Anthony walked with his mother on his arm into the latest event between the seasons. It was a small gala and the manor was elegantly decorated. Benedict and Eloise were flanking the duo and Colin was still on his travels. However, Eloise quickly departed when spotting her redheaded friend in the corner of the dance floor.
With the circumstances, the thoughts of the upcoming season were brought to the forefront of Anthony’s mind. He knew it was time to do his duty just as the long line viscounts before him had; the first-born Bridgeton of a first-born Bridgeton 9 times over.
The weight of responsibility and inadequacy was heavy on his shoulders. Anthony felt his smile tighten and the false feeling associated with the grin increased.
Anthony glanced over at Benedict while they continued walking through the crowd. His younger brother had grown so much, standing tall and proud next to him. Anthony sensed Benedict coming more into his own recently. More than myself. Anthony snapped his eyes to the front again as the thought slipped over his consciousness.
A man with chestnut colored hair and nondescript features stopped him on the way to introduce himself to the family. Anthony could feel the appropriate response slip through his lips without thought, “A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lord Hampton.”
They always looked to him first for he was the head of the family. Society had deemed him responsible for his entire family and while his family may be more than capable without him, it was the greatest weight he bore.
A weight I am wholly unqualified for . His mind whispered back to him. Berbrooke’s words from the promenade ringing in his ears, “ …you could not protect them.”
Even now the weight of his father’s pocket watch was heavy against his body.
Anthony pulled the edges of his mouth up higher as his mother spoke a few words and hinted at her desire to visit the food table. He didn’t even believe his own countenance. How could he fool anyone else? He nodded his departure to the Lord.
His mother waved when she spotted Lady Danbury and squeezed his shoulder as she departed towards her friend. If Lady Danbury was here, then perhaps his eldest sister and friend turned brother-in-law were present as well, although highly unlikely as Daphne was currently with child. His eyes scanned the crowd, not seeing anyone stand out.
Anthony straightened his back, clasped his hands behind him, and turned to face the dance floor; he was trying to appear interested and entertained. Benedict was still near his side.
A woman approached him. She beamed just like she is supposed to.
I must get a wife this next season. My duty is for my family, not myself.
Anthony squared his shoulders, smiled at the lady, and extended his hand to signal their entrance onto the dance floor. A sense of dread curled in his stomach.
Benedict was joking and making faces at Eloise--whenever their mother was not looking--as they walked in the manor. It seemed to ease the tension in Eloise’s shoulders, so he kept doing it.
However, humor would do nothing to ease the ramrod posture of his older brother. Benedict flicked his eyes over to his brother occasionally as worry swirled in his mind. Anthony’s jaw was clenched in a way that Benedict suspected he was grinding his teeth again.
Benedict did not envy Anthony and his position. He saw how his elder brother had changed when he took on the title of Viscount; they had been 20 and 17, respectively, still children. “Second sons do get to have more fun.” Benedict’s mind supplied, mirroring the very words Granville had uttered to him in the studio. He wasn’t sure Anthony still knew how.
Benedict’s eyes connected with Anthony’s as he twirled a debutante on the dance floor. He was smiling in a polite way, not in the way that one smiled when actually having a good time. Benedict tilted his head and raised his brows towards his brother, receiving a head nod in return.
Benedict could’ve swore that Anthony’s smile ticked up a bit into something more real before fading away again. He may feel useless when trying to help Anthony, but he would make sure his brother at least knew he was there.
Eloise moved next to him; a hand raised to her mouth eating a chocolate morsel from the table.
“Brother, I believe Anthony does intend to wed this season. How unfortunate.” Eloise stated, looking up to meet her brother’s face.
Benedict pulled a tight smile, “I do believe you’re right, little sister.”
She grimaced before responding, “I do want more from life for him as well.” She schooled her expression back into something more appropriate.
Benedict just nodded; his mind full of concern focusing on his brother’s appearance again.
Anthony was still dancing as the song winded to a conclusion, yet Benedict felt uneasy looking at him. He was even more tense than when they had arrived. He was pale and his expression seemed a little stiffer. It was a change that only a sibling could recognize, born from years of close proximity and interaction.
It was only when he saw Anthony politely excuse himself from the dance floor that he felt his assumptions were correct. Benedict’s change in expression alerted Eloise to the fact that something was amiss.
“What’s wrong, brother?” She glanced up at him before trying to pinpoint the focus of his gaze.
Benedict was tight lipped as he moved forward to intercede between the ladies and mamas trying to keep Anthony engaged.
“Ah, brother. The dowager has requested us. We best be going.” Benedict politely smiled and inclined his head to express his mock regret.
He gently grabbed Anthony’s arm and led him outside the manor. The fact that Anthony did not resist was telling.
Eloise, wanting to help and be involved, followed behind before jogging to catch Anthony’s other side when they had passed the front of the manor.
Anthony’s brow was shining from sweat as his body trembled. Benedict accepted more of his weight the further they moved away from the masses.
“Thank you, brother.” Anthony panted out. He tried to pull himself to full height and brush Benedict off. The younger man let go hesitantly, torn between allowing his older brother to preserve his honor and being there to support him.
Benedict looked at Eloise, nodding his head in the direction of the manor. She wanted to argue, but the expression on his face urged her to leave. Benedict knew Anthony would not want his younger sister here for this.
Eloise glared at him and the meaning was clear, “Inform me when you are done.”
Anthony was hugging his chest and taking deep breaths trying to calm himself. Benedict reframed from touching but remained near should he be needed.
“Are you well, Anthony?” He stated earnestly.
“What do you wish…me to say?” Anthony uttered, quick breaths separating his speech.
“The truth.” Benedict replied, moving back to grasp his brother’s shoulders as Anthony tilted forwards. His elder brother's dark eyes will filled with fear.
Anthony was visibly struggling to pull in breaths now. Benedict lowered his brother to the ground, thankful, in this moment, that Anthony was smaller than himself.
Benedict kneeled and held his brother to his side. Anthony was sitting on his knees with his hands rubbing up and down his thighs.
A tear streaked down his cheek and Benedict’s worry increased tenfold. He hadn’t seen his brother cry since their father.
“Anthony, breathe.” Benedict urged, feeling helpless in the current predicament.
Anthony, always the strong one, shook off Benedict’s support as he wiped his hands across his face and focused on his breaths.
“I’m well. Just, give me a moment.” He murmured, head falling into his hands.
Benedict placed a hand back on his shoulder in support and waited.
Anthony stepped with his right foot as he led the lady around the dance floor. She made polite conversation about her needlework, her pianoforte, and her family’s line of twins. All the while, Anthony’s mind supplied alternative conversation.
I would make a terrible father. Look how I handled Daphne? Twins?
I would still have my siblings under my care. I cannot bear more. I have already let my family almost fall into scandal and ruin.
The debutants know I let my family down, now I won’t find a suitable wife.
The thoughts didn’t seem to cease.
She was a low drone in the background, “…My hems are lowered for the next season, Lord Bridgerton…”
“I have to go. I am so sorry my dear lady. I shall return after a brief respite.” Anthony bit out, again plastering a fake smile to his face as the music ended.
The lady looked distraught but did not reply. As soon as he stepped away, mamas and debutants flocked over.
Pressure was steadily building in his chest. Anthony felt his quick pulse slamming against his ribcage. He was going to lose the façade soon.
Leave. Was the all-encompassing thought. Anthony could barely think straight when he felt someone grab his arm. Initially he wanted to strike out, the response squashed down when he looked to see his brother.
Benedict was presumably leading him outside but Anthony could not muster the strength to question him. He was just thankful he was away from the ladies as he tried to focus on staying upright.
His chest was even tighter as warmth blossomed across his skin.
The cool nighttime air hit his face and Anthony thought he could release some tension now that the prying eyes were away. At least he told himself he could. His heartbeat was still a quick flutter, his stomach was swirling, he couldn’t stop sweating, and he still could not breathe.
Anthony willed his body to calm but, to no avail. He wanted to scream or disappear. Either option tempted him although no sound escaped his lips and he remained corporeal.
Anthony was losing more control, stumbling alongside his younger brother and requiring more and more of his brother’s assistance.
Anthony was vaguely aware that his sister was near him. He loved Eloise, all the same that meant another family member got to see how weak he truly was. Daphne already knew. His mother already knew. Benedict knew. And now Eloise. Do they all esteem me so low?
Anthony was gasping now; breathing becoming the utmost priority.
“Are you well, Anthony?” Benedict spoke.
Anthony could barely hear him over the ringing in his ears. He wanted to laugh.
“What do you wish…me to say?” The words tumbled out on their own. The response of “No,” seeming much harder to give.
“The truth.” Benedict replied. If only you knew little brother…
Anthony sank to his knees, the impact with the ground nowhere near as hard as it could’ve been.
It is only a matter of time before they find out you do not make a suitable husband or heir.
Anthony wiped his clammy hands down the front of his pants; trying to rid himself of the feelings choking him. He felt so hopeless, so trapped.
“Anthony, breathe.” Benedict urged.
Anthony tried to rally his strength, shaking his brother off.
“I’m well. Just…give me a moment.” He murmured; his head fell heavily into his hands.
He pressed the heel on his hands into his eyes, spots streaking behind in eyelids. He could hear his own breath echoing in his mind.
Benedict’s hand was once again on his shoulder and Anthony glanced over to see that his brother was now kneeling on the ground with him. Though, Anthony was unsure when he had joined him in the gravel.
Our pants are ruined. His mind unhelpfully supplied.
Anthony was not sure how long they sat there. Long enough that the sky started spilling soft mist across the landscape and his joints ached; light water droplets perched on strands of his hair.
Benedict’s hands moved up and down his arms to keep the chill away (or whatever he assumed had taken a hold of his brother).
Anthony felt hollow now; the emotions leaving him cold. He could faintly hear the music from the manor as he let out a breath, releasing the tension he didn't know he was holding.
He looked over at Benedict. His brother’s eyes met his without judgement or pity. Benedict’s hair was damp and his grey eyes shone with understanding. A light dusting of water droplets clung to their suits.
Anthony, in a rare moment of vulnerability, leaned into his brother. “Thank you, brother.” Anthony’s cheeks colored in a flash of shame that quickly faded. He didn’t have the strength to maintain the strong emotion.
Benedict simply nodded, “Would you like to discuss what ails you? I understand if you do not.”
Anthony smiled a tired smile, “No, brother. Your presence is enough for now.”
Benedict looked as if he had expected the response and stood, lifting his older brother with him.
Benedict's hands never released his shoulders and they simply took a moment longer to adjust to the position. They dusted the dirt off their trousers the best they could.
“Father, would be very proud of you,” Benedict spoke decisively.
Anthony searched his brother’s face for anything to indicate that the words were ingenuine and found nil.
Benedict never doubted the pressure Anthony was under, nor the strength he possessed. It was only Anthony himself that doubted his forte.
When they turned back to the gala, Anthony was more willing to let his younger brother carry some of his weight.