Fingers wrapped around the door handle, Brian paused and wondered if he wished for it really really hard could he summon enough energy to get through the evening. Not attending the reception was not an option. Despite having done exceptionally well his first year at IFA, Justin was still a little apprehensive about being a sophomore. Brian guessed that it had more to do with facing Xavier again than anything else. Not that there was any danger of the two of them starting anything up again, because there wasn't. But they'd been friends, probably wanted to become friends again. The problem was how. Brian didn't think his presence would help any but Justin wanted him there and he hadn't been able to refuse. To complicate matters, in addition to Xavier, he had Trevor to contend with and he didn't relish the thought of running into the good professor after their last encounter. Hearing the hamer strike the statue as he stood outside the door, Brian had been surprised Trevor hadn't used it on him.

Knowing there was no point in putting it off any longer, he pulled open the door. Heard the shower running. Good boy. Smiling, he dropped his briefcase on the desk and started tugging at his tie as he headed for the bedroom. Just as he'd finally gotten free of his clothes and hung them up, the shower stopped. Shit. Missed his window of opportunity. Now he'd have to shower alone which was not as fun and definitely not as arousing. Resigning himself to it, he padded to the bathroom and waited for Justin to come out of the stall.

"Fuck!" the teen exclaimed upon exiting the shower and finding his lover standing next to him. He slumped against the frame, breathing hard. "I think I just lost ten years off my life."

"Hope not," Brian said, entering the vacated stall, "cause then I'd be fucking a nine-year-old and that's too goddamn young, even for me. I'm into chicken, not bitty." With that he closed the door and turned both knobs, eyes closed as the warm water pounded his skin.

Towel in hand, Justin dried himself then wrapped the bath sheet around his waist. His feet made soft slapping sounds as he entered the bedroom and went through his stuff to find something suitable to wear. After their pilgrimage to Milan, he had secretly sworn to try and dress better, no matter how small a budget he had. He still refused to let Brian buy his clothes outside of a gift or special occasion. But, looking in the closet, the only thing that grabbed his eye was the outfit Brian had gotten for him, the cream sweater and olive slacks. So be it. He'd just dropped his towel and reached for a pair of briefs when he felt Brian press up against him. "Mmm," he purred, Brian's pubes brushing over his buttocks.

"How much time do we have?" Brian asked, arms around his chest and waist.

"Not enough," replied Justin, looking up.


"Positive. I want a niiice, looong, slooow fuck."

Brian concurred and released him with a kiss. "Later then."

"Definitely," he agreed, then pulled on his underwear.

Tearing his eyes away from Justin's perfect ass and seeing the outfit he'd chosen, Brian nodded his approval. "There's hope for you yet."

Having dressed in record time, they had about twenty minutes to kill before they had to leave. Brian went into the bedroom and returned with one hand behind his back. "Close your eyes."

Justin smiled and complied with difficulty as curiosity was trying to get the best of him. "What is it?"

Gift in the palm of his hand, Brian said, "Open up." There was a slender, tastefully wrapped box sitting across his palm. "I was going to wait until Monday but what the hell. Why wait?"

Justin took the proffered gift and studied it. Used to the routine by now, Brian didn't rush him and before long the teen was carefully untying the silver ribbon and removing the dark blue paper. Wrapper put aside, Justin opened the box to reveal another box. A pencil case. Sterling silver with his initials incised in the cover. "Brian, it's beautiful."

"Well, I thought it'd be better than that plastic thing you've been dragging around," he said, receiving a very sweet kiss, one that only made him want more. But there was no time. "Let's go," he told Justin, "before I stop caring about how little time we have."

Sauntering on ahead, a slight sway to his walk, Justin offered a suggestion. "We could always fuck in the car." He waited by the opened door with a grin on his face.

Brian grabbed him and kissed him hard. Shut the door with a bang. "We'll just be late."

Justin unzipped his trousers and leaned back.

They arrived just as the Dean was concluding his remarks, something for which they both could be grateful. Standing outside the doorway, out of sight, they waited until the polite applause began and made an unobtrusive-- they hoped-- and unnoticed entrance. Unfortunately, they failed on both accounts as Rennie spotted them from across the room and waved. Which attracted attention from several other interested parties, namely Xavier, who was standing next to her, and Trevor, who was parked by the Dean. None of their gazes met as their eyes shifted about. But Rennie was not having it. Xavier in tow, she met Brian and Justin at the door and beamed at the older man. "Hey, Brian."

Amused despite being a little uneasy, he smiled and pecked her on the lips. "Hey, Dark Girl. Back from terrorizing the West Coast?"

She touched her hair, done in bright purple dreadlocks. "Like it?"

"It's you."

The important exchange over, she spoke to Justin. "Boy Wonder."

"That's my name, don't wear it out," he told her and they hugged, glad to see one another, and Brian thought he'd never seen a stranger sight: Armani Exchange meets thrift-store goth. All the while he was aware of Xavier's eyes on them, not looking at him at all, but focused on Justin and Rennie as if by doing so he could make Brian disappear. Brian knew he was projecting but an anger came upon him so suddenly, it was like a summer thunderstorm, blowing up out of seemingly nowhere, and he knew he had to get away from the teenager.

He touched Justin's arm and, when he half-turned, said, "I'm getting a drink." Not waiting for Justin to offer to come with him, he left.

Worried, Justin, nevertheless, stayed put. Faced Rennie and Xavier again.

Softly, Xavier said, "Hey, J."

And just the sound of Xavier's voice half-whispering that endearment nearly sent Justin running after Brian but he realized it was just an automatic response and when he thought about it, he knew that he wasn't really affected by Xavier anymore. He and Brian had been through too much, had become even closer over the past few months and no one could ever threaten them again. Not if they remained vigilant. So there was no need to run. "Hey. You have a good summer?"

"Think so. Nana Rose was out of control."

"What else is new?" He laughed and Xavier did too. "I got something for her in London."

Rennie broke in. "We want a full report."

"I think I'm gonna put up a webpage. Brian took like a thousand pictures..."

"Is this going to be a porno site?"

"Shut up, Rennie."

Brian watched them feel their way back to each other from across the room and was glad. Justin really needed friends his own age and with Daphne gone back to Princeton for the fall, he'd been worried that the teen would be alone again. Even though the three of them had talked at the last show before the summer, a lot of things could change in three months. God, he knew that better than anyone. Still, not all changes were bad. He rubbed the thumb of his right hand over his ring.

"I was hoping I wouldn't run into you."

He didn't look around. "Then you should have stayed on your side of the room."

Coming into view, Trevor raised his empty glass and frowned. "Can't get through these things without a couple of drinks. Every half hour."

"Better be careful. Wouldn't want to do something stupid," Brian warned.

"Like fucking you?"

Brian started to walk away.


But he didn't. He kept walking until he found himself standing in front of the pieces last year's freshman class had exhibited in the end of the year show. He knew if he looked around he'd find Justin's triptych. So he didn't. He recognized the talent required to create such a piece, but the subject matter was still too painful to confront.

He stayed where he was, not seeing the abstract expressionist painting before him. Expecting Trevor at any moment. Of all the dumb-assed... And yet it hadn't been the dumbest or most harmful thing he'd ever done. When was this fucking evening ever going to be over?

As there was no point in hiding out, he decided to rejoin the teens and went in search of them.

One look in Brian's eyes and Justin knew it was time to go. They'd made an appearance, discharged their duty-- no one could accuse him of not participating in department fucntions-- but he was tired and Brian was definitely at the end of his tether. "Ready?" he asked although he knew the answer.

"You mind?" Justin shook his head and Brian kissed him.

Rennie sighed dramatically. "Fine. Leave me here with Xavier so he can drive me crazy talking about Trey." And then she froze. Fuck. Xavier hadn't said anything about him to Justin and she'd just spilled the beans. Fuck.

"Trey?" Justin asked. "Who's that?"

Wanting to grab his lover's arm and drag him away, Brian didn't.

Casually, Xavier replied, "This guy I met over the summer."

Equally casually, Justin said, "Oh." Paused. "Well, I guess I'll see you guys Monday in class. Later."

"Bye, Brian," waved Rennie. Next to her, Xavier stood in silence. Oh hell.

The topic hadn't come up during the drive home or as they'd undressed and put away their clothes, but as they crawled into bed and cut off the lights, Justin's mind replayed Xavier's words, "This guy I met over the summer."

Brian could hear his brain churning. "Stop it."

Caught out, Justin still played dumb. "Stop what?"

Saying nothing more, Brian turned over and closed his eyes. There was no point in getting into it.

"I don't care about that," Justin told him.

Mind made up in a flash, Brian turned back to him. "Then why are Xavier and his summer fuck in bed with us?"

"They're not."

"Feels a little crowded to me."

"Brian--" But he couldn't finish his thought because Brian had closed the distance between them and was kissing him so deeply that he felt dizzy. When they parted, he stared at his partner with a dazed look on his face, then grabbed the back of Brian's head and returned the kiss with equal enthusiasm and force.

Before long he was on his back, legs wrapped around Brian's waist, hips pumping to meet the man's thrusts.

Later, he lay in Brian's arms and fairly purred in contentment, stroking the muscular forearm that crossed his chest.

"So, according to the baby books, Gus can have two other children at his second birthday party," explained Lindsay as they sat around the table having Sunday brunch.

"Fuck the books," Brian said, visions of even two other rugrats running around hyped up on cake making his head ache.

Mel said, "Believe me, none of us is looking forward to dealing with three yelling, screaming, cranky, crying brats, but if you, Michael, and Emmett agree to play nice, you can come anyway."

As Justin laughed, Brian groused, "Ha ha. How about I stay home altogether and you throw this bash by yourselves?"

"Bri!" exclaimed Lindsay. He'd promised to help.

"Don't worry," Justin assured her, "he'll be here. With a smile on his face."

"You gonna blow him in the car?" Mel asked.

"Mel!" Lindsay again. She covered her eyes. Gus was going to be foulest-talking tot on the playground thanks to Melanie and Brian.

"Well, if the guest room is free..." began Justin and both he and Brian laughed remembering Gus' first birthday party.

"Please don't," begged Lindz. "We want your mom to be around for Gus' third birthday party," and she and Mel laughed as well, remembering Joanie's face as she came tearing down the stairs. God only knows what she'd seen.

Gus tottered in from the livingroom dragging Beh and pulled Brian's shirttail. "Dada." Brian pretended not to hear or feel him. "Dada," the baby said again and was again ignored. So he yanked on Brian's shirt and yelled, "Dada!"

The adults cracked up, cause that was so like Brian as to leave little doubt whose son Gus was-- if the resemblance wasn't enough to convince a skeptic.

Brian picked up Gus and Beh. "What is it, Sonny Boy?"

"Go car."

"You want to go riding in the car?" Lindsay had instructed them all to use complete sentences with the baby to help his language development although Brian thought he talked well enough to get his needs met.


"Beh too?" Gus nodded. "Can Pooh come too?" Gus shook his head. "Pooh can't come?" Again Gus shook his head and then he giggled.


"That's okay," Justin said, faking being sad. "I'll just stay home."


"Uh-huh, I'll just stay home and cry."

"No!" the baby repeated.

"Then I can come?" and Gus nodded and reached for him. Justin took him in his arms. "Thank you." Gus kissed him on the cheek. "I love you."

"Lu you," Gus said.

Brian threw down his napkin and stood. "Come on, lover boys."

Riding with the top down, the wind blowing in their hair, the three men drove around the neighborhood, just a short trip cause the Munchers had plans for that afternoon and Brian had to go into the office for a couple of hours.

Justin turned around and smiled at Gus and Gus smiled too. He loved it when Justin smiled at him, almost as much as when his daddy picked him up and held him and called him Sonny Boy and kissed him. That was better than anything. Except maybe Beh. And then only cause Beh was there at night in his bed and his daddy wasn't. Sometimes he and Beh stayed with Dada and Pooh at their house and slept in their bed. His dada's bed was so big cause Dada was so big. Bigger than Pooh and Mommy and Mama. Gus loved it when his daddy picked him up cause he could see everything from up there. Just thinking about it made him happy and he clapped his hands and laughed.

"I wonder what he thinks about," Justin said, facing the front again.

"Probably pooping in his pants," replied Brian who hated changing diapers and couldn't wait until Gus was potty-trained.

Justin laughed. Brian hated changing diapers. Looking back at Gus again, he waved at the baby.


The teen's eyes widened. "Did you hear that?"

Brian grinned. "He called you Jusin."

"Say it agin, Gus. Say Justin."

"Jusin," Gus said and waved. "Hey."

"Fuck!" exclaimed the teen.


"That's your son all right."

Glancing at the baby in the rearview mirror, Brian admonished, "None of that, young man, or your mom'll have my ass in a sling. And not in a good way," he added.

That evening, having gone into the office and returned home hungrier than ever, Brian, like the baby, called Justin's name. Legs spread open, Justin lying between them, he cupped the back of his partner's head and sighed. "Justin..." Inhaled deeply and floated on a haze of pleasure. He moaned as Justin's lips moved back up his shaft and formed a tight seal around the head of his cock, while his tongue slowly caressd the oozing tip. "Oh..." Justin pushed a finger up him and Brian cried out and gripped the sheets in his fists.

Freeing Brian's dick, Justin kissed his scrotum while moving his finger in and out of his hole. "You want it?" he asked, licking Brian's balls.

"Uh--" Brian squeezed his eyes shut.

"Want it?" Justin asked again, this time his teeth grazing his lover's flesh.


"Say it," he demanded.

"Fuck me." Justin twisted his finger as he thrust it hard up Brian and the man moaned and tightened around him. "Fuck--" he began and stopped, gasping for breath as Justin's finger prodded his prostate.

Bodies jerking about; chests heaving; voiced raised in cries, grunts, they wrestled on the bed, rough fucking, Justin having rolled Brian onto his belly, pounding him from behind. The teen came and pulled out, thrust three fingers up Brian's lube-slicked hole and plied his ass while Brian tugged on his cock, coming with a shout, spunk hanging off his fist.

Unlike last year when their instrutors had given them a day or so to get adjusted, this semester they jumped right into the thick of it, both feet on the ground, running as fast as they could. By the time lunch had rolled around, Justin and his friends were exhausted. Which didn't make it the best time in the world to bring up Xavier's announcement on Friday but Justin didn't think he could wait any longer.

Over pizza and Cokes from the student union, they sat outside in the courtyard and talked.

"So what's the deal with you and Trey?"

Xavier had known Justin would bring that up again and he wanted to hit Rennie for opening her big mouth. Even more so, he wanted to hit himself for even telling her in the first place. "I don't know. I met him down at Howard. I was in the library doing some research--"

"You did work over the summer?" Justin asked in disbelief.

"We couldn't all go to Europe. I had to get mine second-hand." Justin looked away and Xavier felt shitty for saying what he had. "Look, I'm glad you got to go. You deserved it."

"You'll go someday."

Rennie sniffed. "I've been and it's highly overrated."

"You went with your parents," Justin said. "I went with Brian," and raised his eyebrows a couple of times comically. Rennie laughed and pushed him.


"So what else about Trey?" he asked.

"So he was working there. He's a junior. Lit major. He's got dreads down his back." Xavier's face lit up. "He's amazing. Beautiful. Inside and out."

"You spend the whole summer together?"

"Pretty much." Xavier laughed. "Nana Rose loves him."

And Justin felt a pang of jealousy and then berated himself. Why should he feel jealous? Nana Rose wasn't his grandmother and Xavier wasn't his boyfriend. And even though Joanie didn't love him, she'd grown friendlier to him whch was saying a lot for the Irish Ice Princess. "You two serious?"

Xavier shrugged. "I guess. It's kind of hard since he's there and I'm here but we're gonna try. He's coming up for fall break."

"Cool," said Justin and concentrated on finishing his pizza.

Saying nothing more, Xavier watched him and wondered if he really meant what he'd said.

As he sat alone in his studio-- Bledsoe having gone out for supplies-- Justin ruminated over Xavier's news. And he didn't mind, not really, not that Xavier had found someone. He was a good person, he deserved to be happy. But, somehow, it didn't seem fair to him that he and Brian had gone through hell, that he'd almost lost him, that they'd spent the entire summer working hard to repair their damaged relationship, and Xavier had spent the summer falling in love. Just thinking about that morning, coming down the steps to face Brian, to watch him live or die, made him want to scream. No matter how long he lived, he didn't think he'd ever forget how scared he'd been. Even now his heart rate increased.

Then he thought, But we're stronger now than we've ever been. Xavier has to wonder if he and Trey are going to last but I know that Brian and I are committed. For life. Wasn't that worth a few tears?

That night, curled up against Brian's side, having had dinner with Mikey and Jeff, Justin knew that it had been worth it and he resolved to be happy for Xavier and let it trouble him no more.

Cynthia met him at the door of his office, took his briefcase, and turned him towards the executive wing. "Ryder wants to see you." And from the look on her face, Brian guessed that she thought this was it: they were going to offer him a partnership.

"So do we move or stay put?"

"Move." She was sharing her space with Darren Johnson's assistant and she was tired of it. If Brian moved to the executive wing, she'd get an office of her own guarding the door to his inner sanctum. Giving him a quick peck on the cheek, she sent him off. "Luck."

When he arrived at Ryder's office, Susan told him to go to the conference room. Before he opened the door, he took a deep breath and loosened his collar just a tad. Despite his confident words to Cynthia, he didn't know what to expect. They could be calling him in to tell him that he'd been promoted just short of a partnership. Which, despite the salary increase, would suck. He wanted that partnership, he deserved it. Having convinced himself, he was ready.

Going inside, he found the four partners waiting, seated casually around the table. He gave a small smile and mentally began going over the empty office spaces in the executive wing.

She was waiting outside his door when he returned. "Well?"

"What do you think about the corner office? The one with all the windows?" he asked.

"You got it."

"Fuck yeah," he said as if there had never been any doubt in his mind. He was the best. End of story.

Over an early lunch, Brian listened with only half his mind to Cynthia's grandiose plans for their new suite. The other half was debating going out to celebrate or staying in. Or maybe both. Go out and stay in a hotel. Only, they'd stayed in so many hotels over the summer that spending an evening at home seemed like a luxury.

The afternoon shot with packing, he was able to steal away early and hit the grocery store. Got home around six and called Justin on his cell.


"Any idea when you're getting home?"

"Couple of hours. Why?"

"Hurry up."

"Any particular reason?"


"I could be there in an hour."

"Do it." Brian shut off the phone and got busy.

While it was true that he wasn't a great cook or even a good cook, he was a servicable cook and he could do justice to a tossed salad and a couple of steaks if he put his mind to it.

Following the advice of a most helpful sales associate at the supermarket, he'd picked up a bag of arugala, a red onion, one blood orange, and some blue cheese to make a simple salad; there were lemons and olive oil at home for the vinaigrette. The arugala washed and torn into bite-sized pieces, he peeled the orange and divided it into sections, sliced the onion, crumbled the blue cheese, threw all the salad stuff into a bowl, and mixed the vinaigrette. Then he set everything in the fridge and turned to the steaks.

First he made a simple rub of cracked pepper, sea salt, and freshly chopped rosemary. Seasoning the two inch and a half New York strip steaks, he set them aside and heated a couple tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet. Since Justin couldn't abide bloody rare meat, Brian cooked the steaks for about five minutes on each side until they were medium-rare, then covered them and set them aside while he made a sauce from the pan drippings. It was the one thing he'd learned from Ramon other than how to make a killer gazpacho. He had just stirred in a tablespoon of butter when Justin came through the door.

He had smelled the steaks the moment he'd stepped off the elevator. Brian had cooked. It had to be a special occasion then because the most he did in a good week was to help Justin by chopping vegetables or by staying out of his way entirely.

Justin kissed Brian, tasting the tangy sauce on his tongue. "What's up?"

"Get the salad, would you?"

Which meant he'd tell him later. After a suitable build-up. Always the ad man. Smiling, Justin dished up the salads and poured the wine. Took a seat and waited for Brian to bring the steaks.

Halfway through dinner, Justin thought he would explode. Brian still hadn't told him his news and, from all indications, didn't intend to. Finally, Justin gave in to his curiosity. "Brian, what's going on?"

The man smiled ruefully around a piece of steak. He'd hoped to, at least, finish his food before the questions began. "I was offered a partnership."

It's what Brian had wanted for so long. Justin beamed. "Are you excited?"

"Are you?"

Confused, he replied, "Yeah. Why wouldn't I be?"

"Because I'd be spending more time away from home: out-of-town trips, business dinners..."

"I thought when you made partner, you had other people do the work. People like you."

Boastfully, Brian said, "There are no people like me."

Justin shook his head. "Too much."

"If I accept, it'll mean doing my job now plus generating new business."

For the first time, Justin heard exactly what Brian was saying. "What do you mean, if you accept? Didn't you?"

"I told them I'd think about it." That was something he hadn't told Cynthia, that her plans for a move might be for naught because he had to talk to Justin first, had to be sure his partner understood what it meant.


"Look, it's a big step and..." He looked down at his half-finished meal, then back up again. "But we come first. So if this isn't good for us, then it's a no-go."

"This is a huge opportunity for you. I can't tell you not to do it."

"Yeah, you can. You're the only one who can."

He could tell Brian was serious. So he thought about it, thought about what it would mean for them, all of the ramifications and he said, "I want you to take it."

"You sure?"

"I know it'll mean that we might spend less time together. But it's not like I'm gonna be home all the time waiting for you either. With classes and work and the studio..." He smiled. "That's the price you pay for being successful. We'll just have to make the most of the time we can spend together."

Brian didn't speak for a moment, then he said, "Right now, that sounds great. But what's gonna happen six weeks down the road when we haven't had dinner together for a week because of our schedules? Or you're stressed out over a project but we can't talk about it because I'm heading out-of-town on a business trip?"

"I'll understand."

Knowing he wouldn't get any better or more honest answer out of the teen, Brian took him at his word. "Okay. Then we do it."

Serious talk over, Justin went over and perched on Brian's lap. Kissed him. "I'm happy for you."

"Yeah?" Brian asked playfully.

"Uh-huh." Justin nuzzled his neck, nipping his skin.

"Do me a favor?"

"Uh-huh." His neck really tasted good.

"Let me finish eating." He laughed and eased Justin from his lap. "I gotta keep my strength up."

Justin licked his lips from across the table. "I'm counting on it."

Debbie kissed him in the middle of his forehead leaving a bright red lip print on his skin which he immediately made Justin wipe off.

"So when's the party?" Em asked.

"What party?"

"The one to celebrate your promotion?"

Brian informed them that, "Justin and I had a private party last night."

"And he can still sit upright. Amazing."

Ted shuddered. "Information overload. That was way more than I ever wanted to know."

"We can at least have a drink at Woody's tonight," Mikey suggested.

"After all, it's not everyday you move up, two, three tax brackets," added Ted. "I'm gonna love doing your returns this year."

"Freak," said Michael.

"Totally pathetic," Brian commented.

"So, Woody's?" Michael asked.

"Whatever," he shrugged.

"And don't forget to let Mel and Lindsay know."

Justin promised, "I'll call them. He won't remember."

After the guys had all left, Justin remained behind to work the morning shift. Debbie watched him bus tables for a while before saying anything to him. "You okay, Sunshine?"


"You look a little down."

"Greasy plates depress me," he joked.

"Big step," she said.

"Busing tables?"

"Brian's promotion, smart ass." She popped him on the butt with her dish towel. "You okay with it?"

"He's worked really hard. He deserves a promotion."

"Which means he'll be working even harder."

Shades of his talk with Brian the night before came back to haunt him. Why was everyone so sure he couldn't handle Brian's partnership? "I told him I was happy for him and I am. We're not joined at the fucking hip."

She cut her eyes at him. "Watch it, buster."

"Sorry." He came clean. "I wish..."

"I know."

He consoled himself. "He won't always be as busy. Once he's proven himself, things will calm down."

And then you'll be the one hustling, she said to herself but she said nothing to him. He knew as well as she did. Better probably.

So they were waiting for the guys to show up, having gotten a pre-drinks drink, sitting in a booth, nursing it between them, Brian replaying their conversation from the previous night in his head. Still not believing Justin. Not that the teen had lied, just that he didn't understand the situation fully. Then again, maybe Justin had been right, they would both be busy and maybe his promotion wouldn't cause the problems Brian had envisioned. Maybe he was worrying over nothing. He hoped so. They'd begun to gather positive momentum on their trip to Europe and he wanted to maintain it. But at what cost? His promotion? Could he give up the partnership if it came to that? It wouldn't. They'd find a way to balance work with their home life.

Home life. Brian grimaced and covered the expression with a sip from their glass. Two years ago, a home life meant lying down for a few hours between work and the clubs, no more. Now it meant responsibilities, to Justin, to Gus. It meant thinking about what was best for them instead of only figuring out how to get his needs met. It meant realizing that they did meet his needs, his two little boys.

Justin caught him smiling. "What?" He shook his head and the teenager didn't pursue it. "Happy?"


"Did I tell you I was proud of you?"

Brian pulled Justin closer. "Nope."



"Well, I am."


"Positive," and Justin kissed his lover, which was how Emmett and Ted found them, arms about one another and oblivious to their surroundings.

"Oh Jeez," moaned Ted. "Must you?"

They parted. "Think of it as continuing education. Yours," added Brian. He stuck out his tongue. "This is my tongue. This is my tongue in Justin's mouth," and he kissed his partner. "Any questions?"

Em raised his hand. "Can you get it all the way to the back?"

"Tickling the tonsils," Justin replied and again Ted groaned.

Mikey and Jeff arrived just as the girls did and the reporter ordered a round on drinks. "On me."

"Right here, sweetie?" asked Em. "It's a bit public but..."

"Back off, Scarlett," Michael warned.

"So," Mel inquired, "got your new office all picked out?"

"Corner office, windows on two sides. Sweet."

"Even Cynthia's got a window," added Justin.

"What you gonna do with all that extra money?" Ted asked, visions of smart investments dancing around his head.

"Let's see... new place--"

"New place?" repeated Lindz. "When?"

"Next year. Early," he replied to Justin's delight. "Depends on how fast I can sell the loft."

"I'm surprised the loft isn't on the historic gay registry. 'Most fucks ever recorded in a private residence,' " said Em.

"Isn't there a counter over the door?" Ted asked.

"Over 3,000 served," Michael laughed.

"Fuck all of you," growled Brian.

"What else?" asked Lindsay, returning to the original topic of conversation.

"Maybe a motor vehicle for a certain someone." Justin's eyes widened. "Used."

"I'll take it." Justin couldn't believe it. A car...

"What kind, baby?" Mel wanted to know.

"Jeep. Cherokee." He'd had it picked out for a long time now.

Em frowned. "Not a very sexy car."

Justin explained. "It's got room for my artwork, the groceries, and Gus."

Michael understood. "A family car. I wanna be there when the two of you show up at a PTA meeting."

"That'll never fuckin happen," Brian assured them.

Lindsay asked, "Aren't you concerned about Gus' education?"

"Yeah. His sex education."

"He's your kid," said Michael, "I'm sure he'll be way ahead of the curve."

Driving home, Justin reached over and laid his hand on Brian's thigh. "You're really going to buy me a car?"

"Can't keep sharing this one."

Justin beamed. "Dark blue." Then it hit him. "What about you?"

"I've got this."

"But it's a company car."

"And I'm part owner of the company now."

"You could buy a Porsche or a Ferrarri." He could just see Brian zipping down the highway in some fast, low-slung, sex machine and he instantly regretted making the suggestion. Like Brian needed any help attracting unwanted attention.

But Brian surprised him. "I like the Jeep. It suits me."

Unlike last year when he'd floundered, unsure what to do for the memorial show, on its anniversary Justin had a crystal clear picture in his mind. Which he refused to share with anyone, not even his partner. Used to the ways of artists from his friendship with Lindsay, Brian didn't pester him. After all, he'd see it soon enough. Of course, going to the show meant seeing Xavier and Trevor again, something he was anxious to avoid. Being in the same room with the teen again at the Art Department reception had been a trial, one he was not eager to repeat. But he had to go to the anniversary show, there was no question of not attending. The only questions that remained were 1) How would he get through an entire evening having to make nice with Xavier and Trevor? and 2) What would he wear? And maybe a third question: Would his mom come?

She and Justin had been getting along relatively well. Truthfully, they hadn't really spent a great deal of time together as he and Justin had been gone for a month that summer but they seemed to do all right at the going away party Lindz had thrown. Maybe Joanie would consider coming. She had yet to see Justin's work outside of her visits to the loft when she'd blushed every time she saw the sketch Justin had done of Brian nude in bed. If she could see some of the ones they didn't display. . . Or his photographs of Justin.

Smiling at the memory of taking those photos, he made up his mind and reached for the phone, hoping he could catch Justin between classes.

He heard them before he saw them: Brian and Gus talking in the doorway. "Hey!" he called out from the kitchen and heard the baby answer.


Then the patter of little feet and a pair of bright hazel eyes looked up at him. He picked up the toddler and exchanged kisses. "Hey, Gus."

"Hey." And then his attention was drawn to the steaming pot and the aluminum covered pan on the stove. "What dat?"


Brian returned from putting away Gus' stuff and hanging up his leather jacket. "Brisket."

"You sure she'll like it?"

"She'll love it. Isn't that right, Gus?" and he took the little boy and carried him to the livingroom and put in the tape Lindsay had sent with him. "What the fuck?" he said when the program began and a freaky-looking little girl named Wimzie appeared. "Wimzie's House?"

"Wize," said Gus and he clapped, loving it.

"She's half bird, half dragon," Justin explained.

"O-kay." He stood looking at the show for a few moments. "Need any help?"

"Nope." Justin came up behind him and waited for his kiss which Brian bestowed upon him forthwith. "Everything's done."

Brian inhaled deeply. He loved Justin's brisket. "Mmm. . ."

"You don't think it's too spicy do you? For your mom?"

"My mom thinks ketchup is spicy."

"I left out half the chilies."

Gus shouted, "Dada!" and pointed to the screen where Whimzie and a baby dragon were talking.

"Her brother," said Justin.

"So what about Sonny Boy?"

"Turkey frank and peas."

"Yum," said Brian without much enthusiasm.

"To him, yeah." Brian lifted Justin's arm and checked his watch. "She'll be here soon," he reassured him.

"Maybe we should have invited your mom too."

"Nope. This is good. Just the four of us. So we can talk."

Fortunately, Joanie didn't arrive until after Gus' tape was over cause Brian had foreseen a major hissy fit coming on if he was interrupted.

Coming in slowly, she looked around cautiously as she was wont to do, and Brian and Justin suppressed their laughter. As if they'd have dildos hanging from the ceiling or something. They were clean and neatly arranged in the toy box where they belonged.

Then Gus came running. "Nana!" and she grabbed him and forgot to be nervous or uncomfortable. He'd been right to go and get the baby. They might actually manage to have a pleasant family dinner. Something they'd rarely had while he was growing up.

Although a lot of their time was devoted to Gus and his antics, they did manage to carry on an adult conversation.

Joanie was telling them how lonely it got around the house even with her church activities and with Claire and her two boys dropping in, her not-so-subtle hint to Brian that he should visit more and that he should go see his sister.

"You need a hobby," he told her.

"Or maybe a job," suggested Justin. "What did you do before you got married?"

"Went to high school. I've never worked."

"Oh." Justin looked to Brian to see if he'd goofed.

"It's never too late to start," Brian said.

"And do what?" she asked, genuinely baffled.

Justin asked, "What do you like to do?"

Brian bit his tongue. She liked to drink. All the Kinneys did.

"I used to like to sew. But my eyesight's not as sharp as it once was."

"What else?" Justin turned as Gus presented him with a piece of hot dog. He'd cut them into bite-sized bits. "No, thank you. You eat it." So Gus did, chewing with satisfaction.

"You were good at decorating the tree," Brian said. "Maybe you could be a Christmas tree decorator. Only have to work one season of the year," he laughed but Justin's eyes lit up.

"You could be a designer. Do displays and stuff for department stores and special occasions. Weddings. Commercials." Brian gave Justin a look. Oh no, it seemed to say.

"I wouldn't even know how to go about doing that."

"But you think you'd like it?"

She touched the nape of her neck and smiled faintly. "Maybe."

Justin glanced at Brian. Waited.

He sighed. "You'd need a portfolio."

"What's that?"

"Samples of your work. Pictures." He took a deep breath. "You do the sample displays and I'll take the pictures. And if they're good, I'll put out the word."

Joanie's eyes glistened and she speared a last piece of brisket from her plate. "Did you cook, Justin?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"It's delicious."

Refraining from kissing the teen, Joanie did hug Justin as she left and thanked him for a lovely dinner.

"I helped," Brian reminded her. "I paid for the food."

Justin agreed and kissed him. "You're a very good helper." And he noticed that Joanie didn't flinch. Well. . .

Gus put down, the two partners cleaned up, then snuggled on the couch, an Andres Segovia CD playing softly, the delicate notes of classical Spanish guitar floating in the air.

"So, what do you think?"

"That you're a genius."


"And that you're a good son to help your mom out."

"Wasn't my suggestion," he reminded Justin.

The teen smiled ruefully. "You don’t mind, do you?"

"I'll think of a suitable punishment later."

Justin pecked him on the lips, the quick kiss lengthening. "How about right now?"

"Gus is in our bed."

"Who needs a bed?"

Who indeed? So, with a brief trip into the bedroom to get a few necessary items, they made love on the couch, smothering their cries with succulent kisses

After their late entrance to the reception the two men decided to show up on time for the 9/11 memorial exhibition, a resolution greatly aided by the fact that Justin's stomach was slightly upset which meant no fooling around. Nothing Brian said or did could calm his nerves, however, so the man gave up and hoped the audience reaction was kind. He didn't think Justin could take any negative criticism at this point.

The moment they walked into the exhibition space, Brian knew they were in trouble. There, with Xavier, was a young man who could only have been Trey. Justin's related description, gotten second-hand from Xavier, had been accurate down to the last dreadlock. He was beautiful and the two of them made a magnificent pair. Brian looked down at Justin to gauge his reaction and saw something disturbing in his face: jealousy and anger and he had to pretend that he didn't see Justin's response in order to keep the delicate peace. So, lightly, he said, "Looks like Xavier's summer fuck is here."

"Obviously he's more than that."

"So he'll be an autumn fuck too. Who cares? Long as Xavier stays out of our hair," and with those words he betrayed himself and alerted Justin to the fact that Brian wasn't pleased with him either.

"Brian. . . I'm sorry." He faced his lover so that Brian could see the truth in his eyes as well as hear it in his voice. "I don't care about Xavier and Trey."

"Then what is it?"

"It's that. . . " He paused, then tried to put it into words. "It's like nothing ever happened. It's like all of that shit we went through didn't phase him at all. He just went home for the summer and found the love of his life."


"You almost died."

"But I didn't. We're here together. We went on a fuckin' fabulous trip this summer and had the time of our lives. So what if Xavier is happy? Let him be happy." And then, although he couldn’t have said where he found the charity that allowed him to say so, he added, "Besides, he didn't have it easy either, Baby. He loved you. Probably still loves you. Probably always will."

Justin digested his words. "I don't deserve you."

"Well, I'm used to you now so. . ."

"Shut up." Crisis averted, he waved at Xavier and the teen waved back, relief spread across his features. After the briefest of hesitations, Justin walked towards them, Brian at his side. "Hey."

"J." Lift of his head. "Brian." Didn't wait for an acknowledgement. "This is Trey. Trey, Justin and Brian."

Having given Justin the once-over, Trey looked at Brian and nodded, had the gesture returned with a wry twist of Brian's lips.

"I'm thirsty," Brian announced.

Justin immediately took advantage of the opening to say, "See you guys later." That was enough for one function. Wouldn't want to overdo it.

"Later, J."

Walking away, Justin moved closer to Brian and slipped his hand in his . "I love you," he said without looking up at his partner, the feel of Brian's ring against his fingers reassuring.

"You should. I'm fucking fantastic."

Justin bumped against him and laughed but he didn't disagree.

"So," Em said as he sauntered over to Brian and Justin, Ted in his wake, "who's the hottie with Xavier?"

"His boyfriend," replied Justin. "Trey."

"Tray, huh? I'd like to get him in an upright position."

Shaking his head, Ted explained, "It's Trey, T-R-E-Y."

"You spell it however you want, honey, it still means fuckalicious to me."

Mikey came with Vic and Deb as Jeff was arriving a little later with a camera crew to cover the show as part of a WPXI special about 9/11. Like they had last year, Lindsay and Mel brought Gus and prayed he wouldn't go itno a sing-song as the Dean spoke. He especially loved to sing, "Dada, Dada, Dada, Dada," until Mel thought she'd go insane. But the baby remained quiet, complacent in his daddy's arms, while the Dean made a few introductory remarks, wanting, as he said, "To let the art speak for itself."

Promising Rennie that he'd go see her stuff as soon as he'd seen Justin's, Brian ordered the teen to guide them to his work.

"Okay, but- -"

"No buts, no introductions, no excuses," said Brian.

Jenn agreed. "Honey, it'll be wonderful. It always is."

"I know," he told him. "I just wanted you to be prepared. Come on." Ignoring the confused looks on their faces, he led the way to a partitioned section where they were confronted with three blank walls. "Wait."

First a single phrase appeared on one of the walls: 9/11. Faded. Then a shadow fell across the pristine surface. It looked like a pile of rubble, like buildings that had topped from on high. A second shadow replaced it, of a woman with her arms upraised. A third shadow, flames flickering. Then a fourth shadow, of a man carrying a woman. The fifth shadow, a plane approaching a building. The sixth, people looking up at the sky. Six scenes suggesting the horror and devastation wrought by the attacks on September 11th.

Music began to play, a mournful threnody of keyboards. He'd gotten the idea of using that piece while watching Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me with Brian and had gone out and bought the soundtrack the very next day. The music having started, the second wall came to life in concert with the first. A phrase appeared on it: 24/7, followed by a pile of multicolored building blocks which cast the first shadow on the other wall. The second picture was of a woman shouting in exultation, her hands raised in triumph. The third, a fire in a fireplace. A groom carrying his bride over the threshold. King Kong seated on the top of the World Trade Center while military jets approached. Kids in a courtyard staring up at sky writing that said: "J, I love you. B." Six scenes from everyday life. A final phrase appeared on both screens: Life, 2002.

Debbie voiced the opinion of them all in a hush, "Wow. Honey, that was something else."

No one else spoke for a while and then they quietly drifted away in pairs and groups, to think private thoughts until they were ready to share them. Soon only Brian and Justin remained.

The teen looked up at his older lover, mute, waiting for Brian to break the silence.

"Will you still love me," Brian asked, "when you're rich and famous?"

"Long as you've got your looks."

Brian waited until the piece had played through again to say, "This is new for you."

"Well, I'm taking a video class this semester so I thought I'd see if animation was something I'd really enjoy. I mean, I've always wanted to be a computer animator, but I've never really done it, you know?"


"I love it." Then he told Brian how hard it had been to keep it from him when everyday he'd wanted to come home and share what he'd done, what he'd learnt. "This is pretty simple though. Just a few pictures, some stop-motion photography, but I can't wait to do more."

Brian held out his arm. "You wanna see what the also-rans managed to scrape up?"



Laughing, Justin took his arm.

Near the middle of the evening, they returned to his space to find a surprise there: Joanie sitting on the lone bench in the room, watching the two screens intently. They sat next to her, watching as a lone tear rolled down her face.

"You forget," she said softly, no preface, no preamble, " about the little things." After a moment, she continued. "I remember Brian coming home one day when he was just a little boy, he couldn’t have been more than six, in the first grade, I think. And he came into the kitchen and handed me this picture of a leaf. Children used to make them by coloring a real leaf and then- -"

"We'd put the leaf between two sheets of wax paper and the teacher would use a warm iron to heat the wax in the crayons and it would all stick together," Brian said, not believing he'd remembered that.

"It was purple. That used to be your favorite color," his mother said. "I hung it on the refrigerator. It was so beautiful."

And they sat in the darkened room with shadows and pictures flickering around them and reminisced about the past and Brian promised himself that he would not forget again.

The first ones through the door when the store opened, Brian and Justin hoped to get their shopping done before the hordes arrived and, more importantly, before the hordes' children. Why parents brought their kids to toy stores escaped Brian entirely. Didn't parents realize that toy companies hired corps of marketing experts whose sole purpose in life was to sell your kid (a person with no income but with the lung capacity of a Metropolitan opera diva) some piece of worthless junk? It amazed him, it really did, that parents could be so gullible. Besides, if the kids came, the parents couldn't play.

People who knew him wouldn't have believed it, that Brian Kinney was in a toy store playing with his teenaged partner: grabbing pump action water guns from the shelves and staging mock wars in the aisles; pretending to be He-Man and Skeletor, battling for the future of Eternia; even having tea with the Powerpuff Girls and Mojo Jojo.

Brian said, doing his best impersonation, "I am Mojo Jojo. I do not want tea. Tea, I do not want."

And Justin pretended to be Buttercup and forced Mojo to drink the imaginary tea. Secretly, Brian admired Buttercup.

An hour later they still hadn't gotten Gus anything but they'd picked up a Harry Potter Nimbus 2000 for themselves. It was a play broom which made sounds and vibrated. The latter quality had been extolled on's website as bringing its users hours of fun. A lady stopped and examined one too. "For your little boy?" she asked and Brian grinned, looking at Justin and thought of the hours of fun he and Bountiful Bottom would have with it.


Finally, after going down most of the aisles, Brian found it. A bright red and yellow convertible with a handle in the back that parents could use to guide their tots while the toddlers powered the vehicle with their feet. It even had room for Beh. The baby would love it.

Still, he looked longingly at the baby Jeep. Read wistfully the age recommendations: three and above. "Not yet," he promised.

As usual he and Justin ended up leaving the store with more than the required and requested one toy. Plus they stopped by the Discovery Zone and got him some intellectually stimulating but fun games and activities suitable for two-year-olds.

"I can't believe Gus is two," Justin said over lunch at their favorite Italian restaurant. It served Tuscan-style food and reminded them of their time in Florence.

"We've known each other for two years."

"Seems longer," Justin said and Brian raised a brow.


"I mean, so much has happened, it seems like it should have taken longer."

"Hard living."

Justin glanced at Brian out of the corner of his eye. "Be our one year anniversary in three months or so."

"Yep." Took a sip of wine. "Do something special?" he asked and Justin shrugged. "O-kay. You think about it," Brian suggested, "and let me know. Within reason."

"I thought you were a high-powered executive now. Partner in a prestigious public relations firm. Corner office, big salary- -"

"Within reason," he reiterated. "We'll be looking at a mortgage soon."

Justin's heart rate increased. "How soon?"

"As soon as things at work settle down and I can concentrate on something other than work. Speaking of which. . . " He checked Justin's watch. "I need to go in this afternoon."

"Brian. . ."

"Just for a couple of hours."

"Fine. I need to go to the studio anyway. Project due in a week and I've got major work to do on it." Which wasn't a complete lie. The project was due soon but he was already four-fifths of the way done. All that was left was a little touch-up work.

Only once he was at the office all he did was think about Justin for the first few minutes. Walking away from the Jeep as Justin waved goodbye, he had very nearly turned around and gone back.

But he did have work to do. Which wasn't getting done if he was sitting there thinking about his partner. And the sooner he finished, the sooner he could call Justin and they could go home. As he looked down to focus on the papers in front of him, he glanced a photo on his desk, the one he'd taken of them on the couch, Justin sitting before him, his arms around the teen. It still seemed unreal sometimes, how much his life had changed. A year ago, he and Justin were just taking their first hesitant steps towards being something more than lovers. Justin had just started school and was discovering new things, new people, and they were both trying desperately to figure out how to balance all of it. He smiled. Guess things hadn't changed that much in that regard.

He closed his eyes for a moment, smelling the delicious white bean and Swiss chard soup that they'd eaten at the restaurant, recalling similar fare that they'd had in a restaurant near the Uffizi. He couldn't wait to go back to Europe. Next time they wanted to go to Greece, Austria, and Germany. Maybe next year, for the Christmas holidays, they could go. Spend their anniversary in some swank hotel in Vienna or Salzburg.

None of which was going to help him get his work done any sooner. So, thrusting all thoughts of Justin, Europe, food, and anniversaries from his mind, he opened his folder and began to read hoping that, for once, Bob and Brad would astound him with their advertising genius.


With very little left to do on his project, Justin wandered the halls in hopes that Xavier or Rennie or one of the guys on the Diversity Council was around to hang out with for an hour or so. That's how long he figured Brian would be able to take being at work on the weekend. He wished. Cause when Brian was focused on an account, he could literally lose track of time and spend hours on it without ever noticing. It used to make Justin angry, that Brian could block out the world, including him, and concentrate solely on work for two, three hours at a time, saying nothing to him, unaware, it seemed, of his presence. Sometimes he had felt as if he wasn't even there.

Peeking into Xavier's studio, he saw his friend puzzling over two pieces of his sculpture. Even now, after all that had happened between them, he admired Xavier as an artist, admired his dedication, his creativity, his mastery of the form even at such a young age. Professor Janson had said more than once that Xavier was an example of what applying yourself could accomplish. Xavier worked every day in his studio for a couple of hours even if he didn't have an assignment. He read about sculptors, about different techniques, different cultures; he was always learning. Once Xavier had told him that he was afraid of not being able to know everything that he needed to know.

Justin smiled and left him to his work. Went to look for Rennie. But she wasn't in her studio. Probably out with her feminist art group fomenting trouble. Not that they ever committed any serious offenses against the establishment, but they did like to write letters and draft petitions and hang banners with witty yet obfuscating slogans on them.

He guessed he was on his own then. Just as he was about to return to the studio, an idea struck him. Perfect.

Gus was always happy to see Justin and always happy to go to the park. With the soft top on the Jeep down, he could fit the baby's car in the backseat next to Gus' car seat. And away they went.

With Justin walking behind him, Gus made a circuit of the playground, waving to strangers and babbling to Beh. Just like his Dada, Gus was a natural flirt. Finally, he ran out of steam and Justin pushed him over to a bench and parked the car. With Beh in his lap, Gus started to nod. A shadow fell across them. Justin looked up.

A woman stood there. "Your little brother?" she asked although Gus looked nothing like Justin.

"No. He's. . . my partner's son."

"He's adorable. Two?"

"End of the month."

"Well, enjoy them while they're cute. Cause they grow out of it," she said and turned and signaled two children maybe five or six. Then walked off.

Taking Gus out of the car, Justin pushed it back to the Jeep and loaded them up. Time to take the baby home. "He's. . . my partner's son." The words stayed with him as he strapped Gus into his car seat. Not his child but Brian's. And Brian had given away his parental rights which meant legally he was no one, which meant what for Justin? That he was less than no one.

He'd just fastened his seat belt when his cell phone rang. "Hello?"

"Hey. You ready?"

"I've got Gus. I was just taking him home."

"Keep him. We'll take him back after dinner."

"Can't." Mel and Lindz had been adamant that the baby be back before six so that they could take him with them when they went over to Mel's aunt's house. "He's having dinner with his mommies."

"Swing by and get me first. Least I can see him before we take him home."

Brian was waiting in the parking garage when he arrived. He hopped in the passenger's seat and leaned over to kiss his young lover. Craned his neck to look back at the sleeping baby.

By the time they got to the Munchers' place, Gus had awakened and fussed to get out of the car seat so that he could sit with his daddy but Brian refused to release him until they had arrived. While Justin took the car out of the Jeep, Brian freed the baby and suffered being slobbered over.

"Hey, Sonny Boy."


"You and Justin have a good time in the park?" But the baby was too busy cozying up to him to answer. Brian dreaded handing him over to Lindz or Mel. Grand hissy fit on its way.

Justin walked behind the man and his son thinking that no matter how close he and Gus became, they would never be as close as the baby and his father and it saddened him. And then Gus looked up and over his daddy's shoulder and waved.


And the teen smiled and moved closer and kissed Gus. Kissed Brian as the man turned to look at them both.


Justin stroked the nape of his neck. "Hey."

"What do you say we go home and. . ." and he curled the tip of his tongue.

"I say," and Justin kissed him again.

"Oh Christ," said Mel as she opened the door. "Give me Gus before you corrupt him."

Brian grinned at the baby. "Too late. Isn't that right, Sonny Boy?" And Gus gave him a last sloppy kiss and laughed.

His meeting with the Xander, Inc. people had gone well and he was leaning back in his office chair admiring his view of downtown Pittsburgh. Okay, admiring was probably a bit strong. Wasting time was more like it. He was tempted to make a paper airplane and fly it out the window. Just as he reached for a sheet of paper, the phone rang, saving him. Cynthia. She must be psychic. "Yeah."

"Kenneth Harris on the line."

"Thanks." Waited until she'd switched him over. "Kenneth."

"Brian. How are you?"

"Good. You?"

"Can't complain."

"What can I do for you?"

"Need a favor."


"I'm going to a conference, giving a presentation on Hyperion's corporate image and I'd like you to come along with me, provide your viewpoint, and talk about the ad campaign you put together for us."

"And cultivate some potential clients," added Brian. "Sounds good." As long as I don't have to fight you off, he thought. "When is it?"

"That's the catch. It's this month."

"Tough but doable. What dates?" Got out his calendar. If it were later this week or early next week, he could do it. Take some juggling to do but...

"The twenty-seventh through the twenty-ninth."

Gus' birthday was on the 29th, his party was on the 28th. "That's a problem."

"Prior committment?"

"My son's birthday is that weekend."

"How old?"


Kenneth gave a little laugh. "He won't remember."

I will. And Justin and Lindsay and Mel and everyone else who was there. They'd all remember how he ditched Gus' birthday. "I can't."

"Golden opportunity. Especially for a brand new junior partner."

Cynthia must have told him. "Kenneth--"

"Think about it, and let me know if I need to reserve a room for you. Course, push comes to shove, you could always bunk with me."

"Ah, yeah." He hung up and debated telling the other partners about the offer and decided he had to. Which meant they'd pressure him to go and then what? There was no way in hell he could miss Gus' party and birthday altogether. At least if he wanted to continue being the senior partner in Kinney and Taylor. The teen would never let him forget it. Even if he never brought it up again (fat chance), Brian knew he'd feel his disappointment year after year.

But what about his other partners? It was an opportunity to network, to take advantage of Kenneth's extensive contacts in the very lucrative world of biotechnology. How could they turn that down?

"You can't turn this opportunity down," Ryder said in the privacy of his office. "It's just what you need to start out on the right foot."

"It's my kid's birthday, Marty. Any other time and I'd go in a second."

"Any other time and it wouldn't be this time."

"We could send someone else."

"Harris asked you. Besides, Hyperion is your baby, from the ground up. There is no one else." Ryder softened his approach. "Listen, I know it's tough but that's what being a partner means. We're counting on you."

And what does it mean to be someone else's life partner and to have a family that counts on you? Brian stood and left.

"You've been quiet," Justin said over dinner.


"Then why's half your food still left on the plate?"

There was no point in putting it off. "Got a call from Kenneth Harris."


"He wants me to go with him to a conference."

"Seperate rooms?"


"So what's wrong?"

"It's on Gus' birthday."

"Then you told him no." Justin stood and began clearing the table. No fucking way...


He stopped. "You can't. Brian..."

"It's important."

"So's Gus' birthday."

"I know but--"

"But what? It's more important to go to a conference with Kenneth Harris?"

"I didn't say that! Justin, it's business."

"So that's how it's gonna be? Your friends and family come last?"

"I warned you, I told you it would be tough."

"Tough I can take but this is-- It's like we don't matter at all. We didn't even discuss it."

"Justin, you're not being fair."

"Fuck fairness! I don't have to be fair because it doesn't fucking matter, does it? Your mind's made up."

"This isn't getting us anywhere."

"You're right. It's not." Carrying the plates to the kitchen, he began cleaning them off. Brian went in to help him. "I don't need any help," he said coldly.

Angrily, Brian muttered, "Fuck this," and stormed off.

It was the first time they'd gone to bed angry with one another since returning from Europe and it was disconcerting to lie side-by-side in uncomfortable silence.

Finally Brian spoke. "What do you want me to do?"

Justin didn't answer for a while. Then he said, "I don't care."

Tired, feeling trapped, Brian replied, "Fine."

Lying there, still awake, all Justin could think was that Trey had come all the way to Pitts from DC to be with Xavier and see his work, not certain if they were going to last beyond fall, and Brian was gong to miss his son's birthday. Xavier had a lover who lived in another fucking state and he saw more of him and talked to him more than he saw or talked to Brian and they shared the same living space. And the more he thought about it, the angrier he got, until the anger was all he could feel and it scared him.

Lindsay looked up from the banner she was coloring. "You're not coming to the party?"

"Conference. Last minute thing. I couldn't get out of it," he said and Justin got up and went outside to play with Gus and Mel.

"Obviously, Justin doesn't agree," Lindsay said.

"Well, it's been two days now and he's said five words to me total."


"I guess you're mad too."

"Disappointed but not mad." She laid her hand over his. "Bri, I know I can count on you and I know you'd be there if you could. Justin knows it too. He'll come around."

"He practically accused me of going just to be with Kenneth."

"He didn't mean it."

"It was all I could do not to mention Xavier."

"Oh, no." That would not have been a good idea.

"Yeah, my brain kicked in just in time. That would have been a major, fucking mistake." He laid his head down on his hands. Looked up at her. "What am I gonna do?"

"Be patient."

"Not one of my virtues."

His suitcase and briefcase packed, Brian found Justin seated on the couch and reading; he didn't have class until later in the morning. "Should I take a cab or what?" Waited and got no response. "I guess I'll see you late Sunday night," he said softly.

The moment he was gone, Justin got up and went to the door. He wanted to run downstairs and hop in the Jeep and follow Brian's cab until he caught up with him, so he could apologize, so he could say goodbye, but he didn't. He just stood there staring at the cold, grey metal.

It felt strange to be getting on an airplane without Justin. He kept turning to his side, thinking the teen would be there, and he wasn't. As the plane taxied to the runway, he actually listened to the flight attendant explain the safety precautions just to take his mind off of Justin. Having refused the breakfast service and the offer of a beverage, he fretted. Why the fuck had it been so hard for them to come to an agreement about this? Why had they behaved as they had? In a last ditch effort to think about something else, he pulled the in-flight magazine from the back of the seat in front of him and opened it, flipped through the pages aimlessly. And then he saw it.

A tribute to the victims of September 11th. And he shut his eyes until the feeling of vertigo passed. Christ. How many of those people had died without ever having had the chance to say goodbye to the people they loved? How many of them had argued with a spouse or friend or child before going to work that day or stepping onto an airplane? What words had they left unsaid? Or angrily said? Trembling, he took out his phone and dialed Justin's cell.


"It's me." Silence. "This was wrong."


"Us, leaving things like this." He hoped no one else in First Class could hear his conversation, he didn't want to alarm anyone. "I shouldn't have left without us talking. You never know what might happen--"


He could tell Justin understood, that the implications of the situation had hit him too. He could hear the fear in the teenager's voice. "I'm okay."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm okay. I swear. And I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm missing Gus' party and I'm sorry that I'm not there with you." And he heard Justin sniffling. "Baby... Baby, don't. Don't cry."

"I'm sorry."

"I know." He swallowed. "We just have to do better. Okay?"

Sniffle. "I promise. I love you."

"Me too. Call you tonight."

"When you get there."

"When I get there," he amended. "Later."


The connection severed, he closed his eyes and leaned back in his seat.

Kenneth met him at the airport looking as dapper and handsome as ever, obviously pleased to see Brian and prepared to make reparations for any inconvenience he might have caused the ad exec. "Lunch, anywhere you want."

"It's up to you," replied Brian. "Hold on a sec." Getting out his cell he made good on his promise to call Justin. "Hey. Yeah, I'm here. No problems. Okay." Smiled. "Later." Shut down the phone. "So? Lunch."

"Everything okay with Justin?"

"Fine. I'm starving."

They dined at some obviously exclusive restaurant but Brian paid little attention to his surroundings. If Justin were here with him, they would have both been soaking up every detail. Instead, he and Kenneth talked business. Although they'd exchanged notes over the past week and a half and collaboratively created a powerpoint presentation, they'd both been too busy to have more than brief conversations, so that at the end of lunch Brian would have been hard-pressed to say what he'd eaten.

"The opening ceremony's this afternoon and there's a dinner tonight. Couple of presentations today. It'll be good to go to those, get a sense of how boring they are. It'll boost your confidence."

Brian lifted a brow. "That seem like a problem to you? My confidence?"

Laughing, Kenneth agreed. "Not particularly. It's one of the reasons I like you so much."

To move them away from potentially dangerous territory, Brian added, "And because I don't waste your money."

"True." Kenneth studied the man across from him, very aware of Brian's tactics. As if he'd suddenly remembered something important, he raised his water glass. "A toast. To your partnership. Congratulations."

Brian did the same. "Thanks." They touched glasses and took a token sip.

"So, are you in charge of cultivating business in the gay community?"

Brian chuckled. "I don't think the firm's ready for the Rainbow Division. Unless all the accounts are as lucrative as yours."


"Just not probable." Thank you, Ted Schmidt. "Besides, I don't want to be pigeon-holed."

"They obviously think you're a whiz at client cultivation."

"Yeah, but it hasn't decreased my regular workload any. I'm still in there pitching ideas, supervising on mock-ups."

"The work never ends. I still do R&D even though I'm the fucking president and CEO. But," he answered Brian, "it's worth the perks."

"And those would be?" he asked in all seriousness.

"The money--"

"Which I don't have time to spend."

"New digs."

"The office is nice."

"No, I mean a new home."

"No time to go looking."

"Yet. Give yourself a few months to settle into the new position. And learn to delegate," he advised Brian. "It'll save you a lot of restless nights."

Brian snorted. "You've obviously never met Bob and Brad." Shook his head. "I'll manage somehow." Finished his water. "Or go crazy one."

He and Kenneth took the elevator down to the lobby, having dressed for dinner, Brian looking quite delicious in a natty grey suit that brought out the green in his eyes, something that Kenneth didn't fail to notice. As they walked to the banquet hall, Brian caught Harris looking at him more than once and he wondered how long it would take before the man made a pass at him.

At least the speeches were short and the dinner was actually edible, something he had expected as biotechnology was a rich field and it stood to reason they could afford the best. Still, you never knew.

They shared their table up front with three other couples. Three hetero couples. As Harris leaned in to give Brian the low-down on each of the head honchos--one a woman--Brian surprised and impressed him by knowing who all of them were and who currently handled their advertising accounts. "I do my homework," Brian said with a wide grin.

"So, I suppose you knew all about me the first time we met?"

"Not everything," he confessed. Least not until Kenneth had opened the door and his gaydar had gone off.

"I try to keep a low profile."

"Works. So no one knows?"

"Some do. Enough, I suppose."

Dinner over, a band came out and began to play old standards. The couples left to dance.

Devilishly, Brian said, "You're not going to ask me to dance?"

Kenneth waved at the crowd. "Not exactly my scene."

"Maybe I'll go find a more willing partner," threatened Brian.

"You wouldn't." Brian stood and Kenneth caught his arm. "Jesus, you're fearless."

"Life is short." He held out his hand and suddenly he remembered how he and Justin had walked out onto a potentially hostile dance floor and he started to withdraw his offer but if there was one lesson that episode had driven home, it was the importance of standing up for yourself, no matter what.

Kenneth accepted the dare and they walked onto the floor and found a space all to themselves. Aware of the eyes that watched them, Kenneth was, at first, a little stiff but then he began to forget about them and to concentrate on his partner and he started to enjoy himself; more than that, the stares eventually fed his enjoyment and he laughed as they performed for the crowd. "You're something else," he told Brian.

"I know."

When they returned to the table, instead of being shunned, the other couples complimented them on their dancing and then the biotech people began to discuss business while the spouses played catch-up, having met at similiar functions before. Brian started to feel very much out of place. He missed Justin. But then he heard Kenneth say his name and he turned and was drawn into their conversation.

Walking back to their rooms, Kenneth said suddenly, "Come work for me."


"You're amazing. You had them eating out of your hand."

"Seduction's my specialty. That's why I went into advertising."

Thinking he was joking at first, Kenneth started to laugh and then he realized Brian was serious and that amused him even more. "If those women had any idea, they'd lock up their husbands tonight."

"I'm a virtuous man."

"They're not." He brushed against Brian by mistake and tried to ignore the throbbing in his temples.

Don't spoil this, Brian whispered silently to him. Go to your room and forget about me. They stopped at his door. "Night."

Kenneth paused before speaking. "Night." Moved on towards his room.

Brian opened the door and shut it quickly, not waiting to see if Kenneth had looked back or not. Checked the clock. It was too late to call Justin. He had work and the party tomorrow and needed his rest.

As he layed in bed, watching the sunlight fill the loft, Justin was acutely aware of being alone. He'd gone to bed alone last night, he'd go to bed alone tonight, and he'd get up alone in the morning. But Brian would be home tomorrow night and he wouldn't be alone anymore. Until the next business trip.

He couldn't believe how angry he'd been with Brian, with the firm, and especially with Kenneth. Although he'd reconciled with Brian, he was still angry with Harris because he couldn't believe the man's interest in Brian was purely business. He had an idea that Brian would probably have to fend off the biotech exec at some point in their trip. He smiled thinking of how very aware Brian was of Harris' interest in him. And while he wouldn't encourage it, Brian wouldn't do anything to lessen his appeal. He'd never appear looking less than his best, never turn off the charm, never stop being what he was: seductive. Beautiful eyes, luscious lips, and a sharp mind that was his sexiest feature. That was his lover, his partner. His. Harris had better back off.

Just thinking about Brian made him hard. God, he'd only been gone a day and it already felt like a fucking week and it felt like it was going to be another week until he was home. Keeping his hands on top of the covers, Justin took a few deep breaths. He could wait.

Work had dragged on to the point where he was about to do some guy serious bodily harm with the Blue Plate Special because he'd asked for a bottle of ketchup. Coming to the rescue, Deb supplied the needed condiment, served the Blue Plate Special (taking it right from Justin's hands), and whisked the teen away from the scene of the potential (and highly probable) crime.

"When's he coming back again?" she asked and Justin winced.

"Sorry, Deb."

"Listen, go to the party this afternoon and have a great time and he'll be back before you know it."

"Not soon enough," he complained.

"So you jerk off another night. Big deal."

"I did not jerk off."

"Maybe you should," Debbie suggested. "Might sweeten your disposition." She laughed and went to pick up an order.

But he couldn't. Having gone home to shower and change and grab Gus' presents, Justin started twice to touch himself and each time he stopped, wanting to feel Brian's hands on him and not his own.

Starved for affection, he quickly dressed and left the loft- - and temptation- - behind.

As he pulled into the Munchers' yard, he hoped there was still something left to do as he needed to keep busy, keep his mind off of Brian and how much he wanted him. Carrying the biggest present by itself, he rang the doorbell. Mel peeped through the window, then opened the door.

"Hey, baby. Jesus Christ, what the fuck is that?"


Her face darkened. "Not a baby Jeep," she said remembering Brian's threat last year.

"Not quite. I talked him out of that. Again."


"But it is a car."

Mel groaned. "Good grief. He'll be unstoppable." Meaning Gus. "Bring it on in. Any more?"

"In the Jeep."

She'd expected it. No matter how many times they told Brian not to buy too much stuff for Gus, he invariably did anyway. Lindz explained that it was to make up for all the things he'd never gotten as a child. Which Mel understood. So usually they kept back a present or two and gave them to the baby later on. Which satisfied them all.

By the time Justin and Mel got in all the presents, Lindsay had come down with Gus who was still rubbing at his eyes, having just gotten up from his afternoon nap. "Look who's here," Lindsay told him. "Justin."

"Jusin," said Gus softly and reached for him.

"I still can't believe you got him to say that," Mel admitted.

The teen kissed the baby and received a drowsy kiss in return. "Hey, Gus. Happy birthday."

"Dada," he said and looked around.

"Dada's not here," Justin explained.

And Gus squirmed and demanded, "Dada."

Lindsay, sensing an impending hissy fit, tried to head it off. "Gus, remember? Remember Mommy told you Dada can't come today. Dada's not here." And the baby's lip began to tremble and he rubbed his eyes again. "Uh-oh." That was another thing he'd inherited from Brian- - his bad temper and proneness to having grand drama queen moments.

Sure enough, he started to cry. But instead of reaching for his Mommy or Mama, he held onto Justin, crying against his shoulder while the teenager tried to comfort him. "Shh, Dada'll be back. He'll be back and we'll come over to see you. Okay? Okay, Gus?" He kissed the baby. "Dada's gonna call you tomorrow. 'Kay?" Gus nodded his head. "Give Pooh a kiss," and the baby kissed him and laughed.


"Tra la la," Justin sang and the baby giggled and buried his face in the teen's neck, satisfied for the moment.

Lindsay kissed Justin too. "You're good at this."

"Works with Brian," he replied and Mel cackled and went to carry Gus' presents to the gifts table outside.

As the women had the party preparations well in hand, Justin's job was to keep Gus occupied until the guests arrived and the party commenced. So they played with Beh and Justin pushed them around on his old fire engine that Brian had bought him last year for his birthday. Boy would he be pleased this year. And next year, next year Brian was determined to get him a baby Jeep as the box had said, 'Three years and up.' Plus, he still had the Tonka truck that his dad had given to him. "For when he's older," Brian had said although Justin suspected it'd take Brian a few years just to get used to the idea of giving it away. But when he'd suggested that Brian buy Gus a new one and keep the old one for himself, he'd said, "What the fuck am I gonna do with a Tonka truck?"

"You and Gus can play together in the sand box," he'd replied and he'd run to escape Brian's mock wrath, surrendering after a brief chase and accepting his 'punishment' like a man.

Don't think about that, he ordered himself, feeling a tingling sensation in his crotch. God, he missed Brian.

Two hours later he missed peace and quiet even more. Gus and his two-year-old guests were perfect angels, it was the older partygoers who were acting like maniacs. Mikey had brought his light sabers and he and Emmett staged Jedi duels for the amusement of all.

"I'm Luke Skywalker," Michael announced, "and you can be Darth Vader."

"But I want to be Princess Leia," countered Emmett.

"She's not a Jedi knight."

"That's discrimination."

"There are female Jedi knights, " Michael explained, "she just wasn't one of them."

"Then I can be one that was."

"But they didn't go over to the dark side."

"How do you know?"

Michael gave him a look. "Just do it."

"I don't wanna."

Ted shouldered Emmett aside and took the light saber from him. "Go over there and sit down. You can be Princess Leia and Michael can save you and I'll be Darth Vader. James Earl Jones was the coolest. 'Luke, I am your father,' " he said in his deepest voice. So he and Mikey fought and he said, "Luke, join me in the dark side and together we will rule the universe."

"You know," Emmett said, "I always thought that the dark side was much cooler than the good side of the Force. They had way better outfits. Like maybe the dark side of the Force was the gay side or something."

Vic said, "I can see that. Especially the way their light sabers extended and lit up. Oh yeah."

Deb cried, "Oh my God."

"Luke, join me in the dark side," offered Ted and Michael swooned.

"Yes, Daddy," he purred.

"Incest. It happens," said Em.

"Especially in Mississippi," joked Jeff who rescued 'Luke'. "Nobody uses a light saber on you except me," he explained.

Escaping the noise, Justin went inside the house and ran into Joanie who was just arriving. "They're out back," he told her.

"I could hear them from the street. I thought I'd wait a moment before I went out there." She smiled diffidently. "Takes a little getting used to."

"A little," he agreed.

"Something wrong?"

"I wish Brian was here."

"He's not?" she asked, surprised since she knew how important Gus was to him.

"Business trip," he explained.

"Least it's business," she said. "Jack… with Jack he was usually out with the boys. Leaving me to arrange and deal with everything. To make the excuses. After a while, I didn't have to. Brian stopped wanting to celebrate his birthday. He said parties were for kids."

"He loves parties now."

"He loves Gus. And you." Justin smiled and she was glad that she'd been able to do that. "I should go see that grandson of mine now." And she left him.

But he wasn't quite ready to return to the party. Instead he wandered upstairs until he found himself in the guestroom. He went inside and shut the door. Fell back upon the bed and stared up at the ceiling. Remembering

Brian's hand down the front of his jeans, squeezing his cock and balls as they kissed.

He wondered how far they'd gotten that day before Joanie had walked in on them. They hadn't noticed a thing, had been so intent on fucking that her entrance and exit had gone unnoticed.

Brian had torn open his jeans and gobbled up his cock. He could still feel his lips around his shaft, his tongue encircling the head, teasing him, exciting him beyond tolerance.

Moaning softly, he cupped his groin and squeezed. His legs fell open and he began to fondle himself through the denim. His cock thickened and stiffened and he unzipped his jeans and pulled it out of his briefs, pushing them down in the front just enough to get a hold of his meat. Spitting on his palm, he jacked the shaft slowly, caressing the head at the end of each stroke, his thumb rubbing over the tip.

Hot. It was so warm in the room. Still pulling on his dick, he pushed his tee-shirt up with his free hand and tugged on his nipples until they were hard as well. He worked his jeans and briefs down beneath his buttocks and lay bare-assed against the comforter, imagining how he must have looked, sprawled on the bed, stroking his erection. But he didn't care. He sighed and used both hands on his hungry cock.

Hearing a noise, Em stopped in the hallway. The Boy Wonder had vanished and he'd taken it upon himself to go in search of him. He knew how much Justin missed Brian and thought they should make a concerted effort to cheer him up. Not sure if he would catch Justin crying, Em decided to wait. And listen.


Emmett's curiosity was peaked. It didn't sound as if Justin was crying. He knelt down and placed his ear to the door and the door opened a little. Justin hadn't entirely pulled it close. Shifting position, Emmett peeked through the crack and saw Justin lying on the bed masturbating. About to return downstairs, Em paused. Although he wasn't into chickens at all, he could see why Brian had lusted after Justin. With his plump buttocks ground into the comforter, slender thighs opened, lips parted, eyes shut, and his thick cock sprouting from his fist, the teen presented a very fetching picture. His nipple ring glinted in the sunlight. Fascinated despite knowing better, Emmett watched as Justin convulsed and cum flew from the tip of his dick to land on his belly and chest. As the teen slumped to the bed, a last bit of spooge flowed over the head of his cock and hung from the edge like an icicle.

Justin rubbed his swollen genitals as he got his breath back. That had felt good.

Justin having come, Em got to his feet and stumbled to the bathroom for a wanking session of his own.

As usual Brian's gift was Gus' favorite. He could barely wait while his mommies removed the car from the box, he climbed in with Beh, thrust his feet through the holes in the bottom, and off they went, Justin walking behind him with one hand on the parent handle in case the baby's motor skills proved deficient. But Gus was a natural and he tooled around the back yard like a pro while the other babies looked on mesmerized.

"Maybe he's going to be a race car driver," Michael suggested.

"Oh no," objected Joanie, "too dangerous," just imagining Gus speeding around a race track at high speed.

"He's Brian's son," Vic reminded them, "danger's his middle name."

"I thought it was Abraham," said Em, still a little dizzy from his adventures in voyeurism and if Justin noticed anything weird about the way Emmett was looking at him, he didn't say anything.

When everyone else had gone and Justin had finished helping them clean up, the women asked him if he'd like to stay the night and he was tempted but he refused in the end. He liked smelling Brian's scent on the pillows and sheets as he slept; even if he did sleep alone, it was comforting. So he kissed Gus goodbye and went home to wait for Brian's call.

The phone never rang.

Their presentation came at the end of a very long and exhausting day but the two men worked in concert as if they'd been partners for years, each performing his part seemingly effortlessly. Then came the questions which they fielded with professionalism and humor from the very first to the very last. Afterwards, they accepted an invitation to dinner from a few of Kenneth's closest acquaintances and Brian knew that they'd ensnared them.

The dinner finally broke up around eleven and Kenneth and Brian returned to the hotel still buzzed from the afternoon and the positive response to their presentation. Brian had, at least, six people very interested in following up with him once he returned to Pitts, news the partners would be glad to hear. Even if only one or two signed with them, the trip would have been worth it.

Still laughing over a joke one of the guys had told at dinner, they came to Brian's door before they knew it.

Feeling that he owed it to Harris, Brian said, "Thanks for inviting me. I know you didn't have to."

"But I did," Kenneth replied, and he grabbed Brian and kissed him hard. He'd been wanting to do that all evening and he couldn’t deny the impulse any longer. Touching those luscious raspberry lips in reality felt better than anything he could have dreamt. He pulled Brian closer and pressed harder against him. Opened his mouth and drew Brian's lips between his own.

It had taken him off-guard although he should have known, should have expected it and, for a moment, he forgot about everything else and just enjoyed kissing Kenneth. It had been a week and a half since he and Justin had been together, the teen's anger had been that great, and he was starved for the touch of another man's body against his own. But he couldn’t forget that he had a partner, not for long, and he pulled away and fumbled for his key. "No," he mumbled as Kenneth reached for him and he stepped through the door, Harris behind him. He turned. "No. I can't."

"Brian- -"

"I said no!" The vehemence of his refusal shocked them both. "Just go. Please."

Kenneth held out his hands. "All right. I'll go."

As soon as the door shut, Brian sat on the edge of his bed and covered his face. Because he had wanted Kenneth and he shouldn't have. He had Justin. Only Justin was all the way across the fucking country and he was here and Kenneth had felt so good pressed against him- - He stripped and put on the pair of jeans he'd brought, slipped on the semi-sheer black sweater, and grabbed his leather coat.

He knew he was prone to foolishness so he didn't think about what he was doing, he didn't think on it, he just moved, just emptied his mind and walked out into the night.

He had known where to go, he always knew. Could smell it: the scent of men, no matter where he was. And they always knew him. As soon as he walked through the door, they sensed him, and gathered around him, wanting him, hoping they'd be chosen.

Lying naked on a platform, he gave himself over to their care. A body stretched over his, head to groin, as they fed on one another; a second man squatting on the floor to eat out his ass; a third bent over the man above him, rimming him as well. He moaned around the cock in his mouth, thick, hard, wet with saliva and precum. The man rimming him stood up and put on a condom. Pushed inside him and he gasped even though his mouth was full. Then the cock slid from his mouth. Hung suspended over his face, dripping precum onto his cheeks and nose as the guy was fucked from behind. Every so often he'd reach up and pull it down, kiss or suck what he could of it while the two men continued to jostle above him, while the man between his legs continued to fuck him hard. His own cockhead lay in a puddle of precum. When he lifted it from his belly, a strand of clear liquid clung to the tip. He slowly stroked the shaft, moaning as the guy fucking him neared his orgasm. He was tearing up his hole. Jesus. Squeezing his muscles, he brought the guy off, was pumped hard two, three times. Pulling out of him, the man fastened his lips on Brian's cock and sucked him. Brian reached up and yanked on the cock above his face. Cum rained down on his head. Set off by the guy's ejaculation, the man behind came as well.

Only Brian hadn't. The three men arranged themselves around his cock and licked and sucked and kissed his meat until he cried, "I'm coming," and he did, splattering all three as they each took a turn drinking from the sputtering head. Then, generously, they shared his jizz as they kissed.

Kenneth glared at him from across the table. "You won't fuck me but you'll go out and get fucked. That it?"

So he must have come by the room or called. But Harris couldn't be sure so there was no need to verify anything. "Who says I went out?"

"I do. I called. And came by."

"I was there, I just didn't want to talk to you," he replied, cool as could be.

Kenneth played his trump. "I checked with the front desk. They saw you leave."

Fuck. Still… "Jealous?"

"Fuck you."

"No, fuck you!" he said loud enough for the people at the next table to hear. He lowered his voice. "We had a great relationship, a business relationship. I told you that's all it could be. But you want to fuck it up."

"What are you going to tell him?" Brian started to leave. "Wait." He sat back down. "I'm sorry."

"You want to pull your account, fine, that's your right, it's your fuckin' company. But who I fuck is my concern. My personal life is none of your goddamn business."

"I said I'm sorry."

Brian said nothing more, just finished his breakfast.

There was a final conference presentation scheduled for the morning but Brian didn't feel up to wheeling and dealing after his confrontation with Kenneth. Wasting the opportunity, he returned to his room after breakfast and called Justin.

"Hey." He sounded sleepy despite it being late morning in Pittsburgh.

"How was the party?" Brian asked casually as if he weren't in the midst of turmoil.

"It was great. Your mom came."

"Gus like his present?"

"He loved it. He rode it all afternoon. Lindsay said he wanted to sleep in it."

Brian smiled, just imagining the toddler whizzing around with Beh. "Take pictures?"

"And Mel videotaped everything. How's the conference?"

"Almost over."

"You're getting back around midnight?"

"Don't wait up. I'll get a cab."

Despite Brian's apparent calmness, Justin picked up on something. "You okay?"

"I'm fine. Look, I gotta go."

"'Kay. I love you."

"Love you too." He hung up and squeezed his eyes shut. Then called Lindz before his courage dissipated.

"Hey, hold on a minute," she said. "Gus! Gus, it's Dada!"

The baby came on the line. "Hey!"

"Hey, Sonny Boy. Happy Birthday. Did you get your car?"

"Car, Dada."

"Do you like your car?"

"Yeah. Go ride, Dada."

Brian laughed. "I think Dada's too big to ride in your car but I can watch you. Okay?"


"I love you."

"Lu you," the baby whispered.


"Bye-bye, Dada."

Lindz came back on and Brian managed to say goodbye before he broke down. What the fuck was he doing in LA when he should be home with Justin and Gus? What the fuck was he going to say to Justin? I didn't sleep with Kenneth but I went out and fucked three strangers?" Lying on the bed, he cried until he thought his head would explode. Because he didn't think, he never fucking did until it was too late, until he had another sin on his conscience and no good way to expatiate it. But he had thought this time. He'd known that it was better to go out and be with strangers than to stay and be with Kenneth because the nameless tricks could never hurt him and Justin but Kenneth could, he could hurt them the same way Xavier had hurt them. So he had gone out because he couldn’t have stayed in, waiting for Kenneth to knock on this door and begin tearing down everything he and Justin had fought to build together. So he cried and then he got up, washed his face, and went out to walk off his penance, like the Wandering Jew.

They had driven most of the way to the airport before either of them spoke.

"Brian, I'm sorry. I respect you and I don't want to do anything to jeopardize our business relationship."

"How do I know that?"

"I give you my word." At Brian's suspicious look, he confessed, "I won't lie to you, I want you. I've wanted you since the moment we met. I'll probably always want you. But I'm a big boy and I need your advertising skills more than I need your ass. So if being colleagues is all we can be, then I'll take that and leave the rest alone. But I'd like us to be friends, if we could."

"You think we can?"

"I'm willing to try."

Brian met his eyes. "Then we do it."

Just like that. Kenneth laughed. "I'm going to miss you."

"You're the multimillionaire with the private jet. Come visit."

"I will," promised Harris.

"Speaking of which," said Brian, "why am I flying commercial?"

"I can barely resist you at sea level," Kenneth joked, "I don't think I could do it at thirty thousand feet. The air's kinda thin."

Paying the driver, Brian took the stairs two at a time. He missed his baby.

Justin was waiting at the door. Moved into his arms as Brian dropped his suitbag. They kissed in the doorway.

"Thought I told you not to wait up," Brian said as they parted and went inside the loft.

"I didn't listen," Justin replied and he pulled Brian into the bedroom.

Ten minutes later, his clothes in a heap next to the bed, Justin naked in his arms, Brian was very glad his lover had disregarded his request.

Justin fanned his fingers over Brian's neck and kissed his throat, slowly making his way first to his chin and then to his lips. His plump, perfect lips. Justin caught them between his own and kissed him deeply as he wrapped arms and legs about Brian, hard and wet already against his belly. Brian's palm cupped his rear and pulled him closer still. "I love you," Justin whispered during one of the rare moments their lips parted but he said no more as Brian renewed their kiss and there were more important things to do with lips and tongues than to waste on words.

How long had it been since they'd lain together in anything other than anger and recrimination? And how foolish did they feel for having wasted nights that could have been better employed? No more. Setting aside all thoughts save one, they made love into the late hours of the night.

The early hours of the new day found them awakening out of a light sleep to make their way back to one another's arms, Brian sinking into his lover's body with ease. With each stroke, Justin felt his chest tighten, his belly harden, and he gripped Brian with his arms and thighs, fighting to hold himself together when his body wanted to fly apart.

Brian thrust deeper as if he could pin Justin to the bed and keep him rooted there but his motions only aided Justin's dissolution. The teen buried his head in Brian's chest and gasped as his body convulsed and he was gone.

The muscles in his body slackened and it flopped back onto the bed, having been freed from action by the absence of thought. Cum clung to Justin's pale skin and the swollen cock lay lazy against his thigh, a last trickle of jizz seeping from the tip.

Brian withdrew from the youth's limp body and skinned the condom from his dick. Thrust the organ through his fist.

Opening his eyes, he saw his lover kneeling above him, the head of his cock peeking at him each time it cleared Brian's hand, the hole gaping open and wet with precum. Rising, reanimated, he pushed Brian over onto his back and fastened his mouth on him, ravenous for the taste of his flesh. And Brian murmured, "Oh God, oh God, oh God. . ." as Justin sucked him. His cock was hard and fire red, tender from its exertions; his balls ached to release their load yet again. With one hand jacking the shaft, Justin fed greedily on the bulbous head, using lips and teeth and tongue to coax his man to come, 'til he tasted the first spurt of cream. Then he ceased all movement and let Brian thrust as he would until he was spent.

Collapsed upon the bed, Brian thought he would never move again. But he was wrong. Justin, holding Brian's cum in his mouth, laid on his back and raised his legs, spread them revealing his wrinkled hole, still relaxed from the fucking it had received. The teen opened his mouth and let the harvested spunk flow over his fingers.

"Fuck," breathed Brian as Justin spread his lover's cum over his asshole until it ran between his cheeks. In an instant, Brian had regained enough strength to rise and lie between Justin's thighs, lapping the boy clean.

And Justin sighed, loving the feather soft touch of his tongue.

Twice he almost confessed, almost told Justin about LA and the club and the men and twice his courage failed and he busied himself with something else because what good would it do to confess it? Justin would be hurt and disappointed and all of the progress they had made would be for naught because he didn't think Justin would forgive him this and, even if he did, there'd always be a question in the teen's mind whenever Brian went away and it would eat at them, eat at them both until all good was gnawed away and they'd be left with nothing but the barest bits of love to keep them together. Love wasn't enough. He was no fool to believe that. Justin had to trust him. And he did. And he would continue to trust him as long as he didn't know.

So Brian would keep his sin to himself.

It was Christmas in October; the area in front of the livingroom windows was dominated by an eight-foot artificial tree decorated with a multitude of silk flowers, insects, and animals. Butterflies, honey bees, hummingbirds, and dragonflies vied for a taste of sweet nectar from roses and daffodils, lilacs and daisies. Elsewhere in the room, to continue the theme, were round topiary trees on which grew oranges, peaches, and lemons. The cool, muted colors of the livingroom had been camouflaged beneath colored slipcovers, the white paper lamps replaced by more traditional ones in rich jewel tones.

When Joanie had finished with the room, neither Brian nor Justin recognized it. Not only was it Christmas in the autumn, it was Christmas in someone else's home. "Well," she asked nervously, "what do you think?"

Saying nothing, Brian reached for his camera and began to photograph the transformed room.

Justin shook his head. "It's amazing. I'm glad we have before pictures of the loft cause no one is going to believe this is the same place."

From the livingroom they went into the dining area where she'd set up a wedding reception with an arch in front of the window where the ceremony would take place and two tables for the cake and gifts. Everything was decorated in white and green and wine, down to the wine-colored Calla lilies that featured prominently in the designs of everything from the bridal bouquet to the table ornamentation.

Again, impressed beyond words, Brian busied himself with shooting her work.

In the kitchen and bath Joanie had worked on product displays, choosing one item to feature and arranging the settings to best market that object. And, again, her displays made a favorable impression on the two of them and they were astounded at how different everything looked.

When he was done taking pictures, Brian said to her, "Not bad," which meant in Brianese, "Shit, that was fucking awesome."

"I hope I didn't spend too much money."

Brian had footed the bills for the supplies but it was worth it if she could get work based on her portfolio and he was certain she would. He'd definitely have no problems suggesting her to the company that produced a number of commercials for them. So he replied, "I'll take it out of your first commission." As Joanie wandered the apartment, finally allowing herself to enjoy her creations, Brian noticed Justin staring at the wedding display and he went to him and hugged him from behind, laid his chin on the boy's crown. Waited.

It was so beautiful. The flowers and ribbons tasteful, not too shi-shi, the colors and design one that would appeal to men and women alike. "She did a good job," he said.

"She did a great job. And?"

He imagined them standing beneath the arch, reciting vows that they had written and he felt a pang of regret, that they hadn't. And then he smiled, thinking of how surprised he'd been to feel the rings in his palm, how beautiful their ceremony had been; even if it had only been the two of them exchanging a few simple words, those words had bound them as closely as any other vows would have. So he said finally, "And I was thinking that none of this would have made any difference."

Brian said nothing in answer, just gave him a tiny peck on the top of his head and held him.

Turning from the tree, Joanie saw them standing together, the arch framing their bodies even though they stood some feet way from it, and she imagined the two of them reciting vows before their families and friends and the thought made her smile. And then she wondered how Jack would have responded to them, if he would have ever come to accept their marriage. For it came to her in that moment, most clearly, that they were married, that they shared a life and a love that was just as valid, just as real as any blessed in a church; and she closed her eyes and said a silent prayer for the two of them, that they would know happiness and joy all the days of their lives.

On top of the Styrofoam cake, a tiny bride and groom prepared to take their first steps together.

Heels Over Head | Stories