For me on the occasion of my birthday. Pardon any inaccuracies as my season 2 tape got chewed by the VCR and I had to do some of it from memory.

And down your streets I've walked alone,
As if my feet were not my own
Such is the path I chose, doors I have opened and closed
I'm tired of living this life,
Fooling myself, believing we're right, when...
I've never given love
With any Conviction of the Heart

Two boys tossing a baseball. Having returned to the loft, he concentrated on that image instead of his conversation with Jennifer. If you could call it a conversation. More like a monologue. He'd only said one thing: "I care about him," and it scared him even now that he'd said it out loud to another person. Still, it hadn't changed anything. She'd been adamant about him leaving Justin alone. Christ, six months ago he'd have agreed with her, been glad to get rid of the kid. Well, maybe not glad but he could have done it. Knocking back a shot of bourbon, an unwelcome thought popped into his head: Now, I'm not so sure if I can.

To hold Justin again had felt like coming home after a long, hard day at work and finding. . . Justin there with dinner prepared and the sheets turned back. Squeezing his eyes shut, he pushed the idea from his mind. There was no point. He'd given his word. Or as good as given it. He'd handed her the ball he and Justin had been working with and, with that gesture, had returned her son. He'd been over there helping the teen with his exercises to rebuild the strength in his hand, increase the range of motion. Fuckin' Hobbs. Crouching on the cement over Justin, his ability to draw had been the last thing on Brian's mind but now, now he mourned that as well and was doubly glad of the drawing he'd purchased at the art show.

Leaving his glass upon the counter, Brian got the drawing from deep within his closet and sat on the bed studying it. Did he really look like that when he was asleep? And how many of the other countless men he'd been with had ever bothered to look at him while he slept? Probably none of them. After all, what was the point? They were there to fuck and once that was done, he didn't bother to talk to them, to find out if they wanted anything else from him, it didn't matter because that- - the fucking- - was all he had to offer.

Except when it came to Justin. Truthfully, he would have treated him the same as well. If he'd had his way about things. But Justin hadn't given him that option. The teen had demanded a place in his life and little by little, small victory by tiny concession, he'd forced Brian to make room for him. And then Chris Hobbs had threatened to destroy everything. And he'd let him.

He laid the drawing on the comforter because his hands were shaking. Trembling, he unbuttoned his shirt and removed the bloodied scarf from around his neck. He'd been unable to put it aside. Again. Every morning when he dressed he studiously avoided looking for the scarf, which hung from a place of shame amongst his clothes, purposely avoided looking in its direction, yet every morning it found its way next to his skin. It had ceased to smell yet the stench of fresh blood would always be with him. The stains had darkened and browned, more gravy than grave injury about them and yet, to him, the tell-tale markings were always bright vermilion. But worse, he could smell Justin on the scarf, the scent of the cologne he'd worn woven in the silk strands. And worse still, he could see Justin in his mind, turning and smiling, the scarf lying on the lapels of his jacket. He'd shone like the sun. . .

Tears crawled down his cheeks as he waited. It was always the same. First the kiss, then the smile, and then the sound of the bat striking Justin's temple. And lastly, the sound of his voice calling to the teenager. Too late. Always too late.

He knew. Before he heard the boy's voice, he knew Justin was at the door. And his heart started beating so fast he had to wait a moment before answering. Opened the door and waited, not saying anything, not trusting himself to say anything. Would he do it? Could he? Already he felt his resolve weakening and then Justin gave him an opening, saying, "I'm glad it's you."

Why he'd said it, Brian didn't know but that was the opportunity he needed. Coldly, he replied, "Who else would it be?" And as Justin started to push past him, he placed his hand on the teenager's chest and moved him back. "Where are you going?"


"Did I say you could?" And still Justin didn't get it, still thought it was just a game, that Brian was teasing him until he said, in answer to Justin's question about being with someone, "None of your fuckin' business. Now go away." Even then he faltered, pausing to look at the younger man's face one last time before closing the door on whatever it was that they had built between them. He could hear Justin asking why and slapping the door with his good hand and he almost opened it again, almost said fuck it, tired of doing what other people wanted, tired- - of missing Justin. But he didn't. And Justin left. Angry, hurt, confused by his actions no doubt. He laid his head against the cool metal and listened to the teen's footsteps grow faint. Pushing away from the doorway, he began to change.

The guy following him to the bedroom would ordinarily have been just what he needed. But not this time. This time he knew what he wanted, what he needed, and this trick wasn't it. But he'd summoned him and he was here so what the hell?

Lying on his back, a warm mouth around his cock, he fought to forget, to clear his mind of everything but all he could think of, could feel, was Justin in his arms, his bed, his life. He wanted to push the man's head away but didn't. Didn't want a scene. It'd be easier just to fuck him and send him on his way. Only his dick wasn't cooperating. Was refusing to get hard. So he closed his eyes and imagined that it was Justin going down on him. After a while, the guy whispered, "Yeah," as he began to stiffen. Running his hands over the man's head, he felt Justin's hair. Turned his face to the pillow and smelled Justin on the sheets even though they'd been washed a dozen times since they'd last lain together.

Ready at last, he handed the guy a condom and the tube of KY and waited for him to climb aboard. Hoped he wasn't looking for anything more vigorous because he didn't feel like it, didn't care. He just wanted the guy to come so he could get the fuck out of there. Didn't even care if he got off himself, he just wanted to be alone. But the body took over and he found himself responding to the guy's movements, to his muscles tightening around him, to his moaning which was similar enough to Justin's to cause his pulse to quicken. He opened his eyes, fully expecting to see Justin above him. Disappointment as keen as his switchblade cut through his gut.

The trick grunted and clamped down on his dick, jerked on his own cock and splattered Brian's chest. Slumped a little as he caught his breath, then, rather unenthusiastically, started writhing on top of Brian once more. Wanting to tell him not to bother, Brian said nothing and limped towards his own orgasm. As soon as the man got off of him, he turned wearily and removed the condom. Why the fuck had he emailed the guy? He should have never fuckin' gone online. Should have never done a lot of things. Should have never promised to go over to Jennifer's condo. Never gone to the fuckin' hospital. Never talked to that fuckin' nurse. Never gone to the fuckin' prom with Justin. . . But he couldn't stop there, he'd have to go all the way back to the beginning if he wanted to save himself from this moment because there had been no other point in time, except for their initial meeting, when he could have averted all of this. He'd been lost the instant he'd said, "I can change that," and hadn't even known it.

The guy spoke as he dressed. "You ever seen Citizen Kane?"

"Yeah." Reached for his cigarettes. A talker. Fuck and double fuck.

"All my life, all I've ever heard is how it's the greatest fuckin' movie ever made. So I finally rented it."

He scented blood. His own. So this little asshole was going to try and shred him. Well, let him try. He'd been ripped apart by the best: Debbie Novotny, and next to her, some punk was nothing. "Maybe you were expecting too much," he replied to the guy's complaints about the film, fully aware of where he was heading before his twinky ass ever formed the thought.

"Like with you." He paused dramatically, unaware that his thunder had been stolen. "All I've ever heard is how Brian Kinney is the greatest fuck ever. If you ask me, you're both highly overrated."

"Everybody's a critic," he answered around his cigarette. Stood to show the shithead the door. Fuck him. If he thought Brian gave a shit what he thought about his performance, he was sadly mistaken. Out of the thousands of guys he'd fucked, what did he care what any one of them thought? Except- - No. He had to forget Justin. There was no point. It was over. It was for the best. He wasn't any good for Justin, hadn't been able to save him, hadn't done anything right. He didn't deserve to be with Justin. What he deserved was this: being dissed by some little asshole. Welcome to the future. Still, he couldn't let anyone think they'd gotten the best of him. Before he opened the door to kick his ass out, Brian suggested, "Next time maybe you should rent Butthole Boys. I gave it two thumbs up," he smirked and threw open the door.

Fuck. Jennifer Taylor. The only good thing about her showing up was the way she looked away instead of directly at him. Like she'd never seen a naked man before.

"I came at the wrong time," she muttered.

"You two have that in common," he replied and turned to go find his jeans, not bothering to see what the trick did. Or Jennifer. She asked to come in and he didn't stop her. Uncomfortable being in his place, she made some meaningless comments about the loft and he replied, not giving a shit, just wanting to find something to eat. He hadn't eaten any dinner and was starving. Unfortunately, the fridge was a little bare so tonight dinner was going to be a peanut butter and avocado sandwich. He could feel her watching him and needed to say something, even something as stupid as, "He's not here." Of course he wasn't there. That was blatantly obvious. And then she started rambling on about Justin and needing a favor and by the time she'd finished telling him what she wanted he was angry. What the fuck kind of nerve did she have coming to him and asking him for a favor? He heard himself answering her but didn't really pay any attention to what she was blathering about until she said, "The worse part is standing there, helpless. Do you have any idea what that feels like?"

He wanted to scream. He wanted to kick her out. Did he know how that felt? He had nightmares about that. Waking dreams that were always with him. How many times would he run through that goddamn parking garage? Sometimes he saw himself running in slow motion, barely moving but moving, as it were, away from Justin instead of towards him. Moving farther and farther into the distance but never so far away that he couldn't see Hobbs hit Justin or hear it. But he told her none of this. What business was it of hers? He'd deal with his demons in his own way. So all he said was, "What would you like me to do?" clearly angry.

"Touch him. Help him to be touched."

He almost wept then. But he asked instead, "You want me to fuck him?" finding little pleasure in the way she flinched.

"You're the one he trusts. If that's what it takes."

Her answer did little to assuage his anger and he challenged her again. "I thought you never wanted me to see him again?"

"I don't."

At least she was honest.

"But if I ever want to see my son even remotely resemble the person he was, I don't have a choice."

For all of the anger he felt towards her, he also understood why she'd done what she had. Both times.

Once she'd gone, unanswered, he finished making his sandwich although his appetite had fled. Ate it even though it seemed tasteless to him. She wanted him to take Justin in and help him to recover. He didn't know if he could do it, be faced with his failure every day. To have to see Justin struggle with the aftereffects of the attack, to watch him maneuver around with one good hand, succumbing to bouts of rage and helplessness. . . To learn to deal with someone who was no longer the Justin he'd known, not exactly, but who still looked like Justin, sounded like Justin. . . Clawing his hands through his hair, he clenched his jaw.

It's your fault. So you deal with it.

He got his first taste of what it would be like when he picked Justin up to take him and his stuff to the loft. Listening to the teenager gloat about the decision had shown him more than any related tales of Jennifer's just how much he had changed. Although Justin had been younger than the rest of them, in many ways he'd been a lot more mature. Sure, there'd been times when he'd acted like a normal teenager, when faced with something new or exciting, but he'd always seemed much older than his eighteen years. And despite having resolved to himself to be patient with the youth, he found himself saying, "Would you shut up?" Understandably, Justin was a little put out and asked him why. "Because I said so. And because you sound like an immature brat." Least he hadn't cursed.

"Maybe I am," Justin replied smugly.

As he paused at a stop sign, he said, "Then you can get your ass out and walk home. Right now." Even though he kept his voice relatively calm and carefree, he hoped Justin took the hint.

"What's the matter with you?"

"She was trying to do the right thing," he admitted. "You don't know how lucky you are to have a mother like that." Instead of a cold, uncaring bitch like Joanie. Try growing up with the fuckin' Irish Ice Princess for a mom.

"Well, now I get to stay with you. Yee ha."

Brian didn't even look over at him. Yee ha? "Just until you get better," he clarified.

"There's nothing wrong with me. Except for my gimp hand." Justin's featured darkened. "Fuckin' Hobbs."

"Just don't think about it, all right." He knew he didn't want to.

"Why are you doing this?" Justin asked, the first glow of excitement having been dimmed a little.

"What?" he asked, trying to lighten the moment, to drag himself out of the doldrums. "Driving with no hands?" and he held his hands up playfully before placing them back on the steering wheel.

"No, why are you letting me stay with you?"

Why did Justin have to understand everything? "What do you care?" he asked. "It's what you want, isn't it?" Implying that he didn't want to do it when everyone knew that he didn't do anything he didn't want to do.

Of course, Justin knew it too and he smiled once more, the glow having returned. "I know. It's because you love me. Madly, deeply, passionately. . . just like I always suspected."

Brian said nothing, just parked the car and grabbed one of Justin's bags from the back, wondering how long it'd take for his houseguest to heal.

Even though it looked like he was reading a magazine, in reality, he was trying to figure out what the fuck he was going to do. Justin, outside of a few quirky moments and his hand, seemed fine. He hadn't tried to kiss Brian or touch him much but he didn't seem uncomfortable around him. Well, he'd see. If Justin ever came out of the goddamn bathroom. He looked up as the teenager approached the bed and drew back the covers. Slipped beneath them and prepared to settle down in the outer reaches of Mongolia. "What are you doing all the way over there?" Brian asked. "Come closer." He positioned some pillows and waited for Justin to slide over. "You want to take off some of the clothes?" Smiled. "You might get overheated." Justin smiled in return and together they got the shirt off. He moved even closer and eased the teen's shorts down around his ankles before leaning in and kissing him. Looked into his eyes for a long moment. Justin seemed okay. A little hesitant but he'd let him touch him. Maybe it'd be all right. Maybe all he needed was a good fuck. "Roll over," he whispered and Justin complied. Brian reached for a condom and put it on, squeezed lube over his cock. It amazed him how just being with Justin had gotten him hard. He knelt over Justin and spread his legs with his knee, placed a hand on his buttock and positioned his cock at the opening of Justin's ass. Kissed the teen between his shoulder blades. Then pushed. He was tight, tighter than usual but that was to be expected, it had been a while, but what he hadn't anticipated was Justin pulling away.

"No. Don't- - don't." Justin lowered his face. "I can't." Moved away.

Brian lay on his belly, willing his erection to subside. Rubbed his face and then scooted over to where Justin sat on the edge of the bed. Not sure if he should, he gently patted the teen's shoulder. "It's okay," he said.

"It's not okay." Justin covered his face and Brian didn't know what to do. Maybe the best thing to do would be to give him some privacy for a while.

Leaving the teen in bed, Brian dressed. Justin didn't even ask him where he was going and the man supposed he just wanted to be alone in his misery. But as he was about to exit the loft, he turned and saw Justin still sitting where he'd left him, body shaking. Crying. "I- -" he began and then he realized that he didn't know what he was about to say. He didn't know what to say.

He needed help.

On one of his countless trips to the baths he'd met Dr. Alex Wilder. Been thrown by the color of his hair, expecting an older man having seen him from behind, and confused by the youthful body, then pleasantly surprised when he'd turned around and Brian had seen that, while he wasn't exactly a twinky, he was still kinda hot. He'd been interested but busy at the moment and he'd asked about him, found out who he was, that he was a shrink, and filed the information away in the rolodex in his head. They never had hooked up but over time they'd become acquaintances, having done some of the same guys. So when his problem with Justin seemed to be more than he could handle, he hunted him up.

Woody's was filled to the brim but they managed to find a spot and Alex laid it out for him, that he'd have to get Justin to remember the attack so that the teen could move on. It seemed like a bunch of horseshit but he was desperate, willing to try anything. "Are you shitting me?"

"Until he can process it," Alex explained, "move beyond it, he's always going to feel isolated, unhappy, alone. Not just the walking wounded. The walking dead."

As always, Brian resorted to a joke to cover his feelings. "You're very eloquent when I'm drunk," he told Alex, although, in truth, he wasn't as drunk as he'd like to be. He still had to return home. To Justin.

Finishing off his drink, the shrink said, "I'm afraid our time is up."

"How much do I owe you?"

Alex came around to his side of the table and leaned in close. "I'll take it out in trade. Next time I see you at the baths."

Brian grinned and then, as soon as Wilder had moved away, turned his mind almost immediately to Justin.

All the way home he pondered what Alex had advised. Getting Justin to confront the past meant facing it himself. Facing that moment in the parking garage. Not Chris Hobbs striking Justin, although that was hard too- -no, it meant remembering the kiss they'd shared by the Jeep and all that it had meant, all of the feelings it had engendered in him. Feelings he'd suppressed and put aside, telling himself that it didn't matter because Justin didn't remember, Justin didn't know what had happened, had abandoned him. Albeit involuntarily, he'd still left him alone with all of these feelings inside him. And if Justin did remember, then what? What would it mean for there to suddenly be a them, an us? And if Justin didn't, how could he continue like this? It was as if that kiss never happened, except that he remembered, he couldn't forget. No matter how hard he tried.

Easing the door open, he closed it behind him and locked it. Shut off the lights Justin had left on for him. Found the teenager fast asleep. Maybe he'd taken something. Not wanting to disturb him, Brian stretched out on the couch. It didn't matter. He wouldn't sleep anyway.

Hating to admit that he needed help doing anything, he asked Daphne to give him a hand with Justin. After all, he'd already gone to Alex, why not turn to her as well? Besides, she'd been there, at the prom. Maybe she'd seen things that he hadn't. It was worth a try. He only hoped he didn't do anything stupid. The last thing he needed was a witness.

Together they moved the furniture, Justin taking the magazines from the table before they moved it and generally getting in the way, wanting to help but not being able to, not with his injured hand. Every time Brian saw him strive to put on a shirt or zip up his jeans, he wished he'd beaten the hell out of Hobbs when he'd held that bat in his hands. It wasn't fair, that Hobbs got fuckin' community service and Justin got fucked. Don't think about it, he told himself and was unable to take his own advice. Just because you didn't think about it didn't mean the problem went away. While Daphne told Justin about the prom, he fiddled with the pillows in one of the armchairs, not knowing why he doing it, just needing to do something with his hands, something to keep his mind off of Hobbs and then he heard her say, "That's when Brian came in." He walked over and stood next to her. "He had on a tux. And a white scarf."

He watched as Justin struggled to recover the image from his damaged brain. "I think I remember that. I'm not sure."

Daphne smiled up at Brian. "Well, he looked awesome. And he said to me. . ." waiting expectantly.

His words came back to him. "You look hot, Daphne. I'd fuck you."

"And then he asked if he could borrow you, to dance. And he took your hand and led you to the dance floor." Brian did so. "They were playing this." She hit the play button on the remote and "Save the Last Dance for Me," began.

Looking down at Justin, Brian was struck again by how different Justin seemed. He had to get him back. "Close your eyes. Maybe, ah, you'll remember something." In truth, he didn't think he could look into his blank eyes, eyes that held none of the light that Justin's eyes had sparkled with. The difference was underscored by the awkward way they moved around the room, with none of their former grace. Finally, they stopped, both grateful for the break. "Well?"

Justin glanced towards Daphne, then asked, "We really danced to this corny, old song?"

And it took all of Brian's resolve not to say something snide. Instead, he smiled and replied, "Well, I prefer to think of it as ridiculously romantic." If there was anything that Justin would remember, it'd be him saying that. He waited. Nothing. Determined not to give up, he signed for them to continue dancing.

From her station next to the stereo, Daphne said, "You should have seen it. You and Brian had the entire floor to yourselves." What she didn't say was that everyone else had been too shocked to dance.

"We did some, um, pretty fancy moves," Brian told him, remembering how he'd dipped the teen and twirled him around on the floor. Completely different from the stilted moves they were making now.

"Mouths were dropping," Daphne continued. "It was so cool. And then, then you guys kissed. It was so hot."

Immediately, Brian knew that it'd been the wrong thing for her to say. Justin stopped and pulled away from him slightly. "You kissed me? In front of everybody?"

And it was that Justin was ashamed of them that hurt the most. When all he'd felt before was pride and joy. Wanting to walk away, Brian answered, "Yeah. You should have been there." And then he did walk away, turned and went into the kitchen and found a bottle of water, drinking it to camouflage the pain he was certain was visible in his eyes, in the very set of his shoulders.

About a block away from the hotel parking garage Brian felt his fingers begin to tremble. Gripping the steering wheel tighter, he tried to put it out of his mind, to face the past when he had to and not a moment sooner. Of course, the garage was nearly empty so he found the space he'd been parked in that night without any trouble. Except that he felt a little dizzy and would rather have been anyplace but there. It was dark, just like that night. Nothing had changed and he had the irrational fear that if he went to the spot where Justin had fallen, the cement would still be wet with his blood.

Getting out of the Jeep, Brian began narrating the events of that night, hoping he'd be able to keep his voice from quivering. "You walked down with me, back to the Jeep. And we were, ah, we were singing." He moved closer to Justin. Took his hands. "We were dancing." Let him go. "I kissed you. Said later." And, as always, thinking about the kiss nearly undid him. That hurt like hell, that everything had changed for him with that kiss and now it was like it had never taken place except that he had this lump in his throat to remind him that it had and this ache in his chest whenever he thought about it. He looked away, unable to face Justin momentarily, unable to continue. Then he spoke again. "And then you smiled and turned around and, ah, then I knew why Debbie called you Sunshine." He didn't look up. Hadn't meant to say it at all, it'd just slipped out. "And then I went back to the Jeep and I saw him in the mirror coming after you." He heard himself call, 'Justin!' but Justin, in the present, didn't react to anything he said. "Christ!" he exclaimed, all other words having fled him.

Justin turned.

He struggled to speak. "Don't you. . . remember anything?" Justin looked away, features blank. He sighed, nearly sobbed and clamped down on the hopelessness that was rising inside him.

Worried, Justin came to him and touched him, plucked at his shirt the way he sometimes did, wanting to comfort him but not knowing what to do. "I wish I could remember," he told the man.

And Brian sighed once more, so close to tears that they'd begun to sting his eyes. "I wish I could forget." Again Justin touched him but no more. He didn't slip into Brian's arms the way he used to and that, more than anything, hurt Brian so deeply that he despaired of ever getting Justin back.

Disheartened by their failures, they refrained from any further attempts over the next few days, laying low and tiptoeing around one another as if they were strangers. In a way they were although it was less noticeable to Justin. After all, he'd loved Brian before the prom and he still loved him. He didn't notice any differences in himself, except for the physical infirmaries, and Brian seemed the same as he'd always been, a little sadder maybe, but that was understandable. Of course, there was also the little matter of him not being able to have sex with Brian but he tried not to think about it. Which was hard since they slept in the same bed every night. Emotionally, he still wanted Brian. Physically, he desired him. It was just that whenever he thought about them being together like that, his body shut down.

If it was slightly confusing to Justin, it was as close to hell for Brian as he ever wanted to get. Since the disastrous episode with the trick, he hadn't picked up anyone. As a result, he was horny as hell. Matters weren't helped by the fact that he and Justin lay barely two feet away from one another in bed every night. Yet, they might have been separated by the continental fucking divide as far as sex was concerned. But more than that, he felt utterly alone.

By the time Gus' first birthday rolled around, they were both two straws away from being basket cases yet determined that no one be the wiser. Taking their presents to the house, they spent most of the party up on the porch, Justin still a little uneasy around a lot of people. Which was all right with Brian as mingling with breeders, rug rats, and lesbians wasn't his idea of a fun afternoon. But Gus seemed to enjoy it.

Watching Deb and Vic serve the cake, Brian asked Justin if he wanted any. The teen shook his head. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I just don't want any cake, that's all."

So they remained where they were and observed the festivities from afar. The cake having been served, Lindsay and Mel began opening the presents. Brian groaned as Lindsay unwrapped a plastic baseball bat. Jesus, his son, a jock. Not if he could help it. Lindsay showed him the bat and said, "Your son's going to be a baseball player."

"If you make a man out of him, I'll hold you personally responsible," he replied. He felt Justin shift next to him but didn't look back. Lindsay and the baby continued to swing the bat and then he did look around. He didn't know why, just that it seemed as if Justin needed him at that moment. The teenager's face was even paler than usual. He swayed a little and Brian said, "Justin," and stood. Embraced him and moved him out of sight of the other guests. Justin was trembling, crying, and Brian smiled a little. He remembered. Justin remembered.

He fell asleep almost as soon as they returned home. Helping him to take off his pants, Brian left him alone, went into the other room and read a couple of magazines, checking out the competition. Having skipped lunch and dinner so far, he found an orange in the wire basket over the counter and ate it while sipping a glass of papaya juice and flipping through Advertising Age. He'd just put the peels in the garbage and washed his hands and returned the bottle of juice to the fridge when he sensed that Justin had awakened. Without looking towards the bedroom, he shut off all the lights and climbed the steps to find the teen sitting up on the bed, features cast in pale blue light. "Better?"


Brian sat next to Justin. "You really freaked me out."

"What? You?"

As if it couldn't happen. "It was like you got hit all over again."

It was so clear now that he could hardly believe that he'd forgotten. "I remembered walking away and suddenly hearing your voice call my name. Warning me. You never told me about that." Remembered Brian telling him that there had been nothing he could have done to stop Hobbs. "You tried to save me."

But he hadn't. Still. "Guess I forgot."

With a small smile, Justin said, "Good thing one of us remembered." He moved closer to Brian and they kissed. Suddenly, he wanted him. Unbuttoning his shirt, his hand encountered something other than Brian's smooth skin. He withdrew the object, astounded but trying hard not to show it. It was the scarf. The one Brian had worn to the prom, the one he'd placed around Justin's neck in the parking garage before kissing him so tenderly that it'd taken his breath away. Their eyes met and, for once, he had no questions. He understood perfectly. The man looked away, ashamed and he dropped the scarf to the floor. There was no need for guilt, for shame. That was over now. He moved even closer to Brian and whispered, "I want you inside me."

Stomach rippling, Brian dared to meet his eyes. "Are you sure?"

"Yeah. Just. . . take it easy." He wasn't scared, just being cautious. It'd been so long since they'd been together.

Brian watched his face. Asked, "Like the first time?" and smiled.

He smiled as well and eased Brian's shirt back over his shoulders. They came together in a kiss much like the one in the parking garage, then drew apart, noses touching for a moment.

As hard as Brian was, as much as he wanted Justin, he let the teen determine the pace and flavor of their lovemaking. Putting all thoughts of anything but this aside, Brian lay back and removed his briefs, feeling Justin's lips on his. Then he reached over to help the teenager with his Calvin Kleins, wanting any excuse to touch him. How long had it been? So long. . . so long and all he wanted was to be inside him, to feel the boy's warmth around him, his hand on his cock guiding him home.

Spreading his legs, he made Justin welcome, enveloping him in his arms and holding him as the teen's heart raced. Gently, Brian stroked his shoulders and back. There was no rush, no hurry. After a while Justin's pulse slowed. He raised up and smiled and Brian closed his eyes. God, he was shaking. When had he ever been nervous about sex? The thought nearly made him laugh but Justin chose that moment to kiss him. How he had missed those lips: full, soft, insistent yet ever grateful. Feeling Justin's hand between his thighs, his strong fingers around his cock, Brian sighed. This was what he'd wanted. The pad of Justin's thumb rubbed over the tip and a cry escaped his lips before Justin smothered it with another kiss.

Taking Brian's hand, Justin placed it around his own erection. Slowly Brian encircled him and eased his hand up and down the shaft, encouraged by the soft sighs the teenager emitted. Taking his cue from Justin, Brian gradually increased the pressure and speed until Justin stopped him. He could feel the boy's cock flexing against his palm. "Tell me," he whispered against Justin's neck.

The youth rolled over onto his back. Breathlessly, he replied, "I want you. . . I want your mouth on me."

From his forehead to his feet, Brian kissed the breadth and length of Justin's body, leaving no spot untouched, a trail of wet kisses proof of his itinerary. He was so fair, so pale, so beautiful that Brian knelt over him and just looked at him, knowing that Justin was admiring him as well. His cock twitched under the scrutiny. As did Justin's. He lowered his head between the boy's thighs, his goal arching proudly over Justin's belly. He kissed the neck, flicked his tongue over a prominent vein, then brushed his lips over the head. With Justin's fingers in his hair guiding him, he opened his mouth around his lover's cock and drew him inside until the wet tip touched the back of his throat. Determined to accept what Justin gave him, he tempered his hunger and let Justin decide how deep he wanted to go, thrusting hard one moment then just lying there the next, Brian's tongue lashing around the solid tube of flesh. It filled his mouth and Justin groaned, ". . .in me."

Lying on his right side, Justin reached back and drew Brian's leg tighter against him. Brian's hand was on his hip, the other arm between Justin's neck and the bed, supporting his weight. Brian eased into Justin, cock slippery with lube, listening for the slightest sound of discomfort. Instead, Justin kept moaning softly as he entered him, looking up and around to kiss Brian, to run his fingers through his hair. Sometimes he held onto Brian's other hand as the pleasure increased. And Brian kissed him so gently, kisses like the drizzling rain, kisses that alighted like butterflies, like the summer breeze, like the kiss in the parking garage. How could he have ever forgotten that? With each kiss Brian reminded him of just what they'd nearly lost, each kiss all the more precious for it.

Turning slightly onto his belly, cock hard against the bed, Justin's mouth fell open and a low groan escaped. With each thrust he was coming closer to his climax. Brian's hand reached around and gripped his dick, fingers sliding around the dripping head, struggling to find purchase. Crying out, Justin came, Brian still buried deep inside him. Justin having come, Brian allowed himself to let go, burying his face in the nape of Justin's neck.

They nestled in the covers, curled together like two foxes in a den, and slept, each taking comfort from the other's presence.

How long must we all wait to change
This world bound in chains that we live in
To know what it is to forgive,
And be forgiven?

Justin still wasn't too fond of being out in crowds- - he worked the slowest shifts at the diner because of it- - so they'd settled into a routine: he and Brian went to work, met back at the loft to have dinner together, and then Brian slipped away afterwards for a couple hours to hang with the guys before returning home since Justin still got a little freaked out when he was left on his own for too long. Amazed at the depths of his patience, Brian gave himself a mental pat on the back and headed across the street. Of course, he had found time to play with that cop tonight. Instead of going to Mikey's lame comic convention. Shit. He was dreading that reckoning. He'd had every intention of wasting an hour or so with Michael but he'd spotted the guy as he looked for a parking place and known that he wouldn't be spending the next hour looking at comic books. Good thing the cop's truck was pretty roomy. He'd stretched him out and handcuffed him, getting turned on by how helpless the officer looked. And the way his hole had stretched around that nightstick. . . he felt his cock stir just thinking about it. Amazing. Officer Friendly had taken at least eight inches before Brian had wrenched it out and thrust his cock into the willing hole instead. He was surprised no one had come to see why the truck was shaking so. And that cop hadn't been exactly quiet. Smiling to himself, he pressed the code for the building, bounded inside and came up short. Justin was sitting on the stairs. Instantly he was on the alert. "What's wrong?"

"I started to go for a walk."

"How far did you get?" They'd been working on that, on Justin going out by himself. He shook his head and Brian knew that he hadn't left the building. He sat down next to the teenager. "It's okay. There's always tomorrow."

Standing, Justin grinned. "Wanna fool around?"

As tempting an offer as it was, Brian didn't think he'd be up for it again so soon. "Tired," he replied and Justin gave him a searching look. He waited for the teen to ask him what he'd been doing while he was out but Justin didn't although he could tell that he wanted to.

Instead, Justin held out his left hand and pulled Brian from the steps. "We'd better get you to bed then. At your age you need all the sleep you can get," was all he said and he led the way upstairs.

A few days later Justin informed him that he wanted to try walking down Liberty Avenue. "I can't hang around the fuckin' house all the time waiting for you to come home."

Brian paused in the middle of putting on his jeans. Was that Justin's not so subtle way of letting him know that he felt neglected? Sure, he went out in the evenings, but not every evening and not for long. Putting it out of his mind, he finished dressing and, Boy Wonder in tow, set out on a walking tour of his neighborhood.

So far Justin had done okay although he did have a tendency to squeeze Brian's hand rather tightly when someone got too close. The farther they got from the apartment, the tighter he squeezed Brian's hand until finally Brian said, "Ow."


"It's okay."

Justin, determined to show Brian that he was getting better, released him entirely. "Look," he said, waving his hands in front of him, "no hands."

Brian smiled, the kid really was trying. And then some asshole barreled towards them bumping into Justin.

"Fucker," the teen said, staring after the guy.

Wrapping his arms around him, Brian eased Justin away from the crowd. "It's okay. It's okay, it's okay. It's okay," he kept repeating, hoping his words had the calming effect on the teen that he intended. "Don't let it throw ya," he told Justin and the younger man freed himself and then slipped his arm around Brian's waist, not entirely comfortable with being completely out of contact. He paused. Brian looked to see why. Saw that asshole Howard Bellweather's book in a store window. That sonofabitch had really done a job on him in the paper. It had taken everything he had to sit on the stool in the diner and pretend not to give a shit about what the man had written about him. Granted, he didn't think he was a fuckin' hero but he wasn't a pedophile either. Justin had been young but he'd been legal too. And he wasn't the only guy who spent a lot of time in the backrooms of sex clubs. If so, it'd be damn lonely in there and he'd yet to go into a backroom and not have plenty of company. On the other hand, he did think it was kind of. . . cute, maybe, that Bedwetter, as Deb had dubbed him, had called Justin his teenaged lover. "Is that you?" he'd asked him and Justin had grinned, obviously pleased. He didn't, however, think that it was cute that the fuckhead had said that he was thirty-one.

The sign in the window said that Bellweather was inside signing books. He watched Justin's face harden and knew that there was no way in hell they were going to walk past the bookstore and not go in. That was one of the things he loved about Justin: he was nothing, if not tenacious, and if he was ever convinced that he was right and you were wrong, look out, he was worse than a fuckin' Pitt Bull. He was definitely on the mend. Brian followed the teenager into the store and smirked. Bellweather was in for a serious reaming. And not in a good way.

He hovered on the sidelines and watched Justin push his way to the front of the line where Ted stood waiting for the great man to finish autographing his manifesto. Watched Justin toss the book onto the table in front of Bellweather. "To Brian Kinney, please accept my apology for what I wrote about you. I'm a sucking sack of shit. Love and luck, Howie."

"Oh my God," muttered Ted.

Fuck, he couldn't have put it better himself. At that moment he wanted to take Justin home and give him anything he wanted.

"You must be. . . " began Bellweather.

"His teenaged lover," finished Justin.

Ted turned and looked at him and he mouthed and pointed, "That's him."

"Well, it's a pleasure to meet such a bright, brave young man. If anyone deserves an award for heroism it's you."

But Justin charged ahead. "You had no right to say those things."

"On the contrary, it was my obligation."

"He saved my life."

"He's also stolen part of it. Your innocence, your youth. One day you'll see he's hurt you as much as your attacker."

Wanting to grab the asshole by the front of his shirt and kick the shit out of him, Brian remained calm. What the fuck did he know about what Chris Hobbs had done to Justin? Had he been there?

Justin shoved the book at Bellweather and headed out of the store, tossing a, "Come on, Brian," over his shoulder.

Impressed by his performance, Brian went over and peeked around Ted. "By the way, I'm thirty." Goosed Ted and followed his teenaged lover out onto the sidewalk. Justin was still steaming but Brian was grinning from ear to ear. He slipped his arms around him and said, "We're going to have to get you registered. Even with only one good hand, you're still a lethal weapon."

Justin laughed as he'd intended and pushed him away. "Let's go home."

He looked around. "I don't know, it's a nice day, I thought I might- -"

Justin tugged on his shirt. "Now."

Eyebrow cocked, Brian allowed himself to be led down the sidewalk.

A few days later he watched as Justin negotiated the crowds by himself. Once he faltered and Brian whispered, "Come on. . . Sonny Boy." As if he'd heard Brian, Justin gathered himself together again and began walking once more towards him. Even smiled as he got closer. Brian held out his arms, waiting, and embraced him once Justin was within reach.

"I wasn't sure I could do it," Justin confessed.

"I was." He kissed him, right there in the middle of the sidewalk not caring who saw them, just needing to touch him.

Bemused, Justin asked, "What was that for?"

"You know how much I like sex in public places," Brian joked. He couldn't tell him the real reason, that he'd suddenly been overcome with pride, proud of Justin for conquering his fears.

Deciding to play too, Justin held out his arms. "Then suck me off. Right here, right now. In broad daylight."

Brian looked around to see if anyone had heard them. They were holding hands. "Wow, you are recovering nicely."

"Bad as new," Justin quipped.

"But one thing at a time. First we walk back to my place, then I suck you off." Sounded like a plan to him.

"I can do it by myself."

"You can give yourself head?" he asked although he knew what Justin really meant.

"No. I can walk back without a chaperone."

"You're not trying to lose me, are you?"

"Uh-huh. I'm sick of you always following me around." They turned. "Don't you have any friends your own age?"

"None of them adore me as much as you." It frightened him sometimes that the boy had gotten so close to him in so short a time.

"I can think of one who does," Justin said, correcting him.

He hadn't wanted to think about Mikey, about the disappointment and hurt in the man's eyes when they'd finally met up at Babylon's after he'd blown him off at the comic book convention. The convention was tonight, during the awards ceremony that Justin reminded him of, but he had no intention of putting on a suit and eating petrified chicken while waiting to receive a tacky-assed plastic award. Besides which, he hadn't done anything. Hadn't stopped Hobbs, hadn't kept Justin from being hurt, hadn't turned into fuckin' Prince Charming.

As if privy to his thoughts, Justin cupped his face. "You're a hero. No matter what anyone says."

And he leaned in and kissed the younger man again, savoring the taste of his mouth. Then Justin pulled away, even though they held onto one another's hand until the last moment. "Later."

His heart skipped a beat but he kept his voice casual as he replied, "Later." He'd give him a half hour start and then meet him back at the loft. Justin's back disappeared amidst a sea of riotous color.

In the end he'd gone to the comic book convention instead of the awards dinner and spent the last half hour of it with Mikey, fixing things between them. Even taking a gooney picture with Mikey, the two of them posing as Captain Astro and Galaxy Lad. Sometimes it helped to remember. They'd had some good times together as kids. They'd had some not so good times as well, but it hadn't all been bad. And even though he bitched about Mikey riding him all the time about one thing or another, he'd been glad when Michael had returned to Pittsburgh. Those six weeks had been some of the worst of his life. Going to the hospital at night, staring through the window in the door at Justin sleeping. Sometimes so hyped up on E or something else that he could barely stay in his skin, all in a futile attempt to forget. And now, Justin waited at home for him, his bright smile filling the loft with light.

Pushing open the door, he saw the teen sitting in the middle of the bed, sketch pad in his hands. When he heard Brian enter the loft, he put it aside and waited. As the man climbed the steps to the bedroom, he asked, "How was it?"

"Totally pathetic."

Which meant that he'd had fun but didn't want to admit it. Justin shook his head. Brian would never change. He didn't think he wanted him to.

Two buttons undone on his shirt, Brian fell back onto the comforter and lay there. Waiting. Finally Justin crawled over to him and knelt astride him. Justin undid the remaining button. Opened the shirt to reveal the wifebeater underneath. Pushed it up, exposing warm skin. He nuzzled Brian's belly button then kissed his stomach. "My hero."

Things were going great. Everything was perfect. Brian and I are together in a way we never were before. I don't know, something's different. He still hasn't said anything about how long he's going to let me stay. I don't think he wants me to go. But he won't say it. I just wish- - I wish something could work out the way it's supposed to.

I went with Emmett today to get his friend's stuff from the hospice and Chris Hobbs was there. Working off his community service. I don't understand why they'd put him there. Like it would do him any good. He hates queers. Hates me. I could see it in his eyes. He's such an asshole. I thought I was past him but I'm not. He moved his mop towards me and I jerked back, I couldn't help it. It was just a reflex but I hate that he can do that to me.

I told Brian I wasn't going to the Pride Parade and he and Michael got into an argument about it. Even though Michael was on my side, I wish he would have stayed out of it. Why does everything have to be about him? After he left, Brian came and sat next to me and didn't say anything but I could tell he was disappointed in me. And I know he's going to make me go. I could say no but I won't. I'll go and get it over with. Only, what do I have to be proud of? That I've got a gimp hand? I guess that I'm going to art school except that I still haven't gotten complete control over my hand yet and I don't know what's going to happen. It isn't fair.

Justin looked down at the last sentence he'd written in his journal and closed the cover. He had to go to bed soon or Brian would come looking for him. It was funny, he used to be the one who'd go looking for Brian when the man left the bed and now Brian did the same thing, padding around naked wondering why Justin wasn't next to him. A tiny smile curled about his lips. Course, he liked seeing Brian naked. Which wasn't a problem cause Brian loved walking around in the buff. He'd be right at home in a nudist colony.


He turned at the sound of Brian's voice calling his name. Put his journal on the table. Brian would never read it. "Coming."

The Pride Parade was totally cool. I marched with my mom and the PFLAG group and even Michael was there. In drag so no one would know. He didn't look bad. From far away. Up close. . . Maybe I'm just not into drag queens. I wonder what Brian would look like in drag. Probably like a super model.

Brian was pissed because he had to baby-sit Gus all afternoon. He didn't mind being with Gus, he just minded the fact that all these lesbians kept hitting on him, wanting his sperm. And the fact that he had a kid pretty much kept all the hot guys away from him. I saw these guys looking at him in Woody's and I told him to go find a stud and ask him to dance. Then I left. I figured he'd find some twink and fuck him and then come home in a better mood. Just as I was walking away from Woody's, I felt a hand on my shoulder and I heard him say, "Hey, stud. Wanna dance?" I couldn't believe it. I thought he was being a smartass but he was serious. "I promise you won't forget this one," he said and I won't. Not ever. We danced in the street with all these other couples around us but I didn't see anyone but him. We talked and laughed, remembering some of the outrageous costumes people had worn in the parade. It was so perfect. And then we kissed and the whole world could have disappeared because all that mattered was that we were together. We're together.

He wondered how many times Justin would have to suck him off before he got tired of it. Probably a lot. And then as he came he thought, Never. I'll never get tired of this. Justin gave his cock a little parting kiss and lay next to him while he got his breath back. As soon as his heart stopped racing he turned to the teen, ready for part two of the festivities. Although he would never admit it, he loved going down on Justin, loved the way the teenager whimpered as he got sucked off, groaning as he came, his voice deeper than normal. There'd been nights when Brian would have done anything to hear him groan like that, and had, filling his mouth with the teen's thick cock and blowing him until Justin had exploded, back arched and buttocks tight, chest hard and skin flushed. But tonight he intercepted Brian's head on its downward trek.

"No. No, that was for you."

Surprised, Brian asked, "Since when do you turn down getting your dick sucked?"

"Tomorrow's a big day," he explained. "I have to save my energy for my art."

Brian rolled over and off the bed. "What do you call this?"

As he reached for his sketch pad on the bedside table, Justin said, "I promise I'll let you blow me tomorrow."

"Yeah, well, who says I'll be in the mood?" asked Brian, heading for the toilet. Flipping it up with his foot.

"You're always in the mood," Justin told him as the man pissed. "Which is kind of amazing. At your age."

Brian looked around, still holding his cock. Then looked away. He knew Justin was nervous about starting college. Hell, he'd been scared too his first couple of days at Penn State. Before he realized that he was still the best, no matter where he was. Justin was the best too. Even with his injured hand. Brian hated it when Justin called it his 'gimp hand,' wished he could stop him from doing so but if he mentioned it, it'd probably only make Justin even angrier. So he said nothing.

Smiling, Justin turned to his sketches. He'd been practicing for the past few weeks to build up the strength in his hand. As always, after only a few pencil strokes his hand began to tremble. He stopped and stretched out his fingers. Tried again but lost control almost immediately. He shook his hand, trying to get the feeling back in it but to no avail.

As Brian returned to bed, it struck him again how beautiful Justin was, what a pretty picture he made sitting there with his sketch pad in his lap. Covering up his cock. Brian lowered his eyelids lazily. He wanted Justin. Now. Not tomorrow, not twenty-four hours from now, but right now. "Drawing my cock again?"

"Just doodling," Justin answered.

Laying on the bed, Brian crawled up over Justin's lap and nudged the pad out of the way with his head.

"What are you doing?"

"Doodling," he replied and grabbed hold of Justin's cock and began licking it.

Trying to ignore Brian's actions, Justin said, "I told you I have school." But Brian paid no attention to him because as much as the teen protested, his cock had begun to respond to his lips and tongue. In a minute there'd be no protests at all. In a minute Justin would begin to stiffen and it'd all be over.

It didn't take long for Justin to put the pad aside and open his thighs to make room for Brian. To cup his head, fingers brushing the nape of his neck, and thrust into Brian's mouth as he pleased.

Brian released him, then licked the swollen head dripping with precum. Curled his tongue around the bulbous tip, listening to Justin moan. Opened his lips around his balls, tugging on them while his tongue lapped at the soft skin. He would have smiled when Justin lifted his legs and opened them except that he had a mouthful. The fat sac slipped from his lips as he made his way down the strip of muscle running from behind Justin's balls to his tight, little asshole. Leaving the perineum wet with his passage, Brian flicked his tongue over the knot of flesh between Justin's buttocks. Heard him inhale sharply. Brian made love to his teenaged lover with his tongue, teasing the soft folds until the ring of muscle relaxed and opened. At that, Brian rose up and got the KY from the bedside table. Lubed his fingers and then, supporting himself on one arm, thrust those slippery fingers inside Justin's ass.

Legs falling open even wider, Justin bared his neck to Brian's kisses. He could feel the man's fingers brushing against his prostate and it was making him crazy. Eyelids fluttering, he moaned deep in his throat and grabbed Brian's wrist with his left hand.

"You want me to stop?" Brian asked and the teen's hand released him. Gripped his cock instead.

But Brian pushed his hand out of the way with his head and caught his dick between his lips. Fingers still sliding in and out of Justin, the man blew him, the teen's cries bouncing off the walls of the loft.

Later that night, as Brian dreamt, Justin lay awake, terrified that all of his dreams were about to be swept away.

In the end there had been nothing else he could have done except quit.

The loft empty of teenager, Brian assumed that Justin was either out with Daphne or still at school, which meant he could go out and play, maybe have a little tidbit on the side to sate his appetite until they both returned home. Changing into his party clothes, he grabbed his keys and coat and headed for Mikey's. Maybe the guys were up for a couple hours at Babylon.

After an hour or so of loud music, whining friends, and gyrating bodies he was ready to find a willing soul to venture into the backroom with and waste ten or fifteen minutes. Mikey was busy complaining about goddamn Buzzy going to Florida and closing the comic book store like it was the last fuckin' comic book store in Pittsburgh. He'd taken a bump of E and was just about to go looking for trouble when trouble came bouncing towards him.

Blond head bobbing as he bopped along, a wide grin on his face. Brian wondered if Justin had taken something as well. He seemed a little anxious. "Hey."

"Hey," he said, moving towards the teen, "yourself." Kissed him, their lips not exactly lining up, further proof that they were both probably a little high. "Why aren't you home packing your lunch box for school tomorrow?"

"I don't need to," he replied. "I'm not going."

"Let me guess," Em ventured. "You heard they were going to make you draw vaginas."

"I quit," he said in the same conversational tone and he pushed Brian away, not hard but firmly.

There was a pause and then Em asked, "You what?"

"What for?" Ted inquired.

"Well, I can't draw anymore, so what's the point in wasting my time? When I could be here, popping pills. . . and drinking beers?" He spotted a guy dancing near them. "And sticking my gimp hand down guys' pants." He stuck his hand in the waistband of the guy's pants. "You wanna dance?"

"Fuck yeah."

As they moved away, Justin said, "That was going to be my next question."

Brian watched them begin to dance.

"What's that all about?" asked Michael.

Brian looked away from the two young men dancing, looked down at the vial of drugs he held. "Pain management." He'd called Justin Sonny Boy one day, the way his old man had called him, and look at the teen, already following in his ignoble footsteps. And when did booze or drugs or sex ever making him forget his problems for long? Eventually there came a reckoning, a point at which you had to make a decision to either stand and stagnate or move forward. Or fall apart. Looking at Justin and his dance partner rub up against each other, he could see where Justin was headed. And he didn't like it at all.

Later, when he was ready to go home, he found Justin and told him to come on. The boy refused.

"I'm not through dancing."

"You can dance at home," Brian said, aware of the eyes watching them.

"I don't want to."

Not about to have an argument in the middle of Babylon with a hundred guys listening to their every word, he replied, "Fuck it. Do what you want," and he left.

Emmett and Mikey waited outside by the Jeep. "Where's Justin?" Brian gestured to the club. "You left him there?" Em asked.

"He's old enough to make his own decisions. I'm not a fuckin' babysitter." He opened the car door. "You coming?"

His mood hadn't improved by the time he arrived back at the loft. If anything, he was even more furious. Fuckin' asshole kid. Throwing down his jacket, he went immediately to the kitchen and poured himself a drink. Knocked it back and poured another. Why the fuck had he agreed to this? And what was he getting out of it? The sex was good but was it worth the aggravation? Besides, he could send Justin to Deb's and still get to have sex with him on a regular basis. They'd done it before with no appreciable decrease in sexual activity. They could go back to that. Except that he'd given his word to Jennifer and foisting Justin off on Deb at the first sign of trouble wasn't his way. No matter how much he was tempted to at times.

Setting down his glass upon the counter, he was shocked to hear how loud the thud sounded. It was so quiet in the loft. A definite sign that Justin wasn't home. He looked around the apartment noticing items that belonged to the teenager: his Gameboy on the counter, sketch pad on the dining table, tennis shoes by the bed. Brian wondered what the maid thought about the new additions. Again. Well, there was no point in waiting up for Justin. He'd either come home or he wouldn't. He had the code, had a spare key.

The sound of a sneaker striking the floor woke him. As he turned over, Justin dropped to the bed and held his head in his hands. Saying nothing, Brian rolled back onto his right side and closed his eyes. By the time Justin stumbled to the bathroom, he'd fallen asleep again.

Hearing Justin groan as the alarm clock went off gave him some satisfaction. He'd awakened way too many mornings himself with a hangover. And even if Justin wasn't going to class, he could, at least, wake his ass up at a reasonable hour.

Over coffee they said very little to one another. Justin had gotten up and made a pot, even though he knew Brian would probably stop in at the diner on his way to work. He actually needed it himself as he was due over there in the afternoon for his shift. He hoped his brain would have stopped doing the macarena by then.

"So what are you up to today?" Brian asked.

"Going to work. Maybe Daphne's later on."

Brian grunted, signifying nothing. And the day began.

Justin wasn't there when he got home. He hadn't really expected him to be. Maybe hoped. Maybe if the teen wasn't in one of his pissy moods of which he seemed to have more of. Which was understandable. Didn't make him any easier to live with though. Eating take-out alone, Brian debated going dancing or over to Woody's for a couple drinks. Decided not to. Wasn't in the mood. At all. Instead he went online for a while. No one interesting was on though and he really wasn't in the mood for another 'Citizen Kane' encounter. Having killed forty-five minutes fucking around on the internet, he got out some work he'd brought home but wasn't able to make any headway. Putting that back in his briefcase, he changed again, this time into his cut-off sweats and dragged the treadmill out from between the closet and the bathroom where he stored it between workouts. He ran for twenty minutes, then laid the exercise mat down on the floor by the couch and started doing reps. From where he lay he could see the present he'd bought Justin today. Having see one in action in the Art Department at work, he figured it was just what the teen needed. At least it'd better be; it had cost a pretty penny, even getting it through their regular supplier. But if it helped Justin, then it was worth it. He tried not to think what that could mean.

The door opened and he paused in his reps. Waited until Justin had closed it and gone to the fridge. "The lost boy returns."

Without responding, Justin got out a bottle of water, drank some, then poured the rest over his head. Shook out his hair, the same way Brian had done the first time he'd brought the boy home all those months ago. He laughed and Brian sort of laughed too, not sure what to make of his mood. Justin set the bottle on the counter, or tried to: it fell to the floor as he walked over to where Brian now stood.

The man covered the teen's face with a towel he held, drying his skin and hair. "Feeling better?"


"How's Daphne?"

"She and her roommates had to study. Fortunately, that's not my problem." Before Brian could ask, he said, "I went to Woody's. I let guys buy me drinks. They all wanted to fuck me. Least I still have my looks." He searched Brian's face for a reaction and detected none. Brian was a master of the poker face. He gripped the back of Brian's neck with his injured hand. "But I told them no," he said, pulling Brian in for a kiss. "I'm saving that for you." He began kissing down Brian's chest.

"Aren't you a sweetheart."

"Let's do it," Justin muttered into his skin.

But Brian pulled away. "Later. Come see what I got for you." Justin had started to slide his sweats down and they rode low on his hips.

"What?" Justin asked, following the man. "A new butt plug? Manacles? A new vacuum pump?"

"Better," replied Brian, gesturing to the computer. "I saw it today at work."

Justin turned away. "I'm not interested."

"You don't even know what it is."

"Yeah, I do," he replied, starting up the steps. "False hope."

"No, watch. You can draw with it," Brian said, getting to his knees and picking up the stylus. He drew a cock over the picture that was already on the screen. "See? Same as a pencil, or a pen, or a paintbrush." One of Justin's tennis shoes struck the side of the closet. Brian chose to ignore it. "Just much easier to control."

"Oh, like with my gimp hand?"

"And it has a million special effects you can create with it," he said, his voice softening. Then he changed tactics, as being nice had never been one of his strong suits. "Stop being a fuckin' princess and give it a try."

Justin had taken off his shirt. "What for? To make you happy? So that you can tell yourself you fixed little Justin's problems and made everything better? Well, you can't fix this, all right? No one can." He could see the look on Brian's face, could tell that he was hurt that his gift had been rejected, but he didn't care because he was hurting too and didn't Brian realize that bringing home that thing only made it worse?

"So you're just gonna quit?" His words swelled with sadness.

"It's over, all right?" Justin threw off his socks. "Accept it. I'm not gonna draw again. And no fucking electronic Crayola box is gonna fix that." He tore off his pants and stood with his hands out, another echo of a Brian gesture from that first time. "So why don't you come fuck me before I pass out." A command, not a question. He turned, not caring that Brian had flinched.

It had felt like a slap in the face, Justin's refusal to even look at the computer. He knew why he'd done it, even understood it but it hurt anyway, that Justin hadn't even tried it, just dismissed it and him out of hand. I don't want your help or your pity, his attitude seemed to suggest. All I want is your cock. Just like all the others wanted. Only he'd thought that Justin was different. Justin was different, it was just that the teen was hurt, he knew that. Still, it smarted. He debated getting dressed and going out after all to Babylon or the baths, anywhere to get away from Justin and his anger, his suffering.

Picking up his towel, he headed for the bathroom. Maybe a shower would clear his mind. He bypassed the bedroom altogether. Sensed Justin watching him.

The water felt so good on his skin, turned up as hot as he could stand it. What the fuck was he going to do? See Alex again? Tell him his other advice worked, now what? What did he do with a sullen, angry teenager? What had anyone been able to do with him except stay out of his way? Other than his old man knocking him around every now and again for shits and giggles.

The zone of silence around him, formed by the pounding water, was broken as Justin entered the shower. Heading him off, Brian said, "No," but like he had the other night, Justin wouldn't taken no for an answer. By the time he'd run his hand up and down Brian's dick a couple of times, the man had forgotten why he'd objected in the first place. Releasing Brian's cock, Justin squeezed shower gel in his hands and cupped the man's buttocks. He loved his tight, little ass, just enough to fill his palms. Brian flexed his muscles and Justin smiled. Slipped a finger between his cheeks. Rubbed his hole. Listened as Brian's breathing grew louder. Patiently Justin fingered Brian until the older man was relaxed enough for him to get inside. One knuckle, then two, then all the way in. Brian leaned his head against his arm, face hidden in the crook of his elbow as Justin twisted his finger from side to side and slowed his entrances and exits to the point where Brian wanted to scream. His dick was rock hard and aching. But Justin wanted his fuck and he intended to get it. Letting his finger slide free, he turned off the water and led Brian to the bed. They didn't even bother to dry off, just collapsed in a tangled heap upon the comforter.

By the time they each had come, the bed was wrecked. While Justin lay in a semi-stupor, Brian cleaned up and left the room. Justin watched as he grabbed a throw from the foot of the bed and made his way to the chaise lounge. He wouldn't be back.

Brian stretched out and spread the afghan over his legs and thighs. He'd been thoroughly overturned, intentions undermined, and it frightened him. Even now what he wanted more than anything was to return to bed and crawl under the covers with Justin snuggled up close behind him. But he wouldn't because to do so would be to give up a piece of himself, his self-control, and he couldn't do it, couldn't cede any more power to the teenager or he'd become some kind of a lovelorn doofus like Emmett, always bemoaning his broken heart. You put your heart out there to get stepped on, someone was bound to come along and oblige you.

Cum drying on his belly, Justin made no attempt to get up and wash. He wanted to bask in the knowledge that he'd gotten Brian Kinney to once again do something he hadn't wanted to do. Or had told himself he hadn't wanted to do when they both knew that he had. Except that looking at Brian lying on the chaise lounge reminded him of himself the nights Brian had banished him from the bed, and the victory tasted less than sweet.

Occupying what had become one of his places in the loft, Justin sprawled in one of the white armchairs by the television and waited for Brian to finish showering. Probably had been out getting his dick sucked so he wouldn't have to deal with him. Relations had been somewhat strained between them for the past few days. He knew Brian had been hurt, that he had hurt him, but there was nothing he could do about it. On the table sat the computer Brian had bought him. He hadn't touched it once. Justin looked at his other gift instead, the painting he'd been given. He could feel the anger emanating from it, irradiating everything. He relished the feeling, so like the anger he'd felt, that he still felt. Being an artist was all he'd ever imagined being. Not doing, but being. Not to be able to draw was like not breathing to him. Each time he picked up his pencil and felt his hand tremble, each time he lost control, it was like a pair of hands around his throat, cutting off his air supply. Then he remembered what Adrienne had said: "It's not the end of the world, kid. Unless you want it to be."

As Brian came out of the bathroom, he wrapped a towel around his waist and picked an apple from the bowl on top of the chest of drawers closest to his side of the bed. The maid replaced them religiously, one of the things for which he paid her quite well. Knife and fruit in hand he stretched out on the bed. As someone who was used to people looking at him all of the time, Brian was instantly aware of Justin's scrutiny. He fully expected the teen to come to him and try to make up but he wasn't having it. Any and all attempts would be severely rebuffed. Busying himself with his apple, he carefully cut and removed a slice, studiously avoiding even looking in Justin's direction. Then something caught his eye. Justin had moved. Brian stole a glance. The teen was standing over the computer he'd bought him. Do it, he thought.

Justin got to his knees. Picked up the stylus and touched the screen to pick up the gray color on the drawing tool. He'd done some stuff with computers in high school but with Adobe Photoshop and a regular PC, nothing like this setup. Still he was confident he could figure it out. He began to draw.

Feigning obliviousness, Brian chewed his apple slice and prepared to cut another. Pleased. Once, when he risked a look at the teen, he saw him smiling. Struggled to keep from smiling himself.

About twenty minutes later Justin rose and came to the doorway. Brian hadn't moved from the bed. Justin cocked his head towards the computer. Silently, Brian got up and followed him. Looked at the drawing. It was dark, the features non-distinct but the form was there and there was an energy, a life about the picture that was undeniable. He raised a brow. "Not bad."

Justin smiled. "It'll get better." Reaching around Brian's waist, he removed the man's towel, revealing his lean, lanky figure.

"Inspiration?" asked Brian.


Lying in Brian's arms that night, Justin felt safe, the way he hadn't in a long time. The future didn't loom so darkly ahead of him as it had before. Things could never be the same again but maybe they could still be good. Listening to Brian breathe, sleep quickly having claimed him, Justin wondered what all of this meant in terms of them being together. There was no way Brian could continue to deny that he cared. In fact, he didn't deny it, he just didn't say anything. And Justin didn't know how he felt about that. He'd stopped telling Brian that he loved him, had stopped bringing love up at all unless he wanted to annoy the man. The subject of love bothered Brian more than he was willing to admit and Justin knew that he was scared even though he'd never confess it in a million years. Brian did care for him, everything he'd done demonstrated that. But did Brian love him? That he didn't know. Sometimes when they were having sex it felt like they were making love at last. Certainly that had been the case the first time they'd gotten together after the attack. He could still feel Brian inside him, moving so gently, his hand on his hip, fingers entwined with his. It was moments like that that kept him hopeful, right or wrong.

Brian stirred and Justin turned into his chest and kissed his bare skin right in the hollow of his throat. The man murmured something that sounded like, 'Go to sleep,' but Justin couldn't be sure. Still, he settled down and drifted off.

It'd been a good week so far. Mikey had opened his store and begun putting things in order, complaining about Buzzy's lack of retailing skills. Brian had wanted to tell him Buzzy was an old hippy who'd made a living selling comic books to kids and social rejects, what the fuck would he know about retailing? Or marketing?

Justin had been progressing as well, having completed nearly half a dozen new pieces on the computer. They were a lot darker in tone from his earlier work but it didn't matter. What mattered was that he was working at all. The loft was a lot brighter, despite the somber pictures. Justin was on the mend. All that was left was for him to return to school.

As they'd parted that morning, Justin had told him that he was going to see the Dean in the afternoon and ask if he could be reinstated. He was going to take his new drawings, talk to Professor Stanning first, hear what she had to say, and then meet with the Dean. Telling Justin to hold on, Brian had disappeared into the bedroom and returned with a black, matte portfolio. Handed it to Justin. "Here." As Justin took it and before the boy could thank him, he said, "Your old one was pathetic." Beaming, Justin had laughed and transferred the pictures.

Now, waiting outside of the Institute for Justin to appear, Brian thought how they'd come full-circle back to the days when he'd driven the teenager to St. James. Hopefully there weren't any homophobic assholes at the Institute. He didn't think he could go through that again. Checking his watch for the third time, Brian looked up and saw Justin coming. Truthfully, he was only a couple minutes late, Brian was just anxious to hear what the Dean had said. Before Justin could get in the car good after putting his portfolio in the back, Brian asked, "So?"

Justin closed the door and strapped himself in, fumbling with the belt a little before clicking it into place. Turned towards Brian and slowly let a smile spread across his face.

Not letting a trace of emotion show, Brian checked the side mirror and pulled out. Grunted.

Taking that as a positive, Justin settled down and enjoyed the ride home. Upon arrival, they showered until the water ran cold, hopped out shivering, dried off using the same towel, and changed before heading over to Deb's place for dinner.

"Mel and Lindsay bringing Gus?"

Brian shook his head. "Sitter."

"Can we go by this weekend and see him?"

"I'm sure you'll see him before then." Thinking about all of the times Lindsay had shown up at the loft unannounced while he'd been 'occupied,' Brian said, "Lindz'll probably bring him over while we're fucking."

Grinning, Justin said, "He's a little young for sex education."

"No such thing," Brian replied.

How Justin managed to keep his good news to himself all during dinner, Brian didn't know. He could tell the teen was close to bursting. Finally, as they sat around the table waiting for dinner to digest, Deb gave him an opening. "So what's happening with school?"

"I reapplied. I went today and talked to the Dean."

"So what'd he say?" Deb asked.

Casually, Justin said, "Oh, my application was approved. He said I could stay." Instantly everyone began congratulating him, the three women coming over and kissing him.

Brian grumbled, "What's all the kissing? You trying to turn him straight?" and he leaned over and kissed the teen hard upon the mouth. Somehow Justin's lips slid down his neck and for an instant they forgot they were in the middle of Deb's kitchen and not at home.

"Oh shit, they're gonna do it right here," Deb commented.

"I'll get my camera," said Vic.

"Better yet," Mel suggested as they parted, "get a room."

Then Ted mentioned them doing it on camera for his porno site and Justin half-seriously said, "Help pay for college."

"Don't put any ideas in his head," Brian told Ted.

And Vic quipped, "Or mine."

The conversation veered into talk about the site which clearly upset Lindsay as she said finally, "Can we talk about something other than sex for one minute?"

Everyone looked around the room, at a loss. Finally, Emmett broke the silence by asking, "If a trick jerks off for more than eight hours, does he get overtime?"

Justin stood and started picking up the plates from the table.

Laughing, Deb told him, "Don't you bus here, honey, you're not at the diner. Sit down."

"That's okay. I don't mind," he told her. "Brian, would you grab that?"

Willing to take advantage of every opportunity to tease the boy, Brian groped his cock. "What? That?"

"No, the platter, please," Justin said, pretending to be prim and proper and yet a little turned on too.

Joint in his mouth, Brian replied in a falsetto voice, "Yes, dear." Taking the dishes to the sink, he and Justin abandoned them to Mikey. Time for a little dessert before the dessert.

Going outside to the backyard where they had shared a joint once before, Brian and Justin passed the doobie back and forth a couple of times before abandoning it for a round of heavy duty kissing. Brian loved the way Justin leaned into their kisses, he could feel the teenager's cock stiffen against his thigh. Cupping his groin, Brian stroked him as they gnawed one another's lips, finally breaking apart, breathing heavily. "Fuck the pie," Brian growled.

"What pie?" Justin asked facetiously, pulling the man towards the front yard and the car.

By the time they reached the apartment, they were too hard and hot to make it all the way upstairs. Aware of the fact that they were out in public, Justin bit down on his bottom lip to keep from crying out as he impaled himself on Brian's cock, the ad exec seated on the second to the top step. Right hand up against the wall, left hand around Brian's wrist, Justin crouched over the man's lap, facing away from him, and ground his buttocks against his lover's pelvis. Shifting positions until he could feel Brian's cock bumping into his prostate, Justin swallowed a moan and continued thrusting backwards, his hips moving in a blur. His balls tightened and his mouth fell open, saliva dripping down his chin. Brian wrapped his arms around him and shuddered, coming. A second later, Justin's cock erupted, splattering the stairs.

Brian wouldn't have paid any attention to the guy except that they were both picking through the zucchini and it seemed as if the guy was challenging him to a duel, picking up bigger squash each time Brian did. 'Sometimes a zucchini is just a zucchini,' Brian heard a voice with a fake Austrian accent say. But, never one to back down from a challenge, Brian found a monster veggie and the guy seemed daunted at last. Then Justin returned.

"Check it out." He hit Brian on the shoulder with a box of pasta. "I got a second box of penne free with a coupon."

"You clip coupons?" Brian asked having visions of Justin seated at the dining table going through the paper for coupons for condoms.

"Yeah," Justin replied. He noticed the man on the other side of the zucchini watching them. "You can save a lot of money."

"I had no idea you were so tight," Brian replied.

"Sure you did," Justin replied, still looking at the guy. He was kinda hot in a rough sort of way.

Ignoring the double entendre, Brian picked up both boxes of penne and said, "Why don't you take the two boxes of penne back and get one box of rigatoni." He handed the boxes to Justin who took them and headed back for the pasta aisle. "Fuck the fifty cents," Brian added, then said before Justin got completely out of earshot, "And buy some Crisco. Even if it's not on sale." He didn't bother to look at the teen but knew that his face was probably red. Served him right. Fifty fucking cents? He grabbed some packages of sun-dried tomatoes when he heard the guy with the goatee talking to some old leather daddy.

"See that guy? That's Brian Kinney."

My reputation precedes me, Brian thought.

"He used to be the hottest stud on Liberty Avenue."

Used to be?

"Now he's in a relationship."

A master of bullshitting, Brian sauntered off tossing a grapefruit in his hand. Used to be, huh? He'd show them.

Careful not to let Justin know what he was doing, he managed to come close to the guy and drop one of his business cards in his basket with his address and a message written on it: "Be there before I get back."

Luckily, Justin wanted to go to Daphne's and hang out; he hadn't wanted to come up with a reason to ditch the teen. Waving to Daphne, he drove off and ran a couple of other errands before heading for home. Let the prick wait for him.

The zucchini man was waiting outside of the building when he got there an hour later. Brian, groceries in hand, didn't say anything, just led him upstairs and into the loft. The guy was so anxious he grabbed Brian just inside the door, spilling a couple of apples onto the floor. Leaving them, Brian pushed him towards the couch. For some reason, he didn't want to fuck him in the bed. Not wanting to think about why, he stripped.

The two coeds made their way to the elevator and rode to the top floor. Brian was home, the Jeep was outside, and he probably hadn't eaten, so they could all have dinner together before Daphne had to return to the dorm. Maybe we can have rigatoni, Justin grinned to himself. Just about to get out the key, he noticed that the door was ajar. Pushing it open and going inside, he almost stumbled over a couple of apples on the floor. He bent over and picked them up, silly smile on his face, and that's when he saw them.

On the couch.

Brian and the guy from the store.

He could hear himself telling Daphne as they'd walked to the building, ". . . he's changed. . . this time he barely even looked."

Having heard the door open, Brian turned and saw them, Justin and Daphne, watching him fuck. What was he doing home? Only it was too late to do anything but grimace as the first convulsions shook him. Shit.

Justin placed the two apples on the counter and turned. "Come on," he said to Daphne. So much for Brian having changed.

The zucchini man sent on his way, Brian showered and then sat on the sofa in his robe sipping bourbon. Waiting for Justin to come home.

Around two in the morning he realized that Justin wasn't coming home and he started to get up and get dressed and go looking for him. And do what? he asked himself. Explain what had happened? He snorted. Since when did he explain himself? Since you got in a relationship.

He lay staring at the ceiling. The bed seemed so huge without Justin. He guessed it seemed smaller when the teen was there because Justin insisted on sleeping right up against him. How many mornings had he awakened with Justin's arm around his waist? Even if he worked free of Justin in the night, somehow they managed to find their way back to one another.

The next morning, as he opened his eyes, he rolled over to see if Justin had maybe returned in the night. But that side of the bed hadn't been slept in. Getting up, he checked the rest of the loft. There was no sign of him.

Showering alone, he thought of all the times when they'd washed one another, Justin's giggles filling the stall as Brian struggled to scrub the slippery, ticklish teen. Having dressed, Brian didn't feel like eating alone even though they'd bought food just yesterday. But he was afraid to go to the diner, afraid that Justin had gone to Deb's and she'd be there ready to ream him out, having gone into protective mode. Besides that, Justin was supposed to work the morning shift. What if he wasn't there? What if he'd gone back to his mom's? Gone for good? Well, there wasn't any point in putting it off. If Justin had gone to Deb's, he'd hear about it sooner or later. And if he'd gone to Jennifer's intending to leave all of them behind, then he'd deal with it when it happened.

The moment he stepped inside the diner, he breathed easier. Justin was there. Waiting on a couple of tables. So there was a chance to mend things. Assuming a carefree air, he kissed Mikey on the cheek, tickled Em while growling in his ear, and took Ted's coffee. Hopped on a stool next to his best friend.

"Well, someone got lucky last night," Deb said and he sobered a little.

He didn't think lucky was quite the right word to describe it.

Having ordered breakfast he chitchatted with Mikey waiting for Justin to make the first move. Finally, Justin came close to him and he seized the opportunity, pulling the teenager towards him. "Morning, Sunshine."

Justin didn't smile, just asked in a neutral voice, "Can I get you anything else?"

"Ah, yeah, come to think of it." He leaned in for a kiss but Justin worked out of his embrace.

"I'll be late for class."

Brian watched him go to the back. So, everything wasn't all right. Well, fuck it.

He pretended not to notice Michael going after Justin when the teenager left the diner. To talk about him, commiserate. But he knew Mikey would bring it up eventually and he did, on their way to Carnegie-Mellon where Michael was to delivery his lecture on superheroes and homoeroticism. When he expressed fake interest in Michael's professor friend, he was told that he was living with someone. As if he didn't know that. Shit, he had all of Justin's crap to remind him.

"He's living with me," he corrected Michael.

"Whatever. Either way, you're all comfy and cozy. Except when you're fucking other guys."

"Who I fuck is none of your business. Or his." He stopped the Jeep. "Now, get out."

"What the fuck is the matter with you?"

"This is it."

"Oh." Michael didn't get out. "This is a really dumb idea. Let's get out of here."

Brian refused to let him off the hook. "Don't be pathetic. You made a commitment, now you're going to go through with it." Sometimes all Michael needed was a little push. Sometimes he needed a kick in the ass.

"Like you know about making commitments," Michael reminded him.

"Which is why I never do," he replied.

Driving to work after dropping Michael off, Brian thought about what he'd said. He'd successfully avoided making any kind of commitment to anyone and yet here he was, in the doghouse with Justin. And for what? For fucking some guy. And why? Because Justin thought they were a couple. So did the rest of the world, apparently. Well, the rest of the world wasn't him. And he- - he. . . Brian rubbed his face. He didn't want to think about it. Not right now.

The day passed in a haze which had nothing to do with the rain. Trapped in a funk, he managed to smoke about half a pack of cigarettes and Cynthia refused to come into his office. Lunchtime he stayed in, didn't bother to even order anything. Twice he found himself picking up his cellphone and starting to call Justin and both times he put it down and told himself to stop acting like a pathetic pussy boy. Justin would either be there when he got home or he wouldn't be and if he weren't, he'd pack up his stuff and take it to wherever Justin was and that would be that. Only, as good as that sounded in his head, he felt his stomach tighten each time he thought about emptying the loft of Justin's things, of showering alone, of sleeping alone. Fuck.

He stood outside his door for a full minute before pulling it open. Nearly smiled when he saw Justin sitting at his computer. But he could tell from the way Justin studiously avoided looking at him that things weren't back to normal between them. Saying nothing, he went into the bedroom and changed clothes. Sat on the edge of the platform for about ten minutes trying to decide what to do. What approach to take. Then, being Brian Kinney, he decided to go for it, pretend like everything was forgiven and get Justin so hot and bothered that he'd forget to be angry with him.

Slipping his hands over Justin's shoulders, he kissed the side of Justin's face and neck. Squatted and continued to kiss him as he eased his hand between Justin's thighs and stroked his cock. But instead of reciprocating, Justin squirmed and tried to move away from him. "Don't," the teen said.


"Got something better to do."

With a half-laugh, Brian said, "Homework?" Still tried to kiss him. "We're in deep shit trouble." He gave up trying to kiss him when he saw that the teen was not going to give in. "You're not still upset about the zucchini man, are you? In fact, I don't even remember it. Or him. It was nothing." He couldn't believe he was explaining himself to Justin.

"I know. It was just you being you. I know who you are. I don't expect you to change. In fact, I don't want you to." It'd taken a lot of soul-searching for Justin to arrive at that conclusion. He had no illusions about who or what Brian was and it wouldn't do him any good to expect him to change, to be anything other than what he was.

"Then what?" Brian asked softly.

"Why am I here?"

That was the one hundred thousand dollar question, the one he hadn't been able to answer for himself. So, he resorted to being a smartass. "One night your mommy and daddy wanted to make a baby- -"

"You know what I mean." Justin wasn't letting him off the hook. "Is it just because you feel guilty about what happened?" Which was what Michael had said. "Maybe because you bashed in the head and he feels guilty." But he'd thought that they'd put that behind them, tossed it away with the blood-stained scarf. He hadn't even been angry with Michael for saying it, just saddened that he'd misinterpreted what they had, that the feelings he had for Brian weren't returned, that he was just a burden and nothing more. "Answer me," he said, desperately wanting Brian to tell him that he was wrong. "Answer me. If I hadn't gotten bashed in the head, would I even be here?"

Brian said nothing, just looked away.

Silence wasn't enough anymore. Standing, Justin gathered his drawings and carried them to where his portfolio lay. Put them inside and left it on the living room table. Then he grabbed his raincoat and fled the apartment.

Brian touched the computer screen, finger tracing the drawing Justin had been working on, but he didn't see it. Felt the tears well up in his eyes and pinched the inner corners of his eyes to keep them from falling. What the fuck had he done?

The bus let him off on the corner and he walked in the pouring rain to Deb's house and knocked. He was glad of the rain as it hid the tears that coursed down his face. When she answered, "Sunshine, what are you doing here?" he asked her, "You haven't rented out my old room yet, have you?"

"No," she told him. "Come on in."

She fixed him a cup of hot cocoa which he didn't want and got him out of his wet clothes, giving him one of Vic's robes to wear while his clothes took a spin in the dryer. "What's wrong?"

And he looked down into his hot chocolate and said nothing. His throat was so tight, he didn't think he could speak.

Brian. "So what'd he do now?" she asked, remembering how she'd asked Michael that same thing only a couple weeks ago. Remembering how she'd told him that Brian might actually love Justin. Well, maybe she was wrong. Asshole.

Justin shook his head. "Nothing."

"So why are you over here asking for your old room back when you could be across town with God's gift to Gay PA?"

He wiped his eyes. Said softly, "I don't want to be just another fuck."

"You aren't, baby."

"Then why can't he say it?"

"Because he's Brian Kinney."

Justin sniffled. "And he doesn't do boyfriends or lovers or partners or anything like that." He put his cup down. "And I'm stupid for even thinking that would change."

"You're not stupid."

"I. . ." he started, the words lodging in his throat, and then he began to cry in earnest. How could he explain that loving Brian had become as vital to him as his art? That they were so entwined now as to be impossible to separate in his mind, his heart. Brian was no longer just the subject, the focus of his art, he had become part of the art. Unknowingly, Brian had hinted at it himself when he'd said, "What do you call this?" He'd been right. Every time they were together, it was an act of creation and he couldn't give that up.

"I know," she told him and put her arms around him. "I know." Holding him until he'd finished bawling, Deb gave him a tissue and told him to blow his nose. "Now, you get your clothes out of the dryer, change, and go out dancing or something and forget about that asshole for an hour or so."

"I can't."

"Yes, you can. Cause it's not gonna do you any good to sit in here and stew. Now, get a move on," she urged.

It was as if he sensed her before she even walked through the door. And, of course, she was steaming. Justin must have made a bee-line straight for her place. Shit. He was so not in the mood for a lecture. All he wanted was to finish his beer and then have another and another and, hopefully, at some point, he'd just lose consciousness and wouldn't have to think about the mess he'd made.

No such luck.

She sat down next to him and without any preamble lit into him. "Hasn't the kid been through enough without you causing him more pain?"

"Stay out of it." Fat chance.

"The fuck I will. I care about him. All you care about is- -"

"Getting my dick sucked," he finished for her. "I think that's been firmly established. Now, can we move on from there?"

Trying to keep a lid on her temper, Deb began again. "Look, all I want is to- -"

"Interfere?" He so did not want to hear this. Her voice buzzed around his head like a million flies.

Call it whatever the fuck you want." He was really starting to piss her off. Even though she knew him, knew that he often resorted to that shitty attitude when he wanted to avoid dealing with life, it still pissed her off when he did it to her. "I don't want Justin hurt."

"Well, that's life, isn't it? Surprise."

Her hand itched to pop him up side the head, but she refrained from doing so and talked to him instead. "You think you've got everybody fooled, don't you? Well not me, honey. I've known you too long and, regrettably, too well." He smiled at her. Bastard. She'd wipe that smile off his face. "And no matter how hard you try to deny it, I can tell you care about him as much as he cares about you. Only you don't have the big, hairy cajones to say it."

Still maintaining a nonchalant air, he said, "Oh, well, maybe I could borrow yours."

Adopting his air, she replied, "Well, hey. Whatever it takes." He tipped his beer towards her. "To admit that you love him." He looked away. "And I know that you do. Despite all of your efforts never to let another heart touch yours. That's assuming, of course, you have one. That little, persistent kid somehow got in under the wire. And that's what's happened, huh? Admit the truth." Brian looked at her. "You love him, don't you?"

Looking away from her again, he put his chin down upon his hands. He'd never been so afraid in his life, not even when Justin had been lying in that parking garage bleeding to death. He laid his chin on his hands to keep her from seeing how they shook. Blew out a breath of air.

"I thought so. Then tell him," she said. "Tell him what you could never say to Michael."

Michael knew that he loved him, knew that no matter what, they'd always be there for each other. He'd told him that when they were fourteen, he'd told him that weeks ago at that fucking comic book convention. But that was different. That wasn't the same as giving your heart to an eighteen-year-old kid and hoping he didn't trample it underfoot. What was he going to do?

As she stood, she told him, "I sent him to Babylon. You do whatever the fuck you want. But if you're smart you'll find him and you'll make this right between you." Paused, then added, "You can't afford to lose him."

After she'd gone, he sat staring at the half-empty bottle of beer. Was it so hard to say? To tell Justin that he loved him? No. He didn't have to tell him. Justin knew that he loved him. What Justin wanted was a commitment from him, something that said he was important to the man. But what more could he do? He'd opened his home to Justin, helped him through some rough times, never gave up on him, never let him give up on himself, helped him find a way to be what he needed to be. And Justin had helped him. Helped him release the guilt he'd been feeling, helped him to feel proud of himself, to feel useful, needed. How much more could Justin ask of him? Ask of them?

He knew the answer: just one thing more.

But would he be able to do it?

He watched them dance from the upper level, Justin and some other twink. Watched them kiss briefly. And he didn't like it. Making his way down to the dance floor, he suppressed the panic that flared and cleared his head.

As he neared them, the guy Justin was dancing with turned and smiled. "Hey."

"Hey, fuck off," he told him and the twink disappeared.

"What do you want?" Justin asked.

"You were right," he said. "The reason I took you in was because you took a bat to the head." He added before Justin could misunderstand, "But it's not the reason I want you to stay." To his credit, Justin didn't betray his feelings. He held Brian's eyes and waited for it all. "But don't get the idea that we're some married couple because we're not." Justin had to understand that there were some things he couldn't do. "We're not like fuckin' straight people. We're not like your parents. And we're not a pair of dykes marching down the aisle in matching Vera Wang. We're queers. And if we're together it's because we want to be not because there's locks on our doors."

Justin couldn't breathe. Was Brian saying that they were together?

"So if I'm out late, assume I'm doing exactly what I want to be doing: I'm fucking."

That stung, but it was no more than the truth. Best face it and deal with it.

"And when I come home, I'll also be doing exactly what I want to do: coming home to you."

"Coming home to you." The significance of the words wasn't lost on Justin. Coming home to me, he thought. Our home. But it wasn't enough. It wasn't enough for Brian to tell him how it would be. If they were going to be in a relationship, then they both needed to put their cards out on the table. "Okay," he said. "I want some things too." He caught a glimpse of surprise in Brian's eyes. Good enough. "You can fuck whoever you want, as long as it's not twice. Same for me." He could tell Brian hadn't thought about that. Let him think about it and see how he liked it. "And no names or numbers exchanged."

Brian shrugged that off mentally. It wasn't like he collected names or numbers anyway. And he never did the same guy twice.

Except for one.

"And no matter where you are, no matter what you're doing, you always come home." He thought about it. "By two."

"Four," countered Brian.

"Three," he offered and Brian kept quiet. So they agreed. But there was something else. "One more thing." It was a biggie. "You don't kiss anyone else on the mouth but me." Waited. And he meant no one else, not Mikey, not some anonymous trick, no one.

Brian knew who Justin meant by that rule. He meant Mikey. After a moment, saying nothing, Brian leaned into Justin and kissed him. On the mouth. Hard. He slipped his arm around the teen's neck and drew him closer. Oblivious to the people around them, they continued to kiss, each of them grateful that the night had ended with them together instead of apart.

Giving Justin a soft kiss upon the lips, Brian whispered, "Come on. We're going home."

Kneeling face-to-face on the bed, Justin sighed as Brian kissed him and poured oil down his back. He could feel it sliding along his spine and running between his cheeks followed by Brian's hands as they worked the oil into his skin, warming him upon contact. And they kissed. Brian had never kissed him as much as he had tonight. "You don't kiss anyone else on the mouth but me," he'd told him earlier and he was doubly certain now that he didn't want anyone else stealing kisses meant for him and him alone. No one kissed like Brian.

He let Brian lay him upon the bed and spread his legs. His lover- - Yes!- - poured more oil down his torso and rubbed it in with the pads of his fingers, raising his surface temperature. His body glistened, tingled, skin vanilla-scented, and his buttocks slid against one another as he moved. Having oiled Justin, Brian lay down next to him and they wrapped arms and legs about one another and continued to ply swollen and reddened lips. Giving his mouth one final kiss, Brian continued down his body, lips teasing his nipples, his ribs, belly button, cock. Thighs quivering, Justin's fingers brushed over the comforter while Brian kissed him from kneecap to groin. The man's tongue flicked over the head of his dick and Justin inhaled sharply. Over and over again, Brian licked the cap of his cock before drawing it into his mouth. Descending until his face was pressed into the teen's pubic hair, Brian drew his head up again and let Justin go, murmuring, "Mmm," before taking him back inside.

Minutes later, Justin was panting, Brian sucking his fully erect penis. One hand on the back of Brian's head and the other gripping his pillow, Justin arched his back, pushing his dick further inside Brian's throat. "Oh," he moaned and his muscles tightened. He shuddered and came in the tight, warm space, eyes shut tight. When he opened them, he wanted to laugh. Brian's hair was standing on end from where he had pulled and tugged at the strands.

After a brief respite, Brian knelt between his legs and lifted them to his shoulders. Parted his cheeks and lowered his face. Justin muttered as Brian's tongue slithered around his hole. As much as he loved being blown by Brian, he loved this even more: the feel of the man's tongue inside him, the wet muscle easing him open and making him ready. His dick, having been flaccid a moment before, had begun to stir again. One of the virtues of being eighteen. Feeling his hole open up to Brian's tongue, he knew the cum-streaked head would be dripping soon. Sure enough, after Brian had made a few more forays into his ass, he felt the first trickle of precum run down his belly.

For his part, Brian could never get enough of the teen's ass. Either eating it out or fucking it, it didn't seem to matter. Gnawing on the edge, he pulled the hole open and plunged his tongue inside, licking the inner wall and causing Justin to cry out. By the time he'd finished rimming him, the boy's asshole was relaxed and had started going into spasms. Kissing the knotted flesh one last time, Brian reached for the condoms and lubricant.

The cool lube was a welcome sensation. It felt as if he were being impaled on a warm icicle. Looking between his thighs, he could see Brian's cock sliding in and out of his hole. It only made him hotter. He closed his hand around his cock and gave it a few tugs, then let go as Brian shifted positions. Legs sliding off his lover's shoulders, Justin hooked his feet one over the other in the small of Brian's back as the man knelt over him, hips still pumping, driving his cock into the teenager.

It was like sliding through silk, fucking Justin's hole. Brian squeezed his eyes tight and imagined that his cock was wrapped from top to bottom with a ribbon. Opening his eyes to find Justin looking up at him, he lowered his head and kissed his puffy lips. Imagined his own look the same. If he couldn't kiss anyone else, he'd kiss Justin enough to make up for it. Not that it was a hardship. He loved kissing Justin, thick lips caught between his thinner ones. Justin grunted into his mouth and he inhaled his breath. "Yes, yes," the teenager murmured and he agreed. Getting up on his knees again, he pressed Justin's legs back along his chest and began slamming into him, cock thrust deep inside him only to be wrenched almost completely out. Then came the moment when he no longer wanted to be outside of Justin and his strokes became shorter, more harried. Justin had taken hold of his cock and was stroking himself furiously as Brian rode him hard. Spreading Justin's legs open even wider, Brian humped him until the first spasm gripped him. Crying out as he climaxed, he fucked Justin through his own orgasm, the boy's chest and belly splashed with cum.

Like a rough-hewn statue by Michelangelo, they were unfinished, yet all the more beautiful for it. As the master had claimed that he had only released the form trapped inside the stone, so did their love release them from themselves: from the fear, the guilt, the anger, the doubt, the heartache, and the hurt. And yet, it was these very things that had shaped them. There was beauty in the struggle.

Moving as slowly as old men, they pulled the covers over them and prepared to sleep. Feeling a space between them, Brian reached behind him and drew Justin closer. The teen wrapped his arm around Brian's waist and settled against his back. Satisfied. They were both where they belonged. Home.

"Conviction of the Heart," music and lyrics by Kenny Loggins and Guy Thomas, published by Gnossos Music (ASCAP)/Southshore Music (BMI).

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