Brian had been acting like a total shit all week and everyone, including the Boy Wonder, was sick of it. He refused to even consider attending Emmett's Halloween Drag Queen Ball saying he had "no intention of dressing up as a belle with balls;" and he absolutely turned Lindsay down cold to go trick or treating with Gus telling her he'd leave that to them and they could "munch on candy corn instead of each other, which oughta taste better." He even told Justin in no uncertain terms that he was not going to IFA's Costume Ball unless he went "as someone who has lost his fucking mind." By Thursday they were all ready to kick his ass. But good. Justin didn't know what was up with him but even offering Brian his favorite meal--perfectly aged filet mignon, rare and bloody--prepared and served by a gorgeous, young, naked chef had failed to jolt him from his bad mood.
The weekend over—thankfully—it was only on Tuesday morning, as they dressed for their meeting with Keisha Thomas, the Assistant DA assigned to Justin's case, that he realized why Brian had been such a bear. They had met with her once before so that she could ask them preliminary questions about their testimony and to outline the strategy she'd use as of that point in time. Of course, plans changed. As she interviewed witnesses in the case, she made alterations, hence the meeting: to bring them up to date and to lay out a plan of action for the last few remaining weeks before the trial.
Watching Brian knot his tie, Justin touched him gently on the hip to get his attention, and smiled. Returning it, Brian said nothing. He knew that usually the teen didn't want anything in particular, he just liked touching the older man. At first, when they had initially started "seeing each other," it had thrown him a little, that a touch on the arm or hand could be that important to Justin and it had taken a while for him to get used to it. Now, those little touches were a part of who they were together, a part of their relationship.
But today Justin did want something. Only, he didn't know how to ask for it. To ask Brian to relax and not to get upset about the trial and this meeting. He was so tense already that he'd even turned down Justin's offer of a little sunrise play time. As Brian finished with his tie and reached for his jacket, Justin said his name.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah." He glanced down at his chest. "This isn't one of my favorite ties though."
"So am I."
"You didn't eat anything." The man said nothing. "Are you--"
"I'm sure." And he got that pinched look on his face which let Justin know that he didn't want to talk about it anymore. So, despite his misgivings, Justin dropped the subject. Grabbing his briefcase from atop the desk, Brian said, "We should get going."
All during the ride to the courthouse, Brian seemed preoccupied, saying very little except to answer direct questions. But before they got out of the Jeep, he leaned over and kissed Justin. Then, in silence, they made their way to Keisha's office in the Crimes Persons Unit.
"Mr. Taylor, Mr. Kinney, " she said in welcome, "have a seat."
"You can call me Justin." He felt weird having someone call him Mr. Taylor now that he'd graduated from high school. He used to hate it when teachers called him that. It had always sounded slightly condescending.
"All right." She glanced at Brian.
"I don't care. I've even gotten used to Melanie calling me Asshole."
The tips of Justin's ears began to burn. "Brian..."
"I think I'll stick with Brian. And you can call me Keisha."
"Now that we know who we are..." began Brian.
"I wanted to let you know what's going on, where we are, and what's going to be happening in the next few weeks. Since this is your first involvement with a felony trial, I just wanted to prep you on what to expect. First off, I want to warn you about the press. I know you've had some experience with them," Brian's expression darkened, "but it's going to get much worse. I don't want you talking to the media. At all. Nothing. Not even a hello. I don't want them to be able to quote you saying, 'God bless you,' if someone sneezes. And I do mean any member of the press. Including Michael's boyfriend."
At that, Justin looked surprised. "How did you find out?"
Brian answered, "I told her."
"But I thought you liked Jeff." They'd gone out with Michael and Jeff a couple of times since Michael had begun seeing the reporter on a regular--and exclusive--basis.
"He hasn't done anything to me. But he's a reporter. There's no point in being naive about it."
Keisha caught Justin's eye. "Brian's right. It may be a coincidence and it may be something else entirely. So stay away from him."
Justin asked, "How? Michael is Brian's best friend and Jeff is Michael's boyfriend. How are we supposed to avoid him?"
"I don't know. Just do it."
"Fine," said Brian, bringing the discussion about Jeff to a close. "What else?"
"I still think our best strategy is to show that Chris Hobbs had a history of perpetrating violence against Justin and threatening him."
Although he doubted it, Justin asked anyway, "Were you able to get any of the kids from St. James to testify?"
"I'm working on it."
Justin had a strong feeling she could be pretty persuasive when she wanted to be. She kind of reminded him of a cross between Xavier and Daphne. A pretty potent combination.
"We'd have a strong case even if we only had Daphne's and Brian's testimony. But I won't lie to you, we've got a couple of problems to overcome."
Brian focused his gaze on the nameplate on her desk. "Me and Justin, and the fact that there's twelve years between us."
"That isn't true," Justin protested.
"Yeah, it is."
"He's right, Justin. There are a lot of people out there who won't like that you're in a homosexual relationship with a thirty-year-old man—"
"Your father, your mother, my mother, my boss," listed Brian.
Keisha picked up where she'd been interrupted, "And it could influence both the jury's decision and the judge's ruling."
"So much for justice," Brian muttered.
"I'm not losing this case," Keisha assured him.
"Then you're saying what?" asked Justin.
"That he might be convicted of a lesser charge or he might get a lighter sentence."
Brian stood, anger suffusing his features. "Fuck!"
Laying a hand on Brian's arm, Justin looked up at his lover with worry in his eyes. Brian sat back down.
She waited until he'd calmed down some before continuing. "That's another thing. You've got to control your temper. You've got every right to be angry, you just can't get angry. Not in court. Save it until you get home. Bite your lip and swallow it. In that courtroom, you've got to be charming, cool, calm, and collected."
Neither Keisha nor Justin bought that for a moment. "Look, I've got a temper too. But in court you'd never know it. We have to use our heads about this. I know it's a bitch to have to cater to the jury, and the judge, and the press, and the public but we have to. I don't want to give them any reason not to like you and, more importantly, not to like Justin. I want them to love him, to want to protect him, the same way you do because if they don't, Chris Hobbs could very well leave that courtroom having gotten a slap on the wrist. And I don't think any of us want that."
"I understand," he said, greatly subdued in tone.
Their meeting having lasted over an hour and a half, the two men left the courthouse and went in search of lunch. It was just about 11:30 and since he hadn't eaten any breakfast, Brian was starving. Justin, well, it didn't really matter. Hungry or not, he could eat. The problem was where. They couldn't go to the diner because Michael and Jeff might show up. Of course, it really wasn't a big problem as Pittsburgh had its share of restaurants, so they picked one and went in for a long, leisurely lunch. Brian had informed Cynthia days in advance that he would only be in half a day and he'd reminded her yesterday in case she or Ryder forgot. Justin had submitted excused absences' slips for each of his classes a week ago, as soon as Keisha had scheduled the meeting, so he was free until the afternoon as well.
Settling on a cozy, rather dark Italian restaurant lit only with natural sunlight and a few strategically placed candles, they appeared to be in for a surprisingly romantic meal in the middle of the day. Seated in a booth in an otherwise empty section, Brian's libido seemed to have returned. Hazel eyes smoldering in the half-light, he seduced his young lover with a sly smile. Justin blushed and tried to study his menu but the feel of Brian's unshod foot rubbing against his calf distracted him. Not really wanting to, but feeling he had to say something before the manager came and threw them out, Justin ordered Brian to stop and to put his shoe back on. The foot retreated only to be replaced by a slender hand wandering across the table to stroke the teen's fingers. Justin raised Brian's hand to his lips and kissed it, his tongue straying over the man's knuckles. Whispered, "Let's go home and eat."
That Brian didn't get a speeding ticket on their mad dash home was a miracle. They were partially undressed by the time they reached the sixth floor. Justin stepped out of his pants and picked them and his shirt up from the floor of the elevator. Although Brian still had on all of his clothes, everything was open: his shirt, the front of his trousers, and his underwear through which Justin had eased out his cock to stroke it as they kissed.
Stumbling into the loft, they barely paused to shut the door and then somehow made it into the bedroom before succumbing entirely.
Designer suit tossed on the floor along side Justin's chinos, the couple sighed as they kissed, bare skin against bare skin, warm and flushed with excitement. The teen lay on this back, arms and legs wrapped around his lover's long, lean body. He loved the feel of Brian moving on top of him, the hard muscles working in tandem with the soft lips and the smooth skin to bring him pleasure. He uttered little cries as Brian's mouth closed around his nipple and his tongue flicked over the tip until it stiffened. Then the action was repeated with the head of his cock with the very same results, except that the volume and frequency of his cries increased. Lips wet, shiny with precum, Brian raised the teen's legs and nuzzled his hole and the cries grew louder, throatier as his tongue teased the delicate flesh. "That's it, baby," he whispered between licks. Wanting more, he got to his knees and raised Justin's lower body from the bed, his legs falling back over his chest, buttocks spread open, pink hole inviting, intoxicating. Brian buried his face between his cheeks and plowed inside until they were both unbearably aroused.
Over on all fours, Brian kneeling behind him, Justin felt light-headed, giddy as his lover steadily fucked his ass. From the first whirlwind moments of foreplay, they had slowed things down until now, when seemingly the sense of urgency would be at its greatest, they moved as if underwater, their actions deliberate and unhurried.
Afterwards, so as not to pass out at work from hunger, Brian did eat the pasta they'd brought home from the restaurant. However, it was a little difficult to eat with his arms full of boy. Justin lay against him in bed so he had to put the bowl on the night stand and reach over to entwine the linguine on his fork. Of course, he had to feed Justin as well. Like a papa bird and his chick, he let the strands hang from his mouth and watched as the boy consumed them, their lips meeting in the middle. By the time they'd finished the bowl, they were hot and bothered all over again. Brian eased Justin onto his back. "Wait," he said, and then the ad exec called his office. "Yeah, it's taking longer than I expected." He grinned. "Another hour." Justin spread his thighs and held up his cock. "Or longer. I'll see you when I get there." Dipping his fingers in the remaining sauce, Brian painted the boy's meat tomato red. "Sometimes linguine just won't do it. You need something thicker."
As Brian's mouth engulfed him, Justin smiled and buried his hands in his lover's hair.
When he did finally put in an appearance at work, Mikey called wanting to know if he and Justin were up for team pool at Woody's. "Who's on the teams?"
"You and the Boy Wonder, Emmett and Ted, and me and Jeff."
"Can't." It'd be easier not to talk about the case if they didn't see Jeff at all.
There was no point in getting into it now. "Nothing."
"Well, what about dinner tomorrow night?"
"What? What is it? Are you avoiding me?"
At least he could answer that semi-honestly. "No." He hoped his friend would leave it at that but he should have known.
"Then what is it?" Brian didn't answer. "Brian?"
Michael would worry at him and worry at him if he didn't just spit it out so why prolong the agony? "It's Jeff."
"Look, I thought you and he—"
"The Assistant DA."
"Yeah." They'd met.
"She doesn't want us talking to the press."
"So don't talk about the case."
"Mikey, it's not just that."
"He could write about us, about what we do when we go out, who we talk to, how we are together. All of that could influence potential jurors. And the judge. And the public."
"I can get him to drop the story. Give it to someone else."
Brian shook his head although Michael couldn't see it. "Really? You think he'd give up one of the biggest stories of the year for you?"
"You think he wouldn't?"
"Does he love you?"
He could see Mikey shrugging. "Maybe."
"Not good enough. Because I do love Justin and I'm not doing anything to screw this up for him."
"So what? You gonna avoid me too?"
"Don't Mikey me. You don't trust me? Is that it? You think I'm so gullible, so naive and stupid that I'd pick a total asshole to be with? That I couldn't tell if someone was using me?"
Instead of telling him the entire truth, he settled for the most palatable part. "I can't risk it, Michael. For Justin's sake."
"Fine. I hope you're happy together."
"Don't--" Michael hung up. "Fuck." He lowered the phone. "Fuck!"
Cynthia poked her head in the doorway. "You rang?"
The rest of the day went downhill from there. He had to stay late to try and play catch-up from the missed morning hours and the longer he stayed in his office, the angrier he got at the world. When five o'clock came and Cynthia left, he was tempted to chuck it all in and go home but if he didn't make some headway on this new account, he'd be up shit creek when the trial began and he didn't have time to do emergency damage control. So he had to do as much as he could up front. He didn't know when he'd get out of there tonight. Luckily, Justin called to say he'd be late as well, had to do a lot of work on his Halloween project for design class. And, again, he took the opportunity to pester Brian about going to Emmett's party or to the IFA party and again he turned him down cold. Brian could feel the chill in the air when the teen hung up. But he was in no mood to give a shit. Although he knew Mikey and he would eventually patch things up, he hated it when they fought. Despite having Justin and knowing that he could share things with him that he couldn't with anyone else, Brian still needed Michael, still missed him when they were apart.
Justin knew that Xavier was outside the studio door. He'd heard his footsteps coming down the hall and knew it was him without seeing him. Sure enough, there was a small knock and then the door pushed open and Xavier came inside and closed it behind him. "Hey," he said, hanging back.
"Hey." Justin cleared his stuff off the other stool on his side of the room and Xavier took the hint and sat. "You figure out how to get the food coloring inside the egg yet?" Part of Xavier's Halloween project involved eggs with black yolks.
Xavier smiled broadly. "I got a pin and kept tapping the shell until I made a hole, and then I gradually made it bigger and bigger, and then I took a pipette and piped in the food coloring."
"What'd you put over the hole?"
"Sweet." Justin couldn't believe how inventive Xavier was. It was like he could figure out anything. He could have easily been an engineer but instead he wanted to be an artist. Which was lucky for the world. There were plenty of engineers and not enough really good artists and Xavier was really good. Justin often thought he was probably wasting his time with school: Xavier could have started working straight out of high school and been a success but he was glad his friend had decided to come. IFA would have been a lot less fun if he hadn't. A lot less complicated too, he thought. "You coming to the party?"
Rapping on the wooden seat on the stool, Xavier shrugged. "Guess. You?"
"I don't know." He put away the modeling clay he was using. "Brian doesn't want to come."
"So? Come without him," he said and immediately he felt his pulse increase. Xavier hoped Justin didn't read anything into it. Although there was plenty of subtext there.
Clay stowed in its box, Justin found a cloth and wiped the residue from his hands. It made it easier when he washed them if most of the clay was gone, plus the smell faded faster. Brian swore he could smell it on him no matter how many times he washed his hands. "I like doing things with him." Sometimes. The last thing he wanted was to get into a discussion of Xavier's unspoken feelings for him. If his comment had been a slip-up, then he was willing to let it go.
So was Xavier apparently. "Yeah, I guess that what happens when you're a couple. Get Together-itis."
"And Pain-in-the-Ass-itis." It was only after he had spoken that Justin realized what he'd said. Face red, he busied himself with gathering his colored pencils and putting them back in their plastic case.
Xavier laughed. "TMI, J. TMI." Too much information.
So Justin laughed too. "That's not what I meant." He wiped his eyes. "I can't believe I said that."
"Look," Xavier said as they were walking out of the studio, "come with me and Rennie to the party if Brian bails. It'll be fun. Least you'd get to see your design in place." Their Halloween design projects were going to be used as decoration at the party. "You don't have to stay long. See the set pieces, have some punch, and then you can hurry home to hubby."
"He is not my hubby," Justin protested.
"If the shackles fit...."
And Justin's eyes twinkled. "How did you know he had shackles? Handcuffs too." When Xavier blushed, the Boy Wonder cracked up. "You wanna go eat?"
Saying yes, Xavier tried hard not to stare at Justin's ass as the teen walked ahead of him to see if Rennie was in her studio and wanted to come. Ever since his confession to Justin about having slept with another guy, Xavier hadn't known what to do with his growing feelings for his new friend. He thought about him all the time, about that smile that seemed to well up from someplace deep inside him. No matter how homesick he was or down in the mouth, just seeing Justin smile picked him up and made him glad to be alive, as goofy as that sounded. He didn't know what he'd do if he didn't have that smile to look forward to. So he'd kept it on the down low, as always, and tried to act as if everything was normal. Only, it wasn't.
He even dreamt about Justin, about what it would be like to make love to him, the way Brian made love to him. He'd left his bag at the loft on purpose the day they'd helped Justin move in, wanting to go back, knowing that they'd barely been able to wait until the last person was out the door before getting busy. But seeing them in their robes, their erections prominent, hearing them breathe heavily, he'd been confronted with the reality of their fucking and it had unnerved him a little and he'd leaned against the wall of the stairwell for a few moments before heading down, trying to get his bearings.
What made it worse was that Justin knew that he liked him, was aware of his interest. He hadn't been able to hide it entirely, but they were both making an concerted effort not to acknowledge it, to pretend that everything was okay between them, that nothing had changed. Whether Justin had any interest in him, he didn't know. Not that it mattered. He didn't have a chance. Not compared to someone like Brian. Fuck, even he thought Brian was hot. Not his type, too aggressive, too edgy for his tastes, but beautiful, there was no denying that. And Justin worshipped him. Loved him so much you could see it in his eyes whenever he thought about Brian. He didn't even have to say his name and you knew he was turning some image of his lover over in his mind. So what chance did he have? None. So why the fuck was he wasting his time dreaming about something he could never have?
Because he couldn't help it. Because Justin had gotten into his system like a virus and he hadn't found the right antidote yet. Hadn't even bothered to seek one out. He welcomed the burning desire and hoped that, eventually, he would be completely consumed and there would be nothing left for love--or lust--to ignite.
Saying something to Rennie, Justin turned his head and smiled at Xavier and the hunger flared up again.
By Thursday, Justin felt as if he were in a rerun of last week, except that instead of being in a foul mood, Brian just seemed down. He claimed nothing was wrong but he wasn't himself. When Justin suggested they call the guys and do something, he nearly bit his head off and reminded him of what Keisha had said. So Justin knew part of the problem must have been Mikey, that they'd probably had words about Jeff and couldn't figure out a way to say they were sorry and to make up. And he was tired of playing peacemaker for two grown men. Let them deal with it. Only, they weren't dealing with it, and he was having to live with the consequences: an increasingly unbearable Brian.
So on Friday, while he was supposed to be working on his Halloween design project for class, he was busy fretting. With luck, Brian wouldn't be such a grouch when he got home tonight.
There was no such thing as luck. Except bad luck. Somehow the guys who did the mockups at the agency managed to mix up two sets of copy and no one caught the mistake until both clients called wanting to know if Brian had gone crazy or if he was trying to lose their business on purpose. Of course, Ryder called him into his office and chewed him out even though it wasn't his fault with the end result being that he had to personally supervise the construction of new mockups and send them back out before he was able to go home for the weekend. When he finally arrived at the loft around eight thirty, Justin could tell he was in a foul mood and he wished he'd taken Deb up on her offer to get in a few extra hours at the diner tonight. As he stood there with Brian's favorite black sweater in one hand and his pinstriped pants in the other, he felt curiously like a lamb brought to slaughter. But, instead of tearing into him, Brian only brushed by him and began taking off his clothes. "I'm going to bed," he grumbled.
"But it's only eight thirty, and you haven't eaten," Justin said before his better judgment told him to shut up.
Again, Brian said nothing except to repeat his former statement. "I'm going to bed."
Justin watched him hang up his suit and throw back the covers. Wearing only a snug pair of grey Jockeys, Brian crawled into bed and drew the sheet over him. Not knowing what to do, Justin put away the clothes he'd picked out for Brian and started to leave the room.
"I just had the day from hell. From the ninth circle of hell," Brian said quietly and a fleeting smile crossed Justin's face despite Brian's words. He stripped and snuggled up next to his man, one arm thrown possessively around his waist.
"What happened?" he asked and Brian told him the entire sob story from beginning to end, at which time Justin kissed him gently and said, "Maybe tomorrow'll be better."
Thinking that the teen was hinting at attending one of the two pre-Halloween events, Brian groaned, "Baby, I still don't want to—"
"I didn't say anything about either party," he clarified although both he and Brian knew he was disappointed.
Brian grimaced. "I'm just not into drag. I'm too tall, I've got no hips, and I can't wear heels."
Stroking one of Brian's nipples, Justin smiled softly and said, "I bet you'd make a beautiful woman. You could be a supermodel. They're tall."
"Six three and a half? The only supermodel that tall is RuPaul." He shook his head. "And I'm not going blonde, no matter what," he said with a trace of a smile about his lips.
"Then we could go to the Costume Ball at IFA," suggested Justin. "You could wear whatever you wanted."
"I'm just not in the mood, Justin," Brian said as gently as he could. "Maybe next year. Okay?"
Even though he wanted to pout, he didn't. He just tightened his hold on Brian and said, "Okay," in a tiny voice.
Lying there for a while longer, they got up and slipped on their robes and had dinner. Turned out Brian was hungry after all, just too pissed at the world in general to admit it at first. Having enjoyed twenty minutes of pampering by his baby, he was ready to put aside his anger and eat.
Sitting across from one another, they dined on thick minestrone soup that Justin had prepared himself. The nights were just getting cool enough that hot soup was comfort food again. In between spoonfuls, Brian asked, "So what would you go as?"
"To the Costume Ball."
"A Ray what who?"
Justin smiled. "A Wraeththu. From these books by Storm Constantine. She's totally cool. Writes about this race of basically gay mutants who can have babies." Brian grimaced. "They're really supposed to be a third sex, not male or female, but they mostly act like gay guys. You can either be made a Wraeththu or be born a Wraeththu from two Wraeththu parents. They age but really, really slowly and they look young for the longest time. The main character in the three books is named Cal--Calanthe--and he actually was a gay man before he was changed."
Intrigued, Brian asked, "What's he like?"
And Justin pondered the question. To try and describe Cal was...well, hard. "He's really beautiful. Blond hair, blue almost purple eyes—"
Like the guy in Babylon that night, Brian thought.
"He can be a total asshole one minute and then the most charming person alive the next." As he spoke, Justin realized, That's Brian. "He's very seductive. Very sensual. And even though he looks like a man, he also has a feminine side. Supposedly the Wraeththu are made from the hardest parts of a woman and the softest parts of a man, which makes them a little cruel. Cal can be cruel at times but also really loving. He can have anyone he wants but he only wants Pellaz."
"Who's Pellaz?" If he recognized himself in Justin's words, Brian didn't let on.
"He's a human teenager Cal meets and initiates into the Wraeththu." Brian took a sip of wine. "And he's beautiful too. He's got long, dark hair and dark eyes, like a Native American but you can't tell if the books take place in an America way in the future or in a fantasy world because the map looks different but they used to have cars and cities and the same kinds of things we have now. Anyway, Pell is only fifteen when they meet—"
"How old is Cal?"
"I can't remember. Thirty? But he only looks maybe twenty, if that much."
"Fuck. Where do I sign up?"
Smiling, Justin continued to describe Pellaz. "Pell is very naive about the world and about himself when he meets Cal and Cal teaches him how to survive and how to be strong." He reached for Brian's hand. "They fall in love and then something happens to Pellaz." As he said the words, he wanted to take them back. Brian would ask what happened and he'd have to tell him. It was so like their story.
"What happens to him?"
Justin rubbed his finger over the backs of Brian's knuckles. "He's killed." The older man looked over at him, his attention focused on Justin, his eyes narrowed. Thinking about Chris Hobbs and the parking garage. So the teenager added quickly, "But he's reborn. And he becomes the leader of their race."
"What about Cal?"
"Eventually he and Pellaz reunite and they become the rulers of the Wraeththu together because Cal was always supposed to be part of Pellaz's life; they'e like two parts of a whole, like light and shadow."
Having finished his soup, Brian sat back and continued to sip his wine. "You have the books here?" Justin nodded. "Maybe I'll take a look."
Amazed that Brian would even listen to him talk about the books, much less admit to wanting to read them, Justin swallowed the last spoonful of his minestrone and rose to clear the table. But Brian took his hand and drew him down upon his lap. Cupped his face and kissed him.
After they cleared the table and loaded the dishwasher, Brian announced that he was tired and didn't feel like going out tonight. So Justin hunted for the TV Guide and checked to see what was on. Nothing he wanted to see but when he mentioned some old science fiction movie called Logan's Run, Brian perked up. "When does it start?"
"Fifteen minutes ago."
Brian found the remote and turned to the channel it was one, then dropped to the floor in front of the sofa. Justin stretched out on the couch and, in between watching the film, stroked Brian's hair, running his fingers through the brown and auburn locks, marveling at how soft they were. He remembered sitting on the sofa next to Brian once and stroking his hair when he'd been trying to figure out what to do about Guillaume's plans to marry Lindsay and adopt Gus. Remembered how tense Brian had been, pulling away, unable to take comfort from Justin's presence. Things had changed so much. Now Brian sat watching the film, periodically reaching for his wineglass, content to lean against the sofa's edge, content to have Justin touching him. In their place.
He still couldn't believe it sometimes, that his dream had come true. It had been a little over a year ago when he'd first told Daphne that he was gonna live with Brian and be with him and even though it had taken longer and by a more circuitous route than he could have expected, here he was. With Brian. In their apartment. Everything was perfect. Or would be except that he knew Brian was lying to him. The mix-up at work probably didn't do anything to improve his mood but something had been bothering him all week and Justin wanted to know what. Letting Brian watch his movie and finish his wine, Justin decided that he'd bring it up after the film was over, before they went to bed. Maybe the movie and the wine would have settled him enough that he could talk about whatever it was. Justin hoped so.
When Logan's Run was finally done, Brian switched over to CNN to check on the progress of America's New War and then flipped off the TV. Figuring there was no time like the present, Justin broached the subject. "Did something else happen at work this week?"
Brian didn't turn to face him. "Why?"
"You've been kind of..."
"An asshole?" suggested Brian.
His shoulders rose and fell slowly. He said softly, "Yeah. I guess I have."
Justin slipped down next to him. "What?"
Still not looking over at Justin, Brian said, "A man came to see me at work. He was a writer. From this magazine that..." He paused and plucked at the edge of his robe. It had opened over his knee. "That caters to older men who go after teenagers."
Laying a hand upon Brian's bare knee, Justin said nothing.
"He'd read about us in the papers, read about the trial, and he wanted to make arrangements to interview me after everything was over. A fuckin' cover boy for a chickenhawk magazine." He took a deep breath. "I told him to get the hell out and he did but fuckin' Ryder found out from the receptionist and freaked out." Shook his head. "And then today's fiasco..."
"It wasn't your fault."
"It doesn't matter. Cause no one else is a key witness in an attempted murder trial at the moment. And no else's teenaged lover is the victim. And no one else is gay."
"That's not true."
"It might as well be. I might as well have a sign on my back that says, 'The Fag.' "
"I'm sorry." He'd always known that their relationship caused problems at work but every time something happened and Brian told him about it, he imagined how many times Brian probably endured some slight, some innuendo, and didn't tell him.
"It's not your fault. Baby—" He faced Justin then and took him in his arms. "I don't want to mess things up for you."
He was talking about the trial. "You won't. You'll keep your temper and you'll be so charming and so beautiful they won't know what to think."
"They'll think I'm some old perv. I'm thirty-years-old and, all of a sudden, I'm the older man."
"Don't worry. You don't look thirty."
"It won't matter. Because they'll all know. Every newspaper story, every news story has made sure to mention that I'm thirty and you're eighteen."
Offering Brian his words, Justin asked, "You care?" But he didn't expect Brian to respond with his answer, 'Fuck no.' And he didn't.
"I don't want to mess this up," Brian said again. "I want that little asshole to pay for what he did to you."
"I don't want him to get off on some lesser charge or get probation."
"And you think your being thirty is gonna do that?"
"It won't help." Brian rubbed the back of his neck. "It's gonna be a fuckin' zoo. Ryder's already pissed beyond belief that I'm gonna miss work. And it's coming right at the time of the year when all the holiday ads are rolling out. I'm gonna have to work overtime every night for the next two weeks just to keep up. And everyday it's gonna be the same thing. Walking into that courtroom and seeing that smug sonofabitch and wanting to kill him. Dealing with the press, and the protestors, and the assholes who hate gay people, and the people who think that I'm some kind of a pedophile, and the demonstrators, and..." He looked down at his hands, then over at Justin. Reached for him and sighed as the teenager slipped into his embrace. He held Justin tightly. "I'm sorry."
"For what?" asked Justin as they parted a little.
"Because I should be the one who's there for you, not the other way around."
"You are. We're there for each other." He laid his head against Brian's chest. "I don't want to be a symbol. I just want this to be over with so we can go back to being us."
Brian stroked his face, Justin's skin smooth beneath his fingers. "When this is over, we should go somewhere. Get away for the weekend. Someplace where they won't know who we are."
"I don't know." He paused and smiled. "Maybe Utah," he said, paraphrasing a quote from one of their favorite movies, Raising Arizona and Justin laughed and straddled his waist. Kissed him, clearly wanting to initiate foreplay but Brian eased him away. "Baby, I'm tired," he offered as an excuse so Justin pretended to accept it and admitted, falsely, that he was a little tired too. "Tomorrow," he promised.
And Justin said, "I have to go to work and to the studio tomorrow."
"When you get back."
Getting to his feet, the teen held out his hand and pulled Brian from the floor. "Come on, old man. Let's get you to bed."
Only, once they were snug under the covers, Brian couldn't sleep. He just lay there holding Justin and waiting for him to drop off. When he finally did, Brian eased free of him and stared into the darkness. He didn't know what to do and he felt like he was going to explode. This had been a bitch of a week, what with Mikey and the mockup fiasco but it had been the visit from that sleazy writer that had put a bad taste in his mouth that he couldn't seem to wash clean. And it was only going to get worse. Much, much worse. And he'd have to take it, have to sit in court like some fuckin' paragon of virtue and be on his best behavior so no one could say Justin's boyfriend was an asshole on top of being a cradle-robber. He'd have to walk through the gauntlet of reporters and spectators every day and not say anything, not do anything, especially anything that would shed negative light on Justin. As if Justin had done something wrong, as if he weren't the victim, as if he were on trial. But the truth was, they were both going to be on trial. Which meant he had to keep it together, he had to keep cool and stay focused. Only, at this moment, he didn't know how he was going to do that. He had no fuckin' clue. Maybe I should call Drew, he thought and just thinking about talking to the therapist relaxed him enough that he was able to close his eyes and empty his mind.
Waiting until Justin had gone to work, Brian called Drew's cellphone knowing he wouldn't be in his office on the weekend. The therapist answered, his voice thick with sleep. "Yeah?"
"Doc, it's ten o'clock."
"You can tell time after all." He had immediately become more alert upon hearing who it was. That Brian would call him at home... "Problem?"
Brian bit his lip, then asked, "You think I could maybe...come talk to you?"
"Yeah." He looked around the loft, as if afraid Justin would suddenly reappear from behind the couch or from out of the bedroom. "I kinda need to."
"Meet me at my office in an hour."
True to his word, Drew was there when Brian arrived, radiating his habitual air of equanimity. He'd even pulled out the chair Brian usually sat in during their sessions. With a little smile, Brian took it and crossed his legs, waited for Drew to begin.
"So what's the problem?"
"Were you with someone?"
Drew cocked his head slightly to the right. "So. What's the problem?"
Hating even to say his name, Brian explained, "Chris Hobbs' trial is beginning in a few weeks."
"And I feel like I'm losing my fucking mind."
Brian looked away from Drew. "Because I'm so...angry."
"At who? At Chris Hobbs?"
He hesitated. "Yes."
Noting his hesitation, Drew asked, "And who else?"
Shaking his head, he replied, "No one."
Drew reached for a glass of water he'd set on a nearby table. "And maybe a little bit at Justin?"
He said nothing for the longest time and Drew let him sit there without interruption, the therapist quietly sipping his water and waiting. Finally, Brian said, "Maybe a little."
"Why?" Brian started to rise and Drew told him, "No. Stay here and talk to me. You got me out of my fucking bed at ten a.m. on a Saturday morning--out of a bed, in which I might add, I was not alone." He raised an eyebrow to match the look on Brian's face. "Why are you angry at Justin?"
"It doesn't make any sense," he said.
"I didn't ask you if it made sense or not, I asked you why."
"He didn't do anything!"
"Because if he hadn't gotten hurt, there wouldn't be a trial." He looked down, unable to meet the therapist's eyes.
Offering him a way out, Drew said, "You mean, if Chris Hobbs hadn't attacked him, there wouldn't be a trial."
But Brian knew what he meant, no matter how horrible it sounded. "No." He raised his eyes, met Drew's. "I mean, if Justin hadn't gotten hurt."
And the psychologist ached for him because he knew how hard it had been for Brian to admit that.
"I know that it's not his fault. I know that, I'm not a complete idiot. I know that we had every right to be at that prom together and I wouldn't change a thing. Except maybe I would have gone with him in the first place. Except maybe he wouldn't have walked away from me, he would have been with me..." A tear rolled down his face.
"Brian...it's not your fault."
"I should have gone when he asked me." He closed his eyes and pursed his lips. "I never do the right thing. Never."
"Yes, you did. You went to the prom. It doesn't matter how late, what matters is that you went. And I'd bet Justin would say the same thing."
"If he had gotten into the Jeep with me, that asshole wouldn't have been able to hurt him and we wouldn't have to go through this. Our entire lives on the front fucking page. Everything I've ever done wrong, right there in black and white. And what's the biggest thing I've done wrong? To be with him in the first place." He stood then and Drew let him, stood and walked around the room where he and Justin had fought to save their relationship, where they had resolved their problems, made love right up against that wall. "If there were some way the firm could get rid of me right now, they would. But it wouldn't look good. The gay rights activists would be all over it. But I wouldn't even care. Because I am so tired of walking in there and seeing their faces, seeing the way they look at me. Like they've never done anything wrong in their lives. And it's not wrong! Being with him...it's the best thing that's ever happened to me." He hugged himself and stared out of the window.
"I bet if they tried to get rid of you, you'd give 'em hell, just to fuck with them." And Brian laughed abruptly. It was something he would have said. Before all this. "You're just a little worn down. It happens to the best of us. Even you."
"I have to keep it together. I have to do this for him. I can't let him down."
"You do this for yourself." Drew caught his eye and gestured with his head. Brian moved away from the window and returned to his chair. "I'm glad you called. I'm not glad you called in the middle of a very nice morning in bed but I'm glad you called."
"What am I gonna do? I can't go into that trial like this."
"Don't think about it so much."
Brian smirked. "Doc, we're talking about the real world here. How am I not gonna think about it?"
"I didn't say don't think about it. I said don't think about it so much. Listen, you can't change the way people view your relationship with Justin and you can't change what they think about you. So fuck em. And as far as you keeping it together, yeah, I don't want you going into that courtroom acting like a madman because it reflects badly on me." He smiled and so did Brian. "But if you do lose it, if you lose your temper and yell at someone or curse or do whatever it is you do so well, then so be it. You lose it. You lose it and you get over it and you move on. No one's gonna blame you for being angry. You deserve to be angry. It's a shitty thing that's happening to you, to the both of you, and I'd be pissed too. But you're not the ones on trial. He is. Chris Hobbs is the one who committed the crime, he's the one on trial."
But Brian disagreed. He said softly, "So are we." Paused. "I can't afford to be naive about this. Everyday people are gonna judge us by what we say and do, and they're not gonna care about the real us, about...about why we're together. They're only gonna see this thirty-year-old man with an eighteen-year-old boy. They're gonna read about my life, about the things I've done, and they're gonna wonder why he's with me. And they're gonna think that maybe he isn't the victim in all this, that maybe he asked for it somehow."
"I can't afford to say that anymore. Because everything's changed. And it's not just my life. It's his."
"Maybe he doesn't care either."
"He'll care if Chris Hobbs walks." The thought chilled him. "If that psychopath goes free, he'll care. And he'll look around wondering what went wrong and he'll end up looking right at me."
"You can't make that assumption."
"Yeah, I can. Because it'll be true." He wiped at his eyes. "And there goes everything."
Drew started to laugh. "You are such a drama queen." Angry, Brian glared at him. "I sat in this office and watched Justin make some damn hard decisions so that you and he wouldn't fall apart and I don't think this is gonna do it. He's a lot smarter than that." He smiled softly. "And so are you. When you're not overreacting." Then added, "And overacting."
That got a laugh from Brian. "Fuck you."
"You and Justin break up and I might just take you up on that."
Brian smiled. "I don't intend to let him get away."
"I didn't think so."
"So what do I do?"
"You feel yourself starting to lose it, I want you to take some deep breaths and focus on something else, something calming. If you can go somewhere else, be by yourself for a while, do it. Okay?"
Brian grinned ruefully. "I'm gonna be crazy when this is over."
"What makes you think you're not already?" He laughed as Brian gave him the finger. "Look, the important thing to remember is that you can't control everything."
Brian thought about Justin saying to him, "You can't control everyone's life. Even though you'd like to."
"The most you can do is to try and control yourself. That's all. Let the world take care of the world. You can't solve every problem. This trial is something you can't control and the sooner you realize that the better."
"I know that, Doc."
"Really?" Drew raised an eyebrow. "So, I guess it wasn't you who just said that if Chris Hobbs walks, it would be his fault? That must have been someone else who looks suspiciously like you."
Smirking, Brian said, "Someone else should be so lucky."
Satisfied that the crisis had been averted, Drew stood. "Now, the sooner you leave, the sooner I can go home and pick up where I left off." He walked Brian through the reception area to the outer door. "You call me if you need me."
Devil-may-care smile in place, Brian said, "Thanks."
Drew shrugged. "I need a few success stories to talk about when I go to conferences."
Justin still wasn't home when he got back so he pulled out his Mapplethorpe book and studied a couple of the pictures. They never failed to fascinate him. Then his email beeped. He had mail. Opened it and laughed when he saw who had written him. Bountiful Bottom. Read: "Bountiful Bottom ISO a Total Top for an evening of Halloween fun. Will bring my own bag of goodies. You up for a little trick or treating?"
Brian sat down, smiling from ear to ear, and whipped out a reply. "I'll be waiting."
When the buzzer sounded around six thirty, he nearly leapt out of his seat and ran to answer. Pressed the door release button and waited. Heard the elevator arrive. Then his guest knocked and he slid open the door to find a little blond devil holding a shoulder bag, with a raincoat slung over his arm. "Trick or treat."
Brian stepped back and let him in, rubbing his bottom lip. Fuck. Justin was wearing a harness, leather vest, leather jockstrap, and a pair of black knee high boots. The harness had two rings in front, one in the middle of his chest and a smaller one just over his navel. Three pairs of straps encircled his torso: the upper ones running back over his shoulders, the middle ones around his ribs, and the lower ones cinched tight around his slender waist. Another strap disappeared beneath his jock, so that Brian knew it was attached to a cockring which was snug around his dick. Over the harness he wore a leather vest that left his nipples and most of his chest exposed. It too was buckled tight around his torso, the entire ensemble emphasizing his voluptuous ass, stark white against the black straps of the jock. The tap tap of the teen's heels as he slowly crossed the hardwood floor sent currents of desire pulsing through Brian's body as did the sight of his plump buttocks sliding lazily against one another. Justin paused and turned, crooked his finger. Eagerly, Brian complied.
From out of his bag of goodies, Justin withdrew an outfit for Brian. With pleasure, he removed the clothes his lover was currently wearing and, with pride, he dressed his man from head to toe. First, standing behind Brian, he drew his cock and balls through a heavy metal ring and eased it into place. Took the opportunity to stroke his Brian's dick, but briefly. There'd be plenty of time to play. Later. The cockring on, he pulled a pair of black latex chaps up over Brian's slender yet muscular legs and belted them around his waist. They fit like a second skin. Next came the leather and chain-linked harness that criss-crossed his torso from his broad shoulders to his narrow waist.
Lastly, Justin removed a collar from his bag and held it in his hands. Which one of them would wear it?
Brian reached for the collar and opened it. Closed it around his own neck. His lips parted and there was a gleam in his eyes.
He was situated where the chaise lounge used to be, arms tied behind his back with slender ropes. A lightweight chain was wrapped around his torso and the column behind him, the ends hooked together. There was very little give. In his current position, his legs spread apart, he felt very vulnerable. Justin stood in front of him with a black silk cloth in his hands. When Brian didn't object, he tied it around his eyes. With Brian's eyes covered, Justin removed another item from the bag: a ball gag. Settled it into place. Brian offered no resistance. Justin reached for the whip.
The teenager couldn't believe how aroused he was. He could feel his cock pressing against the confines of his jockstrap. Just looking at Brian, helpless, bound to the column, made him hard. He unsnapped his jock and let it fall free; removed the leather vest as well, so that he was virtually naked except for the harness and the boots. Yet, despite his nudity, he felt clothed in something else: in power. Smoothing the strands of the whip, he drew back his arm.
The first blow landed on Brian's chest, stinging his nipple. Despite the harness and the chains, the strands managed to cover a wide area of bare flesh. Giving equal treatment to both tits, Justin alternated between the sides of his chest until his skin was flushed and his nipples stood out from his chest. He paused for a moment and picked two objects up from the table near him. Tit clamps. Brian moaned a little as the teenager fixed them to his chest, teasing him first, letting them pinch his nipples a little, opening and closing them around the turgid flesh until they'd grown used to the feel. Then he clamped them on and left them. Got the whip again and began with his cock.
Each time the whip struck his dick he wanted to scream. The feel of the leather against his tender skin was like fire. The strands licked his balls, his belly, the tip of his cock, the shaft, burning him with each blow. He jerked against his bonds, the muscles in his chest and thighs tense as he tested the chain's strength. There was no escape. He could only slump in the chain's grip and wait for the next blow to fall, then flinch as the whip scoured his skin. Just when he thought the beating would go on forever, the whip fell silent. Chest heaving, he could have cried in relief.
Justin took Brian's cock in his hands and stroked it gently. Even though Brian's eyes were hidden by the scarf, he could tell by his body language that the action was having a soothing effect on him. His breathing had slowed down and he relaxed in his bonds. Moving slowly, Justin reached for the wide leather ribbon on the table. Began wrapping the man's cock and balls in the leather, so that his testicles were forced down into his sac, tight in a small, round pouch, and only the smooth glans of his dick was visible. Then he knelt between his legs and licked the head. Just a gentle lick that covered most of the tip. Followed by another. And another until the licks tickled like the whip and Brian wanted to scream. Unable to move, his cock constricted by the leather ribbon, he could feel his shaft expand painfully and each time the bonds tightened around him he became even more turned on so that he was locked in a vicious circle of arousal and pain. Justin increased his activities, sucking on the engorged head until it had turned a deep red. Then, using his fingernails, he scratched the tender skin sending Brian into spasms; muffled cries came from behind the gag and the chains around the man's chest rattled. Slowly, Justin pulled on the ribbon and unwound it from Brian's dick, freeing him. But it wasn't over.
Pressing down on his shoulders, Justin forced Brian to his knees. Removed the ball gag and waited while Brian got used to his freedom.
Although he was denied his sight, he could still hear, and smell, and feel. Mouth open as he took a series of deep breaths, Brian felt something touch his lips. Warm and moist. And hard. He opened his mouth wider but his desires went unsatisfied as Justin moved his cock out of reach.
Teasing him with brief, fleeting moments of contact, Justin stroked his lover's cheeks with his dick and even ran it under his chin, any and everywhere but his lips. Watching as the man's hunger intensified. Feeling his own grow as well. Finally, he said, "Open wide," and when Brian obeyed, he slid his cock over his tongue with a sigh. Beginning with slow, easy strokes, the teen gradually increased the force with which he entered Brian, thrusting his cock into his mouth harder and harder until he was fucking his head. Saliva ran down Brian's chin as he fought to breathe, to hold onto the pounding cock with his slippery lips. Justin gripped the back of his head and held him still while he worked him over, pumping his hips and driving his cock deep inside his mouth. He removed his dick and slapped it against Brian's cheek. Precum smeared the man's skin. Again Justin struck him with a thwack and before Brian could recover, he'd buried his cock in his mouth once more. This time he took it slower, allowing his lover to savor the taste of his meat, the feel of his meat. Then, gently, he withdrew. Ran his finger along Brian's lips. The man kissed the tip of his finger, his tongue slipping beneath the pad.
Justin released Brian from his chains, removed the harness and tit clamps, replaced the gag, and led him over to the treadmill. Without being told, Brian understood. Lay down on it and raised his legs. Justin removed two pairs of wrist-ankle shackles from his bag and fastened Brian's ankles to his wrists, raising his legs and leaving his ass exposed. Then he tied him to the rails of the treadmill.
Never more aware of his helplessness, Brian fought to remain calm. He knew that Justin wouldn't hurt him but the novelty of the situation made him anxious. Trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, ass wide open to exploration, he abandoned himself to the experience. And there was a kind of freedom in that abandonment and he felt at peace, the way he hadn't for so long. Relaxing his muscles, he settled down to enjoy what Justin had to offer.
Leaving his lover for a moment, Justin reached into his bag and removed yet another object. A riding crop. He stood behind Brian and slapped his hand with the end a couple of times while debating where to begin. The man was completely under his control. He could treat him as he pleased, punish him, reward him as he desired.
The stinging sensation spreading from the point of contact made him glad that Justin hadn't used the crop on his cock or nipples. He knew that's what it was, had seen one in action before. The way that guy had buckled whenever the tip had smacked his skin, he imagined he was doing the same thing, only the restraints limited his movement. There was no way for him to protect his ass and, in particular, the most vulnerable part: his hole. Even now, he felt the crop getting closer and closer to it as Justin beat him with precision. He could feel his rectum tensing in preparation for the inevitable blow. He screamed when it came, although the gag muffled the sound. And again the crop landed on his lips and he jerked.
Justin watched him twitch and jiggle about trying in vain to avoid the stinging crop. With each blow his cock seemed to grow harder and harder and from what he could see of Brian's, so was his. When the man's ass was red and criss-crossed with whelps, Justin abandoned the crop and positioned himself behind Brian. He rubbed his cock across his tender skin. Precum soothed the burning flesh. As he did so, he surveyed the view. There was so much and it was all his. Especially Brian's reddened hole. He leaned over and spat upon the wrinkled orifice and then stroked his lips. They responded to the motion and began to relax. He eased a finger inside. The muscles in Brian's buttocks tensed, then went slack as the man began to take pleasure in being serviced. Justin's finger slid in and out of Brian with greater ease now, so much so that he added a second finger relatively quickly. The feel of Brian's skin clinging to his as he moved his fingers in and out of his hole was maddening. Removing his fingers, he watched the lips slowly close. Then lowered his head and rimmed him, slipping his tongue inside and licking around the inner recesses of his rectum. He could hear Brian's breathing grow louder as his tongue probed him. He debated using the dildo he'd brought but he wanted to fuck him so badly he couldn't wait. Spreading lube along his cock, he crouched over Brian and held onto the railing of the treadmill with one hand. With the other, he positioned his cockhead against his lover's hole. Still holding his dick in place, Justin pressed forward. Brian's bud opened around the crown of his cock and he pushed through. The lips locked behind the head once he was inside and he waited until they'd relaxed again before continuing. Soon he was up to his balls in Brian's asshole. He held onto the rails with both hands now and withdrew. Plunged back inside. Closing his eyes, he set up a regular rhythm, pumping him with ease.
He was no longer aware of the passage of time. It was as if he had always been tied up like this, being fucked by his lover. All control, all decision-making power had been taken from him and he did not mourn its loss. Instead, he felt curiously free, free to be taken, free to be manhandled, free to be cherished—because he did feel cherished. And loved. He knew that Justin loved him because he had taught him this lesson: that it wasn't necessary to be in control, to be in charge. Giving Justin pleasure was more important than insuring his own. His own movement constrained, his own actions thwarted, he had taken pleasure in the strength with which Justin had whipped him. His own cries denied, he relished hearing Justin's as his cock dipped deep inside his ass.
Grabbing hold of Brian's dick, Justin roughly jerked him off as he slammed into his hole. Brian moaned around the rubber ball in his mouth, cum splattering his neck and face. When he was through milking Brian's cock, Justin wrenched his own from the man's hole and pulled on it, spilling his load on Brian's cheeks. The last few drops wrung from his meat, he rubbed his cock in his spunk and spread it over Brian's skin, taking particular care to paint his asshole, the lips swollen and red.
Tired, sore, and satiated, Brian lay in Justin's arms and slept peacefully for the first time in a week or more. Just as tenderly as he had dressed him, the teenager had undressed him, and then taken him to the bathroom and bathed him, massaging his weary muscles, cleaning the sweat and semen from his skin. Both of them having showered, they'd crawled into bed where Justin had held him until he'd fallen asleep.
As his lover dozed, the teen stroked his hair and prayed that he would always have the answers Brian needed.
They got up relatively early and cleaned all the gear they'd used the evening before and packed it away. Justin confessed that he'd gotten most of it from a friend of Emmett's. "Not the mortician?" Brian asked horrified.
"He's got a room full of stuff," Justin reported.
"I don't want to know."
Afterwards they each turned to their separate pursuits: Justin to his sketchpad and Brian to the first book of the Wraeththu: The Enchantments of Flesh and Spirits. Cup of coffee on the table beside him, he stretched out on the sofa and lost himself in Cal's world until a hand invaded his space and took the novel away from him.
"You need a break." Justin dropped the book on the floor.
Brian had just about gotten the teen's pants off when the phone rang. "Fuck!" exclaimed Justin. "Do you have to get that?" The phone rang again.
"Might be important." Brian got up. "Yeah?"
"Bri. Lindz. Can you baby-sit this afternoon?"
Looking at Justin's very visible hard-on, Brian asked, "When this afternoon?"
Three hours from now. "Bring him on over." He hung up and returned to the sofa, then changed his mind and went back to the phone. Set the machine to answer automatically. "That's better."
Much, thought Justin.
They ate a little after noon and were just lazing around watching Dangerous Liaisons—"This is like Cruel Intentions," Justin said in all seriousness and Brian groaned and muttered something about the youth of today—when the buzzer sounded. "She's early," he said as he rose to let her in. Which was weird because she had the code to the building. He pressed the button. "You're early," he said into the intercom. Waited and when she knocked, opened the door and repeated, "You're—" Stopped mid-sentence. "You're not Lindsay."
Keisha shook her head. "Nope."
Justin got up. "Hey, Keisha. What's up?"
"Come on in," said Brian, stepping out of the way.
"Thanks." She walked in and looked around. "Nice place."
"It'll do until Barbie moves out of our dream house."
"Ken's gonna be our houseboy," Justin explained, grinning.
"You want anything?" Brian asked, ever the gracious host.
She took the seat Justin offered her in the livingroom. "What do you have?"
Brian replied, "I'm Irish and gay. I have everything."
"Oh," she said, "I don't drink. Much. Got any ginger ale?"
"Perfect. With a twist of lime if you have it."
She smiled. "That'll do."
Justin repeated his earlier question. "So what's up?"
"Don't tell me: Chris Hobbs got hit by a car and there's no need for a trial," Brian suggested from the kitchen.
"Brian," scolded Justin although only for form's sake. He'd be more than happy to hear that Chris Hobbs was no longer among the living. Or, at least, no longer among the ambulatory and aware.
Keisha shrugged. "Just thought I'd drop by since I was in the neighborhood. See how you were doing."
As he handed her the drink he'd prepared, Brian said, "How about you answer that again and tell us the truth this time?"
She sipped the ginger ale. "Perfect. You should have been a bartender." Before he could respond to that, she confessed, "Well, you both seemed kind of tense on Tuesday."
"You mean I seemed tense," Brian clarified and he assumed his place next to Justin.
"All right, you seemed tense." She paused. "And angry. And a little defensive."
"You don't have to list all of my good qualities at once."
"I wanted to make sure things were going all right."
"You wanted to make sure we still wanted to go through with this."
"We're not backing down," Justin assured her. "Only," he added, "it's hard, knowing what it's going to be like in court."
"You don't know the half of it," she said. "Which is why I want each of you to come in next week separately," she told them. "We'll go over your testimony and put you through the paces. Do a mock cross-exam, everything."
"Why can't we come in together?" Justin asked.
"Because it's going to be you up there alone on the stand." She hesitated before adding, "Brian might not even be in the courtroom when you testify."
"Why not?" he asked and even Brian looked alarmed and surprised.
"We don't need any outbursts or screaming matches between you and the defense," she said to the older man. "They're going to say things to deliberately upset Justin, to bait him, to discredit him as a witness, to make it seem as if this was somehow his fault. And if you can't keep it together, I don't want you in the courtroom when he's testifying."
"I don't want to do this without him," Justin said and his tone made it clear that he wasn't about to negotiate on that point.
But before Keisha could argue, Brian said softly, "I need to be there. I don't want him going through that alone." He confessed, "Look, I talked with my therapist—"
"You did?" asked Justin.
"Yeah. And he gave me a list of things to do when I start to feel like I'm losing it. I can do this," he promised. Justin slipped his hand in his and squeezed it, looking up at the man with adoration in his eyes. Brian kissed him gently and smiled and in an instant his attitude went from protective to sexually interested.
Keisha could tell by the way Justin stroked his arm that the teenager was receptive to the idea. Of course, who could blame him? Brian looked positively decadent in a garnet sweater whose color gradually darkened as it approached the cuffs and hem. The fabric clung to his body like a second skin, outlining his chest and shoulders, his arms and torso. And the black slacks he had on emphasized his slender legs to perfection. Clearing her throat to remind them of her presence, she said, "That's a beautiful sweater."
"Kenneth Cole." He knew the designer of every item of clothing he owned. Without looking at the label. It was a skill.
Not knowing how to breach the subject but feeling she had to, she asked, "Is there some way you could try to look less..."
Justin grinned. "Impossible."
She stood. "Let me see your wardrobe. If you don't mind," she added.
Brian led the way to his closet and hovered around amused by her attempts to find something to suit her requirements.
Finally, she pulled out a black suit and matching tie. "Put this on. Please."
Grabbing a white shirt from his drawer, he went into the bathroom to change. He would have just dropped off his clothes and done it in the bedroom but Justin gave him the eye. They were both sitting on the bed when he emerged fully-dressed. Assuming a pose, he waited for the verdict.
Justin smiled and turned to Keisha. "Told you."
"It's not the suit. It's you. Your attitude. It says, 'I want to fuck you.' "
Brian smirked. "And that's a bad thing?"
"Don't flirt with me. And don't flirt with the judge, the jury, the spectators, or the press. Got it? We don't want to offend anyone. Especially anyone on the jury."
He folded his arms. "You want me to act straight."
She shook her head. "No. Just tone it down a little."
"Forget it. I am who I am and what I am."
"Always on the make? When you're pitching ideas to your clients, how do you look?"
Remembering how Brian had looked when he'd helped him with the Gay-Straight Student Alliance, Justin said, "Even sexier."
"I sell me. Not the idea. Me. My confidence. My expertise. My talent. My looks."
"What about your straight clients?"
Brian explained. "It doesn't matter. They just think I'm begin charming or accommodating. They don't realize that what I'm doing is seducing them. After all, what's seduction except giving someone what they think they want?"
"All right then. Seduce the court. Give them what they think they want."
"A non-threatening, non-aggressive, ambisexual charmer." Brian looked chagrined that she had found a way to get around him. "I want every man to want to be you and every woman to want to have you. I just don't want anyone to think too hard about what it is you really are."
Thinking that was going to be virtually impossible, Justin asked her, "What about me?"
"You're gonna be tricky too. We want you to look young and innocent but not too young and innocent because, after all, you're involved with a thirty-year-old man. We need to minimize that backlash. Luckily, you're adorable."
Brian rolled his eyes. "I'm too seductive, but he's adorable? Please." Justin parted his lips slightly and let the tip of his tongue show. Curled it. "Did you see that?"
A knock on the door interrupted her answer. Justin hopped up. "I'll get it."
"It's probably Lindsay," Brian told her as they followed at a more leisurely pace.
Justin slid the door open and Gus saw him and called out, "Pooh!"
Keisha laughed. "Pooh?"
"Justin," the teenager reminded him, taking the baby from his mom. "Say, 'Justin,' Gus."
Lindsay laughed too as she came in behind them. "He started calling for you the second we got out of the car in front of the building."
Then Gus saw his Da da and reached for him. "Da da da da da."
Brian took him from Justin. "Hey, Sonny Boy."
Lindz pecked him on the cheek. "Thanks, Da da." Looked him up and down. "All dressed up and nowhere to go?"
"Hi," she said to Keisha. "Ms. Thomas, right?"
"Keisha. You've got a good memory."
"I'm a teacher. Besides, it was the first time I've ever been interviewed about a felony case."
Keisha had talked to Lindsay about the scene between Brian and Chris Hobbs in the hospital and decided that it'd be less explosive and problematic if Deb testified instead. She didn't really want to remind the jury of the fact that, in addition to being involved in a gay relationship with a teenager, Brian had fathered a son with a lesbian couple. The man's life was more complicated than a Tolstoy novel.
"I'll be back around five thirty, six o'clock? Oh. Speaking of all dressed up—"
"I'l be there on Halloween to take pictures of Gus in his costume."
Lindz looked at Justin, certain that he had had something to do with this miracle. "That's all I'm promising," Brian added.
"That's all I'm asking." Lindz turned to Keisha. "Nice meeting you again." She left.
Meanwhile Brian had taken Gus over to the couch and started taking off his coat and shoes. The baby reached down towards his feet to help. "I'm doing it as fast as I can."
Justin explained, "Gus hates wearing shoes as much as Brian does."
"Shoes are unnatural," Brian remarked. "But they make you look good. That's the dilemma." He lifted one of Gus' bare feet and kissed the sole. "I'll explain it to you someday," he said to the baby. Gus giggled as his daddy nosed the bottom of his feet, tickling him.
"I would never have guessed you'd be good with babies," Keisha confessed.
Justin declared, "He's a good father," and it sounded to Keisha as if they had discussed it before and Justin still felt that he had to convince Brian of the fact.
"Well," Brian mumbled, taking Gus' leather bear from his bag and handing it to the baby, "I'm not a bad father."
"Beh," said Gus and he turned to show it to Justin. "Beh."
"That's right. Bear. Now, say, 'Justin. Justin.' "
The baby smiled and in doing so looked exactly the way his father did when he was amused by something stupid someone else had done. "Pooh."
Keisha picked up her purse. "Well, I should be going. I'll call tomorrow to confirm the days you'll come in." Justin escorted her to the door. She turned and glanced at Brian still playing with Gus. "You've got a good life here."
The teenager smiled. "I know."
"I'll do the best I can."
"I know that too." He waited until she had begun to descend in the elevator before shutting the door and returning to Brian and Gus.
Although most schools and community centers and malls had events for kids on Halloween, in Lindz and Mel's neighborhood parents still walked their kids around. Which was nice. Brian remembered how excited he had been as a kid to go trick or treating. He'd always hated that he'd met Mikey too late to go together. They were way too old in his opinion to go trick or treating at fourteen. Mikey would have done it but he wouldn't have been caught dead. As he and Justin waited for one of the munchers to open the door, he looked around and caught sight of a man and his little boy approaching the drive on foot. The kid must have been five, maybe six-years-old and dressed as Dracula. Brian smirked. Only six and he was already dreaming about sucking on somebody. Justin caught his look and raised an eyebrow. Speaking of sucking on somebody... The door opened. Mel was standing on the other side. "Get in quick before you scare the kids away."
Justin glanced around to make sure the father and son hadn't heard him. Pushed Brian inside and let Mel deal with the trick or treaters.
"Hey, Gus, look who's here," said Lindz.
Brian took one look at Gus and groaned. "Jesus Christ. Leave it to the lesbians." The baby was dressed as the purple Teletubby from PBS, complete with red handbag. Brian couldn't remember what his name was but Justin supplied it, pop culture junky that he was.
"Tinky-Winky." He laughed. "Gus is Tinky-Winky."
"Pooh," cried the baby. And then he tugged on his daddy's leg so Brian would pick him up. "Da da."
"I was just about to take him around but I bet Gus would love for his Da da and Pooh to take him instead."
Horrified, Brian attempted to put the baby down but Gus had gripped his coat and wouldn't let go. "No way."
"Come on," said Justin.
"Just a couple of blocks. He won't last much longer than that."
"Please," begged Justin. "I'll make it worth your while."
That piqued Brian's interest. "How?"
"Maybe..." he leaned in and whispered, "Bountiful Bottom will make an appearance tonight."
Brian grinned. "I've got a taste for something sweet and creamy." He kissed him.
Mel walked in and seeing them grumbled, "Good Lord, my life is a horror movie."
"A Nightmare on Queer Street." Laughing, Justin took Gus from Brian and set him on the floor so that his daddy could get out his camera and capture Pittsburgh's very own Tinky-Winky on film. "When you get older, Gus, I'll read you The Legend of Sleepy Hollow," the teen promised the baby.
But as Brian snapped a couple of pictures of the teenager and the baby, he grinned and thought, Maybe when you're older I'll tell you The Legend of Bountiful Bottom. Trust me, it's a lot more interesting.