a big cutting board and a sharp knife. He washed all the veggies in the deep, ancient sink and started chopping.
James found a large pan that would serve as a wok, and heated it up. He began to stir fry the vegetables, filling the kitchen with mouth-watering smells.
Ryan took a deep breath. "Mm, smells awesome." He hopped up on the opposite counter again, watching James cook. James had a gorgeous ass, he decided with a regretful sigh. "So what do you write?" he asked, wanting to know more about him.
"Well, that's kind of a long story," James said as he stirred the sizzling vegetables. "I was a sociology major, and my thesis started to turn into a book. But then as I did more research..." He looked down, a little embarrassed. "It turned into a novel. Yeah, I'm trying to write the great American novel. In Scotland."
"Wow, really? That's awesome! I'd love to read it some time. All I ever write is poetry. Or, you know, lyrics. Not that any of them are very good." He swung his feet a little, rubbing his palms on his thighs. It was so easy to talk to James. He barely even missed his friends back home, although he realized he needed to call his mom soon.
"I write freelance for a couple of magazines," James said. "I've had a few short stories published, that kind of thing. I have an agent, at least. That's a start." He looked up at Ryan. "I wish I could hear you sing. What kind of music do you do?"
That was always a difficult question to answer for Ryan. "Well, kinda hardcore, kinda a bunch of other stuff. I guess mostly hardcore, though. My band wasn't really going anywhere so..." He left it at that, giving a delicate shrug. "Maybe I'll find some cute Scottish boys and start a new band. Play for the Queen or something," he said with a laugh.
"I'll be in the front row," promised James, adding the rice to the vegetables and stirring. "You want to find some serving dishes or something to put this in? It's almost done."
Ryan hopped down and started opening cabinets until he found what they were looking for. He put a platter on the stove next to where James was cooking. "God, my stomach is growling now," he said, smiling.
"Well, good, 'cause I always make too much food," James said, adding a dash more soy sauce as he mixed. Then he scooped the rice out onto the platter. "Okay, all ready," he said. "We just need plates and utensils."
Ryan gathered up the rest of what they needed and they made their way into the dining room. He set three places and then went looking for Nigel. He returned with the stiff Brit and they all sat down to eat. "So, after this we really have to see the rest of the house, okay?" Ryan prompted.
Winthrop looked askance at the plate of food before him, but tried some anyway. "Of course, my lord. Whatever you wish."
Ryan frowned a little. "I wish you wouldn't call me 'my lord.' Any chance you could call me Ryan? And I'll call you Nigel?" He glanced at James, wondering if he was pushing the solicitor too far.
Winthrop was silent for a moment, pouring himself a glass of water from a pitcher they'd brought in. "I hope you don't find what I'm about to say disrespectful, but you are now a Peer of the Realm. For me to call you by your given name ... it would be like turning your back on the Queen. It's just not done here."
"But, well, take the Queen for example. Like, Prince Charles doesn't call her 'Your Majesty' does he? I'm sure there are some situations..."
"Yes, but I am not your son," Winthrop said tightly.
"Okay, but, well, you're one of two people I know in this whole country. You're here to advise me and stuff, right? Can't we at least try to be like friends?"
Winthrop's eyes widened and he was silent again.
Ryan looked at James. "Doesn't that make sense to you?" he asked.
James reached over and put his hand on Ryan's reassuringly. "Maybe these things take time," he said softly. "You'll both get used to each other."
Ryan stared at James for a moment. His fingers felt a little rough, but so warm where they were touching his hand. His stomach lurched, and his voice came out as little more than a hoarse squeak, as he said, "Okay. Maybe you're right." He finally looked away, but didn't pull his hand away. He turned his eyes to Nigel. "I guess if it means so much to you, call me whatever you feel comfortable calling me," he said softly.
"I am honored that you wish to think of me as a friend, my lord. I hope I can live up to your expectations," the older man replied, softening a little.
Ryan smiled and then glanced at James, whose hand still covered his own.