Here is my hand for you to hold
Only you have seen the hidden part of me
So many smiles and lies surround me
You have been mine since time untold
Only you have seen, the other side of me
Here are the eyes that only see you
"Love Me Still" by Bruce Hornsby
Flicking away half of his cigarette, he stepped across a shallow puddle of Technicolor water--careful not to wet his spur-of-the-moment, impulse buy at Prada--and walked towards the brightly lit building just in front of him. A few rather shabbily dressed people milled around the entrance: artists; it was too early for one thing and for another, none of the patrons would have risked showing up in the Sunday Arts section in those outfits. One of the men called out, "Justin," and he raised a hand. "You're making us look bad," the guy said, surveying the new arrival from head to toe.
He smirked. "You think this is bad, just wait until we get inside."
The others laughed good-naturedly. "Definitely don't lack confidence, do you?" asked Adam, the man who had called out to him.
"Too late in the day," he replied. "Malcolm kick you out?"
"Said he didn't want anyone second-guessing him at the last minute," Adam said knowingly.
Justin held up his hands in mock-defeat. "I only asked him to move Intangible Delights twice." Shrugged. "The placement was all wrong. It was interrupting the flow from the other pieces."
"Uh-huh. Admit it," he said, lighting up and taking a deep draw, "you're a perfectionist."
"I've never claimed otherwise." His blue eyes twinkled. "Besides, what choice do I have? You've met Brian."
Adam nodded. "He coming?"
"Better. Or it's going to be a long, cold winter."
"I'm surprised he's not here. I can't imagine him letting you shop at Prada on your own," he said, gesturing to Justin's shoes.
"What he doesn't know, won't hurt me. And like he'll notice. He doesn't expect any better from me so he doesn't even look anymore."
"New shoes from this year's collection? And The Devil Who Wears Prada won't notice? You're delusional."
Shaking his head, Justin scratched his scalp. "Why are we standing out in the fucking cold discussing my footwear?"
"Because Malcolm won't let us back inside."
"Well," Justin said, squaring his shoulders and drawing himself up to his full height of five feet eight inches, "I'm not standing out here and catching a fucking cold cause if I do, Brian will bitch about it nonstop until I get better and, on top of that, I'll be driven insane by all the manic mothering that will accompany said bitching." Grabbing the chrome handle of the door, he flounced inside the gallery, well aware of the snickers that followed him. And the footsteps. Just as he passed through the atrium, he was met by the owner who plastered an open yet somehow pained smile on his face.
"Justin. Good to see you."
"I have no intention of rearranging anything," Justin assured him. "My balls were freezing," he explained.
"Can't have that," Malcolm said smoothly signalling the caterer he'd been speaking to before his artists had returned en masse. "Could you get Mr. Taylor something hot to drink?"
"Like a Chivas Regal on the rocks," suggested Justin with a smile.
"We have champagne," said Malcolm.
The caterer inclined his head. "Of course, Mr. Taylor," and strode off to relay his request to the bartender.
Taking Justin by the arm, Malcolm walked him to the section of the exhibition devoted to his work. Released him and watched as the artist strolled about the space. "You approve?"
"I approve," he replied; then, "Thanks," to the waiter who brought his drink. Took a sip then studied his favorite piece, Intangible Delights.
Malcolm waved off the waiter who seemed to be waiting for his request. "There's been some interest," he said rather mysteriously.
"Hmm," replied Justin. "From anyone in particular?"
"Mmm... initials, M-O-M-"
"Fuck, no!" Justin exclaimed.
"Hell, yes," grinned Malcolm.
Justin's smile almost split his face. "Shit." He sat on the bench in the middle of the room, drink forgotten, then laughed. "No shit?"
Malcolm joined him. "They seem very serious about making the purchase."
Laughing once more, Justin remembered his drink and finished it off. "Christ. Malcolm, this could be it. I mean, really it."
Whispering conspiratorially, Malcolm confided, "I sent over the catalog as usual and yours was the only work they were interested in. And they called particularly to ask about that... amazing monstrocity." Justin grinned. Malcolm had complained about the size of the painting, saying he'd have to rent a warehouse space just to show it. "I have to tell you, I'm very excited."
"Excited about your commission."
"Very," he admitted, then patted Justin's hand. "Well, I have to go coddle some bruised egos."
"They don't know yet, do they?"
"No. Preventive coddling because once the curators from MOMA arrive, I won't be able to summon up very much sympathy."
And that sounded so much like Brian that Justin barked a laugh.
"I'll leave you to bask in your glory."
"What if it's premature?" asked Justin. "What if they come and they don't like it?"
Malcolm gave him a soft smile. "They'll love it," he assured him, then left him alone surrounded by his work.
Justin cupped his hands around his mouth and took a deep breath, let it out. MOMA. It's what he'd been working towards all of his adult life. Six years of exhibiting in progressively larger spaces in the city and around the country. Six years of painting like a man possessed, driving himself to the brink of exhaustion and insanity; of enduring countless, sleepless nights wondering if he was wasting his time, if all of his sacrifices would be worth it. Six years of satisfying himself with too few stolen moments; waking up next to Brian in New York or Pittsburgh or West Virginia and wanting to close his eyes again and not have to face another goodbye in a crowded airport. Maybe now...
He inhaled deeply once more. Please, God... Just one fucking painting. That's all he needed. Because once he had MOMA in his catalog, other doors would open much more easily: LACMA, BMA, the Art Institute, the Saatchi, the Tate Modern... Britin.
In a few months he'd be the same age Brian had been when they met. A small smile curved his lips. Brian hadn't imagined that they'd still be together all these years later but he had. And, yet, he hadn't. That seventeen-year old boy hadn't had a clue, not really. Just dreams. Fantasies with very little basis in reality. And although he was no longer that boy, hadn't been since the night Chris Hobbes had taken a bat to his head, the man he was now still had a fondness for the boy he had been. Still felt grateful to him. For his passion and tenacity, his naivete and ignorance.
He glanced around. "Is it time?" Leaving his empty glass, he joined the other artists as they greeted their first guests.
Running a hand through his hair to restore some semblance of order to it after a breezy dash from the cab to the gallery, he scanned the area in search of Justin. Saw Adam whom he'd met on more than one occasion. The man gestured to the back of the gallery and Brian nodded his thanks. Bypassed the bar in his haste to leave his bag at the coatcheck station. And then, despite earlier intentions, paused in the doorway to Justin's section of the exhibition. Because there, directly in his light of sight, was a gigantic canvas that was probably a 7.9 on the Richter Scale judging by his reaction and the reactions of all the other people in the room. He could see them trying to look away and failing, eyes returning to the mesmerizing canvas. Christ, he thought. How does he do that?
"Hey," a sultry voice breathed near his ear.
Half-turning, his eyes still fixed on the painting, Brian slipped an arm about Justin's waist. "That's... fucking incredible."
Justin moved around in front of him and Brian felt his chest tighten. Felt, in a instance of perfect clarity, that this would be a moment he'd remember forever because...
"Brian?" Concern tinged Justin's voice and he grasped Brian's forearm. "What's wrong?"
Forcing a smile, Brian replied, "Nothing, Sunshine." Except this is it, the beginning of the end. And he waited for Justin to tell him that it was over.
Convinced that Brian was okay, Justin pulled him into a quiet corner, kissed him, and then laughed with joy. "Guess what?"
Not trusting himself to speak, Brian shook his head.
"They want it." A blinding smile broke out across his face. "Fuckin' MOMA wants one of my paintings."
"Of course, they do," Brian said, proud of his lover despite the pain he felt. Then, cupping Justin's face in his hands, he kissed him. "I always knew you'd do it. Conquer the world."
"Not quite the world yet."
Justin chuckled. "You check in?" Despite the upgrades in apartment spaces over the years, they still celebrated each showing by staying in a decadently expensive hotel suite.
"I was running late so I came straight from the airport."
Brian shrugged. "The usual."
Studying him for a moment, Justin brushed his fingers through the hair at Brian's temple, a few grey strands visible. "You look tired." When Brian didn't deny it, Justin wrapped his hand around the back of his neck and stroked the soft hairs at the nape. "Come say hello to Malcolm and Habib so we can go."
"No," countered Brian. "This is your big night. Let me get a cup of coffee and I'll be fine. Besides, I only caught a glimpse of your latest masterpiece and I didn't see any of the other pieces."
"They'll be here tomorrow. How long are you staying?"
Eyes sliding away from Justin's face, Brian answered, "Sunday."
Justin opened his mouth, then closed it. " 'kay."
Taking a step away from Justin, Brian stopped. Waited for Justin to join him, then took his hand in his and entwined their fingers. "I'm really proud of you," he said, holding Justin's eyes with his own until the younger man's cheeks reddened slightly.
"Come on," he whispered, "we'll find you some caffeine."
Having nursed a cup of black coffee liberally laced with sugar, Brian found himself sitting on the bench in the midst of Justin's work while the artist charmed a potential buyer, smile wide across his face, hands tracing invisible patterns in the air as he tried to explain the inexplicable. As he had before, he turned his attention to Intangible Delights and studied it, the way the riotous colors collided across the canvas. And in it, he supposed because of the title, he could see them entangled in the bedsheets, in one another's heart and life.
"Powerful, isn't it?" Habib commented as he took a seat next to Brian.
Brian glanced at Justin's agent, as always a bit surprised that the urbane Egyptian was Justin's representative, they seemed to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. But then again, he and Justin seemed to be as well. Finally, he answered Habib's question. "His work usually is."
"But this is something extraordinary," Habib persisted and Brian couldn't disagree. "His career is really going to take off now."
"It's what he's been working towards."
"The people from MOMA are extremely impressed by him, by the range and quality of his work. A solo exhibition there isn't out of the realm of possibility. And soon."
Draining his cup, Brian turned to Habib. "So what are you saying?" he asked although he knew, had known when he'd seen the painting and felt his chest constrict and happiness slip obliquely through a crack in the world.
"That as hard as he's worked these past few years, he'll only have to work that much harder now. Because there's nothing the world hates more than wasted potential. Failing to live up to expectations."
"His and theirs. He has them, you know. Otherwise, he wouldn't have pushed himself so hard all these years."
"So what are you saying?" Brian repeated.
Habib said nothing for a moment, then, "You're a smart man."
Brian looked away as the man rose and crossed to Justin and his potential patron. Focusing on Justin's work, he didn't hear his partner when he approached. Was startled when Justin placed a hand on his shoulder and said, "Let's go," but didn't argue, just gathered his wits about him, took Justin's outstretched hand, and followed his young lover through the gallery to retrieve his bag before going outside to flag down a cab.
"You call Jennifer?" Brian asked as they made themselves comfortable in the back of the taxi. "The Michelangelo Hotel," he told the driver. "152 West 51st Street."
Justin smiled over at his partner. He loved the Michelangelo and it was close by MOMA which meant they usually dropped in while they were there. Not that Justin didn't go there all the time anyway on his own but it was always that much more special when Brian accompanied him. And one day, they'd be able to go in and see his painting on the wall. Lost in a daydream he didn't answer Brian's question so the man repeated himself. "Oh. Shit," Justin said. "I guess I should call her and let her know. She really hated not being here but I've told her she doesn't have to come to every exhibit."
"Then why do I?" asked Brian.
"Because I need you," replied Justin. "And you're a lot more fun to celebrate with," he added, lightening the mood and lighting up the inside of the cab with his smile.
Amused by his partner's blatant attempt at seduction, Brian twisted his lips in a wry grin and barked, "Call her before you forget again." Then he turned and studied the lights of the city while Justin dialed his mother, shaking his head as Justin reached her and, with barely contained joy, told her his good news, laughing like a little boy. But the lights didn't seem as bright to Brian this time around and he soon leaned back against the seat and shut his eyes. Felt Justin's hand cup his knee. He laid his own atop his lover's.
He was aware of Justin ending his phone call with a, "I will. Love you too, Mom," but he didn't open his eyes. Didn't want to talk about anything, just wanted to ride in relative silence to their hotel. There'd be plenty of time for questions later and he was sure Justin would avail himself of the opportunity to question his partner closely.
"We're here," Justin said, shaking his leg slightly and paying the driver before Brian had a chance to take out his wallet. Once upon a time he would have made a big deal out of Justin paying but, over the years, he'd come to realize that partners shared everything, even expenses as trivial as cab fare or new towels for the bathroom. He was a lot better about letting Justin pick up dinner tabs or pay for a vacation to Miami. They were both working men and they took care of each other, contributed to their life together even though they each lived in different states.
Out of the corner of his eyes, Brian watched Justin flit about the lobby as he checked in. Figured he was still reacting to the news of the buy. Fuckin' MOMA. Even Brian was impressed. And proud. And scared. He wasn't too proud or unaware to admit to himself, at least, that he was afraid. No matter how many times he went through this, it was never easy, letting Justin go and he was beginning to believe that there would never come a day when they'd be living in the same city much less the same space. Never have a chance to make a home together. The older he got, the more Brian wanted that sense of security, of knowing that there was a place in the world that was theirs, that they'd made together. He was tired of living alone in the house, tired of spending weekends in Justin's apartment or in some hotel room no matter how opulent. But with Justin's career taking off again for the next level, he couldn't see how their future could be anything but more of the same. And he wanted Justin to do well, to spread out and take over the world. He wanted to jet over to London or Paris with him, wanted to lounge in a suite with a view of the Grand Canal or the Acropolis. But then he wanted to come home, he wanted Justin to come home to him.
"Your key, sir. I hope you enjoy your stay. Melvin will take your bags and show you to your room," the clerk said, indicating a young man who had approached the counter. Brian gestured to his overnight bag; Justin had a tote slung over his arm, he traveled light and didn't mind carrying it as he told the bellhop once Brian had gotten his attention.
They followed Melvin to their room, listened to his spiel politely, and then saw him off with a modest tip.
Knowing that Brian wouldn't be satisfied until he'd hung up his clothes, Justin made himself comfortable on the sofa with the menu for Insieme, the hotel restaurant, in his hand. He'd had hors d'oeuvres at the exhibition reception but nothing substantial since brunch and he was a tad bit hungry. Gone were the days when he felt the need to inhale his weight in food at each meal but he still had a healthy appetite.
"Anything good?" asked Brian as he returned to the sitting room, having changed out of his suit into a pair of slacks and a silk sweater. Bare feet of course.
Apparently, Justin thought, gone too were the days when they felt they had to immediately rip one another's clothes off and fall upon the bed the moment they were alone. "Always," he replied. "Should we eat there or go out?"
"Let's stay in the hotel. That way I can have as much champagne as I want."
With a chuckle, Brian said, "That's never stopped you before."
"Look who's talking. Mr. There's No Such Thing as Enough." Standing up, Justin sauntered past his partner. "Put your shoes on," he said as he made his way to the bathroom where he washed his face. Coming back into the bedroom, he stood by Brian, who was zipping up his boots, and asked, "This okay?"
"More than okay. You look fabulous," Brian told him. Then added, "Someone's been shopping at Prada without me."
Justin laughed. "You just noticed?"
"Nope. Back at the gallery."
Pushing Brian with his hip, Justin rolled his eyes. "I should have known. Nothing gets past you."
"Especially haute couture."
As Brian rose from the bed, Justin caught his arm and held him firmly in his grip. Studied his face. "You okay?"
"Couldn't be better."
Deciding to accept Brian's answer for now, Justin nodded and led the way out.
The fingers of one hand laced with Brian's, Justin pushed open the door to their room and swayed to music only he could hear. "I feel like dancing," he announced. Pulled Brian inside and clasped him around the waist. "Dance with me."
"There's no music," Brian pointed out quite reasonably.
"Hey!" exclaimed Justin, pushing Brian from him.
"I'm just saying... don't quit your day job." Laughing, he found the remote control and cut on the stereo. Ran through the stations until he found something suitably smoky, then wrapped his arms around Justin and kissed him until he felt Justin's arms slide around his waist again. "Much better."
"Mmm," agreed Justin, face pressed into Brian's shoulder, eyes closed. "You always smell so good."
"Pheromones," bragged Brian. "It's the secret of my sex appeal."
"No," Justin disagreed, "that would be your luscious lips, beautiful eyes, amazing fingers, long legs, and nine-inch cock."
"That all?" asked Brian, not certain if he wanted to be reduced to a sum of his parts.
"Just the obvious things. The things most people can see."
"So what else is there?"
"Your intellect, your business saavy, your honesty... the fact that you're the most loyal person I know and that you have a heart the size of Manhattan." Justin stroked his thumb over Brian's ribcage. "I love you so much," he whispered. "So much."
Alarmed by the hint of desperation in Justin's voice, Brian drew back a little and looked down at him. "What's wrong?"
"That's what I want to know from you. Brian..." Justin paused, then guided them to the sofa. "I know something's up. I wish you'd just tell me. You promised you wouldn't keep things from me anymore. You know we have to be honest with one another, it's the only way this can work."
"Then what's wrong?"
Brian crossed to the bar and poured himself a drink. Returned to Justin's side and took a sip. Used to Brian's modus operandi, Justin waited quietly for him to begin. "We lost a couple of accounts. Big ones. It's not like we're about to go under but we can't afford to lose any more clients. Especially national and international ones."
"Who were they?"
"Brown." Justin inhaled abruptly. "And Liberty Air."
"Least I didn't lose them to Vance. That's the only good news to come out of this clusterfuck."
Brian finished his drink. "Didn't like what we pitched them."
"Can we not talk about this anymore? I've talked it to death with Ted and Cynthia."
"But I'm not Ted or Cynthia."
"Thank God cause I'm not the least bit interested in fucking either of them."
"Justin, this is your night. We're supposed to be celebrating. So let's celebrate," he murmured, burying his face in Justin's neck before kissing him beneath his ear. "Okay?" he asked as he unbuttoned Justin's trousers and tugged on the zipper.
Giving in to the need to be with his partner, Justin ceased his inquisition. For now.
Sunday morning came, and Justin saw Brian off, giving him a last kiss before they parted at the security gate at LaGuardia. He waited, watching the tall man move through the line until he'd passed through security. Waited while Brian put his boots back on and then waved as the ad exec glanced back at him, knowing Justin wouldn't have left yet. No matter how many times they'd done this, in airports across the country, they still hadn't gotten used to it. Justin watched Brian vanish from sight, headed for his gate or, more than likely, to the nearest coffee stand to fortify himself for the flight, then made his way outside where he caught a cab back into the city.
He tossed his suit jacket on the back of the couch and plopped down, rubbing his eyes, pretending that it was allergies that had caused him to tear up. Christ. Almost twenty-nine-years old and he still got weepy when he had to say goodbye to Brian. "Fuck," he growled, sitting up again and wiping his nose on his sleeve. Brian would have had a fit but he wasn't here. They weren't together. Not the way they should have been. And like that, Justin made up his mind.
Digging in his pocket for his cell, he hit #4 and waited. "Habib? Justin. We need to talk."
Janet, the receptionist, put through a call to Brian who was in the middle of pouting. He would have called it brooding or thinking but, in fact, he was pouting and doing a heckuva job at it. Grabbing the phone, not bothering to listen to whatever it was Janet was trying to tell him, he grumbled, "Kinney."
"Think I can get a ride out to West Virginia?"
Brian smiled despite his foul mood. "Where are you?"
"Are you going to waste precious time asking silly questions or are you coming to pick up your extremely hot and horny partner for an afternoon of incomperable debauchery and decadence?"
"I'll take number two."
"Meet me outside baggage claim. I'm on JetBlue."
Smile still ghosting about his lips, he hung up and grabbed his coat. Paused by Janet's desk. "I'm taking off to pick up Justin. Don't expect me back today."
Janet grinned. "Tomorrow?"
"We'll see," he replied, then exited the building.
Making it to the airport in record time, he pulled up to the curb where other passengers were awaiting rides and looked for Justin. Spotted him coming through the door loaded down with bags. Shaking his head, Brian hopped out to meet him and grabbed two of the bags. "They have those carts, you know."
"I was in a hurry."
"Is there anything left in your apartment?" Brian asked but Justin didn't answer, just fished the keys to the Corvette from his own jeans' pockets and opened the trunk. "If I had known you were coming, I would have driven the Jag," said Brian as he stowed the last bag.
Justin raised his face for a kiss. "I wanted to surprise you."
Head tilted to the side, Brian's eyes twinkled. "You did."
"A good surprise?"
"The best." They hopped in the car and kissed again. "So why the surprise visit?"
"Thanksgiving is coming up soon, I figured I'd come home early and maybe convince you to have dinner out at Britin."
"Well, it will definitely take you a week of fucking to get me to agree to that." Justin knuckled his arm. "And then you'll have to convince Deb."
Justin beamed. "Done, done, and done. I talked to her last week."
Brian sighed. "Why am I always the last to know?"
"Cuts down on the moaning and groaning and bitching," laughed Justin.
Glancing sideways at Brian, Justin said, "I also talked to Lindz and Mel. They're coming down with the kids."
Brian took his eyes off the road for a moment. "You're kidding?"
"Nope. I know you haven't seen Gus since the summer so..."
"They're not coming down for Christmas then?"
"No, they're coming back down for Christmas too."
"How the fuck... I don't care. I'm just glad you did."
Justin leaned over and pecked Brian on the cheek. "Love me?"
With a broad grin, Justin settled in his seat to enjoy the ride out to the estate.
As always, the sight of Britin through the trees made his stomach flutter a little bit but today was special even if he was the only one who knew it. Well, him and Habib. Brian pulled under the portico between the garage and the house and helped Justin carry his bags inside and up the stairs to the room they'd dubbed the master bedroom. Still wasn't very much in there beyond a bed and a couple of nightstands. Justin looked around. So much potential. And now he'd have the time to do something about it. After he'd convinced Brian that his coming home was the right thing to do. Before Brian could begin hanging up his clothes, Justin took his suitcases and stowed them in the closet where both he and Brian already had a number of pieces. "Later," he said. "Right now I want you to make love to me," he told Brian as he fell back onto the bed.
Once Brian had the fire going, he rejoined Justin on the duvet, both of them propped up against the front of the sofa with cans of beers and cartons of sesame beef and Kung Pao chicken between them.
"So, how often does the cleaning service come?" Justin asked between bites.
"Once every two weeks."
"Maybe they can come an extra time this month to make sure the place is spotless for Thanksgiving."
"Shouldn't be a problem. Are we getting Emmett to cater this dinner?"
"I thought we could have a potluck. Everyone could come over and bring their favorite dish. Cooked or otherwise. I mean, our kitchen is humongous. It won't be a problem."
"As long as you realize I can't cook anything more complicated than toast. So you're on your own."
"You can be my helper. I'll tell you what to do--"
"And you'll do it," Justin continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Which will be a welcome change from the way we usually do things."
Brian raised a brow. "When haven't I done what you've wanted? Eventually," he added hastily before Justin could reply with a long list of items.
Justin wanted to say that Brian had never given up tricking entirely but, then again, Justin hadn't either although they'd both slowed down considerably over the years, Brian in particular. Justin had been very careful not to say anything about the reduction for fear of inciting a "Brian Kinney Idiot Moment". "You've been very good," Justin cooed, hoping to soothe the savage beast before he roared.
"Fuck that," grinned Brian. "I know I've been an asshole of the highest order most of the time you've known me. Actually, most of my life before I'd even met the most persistent twink on the planet."
"Not a twink anymore," Justin reminded him and Brian brushed a finger over his lips.
"No. Not anymore."
"You miss that?" Justin asked, having picked up a wistful tone in Brian's voice.
"Sometimes," he admitted. "You were adorable."
"And I'm not now?"
"In a different way." Brian looked down, the way he always did when he was about to admit something he'd rather not. "But as much as I loved the twink you were, I love the man you've become even more."
"Fuck!" exclaimed Justin. "Are you trying to make me cry?" Brian shook his head and Justin fingered a lock of chestnut hair. "Must want some nookie then," he joked; and Brian laughed, putting down his beer and reaching for his partner.
"I love you."
Since Ted knew Justin was in town, there was no way the information could be kept from Deb and the two men received a phone call early the next morning as Brian was getting ready for work and Justin was lounging in bed tracing the play of muscles in Brian's back with his eyes. Despite being almost a dozen years older, Brian hadn't gained very much weight and was still whipcord thin although he'd broadened a little bit across the chest, back, and shoulders. Picking up the offending phone Justin answered, eyes still on his lover. "Hi, Deb." Brian looked around with a smirk. "Who else would be calling at eight a.m.?" Cradling the phone between his shoulder and ear, Justin climbed to his knees and crawled to the edge of the bed to tie Brian's tie. "I haven't even called my mom yet," he told her in response to her question. "Yes, we'll be at dinner tonight. I'll call Mom myself and invite her and Tucker. Yes, Brian will be with me." He snickered. "I have my ways. Bye, Deb." Thumbing off the phone, he gave Brian a kiss before returning to his spot in the bed.
"You have your ways to do what?" Brian asked, slipping on his suit jacket. He had a lunch meeting that had just come up after he'd left for the day the day before and Cynthia had texted him about it.
"To get you to behave." In response to Brian's raised brow, Justin lifted the edge of the sheet to reveal his naked body once more.
"Ah, yes. Well, lucky for you, I'm easy."
Justin snorted a laugh. "There is nothing easy about you."
Gasping as Justin cupped his groin, Brian grinned. "You're right. I'm hard all the time. But..." he said, gently disengaging his partner's hand, "I have to go. Meet me in the city?"
"Yeah, we'll be early for once and give Deb a heart attack."
"Or," Justin suggested with a gleam in his eye, "we could hang out in your office for a while..."
"Didn't know you had a burning interest in advertising," teased Brian.
"A burning interest in a certain advertiser." He and Brian exchanged a kiss. "Later."
Justin waited to fall back onto the bed until the sound of Brian's footsteps faded to be replaced by the sound of the front door shutting with a bang. He smiled. Brian just couldn't get used to a normal door after years of sliding the loft's heavy one. Kept his arms in great shape though. Not that Justin had any complaints now that the loft had finally been sold. That had been a difficult decision. More so for Justin than Brian. The loft had been his first home away from home although he hadn't lived there for long any of the times he and Brian had been together. Maybe that was why. Regrets about lost opportunities.
Determined to get an early start on things, he allowed himself another half hour in bed before getting up and heading for the shower.
Pausing to say hi to Cynthia and Ted (whom he'd see later at dinner), Justin made his way to Brian's office. With a number of Clio awards (proudly displayed in the lobby on tasteful columns amidst Justin's artwork) to Kinnetik's credit, Brian could have afforded to relocate but he liked the renovated bathhouse and it really did reflect the kind of advertising for which the agency had become renowned.
Brian looked up and stood as his partner pushed through the glass door leading to the inner sanctum. "You're early," he purred.
Justin slipped his arms around his waist. "I started thinking about making out and decided I wanted more time."
Laughing, Brian bestowed a rather chaste kiss upon Justin's lips from Justin's point of view.
"Just a little," Brian admitted, reluctantly letting go. His desk was covered with reports and he had an email message open on his computer; he'd been in the midst of answering it when Justin had arrived.
A tad disappointed, Justin said, "I guess I could go around to Debbie's early..." Then an idea came to him. "Hey, let me see the boards."
"For Brown Athletics and Liberty Air."
"Justin... What's the point?"
"Just because. For shits and giggles."
Brian shook his head. "I will never understand that saying."
"So, can I see them?"
Taking a deep breath, Brian inclined his head ever so slightly. Taking that for what it was, Justin smiled. "Go ask Cynthia. She wouldn't let me destroy them. Even though I wanted to." Returning to his work, he was quickly lost in thought and didn't see the worried look on Justin's face as he exited the office.
An hour later Justin returned, having hung out with the artists down in the Art Department. He'd met all of them in one capacity or another (either as Brian's partner or as a freelance consultant) and had kept in touch with several over the years. With no pressing deadlines, a couple of them had stayed behind after the others took off at five thirty and talked with Justin until he decided it was time to drag Brian away from his work.
Walking into Brian's office, he was surprised to find the man sitting back in his chair and staring up at the ceiling. Even more surprising, Brian didn't look down when Justin came inside the room. In fact, Justin had to clear his throat to get Brian's attention.
"Hey, you ready to go?"
Justin walked around to Brian's side of the desk and perched on the edge. "You want to tell me again how there's nothing wrong?"
"Just--" His partner's glare brought him up short. Unable to explain any better, Brian just shrugged. "I guess I'm just having one of those weeks."
"One of those months, you mean. You haven't been yourself since you came to my show and I'm willing to bet you haven't been yourself long before that."
Brian pushed back in his chair and got up, started packing his briefcase. "Maybe that's why."
"Why Brown and Liberty Air jumped ship."
"I saw the boards," Justin said.
"And they weren't what I expected."
"Yeah, well, you weren't the only one."
Justin gripped Brian's forearm. "And they're fuckin' brilliant. Brown and Liberty Air are going to regret passing on them."
Brian gave a small, tight smile. "No regrets."
"Then why are you? Having them, I mean."
Putting the last folder in his briefcase, Brian reached for his coat. "We should go."
"Don't do this. Not now," said Justin, fighting to keep his voice calm and even-toned, not wanting to set off Brian's fight or flight response. "Not after we've come so far."
"Debbie's waiting," he said, moving towards the door. He caught a glimpse of his reflection, Justin standing behind him, a look of misery on his face. Brian paused. Turned. "I promise we'll talk about it later."
Justin reached for Brian's free hand. "I'm worried about you."
"I want to help."
"Maybe you can't." Brian held the door open and Justin passed through, neither of them in the mood suddenly to make nice with friends and family.
But they had no choice and for the next three hours they had to endure snide remarks, pitying looks, and pointed questions, fielding them as best they could. Seemed Justin wasn't the only one to notice the downward spiral Brian's mood had taken over the past few weeks. Michael pulled the artist aside for a hasty conference in the laundry room.
"You know what's wrong with him?" Michael asked.
"Not a clue. Except losing two big accounts."
"But did he tell you Kinnetik picked up Converse?"
His first impulse was to scream with joy, the second to grab Brian and shake him. He squelched both and replied, "No." Neither had anyone in the Art Department.
Displaying more insight than Justin was wont to expect from Michael, Brian's best friend said, "Maybe that should tell you something."
Feeling kicked in the gut, Justin looked away from Michael's dark-eyed gaze. "Yeah."
Although they hadn't thought it would be possible, they finally escaped from Deb's clutches around ten and started the journey home to West Virginia. But not without a recyclable grocery bag full of Tupperware containing enough pasta to last them a week. Especially considering Brian refused to touch the stuff outside of Debbie's home. Which meant it was up to Justin to either eat it all or dump it after a suitable period of time.
For once Justin was glad they'd both driven into the city. It meant he had at least half an hour to figure out how he was going to approach the thorny subject of Brian's mood and the fact that he hadn't shared what anyone else would have considered extremely big news with his partner. Maybe Brian didn't consider Justin to be his partner anymore. No, he knew that wasn't true. But something was very wrong and he had no idea how it had happened. Well, he had an idea. It was hard to maintain a day-to-day relationship with hundreds of miles between them. They'd done a pretty good job over the years but the years had, apparently, taken a serious toll on them, more so than he'd known. His decision to move home was looking more and more like the right one. Now, he just had to find a way to tell Brian and, more importantly, convince Brian that this was the right decision for him as well as them.
As he pulled into the garage, he watched with concern as Brian got out of the Vette and set the car alarm. There was something off, the movement of his body was all wrong. If Justin hadn't known it was him, he wouldn't have believed it was Brian. Gone were the smooth, confident motions of a man on top of the world. Instead, the body language spoke of exhaustion, malaise.
Brian waited for Justin to join him before unlocking the door to the mudroom and gave a slight smile as the younger man pressed his palm against the small of his back.
"I love you," Justin said, crossing the threshold just behind Brian.
"So you've said," Brian replied.
Alarmed, Justin asked, "You don't believe me?" Against his will, his heart began to beat rapidly. Shit. This couldn't be happening.
"I believe you, Justin." Brian took the bag of food from his partner and shoved it into the fridge, taking a moment to study the contents of the appliance, gleaning a few more seconds in which to come up with some way to say what he needed to say. Finally, he stood, and, ignoring the look of panic on Justin's face, he said, "It's just... sometimes, I'm not..." Closed his eyes. He rubbed a hand over his face. "Can we do this in the den?"
Nodding, Justin followed him and took a seat while Brian poured them each a healthy shot of Beam. Accepting the drink, Justin prompted Brian with, "You were saying?"
Fortified momentarily with the liquor, Brian held Justin's gaze with his own. Now was his chance to unload, unburden his heart, if only he could find the strength, the courage to do so. He might have retreated from the impulse if he hadn't seen the naked fear in Justin's eyes. Justin was here, willing to listen, even though he was terrified of what he might hear. Brian owed him no less than the truth. "I want you to come home."
"I know that we--"
"No, I mean, you do? You want me to come home?"
Brian swallowed around a lump in his throat. "I need you," he said softly. "I'm tired of saying goodbye in airports, not knowing when I'll see you again, wondering if I'll see you again and I know it's not fair, I know I said I'd stand by you and whatever decision you made about your future but I can't do it anymore. I feel like..." Pausing, he knocked back the rest of his drink, then sat staring into the heavy-bottomed glass.
Fuck, it was so hard to say but he had to because this was it, this might be his only chance to convince Justin to come home and he had to take it, even if it meant stripping himself naked emotionally. "I feel like all I'm doing is pretending: to care about work, about the house, about being alive."
Justin leaned forward and laid a hand on Brian's knee. "Is that why you didn't tell me about Converse?" When Brian didn't answer, Justin said, "That's incredible, Brian. I mean, Brown Athletics is one thing but Converse? That's huge."
"I didn't think you'd care," Brian confessed.
"What the fuck! Why would you think that?"
"You have your own life in New York. And I'm not a part of that. I fly in and we pretend that we have a life together but we don't." Brian looked away. "Not the kind that I want."
"What kind is that?"
"Where we share a home, a bed. A fuckin' meal that one of us cooked." He grinned. "Okay, that you cooked." When Justin didn't object, he went on. "I want to be able to come home and tell you about my day even if it's only to say I chewed out my latest assistant or bitched at the Art Department. I want to see what you're working on while you're working on it, if you'd let me. I want to take care of you when you're sick. I want to walk around the grounds with you, watch movies with you. Do nothing with you." He sniffled. "I love you," he confessed.
Justin's eyes were shiny as well. "I love you too. So I guess it's a good thing the moving company's getting here tomorrow."
"Yeah," he answered. "I'm moving back home. Back to Britin. Back to you." Justin laughed as Brian lunged forward and grabbed him in an enormous embrace and just held him, so tightly Justin could feel Brian's heart beating against his chest. "I thought I'd have to convince you to let me come home," admitted Justin, face pressed into Brian's shoulder. It was one of his favorite places to be. "All the way here from New York, I kept trying to come up with a way to sell you on the idea." Leaning up to kiss Brian's throat, Justin whispered, "I'm sorry I wasn't here."
Brian shook his head, face buried in Justin's crown. "You had to do what you needed to do. Not every artist has a painting in fuckin' MOMA."
"It's not worth losing you."
"You haven't lost me." Brian snickered. "You had me at hello."
Justin groaned. "I cannot believe you're quoting a Tom Cruise movie." He looked up at Brian incredulously. "Tom Cruise."
"What can I say? Once upon a time his hotness/crazy ratio tilted in the right direction. Besides, he did Risky Business. He gets many cool points for that."
"Two words for you, Last Samurai."
"Could have been worse. Could have been--" and together they said, "Battlefield Earth."
Justin giggled. "Worst. Movie. Ever."
Brian smirked. "You've been spending too much time with Mikey. Fuckin' Comic Book Guy."
"You love The Simpsons. Tell the truth, you wanted to be Bart."
"Maybe. But I think Gus is Bart."
Laughing, Justin agreed. "He's your son all right."
"Mel begged me to take him next summer." He smiled. "Guess I'll have to tell her we'll take him next summer." Justin nodded. "You're coming home," Brian said, a hint of wonder still in his voice.
"No," Justin said, correcting him, "I've come home."
Brian opened his eyes and closed them again. Justin was no where to be seen but, then again, he didn't expect him to still be in bed. Not when there were a thousand tiny details that didn't really need seeing to but that he couldn't possibly not deal with today. So what if it was the first Thanksgiving dinner they'd ever hosted? So what if it was the first dinner period that they'd ever hosted? It wasn't like the Queen of England was coming, just their friends and family. And considering they were used to gathering at Debbie's house or Michael's house, Justin didn't have any reason to be worried about them being less than impressed with Britin.
Especially when the house was decked out in its finest holiday duds. Something Brian had argued against strenuously without any luck. Brian had tried to distract Justin with thoughts of Christmas but the artist was determined to give Thanksgiving its due as well. There were harvest home displays on every available horizontal surface downstairs; a giant wreath on the front door complete with Indian corn and mini gourds; and the dining table was liberally sprinkled with real fall leaves. Refusing any help from Emmett, Justin had been determined to do it all himself.
Brian felt a little guilty because he knew part of Justin's determination to out do Martha came from his feeling guilty about Brian's revelations. Despite Brian having told him many times that it hadn't been anyone's fault, Justin still blamed himself. And for what? For having a career? For pursuing his dreams? Getting his needs met? Brian had told him a long time ago and he'd meant it: if Justin hadn't been the kind of person he was, Brian wouldn't have wasted his time with him. And he certainly wouldn't have fallen in love with him, wouldn't have wanted to build a life with him.
Even though it had taken a while, they now had the life they'd wanted. Maybe not the one Justin had envisioned when he was a teenager, or the one Brian had been willing to accept once he'd admitted that he loved Justin, but it was the life they'd crafted and the one they would carefully cultivate all the days of their lives. That much, Brian was certain of.
Lying alone in bed, Brian wondered if now was the right time for them to marry. If they even needed to, or wanted to. He hadn't thought about it for so long. They'd put those plans on hiatus years ago thinking that doing so was the only way they'd be able to remain true to themselves and their needs. Brian had believed that Justin had needed to go to New York and Justin had believed just as fervently that Brian had needed his freedom. Maybe they had. Maybe neither one of them had been ready for marriage. But were they any more ready for it now? And did it really matter anymore?
Years had passed and gay marriage still wasn't legal in Pennsylvania, or West Virginia where they lived, so what did it matter if they had a ceremony?
Brian rolled over and opened his nightstand. Took out the black velvet box that resided in the far recesses of the drawer. Flipped it open to reveal two platinum rings, shining as brightly as they had when he'd first purchased them. Wondered what Justin would say if he knew Brian had kept them.
The sound of footsteps coming up the stairs alerted Brian to Justin's impending arrival. Snapping the top on the box, he returned their rings to the drawer and threw back the covers in preparation for getting up. His feet had just touched the floor when Justin's bright head appeared in the doorway.
Brian glanced down at his cock which was currently flaccid. "Takes a little more stimulation these days to get his attention," he drawled and Justin chuckled and straddled Brian's waist, ground his still pert and ample bottom against Brian's groin.
"Like this?" he purred.
Brian growled against Justin's lips before kissing him, "Thought you were busy downstairs."
Parting briefly, Justin replied, "And now I'm busy upstairs."
Opting to drive down the day of Thanksgiving instead of the night before, the women were due to arrive at Britin around one and Brian thought he'd go out of his mind before they pulled into the yard. Partly because their arrival would give Justin something to do besides flittering around the house like a madman and partly because he missed his Sonny Boy terribly and treasured every moment they had together. Especially since, with each passing year, Gus had grown more like his old man than any of them could have predicted.
Admittedly much happier than Brian ever had been as a child, Gus had inherited Brian's intellect and propensity for getting into trouble, mostly stemming from his intelligence and from being bored. Like father, like son, a bored Gus meant trouble. So Mel and Lindsay had enrolled him in a private school and signed him up for all kinds of extra-curricular activities. To Mel's dismay, Gus had also inherited Brian's athletic ability and was one of his school's star soccer players. Whenever Brian and Gus got together, they'd spend hours kicking the ball back and forth, Brian giving his son tips on scoring--on the soccer field, the only ones Lindsay would allow Brian to give him--and defensive maneuvers.
Even though it was only noon, Brian had begun to surreptitiously check the driveway for signs of the Canadian contingency of the family. The rest of the gang was expected around two but he knew Deb and Emmett and Carl would come zooming up at any moment, Deb and Emmett convinced that Justin couldn't handle dinner by himself; and soon after Michael and Ben would arrive because Michael would want to be there when Jenny Rebecca set foot on the estate even though she and her mommies would be spending the next two days with the Novotny-Bruckners. Brian couldn't blame him; he jealously guarded every moment he got to spend with Gus as well.
Taking a break from "getting things ready" Justin found Brian by the window in the parlor, staring out at the front yard. The service had come and raked the leaves last week but more had fallen. Justin liked it that way, gave the house a more lived-in look than the rest of the homes in the area with their immaculate fields of green turf. Slipping his arms around Brian's waist, he rested his head against his back. "They'll be here soon."
"Think I'll still be taller than him?"
That elicited a laugh. "You're safe for another six months I'd say. Lindz said the last time they measured him, he was 5'3"."
"Shit," cursed Justin. "By the time he turns twelve, we'll probably be the same height," groaned Justin. "I hate being short."
"You're not short. You're average."
"I hate being average."
"It's the only thing average about you," Brian assured him, turning in his arms and patting his bottom. "This is definitely above average. I'd even go so far as to say it's steller."
Justin pulled away, giggling. "You're incorrigable."
"I try," grinned Brian.
Justin's smile softened. "This feels so right. Us, being together like this," he explained. "I love to hear you laugh," he confessed, his cheeks reddening slightly.
"You make me laugh," Brian said seriously before bursting out laughing and beating a hasty retreat from Justin's flailing hand once Justin realized what he'd said.
"Dad!" yelled Gus, flinging open the car door and running towards his father. Even though he was eleven and beginning to be very aware of what was cool and what wasn't, his love for his dad outweighed any such considerations.
Catching him in his arms, Brian groaned, "Ooomph!" and almost fell over. "You're getting too big for me to pick up."
"He's not too big, you're just getting--"
"Don't you dare," warned Brian, letting go of his son who immediately grabbed Justin and hugged him tight.
Justin laughed. "You've got a grip like your dad."
"I missed you, Justin."
The artist caressed the boy's cheek before kissing it lightly. "I missed you too, Gus."
"Dad says you're not going back to New York."
"I'll be going back. To visit though. Not to live. Not unless your dad's with me."
Mel and Lindsay and JR had been busy saying hello to the rest of the gang who'd gathered at the house and now that they'd exchanged kisses and hugs as well, they turned to the two men and Lindsay embraced both with a big grin. "I'm so happy you two are back together again."
"We never broke up," Brian clarified for everyone else's benefit because Lindsay knew the truth. There'd been any number of mournful calls between Pittsburgh and Toronto, with him stoically trying to deny that anything was wrong and her seeing right through him.
Herding the group inside, Justin left them all in the den while he checked on the turkey again. He'd made Deb and Emmett swear not to peek and was, subsequently, feeling a little less than confident. After all, it was his first turkey.
Lindsay found him basting the turkey dutifully and frowning. "Oh, Justin, that looks wonderful," she said, eying the beautifully browned bird.
"I hope it's okay. You know how Deb and Emmett are."
"Well, I don't know about Emmett but," Lindz said, leaning close, "confidentially, Deb's turkey was always a lee-tle dry. Why do you think her gravy was so popular?" The two shared a conspiratorial laugh and Justin returned the turkey to the oven to cook a few minutes more. Instead of returning to the den, they perched on stools at the kitchen island and talked over coffee. "I was really worried about him."
"It wasn't as bad when he was still in the loft but once he moved out here, he was like a ghost wandering the halls of some haunted mansion."
Justin sighed. "He never said anything."
"Never does. He believes in suffering in silence."
"Fuckin' Jack and Joan."
"He did open up to me though." He smiled thinking about their long overdue talk and how Brian had finally told him what he wanted, what he needed. Granted, Justin had already figured out the same thing for himself but no matter. What mattered was Brian talked to him about their relationship and made some demands, demands he would never have made just a year ago. Eyes sparkling, Justin removed a small object from his pocket. It was wrapped in tissue paper. He handed it to Lindsay.
"What is it?"
Looking around to make sure no one else was headed their way, he said, "An engagement ring. For Brian," he added unecessarily.
Lindsay unwrapped the ring and gasped. It was beautiful. Platinum with a single baguette cut diamond set near one edge. "Justin..."
"Do you think he'll accept it?"
She didn't answer, just returned the ring to him and hugged him. "I thank God every day that you and Gus arrived on the same night. You're the two best things to ever happen to him."
Just as Justin had put away the ring, Brian appeared at the doorway. "Planning on eloping?" he asked, tongue in cheek. Lindsay blushed and pushed past him. Standing behind Justin, Brian rested his chin on the artist's shoulder. Kissed his cheek. "It'll be okay. Better than okay."
Justin nodded. "I'll be glad when my mom gets here."
"So we can eat. I'm starving."
"So what were you and Lindsay coffee klatching about?"
Justin turned and beamed in amusement. "Is klatching even a word?"
"Stuff," he replied mysteriously.
Brian threw up his hands. "Whatever." Turned towards the window at a sound from outside. "I think Jenn and Tucker are here."
"I can't believe she's still with that guy," groused Justin.
"Admit it, he's good for her," Brian said, tugging on the back of Justin's sweater.
"Whatever," said Justin, throwing Brian's word back at him.
"Come on, let's go greet your guests."
Dinner had been a resounding success with everyone returning to the buffet for seconds and thirds and Justin reigned supreme from his end of the table. When, at last, they retired to the den to hang out and let their dinner digest before tackling dessert, Justin stood in the front of the room and cleared his throat.
"What's going on?" Michael asked Brian.
Justin wiped his hands on his pants and took a deep breath. He could do this. "I wanted to thank all of you for coming over and celebrating Thanksgiving with us. We have a lot to be thankful for."
Brian groaned, hoping Justin wasn't about to introduce some lesbianic ritual like going around the room and saying what you were thankful for; when they hadn't done it at dinner, he'd thought they'd dodge that bullet.
"I can tell from Brian's groan and from the look on his face that he thinks I'm going to make him tell everyone what he's thankful for. Well, I'm not. But I am going to tell all of you what I'm thankful for. I'm thankful for my health, my home, my family, and my art. I'm thankful for my life and for having the opportunity to share my life with the most exasperating and aggravating man alive."
Deb cackled. "You tell him, Sunshine."
"And I want to spend the rest of my life with him." He paused and suddenly Jennifer's eyes lit up. She covered her mouth. Justin crossed to Brian, then reached into his pocket and removed the ring he'd bought. "Brian, will you marry me?"
Emmett's, "Oh my God," rang out closely followed by Deb's exclamation of joy.
Brian looked up at his partner, Justin's eyes were wide with expectation and a little trepidation. He was certain his own eyes were quite wide as well and he felt as if he had cotton in his mouth. Then a smile spread across his face. And an answering one graced Justin's. "Yes."
"Yes, I'll do it."
"Yes, I will marry you."
The room errupted as Justin slid the ring on Brian's finger and they kissed. Gus' voice could be heard asking, "Can I still be the ring bearer?" and Brian laughed and said, "Sonny Boy, I can't think of anyone better."
After nearly everyone had offered their congratulations, Deb lightly slapped Brian and then hugged him hard. "I can't believe it. My baby's getting married."
Michael frowned. "I thought I was your baby."
"You're the oldest." She kissed Brian. "You deserve this, kiddo. You deserve all the happiness in the world."
Brian smiled and pecked Deb's cheek. "Thanks, Ma."
When she moved away, she was replaced by Michael who demanded to see the goods. After making the appropriately appreciative sounds, he grinned. "You had no idea he was going to do that, did you?"
"Nope. Little asshole."
"Yeah, it wouldn't do for the world to see the Great Brian Kinney tear up over a marriage proposal."
Brian shoved Mikey with his shoulder. "I did not tear up."
"Did too," he replied with a shove of his own.
Brian looked around. No one was paying attention to them. "Okay, maybe a little."
"Busted," laughed Michael before turning serious. "I'm really happy for you."
"Cause I'm joining you in welded bliss to the old ball and chain?"
"Let Justin hear you and he might take that ring back."
"Not a chance. It's mine and I'm keeping it." Brian held out his hand and studied the ring. Exquisite. "I never thought I'd say this but he has great taste." He glanced at Justin's outfit for the day: grey slacks and a navy sweater. "And it only took eleven years of hard work, determination, and faith in a higher power."
Brian smirked. "Exactly."
Across the room, Jennifer was hugging Justin for the third time since his surprise announcement. "I'm so proud of you."
"For asking Brian to marry me?"
"For not giving up on your dream. I remember a certain seventeen-year old telling his father and me that he loved Brian Kinney and he'd always love him. And here you are, marrying the man of your dreams."
But Justin shook his head. "No, not the man of my dreams. Because my dreams weren't nearly as good as the real thing."
Jennifer followed his gaze to the other side of the room where Brian and Michael stood laughing together. "He really is something else," she admitted. "I've been worried about him."
"You and everyone else. And yet no one said a thing to me."
"He wouldn't have wanted us to."
Justin clamped down on the surge of anger. "I know. I know," he repeated more vehemently as if to convince himself, "but it doesn't mean I can't be pissed about it."
"The important thing is that you're here now and you're getting married. Any idea when?"
"I'd love to do Christmas, while Mel and Lindz and the kids are here but I don't know if Brian would go for that."
"I think he'd go for anything you wanted," she said. "He loves you that much."
"No," said Justin, shaking his head. "More."
Standing side by side washing crystal goblets too delicate to entrust to the dishwasher, Brian glanced over at his fiancé. Fiancé. Fuck. Even after asking Justin to marry him all those years ago, he hadn't completely comprehended the consequences of his actions. Namely, that he'd be someone's fiancé and that he'd have a fiancé and, soon after, a husband. And be someone's husband. He reached for the glass Justin handed him to rinse and dry and paused to study his engagement ring for the hundredth time since Justin had placed it on his hand. Justin snickered. "What?"
"You. Give you an expensive ring and you go all lezzie on me."
Brian snatched the glass from Justin and began drying it with the Egyptian cotton dish towels Brian had insisted they use. Nothing but the best for their Kate Spade stemware. "It's a beautiful ring," Brian said in his defense. "Did Daphne pick it out?"
Grabbing one of the dry dish towels, Justin slapped Brian's ass. "I'll have you know I picked it out all by myself without any input from my favorite hag."
Sliding the now dry goblet into its place next to its fellows, Brian smiled. "So... Christmas, huh?"
Justin grimaced. "My mom told you?"
"Of course. She wanted to give me a head's up so that I wouldn't, in her words, 'act like an asshole when it came up.' Endquote."
"She has definitely spent waaay too much time with Deb over the years."
"Too late now." Brian took the last glass and began drying it. "You think we can pull it together by then?"
"Emmett assures me that we can." Justin bit his lip, hoping that Brian would say yes.
Refraining from jumping up and down, Justin settled for a quick peck on the cheek. Whispered, "I love you."
Brian grinned. "I know. You got me this ring."
Scooping up a handful of suds, Justin blew them at his fiancé and ran from the kitchen leaving a sputtering Brian behind desperatly trying to brush the soap bubbles from his shirt.
Ted studied the image on the monitor.
"So, what do you think?"
"I think it's amazing. But why me and not Michael?"
"Because, as boring as you are, Theodore, you have excellent taste. Something Mikey sadly lacks."
Used to Brian's backhanded compliments, Ted nodded. He knew Brian didn't need anyone's opinion, what Brian did need was to share his news with a friend. And, for that, Ted was grateful. "So when are you getting it?"
Brian printed out the invoice. "Tonight."
"Got anything special planned?"
"Like what? Dinner with a dozen of our closest friends and family?" Brian snorted.
"No, I meant like a romantic dinner for two. Candles, wine, soft music..."
"Despite what Justin thinks, I have not become a lesbian. I only break out the candles for titwork." Before Ted could comment, Brian said, "And speaking of work, don't you have some to do to justify your exorbitant salary?"
Grinning, Ted headed for the door. "Good luck."
"I don't need luck," Brian replied. "I've got the ring." Then added, "And the man." Waiting until the door had swished close behind Ted, Brian flipped open his cell and hit #1 on his speed dial. Waited. And waited. Finally, he heard a breathless, "Yeah?"
"That's a fine way to answer the phone."
"Did you call for something or were you just trying to annoy me?"
"Meet me at Kinnetik around six. And wear something nice. We've got dinner reservations."
"What's the occasion?"
"I wanted to have a nice dinner with my fiancé." He heard Justin chuckle.
"All right. Six it is."
Smiling, Brian hit "End" and snapped his phone shut. Then, putting the phone and his plans for the evening away, he concentrated on the files in front of him.
Although Isabela boasted a great view, downtown Pittsburgh lit up like jewels on a velvet cloth couldn't compete with the smile on his lover's face, a smile that reached all the way up to his hazel eyes. Justin entwined his fingers with Brian's.
"Missing New York?"
"Not in the least bit," he replied. "I have everything I want right here in the Pitts."
"Everything?" Justin nodded. "I guess I didn't need this then," said Brian, taking a small blue velvet box out of his pocket.
Justin's eyes brightened. "Brian... What is it?"
Brian pushed it towards him. "Open it and find out."
Hands trembling, Justin raised the top. A smile flickered. "It's beautiful." It was a platinum band with a floating princess cut blue diamond.
"You like it?"
Instead of speaking, Justin handed the box back to Brian and held out his right hand. Once the ring was slid into place, he extended his fingers to admire it. "Is that sapphire?"
"Blue diamond. Only the best for my prince. And it's rare, just like you."
A tear slipped down Justin's cheek. Closing his fingers, he almost sobbed as he asked, "What took us so long?"
Brian shook his head, reached over and thumbed away the tear. "Doesn't matter. It was only time."
"That we wasted," Justin insisted. But Brian disagreed.
"Look at all that we've accomplished. Fuckin' MOMA."
A small smile peeked through the clouds. "Fuckin' Converse."
Brian waved that away. "The point is, we lived our lives. Sometimes together, sometimes apart."
"Not in the same way, no." He toyed with his wine glass. "But there'll be times when we'll be apart..."
"We'll always have Britin," Justin teased and Brian groaned.
"And you call me corny."
"Least I quoted a good movie."
"And you would know this how?"
"My fiancé taught me all about classic movies."
Brian doused his amusement in a sip of wine. "Sounds like a prince."
Justin shook his head. "I'm the prince. He's the queen," he sputtered with laughter.
"Maybe I ought to take my ring back," Brian threatened.
"Maybe you'd like to draw back a nub," Justin said sweetly, the points of his teeth showing.
Nobody's fool, Brian retracted his hand.
"Well," said Emmett, closing up the last folder, "that's that. Now all you have to do is show up."
"And make sure Brian does," Justin snorted.
Emmett chuckled. "I don't think that'll be a problem. He really loves you, baby."
Justin tilted his head to the side and studied his friend. Although older, there was still a trace of the younger man Emmett had been when they'd first met. Although, maybe met was too pale of a word. More like when Justin crashed into their world. "Emmett?"
"Did you ever think we'd be here, in this situation, when you first met me?"
This time Emmett cackled. "Baby, I didn't think you'd be around ten more minutes when I first met you, let alone eleven years later be preparing to marry the most notorious top in all of Pittsburgh."
"Fags have long memories about some things and the magnificent Mr. Kinney is unforgettable."
"Well," said Justin, "they'd better enjoy them because that's all they're getting from now on."
Surprised by Justin's announcement, Emmett asked, "Is that so?"
"'Til death do us part and forsaking all others," replied Justin.
Emmett laughed. "You go, baby."
"Actually," Justin said, "those were Brian's words. He said if we're getting married, we're getting married and all that entails."
Impressed, Emmett admitted, "He doesn't do anything halfway." Pausing to peck Justin on the cheek, Emmett grabbed his bag and headed for the hallway. "I'll show myself out. You need to decide what you're doing about the cake. We have some time but not too much time left." Shook his head in dismay. "Christmas."
Justin called after him, "You can do it, Em. Think simple," and laughed as he heard his friend sighing before the front door shut behind him. The only people who could possibly out queen Emmett were Brian--and himself. He fully admitted that he was a Drama Queen of the first order, having graduated from Drama Princess some few years ago after a spectacular knock-down, drag-out fight with Brian over what restaurant they were getting reservations to for their non-anniversary anniversary. He still blushed thinking about his Tony/Oscar/Emmy Award winning performance that evening. He'd refused to go with Brian's suggestion and, instead, told Brian that he'd rather eat a Big Mac that had been dunked in the toilet and refried in lube.
"That can be arranged," Brian had quipped before storming out of the apartment Justin had been renting at the time. Furious, Justin had contemplated murdering his partner and hiding the body when Brian had returned some twenty minutes later and tossed a McDonald's bag onto his lap. "You'll have to do the dunking and frying yourself," he'd said and Justin had burst out laughing upon opening the bag and finding three Big Macs and a large order of fries inside.
"What?" he'd asked. "No soda?"
Remembering the make-shift picnic they'd had on the floor, Brian gingerly eating his as if he expected to expire from food poisoning at any minute, Justin began laughing. That's how Brian found him when he returned home.
Before Brian could ask what was so funny, Justin said, "What? No soda?" and Brian groaned and turned around and headed upstairs, Justin's giggles following him to the second floor.
Later, as they lounged about the den, Brian occasionally pecking at his laptop and Justin doodling on a sketchpad, Jeff Chandler and Jane Russell silently arguing on the plasma screen, Brian looked up and asked, "Everything decided with Emmett?"
Justin grunted in amusement.
"I told you I would help if you wanted my help," Brian said in his defense.
"And I told you I'd like to get married with a full head of hair, not with fistfuls missing, which is what would happen if you graciously deigned to help us."
Placing his laptop on the coffee table, Brian leaned back against the arm of the sofa and drew his feet up on the seat. Nudged Justin with his toe, once, twice, then snatched his foot back before Justin could poke him with his pencil. Grinning, Brian waited until Justin put down his sketchpad as well. "Seriously, if there's something I can do..."
"What about it?"
"What kind of cake should we have?"
"Something small, we don't have that many guests."
"Flavor?" Justin asked, pleased that Brian was taking him seriously.
"I don't have a preference. Whatever Emmett suggests is fine." Then added, "If you agree."
"And no bitching if you don't like it?"
Brian shook his head in disbelief. "Justin, beyond the obligatory first taste, do you really think I'm going to eat any of that cake?"
Smiling, Justin shook his head. He could count on one hand the number of times Brian had eaten dessert with him in the past twelve years. Above and beyond his obsession with keeping fit and trim, he just wasn't a dessert person. To him, a well-aged piece of beef was the same as chocolate. "All right. Emmett did have some suggestions so I'll pick one."
Justin scratched his head. "Nope. We're keeping it simple as requested."
Thinking he'd detected a note of dissatisfaction in Justin's voice, Brian moved closer to his fiance and bumped his shoulder against his. "Do you want something more elaborate? Truthfully."
"Truthfully?" Brian nodded. After thinking for a few moments, Justin replied, "No. We ran around like crazy the last time for nothing and, this time--"
"No, it's not about last time, it's about what you want for your--our wedding. And we do it right or we don't do it at all." Brian fixed his gaze on Justin's face. "So?"
Eyes glistening a bit, Justin answered, "So this is exactly what I want: a few friends and family over to celebrate with us."
Brian slipped his arm around Justin's shoulders and shook him a little. "Sure?"
Pressing his lips to Justin's forehead, Brian moved back to the opposite end of the couch. "Good," he said, and picked up his laptop to return to his work.
Bemused, Justin watched him for a moment, then glanced over at the unwatched television. "Brian?"
"What the hell is this movie?" Brian had turned on the television and selected the channel before Justin had come out earlier.
Without looking up, Brian replied, "There's this thing called a remote with an "Info" button on it. Find it, press on it, and, presto, all will be revealed."
For nearly fifteen seconds, Justin just stared at Brian and then he growled, grabbed his pad, and flounced from the room. Actually flounced.
Brian held his laughter for exactly three seconds before laughing so hard he had to put his laptop aside before he damaged it.
An hour later, after having retrieved his laptop and actually working for a while, he shut it down and went in search of his ferocious, flouncing fiance. Not finding him upstairs in their room or downstairs in any of the rooms that were habitable, he forced down his worries, pulled on a jacket, and went outside thinking maybe Justin had gone to the barn.
Sure enough, as soon as the building came into sight, he could see the lights on through a window.
Justin had decided that in light of the size of his pieces, it'd be better to have a large open space at ground level for his studio. Since they had no plans to purchase any horses, he and Brian had agreed to convert the barn into his workspace. The contractors would be in after the holidays to begin the necessary work. Unfortunately, even though Justin and the contractor had sketched out tentative plans, Justin tended to change his mind on a weekly basis about what he wanted done to the space. At any given moment in the day, Brian would find him out in the barn daydreaming.
Knocking first since it was Justin's private workspace regardless of its present condition, Brian waited until he got the go ahead before entering. As he suspected, Justin was sitting up against a wall with his sketchpad on his lap, making notations on what looked to be a floorplan. Squatting down next to him, Brian tapped the pad and asked, "Is it going to make Marcus crazy?"
Justin shook his head although Brian thought he had a decidedly guilty look in his eye.
Caught out, Justin laughed. "Maybe a little."
Brian stood and held out his hand. "Keep him on his toes."
Having accepted Brian's offer of help, Justin handed him his sketchpad while he brushed off his jeans. "Please, if he survived working with you on the loft, he can survive my making a few minor, minor changes on a minor, minor job."
"Minor?" Brian asked incredulously. "He called me at Kinnetik after one of your 'minor changes' and he was crying. Crying, Justin. I never made him cry."
"That's cause you were fucking him while he was working on the loft."
"Only after he finished," Brian insisted. "It was a tip."
Justin grinned. "I'm inclined to believe it was more than the 'tip'."
"All nine inches," bragged Brian with a chuckle.
"That's my fiancé all right," boasted Justin, taking Brian's hand as they walked back to the house. "So, what was that movie?"
"Foxfire," replied Brian. "With Jeff Chandler."
"He was hot."
"So was Jane Russell."
Giving Brian a raised brow, Justin asked, "Since when have you noticed whether or not women are hot?"
"Since always," Brian answered. "I can admire and appreciate beautiful women without wanting to fuck them," he said with a shudder.
Justin tugged on Brian's hand as he raced ahead. "Less talking and faster walking. You have to fuck that image right out of my head."
At precisely 6:02 a.m. on the day of Brian and Justin's wedding, Emmett Honeycutt sat up in bed and shouted, "Shit!" waking his partner, Drew Boyd, who had, until that moment, been sleeping soundly, snuggled deep within the warmth of the new down comforter Emmett had impulse purchased two weeks ago. Now, of course, he bolted up as well, startled out of his peaceful slumber.
"What?" he asked, heart racing, not quite sure what was going on.
Wild-eyed, Emmett said, "I was supposed to double-check with the baker about the groomsmen figures on the cake. If they don't look like Brian and Justin, they'll kill me."
"Is one going to be wearing Armani and the other a paint-stained pair of cargoes?" joked Drew.
"You are so not funny," replied Emmett.
"I tend to misplace my sense of humor at six in the morning."
Emmett softened and leaned over with a feather-light kiss for his partner. "Sorry."
"I seem to remember both Brian and Justin saying something about 'Keeping it simple,' " Drew reminded Emmett.
"With the caveat that it be fabulous and unforgettable," said Emmett. "That part was unspoken."
"And assumed," Drew assured him. "Every event you plan is fabulous. This won't be any exception."
"But they're my friends." He cocked a brow, "At least Justin is. Brian, well..."
"You know Brian loves you. And you love him."
"Asshole that he is, I do. And I know he loves all of us. So I want everything to be perfect for their big day."
Drew pulled Emmett back down under the covers. "And it will be. As long as they say, 'I do,' it'll be perfect to them." Slipping his hand down between Em's thighs, Drew grinned, "Now, how about we forget about those two for the next thirty minutes?"
"Make it forty-five and you've got a deal," Emmett replied with a gap-toothed grin of his own.
Justin cracked open an eye and spied the time. Seven o'clock. His mind instantly on the myriad of tasks that lay before him, he mentally prepared himself to get up and get started. But before he could convince his body to cooperate with his mind, a voice, rough with sleep, startled him in the early morning quiet.
"Go back to sleep."
"We have a wedding planner. Let him worry about that shit," Brian ordered, turning over and fixing his gaze on Justin just in case the blond got any ideas about ignoring him. "Now, go back to sleep. You don't want to get married with bags under your eyes."
"I have bags under my eyes?" exclaimed Justin, throwing off the covers.
Brian grabbed his partner's arm and dragged him back into bed, pulled the sheet and duvet back over them, and repeated his prior order, "Go back to sleep. For another hour," he added as he closed his eyes, hoping to get Justin to agree.
"But I'm not sleepy," Justin pouted, folding his arms on top of the duvet.
Brian sighed and without opening his eyes said, "You may be a spring chicken, but this seasoned cock needs a little more shut eye."
"Then I'll get up and you sleep," Justin said, hoping Brian would see reason.
"But if you get up, Gus will probably hear you--since he has the hearing of a wolf--and then the two of you will each eat a giant bowl of sugar disguised as breakfast cereal, and start bouncing around like a couple of tweaked out poodles, and I won't get any more sleep." Brian reached out and stroked Justin's arm. "Sunshine, for me, go back to sleep."
"You owe me," Justin replied, snuggling into Brian's side and slipping his arms around his still-slender waist.
With a kiss on Justin's crown, Brian murmured, "Later. You can collect your debt later."
Gus paused outside of his dad and Justin's room and waited to see if they'd continue talking. When he didn't hear anything else, he sighed and walked downstairs. He'd really been hoping that one or both of them would get up. He didn't mind getting his own breakfast but he hated eating alone. And since his moms and JR had spent the night with his Uncle Mikey and Uncle Ben, there was no one else to hang out with except for his dad and Justin.
He couldn't believe it. His dad and Justin were getting married, on New Year's Eve. He and his moms and JR had been in Pittsburgh since the Saturday before Christmas and were going back to Toronto tomorrow.
His dad and Justin.
Gus paused by the den and gazed once more at the Christmas tree that still held court in the corner of the room between the fireplace and the front window. Coming into the house that Saturday and seeing the tree, magnificent in all of its sapphire and gold splendor, the tree skirt circling the trunk barely visible because of the gifts underneath, had been a dream come true. It had been almost impossible to sleep the night before Christmas, dreaming about tearing into all those presents. Even though he wasn't a little kid anymore, he still got excited about Christmas. Especially when he got to spend it at his dad's house. With Justin.
Heading into the kitchen, Gus decided that he wanted something hot for breakfast so he rummaged through the cabinets until he found a box of instant oatmeal and microwaved a bowl. Sat down at the kitchen table with the oatmeal and a glass of milk and began to eat. This was just a snack though. He fully intended to have a second breakfast when Justin and his dad got up. Justin would probably fix bacon and eggs and his dad would grumble the whole time about the calories and fat and then spend most of breakfast stealing crumbs off of Justin's plate. That never failed to make Gus laugh. He loved being with his dad and Justin.
Gus frowned. Now that his dad and Justin were getting married, it didn't seem right that he called him Justin. After all, Justin was marrying his dad. Justin had been there the night he was born, had named him, saved him from a fate worse than death: being named Abraham. Gus shuddered. What had his mama been thinking? So now he'd have two dads. A smile spread across Gus' face. Justin was going to be his real dad--just like his mama was his real mom--and not just his dad's boyfriend. So he couldn't keep calling him Justin, the same way he didn't call his mama, Mel. Or his mom, Lindsay. He could imagine calling his dad, Brian, though, and he didn't think his dad would mind although his moms would. His dad was cool like that.
So what to call Justin? Daddy seemed a little babyish to him. And Papa made Justin sound like an old man. Besides, they called Carl Papa. Maybe Pop. Only... Justin seemed like a Dad. And Pop, well, his dad was more of a Pop. But Gus knew that his dad had called his dad Pop and he and his dad had never gotten along. Gus didn't want to remind his dad of that because he could tell, even now, even though his granddad had died a long time ago, it still made his father sad to think about him. So Pop was out.
Then Gus remembered this movie he'd seen not too long ago on TV, an old movie about a man going back to Ireland for his father's funeral. And he'd called him Da, that was an Irish nickname for dad. And his dad was Irish! It was perfect. Da and Dad.
Pleased with himself, Gus decided to fix another bowl of oatmeal and this time he sprinkled raisins and brown sugar on it. Ju--Dad usually fixed it that way and it was always so good.
Still in his sweats, Gus camped out in the den to watch one of his dad's animated movies. Justin had a huge collection of animated films. He'd told Gus once that when he was in high school, that's what he'd wanted to do: draw animated movies. But he'd become a painter instead because of his hand, the hand that had been damaged by the bashing. Gus hated thinking about his dad being hurt. He couldn't imagine anyone not liking Justin. And all he and Brian had been doing was dancing. Stupid.
Just as Howl rescued Sophie from the soldiers, his two dads appeared in the doorway: Justin in his, ubiquitous his da called them, cargoes and a t-shirt and Brian in a pair of faded blue jeans and an olive sweater.
Gus craned his neck to look over the back of the sofa. "Hey, Da; hey, Dad," he called out casually and waited to see their reaction.
At first neither man moved and then a smile beamed from Justin's face as if a light-switch had been turned on. A slower smile inched across Brian's face despite his attempt to roll his lips under to keep it away. Justin blinked rapidly and asked, "Did you eat already?"
But before Gus could answer, Brian said, "He's eleven, of course, he's still hungry, Sunshine."
"And what about you?" Justin asked.
And Brian shrugged. "I could eat."
Gus prat-fell off the couch as his dad laughed. "It's a miracle!" he shouted.
Brian pivoted on his heel and strode off towards the the kitchen. "I'll leave you children to your amusements," he announced.
Justin crossed the room and held out his hand to, ostensibly, help Gus from the floor but when the boy was on his feet again, Justin embraced him and just held him for the longest time. "I love you," he whispered.
"I love you too, Dad," replied Gus.
Justin found Brian in the kitchen, seated at the island counter, nursing a cup of coffee-flavored sugar water. And Brian kidded him about eating kids' cereals. Saying nothing, Justin went about gathering the ingredients for an white egg omelet--something Brian would eat without complaint--and a few sausage links--which Brian would eat surrepticiously from Justin's plate.
"So," Brian said after a few moments of silence, "you're a dad now, huh?"
Taking a deep breath, Justin replied, "Yep."
"Does this mean I can buy you a tie without you complaining about it?" laughed Brian.
"Do it and die," Justin replied. "You know ties make my head look big."
Carefully setting down his coffee cup first, Brian said, "Sunshine, your head doesn't look big, your head is big," before dashing from the room.
From his place on the sofa, Gus laughed, hearing his da running from his dad.
Handing the two rings over to Gus, Brian gave him his instructions. "So..."
"When the bull dyke minister says, 'May I have the rings, please, you come to Daddy,' " Gus finished to Brian's amusement and disbelief.
"I can't believe you remember that."
"It was right before we moved. I remember you saying goodbye at the car," Gus told him. "You stuck your head in the window and kissed me."
Brian ruffled his son's hair, dark reddish-brown like his own, with a few light-brown highlights. It constantly amazed him that he had an almost twelve-year-old son. A beautiful, mischievous, head-strong, and amazing son. "I didn't want you to go," he confessed. "I had been a pretty shitty dad to you up until then and... I guess I wanted a chance to be better."
"I miss you, Da, when I'm in Canada," Gus said softly. He didn't look at his father but at the floor, not wanting to appear weak. After a moment he felt his da's strong arm around his shoulder and he was pulled into a fierce embrace.
"I miss you too, Sonnyboy, more than you can ever imagine." Then Brian knuckled Gus under the chin to raise his face. "I'll always be here for you, no matter what, no matter how far apart we are. Both of us, me and your dad."
Gus pressed his face into his father's chest, willing away the sudden tears.
"Hey," joked Brian, "watch the suit." Gus pulled back slightly and sniffled. "I'm getting married in an hour and I have to look good for the hubby."
Gus pretended to brush some lint from Brian's jacket. "You look hot, Da," he laughed. "At least Dad will think so."
"Speaking of your dad, I better go check on him. And you better go downstairs and make sure your Grandma Deb isn't driving Emmett crazy."
"What about Grandma Jennifer?" The first time Gus had called Jennifer Grandma that morning she had gotten as teary-eyed as Justin had upon learning he had become a dad.
"I'll save your dad from her." Brian got a twinkle in his eye. "How about you come with me and escort your Grandma Jennifer downstairs?" he asked as they exited the master bedroom for the guestroom next door that Justin had commandeered in order to get ready, reasoning that it'd be better for them to be separated than to get ready together, to avoid temptations.
"I'd be happy to be escorted downstairs by my handsome grandson," Jennifer said as she and Justin came out of the guestroom, having heard Brian out in the hallway. Before giving Gus her arm, she bussed Justin on the cheek and pulled Brian's head down to the do the same to him. "Don't you two get lost up here," she reminded them and she and Gus sauntered down the hall towards the main stair.
As soon as Jennifer and Gus winked out of sight, Brian turned to his husband-to-be and examined him from head to toe.
Justin blushed under the intense scrutiny. "What?" Then he remembered another occasion when Brian had closely studied him: the day they had tried on suits for their aborted wedding.
"You look... beautiful," said Brian, remembering the past as well. So many years had passed. So much time. Wasted time, Justin had called it and Brian had disagreed but maybe, maybe it had been wasted time. Maybe they would have been better off marrying back then; but if they had and Justin had still gone to New York, how would being married have changed anything? They would still have been apart, still would have lived their day-to-day lives in separate cities; and it still would have killed him to say goodbye to Justin each and every time they parted: a wedding ring wouldn't have changed that. So maybe now was the right time, now that Justin was home, and they were committed to building a life together in the same place, in this house that he'd bought for his prince once upon a time.
"So do you," Justin replied and Brian blinked once or twice, so lost had he been in his thoughts. "You look beautiful too," said Justin.
"Afraid of doing something goofy?" teased Justin.
"With our friends? Please. I'll always be too cool for school," Brian said, straightening his already impeccably positioned cuffs.
"You do remember the night you and Michael drank about a quart of liquor each and then entertained the homos at Woody's with your awesome guitar playing, don't you?"
"I was going through potential possession withdrawal," Brian said in his defense, wincing at the memory of him and Mikey drunkenly reliving their high school dreams of being in a rock band.
Brian checked his wrist for the watch he didn't wear outside of the office. "Don't we have to go down soon?"
"Point for Justin."
"It's not too early for spousal abuse, you know," threatened Brian.
Waving off the threat, Justin said confidently, "You wouldn't hurt me," and Brian cupped his face in his hands and brushed a thumb over his jawline.
"No," he agreed. "I wouldn't. Not if I could help it. Not on purpose. Not ever again," he added, admitting that there had been times in the past when that statement hadn't been true. Justin smiled and Brian pecked his lips. "We should go before--"
"Justin! Brian!" called Emmett, coming up the stairs.
"Too late," laughed Justin and he stretched up on his tiptoes to give Brian a last kiss for now.
For as long as he lived he didn't think he'd ever forget the sight of Deb and Carl doing the macarena. He wished he could but he probably wouldn't. Of course, compared to Em, swanning about the dance floor with his hand in the air a la his praise Jesus move, maybe two old folks dirty dancing wasn't too bad. Brian shuddered. But it was bad enough. Christ! Where was Justin? He really needed a dose of Sunshine right about now. Scanning the room, he spotted Justin holed up in a corner with Michael and Ben. God, he hoped they weren't giving him any marital advice. And, if they were, he hoped his husband was smart enough to nod in the right places and immediately discard said advice. They had always done things their way and he saw no reason for them to start following anyone else's plan at this point in the game.
Brian looked up at his son and smiled. "Hey, Sonnyboy, you having fun?"
"Yeah! Grandma Deb and Papa crack me up," replied Gus, dividing his attention between his father and the boogying geriatrics on the dance floor.
"Let's hope your Grandma Jennifer and Tucker don't decide to lambada next," grumped Brian. Before Gus could ask him what that was, Brian said, "I need to wash that vision from my brain," and he lurched to his feet in search of a filled champagne flute.
Grinning, Gus sped across the room and tugged on his dad's arm.
"Hey, Gus, what's up?" asked Justin.
"I think Da needs you."
"Oh?" Justin swiveled around and spotted Brian reaching for a glass of champagne. "He's only had one glass," said Justin, misunderstanding.
"Trust me, Dad," said Gus, pushing his dad in the direction of his spouse. "He needs you."
Laughing, Justin reached Brian just as the rim of the glass touched his lips. "I heard you need me."
Brian swallowed a sip and leered down at Justin. "Always, Sunshine. But you said we have to stay down here for at least another hour. Why, I don't know."
"What was I thinking?" Justin asked, shaking his head.
"One of the great mysteries of the modern world, my love," teased Brian. "At least you didn't invite them to ring in the new year with us."
"And I heard a lot of grumbling about that, believe me." Taking Brian's flute, Justin finished off the pale golden liquid inside and set the glass aside. "Dance with me."
Brian slipped an arm about Justin's slender waist. "My pleasure." As they swayed about the dance floor, the music having changed to something slow and sensual, Brian tightened his grip on his husband and Justin laid his head upon his shoulder.
"Today was perfect," Justin declared, raising his face and pressing a kiss to Brian's jaw. "Thank you."
"For saying, 'Yes.' "
"If you recall," Brian reminded him, "I asked you first." Laughed. "And second."
"Right in this very room," said Justin. "You were so nervous."
"Was too. Your eyes were so big. Just like at the prom."
Brian paused and moved back a bit to look into Justin's eyes. "You remember?"
Justin blinked. "Just now. It just... came to me. I could see you walking over to me and Daphne. Your eyes were huge. You looked like a deer caught in the headlights." He laughed. "That's the same way you looked when you asked me to marry you."
"Well," said Brian, "I had just bought this place and I didn't know what I'd do if you didn't say yes."
"But we didn't get married. And you kept Britin anyway."
"What can I say? I'm a size queen."
Justin threw back his head and laughed joyously. "I love you."
"Better. You're stuck with me now," Brian reminded him, wiggling his left hand, his ring glistening in the light of the chandelier overhead.
Looking around at their family and friends occupied with talking, eating, and dancing, Justin whispered, "You think anyone would notice if we disappeared for a while?"
Brian glanced around the room. "Please. They might look like they're not paying attention to us but they're watching our every move. Besides, we only have," and he looked at Justin's wristwatch, "forty-five more minutes to go before this reception is over, and they all go home or wherever, and," he added kissing Justin softly, "you're all mine. For the next two weeks."
"For forever," Justin corrected him.
"Forever," agreed Brian and he spun Justin around before drawing him in for another, longer kiss.
Brian ruffled his son's hair and asked, "You sure you have everything?"
"Yep. I packed before the wedding," replied Gus. They were standing by the front door, the Pittsburgh contingency having just pulled away.
"Well, if there's anything left, we'll send it. Or bring it the next time we're up there."
"Or it can stay until this summer," Gus told him. "I can't wait."
"Hmm," grunted Brian. "I'm sure your dad will have a detailed itinerary drawn up by then."
Gus hugged his da around the waist. "Come see me soon?"
"Soon," promised Brian with a kiss on the forehead. "Now, give your dad a hug and get out of here. It's my wedding night."
Grimacing, Gus laughed and threw his arms around Justin. "Miss you."
Justin laid his head upon his son's crown. "Miss you too. Be good."
"You too," giggled Gus.
"Not on your life," said Brian, drawing Gus away and pushing him towards his moms. He embraced Justin from behind and kissed his cheek. "I'm counting on him to be very bad."
"Very, very bad," agreed Justin, sticking out his tongue.
Lindsay laughed as Mel covered her ears and then, thinking better, covered Gus' ears and led him to the car. "Enjoy your honeymoon, guys." Waving, she joined her family and helped Mel get the kids buckled in.
The two men waited until the taillights of the car vanished around the hedgerow, then went inside and locked up for the night.
"You do realize," Brian asked as he and Justin walked towards their gate, the shorter man struggling a bit to keep up with Brian's longer stride, "that it's going to be 30 degrees in Prague?"
"And?" asked Justin.
"If we wanted to freeze our asses off, we could have done that here," said Brian.
"But Pittsburgh isn't Prague."
"No shit," snorted Brian.
Justin nudged Brian with his hip. "It's going to be beautiful."
"It's going to be cold."
"We'll wear fur coats."
"Please," Brian responded, with an arched brow, as if the suggestion were patently ludicrous. "I am not wearing a fucking fur coat."
"You'd look hot," Justin pointed out.
"You have seen that INXS video one too many times. And considering you were probably a toddler when it came out--"
"I've seen it on VH1 Classics."
"Payback is a bitch."
"So are you," mouthed Justin although he didn't say it out loud.
"I heard that," said Brian, plopping down in a seat at their gate. He crossed his legs and gave an insincere smile to the woman staring at him from across the aisle, which amused Justin. No matter where they went, Brian always seemed to attract women.
"So butch," teased Justin.
Brian gave him the finger and whipped out his Kindle. Might as well read up a little bit more on Prague and then decide if he truly needed a warmer coat than the one he'd brought. That's what he deserved, leaving their honeymoon up to Justin the incurable romantic, he groused silently. But then he happened to look up, intending to glance at the monitor tuned to CNN overhead, and saw Justin smiling and showing the young woman next to him his rings, and Brian could only smile as well, suddenly feeling much better about their trip.
The chill of the Czech Republic wouldn't stand a chance against his Sunshine.