Returning to the studio after a meeting of the Institute's Diversity Council, of which he was its newest member, the Boy Wonder took a moment to step over to the window and check the sky. It had been overcast all afternoon and he hadn't brought an umbrella to school. He supposed Rennie or Xavier might have an extra one up in their rooms. He was gonna drop in on them anyway, tell them the good news: Daphne was coming home for a visit this weekend and he could not wait to see her. Especially now with the trial a little over a month away, he could use all the smiles and laughter he could get and Daphne was a guaranteed good time. Brian, of course, was already brooding in anticipation of the event and the media circus that was sure to accompany it. Justin remembered what it had been like after he'd regained consciousness, seeing the slightly disappointed faces of the reporters outside the hospital-no doubt a more severely wounded victim would have made for better copy. Cynically, Brian had suggested that he could limp a little or pretend to have forgotten his name. He had never forgiven them for that shot of him leaving the loft, face tear-streaked and pinched with worry. "I looked like shit," he complained even now. "Sent the Brian Kinney stock plummeting." Justin didn't bother to remind him that his stock was no longer available for public trading. Despite the fact that, technically, theirs was an open relationship, Justin wasn't aware of any instances recently where Brian had taken advantage of the opportunity. Of course, he wasn't with him all day so he didn't really know but he felt that he would have known intuitively if Brian were fucking around. All of which was interesting but he hadn't found Xavier or Rennie and the evening was fast approaching.

Making his way to the dorm, Justin climbed the stairs to the third floor where Xavier lived in a suite with two other guys. He knocked and heard Xavier call out, "Coming!" After a moment, Xavier threw open the door, his hair partially unbraided, a comb in one hand. "Hey, J."

"Hey." Following Xavier to his room, Justin sat at the desk and watched while the other teen cornrowed his hair without benefit of a mirror. "How do you know what you're doing?"

"My grandmama taught me."

"No, I mean, how can you tell what you're doing?"

Without missing a beat, Xavier replied, "Good hands. Sensitive fingers."

Blushing as he thought of Brian's hands and fingers and all that they could do, Justin ducked his head and made a non-committal sound before remembering why he'd come looking for Xavier in the first place. "Guess what?"


"Daphne's coming home this weekend."

"Check it out." Xavier finished up the row. Paused. Looked at Justin from the side. "You think she'd go out with me?"

"Daphne?" Justin recalled Daphne's assessment of Xavier: 'He's a total hunk,' and smiled. "I think she might consider it."

After rounding up Rennie, they went over to the diner for something to eat. Justin didn't have to work and they could all go back to their studios afterwards.

"So what about me?" asked Rennie, spearing a cherry tomato and eating it like it was the finest Beluga caviar.

"What about you?"

"Well, you and Brian are going out with Daphne and Xavier--"

"Who said anything about me and Brian going?"

Xavier looked panic-stricken. "You're not coming?"

"I mean, I can come," explained Justin, "just don't look for Brian. He wouldn't be caught dead on a double-date of any kind, much less with three teenagers. He'd rather be set on fire and burned alive."

"I'd rather wrap my dick in barbed wire than go out on a double-date with you and the cast of Real World in Pittsburgh," Brian said while hanging up his dry cleaning.

"Which is why I asked Rennie instead," added Justin smugly.

Brian folded his sweaters and put them away. "Just remember to use protection," he said over his shoulder.

Coming up behind him, Justin tickled him and the older man collapsed against the chest of drawers giggling. "What's gonna protect you from me?" the teen asked.

He turned in Justin's arms and replied, "You are."

Justin stepped back and tugged on Brian's shirt the way Brian often did to him. "Then you're in big trouble," he declared and he pulled him down upon the bed.

Brian could hear Emmett asking Ted about the wine and he paused before knocking. Although he'd had a relatively stress-free day at work, he wondered if he was really up for this. It wasn't that he didn't want to be with them--they were his best friends--but sometimes he just wanted to be alone. Maybe tonight was one of those nights. He started to turn away when he heard them laughing and he smiled and shook his head and knocked.

"So, what's the big secret?" Em asked Michael.


Ted answered, "The reason you've been grinning like the Cheshire cat all during the appetizers."

"Well..." he began.

"You've met someone," Emmett guessed.

Brian glanced over at his best friend and studied him closely. Em was right. He had all the signs: the silly grin, the sparkle in his eyes, slightly flushed cheeks, nervous movements. "You have, haven't you?"

"Yeah," he confessed.

"So...." asked Emmett, "where'd you meet?"

Michael ducked his head. "Comic book store."

"Not the guy who works there?" Brian asked worriedly, remembering what a lousy lay he'd been.

"Nah. Jeff's a reporter."

"Jeff," repeated Emmett. Then in a pleased voice, "A reporter."

"Print or TV?" asked Ted.

"TV. He works for WPXI channel 11."

"Ooo," cooed Emmett. "Proud as a peacock."

Ted added, "A pixie peacock."

"A peacock pixie."

Broan growled, "Shut. Up."

Micahel grinned: Brian would never change, despite the fact that he himself was in a relationship, he still couldn't quite accept the fact that Michael might want to be with someone. He thought that after David Brian would have been better but here he was getting bent out of shape and trying to hide it. Again. "He was one of the reporters that covered Justin's case." Like the rest of the men, Michael rarely referred to the attack as a bashing. It was just too descriptive of what had happened.

"Send out the fag to cover the faggot news."

Shocked, Emmett popped Brian on the arm. "Don't say that."

Taking a sip of his wine, Brian asked, "So what's he like?"

He shrugged. "He's nice. Reads The Sandman. That's why he was at the comic book store. They'd ordered one of the novels for him and he was there to pick it up." Michael paused. "I never got The Sandman."

"Maybe he'll explain it to you," suggested Em seductively.

"Maybe he'll use small words," added Brian in the same seductive tone. "So what's he look like?"

"Six one, black hair, dark brown eyes, really high cheekbones," replied Michael.

"Ooo," purred Em, snagging a canape from the tray. "Maybe he's got Native American blood."

Ted finished his wine and reached for the bottle. "You go out?"

"Just coffee at this place around the corner from the comic book store. But we've got a date for Saturday night."

"In or out of the apartment?" asked Emmett.

"You got a hot one coming over?"

"Cool. The mortician," referring to the guy he'd met the night Ted had OD'd. "Seems he really likes dressing me up. He's making a house call."

Michael laughed. "Should I check to make sure you're still among the living when I get in?"

Shivering, Em replied, "Please do."

"Hey." A thought popped into Ted's head. "Why don't you and Jeff go out on a double-date with Brian and Justin?" He and Emmett laughed in anticipation of Brian's response.

"Because," Brian answered, "Justin's going on a double-date with Daphne and his little playmates from school."

Appropriating the last appetizer from the tray, just beating out Emmett, Michael asked, "So what are you gonna do?"

"I don't know. It's one evening." He drained his glass, studied the dregs of the wine. "Maybe I'll go pick up Gus. He always has time for his Da da."

Michael sat in the living room with Brian while Emmett and Ted got the food and set the table. "You okay?"

"Yeah." Brian stood and wandered around the room wondering for the thousandth time what Ted had against style.

"He's a really nice guy."


Anger flaring up, Michael asked, "Why can't you be happy for me?"

"Who says I'm not?"

"You do." Brian faced him. "Every time I bring him up you get this look."

"What kind of look?"

"Like you could care less."

Brian plopped back down. "I don't know him. I can only get so excited about someone I don't know."

Carrying a tray to the table, Em said, "That's not what I've heard from the guys in the back room."

Ted added, "Two thousand satisfied customers can't be wrong."

And the once and future King cocked an imaginary crown and reclined on the pillows of the couch.

Justin helped Jennifer clear the table while Xavier and Rennie played Tomb Raider with Molly. "Hey. Daphne's coming this weekend."

"Tell her I said hi. How's she doing?"

"She loves Princeton." He paused. "I miss her though."

Handing him a dish to put on his stack, Jennifer said, "And I bet she misses you too."

His mind on their trip to see her in New Jersey, Justin laughed. "And Brian."

"How is he?" she asked. They hadn't run into one another since the memorial show at IFA.

"He's okay."

Taking the plunge, she asked, "You two doing all right?"

"Yeah," he replied and then stopped what he was doing. "Why?"

The sound of Xavier shouting in defeat interrupted her reply. He looked into the living room to see Molly and Rennie doing a victory dance and Xavier cradling his head. Justin laughed at his friend's predicament and sympathized with him. Molly was pretty good, she'd beaten him more than once. "He's kind of freaked out about the trial though."

Not wanting to talk about it but sensing that he did, Jennifer said, "It can't be easy for either of you."

He shrugged. "We'll make it."

"Look after yourself," she warned. "I know you love him but, honey, you're going be under a tremendous amount of pressure. You need to take care of yourself."

As if she didn't understand at all, he explained, "We'll take care of each other. Besides," he added, "it's gonna be harder for him. Because he's older, because people will think things about him, not knowing anything about us. I won't let anyone or anything hurt him," he declared.

"Honey, he's a grown man. He can take care of himself."

But he disagreed. "He needs me. And I won't let him down." He thought about how Brian had come to him and cried after his mom had effectively given up on them. "Not like everyone else has."

As she finished strapping the baby into his car seat, Lindz asked, "Are you sure you wanna take him for the entire weekend?"

"Yeah, Maw," he said loading the last of Gus' shit into the Jeep. "You having second thoughts?"

"No, Paw." She kissed the baby and shut the door. "Only, let's not have any more repeats of the Infamous Banana/DVD Player Incident, okay?"

Brian exhaled noisily, disgusted that he had to explain yet again, "We were not fucking."

"So you say."

"I know the difference between fucking and not fucking," he assured her.

Waving at Gus, Lindsay added, "Just be careful. He's slow but he gets around." She'd already gone over Brian's place with a fine-tooth comb and made sure that it was as Gus-proof as possible, making him put locks on the cabinets that contained cleaning supplies--of which there were few since the cleaning lady brought her own--and putting anything that could cut, jab, gouge, strangle, or choke out of reach of tiny hands. But there was still plenty Gus could get into, witness the Banana/DVD Player Incident. "See you on Sunday."

Brian got into the Jeep and glanced back at the baby. "No more bananas for you." Gus giggled and Brian shook his head. Why didn't he think that would keep Gus out of trouble at all?

Justin was waiting when Da da and Sonny Boy arrived. Taking the baby from Brian while he carried in his stuff, the teenager kissed him and removed his coat and shoes. "Hey, Gus." The baby smiled and seemed happy to see him but he didn't say anything. Both Brian and Justin listened carefully whenever the youth spent any time with Gus to see if they could detect any pattern to the baby's utterances around him, wanting to see if Gus used any particular word for Justin. He called both Mel and Lindz Ma ma but so far he only called Brian Da da.

Squiriming, Gus got Justin to put him on the floor and he headed for his Da da, wrapping his arms around Brian's legs. Brian picked him up and carried him into the bedroom where he deposited the baby's things then brought the tot back to the livingroom and put him on the floor with his Beh. But Gus was more interested in the rug and in trying to pull out handfuls of pile to no avail but it did keep him busy long enough for the two lovers to enjoy a proper greeting. With regret they parted, breathing hard and far from satisfied. "Later," promised Brian. After the baby had gone to sleep. "What are we doing about dinner?"

"New recipe," Justin replied, getting up and going into the kitchen.

Watching and waiting until his hips disappeared around the counter, Brian found the remote and turned on the TV. Skimmed the news and settled on Nickelodeon. Lindsay said Gus loved The Rugrats. Well, they weren't on yet but the bright colors of whatever was on caught Gus' eyes and he tottered towards the television. "Gus." The baby stopped and looked around. Brian crooked his finger. "Come here."

Giggling, Gus said very distinctly, "No."

"Gus...." Trying to keep his face neutral, Brian said again, "Come here."

Again the baby giggled and this time he took a step closer to the television. When Brian got up from the sofa, he laughed and tried to run away but his daddy caught him with ease and the sound of them laughing made Justin smile. He could already tell: Brian and his son were gonna have some spectacular battles once Gus hit puberty and turned into a miniature of his dad. He didn't envy Mel and Lindsay. Or maybe Brian would understand Gus and take his side. In that case, God help the two women cause they were gonna need it.

Having given Gus his bath by taking him into the shower with them--water turned on low and warm, one of them holding the baby while the other one washed his hair and wriggling body--they put him to bed and Justin read him a story, Gus fighting to keep his eyes open. They were making their way through Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner one visit at a time. "It was the first party to which Roo had ever been and he was very excited. As soon as ever they had sat down he began to talk.

" 'Hallo, Pooh!' he squeaked."

And Gus said sleepily, "Pooh."

Justin called to Brian who was cleaning up the bathroom. "Gus said, 'Pooh.' "

"Maybe his diaper needs changing."

"Very funny. I've never heard him say that before." He turned back to Gus. "Pooh."


"He said it again."

"Yippee," Brian said, using Mel's second favorite phrase after 'Asshole.'

"Pooh," the baby said one last time and closed his eyes.

They left Gus sleeping in the bed and tiptoed to the living room, making themselves comfortable on the couch. "Where were we?" asked Brian.

"You promising something about later," Justin reminded him.

"Oh, yeah." Ten minutes later, as Brian made good on his promise, Gus woke up and began to fuss. Cursing beneath his breath, Brian wiped his mouth and went to see what he wanted. Found him sitting up in bed about to cry. He took him in his arms. "What's wrong, Gus?"

"Pooh," he said miserably, rubbing his eyes.

"Okay." Getting the book, Brian started to read from it when Gus pushed it away.

"Pooh." Justin entered the room and Gus cried, "Pooh," and reached for him.

Brian laughed and gave Gus to Justin. "Here, Pooh."

"That is not funny," said the teen taking Gus from his father. He wiped away the baby's tears and kissed his cheek. "What is it, Gus?"

"Pooh," he said softly and snuggled up to Justin's chest.

So the teenager stayed with him until Gus fell asleep again and then Brian brought his bear and put it in bed with him, dragging Justin away. "I don't like to share," he explained.

The name stuck. The next morning Gus babbled, "Da da," and "Pooh," to them as they fixed breakfast and when Justin left to go meet Daphne, giving the baby a kiss first, Gus said, "Pooh," in such a plaintive tone that Justin was tempted to call Daphne and cancel but Brian assured him that the tot would get over it. Besides, they were meeting up at the diner for lunch.

Only, after Justin had gone, both father and son sat in the living room missing him.

"So he said he really likes me?" Daphne asked as they browsed the stands along Liberty Avenue.

"No," answered Justin, "he said he wanted to go out with you." Daphne punched him in the arm. "Ouch."

"This ought to be fun. I wish Brian were coming."

Justin looked at her like she had lost her mind. "Hello? Brian would kill all of us after a couple of hours."

"He did okay when you guys came to visit me at school," she reminded him.

"Yeah, but that was just hanging out. It wasn't a date." He spotted a scarf that was a beautiful mixture of purples and blues and shades of gold. "I'm gonna get this."

"For your mom?"

"No. For me. It's got good colors," he explained. "I can use it to mix paint by. For class." By the time he'd paid for the scarf, it was time to head over to the diner to meet Brian and Gus for lunch. "He calls me Pooh."

"Brian?" Daphne couldn't see it.

"No, Gus."

She laughed. "That is so cute. Da da and Pooh."

"I think it's cause of the party and cause I read Winnie-the-Pooh stories to him. You should have been at his party. It was great." Then his expression darkened. "And then Brian's mom showed up and almost ruined everything." He gripped his package. "She is such a bitch. He went to see her a few days later and she practically shoved him out the door. He says he's never going back."

"That's too bad."

He disagreed. "I think he's right." Moving closer to her he said, "He was crying, Daph. She doesn't deserve him."

Knowing how fiercely protective he was of Brian, she didn't argue. "Least he's got you and Gus and his friends."

"I'm never leaving him," he told her. "Never."

As soon as they entered the diner they heard, "Pooh!" and then the laughter of several of the other patrons at nearby booths.

Justin hurried over to where Brian and Gus were before the baby could call out to him again. "Hey, Gus," he said, sliding in on the empty side of the booth. Daphne sat next to him.

"Hi, Brian," she said, smiling at both father and son.

"Hey, darling," replied Brian, giving Justin the eye. "How's my favorite co-ed?"

"Fine." She studied Gus and then Brian. "He's so beautiful. He looks exactly like you." Then she realized what she'd said and blushed deep red.

Brian laughed. "I love this girl."

Lunch over, Daphne kept Gus occupied while Brian and Justin said goodbye. "What time are you getting in?"

"Late. I'll probably just go home." At Brian's silence, he explained, "To keep from waking Gus."

"You coming over tomorrow?"

"Yeah. Daphne's leaving in the morning."

"Lucky me," he said, turning away.


Taking a deep breath, he replied, "Yeah."

"Didn't we already do this once?"

"Well, it keeps on happening, now doesn't it?"

"That's not fair--"

Cutting off any further remarks, Brian said, "Whatever."

"No, not whatever." Justin got in his face. "I don't bitch when you spend time with your friends."

"That's because you're usually with me." Brian tried to keep his temper and voice down.

"You could have come tonight but you didn't want to," Justin reminded him.

Daphne crossed to where they stood attempting not to have a public argument. "Guys?" They both turned. "People are starting to stare." It was true, a few people had taken an undue interest in their conversation.

Brian glared at a couple that was a little too obvious with their observations. "Fuck 'em." He took Gus from her. Kissed her on the cheek. "Later."

The two teens watched as he carried the baby to the Jeep, buckled him in, and got behind the wheel. When they had gone, Daphne turned to Justin. "I'm sorry. You don't have to come with us tonight."

"Yes, I do," he said, refusing her offer. "He has to learn that the world doesn't exist to give him what he wants 24/7."

By nine o'clock that night he was regretting his words and his decision. Xavier and Daphne were sickening sweet and Rennie's running commentary on everything was driving him crazy. He couldn't believe that she had an opinion on everything from breakfast cereal to the mitigating factors of World War II to why Sandy Squirrel wore a flower on her diving suit on Spongebob Squarepants. And he couldn't believe how much Xavier had changed. He hardly recognized him. Instead of cracking jokes and ragging Rennie, he spent the entire evening mooning over Daphne and making sure she never had to do anything for herself. If he could have spoon fed her at dinner, he would have. Justin thought he was going to hurl. Even when he'd been injured in the hospital, Brian hadn't babied him as much. What was up with Xavier?

At that moment Daphne and Xavier were on the dance floor, Justin having agreed to bring them to Babylon and did he ever regret that. Ted and Em were there as well and Rennie had cornered them for fifteen minutes asking them all kinds of embarrassing questions about Brian that Justin had refused to answer but that Brian's two friends were more than happy to answer knowing how much Brian would hate it. Rennie, meanwhile, was going on and on about the music and wondering why they hadn't played any Tori Amos and having had enough, Justin blurted out, "Because you can't dance to it and it's fucking depressing, that's why!"

She stared at him for a full ten seconds before shrugging and beginning a discourse on something, which he didn't hear, because he'd decided to have a happy moment thinking about him and Brian making love on the sofa last night while Gus slept.

Gus had finally settled down, having tried to drive Brian crazy by singing, "Da da da da da da da," for the past five minutes. Now he lay in bed, still singing, but softer and more slowly, as sleep stalked him on cat's paws. Finally, he uttered one soft, "Pooh," as if he remembered Justin and realized he wasn't there, and fell asleep. Brian held his breath, hoping Gus wouldn't wake up again tonight like he had the night before calling for Justin because Justin wasn't there and wouldn't be there. He might have come but their argument outside of the diner had probably sealed his decision not to drop in after his date.

And it's all my fuckin' fault, Brian said to himself. Yeah, it was. Why did he do these things? Why hadn't he been understanding? Why had he made a scene? "Fuck it," he mumbled. There was no point in going over that now. Settling down on the sofa, he turned on the boob tube, ran through half a dozen channels and shut it off again. Got out the book on photography that he'd bought a couple weeks ago, but his mind wasn't on filters and he put it away again. His mind was on Justin.

He really had understood about Daphne and he liked Daphne, was glad to see her too and, truthfully, the idea of spending an evening with her and Xavier and Justin shouldn't have made him run the other way but it had. It was a couples' thing. But you're part of a couple, he told himself although there was no need. He knew it. Not only were he and Justin a couple but now his son had recognized it by giving Justin a name the way he had everything and everyone important in his life: Da da, Ma ma, Ma ma, Beh, and Pooh. Brian shook his head and smiled despite his bad mood. Pooh. Right now he'd give almost anything if Pooh came through that door. He turned and waited. But Justin didn't come home. Giving up, Brian got up and joined Gus in bed. Maybe the best he could do was to get a good night's sleep and start over in the morning. It seemed like he did a lot of that: starting over; and he supposed he was lucky that Justin gave him so many chances.

Brian woke sometime around five and discovered that he and Gus were not alone. Turning to check on the baby, he found a third person in bed with them. A person with blond hair and blue eyes, eyes that were wide open and gazing at him from across the way. Without speaking, they rose from the bed and met at the foot.

"I'm sorry," Brian whispered against Justin's lips a second before they kissed and the boy said nothing in return, just held him tighter and gnawed on his mouth.

Careful not to wake Gus, they made love in the early morning silently, Justin biting back the moans that threatened to spill from his lips; Brian fighting the urge to shout, to call him his baby, his little boy, his sticky honey bear. One hand around his cock and the other holding onto the edge of the cabinet that ran around two sides of the bedroom, Justin opened his mouth, forming a soundless O as Brian thrust into him from behind. He wouldn't have missed this for anything, would rather be here than anyplace else he could think of, could imagine. Swallowing a cry, he spilled his cum all over the side of the cabinet, watching it form Rorschach patterns on the dark wood. He could feel Brian's cock swell inside him and then the man jerked against him and grunted low in his belly and came as well. And Gus slept on, unaware of it all.

As soon as Brian withdrew, Justin started to look for something to clean the cabinet but Brian stopped him and said softly, "Sit down." He sat on top of the shelf, his legs spread open, and watched in amazement as Brian got to his knees and lapped the thick liquid from the side of the cabinet. Face smeared with spunk, Brian lowered his head between Justin's thighs and licked his cock clean as well. "Mmmm," he moaned into his groin and Justin's cock twitched.

"Oh, fuck..."

Brian kissed his belly and smiled.

The moment Lindz opened the door, he could tell something was up. Of course, he'd figured something was wrong as she'd been a little subdued each time he'd called to let Gus talk to her during the weekend but he'd figured it had nothing to do with him. Seeing the look on her face when she greeted him he knew his optimism had been built on false hope and that, once again, he'd come between her and Mel somehow. "What's up?" he asked as he handled Gus to her.


Mel appeared and kissed Gus. "You're here." She wasn't talking about the baby.

"So what am I supposed to have done this time? Plotted to overthrow the government?"

"You could check before you just take him for the weekend."

"I did check," he replied. "How else do you think I was able to get him?"

"Well, nobody checked with me," she said and walked away.

Lindz laid a hand on Brian's arm. "Let it go--"

Far from letting it go, he followed Mel. "Well, that's not my problem," he told her. "That's yours and Lindsay's."

"No, you're our problem." She glared at him and for a second looked as if she wanted to say more but didn't for whatever reason. Maybe because Lindz and Justin were staring at the two of them as if they expected them to come to blows.

"This is bullshit," he declared.

"I'm his legal guardian."

"Because I gave up my rights," he reminded her. "You see him all the time. All week, every week. It's not like I get him every weekend. So what's the big fucking problem?"

Gus squirmed and Lindsay put him down. He tottered to his daddy and grabbed hold of his leg. "Da da da da da." Brian picked him up and held him, focusing on his hazel eyes so like his own instead of Mel's dark, angry ones. "Pooh," the baby said, looking around at Justin. The teenager came and took him and Gus giggled.

"Pooh?" asked Lindz.

"It's what he calls Justin."

Mel shook her head. "Great. Just great. He calls your boyfriend Pooh."

"He calls you Ma ma," Brian replied.

"Because I am. I'm his parent. Something neither of you are."

Trying to keep the heat from his face, Justin handed Gus back to Lindsay and moved closer to Brian. When he looked up in his face, he could see the hurt and the anger he refused to show mirrored in his lover's features. "Brian..." he began, hoping the sound of his voice would keep the man from losing it.

Softly, Brian said, "Let's go."

"Bri..." Lindsay paused. "I'm sorry. She didn't mean it."

Taking Gus from her, Mel said, "Don't apologize for me. And I did mean it. They're not his parents." She carried the baby upstairs.

Without saying anything else, the two men left.

Only once they were inside the Jeep did Brian speak. "I'm not gonna walk away from him."

"He loves you. He needs you."

"He needs his Pooh too," Brian added, laughing and starting the car.

Justin shut his eyes. "I wonder how long it'll take him to learn to say Justin?"

After everyone settled in, Em opened the floor to questions. "So, how was your date with Jeff?" he asked Michael and his roommate smiled shyly.

"You got laid," Brian pronounced and this time Michael didn't deny it. "Was he any good?"


"Low standards. After all, you're used to Dr. Dave."

Justin nudged him. "Play nice."

"So, the earth moved, did it?" He glanced at Justin. "Better?"


Michael shook his head. "No, the earth did not move." Then he added, "But the bed did some serious rocking." Ted and Emmett and Justin laughed. "Do you guys mind? I asked him to come with us tonight."

"I don't mind," said Ted. "Do you mind?" he asked Brian.

"Why should I mind?" He opened the menu. "I'm hungry." Ted, Emmett, and Michael made eyes at one another, each wondering what Brian really made of all this, when Brian said, "I can see you, you know," and Justin barked a laugh.

They went back to the loft after brunch to spend the afternoon in sinful leisure.

Justin flipped through the channels until he found one that was showing The Empire Strikes Back. "I love old movies," he said in all seriousness.

Rolling his eyes, Brian muttered, "You are so not getting any this afternoon."

Totally ignoring his comment, Justin asked, "You really don't care about Michael's new boyfriend?"

"Why should I care? I'm not going out with him."

"Who? Michael or Jeff?"

"Take your pick."

They were laying on the sofa, Brian up against the back and Justin curled in his arms. "I pick... Harrison Ford."

"Sorry. I saw him first."

"I wasn't even born yet when this came out," he commented unnecessarily.

"Would you shut up and watch the movie?"

Just then the phone rang and Justin got up to answer it. "Hello? Hey. Nothing. Watching The Empire Strikes Back."

Brian tuned him out. Could be any of his little friends or his mom or Deb.

"Yeah," said Justin. "Uh-huh." He so did not want to hear anything else about Daphne from Xavier. And the teen was going on and on about her, about how much he liked her and really wished she went to school in Pittsburgh and on and on and on. Finally, Xavier ran out of steam. "Okay. I'll see you tomorrow. Later." Dropping the phone down, Justin returned to the sofa and crawled next to Brian. Princess Leia was telling Han Solo he was a scoundrel. Justin looked around at Brian. "That's what you are: a scoundrel."

Echoing Han Solo, Brian said, "Scoundrel? I like the sound of that." He ran his thumb over Justin's lower lip. "I bet you like scoundrels," and Justin climbed on top of him and kissed him. Nope. He loved them.

So that was the guy, Brian thought. Not bad. But he didn't remember him from the horde of reporters who'd shown up at the house and the hospital after Justin's attack. There were just too many of them and he'd been more concerned with Justin at the time. Still was. He looked down at his lover and slipped an arm around his shoulders. The teen flashed one of his brightest. They couldn't stay long, he had school in the morning. This was just a show of good faith for Mikey.

Michael saw them coming and took a big gulp of his beer. Please let this go okay, he prayed to no one in particular, to whomever was listening.

Brian and Justin stopped about a foot away. "What's up?" said Brian.

Indicating Jeff, Michael made introductions. "Jeff, this is Brian and Justin. Brian and Justin, Jeff."

Justin held out his hand. "Hey."

Taking it, Jeff said, "I feel like I already know you."

"Mikey tell you all about us?" asked Brian.

"No. From researching Justin's story." When he noticed the annoyed and suspicious look Brian gave him, he apologized. "Sorry. Didn't mean to bring up a sore subject."

"No problem," Justin assured him. Turned to Brian. "Let's dance." They moved onto the floor; Justin waved to Emmett and Ted.

Michael grimaced. "I should have warned you. Brian's a little protective of Justin."

"I would be too. That kid could have killed him."

"They don't like to talk about it, that's all."

Jeff held up his hands. "I get the picture. Reporter Man has hung up his costume for the evening. Tonight, I'm just a mild-mannered suitor." He smiled. "Wanna dance?"

"I thought you'd never ask."

"He's not bad," Justin commented as they got ready for bed.


Justin paused, unable to figure out just what Brian meant by that. It didn't seem as if he'd disliked Jeff. In fact, after the reporter's initial faux pas, he and Brian seemed to get along fine. So what was with the noncommittal 'Yeah'? Maybe it wasn't Jeff and Michael at all. "Something wrong?"

Brian threw back the covers and slipped beneath the sheet. "I thought I did the right thing. Giving up my rights to Gus."

Sliding in next to him, painfully aware that he'd counseled Brian to do just that after initially being against it, Justin said, "You did do the right thing. Mel'll come around," he promised.

"And meanwhile I have to beg and plead to see my own kid." He set the alarm. "It was a lot easier when I didn't give a shit."

"It's too late now. There's no turning back," Justin told him, returning the advice Brian had given him once upon a time. "Besides, I think you've always cared. You just didn't show it."

"Fat lot you know," Brian snorted.

"I do know a lot."

"Like what?"

"Like..." he said snuggling up to his lover and caressing his bare chest. "I know you're dying to make love to me."

Brian closed his eyes as Justin stroked his nipples. "What gave me away?"

The teen cupped the older man's groin, Brian's cock already stiffening. "Oh, this and that."

He couldn't believe it when Cynthia buzzed him and announced that his son had come to see him. But in a few moments Lindz came in with Gus and he heard the baby's familiar refrain, "Da da da da."

"Hey, Sonny Boy." Holding Gus in his arms he asked, "So?"

"So, she's a little jealous."

"Of what?"

"Of you and Gus, of Gus and Justin. It's hard for her. You're Gus' father and she's never going to have that biological connection to him."

Brian sneered. "That's bullshit and you know it. Being related to my parents never meant a goddamn thing."

"That's the other part. That Gus has taken to Justin the way he has."

"He and Gus were close before we ever got together. That was your doing, yours and hers."

"I know. But now it's different."

"I'm not trying to take Gus away from her. I gave him up for her."

"I know--"

"And all I got for my troubles was another bitching out."

"Bri, she's worried about Gus." Pause. "So am I."

He frowned. "Why? You think I'll let something happen to him?"

"I know you'll look after him. It's not that."

"Then what is it?"

"It's that he's getting used to Justin being with you. You're Da da and Pooh now."

And he finally understood. "Is the entire world taking bets on how long it's going to be before we fall apart?"


"Because God knows, I can't be trusted to do anything right."

"That's not--"

"And why would he stay with me when he could be with someone better?"

She looked away. "I'm sorry... I didn't mean. I'm sorry."

Setting Gus down on the floor, Brian said softly, "I always thought you'd be on my side."

"I have to think about Gus now. What's best for him."

Afraid to ask, he did anyway. "And what's best for him? To stay away from me and Justin until we prove to you that we're serious? Hell, you and Mel can't even promise that you'll always be together. What's to keep her from fucking around again and you two splitting up. Again?"

"Nothing. Except that we're committed to one another," and unconsciously she touched the gold band she wore.

"So are we. Only, I guess because we haven't exchanged rings, it doesn't count."

"Bri, you can't even give up other men for him--"

"What we do together is our business!"

Lindsay glanced at the baby to see if he'd been disturbed by the outburst. Gus was still exploring his daddy's office. "I have to consider everything, Bri. For his sake. Hey, baby. Come on, let's go and let Da da get back to work."

Gus came back to Lindsay and reached for her hand. "Ma ma."

"You haven't said what this means," said Brian, trying to keep it together.

"I don't know what it means." She stood and picked Gus up.

Brian watched them leave and tried not to feel as if he'd just lost them both.

Rennie compared grades of fake fur for her new piece while Justin tagged along, not really looking for anything, just wanting to be away from the Institute, away from Xavier. He hadn't said a thing about his annoyance to either of them though because he didn't want to cause dissention. However, Rennie had picked up on it and suggested he go shopping with her to buy fake fur for her new sculpture. "What's it called?" Justin had asked.

" 'Industrial-Strength Pussy.' "

And he'd laughed. "Subtle."

After finding a grade she deemed suitable, Rennie made her purchase and they headed back to their studios. About three blocks away from school, she asked, "So are you getting as sick of Xavier and his Daphne fixation as I am?"

Justin sighed with relief. "More."

"You know they're planning on doing it when she comes this weekend."


She twisted her lip. "Oops. Guess not."

"Daphne didn't say anything about it and neither did Xavier," he said, a little perturbed that he'd been left out of the loop.

"Well, Xavier tells me stuff cause I'm like neutral. He's not interested in me so he can tell me anything."

"It used to be that way with me and Daph." And he thought he and Xavier had been getting pretty tight too.

"Did you really fuck her?"

"Just once."

"Didn't it feel weird?"

He shrugged. "I guess. I mean, I didn't get into it or anything. I just did it cause we were friends and she wanted me to."

Rennie swung her bag carelessly. "What if it doesn't work out for them? Won't that be a little awkward?"

But he was more worried about what would happen if they did hit it off. The thought of spending the next four years getting news about Daphne from Xavier seemed a little unbearable to him right now and he wasn't quite sure why except that Daphne had been his friend first and now she was Xavier's girlfriend? It was too weird and even though he knew it was selfish and unkind of him, he couldn't help it: he wished he'd never introduced them.

He slipped onto the stool next to Mikey. Jeff was on the other side. "Hey."


Jeff nodded.

"Where are the guys?"

"Emmett skipped to go to a sale at Bloomies and Ted had to work through lunch. Mr. Wertshafter wanted him to redo some report that had to go out this afternoon."

"Oh." He studied his menu. Closed it.

"I thought the Boy Wonder was joining us."

"He said his class might get cancelled but he wasn't sure. Guess it didn't." He leaned over and asked Jeff, "Not out chasing down some hot lead?"

"Even super reporters have to eat."

"So what's new in the Queer World?"


Jeff took it in stride. "Well, in this queer's world, I took three suits to the dry cleaners, looked at new sheets for my bed, finally paid off my Visa card, and bought a copy of Garbage's new album."

Grinning, Brian said back and waited for some service. Touche.

When Jeff appeared at dinner, however, he found himself unable to maintain his devil-may-care attitude, especially when Justin showed up and the reporter looked like a man who'd been given the keys to the kingdom. He could tell that Jeff was just barely refraining from pumping Justin for information about the attack. Every time the conversation edged closer to the topic, he could see the man's ears prick up and it was annoying the hell out of him because he didn't want to have to remember those frantic moments before the paramedics had arrived, cradling Justin's body in his arms, blood staining his collar and face as he leaned over him, protecting him from further harm even though Hobbs lay incapacitated and restrained by a group of people who'd arrived on the scene. Didn't want to remember the looks the hospital staff had given him, as if he had done something wrong. The hours of waiting, uncertain if Justin would live at all and in what condition. Sitting on his bed, having had disturbing confrontations with both his boss and his mother. The weeks of recovery, of finding their way to a new place together.

Justin touched his arm. "You okay?"

He stood. "I'm going for a smoke." Hoping to steal a few minutes alone, he stepped outside and leaned against the wall, lit up a cigarette, and took a long draw. God, he was trying to cut back but sometimes all he really needed was a couple of puffs.

"Mind if I bum one off of you?"

He turned to find Jeff at his side. Handed the pack over to him. Jeff shook one out and returned the cigarettes.


Brian flipped the top on his Zippo and gave him a light. Paused before putting the lighter away and smiled. It was kind of tacky but he loved it. Mostly because it had been a gift from Justin.

"Nice lighter. Bic man myself. Three to a pack. Trying to quit though." Jeff let the cigarette dangle between his fingers. "Michael says you're the one to watch."

"Watch for what?"

"See which way the wind blows." Took a draw. Exhaled. "Hot or cold."

"He shouldn't care what I think." Brian dropped his cigarette to the sidewalk and ground it out with the heel of his shoe.

"But he does. And he thinks you don't like me."

Instead of obfuscating the issue, Brian said outright, "I don't like the fact that you were one of the reporters who covered Justin's attack. And I don't like the fact that a month before the trial, you show up with my best friend."

"Complete coincidence."

"Are you covering the trial?"

"There's no conflict of interest."

He hated it when people didn't answer his questions. "Are you covering the trial?"

"Probably. Unless my boss assigns someone else. It's one of the biggest stories of the year. Even after 9/11."

"It's not a story. It's our fucking lives." He walked a couple of feet away and stood staring into the night. Turned back. "I don't want you asking him any questions about Chris Hobbs or the attack or the trial."

"Fair enough."

"Then I've got no problem with you."

" 'not the same thing as liking me," Jeff pointed out to Brian.

"Well, I don't really like a lot of people, so don't take it personally," explained Brian.

"Doesn't matter to me. I'm not fucking you."

It sounded so much like something he might have said that Brian laughed despite himself.

"Better watch it, you might actually end up liking me."

Although the man's word was enough for him, he wasn't naive: he'd have to wait and see. And if Jeff knew what was good for him, he'd abide by their agreement and not make Brian regret taking him at face value.

The Pad Thai was looking less and less appetizing as the meal progressed and it had nothing to do with the quality of the food and everything to do with the fact that Justin would not shut up about Daphne and Xavier. So what if they'd hit it off? So what if Daphne called Xavier? She was three hundred fucking miles away. It wasn't like she and Xavier were going to get engaged tomorrow. The way Justin was carrying on you'd think he was being betrayed somehow and Brian was getting tired of listening to him bitch and moan. Still, he managed to keep his mouth closed. Which wasn't helping his appetite any. Finally, he'd had enough. Interrupting, he said, "I don't see what the problem is. It's not like you're fucking either of them."

"I didn't say I--"

"Well, you're carrying on like you were. What do you care what they do?"

"They're my friends. Daphne's my best friend. Has been since we were four years old."

"Well, maybe it's time you let go of her."

"The way you have Michael?" Dropping that line of inquiry, Justin continued, "You act like you don't care about me or my life."

"I'm just tired of you bitching about it, that's all."

"Like I don't get tired of listening to you bitch about stuff. I'm always there for you. All I do is take care of you."

"I don't need anyone to take care of me. I can take care of myself."

"You wish. You wouldn't even have a job now--" and he stopped abruptly, aware that he had made a terrible error in judgement. Of all the things he'd never wanted to tell Brian, this was at the top of the list.

"What did you say?" If he'd had the look of a lazy predator before, he was on the alert now.


"Why wouldn't I have a job? What are you talking about?"


"Tell me," and there was no give in his voice. He was serious and Justin knew it.

"I got Kip to drop the sexual harassment suit."

When he'd gotten over his initial surprise, Brian asked, "How?"



There was no way in hell he was goiing to get away with not telling Brian about the entire sordid affair. "I picked him up at Woody's and I went home with him. Then I told him I was underage and that my dad had gotten the last guy I'd been with arrested and jailed. He started freaking out and I promised him I wouldn't tell my dad if he did something for me."

"Drop the suit."


Brian got up from the table. "You had no right."

"I had every right. You were in trouble."

He kept walking, heading for where he didn't know, he just knew he had to get away from Justin. "I can take care of myself."

"You didn't have a chance."

Turning, angrier than he'd been in a long time, he yelled, "I didn't do anything wrong!" and he knew it wasn't just Justin, it was remembering Kip and feeling ashamed and used.

"You didn't have any proof. It was your word against his."

"Mel and I could have handled it. But I guess that wasn't good enough for you."

"I didn't want you to lose... Brian... Please. Say you understand."

"I understand that every fuckin' body thinks they know what's best for me. But you don't. Did you ever think that maybe your little stunt might have backfired? He could have come before the arbitrator and accused me of setting him up. He could have called your bluff." He tightened his lips. "He could have hurt you. Did you ever think about that?"


"Of course not. Because you're a fucking kid!" He took a deep breath and said softly, "I think you should go."


"Go home, Justin."

A tear sprang to the corner of his eye. "Don't send me away," he begged.

"Go. Home." It was all he would say.

Grabbing his stuff, tears blurring his vision, Justin left the loft. Brian dropped to a chair and closed his eyes. Fuck.

Oh shit. He'd known the second he'd blurted it out that it was going to be worse than he'd ever imagined it. Brian was beyond pissed. They were supposed to spend the weekend together but there was no way Brian was gonna let him come back any time soon. Why, why, why the fuck did he have to tell Brian about Kip? Such a fuckin' idiot. And he'd known, he'd known Brian would freak out if he found out, he'd known that and still... Why had he gotten so angry with Brian in the first place? He knew how Brian was. He'd bitch about Justin being a teenager but he'd listen. He'd listen and he'd offer a suggestion. Usually something Justin didn't want to do but, invariably, it'd turn out to be for the best. Although Brian was notoriously short-sighted when it came to dealing with his problems, he was surprisingly clear-eyed when it came to dealing with other people's. He usually gave hard but good advice. Only, what Justin had wanted wasn't the hard line according to Brian Kinney. What he'd wanted was for Brian to tell him he was right and that Daphne and Xavier were being assholes. Only, they weren't. They were just being themselves. And he ought to have been happy for them instead of bitching about it. And now, he might have lost Brian because he was jealous of them.

Luckily both Deb and Vic were gone when he got home. He didn't want to explain to them why he was back so soon, not yet, cause he knew they'd lecture him too. So after depositing his stuff upstairs, he came back down and grabbed a soda and called his best friend. He didn't expect her to be home, after all it was a Friday night, but when she answered the phone he could have shouted.


"Hey, Daphne."

"Hey." He could see her bounce in his mind. "What's up?"

There was no point in beating around the bush. "Brian found out about Kip."

"No way. How mad was he?"

"He sent me home."

That mad, huh?"

Justin wiped his eyes where he'd begun to cry again. "What am I gonna do? He's so angry."

"He'll get over it."

"There's so much going on right now with him and Mel and Lindsay and now this. I can't believe I just blurted it out like that."

"What happened?"

"We were arguing and I just said it."

"What were you arguing about?"

About you he wanted to say. "Stuff."

"Well, I think it'll be okay. He loves you. He won't be able to stand it without you."

God, he hoped so. He hoped Brian missed him so much he came and got him in the middle of the night but he didn't think he'd hold his breath waiting for that to happen. Still, he said to her, "Yeah, you're right." Changing the subject, he asked her, "So why'd you want to come home this weekend?"

"I wanted to see you." Pause. "And Xavier." For what she didn't say.

And there was nothing else he could say. "I can't wait."

Knocking on Michael's door, Brian hoped he was home and hadn't gone with Ted and Em. After waiting all of thirty seconds, he knocked again and started to turn away when the door opened and Michael appeared, ruffled and lazy-eyed. "Jeff's in there with you, isn't he?"


"Nevermind. Go back and play." Brian started away.

"Wait." He paused. Michael rubbed his eyes. "What is it?"

He shook his head. "Nothing. I just thought... Nothing. Later." Not waiting to see if Michael had anything further to say, he made his way down the stairs and hopped back into the Jeep. Next stop: Babylon. Maybe dancing for an hour or so would take his mind off of things.

Ted and Emmett must have gone to Woody's cause he didn't see them anywhere inside. Which was just as well, he wasn't feeling particularly generous tonight and there was no telling what he'd say. Fuck! That little asshole... Knocking back a fourth of his beer, Brian narrowed his eyes and surveyed the crowd automatically before remembering yet again that he was in a relationship. Capital R. Only, according to Lindsay and Mel, that wasn't good enough. Well, fuck 'em. Gus was his kid, papers or no papers, and they could both just go to--

"Hey. I know you."

He turned. Blond guy. Green eyes. Not bad. Not bad at all. But the line was so--wait. He did know this guy. From where?

"Trevor Janson. IFA."

One of Justin's profs. "Yeah. Right. We met at the reception."

"Justin around? I didn't see him."

"I don't think so."

Trevor noted the choice of words. "Problems?"

"Differences of opinion." Brian finished his beer. "I'm going to dance." An invitation, if Trevor chose to interpret it that way. He did.

They moved onto the floor and let the music take them where it would. Trevor couldn't take his eyes off of Brian and, for his part, Brian was mesmerized by Trevor's eyes. He loved green eyes. As much as he loved Justin's blue eyes, and had loved Cam's blue eyes, green eyes really did it for him.

"See something you like?" asked Trevor, aware of Brian's scrutiny.

"You have beautiful eyes."

"That all?"

The music changed and Brian moved away from his partner but Trevor followed.

"I usually don't have to chase after guys," Trevor said.

"You don't have to chase after me either," replied Brian. "I'm taken."

"So why isn't he here protecting his property?"

"He doesn't have to be."

Tevor brushed a hand over Brian's forearm, his fingertips communicating his desires more eloquently than words.

Lids falling over his eyes, Brian thought about what was happening, thought about Justin at home crying probably, thought about waking up next to Trevor, about facing Justin with this on his conscience... "I can't," he said at last. "We've got rules. And one of them is we don't do people we know. You're his teacher for Christ's sake. How the fuck could I do that to him?"

"He doesn't have to know."

"I would know." Brian looked away from Trevor's face, away from those beautiful green eyes. "Let's not have this conversation again," he suggested and then he left.

That night he tossed and turned in an empty bed, haunted by visions of green eyes that became blue eyes, eyes that followed his every move, that charted his path and watched to see if he remained on the course they had proscribed. And as he stepped away from the straight and narrow, the eyes shed huge tears that washed him away, like Alice in Wonderland.

Morning found him nearly as exhausted as when he'd first gone to bed. Downing half a pot of coffee, he hung around the loft doing little chores he'd let pile up and when he was done he realized he still had the day left to fill. Justin would come, if he called him, the teen would come and apologize and strive to make up for what he had done. Brian knew that and he wanted to be with Justin but he was still so angry. What the hell had Justin been thinking? And he knew the answer to that question: Trying to help me. And he had. Justin had helped him. "There's the rub," he whispered. Finally, sick to death of being alone in the loft, he grabbed his camera and his book and headed out to see what he could see.

Two hours later, having taken way too many pictures of downtown Pittsburgh, he decided to drop in on Gus and Crew. Found them out in the yard enjoying the last of the warm weather. Autumn was just around the block, peering from between tree trunks. Gus, as usual, was ecstatic to see his daddy and ran to him calling his name. Brian squatted and Gus babbled about something he'd done or seen that morning. He waited for a translation.

"Squirrels," explained Mel. "Listen, about the other weekend..."

"I just want to see him," he told her. "I don't want custody, I don't want to take your place, I just want to see him."

She nodded. "I know. I'm sorry."

And it was settled. Without talking it to death. At least one of his problems had been solved.

Lindz asked, "Where's Justin?"

He told the truth. "I don't know." Watched while Gus sat down to investigate a pile of dirt. "I sent him home."

"What happened?"

"He got Kip to drop the harassment suit."

"What?" This from Mel. "How?

"He blackmailed him."

"Son of a bitch. Does he know what could have happened?"

Remembering their knock-down, drag-out, he replied, "He does now."

"Unbelievable." She shook her head. "Kids."


Lindsay looked at the rock Gus brought her. "He only did it for you."

"He could have ruined everything."

"But he didn't." She tossed him the rock. "He loves you. You know he'd do anything for you."

"What if that asshole had decided that he had nothing to lose? He could have hurt Justin." Now that he'd said the words out loud, he realized that fear had caused the greater part of his anger. As moisture gathered in his eyes, he looked away. He'd never told Lindsay what had happened to him. Never told anyone except Michael and Justin and had made both of them promise not to tell anybody. Not even Deb.

"Bri. He's okay. Nothing happened to him," said Lindsay, alarmed by the sudden appearance of tears.

"But something could have. And it would have been my fault."

Gus started to fuss and Mel picked him up. "Lunchtime." Carried him inside.

With Melanie and Gus gone, Lindsay asked, "What's really wrong?"

"He's eighteen years old and he thinks he's invincible. He didn't think for a moment that anything could happen to him. But it could have. It already has. And I couldn't protect him. All I could do was stand by and let it happen."

She didn't argue because she knew in his mind it would never be enough that he had saved Justin, kept Chris Hobbs from finishing him off, because he felt he should never have let Hobbs get close enough to Justin to hurt him in the first place.

"I don't ever want to pick up the phone and hear that he's hurt. Or worse."

"I think about Gus sometimes, going out into the world on his own, and I don't know how I'll do it, let go and trust him to do what's right for him."

"I trust Justin. I just... I don't trust the world. I know what the world is like." He wiped his eyes. "I know what people are like."


"And you're not always strong enough, or quick enough, or smart enough."

She studied his face, the pain that was there. "You're not just talking about Justin and Kip, are you? Or Chris Hobbs."

He was tempted to tell her but he didn't want to have to look at Mel and see that in her eyes and he didn't want to cause further friction between them by swearing Lindz to secrecy, so he sniffled and said, "I guess it's thinking about the trial and everything else. Fuck. I cannot believe we're fighting about fuckin' Kip." Dropped the rock she'd thrown him. "Maybe you're right, maybe we're not gonna make it."

"Yes, you will. Because you love each other."

But he asked softly, "When has love ever been enough?"

And she couldn't answer him. Because she didn't know. She could only hope.

They didn't talk much on the ride from Deb's to the loft. The things they needed to discuss wanted privacy, and walls, and space to roam, corners to retreat to, and a bed to fall into once the hard part was over.

"Anything could have happened to you," Brian told him once they were in the apartment, "and I would never have forgiven myself." He lowered his head, his words soft-spoken and painful. "I don't know what I'd do if I lost you. I don't know how I'd make it without you," he said and he'd never felt so naked, so exposed.

"You can't protect me from everything."

"I didn't say that I could. All I'm asking is that you think, Justin."

"So I'm not supposed to take chances, to do anything that might get me hurt because it'll hurt you? That's not fair. You lived your life the way you wanted to. But, now, I'm not supposed to live mine?"

And there it was again: the difference between being eighteen and thirty. How could he make Justin understand when he hadn't? When he had risked his life a thousand times over, never thinking about tomorrow, not caring about tomorrow, living only for the moment, for this moment and not a second beyond. But he couldn't do that anymore because he had Gus and Justin and responsibilities. But if he had obligations, so did Justin. "There was this moment, just a split-second, when I turned to see if you were okay, and my heart stopped. You were lying on the floor of the parking garage and the blood had already started pooling beneath your head and I just knew you were dead. And I was lost, Justin. I didn't have any idea what to do next, I just-- Everything went black and I thought, This is how it's gonna be for the rest of my life..." He blinked and the tears rolled down his cheeks. "This horrible darkness."

Justin came to him then and closed his arms around him. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do it. I didn't know what else to do."

"Promise me."

"I promise."

And Brian closed his eyes because he knew better. After all, he was only eighteen.

That thought came to him again as he watched Justin sleep, slipping so easily into a deep slumber. He would never again sleep so easily. Not that he ever had. There'd been too many demons even for the drugs and the sex to completely numb. He knew that it wasn't fair, using their love to blackmail Justin but he didn't know what else to do to convince a teenager that he wasn't indestructible. Having escaped from the attack with relatively minor injuries compared to what could have gone wrong, Justin didn't think for a moment that he wouldn't live forever. But Brian knew that, in reality, forever lasted only as long as it took a person to swing a bat.

God, he thought, when did I get old?

By Wednesday he was ready to kill Justin. Every night it was Xavier this and Xavier that and Brian had had just about enough of it. Breaking into Justin's latest comment, he said, "Here's a suggestion: fuck him and get it over with. I give you my blessing. I'll give you the condoms and the lube. You can use the loft. Anything to get you to shut the fuck up about Xavier."

There was silence on the other end and then the phone clicked.

"Shit." He called back but Justin's cell was off. Then he called Deb's line and Vic answered.

"He's gone."

"Thanks." So Justin had left the house. It was still relatively early, he'd probably gone back to school, to work in the studio for a couple of hours until he calmed down. Maybe go and see-Xavier. Brian held the phone in his hand. What should he do? Well, that was obvious. The real question was: what was he going to do? He laid the phone down and grabbed his jacket.

Twenty minutes later he was wandering the halls of IFA looking for Justin. The teen hadn't been in his studio and Brian didn't know which dorm room Xavier lived in although he supposed he could ask someone. Anyway, he hoped he wasn't with Xavier, hoped he was just walking off the anger and frustration. But the longer he walked, the angrier he got and he was just about to say fuck it and go home when he spotted Trevor Janson.

"Surprised to see you here," the man said.

"Looking for Justin."

"Try his studio?"

"Not there."

"Maybe he's not here."

"You think?"

"Oh," said Trevor knowingly. "It's not a social visit. Still having those differences in opinion?"

Brian rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Got anything to drink around here?"

Turned out Trevor had a bottle of Scotch in his desk drawer. "For emergencies." He poured them two measures each and lifted his glass in a silent toast. Brian raised his briefly and knocked back the liquor. "That bad, huh?"

"He's a teenager."

"And you're not." Brian shot him a look. "Just a statement of fact. But you already knew that. You knew that the moment you met. But it didn't stop you. So why should it now?"

"It's one thing to fuck someone. But to build a life together..." He didn't know why he was telling Trevor these things. They didn't really know one another, had only danced together once. He supposed it was because he couldn't talk to Mikey because Michael was trying to figure out if he and Jeff had a chance at anything other than sex and didn't have time for him and his problem-of-the-week.

"You having second thoughts?"

"And third and fourth. Every day I expect us to just--and every day I pray that it's not today. That I'm given one more day. Just one more." He got up, wanting to leave before he confessed all of his fears to an almost stranger. A stranger whom, under other circumstances, would have been someone he'd like to fuck, maybe even get to know. Christ. "I should go find him."

Trevor stood as well and went to open the door, but something in Brian's eyes made him stop and slide his arm around the man's slender waist and draw him near. Brian didn't resist as their lips came together. They kissed hard, moving towards the desk. With a sweep of his hand, Trevor cleared the top and Brian pressed against it, sat on the edge, and allowed Trevor to ease him onto his back. It was only as Trevor unzipped his jeans that he came to his senses and pushed the sculptor's hands away. "I can't do this."


He got to his feet and zipped his pants. "I can't."

Trevor watched him stagger from the office, cursing his luck, and hoping that he'd get another chance someday. He hadn't imagined it. Brian had wanted him. If only for a moment.

As he turned, Brian opened the door and crossed the floor in two steps, pulled him off his stool and kissed him. The man was half hard already. Trying to catch his tongue as it darted inside his mouth, Justin unzipped Brian's jeans and drew out his cock. Rubbed it through his underwear from balls to tip. Impatient, wanting Justin more than he had thought possible at that moment, Brian pushed down his pants and underwear. Threw off his coat and unbuttoned his shirt. Letting Brian go, Justin stripped as well, Went back to stroking Brian's dick but Brian wanted him now. Digging into his jacket, he found a condom and some lube. With his back against the door, Brian sat on the floor of the studio and encased his cock in latex. Lubed it and held it upright by the base. Justin stood over him, and gripping the doorframe, lowered himself onto the rigid column of flesh. Brian pushed a finger up into him to spread him open and then his cock followed suit. Justin squeezed his eyes shut as Brian's dick forced its way inside. God, he was so tight and Brian was so big, even with the lube he felt like he was being split in two. At last, most of Brian's cock was inside him and he could breathe again. Slowly, he worked his hole up and down his lover's shaft, just a little bit at a time. Slowly, he adjusted until he could take all of Brian inside him without wincing. And then the pain vanished and all he felt was pleasure.

Stretching his arms out behind him and raising up on his feet, Brian thrust his cock up into Justin hard, causing the teen to rise with each motion. Justin moaned and reached down to cup Brian's balls, his fingers brushing over the man's hole. Brian hissed and Justin ran his finger over the wrinkled lips again. "Oh, God," groaned Brian as Justin first wet his finger and then pushed it inside his asshole. His thigh muscles bulged with the task of supporting their combined weight and he didn't know how much longer he could maintain the position but the feel of Justin's finger sliding between his lips made him want to stay like this forever. At last, he felt his legs begin to tremble, and he sat back down on the floor and held on to Justin's hips as the teen fucked his cock. He ran his hands over Justin's torso, feeling the teenager's muscles clench beneath his palms as he kissed his back and shoulders. There was no one better, no one better than his little boy. No one made him feel like this, no one. Screwing up his face, Brian gave a shout and came. Justin continued to ride him through his climax, pressing down and squeezing his hole around Brian's throbbing cock, milking him dry.

His orgasm over, Brian took hold of Justin's meat and stroked him, fingers wet from the generous amount of precum that flowed from the tip. "Oh, God, Brian... Brian..." Justin moaned as his lover's fist flew up and down his shaft, his balls bouncing with each jerk. Brian's hand tightened around the head of his dick and he cried out, feeling his cock expand and spit. Spunk squirted from the tip to land on the floor between their open thighs. He slumped in Brian's arms as the man persisted in stroking him, coaxing the very last drops of cum from his still-swollen cock.

"Pardon me, excuse me," Em said as he whirled by Brian and ducked into the kitchen.

"What's with Julia Child?"

"Jeff's coming over and Emmett said he'd cook dinner. You staying?"

Brian noted that his was a last-minute invitation but he decided to overlook the slight. "I've got stuff to do."

"So what's up?" Michael asked, fluffing one of the many multi-colored pillows thrown on the couch.

"Nothing." Brian always felt like he was inside a funhouse when he came over to Mikey's place: claustrophobic, over-stimulated, and a little nauseous. "Just thought I'd drop by."

"Put out the cinnamon placements and napkins," Em ordered. "We're having curry," as if that explained everything.

" 'kay." Michael paused. "You know, we never see each other anymore."

"We saw each other at breakfast yesterday."

"You know what I mean. We used to talk for hours. Remember that?"

He did. They had. About everything.

"I guess it's like you said: we can't spend our entire fucking lives together," Michael commented, checking to see if the dimmer switch worked on the lamp by the sofa.

Brian remembered telling him that, as they'd sat together in the steam room at the gym, angry because he knew Deb would blame him for Michael and David breaking up, cause maybe it was his fault, and he hadn't been looking forward to the lecture he'd get from her and Lindsay and everybody else. So he'd said that hurtful thing to Michael, not really meaning it, the way he had said so many things. Now he swallowed the hurt and agreed. "I guess." Stood. "I gotta go."

"Everything okay?" Michael asked, genuine concern in his voice.

"Couldn't be better."

Emmett peeped out of the kitchen. "Would you get the placemats out already?"

Closing the door, he looked around the loft. With its muted colors and tasteful furniture, it could have been a featured apartment in Architectural Digest. Understated, elegant, and spacious. So much space... Enough for thoughts to get lost in: he was forever finding pieces of himself lying around in odd places, odd reminders of ideas he'd once had, grandiose plans. So much space...

And silence. Sitting cross-legged in the middle of his bed, he could hear himself breathe in the quiet. In the silence that refused to be filled by either the stereo or the television. And then the phone rang. "Yeah." He paused and stretched out on the bed. "Hey, baby..."

Justin was just putting away the last of his laundry when Deb called him. "Sunshine!" What was she screaming about? he wondered. He and Brian had made up but they still weren't back to where they'd been before the Kip revelation and that quiet storm that had blown up so suddenly on Wednesday was a reminder that things were still a little strained between them. The last thing he wanted was to have to deal with whatever it was Deb wanted. What he wanted was to put away his stuff and hit the studio for a couple of hours and then call Brian to see if he should come over tonight or wait until tomorrow. But, dutifully, he jogged downstairs to see what Deb wanted and stopped on the bottom step. A guy stood in the living room with a suit bag over his arm. He was also holding a bouquet of miniature white Calla lilies and a small box containing what Justin supposed was a boutonniere. Deb looked up at Justin. "It's for you."

"For me?" He stepped down from the staircase into the living room.

"For you, sir," said the man, handing Justin first the flowers, then the suit bag. Then an envelope.

Deb looked from Justin's face to the letter. "Well? Don't just stand there like Hillary Clinton at a bake sale, open it up."

Handing her the flowers, he unsealed the envelope. Read it.

"Out loud," she prompted.

"Mr. Justin Taylor, your presence is requested at seven o'clock sharp for an evening of fine dining, dancing, and romance at the home of Mr. Brian Kinney. Please RSVP." He looked up, eyes glittering.

"Well, RSVP already," urged Deb.

"Oh." He turned to the delivery man and dug in his pocket for a tip.

"It's all right, sir. And your answer, sir?"

"He'll be there even if I have to carry him myself." She added, "On my back."

Smiling helplessly, Justin replied, "Tell him yes. I'll be there." As Deb showed the delivery guy to the door, Justin opened the suit bag. Inside was a tuxedo. Checked the label the way Brian had taught him. A Perry Ellis black tuxedo with a midnight blue vest and tie. Running his hand over the silky material, Justin couldn't believe his eyes. Couldn't believe what had just happened. Was going to happen. Brian still loved him. Hadn't forgotten him.

As she returned to put the flowers in some water, she patted him on the arm. "You'd better go get ready. It'll be seven soon. And you know how Brian hates to wait."

At seven sharp he walked through the door of the loft. Wearing the boutonniere on his lapel. Instead of combing his hair back, he'd left it as he normally wore it, bangs over his forehead. It made him look boyish. Which Brian had told him on many occasions was a good thing. "My little boy," he'd say and kiss him passionately.

Brian was at the table, pouring two glasses of champagne. He looked amazing in an Armani tuxedo that was the twin of the one Russell Crowe had worn to the Oscars, with an Edwardian-style, knee-length jacket and a simple black ribbon around his collar. Justin imagined tugging on the end of the ribbon and watching it unknot. The thought made his mouth water. As if he'd been privy to his lover's thoughts, Brian carried the flutes of champagne over to where Justin stood and handed him one. "To us," he said softly, lips full and rosy.

"To us." They took a sip of the champagne, then set the glasses aside.

Brian reached for the remote and switched on the stereo. Slipped his arm around Justin's waist. The teen moved in closer and took his hand as the music began.

Accompanied only by a piano, the singer's voice guided them slowly across the floor. Instead of putting out votives, Brian had strung tiny white lights throughout the apartment, so that it seemed as if all of the sky could be found in the loft. Looking over Brian's shoulder at the real stars, Justin found that he preferred the ones inside the apartment. And then Brian smiled and he lost all interest in celestial phenomena, real or artificial. I want to give my all.../ Baby, just hold me/ Simply control me/ Because your arms/ They keep away the lonelies... He could hardly breathe, listening to the words of the song, Brian's words. How could he have ever believed that Brian had tired of him, that he had something to fear from his relationship with Michael or anyone else for that matter? Cause I never felt this way about lovin'/ Never felt so good/ Baby, never felt this way about lovin'/ It feels so good.

Lowering his head, Brian pressed his lips gently against Justin's and felt the teen's fingers slide around his neck. By the time they parted, they were both breathing a little faster and his collar was unbuttoned and slightly askew. Fixing it, he smiled. "Maybe we should eat."

Justin couldn't take his eyes off his lips, a delicate shade of raspberry and swollen ever so slightly, like perfectly ripe fruit.


"Yeah." He agreed. To what, he had no idea. But he followed Brian to the table and sat while the older man went into the kitchen and returned with appetizers. Seeing them, he asked, "Another free ad for your friend?"

"Yep. The last one's up for an award."

"You're kidding?"

Brian placed two plates of Bruschetta with spinach, black olives, fresh tomato, and Sicilian ricotta on the table. "There are two things I never kid about: menswear and advertising." He sat across from Justin. "Everything else is fair game."

Over appetizers they reminisced about the meal they'd had the night they'd first made love and, of course, that led to a discussion about the first meal they'd ever had together: the jambalaya Justin had fixed after he'd moved in with Brian.

"It wasn't bad," Brian conceded. "But you're a much better cook now."

"I was kind of nervous," Justin admitted. "I wanted everything to be perfect and it turned out to be a complete disaster."

With a grimace, Brian confessed, "I guess I had something to do with that."

Justin snickered. "Something to do with it? That's a vast understatement." He cocked his head. "I wonder what happened to that guy?"

Shrugging, Brian said, "Never thought about it. I guess he went back to Atlanta."

"Do you ever think about what would have happened if I hadn't come looking for you at Babylon that night after we first met?" Justin asked, not looking directly at Brian. "If I had listened to you and forgot about you?"

"I used to," Brian said. "Especially when I was pissed off at you." He chuckled and shook his head. "But not anymore," he added softly and Justin reached across the table and took his hand. They sat like that, just holding hands and stealing glances at one another across the candlelight, and then Brian smiled ruefully and pulled free. "I think dinner's ready."

Heart racing a little, he was glad of the opportunity to escape for a moment. Taking the salmon from the oven where it had been cooking, he plated the fish and spooned the pine nut and scallion butter over it. Removed the green beans from the steamer and arranged them tastefully.

"You want some help?"

"I got it."

Justin pronounced the fish to be perfectly cooked and Brian took a little bow from his seat although he admitted that Tony's directions had been explicit and he'd followed them to the letter.

"Did you get Cynthia to help you this time?" he asked, taking in the pale tapers and the White Anthurium centerpiece that graced the table. The last time they'd had a romantic dinner, Brian's secretary had picked out the flowers and the music.

"I did it all." Smiled and held out his hands, indicating the decorations. "Well?"

The light from the candles flickered over his face, illuminating his smile, and Justin replied, "It's perfect."

As they finished dinner, Brian asked, "Dessert?"

Justin shook his head. "Dance with me."

So they danced, Justin's head on Brian's shoulder, enjoying the music, not needing to talk or to look into one another's eyes, the mere fact that they were together enough to satisfy them. And then Brian tilted Justin's face upwards and kissed him. "I love you." Justin ran his fingers through the fine hair at the nape of Brian's neck and urged him to kiss him again, which he did. Lips pressed to the side of Justin's mouth, Brian whispered fiercely, "I love you."

"I love you."

Drawing away, Brian held Justin's face in his hands and brushed his finger over his lips.

"What?" asked Justin.

"I..." He closed his eyes momentarily then opened them, looked into Justin's eyes. "I want you..."

"I'm here," said Justin and he touched his face to reassure him that he was right there.

"I want you to come and live with me."

Holy shit... Justin swallowed, "I thought--"

"I want you to live with me. And it's not because I'm afraid of losing you or because I think I can protect you. It's because I love you." And he said it again. "I love you. And I want you with me. I want to fall asleep with your arm around me and I want to wake up with you next to me. And I don't care that you're in school--you can have your twinkie friends over for study groups, I don't care. And I don't care if you're at work or in your studio six nights a week until midnight. I'll wait. And I won't complain." Justin laughed, breaking the tension. "Much," amended Brian. "But I can deal with all of that. As long as I have you with me, I can deal with it."

Throat constricted, Justin forced himself to ask, "You think you can deal with having my stuff in your space?"

Brian took him by the hand and led him to the bedroom and opened the bottom two compartments in the chest where Justin's things already occupied the top three drawers. They were empty. He opened the storage cabinet closest to the chest of drawers. It too was empty. Gestured at the closet. "Go look." Justin checked. Brian had made room in there as well. "And in the bathroom. And the kitchen. And at my desk, and in the bookcase, and the TV cabinet--" Justin rushed back to him and Brian took him in his arms, held him tight. He could feel Justin's heart racing. Or maybe it was his own. He didn't know anymore. "Think that's enough?" he asked, suddenly afraid that Justin would say, 'No,' and he didn't have any idea how he would go on from this moment if he did. But Justin smiled so brightly there was no need of any other illumination in the room and he dared to hope. "Does that mean yes?"

"Yes," Justin replied softly. He laughed and wiped his eyes.



Brian kissed his cheeks, wetting his lips with Justin's tears. "We'll have to do something about that."

It was like coming together for the first time, in this apartment that was suddenly their home, in a bed that was suddenly their bed. Nothing had changed and, yet, everything had.

Slipping off their shoes and jackets, they moved into one another's arms again, as if they couldn't bear to be apart for longer than a few seconds. Justin took hold of one of the ends of Brian's ribbon tie and pulled. It came loose as he had imagined it would. "Put it somewhere safe," Brian told him. "We might need it later."

Justin eased his lover's shirt from his shoulders, having slowly undone all of the buttons, gradually revealing his smooth chest and firm belly. He ran his hand over Brian's skin and marveled at its softness in contrast to the hard muscle beneath. "I love touching you," he told him.

In between long, leisurely kisses, they shed their clothes. No rush, no hurry. Guided by the teen's soft sighs, Brian explored every inch of Justin's body, rediscovering hidden pleasures. "You're so beautiful," he whispered as his tongue traveled along Justin's inner thigh and Justin drew him up for another kiss, lingering about his lips and chin, his neck and throat. "My beautiful baby..."

Turning Brian over onto his belly, Justin brushed his lips across his shoulders, down his spine, between his buttocks, along the backs of his thighs, in the hollow behind his knees, over his calves, and around his ankles. Miles and miles of man and all his.

Brian rolled onto his back and pulled Justin atop him. And they kissed, bodies fit so tightly together that it was almost impossible to tell where one left off and the other began. Raising his leg, Brian hooked his heel behind Justin's thigh and ground his groin against the teen's. They were both so hard. Justin spread his legs and supported himself on his hands, worked his stiff cock against Brian's. Arched his back, his hip muscles flexed, round and high. Brian cupped his buttocks, palms tickled by the fine blond hairs that covered them.

They'd both begun to leak, bellies and groins streaked with sticky liquid. Wanting to slow it down a little, they parted, lay breathing heavily next to one another. When their chests had stopped rising as quickly, they came together again and Justin encircled Brian's cock with his hand. Stroked him as they kissed, spreading precum along the length of him. Pulling away, Justin began to move towards Brian's groin. Brian reached for a condom to hand him and Justin shook his head.


"I trust you." He lowered his head and licked a bead of precum from the tip of Brian's penis. Heard his lover sigh. Again his tongue snaked from between his lips. Over and over he lapped the swollen head until he hungered for more. He kissed the tip, feeling for the opening with his tongue.

"Oh!" cried Brian, digging his fingers into Justin's hair.

The teen slowly opened his lips around the head of Brian's cock and listened as the man panted, held him down as he inched his way over the bulbous cap, down the rigid shaft, down to the base where his lips were tickled by his lover's lush, brown bush.

His entire body tingled as his baby sucked him off. His asshole tensed each time Justin reached either end of his course.

With ease, Justin slid up and down his shaft, aided not only by his own saliva but also by the copious amount of precum that flowed from his man's cock. Releasing Brian, Justin rubbed his hard-on against his cheeks, his lips, his chin until they shone.

"Oh, baby..."

Justin moved, knelt astride Brian's chest. Pressed down on his erection. A strand of precum stretched from the tip of his penis. Brian opened his mouth and caught it on his tongue. Pulled Justin closer and closed his lips around the cap of his cock. The teen moaned as Brian drew him in deeper and deeper, tongue swirling about the sensitive area sending ripples of pleasure outwards from Justin's groin. Switching positions, Justin laying on his back and Brian crouching between his legs, the two lovers descending deeper into the depths of pleasure until Justin's moans echoed throughout the apartment. And the more he moaned, the harder Brian worked to make him moan even louder until there was no corner of the loft which was not filled with the sound.

Justin slipped from between his lips. Giving the head a final kiss, Brian lifted the teen's legs onto his shoulders. Placed the moist tip of his cock against Justin's hole. Rubbed the wrinkled lips until they were coated with precum. Pushed and felt Justin give. The teenager gasped and gripped the back of Brian's neck as the man leaned over him. Again, Brian pushed and Justin opened wider. "Oh, God!" he shouted and Brian paused. "Don't, don't--I want it. I want..." Brian kissed him hard and pushed even harder. Justin cried out and Brian slid all the way in. Moisture ran from the corner of Justin's eye. Chest heaving, he whispered, "Yes, yes, yes..." as if assuring himself that he had taken him all. But he could feel Brian, from the tip of his cock to the base, filling him up. Trembling, he prepared himself for the inevitable withdrawal.

Slowly, Brian retreated, his cock slithering along the tight tunnel of Justin's asshole, still dripping precum, providing further lubrication so that the next foray might be less traumatic. Soon, after a couple more strokes, he was gliding in and out with ease and Justin was writhing beneath him in ecstasy instead of pain. God, Justin's hole was so hot, so tight, so good to be in, to poke, to prod, to fuck. The boy's muscles gripped him as he tried to withdraw, like a fist around his cock, pumping him. As they moved, he could feel Justin's cock against his belly, hard, wet, the head sliding through the precum and sweat on his skin. "Don't come yet," he said and Justin grabbed his dick and pressed down on the spot just at the base of his cock. But it was hard, so hard not to come, not to pull on his dick and release the spunk that had built up in his balls.

"I wanna come," he whispered.

"Not yet. I want to taste you," Brian told him and Justin groaned and kept up the pressure. Knowing that it wouldn't be much longer before Justin reached the point where he couldn't hold back, Brian increased the intensity of his strokes, increased the frequency with which he thrust. It was like a furnace inside of Justin and Brian wanted to be immolated in his heat. Burying his cock in the teen's ass, Brian grunted, his teeth clenched, and shuddered.

Although he couldn't feel Brian's cum splashing against the walls of his hole, he did feel his cock expand, filling every empty space inside him. He felt it throb and swell, felt Brian's balls press against his ass. And then Brian lowered his head, mouth open, breathing hard. Justin kissed the side of his face, tasting his sweat.

Sliding free of Justin, Brian moved down the bed until his head was between his lover's thighs. Holding them in his hands, he licked Justin's hole, dripping wet with cum, with his cum. Cum that had spilled over the edges of the boy's gaping lips. Cum that ran down between his cheeks. He licked Justin clean, listening to the tiny cries the teenager gave, and then he went down on him again.

Cock sliding over Brian's tongue, asshole still tingling from its bath and from being fucked, Justin grabbed handfuls of the sheet in his fists. Arched his back and fought not to scream but it was so hard because he was so hard and Brian was furiously sucking him, his cheeks hollowed, applying as much pressure as he could. And he could still feel Brian inside him, still feel his dick pounding his ass, still feel his tongue slipping into his open hole to lap up that last bit of cum. Tendons in his neck and the backs of his thighs like iron, Justin gave a shout and came in Brian's mouth.

Sweet juice struck the back of his mouth and dripped down his throat. Swallowing as best he could around Justin's cock, Brian gave him another hard suck and was rewarded with yet another slitful of thick, pearly jizm. Moaning around the teen's dick, Brian licked the pulsating shaft and waited for the next spasm to deposit more spunk in his mouth. Brian released him and licked around the head of his cock. A last few drops surged from the opening and ran over the head to hang from the edge. Spreading his lips over the tip, Brian lapped it up.

His vision hazy, Justin watched as cum trickled from the corner of his lover's mouth. Absurdly, as if it were a mystery to unravel, he wondered whose. It might have been his, or Brian's, or a combination of the two. He didn't know. Then Brian kissed him, smearing their faces, their lips, passing it from his tongue to Justin's, and it no longer mattered, if it ever did.

In the silence that had come with the passage of midnight, Brian could hear himself and Justin breathe and the sound gently rocked him to sleep.

Daphne and Justin sat next to the pool in the backyard of her parents' house. It felt kind of strange to be in the old neighborhood, to see the house and know that it belonged to someone else now, that his old room was someone else's new room. And then he remembered that he had a new room, his and Brian's room in his and Brian's apartment, their home, and he smiled to himself, not wanting to tell Daphne, not just yet. Better to wait and see how things went f irst.

"I missed you yesterday," she said finally, after they had sat a while.

Justin had opted not to hang out with her and Xavier and Rennie yesterday and had, instead, stayed with Brian and made love all day. Which he didn't mind at all. Still, he pretended to have been miffed and said in a bitchy tone, "I'm surprised you even noticed."

"Now you know how I felt about you and Brian."

She had a point. "I guess. So how was it?"

"How was what?"

He couldn't believe she was playing coy. "Rennie told me."

Her face went red. "He told Rennie?"

"He tells her everything." Justin paused. "Kind of way you used to tell me stuff."

"I still do."

"Not this."

She didn't try to deny it. "It's just that--well, Xavier told me you'd been acting kind of weird about us. So I figured maybe you didn't want to know."

If she were going to be honest, so would he. "Maybe."

"You're like part of this couple now and I guess I wanted to be part of something too. Like we used to be."

As he listened to her and remembered how he'd felt when he thought he'd been replaced, he began to understand how Brian must have felt when Michael and David first got together. Angry and sad and a little afraid. "We'll always be best friends, no matter what," he said and he wondered how many times Michael had said that to Brian. "I guess I was a little upset cause you were spending time with Xavier and calling him and not calling me."

She smiled softly. "Friends?"

"Friends." Leaning over, he kissed her shyly on the cheek then smiled. "So how was it?"

"I don't know."

"What do you mean you don't know?"

"Well... It was okay."

"But what? Wasn't he any good?"

"I guess but... It didn't seem like he really wanted to be with me."

"I don't get it. Why would he ask you if he didn't want you?"

"I kind of asked him." She ducked her head.

"What is with you asking guys to sleep with you?" Of course, he conveniently forgot how he had pursued Brian shamelessly.

"You gotta go after what you want."

"You sound like Brian."

She beamed. "I do. Anyway, it's funny cause being with Xavier was sorta like being with you."

"With me?"

"Yeah. I mean, you were good and all but I could tell you didn't want to be with me. Not really. That what you really wanted was to be with Brian."

Totally confused, Justin asked, "You think Xavier wants to be with Rennie?"

Daphne gave him a look like he was the world's biggest idiot. "No. I think Xavier wants to be with you."

Knocking first, Justin pushed open the door to Xavier's studio. Saw his friend squatting down examining the base of what would eventually become his new piece. "You're here."

Xavier ran his hand over the wood, then reached for a piece of chalk and scribbled a couple of cryptic notes on the surface. "Yeah."

Although Xavier seemed busy, he hadn't asked him to leave so Justin took a seat. "Saw Daphne."


"And she's gone back to Princeton." He watched his friend carefully for any hints as to how he felt about her leaving.


"She said you guys decided not to go out anymore."

Xavier stood and faced Justin. "What else did she tell you?"

He chuckled. "A lot of stuff. She talks... You know."

The other teen grinned. "Yeah, she does."

Although it felt good to see Xavier smile and as much as he longed for things to go back to the way they had been, he couldn't leave things as they stood, especially with Daphne's comments lurking between them. So he took the plunge. "She told me she thinks you're gay." He waited, preparing for the worst. But Xavier just laid his chalk on the table.

"I'm not."

Only there was something about the way he didn't look at Justin that convinced him that there was more to it. He asked, "You ever sleep with a girl before Daphne?"


Justin studied Xavier's face, noting the strong features, the broad nostrils and forehead, the high cheekbones and full lips. Nowhere in his face did it say 'Liar,' and Justin believed him. Only, he wasn't foolish enough to leave it at that so he asked, "Have you ever slept with a guy?" Xavier lowered his eyes and didn't answer. "Xavier?" Justin stood and walked closer to him, close enough to see the faint rose color in his cheeks. "Have you?"

And Xavier looked at Justin, his warm brown eyes shiny. "Yeah." His chest rose and fell. "I have."

"Never Felt This Way" written by Brian McKnight, published by Cancelled Lunch Music/Universal Polygram International Publishing Inc. (ASCAP); performed by Alicia Keys from the album Songs in A Minor, J-Records, 2001.

Heels Over Head | Stories