"I can't," replied Brian.

Justin pouted and ran his fingers up his lover's arm; he stood behind him at his desk. Brian was seated and rummaging through some papers. "Why not?"

Removing Justin's hand from his neck, Brian picked up a folder containing the notes for his presentation and opened it. "Big meeting tomorrow. Last minute preparations. You know, work?" Explanation given, Brian expected Justin to go, so he turned his attention back to his documents. But Justin didn't leave. Instead he grabbed his backpack and hunkered down on the sofa. Started taking out his books. Brian looked up. "What are you doing?"

"Studying. You know, homework?"

Brian pursed his lips. "No. You need to go home."


"No buts." He gestured at the door. "Go."


Patiently, as if talking to an imbecile, Brian said, "I have work to do and I can't be distracted. You are a distraction. Hence, you need to go home."

He opened his Calculus book. "I'll be quiet."


"Please," he begged. "I promise, I won't say a word. You won't even know I'm here."

Brian smirked. "I'll know. Now--"

"I promise."

"Justin... If your being here is like your not being here, then why be here?" He frowned. "What the fuck did I just say?" He shook his head. "No. You cannot stay."

Eyes narrowed, Justin began shoving books into his backpack. "This is so unfair. When you want to play, we play, and when you're not in the mood, I get put away like some kind of fucking toy."

Brian closed his eyes and silently counted to ten. Dropped his pen and went over to the couch. "You know, there's no point in fighting about this. I won't change my mind. I get paid a pretty decent salary to do my job and, sometimes, it comes first. And it has nothing to do with my being in the mood and everything to do with the fact that I have to pay for this loft." He kissed the top of Justin's head. "Now, go back to Deb's and do your homework." For the second time in ten minutes, he cleared his mind of the issue and returned to his papers.

Close to spontaneously combusting, Justin grabbed his stuff and stormed out of the loft without even saying goodbye.

Brian jumped when the door slammed. Thought, He'll get over it, and made a mental note to make it up to him tomorrow.

They shared a bag of potato chips and pretended to study-- at least they had their books open. But studying the was the last thing on Justin's mind.

"He told me to go home, Daph."

"Well, didn't he say he had work to do?" she asked, trying to be the reasonable one.

"I just wanted to be with him. I wouldn't have bothered him."

Finding that hard to believe, Daphne wisely offered another explanation. "Maybe he just needed to be alone."

Justin, refusing to be comforted, intoned, "I guess the honeymoon's over."

She pushed him. "No. You haven't gone yet."

That made him smile. Thinking about their upcoming trip. "A whole week in the Bahamas. I can't wait." His smile faded. "That's if he still wants to be seen with me."

"Justin, he loves you." Her eyes grew a little sad. "You should have seen him when you got hurt. I thought he would never stop crying. And he wouldn't let anyone near you until the paramedics got there." Putting away all sad thoughts, she rattled the empty bag, balled it up, and tossed it.

"I know that you're right. It's just that-- I love him so much and-- I always feel like I'm doing or saying the wrong thing." He looked down at his hands and sniffled. "I don't want to lose him."

"You won't. He just wanted to be by himself for one night." She laughed. "It's not the end of the world." She nudged him. "So stop being such a drama princess. You've got nothing to worry about."

Brian sat next to Emmett at the bar.

"Thought you had work to do," said Michael.

"Finished early. I got bored sitting at home." He caught the bartender's attention and ordered a drink.

"So why didn't you signal the Boy Wonder?"

"I needed a break."

Emmett raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really? Do tell."

"It's exhausting." Brian leaned forward and rested his elbows on the bar. "He can do it all night, seven days a week. He never gets tired. As far as I can tell, he's running on Cheerios, pizza, and Mountain Dew."

"Ah, the Teenage Zone," commented Ted.

Brian's drink arrived and he took a grateful sip. "I had to ditch him for at least a few hours before my dick fell off."

Ted covered his face. "Thanks for sharing."

His eyes on the door, Emmett asked, "So where'd he go?"


"Well," said Em, "don't look now but I think he's moved."

The guys looked over towards the entrance. Their attention zoomed in on Justin and Daphne. "Oh, shit," swore Brian.

Michael grinned. "You are so fucked."

"Twelve inches long, seven inches thick. And without lube," added Ted brightly.

Like rats deserting a sinking ship, the guys abandoned Brian to his fate. He finished his drink in one gulp and waited for the waves to close over his head, hoping he'd drown before the sharks got to him.

The two teens made their way over to the bar.

"Hi, Brian," chirped Daphne.

"Hey, Daphne." He managed a weak smile but it quickly died in the face of Justin's displeasure.

Justin said nothing.

Looking around desperately for someplace else to be, Daphne spotted the guys by the pool table. "Excuse me."

Brian avoided looking at Justin for as long as he could and then he bit the bullet. "So..."

"Working hard," Justin said, the implication clear.


"If you didn't want to be with me, you could have--"

"I told you I had work to do."

"And you had to do it here?"

A couple of men at a nearby table glanced over at the two but a sharp look from Brian sent them scurrying back to their conversation.

"I didn't know I had to have your permission to leave the house."

"You can do whatever the hell you want. It's obvious I'm nobody." The teen started to leave but Brian caught his arm.

"Justin, wait--"

He pulled away. "Fuck you! You wanted to be alone, so be alone." Motioning to Daphne to come on, Justin stormed out of the bar, his friend hustling to keep up with him.

After the teenaged tornado had gone, the guys rejoined Brian.

Emmett made a face. "Ouch."

"Someone's been keeping up with his teen dramas," observed Ted.

Michael nudged Brian. "You okay?"

"What the fuck do you think?" Brian growled, getting up and almost knocking over the barstool in the process. "Why am I doing this again?"

"Because you love him," Em reminded him.

Brian threw down some money for his drink. "Yeah. That's it." Wearily, he made his way to the door and sank into the night.

Justin heard Brian coming up the stairs long before the man summoned the courage-- and controlled his temper enough-- to enter the room. Without knocking. Neither said anything. Instead of sitting, Brian stood studying the self-portrait and the sketch of him that Justin had pinned to the wall. The teen watched him for a few moments from his desk, then spoke. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" asked Brian, turning to look at him. "Being eighteen?"

Justin got up and joined his lover. Brian put his arm around his shoulders and Justin laid his head against the older man's chest. "I didn't mean to say those things."

"The truth," prompted Brian.

"I don't know how to feel when you push me away."

"I didn't push you--"

"It felt like you did."

Brian removed his arm and walked over to the window, leaned against the ledge. "Justin, I had work to do. And sometimes..." He cast about for the right words to say, not wanting to hurt him again. "Sometimes I..." He glanced around the room, feeling a little disoriented, having this conversation in Mikey's room. Kept expecting Michael to be lying on the bed reading a comic book. Kept catching glimpses of himself in the mirror, wondering who was that man and where had the boy gone? "I'm not used to being part of a couple."

"What about you and Cam?"

"That was a long time ago."

Justin looked away. "Maybe you loved him more than you love me."

"Cam and me... that has nothing to do with us. The problem with us is that I'm thirty and you're eighteen."


"So, it means that sometimes you'll want to do things and I won't-- or can't-- and sometimes I'll want to do things and you won't or can't."

"I'd do it if I could," said Justin, coming over to him.

"But you don't have to. We don't have to spend every waking moment together," he explained.

"We don't!" Justin laid his hands on Brian's chest. "We don't see each other all day. And what's gonna happen when I start college? I won't ever see you."

"You'll see--"

"Maybe that's what you want." The teen turned away, angry, hurt.

"You're acting childish."

"I am a child!" he yelled. "Or haven't you heard?"

Trying hard to keep his temper, Brian asked in a relatively calm voice, "What do you want from me?"

"I want you to love me!"

And that did it. He exploded. "I do!"


They nearly jumped out of their skins. It was Deb, downstairs.

"Stop yelling! The neighbors can hear you!"

Brian rubbed his jaw, taking a deep breath, then crossed to Justin and cupped his face, kissed him softly. "I don't know what else I can do or say... It's up to you to believe it." He let Justin go. "Or not. I won't cater to you."

"You don't even try to understand," Justin commented. "You just-- dictate." He tightened his jaw. "Well, I'm not Michael."

"What the fuck does that mean?"

"It means I'm not gonna put up with being brushed off and ignored anymore."

Growing angrier by the moment, Brian said, "I explained to you--"

"You could have said that you'd miss me. That you were sorry--"

"That I had to work?" Brian's brow furrowed. "That's fucking ridiculous."

Justin moved away, turned his back to him. "It's what lovers do."

Brian walked over to him and leaned in as if to kiss him. "It's not what I do." But before Justin could retreat, Brian grabbed his arm, held him in a no-nonsense grip. "If you wanted flowery sentiment and romantic declarations every other hour, you should have fallen in love with Shakespeare instead of me."

Justin looked away, then met Brian's eyes once more. "I don't think I had a choice," he whispered.

Brian's irritation faded in the wake of Justin's words. He took hold of his lover's chin and kissed him hard upon the mouth. "Get your stuff, we're going back to my place." When it looked as if he was going to argue, Brian kissed him again, this time more tenderly, and repeated his orders. "I said, get your stuff because we're going back to my place. Now." And he waited for the teen to pack his bag.

He reached for the phone. "Yeah."

"There's a Cameron McKenna here to see you."

What the fuck does he want? He paused, then said, "Okay." Closed out the file he was working on. Mentally, he tried to prepare himself but, in the end, he gave up and decided he'd deal with whatever it was when Cam arrived. Which he did rather quickly, with a rap on the door to announce his presence. Skipping the pleasantries, Brian got right to the point, "What are you doing here?"

"I thought we could talk." Cam didn't sit, just stood a few feet away, not really looking at Brian directly, just stealing glances at him.

"Your company changing ad agencies?"


"Then we have nothing to talk about."


"What would your better half think of this little visit?" he asked, hoping to give himself the slightest advantage.

Cam locked gazes with him. "He wouldn't think anything about it." For a moment Brian thought he'd been wrong, that Cam hadn't come on personal business, when his former lover added, "Because we split up."

The implication of Cam's words sank in and the significance of his visit became clear. "Fuck no."

Moving closer, Cam said, "I've told you before, I've never stopped loving you."

"Well, that's just too bad. Because I've moved on. And I'm with someone now." Just saying it aloud made Brian feel stronger.

"I read about him in the papers. Figured." Cam admitted begrudgingly, "He is your type, after all: young... beautiful..."

"Smart. Faithful."

Cam let that dig pass. "But he's still a child, Bri. And you need a man."

"I have what I need." Before Cam could question that statement, he said, "And right now, what I want is for you to leave." He stood and opened the door. The expression on his face told Cam that he'd brook no arguments, no further discussion, so he left. Brian slammed the door although he hadn't wanted to, and remained where he was, trembling. Finally, he made his way back to his desk and dropped down into his chair. Took his phone from his jacket pocket, flipped it open, and started to dial Justin's cell when he glimpsed the time. One forty-five. He'd still be in school. Brian laughed to himself, laughed at the situation, at the absurdity of it.

Around four thirty he had managed to put all thoughts of Cam out of his head and was making some follow-up notes to the meeting this morning and preparing to pack up to go home when Cynthia came in bearing a bouquet of irises. "These came for you."

He took the card and opened it although he didn't have to, he recognized the handwriting on the envelope, had gotten bouquets of irises before after they had fought about Cam's infidelities. Read the brief message, 'Don't say no, not yet,' and said softly, "Take 'em away."

"I'll put them in some water," she said, misunderstanding him.

"I mean, I don't want 'em."

Cynthia examined the bouquet from all angles. "You mind if I take them then?"

"They're all yours." He threw the card in the wastebasket next to his desk and closed his eyes as she left the office. With the flowers.

Justin was doing his homework at the counter while dinner cooked in the oven when Brian finally arrived around six. The blond looked up briefly. "Hey."

"Hey," replied Brian, pausing to brush lips with him before heading for his bedroom to change. "What's for dinner?"

"Chicken. Roasted."

Brian removed his jacket and hung it up. "Maybe you should open an art gallery/restaurant when you graduate from college. You can exhibit your stuff and serve as head chef."

"I could call it The Art of Cooking."

Off came the shirt and the slacks. "Catchy. I think you should do it."

"Only if you do the advertising."

"At a discount." He slipped on an old pair of jeans and a plain, white t-shirt.

"Not for free?"

Coming down the steps, he said, "Everything has a price." Even though he had meant it lightly, it hadn't come out that way and Justin was instantly alert.

"Oh, I forgot." The teen pointed to Brian's desk. "That came for you. You must have blown them away at that meeting."

Next to his computer was a slender green vase with three Calla lilies in it. Keeping his face as expressionless as possible, Brian walked over to them and plucked the accompanying envelope from amongst the flowers. "I guess you didn't read the card."

Justin laid down his highlighter. "No." Closed his book, sensing this was something important. "They aren't from your clients?" He waited for Brian to open the card but he didn't.

"They're from Cam."

He didn't ask how Brian knew, didn't want to know. All he wanted was to toss the flowers out the window and forget that they had ever been delivered. But he made himself ask, "Why'd he send you flowers?"

The ad exec left the card unopened next to the vase and crossed to the kitchen. Opened the oven and peeked at the roasting chicken. Took a bottle of water from the fridge. "He stopped by work today." Drank about half. "Seems he and the Living Ken Doll have called it quits."

"So he came looking for you." Justin's chest tightened and his mouth went suddenly dry. "What did you tell him?"

"What do you think I told him?" Brian finished his water and tossed the container in the recycling bin. Waited for Justin to answer him but the teen didn't. "I see." He glanced away. "You don't trust me."

"I didn't say that," Justin began.

"You didn't have to. But, then again, why should you?" he asked. Leaving the kitchen, he started for the bedroom and stopped in the middle of the floor. "After all," he added, "you don't even believe that I love you--"


"So why would you believe that I would turn him down?"

Justin got up and went to Brian, tried to touch him but Brian pulled away. "Please-- I wasn't thinking--"

"You think I would take him back, after what he did to me? He lied to me, about everything. And you think I could just forget that? Forget the past seven years? Forget meeting you and everything that we've been through? Forget the fact that I've changed my entire fucking life for you!"

Justin took a step backwards, stunned by the anger and the pain in Brian's voice. He returned to the counter and just held onto it, his back to Brian, unable to say anything in his defense because there had been a moment when he had wondered, What if... He heard Brian stirring in the bedroom, then saw him approach the door. "Where are you going?"

"Out," he replied and he left.

Fighting back the tears, Justin sat in one of the bar chairs and tried not to feel as if he had ruined everything.

Brian drove down to the riverfront and parked. Got out and sat on a bench. He used to do that all the time as a teenager-- when he wasn't with Mikey. Hitched or took the bus down to the river and sat for hours at a time, just staring at the water, not really seeing it, but the motion of the currents soothing to him anyway.

Fuck, he couldn't believe it. Just when he thought he had figured everything out, the world changed and the rules changed right along with it. He couldn't believe the insane argument he had just had with Justin. The second in forty-eight hours. And the latest one, over something he had actually done right. It was like being in the fuckin' Twilight Zone... all day.

Cam... What the fuck had he been thinking? Just because he was a free agent didn't mean he could saunter into Brian's office and pick up where they had left off seven years ago. And where was that anyway? Them breaking up. Or, rather, Cam dumping him. Not even worthy of a face-to-face confrontation. He had just disappeared. And then a week later, ended it, on the goddamn telephone. His eyes hardened. No. There was never any doubt in his mind: he didn't want Cam.

So why had he returned home and gone about three rounds with Justin? All the teenager had done was to ask him what he had told Cam and he freaked. Totally lost his temper. But he wasn't being unreasonable. It fuckin' hurt that Justin didn't trust him. And, at the same time, he couldn't help but understand why he didn't. Hell, he wasn't sure if he trusted himself. All the same, it hurt. To see the doubt in Justin's eyes.

He didn't have any idea when Brian might return. Appetite ruined, he placed a couple of sheets of aluminum foil over the roasted chicken and returned it to the unlit oven. Maybe he'd feel like eating later. When Brian returned. If he returned. Nights like this he was just as apt to go over to Michael's place and crash as he was to come home.

Why had he questioned Brian? It should have been obvious from his behavior what he had told Cam. Only, he had wanted to hear him say it aloud, say that he didn't want Cam, that the person he wanted was Justin. But Brian wouldn't say that, wouldn't ease his fears.

He didn't know why he needed Brian to say those things to him, but he did. He longed for Brian to tell him a hundred times a day that he loved him. Maybe, maybe it was to make up for all the months when he had to do without. And it drove him crazy that he needed to hear the words so much, but he did. What was wrong with wanting to hear your lover say that he loved you?

Why couldn't Brian, for once, understand what it was like not to be self-confident, not to be so goddamned self-assured? He knew that Brian got scared and confused, he had seen him at his lowest, but the man constantly pretended that everything was under control-- and he didn't have to, he had Justin; and Justin, in theory, was supposed to be able to depend on him. Instead of fighting, they should have been setting the table, getting ready to share a meal. A life. And look at them. Brian was out God knows where and he was in the loft alone.

Miserable, Justin laid down on the bed and curled up on Brian's side, smelling his scent on the pillows and comforter. They had only been together a few weeks. How were they ever going to last a lifetime? Brian would say, 'Fuck it, you only have now,' but he couldn't. He wanted it all.

There was no sign of Justin. Taking off his jacket and throwing it over the back of the sofa, he went into the kitchen. Found the note on the refrigerator door. 'Dinner's in the oven. I'm sorry.' Appetite having faded an hour ago, he made for the bedroom and came up short in the doorway. Justin lay on Brian's side of the bed, just out of sight of the door. Asleep. Quietly, Brian took off his boots and socks and crept back out of the bedroom. Let him sleep while he could. They'd make up later.

There were more flowers waiting for him when he arrived at work. Bouquets of roses, and lilies, orchids, and carnations, snapdragons, and daisies on every available surface. Fighting the impulse to knock them over, he took off his jacket and waited for Cynthia to arrive. "I want these out of here."

"What do you want me to do with them?"

"I don't care. Give 'em to unwed mothers, give 'em to the orphanage, take 'em to the goddamn cemetery, I don't give a fuck, I just want them out of here." He grabbed his day planner from her hands. "Now." Opened it and went over his appointments himself. "And if any more come..."

Cynthia picked up the vase of roses from his desk. "I know, you don't want to see them."

He looked up. "Send them back. If any more come, just send them back."

"Who is it?" she asked, not expecting an response.

"Someone who won't take, 'No,' for an answer," he said, the appointment book open before him, forgotten. Glancing down at it, he saw that he had the morning free. Stood and grabbed his coat. "I'll be back in an hour."

Watching him go, Cynthia felt sorry for the guy he was going to see.

Cam wouldn't have been surprised to see steam coming from the top of Brian's head as he burst in his office.

"I want it to stop. The flowers, the cards, I want you to stop."

"Then talk to me."

Brian leaned over Cam's desk. "I've already said everything I'm going to on the subject."

"Then listen to me."

He backed away. "No." Started to leave.

"What are you afraid of?" Brian paused. "That your relationship isn't strong enough?"

"I didn't see you skulking around when you were happily married."

"I came when you asked. When you needed to see me, I came."

Brian nearly laughed. "You came and you told me it was over, that it had been over for seven years, and that it never would have lasted anyway. And now, how many months later, you're here telling me you love me? That you want us to get back together? Well, fuck it. It's never going to happen."

"You don't know that."

He returned to Cam's desk. "You could send me flowers every day for the rest of my life, and we could get together and talk nonstop for a fucking month, and I still wouldn't take you back."


"Because I can't trust you!" And there it was, the truth, dividing them as surely as if they had stood on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon.

"I've changed, Brian."

"Why did you and he break up?"



Cam looked decidedly uncomfortable. "I told him that I still had feelings for you."

"And then you and I get together and the next thing I know, you'll discover that you still have feelings for him." He shook his head. "I'm not even tempted. I'm with Justin now."

"Brian, all I'm asking for is two hours. We can have dinner, talk..."

"For what, Cam? There's no point."

The fact that Brian had remained to talk and hadn't stormed in and whirled out meant something. Meant that there might be a chance. If he could wear him down, remind him of why they had gotten together in the first place... So he grabbed at straws. "To close the door on us, then. Once and for all."

"If I have dinner with you this once, that's it? After that, it's over? And you'll leave me alone?"

"I swear."

Brian walked towards the door. "Tomorrow night. Seven o'clock. You pick a place and let me know. I don't give a fuck." And he was gone.

The delivery guy looked Justin up and down as he signed for the flowers-- flower really-- a single long-stemmed white rose blushed pink at the edges. The kid was a total hottie.

Justin scrounged around in his pocket, for a couple of bucks to give him but the man said, "It's okay. Taken care of on the other end. Enjoy."

"Yeah. Thanks," replied Justin and he closed the door after the guy started down the stairs. Cam again. Wanting to open the envelope but afraid to, knowing how angry Brian would get if he did, he, instead, held it up to the light to see if he could read what it said. Luckily, the card was one-sided, not the folding kind, and he could read the letter printed on it perfectly: "M". Clearly, it meant something to both of them or else Cam would have written out the word. Justin laid the envelope back down next to the flower, frowning. How much longer was he supposed to put up with this shit? The guy was trying to seduce Brian right in front of his face. And what? Was he supposed to sit back and watch it happen? Brian had told him that he had no intention of encouraging Cam, that he just wanted his ex-lover to disappear, but it was clear that Cam had no such intentions. And as much as he loved Brian and trusted him, he and Cam shared a history, had been together for almost two years. In light of Brian's subsequent track record, that was a lifetime. Who was to say that under the right circumstances, Brian wouldn't accept Cam's offer? A romantic dinner at their favorite restaurant, dancing, and then back to Cam's place-- or the loft-- for a night of hot sex. Justin told himself he was just being foolish but he couldn't erase the image of Brian with some faceless man. He wondered if Brian would even bother to tell him what the letter "M" signified. According to the clock and Brian's message, he'd be home in a half hour; so Justin would just have to wait and see.

Around six thirty Brian pulled open the door. Spotted Justin studying on the sofa. "Hey."

Justin lifted his head. "Hey. You got a rose."

"Yeah," he said, and headed to the bedroom with Justin behind him.

"What do you want to do about dinner? I feel like going out. Maybe hit Babylon afterwards."

But Brian shook his head. "I'm tired." He stripped off his suit and tried to ignore the look of disappointment on Justin's face. Down to his jockeys, he sat on the bed with his hands hanging listlessly between his knees. When Justin sat down next to him and kissed him, he sighed. "Maybe the guys are going and you can hang out with them," he suggested.

"I'd rather stay home with you."

"I'm beat," he said, giving Justin a look to let him know there'd be no sex tonight.

"I don't care." He kissed Brian again. "How about tomorrow?"

"Can't." He had hesitated just a second but he could tell that Justin had noticed. Still, there was nothing he could do but finish the lie. "I have to take a client out to dinner."

The teenager tried to pretend that he didn't know Brian was lying but he was only partially successful. "Another client like Telson?"

"No," Brian replied, getting up and pulling on a pair of sweats. "A total breeder."

Climbing down from the bed, Justin headed for the kitchen. "You want a sandwich or do you want me to fix something else?" he asked, referring to the leftover roasted chicken.

"I don't care," came the muffled response.

Suddenly drained, Justin opened the fridge and pulled out the chicken.

Brian came out and took down two plates, still ignoring the rose on the counter, still ignoring the dark mood that had descended upon Justin. While the teen sliced the chicken, he got out the lettuce and tomatoes, the mayonnaise for Justin, the rye bread, and opened a bag of chips.

Looking over at him, Justin commented, "You're turning into a pretty decent family man."

"Don't say that," came out of his mouth before he could stop the words and immediately he could see Justin freeze up. Fuck. Why couldn't he ever think first? That's all Justin needed to hear, especially with that fuckin' rose staring him right in the face. In an attempt to explain the severity if his comment, he added, "It reminds me of my old man."

They ate on the floor in the living room, Cartoon Network in the background. Every now and again Justin's face would light up and he'd laugh at something on the television. Then his attention would turn towards the kitchen and Brian knew he was thinking about the rose and what it meant.

Finally, Justin asked, "Aren't you going to see what it says?"

"Not interested," he replied, because he already knew what it would say: "M". For the Marketplace. It had been his and Cam's favorite place to go whenever they had wanted to get away from the crowd at Babylon or the diner. No way would Cam have missed an opportunity like that, to remind him of the good times. And there had been plenty of romantic dinners followed by long, slow bouts of lovemaking that had left them exhausted and completely satisfied. No one, not even Justin, could top him the way Cam had. Just thinking about it made him shiver and he turned away to keep Justin from seeing the lust in his eyes when he had made it clear that they wouldn't be making love tonight.

The rose. It was like the tell-tell heart. He couldn't stop thinking about it, was just about to go crazy wondering what "M" meant. And Brian, fuck him, Justin knew who he was going to see tomorrow. "M" had to be the place where they were meeting. He wanted to scream because he knew that's why Brian didn't want to go out tonight, why he wouldn't make love, not because he was tired but because he was brooding over Cam. And Justin knew, despite the insecurities and doubts about the longevity of their relationship, he knew that Brian loved him. He knew that to be true. It was just that... He got up and took their plates and empty beer bottles to the kitchen, tossed the bottles in the recycling and put the dishes in the dishwasher. In between one motion and the next he made up his mind. He returned to the sofa and knelt beside Brian, kissed him. "I'm restless. I'm gonna go see if Em and the guys are at Babylon."

Kissing Justin once more, Brian said, "Don't stay out too late. You've got school tomorrow."

They kissed a third time and parted. Brian refused to look at the teen as he left and Justin kept his eyes on the door, that way they could both pretend that nothing was wrong.

He didn't know what he was doing, only that Brian would be majorly pissed when he found out. Several times during the cab ride over, he had nearly stopped the driver and told him to turn around, take him back home, but he hadn't. So now he stood downstairs at Cam's building pressing on the call button. A deep voice answered, "Yeah?"

Taking a deep breath, he replied, "I need to talk to you. About Brian." The buzzer sounded and the lock released the door. As he waited for the elevator he thought, This is it.

Getting off the elevator, he looked for apartment number 321. Luckily there hadn't been any other Cameron McKenna's in the telephone book although there had been about ten C. McKenna's. Hoping he'd hit pay dirt the first time, he decided to start with the one Cameron and work his way down the C's if he failed. But he hadn't. And now he was on his way to meet face-to-face with Brian's old lover. As he raised his fist to knock on the door, it opened.



Blue eyes...

Blue eyes like mine...

Looks even better than the picture in the paper...

He's gorgeous. I can't imagine what he and Brian look like together...

All of these thoughts ran through their heads on their initial inspection of the competition.

Cameron spoke first. "Well, come on in." He stepped to the side to let Justin pass.

Although he hadn't come to critique the man's decor, he did glance at the room just long enough to decide that he had taste. His apartment was nowhere near as cool as the loft, but it'd do.

Closing the door, Cam said, "Pretty ballsy, coming over here to talk to me. Or are you here to fight?"

"I want to know why." There was no point in satisfying Cam's need to treat him like an out-of-control teenager by even addressing that comment. "Why now? It's been seven years since you broke up with him and all of a sudden you want him back. Why?"

First sally returned, Cam decided to play along, to tell the truth. "When I was ready to settle down, years ago, I wanted to go to him. But by then, I had already started hearing the rumors. How he never did anybody twice. Would show up at the clubs, high, fuck some guy, and go home. Or take some trick back to his place and fuck him, and then toss him out of bed the next morning. So it was obvious that he wasn't ready to be part of a couple. I wanted him, but I couldn't have him."

Justin, knowing how angry Brian got when people made assumptions about who and what he was, asked, "Did you ever ask him?"

"I went looking for him once, to Babylon. I went there thinking maybe, maybe they were wrong. And I saw him, whispering in some guy's ear on the dance floor. And this guy's face, high as he was, just lit up. And Brian..." Cam paused, remembering that evening, how beautiful Brian had looked, wearing a slinky red shirt opened to the middle of his chest, sweat beading on his skin, lips full and slightly parted. "Brian barely smiled but his eyes, his eyes gleamed. He was so fucking into the power trip, the control he had over this trick, that I knew he would never let that go. Not for me. Not for us."

So Justin repeated his question although he knew the answer. "Why now?"

"When he came to see me, to ask me to come over and talk, I started to think that maybe he had changed. But Tommy and me, we had been together for so long, it didn't make any sense to throw that away on the chance that Brian might be ready to settle down. Anyway, one night Tommy and I got into an argument and I went out dancing. Decided to go to Babylon. And I saw you two together. Saw the way you looked at him. The same way he used to look at me. Same way I used to look at him. And I wanted him. God, I have never wanted anything more than I wanted him at that moment. But I still wasn't sure. And then I read about you in the papers and I realized that maybe he had changed, if he was with you."

Angrily, Justin lashed out. "He's in a relationship, so that's your cue to try and win him back? He's with me."

"Seeing you two together reminded me of the old days."

"He doesn't like to think about the old days," Justin said.

Cam smiled. "You sure about that? Maybe you're the one who doesn't like it because you weren't there." A tiny flicker in Justin's eyes betrayed him and Cam continued. "How does it feel? When he goes to Michael with some problem? How does it feel when he shuts you out?"

Justin thought about all the times he had known that Brian was with Michael, crying on his shoulder, seeking comfort from him and he made himself lie to keep Cam from scoring any points. "He doesn't."

"Did he tell you about his dad? About the shit the old bastard put him through?"

"He told me," he replied simply, not wanting to give anything away to Cam, that he might use against him with Brian.

The older man gestured to a seat but Justin wouldn't accept it, so he remained standing as well. "Did he tell you about the award he won? For that HIV awareness campaign?"

"Yeah," answered Justin, unsure as to where this was leading.

"Did he tell you that his parents showed up to the awards dinner? That they had never even seen the ad? Didn't have a freakin' clue. And when Brian got his award, they projected the ad behind him and his dad-- I was sitting with them, a friend supposedly-- his dad said, 'He got an award for a fuckin' faggot ad? How the fuck does he know what they do together?" And I'm sitting there, and I'm thinking, He fuckin' knows more about it than you can imagine. But I didn't say anything. Because he didn't want them to know. And I couldn't blame him." Cam's face darkened. "His dad fuckin' rode his back all the rest of the evening about that ad and when we got back to his place, he just laid there on the bed... and cried. For a solid hour. And there was nothing... I could do. He put that award in the closet and I never saw it again." Cam blinked back the tears and took a breath before answering. "Did he tell you about that?"

Softly, Justin replied, "We're just starting out," the excuse sounding weak even to him.

"There's always gonna be things that he won't tell you about because he can't go back and relive years of shit every time you want to know what happened," said Cam and he was honestly angry for Brian's sake, that he had been put through all that crap in the first place. "He doesn't have to do that with me."

"What about the past seven years when you weren't there? What about the past year, when he and I were together? Were you there when he told his dad he was gay?" and the words were out of his mouth before he could think. Shit. Still, he continued. "No. You weren't. But I was. I was there."

Cam conceded the point but, instead of acknowledging it, he changed tactics. "You really think you can handle Brian? The drinking, the drugs, the depression, the moodiness, the men-- because there will be other men." Justin looked away, not wanting to deal with that issue, not with Cam, not even with himself. He didn't know what he would do. "You're just a kid. You'd be better off finding someone less... complicated. Someone who won't tear you apart--"

"You think you can handle him any better?"

"I've been through it before. With him. With myself. I've felt the same things, done the same things." Cam laughed a little. "I bet he totally freaked over turning thirty and I bet you didn't understand. Not really. And how could you? You're only eighteen."

"You're right. I'm only eighteen and I'm always gonna be twelve years younger than Brian. But that's no reason for us not to be together."

Remembering how Justin had turned away at the mention of Brian's casual liaisons, Cam returned to that point. "And you won't be bothered by the other men? By the guys he fucks in the backroom? Or maybe brings back to his place when you're not there? Is that what you want? How's that gonna fit into your dream of a happy, monogamous life together?"

"Like the dream he had about the two of you?" When Cam didn't answer, Justin said, "I don't have any illusions about what Brian does. But I know that he loves me."

"So you're gonna forgive all of his faults? Put up with other men touching him? Be there when he needs you? I suppose you're a saint," Cam said derisively.

The teen shook his head. "No. But I love him."

"Love wasn't enough to save him and me."

And Justin smiled for the first time since he arrived. "Me and Brian, we're nothing like you and Brian."

Cam was shaken by the teen's newfound confidence. "So you're gonna fight for him?"

"I don't have to," he said. "I trust him. I trust us."

"Then why are you here?" Cam asked, hoping to trip Justin up.

"To tell you that you're hurting him," replied Justin. He looked straight into Cam's eyes. "If you really loved him, you would let him go."

Despite the difficulty of looking into eyes that were so like his own, Cam asked, "Could you?"

And Justin remembered the talk he had had with Michael when they thought Brian was going to move to New York. "I wouldn't have a choice. You can't stop Brian from doing what he wants to do."

"And if he wants to be with me?"

Justin kept his eyes on Cam. "Then I'll walk away. Could you?" Without waiting for an answer, the teen let himself out.

Left alone, Cam slumped onto the arm of the couch, exhausted and uncertain for the first time, disturbed by the idea that maybe he might not be able to win Brian back.

Justin sat in the back of the darkened taxi and Cam's words kept coming back to him despite his best efforts to block them out of his mind. Slowly, the tears began to roll down his cheeks and he felt afraid, afraid that Brian might be tempted, that Cam might be right. He turned and looked out of the window, seeing the world pass by in hazy streaks of light.

Cam looked up and saw him coming and it was like the world around them ceased to exist. Tousled hair, sweeping lashes, curved lips, and those eyes... that connected with his from across the room, seeing nothing else but him. Brian removed his leather frock coat and draped it across the back of one of the unused chairs at their table and Cam couldn't focus on anything but the long, smooth column of his neck, the muscular forearms where he had pushed up his sleeves, the veins in the backs of his hands, the strong fingers. This was what he wanted, this man, unlike any other. He lifted his wineglass and took a sip. He would have him.

Justin had been unable to study, thinking about Brian and Cam. Finally, around eight, he gave up and took out his sketchpad, worked on yet another drawing of Brian. Only, this time he had trouble capturing on paper his lover's features. It was as if he didn't know him anymore. All day he had fought to keep it together, made himself not call Brian and beg him to cancel his plans.

An hour later, just as he was about to turn in for the night, he heard footsteps outside his door. It opened and in walked Brian. Looking absolutely devastating. Justin's heart began to race. If Brian had gone to meet Cam like that, what did it mean? Brian sat on the bed by his feet, looked down at his hands and Justin wanted to run away. He swallowed and told himself not to lose it, to just breathe.

Then Brian began to speak. "He came armed with all these reasons why he and I should be together... and it was some powerful shit." He smiled softly. "How he was my first love; that he understood me; he wouldn't make demands of me that I couldn't meet... the fact that we were the same age; that we have a history together-- even if we did crash and burn... we're in the same business; have the same interests; done the same drugs; probably some of the same guys... He had all that." Brian paused. "And all I had was the fact that for some goddamn reason, I'm in love with an eighteen-year-old twink. Who hasn't even finished high school; who aggravates the hell out of me; and who doesn't know shit... except that he loves me."

In the silence that followed, Brian raised his head and looked over at Justin.

When he could speak again, Justin asked softly, "So what did he do?"

"He paid the bill and he left. For good."

"You sure?"

"Positive." Brian stood and Justin did too, alarmed.

Where are you going?"

"Home," replied Brian, and he sounded so tired that Justin wanted to draw him into his bed to rest. Then Brian smiled. "Tomorrow... how about we spend the day together? Whatever you want to do."

Justin's face lit up. "No matter what?"

"No video arcades," amended Brian. "Beyond that, it doesn't matter."

"Then wear your sweats and sneakers." Justin, desperate to touch him, slipped his hand inside Brian's coat and ran his fingers over his side. Laid his head upon his shoulder.

"Are we going to the gym?" Brian asked, sliding his arms around the teen, giving himself permission to finally touch Justin.

"You'll see."

Brian kissed Justin's upraised face, making his way from his cheeks to his lips. They remained like that, arms about one another, kissing for a while and then they eased apart. "Tomorrow," said Brian.

"Tomorrow." Justin didn't attempt to keep him longer, he could hear in his voice the weariness, the pain he must have been feeling, having finally put away a huge part of his past for good. So he watched him from the top of the stairs, watched him meld into the night.

As he made his way to the bedroom, his eyes fell upon the rose lying on the counter. The edges browned. He picked it up and held it, hand trembling. Then laid the rose and his head upon the counter and cried. He couldn't have told Justin that walking away from Cam had been the hardest thing he had ever done: turning his back on the easier path to take a journey with him, on a trail whose destination was far from certain.

"It'd be an adventure." Justin laid his head upon Brian's shoulder, so overwhelmed that he couldn't speak. Brian held him tight and ruffled his hair. "Promise me something," he said softly.

And Justin answered, "Anything."

"Promise me you won't change."

"Okay," agreed Justin. "Because I love you, I swear I'll never change. I'll always be young and cute--"

"And modest," Brian interjected.

"And incredibly smart," he added. Then he smiled. "And in love with you."

"I love you."

Brian leaned over him and kissed him lightly on the lips. "How much?"

Pretending to think, Cam said, "More than the ocean."

"Fucker." Another kiss. "Not good enough. How much?"

"More than ice cream."

Another kiss. "Better. But still... not good enough. How much?"

Cam held Brian's head still and kissed him deeply. "More than my life."

Brian touched Cam's lips with his fingertips. "Liar."

They had the best of days together. Went to see the first matinee showing of Moulin Rouge and had hot dogs and popcorn, although Justin had to bully Brian into eating it.

"Come on."

"I'm not--"

"You'll work it off. I promise."

" Fine. I hope you remember this when I die an early death."

"Just shut up and eat the fuckin' hot dog."

"You know, you're gettin' kind of bossy."

"It's my day."

"But the night belongs to me."

And afterwards bike riding in the park.

"Bike riding?"

"You remember, don't you? It's just like fucking: you never forget how."

"Cute. What happens when I fall off?"

"You get back on."

"What if I hurt myself?"

"I won't let you."

Then dinner.

"Please tell me we are not having pizza for dinner."

"It's the best in the city."

"But it's still pizza."

"Trust me, you'll love it."

"You're trying to kill me. This is punishment right? For Cam?"

"It's a reward. For both of us."

And, lastly, home to the loft.

They tumbled through the door, laughing as they kissed and tried to remove their clothes. Brian reached out and closed the door before they stumbled into the living room, too impatient to wait until they had reached the bedroom. Somehow, miraculously, they got undressed and sank down upon the floor, still kissing; hands busy stroking, kneading, trying to grab hold of shifting, twisting bodies.

Condom in place, lube applied, Justin held onto the arm of the sofa and lowered himself onto Brian's cock. Brian, kneeling behind him, wrapped one arm around Justin's waist and the other around his chest to steady himself as he thrust up into his body. At first they hardly parted, Justin just sitting on his cock while Brian rose and fell beneath him so that Brian's dick never slid out of him-- like riding on a carousel. Brian's hand found Justin's cock and began stroking it as they moved together.

Then, wanting more, Justin got to his feet, squatting over Brian, who began pumping his meat in and out of his lover's warm, tight hole. Justin's legs began to ache but he didn't want to move, to end this, not yet, just one more, one more, just-- "Oh God," he whispered. "Oh God, oh..." Squeezed his eyes shut. "Oh." But it wasn't enough, they both wanted more, so he stood and whimpered as Brian slipped out of him; leaned over onto the sofa, one knee on the arm, his elbows digging into the cushion, his ass in the air, waiting for his man to mount him.

Brian groaned as he plunged back into Justin. He loved the way the teen's lush buttocks parted for him to reveal the wet, muscular hole, wrinkled lips smoothing, stretching around his cock as he entered him. And he fucked him deep and hard: ramming his dick into him, wrenching it back out, only to hammer it home again. Justin was muttering, crying out, begging him to fuck him, fuck him, a nonstop flow of grunts and utterances that had the same affect as a hand encircling the base of his cock, or a finger up his ass, or a pair of lips wrapped around his balls. He cried out and jerked as he came, pounding Justin's asshole with each spasm.

Withdrawing his dick from Justin's well-fucked ass, Brian turned the teen over so that he laid on his back, spread his legs, and lowered his mouth onto his throbbing cock. Justin's spine arched as Brian sucked the rigid shaft and he moaned as the man's tongue swirled around the swollen head. "I'm gonna come," he whispered between breaths and he clenched his teeth. But Brian didn't release him, only lowered his head so that the tip of Justin's cock entered his throat. Too far-gone to issue another warning, Justin whimpered and grabbed the seat cushions as his cock head expanded and a torrent of cum struck the walls of Brian's throat and dripped down. Quickly followed by another. Brian rose up a little so that the end of Justin's dick rested on his tongue and he sucked the fat bulbous head, encouraging the teen to give him more. Which he did. A mouth full of creamy cum. When it seemed that Justin had finished, he lifted his head free and swallowed, licked his lips to capture any juice that might have tried to escape. Then, gently, he coaxed the very last drops from Justin's pole, cleaning the entire surface of every salty-sweet trace.

Tears streaked Justin's face as he watched Brian tongue-wash his cock.

Justin lay cradled in Brian's arms. "I want to taste you."

But Brian shook his head. "No. It's not safe."

"You did it."

"I shouldn't have," he said and he pulled away a bit from Justin, fixed his gaze upon him. "Promise me you won't. Not ever." When it seemed that Justin hesitated, he said, "I can't ever lose you," and his eyes grew shiny at the thought. "Promise me."

And Justin did. "I swear." Then he grinned, desperate to make Brian smile. "Now, what's my reward for being a good boy?"

Brian's lips twisted as he thought. He leaned over and whispered into the teen's ear. Justin burst out laughing.

"Can you really do that?"

And Brian shook his head. "Is this what it's gonna be like for the rest of our lives? Me having to prove everything to you?"

As his lover rose to rummage through his toy chest, Justin's tongue flickered over his lips. "That's right. Over and over again."

Title taken from a painting by Morris Graves.

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