The enthusiastic and pleasing illusions of youth. -- Joseph Henry Shorthouse

"Aragorn and Legolas," Justin said over the roar of the shower.

"What?" Brian cut off the water and stepped out onto the warm tiled floor, grabbed a towel.

"We can go as Aragorn and Legolas, to the Institute's Halloween party." Justin dried his hair, then turned to the rest of his body.

"And who says we're going?"

"You did. Last night."

"I don't—"

"You said you'd do anything if I kept on blowing you."

"Sex talk." Whenever Brian didn't want to keep a promise he'd made in the heat of the moment, he'd try to dismiss it as sex talk.

"Uh-uh, you said it so you must have meant it. You're going." Justin slipped on his bathrobe. "Only thing you have to decide is what as," he said as he headed for the closet to find something to wear.

Brian followed mumbling, "How about as someone who's never letting you near his cock again?"

Turning, Justin ran his tongue over his thick lips and then slipped his finger between them and slid it in and out, in and out. He could almost see Brian's cock getting harder. Justin laughed. "Yeah, right."

"Fuckin' asshole."

"Whatever," said Justin and he pushed Brian down onto the bench in their closet and bent over his lap. Parted his robe and stroked Brian's cock before kissing the tip. "You were saying?" He lowered his lips onto the head.

Brian sighed. "Legolas…"

"You fight dirty," he complained half an hour later after Justin had thoroughly drained him both of cum and the energy to argue.

"Arguments don't seem to last as long when one of us is moaning." He kissed his husband and opened one of his drawers to find some underwear. "I like short arguments."

Finding a pair of his own briefs, Brian slipped them on and began filing through his lightweight sweaters. "So when is this travesty occurring?"

"Halloween?" said Justin. Jeesh, Brian was acting dumb.

"What about Sonny Boy?"

"Gus? What—shit!" He'd forgotten that they'd promised to take Gus trick or treating again this year. The toddler had loved making the rounds with his daddies and had insisted that they take him again.

"What time is the party?"

"Starts at eight."

"No problem then," Brian told him, despite his better judgement. "We'll be through with Gus long before then. Gets dark around five thirty so we won't be out much past six. If that late."

Pleased that Brian had come up with the solution himself, Justin hugged him from behind. "I love you, Pookie."

"I think we should go as Aragorn and Arwen," teased Brian and Justin pushed him.

"I am not a girl!"

"Then how about I go as Arwen and you can be Aragorn. 'Do you remember when we first met?' " he camped, reciting her lines from the first film.

" 'I thought I had wandered into a dream.' "

" 'Long years have passed. You did not have the cares you carry now. Do you remember what I told you?' "

" 'You said you'd bind yourself to me, forsaking the immortal life of your people,' " Justin replied somberly, then cracked up. "The immortal life of the party boys."

"Guess I did," Brian said, rubbing his ring.

For the first time in weeks it seemed, the guys got together for breakfast at the diner, Justin appropriating bits off Brian's plate as he worked the early shift before class.

"So what's the Boy Wonder so happy about?" asked Mikey as Justin had been gracing them with one of his higher wattage smiles all morning.

"What do you think," said Em. "They did it this morning."

Ted shook his head. "They do it every morning. What gives, O Blond One?"

"We're going to the Institute Costume party," he answered, filching a strip of bacon from his hubby.

"I'm gonna starve if you don't quit eating my food."

"You were not going to eat it and you know it."

"So," Em asked, getting back to the previous issue, "you're going to a costume party at IFA; what as?"

"The Cock of Monte Cristo," quipped Ted.

"The Dick of Windsor," Em laughed.

Brian looked at Mikey. "Well?"

Michael got that mischievous look in his eye, the one that always presaged a joke. "Fuckman." The guys cracked up, including Justin.

"What are you laughing about?" Brian asked. "You're my sidekick."

"And what's his name?" Jeff inquired, always the reporter.



"Bottom," he concluded to the absolute delight of the guys who laughed heartily while Justin tried to hide his embarrassment by ignoring them and waiting on another table. But their laughter followed him even to the kitchen.

"You have to do it," said Em. "I'll even help with the costumes."

Brian didn't promise anything—too smart—but he didn't dismiss it out of hand either.

"Every good superhero duo needs a motto," Ted reminded them.

Jeff, every bit as mischievous as his lover, had a suggestion. "Fuckman and Bountiful Bottom. Saving the world—one fuck at a time."

And even Justin had to laugh, it was just too much.

Just like them.

"I think they have a rule against obscene costumes," Justin told Brian that night at home as they got ready for bed.

"Define obscene."

"They'll know it if and when they see it." Just then Brian slipped off the last of his clothes and Justin thought that pretty much defined obscene: the way his body tempted you to impure thoughts.


"I thought you liked chicken," Justin teased to take his mind off of the myriad of things he'd like to do to his husband.

"Love it."

"I can't believe you told them about Bountiful Bottom."

"I didn't tell them anything. He's our own special secret." They got into bed. Even though it was October, the weather was still relatively nice. They didn't even need to turn on the heat most days. Tonight was no exception. "So what are we going to go as?" Brian asked, figuring Fuckman and Bountiful Bottom wouldn't be making an appearance this year.

"Aragorn and Legolas."

"Yeah, us and twenty other dweebs."

"Probably right," Justin agreed. Lord of the Rings was more popular than Harry Potter this year. "Well, we aren't wearing what we wore to Senator Baxter's fundraising wake at Mikey's."

"You looked so trampy."

"Hello? Mr. No Underwear." Justin still had images of those ostrich skin pants in his head. "You were such a tramp. God, you were all over that waiter."

"He was hot."

"Hotter than me?" Fishing, even though he knew he didn't have to.



He slid his arm around his spouse's shoulders and pulled him in for a peck on the nose. "You're the hottest little blond twink there is."

"I'm not a twink," he said, despite secretly liking it when Brian called him that. "I'm a married man."

"My married man," Brian drawled and gave him another, more serious kiss.

"Mmm…" Justin suddenly pulled away. "What about like in An American in Paris?"

Used to his husband switching gears even in mid-sentence, Brian was nevertheless a little put-off since he'd hoped to have laid the matter to rest for the night: there were better things to do with the time they had left than talk about costume parties. Still, he laid back and waited for Justin's brilliant idea. "What about what?"

"We could make black and white costumes the way they did in An American in Paris." Coincidentally, the party had been thrown by a group of artists in the movie.

"Are you Leslie Caron or am I?"

Attempting to draw him into his plan, Justin continued. "We can pretend that Fuckman and Bountiful Bottom have come in disguise to infiltrate the party and investigate rumors of homophobia at the school."

"At the Institute? Please. There are so many fags there, the Diversity Council ought to be promoting heterosexuality." The import of his words struck him and he frowned. "What the fuck am I saying?"

"I think you need to lie down."

"I am lying down."

"Then I think you need to take your medicine," Justin suggested with a sly smile.

Brian's smile matched his. "I'm ready."

Justin straddled Brian's chest. Stroked his cock. "Open wide."

It had been prophetic that Brian had mentioned the Diversity Council the night before because when Justin got to school in the morning, there was a note in his box informing him of a meeting that afternoon. Curious as to the reason—since this wasn't one of their regularly scheduled meetings—but always glad to see the folks on the council, he filed away the time in his mind and hurried off to class.

Arriving actually a minute early, he spotted Martin, one of his fellow council members. Not his favorite person in the world, Justin, nevertheless, put aside his personal feelings to inquire about the upcoming meeting. "You know what this is about?"

Martin, who delighted in being in the know, lifted a world-weary shoulder.

Bitch, thought Justin and smiled wanly to match Martin's gesture. He probably did know why but was lording or, rather, ladying it over everyone else. Whatever. They'd find out soon enough this afternoon.

Once everyone had settled down, Annabelle, the chair of the council, called the meeting to order. "The reason we're meeting today is because a student at the Institute has brought before the administration allegations of harassment."

Justin wondered who it was. He hadn't heard a thing.

"Specifically," Annabelle continued, "the student has charged that he is being harassed because of his political views."

Although she prided herself on being fair-minded, Justin couldn't help but detect a note of derision in her voice and again wondered what was up. Since he couldn’t bear to be in the dark for much longer, he asked, "What happened?"

"Well, this student says that he was harassed at the 9/11 memorial show and since because of his pro-Bush stance." Muttering began among the council members.

The fog lifted. He remembered that guy's piece. Brian had snorted and walked past it without a second look. He'd been hard-pressed to examine it purely on artistic merit himself. At first he'd thought that the work had been meant in an ironic tone but when he'd realized that the artist actually admired Dubuya Bush, he'd joined Brian at the next piece in the exhibition. Still, he wanted more details. "What kind of harassment?"

"He says he's been threatened."

"Physically?" asked Justin.

"That's what he says," Annabelle reported in a tone that let everyone know how little she thought of his claim.

Justin didn't know what to think. On the one hand he couldn't imagine students at the Institute actually resorting to physical violence over a piece of art but, on the other hand, having been a victim of violence himself, he couldn't dismiss the guy's claims. "So what are we supposed to do?"

"Frankly," Martin drawled, "I don't see what we can do. We're not the Discipline Committee."

"No," replied Annabelle, "we're the Diversity Council. Which means we're supposed to promote diversity on campus."

"Seems to me," someone else said, "that there's plenty of diversity. This guy has an opinion, some other people disagree. Diversity," she pronounced as if she'd discovered the solution for cold fusion.

Depite himself, Justin spoke up. "But he's obviously not free to express his opinion since he's being threatened."

"So he says," Annabelle felt bound to point out. "We don't know what really happened."

"Well, if a gay student approached the Council and said he or she were being harassed, what would we do?"

Annabelle sighed inaudibly. "We'd investigate." Her face brightened. "I think you should be in charge of the investigation, Justin."

"Me?" He could hear his voice crack on the question and swallowed before speaking again. "But I—"

"You're perfect, Taylor," said Martin. "Excuse me, Taylor-Kinney. You've had first-hand experience with harassment."

Angry, Justin replied, "I don't think getting bashed in the head with a baseball bat would be considered harassment."

"Overachievement?" suggested Martin and Justin found himself halfway out of his seat before his vision cleared. Taking a deep breath, he sat back down.

Addressing Annabelle, Justin asked, "When do you want a report?"

"Two weeks?" When he didn't dissent, she turned to the council at large. "Any other suggestions? Discussion?" No one spoke. "Meeting adjourned."

Not trusting himself to be near Martin any longer, Justin split. He'd get the particulars from Annabelle later. Right now he just wanted to go home and decompress.

All day he'd been thinking about taking a long soak in the tub, bottle of wine in the window sill, Justin in his arms. Driving up to the house and seeing the Cherokee in the yard, he began to grin. His goal was in sight.

However, the smile that greeted him when he walked into the kitchen wasn't as bright as the one he'd been envisioning. Nor was the kiss as inviting. Holding the young man for a moment after they'd kissed, Brian asked, "Something wrong?" Justin shook his head. Rather than disputing his claim, Brian decided to let Justin bring up his problem in his own time. Luckily, Leo came padding downstairs giving him an excuse to drop the matter. "Hey, Leo." The cat rubbed up against him and Brian said, "Come on," and went upstairs to change.

They passed a relatively quiet evening, Justin's mood still subdued. After dinner, they watched a DVD Justin had picked up a few weeks ago saying he'd been wanting to see it for a while now. Of course, considering the state he was in, Donnie Darko was probably not a good choice. By the end of the film, he was visibly shaken.

Then again, so was Brian. And it had nothing to do with his day and everything to do with the darkness of the film. Why the fuck did Justin want to watch this? he asked himself. Sometimes his spouse's taste amazed him. Not that it was a bad movie. It was as close to brilliant as any film he'd ever seen. But depressing didn't begin to cover the way it left him feeling. Even Seven hadn't been this affecting. Standing and pulling Justin up by the hand, Brian said, "I know exactly what we need."

Fifteen minutes later they were soaking in the tub, a bottle of burgundy sitting in the window sill, two glasses already filled, bubbles tickling Justin's chin. Brian lazily stroked his partner's arms. Bussed the top of his head. "Better?"


"So what happened?"

Justin reached for his wine but did not take it. "Can we talk about it later?"

"Up to you." He took hold of Justin's arm and cleared it of bubbles, then ran his fingers up and down the length of it. "You have such soft skin." He traced the line of his shoulder, then neck, then cupped Justin's chin. Turned his husband's head and gently kissed his lips. "I love your mouth," he whispered before kissing him again. "You're so beautiful," he murmured. "I want you so much," he confessed helplessly.

Justin turned in his arms, heart racing, and embraced him. "I want you too." Brian moved forward in the tub so that Justin could wrap his legs around his waist and he did so, pressing full against him. Loving the feel of Brian's muscles beneath his skin. His cock began to stiffen as they kissed, as he rubbed languorously against Brian's abdomen.

"In or out?" Brian asked.

"We'll get the comforter wet," he replied between kisses.

Catching Justin's bottom lip between his own, Brian sucked it until Justin cried out, his belly tightening, cock jerking against his lover. Brian reached down and stroked his dick. Felt it throb. Out it was.

Exchanging stares with Leo, who was perched on the other side of Brian and peeping over his body, Justin sighed. It felt so good to unwind, to relax.

Brian sipped his wine. "You want to talk about it now?"

"This asshole on the Council said something really shitty to me today." He shrugged. "I guess I let it get to me more than I should."

"What'd he say?"

"It wasn't so much what he said," Justin tried to explain; "it was the way he said it." Brian waited. "He tried to imply that my getting bashed wasn't a big deal."

"Well, fuck him."

"Like I said, I should have ignored him, I just…" He didn't know how to describe his feelings about the exchange. "I almost died," he said needlessly.

"Next time, you tell him to come see me and I'll give him a blow by blow account."

Justin chuckled softly. "My hero." Brian tightened his arms around him. "I've got an assignment."

"To bring joy to the masses?"

"No," he replied, jabbing Brian gently in the side. "Investigate charges of harassment."


"The guy who did the pro-Bush piece in the show—"


"Claims he's been harassed for his political views."

"Should be. He's wrong."

"And he says he's been threatened."

Brian was quiet for a moment. "So the Boy Wonder's putting on his cape and charging off to save the day."

"You don't sound pleased."

"If you're gonna go around worshipping that fuckin' idiot, Bush, you'd better damn well be prepared to take your knocks. Especially in a school for the arts. Not exactly a hotbed of conservatism."

"Still… he outta have the right to say what he feels."

"He can. He just better be able to defend himself."

"Against violence? You're saying it's okay for people to try and hurt him?"

"That's not what I said."

"That's what he says is being done."

"You believe him?"

"I don't know. That's what I'm supposed to investigate."

"So why you?"

"Seems I'm familiar with harassment."

"Ah…" Brian nodded. "Which is where we started this conversation: the asshole with the comment about you getting bashed."


Brian put down his wineglass. "Well, be careful."

"I'm just gonna talk to some people, find out what's going on."

"And then what? You gonna hold a rally for George Dubuya?"

Truthfully, Justin didn't know what the Council would or could do if the allegations held up. "I don't know." He turned over as Brian cut out the table lamp on his side of the bed.

Watching Justin for a moment, Brian snuggled up to his back and put his arm around him. What he had to say, he could only say with Justin looking the other way so that he didn't have to see the fire in his eyes: the desire to see justice done and the belief that it could be done. Brian no longer had any such illusions about the nature of the world or his ability to change things. "First sign of trouble, you run the other way."

"Brian, I—"

"Promise me." They were married, he had rights and one of those was the right to ask Justin not to risk himself in some futile pursuit.

Justin knew where the fear came from. It came from sitting up half the night worried out of his mind that Justin wasn't going to make it. From finally admitting to himself that he loved the teen and then watching him slip away. But he also knew, in his heart, that he could no more turn his back on this until it was resolved than he could stop breathing. "I'll be careful." It was the most he could promise.

Brian kissed his shoulder, then closed his eyes. It'd have to be enough. Any more and Justin wouldn't be Justin.

"Are you Thomas?" Justin asked of the guy who was hanging around the Diversity Council's cubicle in Student Affairs.

"Yeah," he replied. "You Taylor?"

"Taylor-Kinney. Justin," he added. "You can call me Justin."

"What's with the hyphenated name? Your mom a feminist?"

Justin held up his left hand. "No," he smiled. "I'm married."

"But I thought you were…" Thomas looked away. Mumbled, "I thought you were gay."

"I am. Kinney is my husband's name."

"Then you're not really married."

Laughing, Justin said, "Tell that to Brian. You should have seen the bill for the wedding." He watched Thomas struggle with the idea of two men having a wedding, considering themselves married, and he could tell that he wasn't buying it. Didn't matter. They weren't here to convince Thomas to support the gay marriage initiative. Thomas was here to convince Justin that his claims were valid. He passed into the cubicle. No one else was around in the office, which was just as well. "You wanna come in?"

Thomas took a seat in the small space. Too small by his reckoning. But it wasn't like Taylor was going to put the moves on him. Taylor-Kinney, he reminded himself. "So why are you helping me?" he asked. "You have to have figured out that I'm not your typical arts student."

"Cause you're a Republican?"

"I'm a straight, white, conservative Republican."

Again, Justin laughed. "You're right. Not too many of you."

"Someone wants there to be one less," he said in a subdued voice.

"Any ideas who?"

"Take your pick," he shrugged. Thomas explained, "A lot of people expressed disapproval of my project in the 9/11 Memorial show."

"You had to have expected it."

"Some chick told me to take my ass to Iraq and then tell her how much I admired President Bush."

Justin shrugged. "The other threats you received, were they verbal? Written? What?"

"Printed. Left at my studio. Which means it could have been anyone."

"Did any of the people who spoke to you at the memorial show seem especially pissed?"

"They all seemed pissed," Thomas replied. "So much for inalienable rights."

Deciding to test him, Justin asked, "So it doesn't bother you that I'm gay and married?" He watched Thomas fidget a little. Expected him to tell some half-assed lie.

After a moment, Thomas confessed. "Yeah, it bothers me. But I'm not going to attack you because of it."

"Someone did," he said. "Tried to kill me. With a baseball bat."

"Not here though. It was supposed to be different here." He stood and paced a little in the confined space. "They're always preaching about freedom of expression… but only if you express the right opinion."

"Not everyone feels that way."

"Not you?"

"Brian says opinions are like assholes: everybody's got one."

Thomas laughed abruptly.

"So," Justin said, taking out a sheet of paper and a pencil, "let's try to make a list of all the people who ragged on you at the show."

The moment he walked into the house, Brian swooped down on him with questions, anger suffusing his features.

"Where were you?"


"Why didn't you answer your cell? I must have called you a—"


"Why didn't you call me back? I didn't know where you were, what you were doing! You can't fuckin' do this, Justin. You just can't disappear, you can't—" and with that he ran out of words, the fear and anger having turned into a relief so great that he shook. Feeling for a stool at the island, he sat with his hand shading his eyes.

Justin touched his back tentatively. "I'm sorry. I wasn't thinking." And he hadn't been, hadn't thought about the phone once he'd cut it off. "Bri… please… I'm sorry."

Brian swiveled about and embraced him, laying his head on Justin's shoulder. "Every time the phone rang, I must have jumped out of my skin. Fuckin' telemarketers."

"They have that Don't Call list now," Justin told him, aware of the irrelevancy of this line of conversation but Brian laughed as he'd hoped he would.

"What are you?" he asked. "A public service announcement?" and they both smiled remembering the first time he'd said that to Justin.

"I'll leave it on from now on," he said, meaning his cellphone.

"It kept going through my head," Brian began, "me having to explain to Gus… that you were gone." He closed his eyes. "Don't ever make me do that."

"I won't. I promise. I'll live forever."

Even though he knew Justin was joking, he also know that deep down he couldn't help but believe that he would live forever or, at least, that he'd live to see old age. Despite having almost died just two short years ago, Justin was a typical twenty-year-old in that regard. "I didn't start dinner yet," Brian told him, it being his night to 'cook' which more and more meant something other than ordering in or having pasta.

"We've got a big Boboli shell, how about we fire up the pizza oven?"

Later, after they'd taken out the steaming hot pie, they ate on the floor by the sectional and watched The Nightmare Before Christmas, Justin singing along with the characters as he'd watched this movie many times before. Leo lounged on the couch behind him, occasionally reaching out and touching Justin's hair and shoulder with his paw.

"Probably thinks you're a sheepdog," Brian said, teasing Justin about the length of his hair, especially his bangs which were starting to obscure his eyes, a serious no-no in Brian's book.

Shaking it back out of his face, Justin conceded, "I should get it cut soon." Then he brushed the bangs that fell gently on Brian's forehead.

"Guess I should too."

Justin shook his head. "I like it a little long." Ran his fingers over the stubble on Brian's cheek. "I bet you'd look sexy with a beard."

"Thought I looked sexy without one."

"Goes without saying."

Brian did admit, "Be nice not to shave everyday."

"Think about it," Justin said with a kiss, visions of shaping Brian's beard dancing in his head.

Switching gears, Brian asked, "So what were you doing today?"

Justin sat back against the sofa and reached for his beer. "Talking with that guy."

"What do you think?"

"That something's definitely up."

"You think he's telling the truth?"

"Yeah, I do."


"I recognized the look in his eyes." He confessed, "I used to see it in mine when I was at St. James."

Taking a moment, Brian said, "So it's another crusade."


"I know. You can't stand by and do nothing. Fine. Just remember that you have a life too." Paused. "That I'm part of that life," he said softly.

"You think I could forget that?" Justin asked. He slipped an arm around Brian's waist, snuggled against his chest. "You and Gus, you are my life. The most important part." Only he couldn't lie. "But this is important too. I promise I won't let it get in the way of us. Okay?"

Brian shrugged.

"You don't believe me?" Justin asked, aware that Brian was playing hard to get.

"Maybe I'm just feeling a little unloved."

Justin eased Brian back onto the rug. Stretched out on top of him and began unbuttoning his shirt. "Can't have that," he said as one cinnamon nipple came into view and he bent his head.

But despite having played the rest of the evening, Brian couldn't shake the feeling that had come over him while he'd waited at home, frantic with worry, afraid that something had happened to Justin. As his partner slept, he crept from bed and from the main part of their bedroom and sequestered himself in his office, softly shutting the doors behind Leo who had padded after him. He would have gone outside but Justin might have awakened once the cold air entered the room.

Standing in front of the window, he smoked, looking outside seeing neither the Green Giants sheltering the front yard nor the stars above the treeline. God, he'd felt so helpless when he hadn't been able to reach Justin and he hated that feeling, it made him crazy, made him say and do things that he might later regret. He'd been working on dealing with those feelings in a more productive manner with Drew, and he was proud of himself for coming clean with Justin tonight, for talking about his feelings after his initial angry outburst.

He knew Justin didn't mean to worry him, knew that he wanted to do what was best for everyone. Only sometimes that wasn't possible and Justin hadn't learned yet how to let go once it became apparent that something needed to give. He'd given up Xavier but only after they'd reached the breaking point. Brian didn't want to have to reach that point with this kid and his art and the shit he'd stirred up because it wasn't worth it, free speech, freedom of expression be damned. None of that was worth risking his family's welfare. Justin didn't believe that was at stake. Brian knew better. Knew how small things had a way of blossoming, spiraling out of control. Still, he couldn't order Justin not to help; he could only keep a watchful eye on the situation and remain wary.

Beckoning to the cat who sat on the chaise lounge, he returned to bed.

His first Halloween, he'd gone out dressed as Tinky Winky; his second year, SpongeBob; this year when Brian asked him who he wanted to go as, he replied, "Tigger!" He loved the dancing Tigger he'd gotten for his birthday although he was fondest still of his Tonka trucks. For a while they thought he might want to go as Bob the Builder since his Granddaddy Craig had given him a construction hat for his birthday but he surprised them all by wanting to go as Tigger. It probably had to do with the singing and dancing involved. He loved to sing and dance although he didn't do either one very well.

So they went out to the Big Q to look for a Tigger costume that would fit him. He was quite tall for his age although slender like his daddy, having shed almost all of his baby fat. Joanie had assured them that she could take in a larger costume as long as it fit lengthwise.

With the number of people in the store, Justin was hoping they'd find a costume quickly so that they could make their escape without causing too much damage. He didn't mind himself but Brian's eyes had narrowed to a Clint Eastwood squint that boded well for no one. Brian, even on a good day in the Big Q, was most definitely the good, the bad, and the ugly all by himself. Luckily, they weren't very long in finding a Tigger costume but it was a little difficult determining if it would fit. Gus bounced around so much that Justin was sure he was about to get yelled at but Brian only gave him the eye and the toddler calmed down and let Justin lay the costume up against him. It seemed long enough. It would have to do.

"We ready?" asked Brian.

"Um, well, there's a few things we need for the house."

Giving a longsuffering sigh, Brian rolled his eyes. "Go. I'll take Mini-Me over to the toy section and plug up my ears."

"Toys!" Gus yelled and began to bounce even harder. "Yea!"

Brian took the costume from Justin and pushed him. "Hurry up."

Taking a quick look around, Justin kissed him. "Did I mention how sexy you look in that beard?"

Despite himself, Brian smiled and stroked his chin as he walked over to the toys with Gus. He'd been growing it for a week now and he had to admit that he liked the results so far. Even better, Justin loved it and showed his appreciation daily. He'd promised to trim it tonight after Gus had gone to bed. Brian could hardly wait.

Counting down the minutes until Justin reappeared, Brian let Gus drag him through the toy aisles, pointing out potential Christmas presents. He seemed most enamored of the model cars and the Leggo building blocks; Brian made a mental note to remember which ones.

As usual, they had a bit of a power struggle when it was time to go but Gus gave in and took Brian's hand after they told him the sooner they left the store, the sooner he'd get to see Nana. He loved visiting Nana and hadn't seen Joanie since his birthday party.

She was waiting for them when they arrived at her house, the curtain pulled back to give her a view of the driveway. Opening the door, she knelt just in time to receive a big hug.


"Hi, Gus."

"Nana, I got a Tigger 'stume."


"Yeah. Cahstume."

Brian shook the bag as he entered the house. "What's for dinner? I'm starving."

"Pot roast," Joanie said distractedly as she disengaged herself from Gus and raised her hand to Brian's face, touching his cheek as if she were touching an infant's. "This is new."

"My husband thought I'd look good in a beard. Like it?"

"I think you look very handsome," she declared.

Gus jumped up and down until Brian picked him up so that he could touch it too even though he'd touched it earlier. It fascinated him and he wondered if his face would get hairy too. "Beerd. Daddy got a beerd."

"Now that we've had show and tell, dinner?" Brian reminded them in his best annoyed voice although secretly he basked in their attention and Justin knew it.

"Faker," he said as he passed by on the way to the dining room.

"I am hungry," protested Brian.

"I'll bet."

Putting Gus down, Brian held Justin's chair for him and whispered in his ear, "For your ass," which caused him to blush even more than Brian holding out his chair did.


Gus caught Justin's attention. "Daddy?"


"What we eating?"

"What are we eating?" Gus nodded. "Pot roast."

"What's dat?"

"It's like steak. Remember steak? Remember Daddy fixed steak on the grill?"

"Yeah." He picked up his fork and played with it, singing absentmindedly, "Pot roast, pot roast. Pot roast. Pot roast."


"What?" Joanie yelled back.

"Hurry up before Gus gets to the second verse."

Justin laughed and popped him on the leg.

After dinner, while Brian and Justin cleaned up, Joanie had Gus try on his costume for a fitting. Surprisingly, it fit very well and she didn't think she'd have to take it in at all. "Look at you," she said. "Let me see your Tigger dance," and Gus bounced around showing her his moves. He tried to sing the Tigger song too but he got the words all mixed up and rolled around giggling on the floor at Joanie's feet. "Silly Gus."

"Silly," he laughed. "I silly."

"Do you have The Tigger Movie at home?" She remembered when it'd come out a few years back, had heard John talking about it—not that he'd ever admit to wanting to see such a thing. That was for babies.


"Are you sure?"

"Yeah. I got Pooh." And it was true, he did have The Many Adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh but he didn't have The Tigger Movie.

"Maybe for Christmas you'll get it."

He smiled. "Santa Claus brings toys." Gus remembered going to see Santa Claus and telling him he wanted a red truck and Santa had brought him a red truck for Christmas.

Having finished in the kitchen, the two men came out to see Gus in his costume and laughed as he demonstrated his dance for them as well. Reluctantly, he took off his costume when asked and got ready to go home. But he didn't want to leave Nana.

"You want to stay here tonight?" Brian asked him.

"I want to stay with Nana."

"Did you ask Nana if you could stay?"

Gus turned his big, hazel eyes on her. "Nana? Can I stay?"

Joanie hugged him. "Of course, you can. You can stay with Nana any time you want. Okay?"


"He'll have to put on his same clothes tomorrow," Justin pointed out.

"We'll come get him early."

"Don't worry," Joanie told them. "I'll bring him over tomorrow. Around lunchtime. Your treat." She smiled knowingly. They'd appreciate the night alone and the morning to lounge around in bed. "Say, 'Thanks, Mom.' "

Brian kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks, Mom."

Even Justin bussed her and said, "Thanks, Mom."

Carefully, Justin traced an imaginary line across Brian's cheek with an electric razor, shaping his beard. Brian sat on the toilet while Justin stood in front of him, frequently turning the man's head from side to side to check his work, to make sure that both sides were even. When he was done, he stroked his partner's face. Kissed him. Brian pulled him down upon his lap and they kissed until they were forced to part to catch their breath. Then Brian stood, Justin in his arms, and they retired to the bedroom where he ran his beard up and down his lover's spine, listening to sighs as soft as the hair on his face.

True to her word Joanie brought Gus back home around noon and they all had a light lunch before dispersing for the rest of the day. Joanie had homework to do and work to do on her latest commission and Justin had the afternoon shift at the diner. Left on their own, Brian and Gus decided to hit the zoo for a few hours since it was relatively nice out for a Saturday in October.

"Do you remember when you and I and Justin came to the zoo for the first time?" Brian asked the little boy as they stood in the free-flight aviary. Gus shook his head. "You were just a year old. How old are you now?"


"That's right. You're a big boy."

Gus' attention was caught by a huge red and blue bird. "Look at dat."

"What was it?"

"A bird. It was blue."

After they left the aviary they explored the rest of the Kid's Kingdom including the Discovery Pavilion where Gus burrowed through the meerkat tunnels and popped up in bubble windows to catch glimpses of the animals. When he exited the tunnels, he immediately began narrating his exciting adventures to Brian who listened patiently even if a few of the words didn't make any sense. Gus was talking much clearer now but every once in a while his aim exceeded his grasp.

Stopping to take a rest, they bought some popcorn and Gus fed half of it to the pigeons, running back to the safety of his daddy's arms when too many swooped down to take advantage of his generosity. "The birds scared me, Daddy!" he exclaimed breathlessly, clutching Brian's jacket; then he began to laugh, thrilled by the experience, and skipped away from Brian with another hand full of popcorn to toss to the birds.

Brian shook his head and smiled. That was his son.

Having exhausted themselves walking around the zoo, the two Kinney men returned home to nap, curling up on Brian and Justin's bed: Gus sheltered by Brian's body, Leo sheltered by Gus' small frame.

Two hours later, Brian awoke and watched Gus sleep. Wondered what the little boy dreamt about. If he hurried forward and dreamt of himself as an older child or if he loitered about the past dreaming of when he was just a baby.

As if he knew his father had awakened, Gus opened his eyes and drowsily inched over until he lay next to Brian once more. Softly, Gus patted his daddy's arm.


But Gus didn't answer, just continued to ply Brian's arm with his fingers.

"Do you love me?" Brian asked.

"I love you," Gus replied and hugged him.

"I love you too." Brian got up and held out his arms to Gus. "Come on, let's fix dinner before Daddy gets home."

When Justin did return, Brian was in the kitchen finishing the evening meal and Gus was putting flatware on the table. Giving Brian a kiss, Justin went in to check on his son and gave the toddler a huge kiss as well.

"See?" Gus asked and showed Justin how to put one fork next to each plate.

"You're a very good helper, did you know that?"

Slinging his bag and coat on the sofa, Justin washed up and carried the salad to the table where Gus waited patiently, Leo sitting in the chair next to his.

Brian brought in a platter of pork chops in a orange-honey glaze.

"That smells good. Doesn't that smell good, Gus?" Justin asked him as he dished up the salad.


"Daddy's a pretty good cook."

"Well…" said Brian, "it's edible." Actually, he was becoming a better cook the more he had to do it. He was beginning to find it relaxing. Having to pay attention to a recipe meant not going over a meeting at work in his mind, not focusing on some new account, some new crisis.

"I think you deserve something extra special tonight," Justin hinted and Brian grinned beneath his beard just imagining what treats were in store for him.

After dinner, while Brian loaded the dishwasher, Justin pulled a DVD from his backpack and gave it to Gus. The toddler took it and stared at the cover. Then jumped up and down. "Tigger!"

"Yep, it's Tigger."

Peeking out of the kitchen to see what the hubub was about, Brian shook his head. "Now who's spoiling him?"

"It was on sale," Justin said in his defense. He took the DVD back from Gus, unwrapped it, and put it in the player. Together they sat on the floor, Gus leaning back against Justin, and waited for the film to begin.

Having finished with the dishes, Brian left them to their movie and went upstairs to work out. He'd been to the gym twice this week but he still felt as if he'd been slacking off so he decided to do a couple miles on the treadmill, maybe work with his free weights, and then sit in the sauna for a while and unwind.

Even though he'd taken a week off at the end of summer, he suspected he hadn't really gotten the rest he needed. Last year he and Justin had gone to Europe for a month and even though every minute had seemed jammed packed with things to do, he'd returned rested and rejuvenated. This year he felt as if he'd never stopped hustling for a moment. He was certain it had a lot to do with Kenneth and that fiasco and the subsequent lowering of his status at work. Although no one treated him differently, he felt as if his stock had dropped a few crucial points since June. The partners' dinner he and Justin had held at the house in September had done a lot to restore him to the good graces of his business associates but he still felt he had a long way to go if he wanted to regain his former position on the corporate totem pole.

Plus, if he really wanted to face facts as they stood, no sugar coating, no obscuring the truth, he had to admit that he was getting older. He was thirty-two, no longer the young turk, the enfant terrible of advertising that he'd one been. No longer the king of the backroom at Babylon, the defacto ruler of Liberty Avenue. He was a responsible citizen, a respected businessman, a father, a husband. When he used to think about the future, it was to imagine what kind of hot, new car he would buy with his latest bonus; now he was contemplating college funds for Gus, planning for their next child, looking down the road to the day Justin and Daphne had a kid. Sometimes he hardly recognized himself and it had nothing to do with the beard he was growing and everything to do with the man he'd become on the inside.

He stripped and wrapped a towel around his waist, got inside the sauna and shut the door. Closed his eyes and leaned back against the wall. And now to add to his list of responsibilities and worries, Justin had gone on another crusade for justice. Fuck. Why now?

Doing bedtime duty tonight while Justin showered, Brian listened as Gus told him all about the movie he'd just watched. When he finally ran out of words, he lay back on his pillow and smiled.

"Did you have a good day?"


"Sleepy?" Gus could only nod, suddenly drowsy. Brian kissed him and made sure Beh was close by. "Night, Gus."

"Nite nite, Daddy."

Leo watched him leave the room, then settled back down. Beh might keep the bad dreams away but it was Leo's job to guard the room and everything in it, a duty he took very seriously.

Putting off going to the studio until after they'd taken Gus home, Justin left Brian to work at the Institute for a few hours. Even though he had a studio at home, it was sometimes distracting to work there with Brian so close by and almost always in the mood to play. Although lately he seemed a little tired. Justin had tried to get him to take more time off this summer but he wouldn't hear of it, saying he needed to devote even more of his time to work since the Harris debacle. Maybe they'd be able to get away at the holidays or for their anniversary. Brian really needed to regroup and Justin was convinced that he hadn't, he was just operating on reserves and, eventually, the reserves would give out. But any attempt on his part to bring it up and Brian would shut down, refuse to give any credence to his worries.

Justin opened his pad and picked up his pencil. He was here to work so he might as well work and stop thinking about everything else.

The next time he looked up it was after six and the sun had disappeared. That his cellphone hadn't rang was testament to his husband's knowledge of his work habits. Packing up his stuff, he promised himself that he'd stop somewhere and grab a bouquet of flowers to thank Brian for his patience and understanding.

He peeped in Xavier's and Rennie's studios but neither one was in, probably home studying since they had an art history test coming up that Tuesday. He'd planned on studying tonight, might actually get to do it before going to bed but he doubted it. There was always Monday.

There was a section of the Institute the students called the Bunker, a tunnel that led from the studio area to the parking lot. It was lined with storage rooms and the lights were pretty dim. Not exactly the safest place in the world but it was a direct route and it was warm in there and you didn't have to walk outside around the building to get to the parking lot. Definitely a plus when you'd been working in the studio for hours and were tired and ready to go home.

Like he had a hundred times, Justin walked through the Bunker towards the parking lot…

Knowing Justin was probably occupied with his work, he hadn't called him, had left him alone to focus on his art. Brian remembered a conversation he'd had with Jenn years ago when Justin had first started at the Institute. She'd accused him of standing in Justin's way and even though he knew she hadn't meant everything she'd said, her words had stayed with him and he endeavored not to hinder his partner in his artistic pursuits.

Still, he missed Justin when he wasn't around. He would have gone to hang out with Mikey but Jeff had the weekend off and they were spending it together. So he'd knocked about the house all afternoon by himself and tried to keep occupied with various and sundry projects he'd been letting accumulate for a while. But his mind and heart hadn't been in them. When he heard Justin's key in the door, he nearly ran to meet him.

The first thing he noticed was that Justin's backpack was ripped. One of the straps was nearly torn completely off. "What ha—" And then he saw Justin's face. Blood trickled from the side of his mouth and his eye had been blackened. "Justin—"

"I'm okay." He dropped his bag. "I'm okay," he said again as Brian eased him down onto the back stairs.

"Are you sure?" He gingerly touched Justin's face, pulled back when he winced in pain. "Baby—"


"Were you mugged?"


"Where did it happen? Was it at school?"

He hesitated. "I wasn't mugged," Justin replied.

And then Brian knew what had happened. The investigation. "Fuck no."


"I told you!"

"It's nothing."

"You call this nothing! What do you want? What are you waiting for? For them to show up with a baseball bat and bash your brains in? Is that it? Is that what you want? Only this time, maybe I won't be there. And maybe they'll do it, maybe they'll kill you!" Brian looked away, angry and scared, and wanting to smash something, and wanting to scream.

"Brian, please. They were just trying to scare me."

"You ought to be." His expression hardened. "That's it. You're dropping this. Right now."


"I don't want to hear it. You're dropping it and that's final."

"I won't."

"The fuck you won't!" He grabbed Justin's arm and shook him. "I won't do it! I will not sit around waiting to get a fuckin' phone call! You will not do that to me, do you understand? I won't let you." He let go, walked away and stood with his back to Justin, breathing hard. He heard Justin get up and approach him tentatively. Before he could say anything, Brian told him, "You'd better put something on that eye before it swells," and left him to go upstairs.

Almost a half hour later, Justin put in an appearance. He'd cleaned up, had put an ice pack on his eye for a while. He found Brian sitting on the bed. Joined him. "I know that you're worried about me."

"We're married now. We have a child. Responsibilities. You don't have the right to risk your life anymore. Not for this."

"You're right. I don't. But I'm not stopping." Brian started out of the room. "Brian, wait." He paused and Justin went to him. "Please, listen to me."

"You'll never understand, will you?" Brian asked softly. "I wish I could open up my head and let you see what I saw. Feel what I felt."

"I know—"

"You don't know. Because no matter how many times I've tried to explain, it's never enough. I don't have the right words, I guess."

"I was there when you thought about killing yourself. You think I don’t know?"

"You don't." Brian shut his eyes and a tear rolled down his face. "It was so bright in there. You smiled and it was like the sun had come out. And then he hit you… and you fell… and everything went dark. I felt… I felt my heart break." He moved out of Justin's reach, took a deep breath. "But you do what you want. I'll get over it. That's what I do." Sniffling, he wiped his face. "You hungry?"

Softly, "Not really."

He nodded then left the room.

Justin, after a moment, followed. They did not speak on the trip down to the kitchen. Did not speak as Brian mechanically went through the motions of searching the refrigerator. Finally, as he gave up and shut the door, Justin said, "I wish you'd understand."

"Understand what? That your family's not as important as this crusade of yours?"

"That's not true! I'm doing this for us. For Gus. So that he grows up in a world that's better than the one we grew up in."

"And if something happens to you, if he loses you, what kind of world do you think it'll be then?" asked Brian quietly.

He had no answer for that.

"Just this once, let someone else take the risks." Brian glanced away, ashamed of what he was asking but unable not to ask. "Please."

Brian's pleas went right through him like a winter wind, chilling him to the bone. He would do anything to be warm again. Justin nodded and wrapped his arms around Brian. "All right." Laid his head against Brian's chest. "I'll stop." Brian embraced him and the warmth returned.

Brian was asleep, having drifted off after they'd made love. He could not sleep. Not yet. He hadn't made peace with his decision. Didn't think he would for a while. But, in the end, there had been only one choice: he would comply with Brian's request.

In a way, he was glad. The attack had frightened him, more than he'd let on to Brian. He'd sat in the Cherokee for twenty minutes afterwards, waiting for his hands to stop shaking enough for him to drive home. On the way, he'd tried to convince himself that this attack would be the last but he hadn't succeeded. He knew those guys, even though they'd been masked. He'd seen their faces. In Chris Hobbs' face. He knew they wouldn't stop until someone was seriously hurt or until they got sloppy and were caught.

The argument he'd had with Brian had been partly fueled by shame, by the knowledge that, deep down inside, he really wanted to quit the investigation. Despite everything that he'd said to Annabelle in the Diversity Council's meeting, it would have been a lot easier for him to justify staying with the investigation if it had concerned harassment of a gay student or even harassment of a student whose beliefs were more closely aligned with his own. Thomas wasn't an unpleasant person, he was just a conservative but it was enough to give Justin the excuse he needed not to commit fully to the investigation. And that burned him.

Still, he'd given his word to Brian and he intended to keep it. Now all he had to do was find a way to reconcile his actions with his principles. Unfortunately, at that moment, they seemed to be separated by a gulf as broad as the Grand Canyon.

Annabelle took the handwritten notes on the legal pad Justin offered her. "Thanks." Looked at the pad instead of him. "I’m really sorry."

"I knew there was a risk," he said. "I just wish… I wish I could have done more."

"It's up to the Institute now. Maybe we were stupid to think we could do something in the first place." She finally looked at him. "Did he say anything when you told him?"


"The Dean?"

He admitted that he hadn't talked to the Dean yet.

"But you're going to, right?"

"Maybe it'll just die down," he said.

She frowned. "Did they threaten you?"

Justin walked away from her.


"One of them said that it could have been worse." He hadn't told Brian that part. Brian would have freaked, would have come down to the school and gone through the ranks until he found Justin's attackers and then he would have kicked some serious ass. As is, he'd been livid and had wanted to come down and speak to the Dean himself. But Justin had talked him out of it.

"Justin, you have to tell the Dean. This has to stop."

As if he couldn't believe her naivete, Justin said, "What makes you think that'll help?" He had very little faith in authority, not after what had happened to him. How many times had he gone to the Headmaster of St. James? Alone, with his mom, and had it kept him from getting bashed in the head? Unconsciously, he touched the scar on his temple. Even now, Brian would brush it gently, as if he feared to hurt him. But that was no reason to infect her with his pessimism. He attempted a smile, succeeded partway, and said, "Maybe it will."

The Dean assumed his position behind the podium although he did not have any notes to place upon it nor did he need it for support but it was a familiar stance and so he conformed to expectation. As he looked out into the sea of expectant faces, he wondered if he were doing the right thing. For a moment he doubted. And then he remembered his duty and he put away his doubts.

"It is not enough to uphold the illusion of democracy. We must be ever watchful. Eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Freedom, like everything else, comes with a cost. It demands that we not only be wary of our enemies, but also of ourselves. Our own beliefs must be dissected, challenged, and confronted. We must leave the comfort and safety of our own ideology and engage ourselves in a dialogue with the world. In recent weeks, several disturbing episodes have occurred on our campus. Students have been threatened and assaulted because there are among us those whose beliefs will not allow them to even tolerate the presence of ideas that run counter to their own. As artists, as citizens in a democratic society, we cannot be party to such cowardice. If we do, one day we'll wake to discover that the enemy is not a stranger, but we ourselves."

Like most everyone else, the news that Thomas had left school disturbed Justin and his friends.

"Did you know he was going to leave?" Xavier asked.

"It's not like we were best friends," said Justin.

"Still, you were investigating the threats," Rennie pointed out.

"And I stopped," he said, more harshly than he'd intended. He'd talked to Thomas, told him about the attack, but he hadn't told him he was not going to follow up on it. Still, Thomas must have known that Justin was giving up. So he'd given up himself.

"J?" Xavier frowned.

He shook his head. "I'll see you tonight at the party." Only he didn't really feel like celebrating anything.

The flash from Brian's camera went off as Gus hopped about in his Tigger costume saying, "Tiggers bounce!" Of course, Brian competed with Mel who was videotaping the occasion to add to the Gus Peterson video library. The toddler shook his empty trick or treating bag and said, "Camon, Daddy. Trickortreat. Trickortreat." He took Justin's hand. Tugged on it. "Trickortreat."

"Okay, let's go." Justin waved to the women as Gus dragged him outside.

"If we're not back by six, send out the search parties," joked Brian.

Gus paused at the end of the sidewalk as if he couldn't decide which way to go. To each side of him, candy awaited. Making the decision for him, Justin turned right and they started down the street.

Four houses later, Justin was certain Gus had a future either as a politician, an entertainer, or an escort. He charmed everyone he met. Which translated into extra pieces of candy. Beaming, he thanked them graciously each time and proudly displayed his loot.

By the end of the evening, he'd hit every house for three blocks around and had a pretty impressive haul. Although he was still shy about other kids, he did wave at a few of them, taken with their costumes, even meeting up with another Tigger which he did not like at all, saying, "I'm the only one," the way Tigger did in the movie. To Gus' way of thinking, the other kid should have gone as Pooh or Piglet or even Rabbit. Brian and Justin laughed softly. He was Brian's kid all right.

Finally, around five forty, they headed back home, Gus still walking on his own, but more slowly than when they'd started out. He was definitely pooped. One of them on either side, the two men escorted him down the sidewalk just in case he started to weave.

At the time the incident occurred, Brian was on the outside, closest to the street, and his head was turned towards his spouse. Justin was telling him about the time he and Daphne had gone trick or treating dressed as Han Solo and Princess Leia. He heard the roar of a car engine and thought to himself that they were going mighty fast for a residential street, especially on Halloween with a bunch of kids roaming around. Then he heard a whoop and turned.

Two guys were hanging out of the car's windows on the passenger side. "Faggots!" they yelled, and then lobbed two eggs apiece at them, one after the other.

As the first egg approached, he threw up his arm to shield his face and pushed back at Gus, trying to keep him out of the line of fire.

Justin, having seen the first egg thrown, pulled Gus away from the street and into a neighbor's yard, turning his back to the street to further shield him.

Both Brian and Justin were hit before the car peeled away from the curb. Wanting to pick up a rock and hurl it after them, Brian, instead, turned to check on Gus and Justin. "You okay?"

"Yeah," replied Justin, looking over his shoulder the egg sliding down his back. "Shit."

The front of Brian's leather coat was slimy. "Goddamnit." Brushing at it, he knelt and hugged Gus, who was confused and shaken. "It's okay, Gus. It's all right." Brian kissed him and asked to see if he had anything in his bag. Gus giggled and opened it up.

"See? I got candy, Daddy."

"You sure do." He stood and exhaled loudly. "Let's get the fuck out of here."

Even though they were only a few houses away from Mel and Lindsay's place, it seemed to take forever. Neither one of them wanted to answer any questions about the egging. Furious and unable to take their rage out on anyone, the two men walked in silence.

As soon as Lindsay saw Brian's jacket, she asked, "You got egged?" Made sure Gus was okay and then laughed. "I can't believe it. Brian Kinney got egged." But then she saw the look in both his and Justin's eyes and her laughter died away. "What happened?"

Mel came in and started to laugh as well but the somber looks stopped her. "What's going on?"

"We got egged," Justin explained.

Brian growled, "Fuckin' assholes."

"Just kids," said Mel.

"Kids yelling, 'Faggots,' " Justin said softly.

Melanie's expression hardened. "Assholes."

"In this neighborhood," Lindsay said, shaking her head.

"Guess nowhere is safe," added Justin and Brian looked at him, concern etched on his features.

Gus must have picked up on the sad tone of Justin's voice because he dug into his bag and pulled out a miniature bag of M&M's. "Here, Daddy."

Taking them, Justin smiled wanly. "Thanks."

"You sure you don't want to go to the party?" Brian asked Justin as the young artist went into the closet to hang up his jacket. They'd cleaned them off in the kitchen and Brian had left his in one of the first floor closets.


He seemed subdued to Brian, even more so than the egging incident would have normally warranted. "You all right?"

"Yeah." He removed his Bountiful Bottom costume from its place on his clothes rack, studying it as if it had appeared suddenly, a mysterious gift from a wise, alien race. Of course, in actuality, it had been a gift from Emmett who had designed and sewn the Fuckman and Bountiful Bottom patches on two black cat suits they'd purchased. Brian's was the symbol for male done in red; Justin's was an electric blue capital B turned on its side.

"Then why don't I believe you?" Brian reached out to Justin but he avoided his touch. "Baby—"

Justin ran his fingers over the emblem on the front of his costume. "That guy who was being harassed at school, Thomas… he quit this week. And I stood by and did nothing." He dropped the costume on the floor, the blue patch hidden, the outfit transformed into a shroud. "Some hero."

"You're a hero to our son. You helped protect him tonight."

"Once upon a time it would have been worse. Instead of eggs, they would have thrown rocks or Coke bottles. The only reason they didn't was because slowly things are changing, because of people who say, 'That's enough,' and stand up for themselves, fight back, fight for what's right. Once upon a time we stood up for ourselves, for what we believed in." Thinking of the prom and the firm cocktail party they'd gone to when no one had wanted them in their midst at either event. "But not anymore. Now we hide behind the walls of our upper middle class life and pretend the real world doesn't exist. Those assholes tonight, they don't have to fear us anymore. Because we've become them." Ignoring the shocked look on Brian's face, Justin crept from the room, shame bowing his back.

A stifling silence coalesced in the room, born from the emptiness left by Justin's exit. Brian picked up the discarded costume and sat wearily on the bench in the middle of the closet.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity
-- T.S. Eliot, "The Second Coming"

Heels Over Head | Stories