Is it wrong, he mused as he sketched Brian sleeping, to be so happy? Although a lot of things had changed, one hadn't: Brian was still a better subject asleep than awake. Awake he fidgeted and talked or grumbled, or endured. Asleep he relaxed, opened up, revealed. . . and Justin could study him to his heart's content without fear of mockery or of exposing himself too much although Brian knew, knew how much his young partner loved him, adored him. Slowly, Justin leaned over and planted a gentle kiss upon Brian's lips, wanting him to remain asleep, half-hoping he'd awaken. But Brian merely slept on, probably believing he'd dreamt the fleeting contact.
Justin wondered if Brian dreamt about them. He certainly did: dreams that gave him a hard-on sometimes, dreams that kept him smiling even in the middle of the night. Brian had told him sometimes he smiled in his sleep and he believed him. The dreams he had, it sometimes made him blush to think about them. Which was incredible considering some of the things he and Brian had done sexually. He would never have imagined doing such things back when he was an innocent high school student. Well, truthfully, he had but to actually do them? All he had to do was ask and Brian would fulfill his every desire. Just thinking about it made him want to wake Brian up but he refrained from doing so. Brian had come home that evening exhausted from work and still had managed to satisfy Justin's needs before falling into a stupor. Fortunately, what Justin had needed was to fuck Brian, which he did, soundly. Not that all Brian had to do was to lie there, but it was less strenuous, less exhausting. And Brian loved getting fucked. It was funny how people thought of him as this total top when the truth was he loved a hard, thick cock up his ass as much as the next guy. It was just that he tended to attract guys who were bottoms. Mostly because of his aggressive nature. Another top was generally put off by it but every now and again he'd find a guy who was willing to take him on. At least, that had been the case until he and Justin had hooked up. Now his tight, pert ass belonged to Justin. Or so he hoped. Believed.
He hadn't gotten the impression that Brian had been with anyone else for a very, very long time. Of course, he could have been mistaken. It wasn't as if the man was going to come home and broadcast it if he had. He certainly hadn't spilled the beans about the hot and heavy kissing he and Xavier had done in the studio before Christmas break. And he didn't intend to. That was one secret he'd keep between them. He knew Brian was aware that Xavier had feelings for him. So far, Brian tolerated them, ignored them for the most part, but if he ever learned about that make-out session all hell would break loose. Despite his assertions to the contrary, Brian was the jealous type. His behavior after any of Justin's outside pairings had convinced the teen of that.
Justin remembered how betrayed Brian had felt when he'd found out part of the reason Justin had asked for leniency during Chris Hobbs' sentencing was due to Xavier. Justin had been terrified that he'd lost him. If he ever found about their kissing. . . Justin didn't want to think about it, afraid Brian would somehow, impossibly, find out about it.
But what was he going to do about Xavier? He could imagine his friend's reaction when he saw the ring Justin now wore and it wouldn't be pleasant. Still, he couldn't wait to show them all. Daphne was coming home from her grandparents' house to spend a few weeks in Pittsburgh before heading back to school and they had already planned some major hang-out days. Plus, his birthday was coming up and Xavier and Rennie would be back by then since IFA resumed classes before Princeton, and Brian had promised him he could throw a party at the loft.
What would Xavier say about the ring, about what it meant for his own abortive dreams? Justin could only speculate which did him no good whatsoever. Better to go to sleep and deal with it when it happened.
Putting away his sketch pad, Justin got under the covers and molded himself against his lover's ribs. Brian had told him more than once that he was like a cat, the way he curled into his side. "And how would you know?" Justin had asked, not believing for a minute that Brian had ever had a pet. He didn't seem the type; and Brian had replied, "My grandmother had a cat. Fucking thing loved me and I hated it. Wouldn't leave me alone. One time I woke up in the middle of the night and it was sleeping on my fuckin' head. You know what it's like waking up with a face full of pussy?"
Curving an arm around Brian's waist, Justin stroked his skin, practically purring as he fell asleep.
"OhmyGod!" Daphne exclaimed as she grabbed his hand. They had met at the loft and had just hugged hello when she saw the ring. "OhmyGod. Is it. . . ?"
"Yep," he replied, "real platinum."
She hit him on the arm. "No, stupid. Is it a wedding band?"
"Same difference." She frowned. "You had a commitment ceremony and didn't invite me?"
"No," he assured her. "We just exchanged rings. Just the two of us. New Year's," and he smiled widely remembering how perfect it had been. "You should have seen him," he said and couldn't find the words to explain what he meant there was so much to tell.
"I can't believe it," she said even though she was looking right at the ring.
"No one could."
They settled on the sofa with a couple of sodas and a bowl of popcorn between them. "What'd your mom say?"
"She totally freaked. She was happy but I could tell she was a little scared too."
Daphne sipped her soda. "It's a big step. I mean, you're only eighteen."
"Nineteen next weekend."
She smiled at the unspoken dig because she had to wait until May before her birthday came. "Still having a party?"
He grinned around his straw. "Yep."
Bouncing once, her ultimate expression of joy, Daphne sobered a little. "I can't believe you're, like, married. You know? Doesn't it feel a little weird?"
"Sometimes. Only cause it's like being married and it's not. Nothing's legal, nothing's binding but I still feel like we're married. Kind of. Even without a license or vows or witnesses or anything."
Before the sadness could set in, she said, "Except for that really cool ring."
He looked at it, happy to have an excuse to do so. "Brian picked it out. I didn't know anything about it." Remembering, "He waited until the New Year's party was over and then he told me to close my eyes and hold out my hand."
"That's so romantic."
"What does it say?" Added, "If you want to tell me. You don't have to."
"It says, 'Forever faithful, Brian,' on the inside of mine and 'Forever faithful, Justin,' on the inside of his."
"Justin!" she exclaimed. Gave her head a tiny shake. "I am so jealous."
"I thought you never wanted to get married."
"I don't. But I wouldn't mind someone giving me a really cool ring and all the other stuff."
"You are such a freak," he told her fondly.
She laughed, then drew in a breath. "What about Xavier? I know he really likes you."
Justin hadn't told her about the kiss- - and didn't plan on telling her either because she couldn't keep a secret if her life depended on it- - but she had been the first person to suspect that Xavier was interested in him.
"What about him?" he asked. "I mean, we're just friends. It's all we
ever could be. I love Brian."
Meeting up with the teenagers at the diner later, Brian gave Daphne a resounding kiss which left her speechless. No one flustered her like Brian. And he knew it and took advantage of every opportunity. "How's the hottest Ivy League babe around?"
She giggled. "Fine."
"Break any hearts yet?"
"Working on it."
"That's my girl."
Taking a chance, she asked, "Are you going to be at Justin's party?"
He knocked back a swig of cream soda. "Someone has to chaperone," he
replied after swallowing.
As they got ready for bed, Justin tried to sound Brian out on the issue of the upcoming celebration. "You don't mind about the party, do you?"
"Why should I?"
"A bunch of college kids? In the loft?"
"I'll put all the breakables up on the high shelf out of reach."
Satisfied on that point, Justin beamed. "I can't believe I'm going to be nineteen."
"Remember that song? Hey nineteen," sang Brian.
Justin laughed. "I used to hear it on the oldies station."
"It's not that old. It came out in what? Eighty? Eighty-one?"
Dead serious, Justin replied, "That was before I was born."
And Brian laughed, but Justin could tell he wasn't pleased. Which was borne out by the way he crawled under the covers without saying anything else. Then, after a moment, he said, "I was nine in nineteen eighty." Another moment of silence. "You were seven-years-old when I turned nineteen. While you were busy figuring out five times five, I was taking derivatives in Calculus II."
"So, it's just funny, that's all." Brian laughed, no more pleasant or joyful a sound than before. "Like that old song." With that he cut off the light on the night stand and turned onto his side. Away from Justin.
Arm around Jeff's waist, Michael asked as Brian got closer to them, "Where's your better half?"
"When the cat's away. . ." began Jeff.
"The mice will lick their wounds," Brian finished. To the bartender, "Double Beam."
Michael exchanged glances with Jeff. "Trouble?"
Brian downed the double shot. Shook his head. Then rubbed his temple. "Headache."
"Sure that helped."
Emmett and Ted came over from the dance floor, Em still dancing even though his partner of the moment had abandoned him for another firefly in the night. "You look like shit," he told Brian.
"It's a hard knock life," said Ted and Em laughed recognizing the reference to Annie.
"Maybe you and the Boy Wonder should ease off exploring the bat cave for a few hours," Michael suggested and Jeff tried not to snicker.
"Newlyweds," declared Em as if that explained it all.
Shaking his head, Brian closed his eyes and said softly, "Shut the fuck up."
The guys looked at him with concern. They'd expected him to growl, to slash at them but he barely seemed able to manage it. Michael rubbed his shoulder. "Maybe you should go to the doctor. Get checked out."
"Whatever." He pushed from the bar. This had not been one of his better
ideas. "I'm outta here."
Luckily Justin wasn't home when he got there because by then he'd definitely begun to feel a lot under the weather and if Justin had seen him he would have immediately gone into mother mode. As is, maybe he'd be able to gulp down some juice and a couple of Tylenol and go to sleep before the teen got back.
He awoke to the sound of giggling, disoriented, uncertain as to the time or even where he was. It took a moment for him to realize that a) he was home in bed, b) he wasn't under the influence of any illegal drug, and c) he was, in fact, sick.
Listening to Daphne and Justin stumble about the livingroom he was tempted to call out to them but lacked the energy. Hoping they'd keep it down or run out of steam, he closed his eyes and drew the covers up around his neck. Shivering from the chills. Shit, he really would have to go to the doctor's office if this kept up.
"Brian?" Justin entered the bedroom tentatively, as if not believing his partner could be home at this hour. It was relatively early.
"Yeah," he replied and even to him his voice sounded tired and weak. No way Justin would fail to take note of that.
Sure enough, Justin came to his side and sat next to him. "You okay?"
"Think I'm coming down with something." Mothering to begin in five, four, three, two, one. . .
"I'll get you some juice." He felt Brian's forehead. "No fever. Are you cold?"
"Go play with Daphne. I'm going back to sleep." But he knew without being able to hear them that Justin had gone out and told her that the night was over and he had to take care of Brian because soon he heard the door open and shut and in a moment Justin returned. With a glass of juice.
"I'm not thirsty."
"You need the vitamin C." Giving in, Brian drank it. Easier to get it over with than to argue. "I could make you some tea or cocoa if you're cold," Justin offered.
"No, I- -"
"Maybe I should take your temperature." He started to the bathroom. Stopped. "Do we have any cold medicine?"
"Justin!" Brian yelled, scaring the teen. Justin looked round meekly at
him. "Come to bed." Although he worried about Justin picking up any bug
that he might have caught, both of them being sick was marginally
preferable to him being sick and Justin playing nursemaid.
By Sunday afternoon he knew he'd have to seek professional help if only to escape from Justin's relentless care. He seemed bound and determined to smother the sickness out of Brian by remaining by his side every moment of the day when he wasn't fetching something for Brian or cooking something for him or concocting one of his grandmother's noxious brews guaranteed to cure what ailed you. Brian could only conclude that the woman must have been a walking medical encyclopedia of illnesses.
He woke once during the early evening sweating profusely, so much so that the sheets were soaked through and sticking to his skin.
Worried, Justin said, "Maybe we should go to the hospital now."
But Brian shook his head. "I'll go to my guy tomorrow. I'm not dying." Only, he felt like it. Throat like sandpaper, lungs burning, head pounding, hot as hell, cold as ice, and coughing every twenty-two seconds. Justin had gone out and gotten him some cold and flu medicine but his body resisted any and all attempts to provide him any relief. So he suffered. And counted the hours until his doctor's office opened.
Fidgeting in the waiting room, Brian having disappeared a half hour ago into the back in the care of a very concerned male nurse, Justin attempted to concentrate on the magazine in his hands but couldn't. Not that he thought anything was seriously wrong with Brian other than a bad case of the flu, he just hated being in hospitals or doctor's offices anymore. Nine months after his bashing, he still had to go in for periodic check-ups every six weeks or so in order to monitor the neurological damage that had been done and to make sure no new problems had arisen. Usually Brian was the one who waited while he went into the back and was poked and prodded for an hour or so. He didn't much care for it. Then again, he didn't care for waiting either. Still, worrying about it wasn't going to help matters. He attempted the magazine again. Mind drifted. . .
"Want me to forward your mail here?"
He jerked. Looked up and saw Brian staring down at him. "What?"
"Let's go. I fuckin' hate being around sick people."
Hurrying to catch up with Brian, who had taken off walking without waiting for Justin, the teen asked, "So? What's wrong?"
Justin was glad he'd gotten a flu shot in December. He'd tried to convince Brian to get one too but the man had resisted.
"Wants me to stay home for a few days. No goddamn way." Punched the down button on the elevator. Coughed for a few seconds, fighting to get his breath back. Said weakly, "Shit."
Justin maneuvered him into the elevator when the doors opened. "You're
"So," he heard Justin say, "the doctor says he has to stay home all week. You mind coming over and checking on him tomorrow while I'm at work?"
"I'm not a fuckin' invalid!" Brian yelled using the last of his reserves.
"Yeah, that was His Big and Badness."
Brian succumbed to a coughing fit. Slumped to the bed once he was done trying to bring up a lung.
"I gotta go. Thanks." Justin appeared in the doorway but Brian waved him away. The teenager held up his hands. "All right. I'll be in here if you need me."
Brian closed his eyes. Tried to remember what it had been like to be sick before Justin had moved in. He hardly ever got sick. There'd been that time he got food poisoning from eating some bad pie. But Justin had taken care of him. Before that, couple years ago, he'd slipped on the steps inside Babylon, totally fucking high on E and drunk besides, and he'd sprained his ankle, was in a hard cast for two weeks and then a gel cast for three. But he'd been able to get around. And guys were surprisingly turned on by a hottie on crutches.
The last time he'd had the flu bad enough to put him out of commission, he'd been with Cam. And Cam had brought that awful tasting chicken soup. Least Justin was a better cook. Brian smiled and sniffled. It still got to him sometimes, that Cam was gone. Even though they'd been apart for years when he died, they'd finally made peace with one another, and that made him both happy and sad. Happy that they'd parted ways without any hard feelings between them and sad that they hadn't gotten a chance to maybe become friends. In time. Maybe, Brian thought, we would have never been friends. He felt a tear crawl down his cheek and wiped it away. Fuckin' flu. Being sick always made him maudlin. Which was why he never allowed himself to get sick.
An hour later Justin checked in on him. He'd taken a couple cat naps during that time and had just woken up when Justin perched on the bed beside him. "How you feeling?"
Brian sniffed. "I stink."
Laughing, Justin said, "I didn't ask you how you smelled. I asked you how you felt."
"That explains the smell," joked Justin and Brian chuckled, a little short of breath. "Time for your medicine." He shook two Tylenols from the bottle and handed then to Brian along with a glass of water. Waited for him to finish swallowing and took the glass back. Passed him the nasal spray the doctor had given him. Brian inhaled and gave it back. "Feel like eating?"
Brian shook his head. Just the thought of food made him feel queasy.
"Not even a little soup?" Again he shook his head. Justin cupped his face, stroked his cheek with his thumb. "Okay." Taking the tumbler with him, Justin left him to sleep once more.
Trying not to feel as if he were being abandoned, Brian watched Justin get ready for work. He had picked up a couple extra shifts at the diner and wouldn't be home until the early evening.
"So who's coming over to babysit while you're gone?"
Justin pulled his sweater down. "Daphne."
Brian groaned. Not the other half of the Wonder Twins. "Kill me now."
"She's coming over at lunchtime to see that you eat. So eat something."
"Aye aye, sir."
Kissing Brian on the forehead, Justin asked seriously, "You'll be okay until twelve?"
"Go." And as Justin walked out of the room, he grumbled, ". . . like
I'm a fuckin' two-year-old." Only, he really wished Justin wasn't going
away. Stop being a big baby, he told himself. Shit, it's just
eight hours. You'll live. Then he remembered his replacement
nursemaid. Maybe not.
Pushing back the door extra hard because of the weight, Daphne announced her arrival with a bang. "Sorry," she said to the empty room. "Brian?"
"In here," he called. And thus it begins.
She climbed the steps to the bedroom and waved. "Hey."
"Hey," he replied with all of the energy he could summon, which wasn't much.
"No," he replied, "but I've been ordered to eat." He sat up in bed. Wiped sweat from his brow. "What you got?"
"Chicken soup and crackers."
Taking that as her cue, Daphne retreated into the kitchen and returned having poured the soup into a bowl and crumbled a couple of the crackers over top. There was also a glass of orange juice on the bed tray along with the bowl of soup. Carefully, she sat it over his lap.
Justin had gone out yesterday and bought the damn thing. Cost eighty fuckin' dollars and made Brian feel like a total ward case. He was waiting for Justin to put him in one of those backless paper gowns and a pair of fuzzy slippers, then his transformation would be complete.
"Well," Daphne said, "eat."
"Yes, ma'am," he grumbled and lifted the spoon to his lips. The sooner he ate the sooner he could go back to sleep.
Having sat on the top step to make sure he ate every drop and drank all of his juice, Daphne removed the tray when he was done and spent a few minutes putting everything away. When she came back, Brian had already fallen asleep. She smiled. He really did look pretty innocent when he was asleep. Totally deceptive. There was nothing innocent about Brian and even though he'd given Justin a ring, she didn't think it'd be smooth sailing from here on. But that was Brian.
"Oh," she chirped, remembering. Went into the other room and called Justin on his cell. "Yeah, I'm here. He ate the soup and now he's asleep. I'm gonna hang out a little while longer in case he needs something. No, I don't mind." She nodded, listening to his instructions about taking Brian's temperature and waking him for fluids. "Okay. Later." Grabbing her bag, she took out a trashy historical romance novel she'd been reading off and on for a couple days and settled down on the sofa. Not that anything in a novel could compare to Brian and Justin's romance but not everybody was as lucky- - or unlucky- - as they were. Some people had to settle for living vicariously.
Margaret loosened the drawstrings on her bodice. . .
She was still there when Justin got home at five. Met him at the door.
"Daph?" he said, immediately worried.
"He started coughing really badly and said he was having trouble breathing. Sounded totally congested," she explained, following him to the bedroom. "So I went out and got a humidifier."
Brian was lying in bed with the humidifier on the nightstand. He seemed to be asleep, and his breathing sounded okay.
"I'm glad you were here."
She shrugged. "You need anything?"
"We're fine." Walked with her to the door. "Thanks, Daph." Only once
she was gone, he returned to the bed and sat the foot, so as not to
disturb Brian, and watched him sleep. The doctor had said it'd only last a
few days, three or four at the most, and that it shouldn't get any worse.
After all, Brian was in good shape. Maybe it was just that he was tired
outside of being sick. The trial and everything after had taken a lot out
of both of them. Probably all Brian needed was a week at home and he'd be
good as new. Good being a figurative term.
After having fought Brian to get him to eat dinner, Justin figured he'd need a week to recover from Brian being home sick for a week.
"I want to take a shower."
"You're too weak."
Brian frowned. "You can help me."
"I stink." He thought. "And the shower might help with the congestion in my chest."
"You've got the humidifier." But he saw that Brian wasn't going to give up on the idea. "Fine," he agreed gracelessly. Drew back the covers and held out his hand. "Come on." As Brian stood and settled his arm around Justin's shoulder the teen wrinkled his nose. "You do stink."
"Fuck you," Brian whispered.
"What?" Justin asked. "Did you say something?"
Once they were in the bathroom, Justin stripped and then helped Brian with his briefs. Turned on the water and held on to Brian's arm as the man got in the shower with him. Grabbed the soap and began sudsing him up.
"Trying to grope me?" Brian asked, arms around Justin's shoulders and draped over his back.
Even though they were practically rubbing up against one another, Brian's illness had driven all carnal thoughts from Justin's mind. Okay, most carnal thoughts. A few had remained, hiding in the corners. "Save your breath. You're not getting any action until you're better. All better." Dipping his hand down between Brian's thighs, Justin soaped his cock and balls, his groin, and studiously tried to think good thoughts and not dwell on the fact that his own cock was getting ideas.
Having dried Brian off, Justin led him back to the bedroom and had him sit while he got out a clean pair of briefs, knelt and slipped them up over his slim hips. Brian raised up to let him get them all the way on, then laid back and waited while Justin rearranged the covers. He'd just gotten Brian settled down when someone knocked on the door. He sighed. It had to be the guys. Or Lindsay. Or Deb. Or somebody else who was going to keep Brian up talking instead of sleeping. Resigning himself to the inevitable, he grabbed a pair of sweats and answered the door.
Of course it was Mikey, and Em, and Ted, and Deb. Deb was carrying what looked like the world's biggest pot of chicken soup; Ted had a couple of books; Mikey had a stack of comics; and Emmett had a lovely lounging gown. Unfortunately, it would have looked perfect with a pair of mules. Not exactly the kind of thing Brian would wear. Would be seen in. Would be seen dead in.
"So, where's the patient?" Em asked. "I've been practicing my bedside manner."
"I thought that was your in-bed manner," said Ted.
Deb put down the pot of soup. "It's hot as hell in here."
"He's been having the chills," Justin explained.
Michael made a bee-line for the bedroom. "I brought you some light reading," he told Brian. Gestured back at the other room. "Ted brought you some sleeping pills."
"Jane Austen or Edith Wharton?"
Mikey frowned. "Both."
Brian rolled his head on the pillow. "He's trying to kill me."
"So are you okay?" Michael asked his best friend, sitting next to him on the bed, heedless of the risk.
"Truth?" Michael leaned closer. "I feel like I'm dying. Help me up."
"What?" After that confession, it was the last thing Michael would have exprected him to say.
"I can't let Justin know. Least if I go out there for a little while, he won't worry himself to death."
Not certain it was smart to depend upon a sick man's logic, Michael helped him up anyway, found his robe, and belted it around him.
"There he is," said Deb as she spotted him. "How you feel, kiddo?"
"Like I could fuck an entire fraternity." As she groaned, he added, "Speaking of which," he asked Justin, "have you finished planning for your party Saturday?"
"I'm not having it."
"The fuck you aren't."
Justin rolled his eyes. "You're sick."
"I'll be better by Saturday."
Deb raised an eyebrow. "You might as well give up, Sunshine." She hugged him. "Don't worry. If he still can't get it up by Saturday, you can drive him over to my place and I'll give him a little TLC."
Shuddering, Brian promised, "I'll be well. Besides, you haven't seen your little friends for what? A whole month almost? You must be going crazy. He hasn't talked to Xavier in four weeks. I think their previous record was four hours. Maybe." Justin stuck out his tongue. Got the requisite, "Kids."
After that Justin tuned out the rest of their conversation. Xavier. Shit. Why'd Brian have to bring him up? First Daphne, now Brian. And the last thing he wanted to do was to think about Xavier. There was nothing to think about. He'd go on campus tomorrow and do some work in his studio, put the invitations in everyone's boxes, and hope that enough people had returned so that his party wouldn't be a total dud. If he was lucky, the kids on the Diversity Council would show up. They were so cool. If they'd had a group like that at St. James. . . No, he definitely wouldn't think about St. James and Chris Hobbs tonight.
"What?" Brian asked, shifting his attention from the rest of the guys.
"Nothing." It amazed him that Brian had noticed anything at all. Especially since he seemed to be barely holding on as is. That was it. Justin stood. "I think Brian needs to get some rest."
Grinning at one another, the guys took the not-so-subtle hint. "Yes, sir," said Ted. "I love a forceful man."
"You love a man with a good whip," replied Emmett.
"That too," Ted agreed.
Although not everyone was accounted for, enough people had come back from the holidays that Justin could be assured a decent turn-out for his party. Which was a good thing since Brian had ordered this big-assed cake for his birthday. Chocolate and raspberry. Three huge layers. Decorated like a wedding cake. Actually, Justin thought it might be a Groom's cake. Anyway, Brian had insisted. Now, if he could only get Rennie and Daphne to help with the decorations. He didn't know about Xavier, didn't know how his friend would react to the changes in his life. Didn't know if Xavier would even want to talk to him after what had happened before Christmas. He hoped the break had given Xavier time to put some distance between himself and his feelings but he wasn't betting any money on it.
As he neared Xavier's studio, Justin thought he heard Rennie's voice. So they were back. Probably got back today or maybe last night. After the gang had left, he'd turned off the ringers on the phones- - even his cell- - not wanting to disturb Brian's sleep again. So they might have tried to reach him but couldn't. Standing outside the door for a few moments, Justin told himself that it would be okay, that Xavier would be able to handle it. He knocked once and pushed the door open. Saw Rennie and Xavier huddled around one of Xavier's pieces. "Hey." Waved.
Rennie was the first to spot him and it. "Hey, Boy Wonder- - What the fuck? Is that a fucking ring? A fucking commitment ring?" She grabbed his hand and examined it. "Shit." Held Justin's hand up so Xavier could see. "Look at this."
Taking a step forward, Xavier stopped. Justin could see the question in his eyes. Answered it.
"He gave it to me New Year's Day."
Xavier's eyes flitted towards the ring, then away. "It's nice."
"Nice?" asked Rennie. "It's fuckin' gorgeous. Shit," she said again.
"Listen," Justin said before he forgot, "you're coming to my party on Saturday right?" He handed them both invitations. Xavier, he noticed, hesitated before taking his. But he did take it. "And," he added, "I kinda need help decorating. Daphne's here and she's helping but. . ."
"Cool," commented Rennie. "I'm there. Want us to come over Friday or Saturday?"
"Saturday's fine. Besides, Brian's sick and I wanna give him all the time he needs to get better."
Immediately Rennie looked concerned. "What's wrong with him?"
Justin thought Brian would get a kick out of her reaction. "Flu."
"Maybe I should come over and take care of him." Justin waved his ring in her face. "Oh yeah. Well, I could still come over."
"Saturday afternoon," he told her. Stole a glance at Xavier. God, he was glad she was there. He didn't know what would have happened if they'd been alone. As is, Xavier looked like someone had just kicked him in the balls. "You coming?" he asked him certain Xavier wouldn't make a scene with Rennie standing there.
"Yeah," he replied, although they both knew he'd rather not.
Wanting to make a fast break, Justin said, "I gotta finish handing out invitations. Later."
"Later, Boy Wonder," said Rennie but Xavier just stared after him.
Justin could feel his eyes on his back long after he'd left them.
Brian was sitting in the living room in one of the armchairs in front of the television when Justin got home. The teen went over and kissed him on his neck. "Feeling better?"
Justin thought he didn't sound better but he'd take him at his word. Brian had been chaffing at the bit at having to stay home another day but he'd gotten up this morning and known immediately that he wouldn't be able to make it. Only two days left in the week and Brian wasn't fooling anyone. He'd be at home Thursday and Friday. Not for the first time did Justin consider cancelling the party anyway, despite Brian's insistence that he go through with it.
That's when it struck him, that something wasn't kosher. Brian seemed a little tense. "What's wrong?"
But he wouldn't look at Justin.
"Brian. . . what's wrong?"
Not taking his eyes from the TV, Brian replied, "I thought you'd be back before now."
It was six o'clock. He'd gone into his studio for a few minutes after leaving Xavier and Rennie and a few minutes had turned into a couple of hours. He hadn't thought Brian would even notice, had figured he'd sleep while he was gone. Feeling he had nothing really to apologize for, Justin, nevertheless, did. "I'm sorry. I guess I lost track of time." Kneaded Brian's shoulders gently to loosen the tight muscles. "You hungry?"
Brian switched the channel. "Maybe."
Almost laughing, Justin kissed him again and stood. Went into the kitchen and got busy.
When the phone rang fifteen minutes later he had his hands wrist-deep in ground beef and veal, making meatloaf, Brian having told him in no uncertain terms that he was 'fuckin' sick of chicken soup.' "Brian? Can you get that?"
Slowly, Brian made his way to the telephone and picked up. "Yeah?" Listened. "I'll live. Where's my son?" He waited. Then, "Hey, Sonny Boy." Smiled as Gus called to him. Sat on the edge of the sofa listening to the baby babble. Finally Gus ran out of conversation and Lindsay came back on. "Yeah, I'm almost over it," he told her. "But the Wa- -" He stopped himself. "Justin says I should stay home the rest of the week." She agreed. "Whatever. Yeah, I'll do that." Stood and put the phone back in its cradle.
When he didn't immediately return to the sofa, Justin asked, "Everything all right?"
"Gus says, 'Hey.' " He sat down. Spoke just loud enough for Justin to hear him. "Don't take any shit from me, okay?"
Puzzled, Justin replied, "Okay." Maybe it was the flu talking.
Daphne had seemed almost as glad to see Xavier and Rennie as she had been to see him. He tried not to feel a twinge of jealousy over that. Especially since he knew that he was her best friend, hands down, no matter what. And especially since she had managed to get a smile out of Xavier when he certainly couldn't. Justin wondered if he and Xavier would ever patch things up between them. True, Xavier didn't mope around but he didn't joke with Justin the way he used to, didn't touch him anymore. He wondered if the girls noticed or if they were making a concerted effort to pretend that everything was normal. Still, he had too much on his mind to worry overly much about it. Least not right now. There was the party to attend to. And Brian.
The man had begun to show signs of recovering. Mainly, he'd begun to bitch and moan about everything. In spite of keeping mostly to the bedroom and out of the way, he managed to make his displeasure known whenever they did something he didn't agree with. The furniture wasn't arranged right. The decorations were hung improperly. They couldn't leave his computer out on the desk like that. Why weren't all the ash trays out?
"Why'd you marry this guy again?" Xavier finally said and the girls laughed not hearing the edge in his voice, put there by jealousy.
"He asked," Justin replied and immediately knew he'd said the wrong thing.
Xavier shrugged and went back to stringing the chili pepper lights between the columns near the chaise lounge.
Taking a break, Justin went into the bedroom and confronted Brian who was sitting on the bed flipping through Men's Health and drinking orange juice. "Are you going to be like this during the party?"
"Like what?" Brian asked all innocence and light.
"A pain in the ass," Justin replied in a deadpan voice.
Brian sipped his juice. "If you don't want me here, just say so, and I'll find someplace else to go." Coughed. "I should be able to manage on my own."
Justin swore, rolling his eyes. "Christ on a stick."
Arching a brow, Brian asked, "Did I tell you 'Happy Birthday' yet?"
"Happy Birthday, baby," he purred and Justin felt his stomach ripple.
Shit. That was why he put up with him, cause no one else could make his
stomach feel like that. Sick, still a little pale, and not up to even a
mild one, Brian still managed to make him feel like he was about to be
fucked for hours. Shaking his head, Justin smiled and returned to the
other room. He could hear Brian laughing softly. Bastard.
The loft looked fabulous. They'd rented a long table for the food and drinks where the cake held center court. Bowls of tortilla chips and salsa, potato chips and dip were placed strategically throughout the apartment. As were ash trays and trash cans. The furniture was protected by covers Brian had had made years ago when he first realized that white was not a party-friendly color. All it'd taken was a bottle of red wine, a very drunk twinkie, his white sofa, and a very large bill for the reupholstering to convince him that stain-proof covers were the way to go. Besides which, he intended to monitor the proceedings from a discreet position to make sure things stayed under control.
He, of course, looked fabulous too. Determined not to steal Justin's thunder on his big day, he'd dressed conservatively. For him. Which meant his denim shirt and not the black silk Versace, and his relaxed blue jeans instead of the tight black ones. Still, he looked good. Despite having been at Death's door.
Justin looked fabulous as well in his grey and burgandy pullover, black chinos. For an Old Navy poster boy, he sizzled, and Brian couldn't wait until the moment when he felt up to anything more than just thinking about sex.
Coming up behind Justin as the teen surveyed his surroundings, Brian whispered in his ear. "Happy?"
Brian kissed his ear. "How old are you again?"
"Hey nineteen," Brian sang and this time Justin didn't mention that it was an old song. He didn't do anything but bask in the feel of his man's lips against his skin. Brian gave him a final kiss and pulled away. Took his hand. "Come here."
"What?" asked Justin as they went into the bedroom. He can't be thinking about doing that? Justin thought.
Then Brian went to the closet and took out a gift-wrapped present. Held it out towards him. "Happy Birthday. Before everyone else gets here."
Justin took the gift. It was heavy as shit. Sat on the bed and opened it after admiring the tasteful wrapping. Carefully ran his finger between the layers to pull up the tape.
"Would you hurry up?"
"No. I want to savor it," Justin replied before opening the paper to reveal the present inside. "Brian. . ." He could hardly believe it. A book. On Lucian Freud. A book on Lucian Freud that had been out-of-print for years. "Where'd you get this?"
"Amazon.com. Used. You like it?"
Justin stood and hugged the man. Now he knew why Brian had given him his present ahead of time cause he could already feel the tears in his eyes. "I love you."
"Remember that," Brian instructed him. Kissed him along the jaw then eased him away. "No time to play," he said despite the fact that he wasn't really up to it anyway, "your guests will be here soon." Grimaced. "Fifty teenagers."
"Some of them are older."
"Oh yeah, all of twenty-two-years-old. The horror," Brian mumbled, going into the other room to check on something that didn't need checking on.
As he placed his book next to the bed, planning to look through it
before he went to sleep tonight, Justin said fondly, "Asshole."
Outside of nearly retching from the smell of someone's overbearing cologne, Brian was actually enjoying himself. Granted, he wasn't exactly in full party mode but he felt well enough to perch ont he top step in the doorway of the bedroom and nurse a very weak gin and tonic, the only one he was allowed all evening, Dr. Justin's orders. Both Rennie and Daphne had come over trying to persuade him to dance with them but he turned them down. He definitely wasn't up to dancing, not even as little as he generally moved. Justin was always teasing him about his mediocre dancing, even going so far as to offer to give him lessons. Brian didn't mind. He knew his best moves were reserved for the horizontal samba at which he was the undisputed master. He grinned.
Justin came over to check on him. Again. "What are you grinning about?"
"Come dance with me."
"Go enjoy your party."
So the teen left him once more, was snagged by a group of people who had to have been members of the IFA's Diversity Council. One guy was like the fuckin' Olympic torch. Total flamer.
Then he saw Xavier walk close by Justin. Something was up with those two. They hadn't been as easy with one another as they'd been in the past. He resolved to ask Justin about it. Meanwhile, he'd keep an eye on them.
Justin touched Xavier's arm. Said something Brian couldn't hear. He
noticed Xavier hesitate, then nod. They moved out into the clearing where
others were dancing and proceeded to put on a show. No slouch himself,
Xavier definitely fed Justin's fire when it came to dancing. The two of
them held court center stage, two nineteen-year-olds turning the heat up
notch by notch. In his head he could hear the words of the song he'd sung
Was that what it was going to be like? Justin taking him along for the ride as he journeyed through life? A life he'd already lived, had already experienced over a decade ago? A life Justin and Xavier could easily share, discovering new things, growing old together. . .
Having watched them for a few minutes, Brian grabbed his coat. Paused
by Daphne. "Tell Justin I went down to the coffee shop on the corner. The
noise," he explained. Pecked her on the cheek and left.
"Double latte." Glanced around. Place was nearly empty. Good.
The guy behind the counter smiled, worked on his order. Recognized Brian from the many times he and Justin had been in there. "So where's your boyfriend?"
"Hosting a party." Paused. "It's his birthday."
"Hey. . . How old?"
"Nineteen," Brian replied. Hey Nineteen/ No we got nothing in common. . .
The guy nodded. "Why aren't you there?"
Inside he thought, Cause I'm not. But aloud, he
replied, "I can't get into Destiny's Child." He dropped a couple quarters
in the tip jar, found a seat and slumped down into it, throat too tight to
drink the coffee he'd bought.
An hour and a half later he trudged back home, head pounding, having forgotten his Tylenol, and fully anticipating having to explain his absence to a very irate nineteen-year-old.
He wasn't wrong.
Justin met him at the door. The party was over. Everyone had been sent home. The cake had been demolished. The apartment still stood.
He eased past the birthday boy. "Hey."
The door closed behind him. "Where were you?"
"Didn't Daphne tell you?"
"Why'd you go?"
"I told her that too." He headed for the bedroom. "My fuckin' head is pounding." Flipped the cap on the bottle and palmed a couple of tablets.
Justin had followed him. "I offered to cancel the party."
"I told you I didn't want that."
"Well, I wanted you here."
"I was here."
"I told you why. And it was only for an hour."
"An hour and a half."
Shit, this was going nowhere and he really wanted to lie down and close his eyes. No chance of that with the mood Justin was in. "So, did you get any nice presents?"
"You mean you care?" Justin asked as he left the room.
Fuck. Brian stood next to the bed uncertain as to what he should do. Part of him suggested just going to bed and letting Justin cool off and the other part of him said he'd probably be better off dealing with it now. So, praying that his headache subsided, he traced Justin's steps, found him sitting in the livingroom on the sofa which had been temporarily relocated next to the window. He sat next to him. Waited.
"There's cake left." At Brian's glance towards the table, Justin explained, "I saved you a piece. It's in the fridge."
Justin glared at him. "Don't 'baby' me. You were sick. Anything could have happened to you."
"I was in the coffee shop, not Afghanistan." He reached for Justin's hand but the teen pulled away. Brian leaned forward, arms around his waist, head bowed. "So now I can't touch you?"
Justin relaxed but still wasn't satsified. "Don't do that again."
"Cause- - "
"I said I won't," Brian repeated, heading off a potentially long lecture. Stood. "I gotta lay down." With Justin close behind him, Brian made his way to the bedroom, got his clothes off, and crashed. The last thing he remembered before shutting down was Justin snuggling up to him. And he smiled. He was forgiven.
Xavier was a hottie, he had to give him that. Talented too. He could see it from the piece he was working on. Besides, he had Justin's word on the subject and Justin was serious about art, would never equivocate even if it was about one of his friends. Watching him through the window of his studio, Brian told himself that he was probably making a big, fucking mistake but he had no choice. The party was a week behind them and still he couldn't erase the picture of Xavier and Justin dancing together from his mind. Worse, he had seen the look in Xavier's eyes when he looked at Justin and no matter what Justin said, Xavier wanted him. There wasn't any point in pretending it meant anything else. So it was time for them to talk.
He knocked once, then opened the door.
Xavier looked around, saw who it was, and, confident Brian was looking for Justin, said, "He's not here."
"He's home." Statement.
Pausing, Xavier replied, "Oh." Put down his tools.
Brian had to give it to him, he was quick. He knew why Brian was there. "You two looked pretty good out there on the dance floor together."
"Justin's a good dancer."
Brian nodded. Shifted gears. "Does he know?"
Instead of pretending he didn't know what Brian was talking about, Xavier answered truthfully. "He knows."
So something had happened. He didn't want to know what. Couldn't know. He was a coward, he knew that, but he didn't think he could walk away knowing what had occured between them. All that mattered was that he and Justin were together. "He's not going to leave me."
Xavier turned away.
"He loves me. We love each other. That's the only thing in this entire fucking world that I know to be true."
"I know that he loves you," Xavier admitted.
"Do you? I mean really know it? You sure there's not some small part of you that believes he might walk away from me, come running to you?"
The teen avoided Brian's eyes.
"Of course there is. You wouldn't be human if you didn't." He continued, "But it's not going to happen."
"You worried it might?"
Brian replied calmly, "No."
Angry now, Xavier asked, "Then why are you here?"
"Because he likes you. Hell, I like you. And I don't want to see you get hurt. Whatever fantasy you've concocted in your head, in your dreams, it's just that: a fantasy. And you're only going to hurt yourself."
"Could you stop loving him?" Xavier looked Brian dead in the eyes. "If someone told you that it was hopeless, that it was over between the two of you, could you do it? Just shut off your feelings?"
Brian looked away then back. "I don't have to."
"That's not what I asked you," challenged Xavier.
Hand on the doorknob, Brian paused. "You wanna be his friend, be his
friend. I'm not standing in your way. But if you push this," he paused,
not wanting to threaten but needing to make himself perfectly clear, "if
you push him. . . I'll be back." Not waiting to hear if Xavier had a
reply, Brian left the studio and strode down the hall, stopping in the
stairwell. He leaned against the wall, breathing deeply. Fuck. What the
fuck had happened? And why hadn't Justin told him about it?
It was damned near impossible not to start in on Justin when he got home. He trembled from the effort. Plus, he was terrified Xavier had alerted Justin to his little visit and was scared to death of walking into an argument that he couldn't walk away from. But he slid the door open and entered without being attacked. Justin looked over the back of the sofa where he was reading. "What'd you get?"
He'd stopped for food, that had been his excuse in the first place. "Vietnamese."
"Cool." Justin put away his book and joined Brian in the kitchen. Stole a kiss before taking down the plates.
All during dinner Brian kept wanting to bring up Xavier but couldn't find a way or a reason to do so without arousing Justin's curiosity and once Justin got curious about something, he wouldn't stop until he'd gotten to the heart of it. Once or twice he started to mention Xavier and each time he stopped himself.
Having eaten on the floor of the living room, they remained there afterwards. Brian leaned against the edge of the sofa with Justin in his arms looking out of the windows at the night sky. Tightening his hold, he kissed him on the cheek. Justin smiled and looked back at him. And suddenly it didn't matter anymore, Xavier didn't matter anymore, or the years between them, or anything. All that mattered, all that counted was them together. They were together, they were committed, and being committed meant trusting the other person with your heart, with your life if necessary. And he trusted Justin. After all that they'd been through, he had no doubts. He returned Justin's smile. Their lips met. Parting slightly from him, Brian said, "I love you."
"Yeah?" asked Justin, a grin on his face. He would never get tired of Brian saying that.
He turned in his lover's arms, straddled his hips. Kissed Brian again, deeply. "I think I need more proof."
Justin was pressed against him and Brian could feel his cock through the thin material of his sweats. Taking Justin's right hand in his, he closed his lips around his ring finger. Sucked gently, tongue swirling around the digit. Slid his lips down the length of it until they encountered his ring. As he continued to suck and lick his finger, he cupped Justin's groin, feeling the teen's cock and balls grow heavier as he sucked harder on his finger. Justin sighed and withdrew his finger to the tip, slid it back into the warmth of Brian's mouth. Again he withdrew it completely, saliva shining on his flesh and on the metal of his ring. He could only imagine that it was his cock, wet and throbbing. Brian ran his tongue over the tip and Justin shivered.
Now was the time. Taking Justin's entire finger in his mouth once more, Brian snatched down the teenager's sweats. Justin's dick bobbed free, the tip moist already. Releasing the finger, he gobbled the cock. Down all the way to the base, then back up again. Pulled free. Tongue snaked over the head, around the head. Gave it a series of gentle kisses that began at the slit trailed down to the root and back up again. Justin uttered a cry which he swallowed as Brian swallowed him.
Completely inside of Brian's mouth, Justin could feel his tongue, the roof of his mouth, the back of his throat, all working in concert to pleasure his cock. Groaning, he sucked in a breath as the head of his cock dragged against the ridges inside Brian's mouth. The slit gaped and dripped precum. Brian released him and lapped it up, lips stained with clear liquid. "Oh," Justin moaned, a prelude to begging which was cut short by Brian easing him onto the sofa. Head bowed over his throbbing cock, thighs around his leg, Brian went down on him. He could feel Brian's dick hard against his calf, the sensation yet another pulse that beat at his temples, his throat, his chest, his groin. He was burning up, flushed, sweaty. One hand gripping the arm of the sofa, he slid the other down his belly, palm slick with perspiration. Brian entwined his fingers with Justin's, rings touching.
Jacking Justin with his free hand as he sucked his cock, Brian was
aware of the teen's balls, firm and round beneath his hand. Hungry for
them as well, he turned his attention to the swollen sac, stretching his
lips around it, working it with his tongue until Justin began to pant, to
jerk beneath him. From balls to cock and back again, Brian greedily
devoured his lover's meat, Justin's cries urging him to take his cock in
deeper, the head in his throat, hard flesh pressing into soft tissue. He
tighten the muscles around it and heard Justin give a great, low groan.
Cum spurted against the walls of his throat. Breathing through his nose,
he held still, held Justin down while his cock erupted. With a final sigh,
Justin relaxed and Brian let him slip free of his lips. Justin's
cum-stained cock rested on his belly. Gently, Brian licked him clean,
eliciting another moan from his lover.
Having rested for a moment, Brian lifted Justin from the sofa and carried him to their bed. The teen opened his thighs to Brian, waited for the man to settle into place, and then wrapped his legs over his hips. At first they did no more than kiss, swollen lips becoming even more tender as they touched tongue to tongue, exploring one another's mouth as if they'd never done so before.
Brian drew away and nuzzled his throat. Made his way down to Justin's nipples. Licked the hard nubs. Caught one between his teeth. Pulled. Rubbed the other beneath the pad of his finger. Justin shuddered and Brian felt his own cock throb. He knelt over Justin's head and pressed down on his erection, brushed the teen's lips with the head. Teased him. Gently pumped his hips. Justin rose up, trying to catch his lover's cock. Managed to flick his tongue over the tip before Brian pulled away. Frustrated, Justin overturned Brian. They wrestled for a while, neither one gaining the advantage, Brian leaving wet streaks along Justin's skin where his dick touched the teen, until the man gave in, desiring to feel his little boy's mouth on him. Justin crawled over him and latched onto his hard-on.
His lips felt cool at first to Brian and then, in a flash, both their temperatures rose about a hundred degrees and he found himself inside an inferno. Even the saliva that ran down his shaft felt hot.
Bobbing over Brian's groin, Justin fed on his lover's cock, wanting more and more of the thick shaft, the swollen head. Rising up, he formed a tight seal just below the rim and sucked him hard, heard Brian moan, felt him shiver.
Shit, Brian didn't know how much longer he could stand it. He wanted to fuck Justin now but he also wanted the teen to continue sucking him, mauling his dick. If there had been some way for Justin to thrust his tongue inside his cock, he would have begged for it. As is, Justin pressed on either side of the engorged head, so that his slit opened wide, and tongued his hole until he thought he would scream.
He felt around on the nightstand for the lube, found it, and held it up over Justin's behind. Flipped the top and squeezed the clear liquid between his cheeks. The thick fluid seeped over the teen's wrinkled hole, wetting the folds first before dripping down onto Brian's chest. He pressed his finger against the center and began rubbing Justin's anus in a circular motion. Felt Justin moan around his dick, the vibrations making him harder. He eased the tip of his finger inside the wet hole, tight muscles coaxed open by his gentle probing.
Justin wanted Brian in him now. His finger was driving him crazy. Inching inside him, feeling around the inner rim of his hole, rubbing against the top of his ass, slipping out only to push back in even more insistent than before. And all the while he continued to blow Brian, urging him to lengthen, to thicken, to harden, rubbing his face, his lips, his cheeks against the slippery shaft. Letting Brian slip free, he pulled away from his lover's finger and turned around. Grabbed Brian's dick and held it in place while he sat down upon it. Moaned as Brian stretched him open. Eyes shut he could see the man's dick as it made its way up his hole. Caught his lip between his teeth as the head squeezed past his prostate. God, it felt so good. Dizzy, he released Brian and paused, a third of Brian's cock left to take. Taking a deep breath, he pressed down and consumed the last few inches. Slowly, he began to rise.
He watched as Justin's dick bobbed lazily between them, the teen leisurely riding his cock. Precum dripped onto his belly from the gently swaying dick. Tenderly, he took hold of the head and stroked it as Justin continued to rock on top of him. The teen's lips were parted and a string of saliva ran down his chin. Brian reached up and slipped his wet fingers into Justin's mouth, feeding him his own sticky juice.
Justin bounced on his cock, loving each hard inch of him, grunting each time he came to rest on his groin, Brian's pubes tickling his hole, his balls brushing his ass. Pumping his hips, he forced Brian's dick against the walls of his ass, moaning as his inner muscles spasmed, gripped his man like a fist and jacked him hard. Brian could only twist the sheets in his fingers and fight the urge to holler as Justin fucked him.
Reaching up to stroke the teen's raspberry nipples, Brian found his hand captured, ring finger drawn into Justin's mouth, lips tightening around it above just as Justin's muscles had trapped his cock below. Any moment now he was going to lose it. Feeling turnabout was fair play, he freed his hand and encircled Justin's cock, tugged on it, thumb rubbing over the tip, saliva and precum mixing. His ring rolled along the shaft with each jerk, each pull. Justin shook, began whimpering, asshole clenching Brian then relaxing as he tumbled towards his orgasm. One strong spasm jerked him free of Brian and sent cum spurting onto the man's belly. Head lolling about on a sweat-soaked pillow, Brian clenched his teeth, grunted, took a great gulp of air, and came. Cum shot up between Justin's thighs, soaking him. As he came to the end of his climax, Justin settled down once more upon Brian, balls stroking his shaft, coaxing a last few cloudy drops from his cock.
Wet and sticky, they lay together, Justin sprawled on Brian's chest,
the man's arms around him, hands lightly resting on the teen's back and
"Naked man on a bed."
Brian raised an eyebrow. "Descriptive."
Justin pushed back at him with his shoulder. "Shut up."
But Brian could hear the humor in his voice. Kissed his shoulder. Come July they'd be in London looking at Freud's work. A whole month away from Pittsburgh, traveling with Justin. He smiled, remembering their trip to the Bahamas.
"You know, he's eighty and he's still working. That's amazing." Justin nudged him again. "You listening to me?"
"Mm-hmm," Brian replied propping his chin on Justin's shoulder and
closing his eyes. He couldn't wait.