…thinks about all of life's mystery
And how slowly the answers unfold

Platinum: a malleable, ductile and sectile metal, meaning it can be pounded into other shapes, stretched into a wire, and cut into slices; also, it does not tarnish.


Brian woke in the middle of the night in a panic and reached back to make sure Justin was there next to him. His heart didn’t stop racing until he felt the teen’s smooth skin beneath his fingers. And still he couldn’t return to sleep. He’s here, he assured himself. It’s okay.

But it wasn’t.

In four hours he’d have to get up, and shower, and go to work and act as if everything was back to normal and it wasn’t and he didn’t know what to do. He woke almost every night. The time varied but, inevitably, he emerged from some dream or out of the deepest sleep thinking he was alone, that Justin was gone. Sometimes Justin woke as well, feeling him stir, and held him until they dropped off again and sometimes Justin slept on leaving him to lie awake, staring up at the ceiling until sleep claimed him once more. Two days ago he’d wakened around five and hadn’t been able to relax, counting the minutes until the alarm went off. This time Justin didn’t wake up, exhausted from a long day, so Brian closed his eyes, hoping the next four hours would pass quickly.

At some point he drifted into a dream.

He was in the loft and they were having a party. The place was packed with their friends and the usual moochers who showed up whenever the word party was mentioned. Mostly former sex partners of his--which is how he'd met most of them anyway. He kept catching glimpses of Justin through the crowd but the teen never came completely and clearly into view. Plus he was in a weird position himself. Lying on the chaise lounge, flat on his back. He started to get up, to go after Justin, and he couldn’t move. His arms and legs and head felt like lead. Panicked, he tried to call to Justin and couldn’t. He couldn’t open his mouth. Trying as hard as he could, feeling the sweat trickle down the back of his neck from the effort, he finally managed to make a sound like the Tin Man made in The Wizard of Oz before Dorothy oiled his hinges, a sound so faint that no one heard him. And then he saw the shadow coming towards him. Small. Unnoticed by anyone else. But as it moved steadily towards him his panic grew because he knew that if the shadow touched him it'd devour him whole. Eyes wide open in fear, he fought against his paralysis but it did no good, no one saw the danger and he couldn’t tell them and so the shadow continued to inch towards him, resolute and implacable. Locked in his mind, a scream reverberated until his teeth shook.

Justin tugged him awake. Gasping, he sat up, breathing hard and trembling. “Brian? You all right?”

He fell back against the bed, wet from sweating. “Yeah,” he said hoarsely.

”You were moaning.”

”I’m fine.”

Not believing him for an instant, Justin curled up against him, hand on his chest. “It’s okay,” he said, stroking Brian’s bare skin. “It’s okay."

But it wasn’t.

Brian looked good-- looked great as usual-- but Drew knew that was a defense mechanism, a way to assert control over some facet of his life. The man was a classic control freak but being involved with a teenager had jarred him, caused his generally strong grip on things to slip. From what he had revealed to Drew (with or without his awareness), Brian's early home life had been marked by chaotic stability and, unwittingly, he had replicated the feel, if not the exact circumstances, in his adult life. The drugs and the tricks all had the hallmarks of a life out of control and yet Brian had been rigid in his application and experience. He had virtually winnowed out anything that didn't fall within a narrowly defined idea of what his life should be and how he would live it. Not that he hadn't enjoyed his life--Drew was convinced that he had, in general--but there had been no room for new experiences and, consequently, he'd had no coping mechanisms, except avoidance.

And then along came Gus and Justin. On the same night. You couldn't get more symbolic than that. It was almost as if the Divine Shifter (as Drew thought of God) had decided that now was the time to move the pieces into play so that even in a haze Brian couldn't have missed the significance of the two events, couldn't deny their importance. And yet he had. Abdicated responsibility for his son for as long as he could and had pushed Justin away. Luckily for him, Lindsay had had no intention of letting him off the hook where his son was concerned and Justin, being seventeen and in love for the first time, hadn't understood the rules of the game Brian had played.

Now, almost two years later, Brian was a different person and Gus and Justin were firmly ensconced in his life. Despite the problems they were having, Drew was convinced that the two men were meant to be together. It was why he'd brought up the idea of the triad in the first place, to give them a better chance at staying together. To keep them connected. And it'd almost backfired.

"You know what the dreams mean, don’t you?" asked Drew, leaning back in his chair.


The therapist crossed his legs, regarded Brian with concern. "What do you want to do about it?"

"Make them stop."


Brian laughed. "That's why I'm paying you an exorbitant amount of money."

"I can prescribe something to help you sleep--"

"That's not the problem."

"Then what is?"

Knowing Drew wanted him to verbalize it—Drew was big on verbalizing—Brian acquiesced. "I'm not over what happened."

"And you thought you would be? In what? Two weeks?"

"No." He shook his head. "I thought—I don't know what I thought. I hoped—wished that we could just…go on like it never happened."

"But it did happen."

He chuckled again. "Seems so harmless when you say it like that. 'It happened.' "

"What would you prefer to say? To call 'it'?"

"Doesn't matter. Just words."

"That stand for something real. Poor, paltry words. But they're what we have to work with. So what does 'it' mean to you? What do you mean when you say 'It happened'?"

Instead of answering that question, Brian said, "I never thought I would be so weak."

"In what way?"

"I let it happen."

"Let what happen?"

Finally he defined what he meant. "Let us fall apart."

"Don't you think Justin and Xavier had something to do with that? And you didn't fall apart. You're still together."

"And I'm not sleeping, I'm having these fucking dreams, and I feel—" He stopped himself.

"What, Brian? What do you feel?" Drew knew that he had to press the advantage now that Brian had given him an opening.

"Like—like—" He looked away. "Like I've lost him."

"But you haven't."

"Then why do I feel so alone?" He hated admitting that, yet another failure. "Even when he's there next to me, I feel like I'm in the middle of a fucking ocean. Just—drifting."

"Have you talked to Justin about this?"

"I can't."


"I'm tired of us being in trouble. I want to make love to him and not feel like he's slipping through my fingers. I want—" He started again. "I want us to be okay again."

"You will be. It's just going to take time. And hard work." But the most important part was, "You need to talk to him, tell him how you feel. You can't do this alone and, Brian, he's scared too and I'm sure he feels the same way you do." Giving the man time to absorb all that, Drew made a suggestion. "We should all meet. Talk about this."

With a trace of his former wit, Brian asked, "Don't you have some kind of miracle cure you could give us instead?"

"It'll mean more this way."

"What? If we suffer?" He smiled. "I'd settle for a handful of magic beans."

Drew grinned. "And what would you do with a beanstalk that big?"

"Fuck the sky." Wasn't that obvious?

Taking them a couple glasses of water, Justin said hi to Emmett and Ted, in for dinner, and debated trying to push the special on them since the chef was already feeling insecure and if not one ordered the special who knew how he'd take it. As a personal affront most likely. Same way he thought Justin was only being coy when he refused his advances despite the ring on Justin's finger and despite his having seen Justin with Brian in the diner.

"Hey, Boy Wonder," said Ted.

"Hey, baby." Emmett made room for Justin next to him. "Sit down."

"Can't. I only have an hour to go," he told him.

"So? You need a break. You look tired." He did, the way the sun did on an overcast day, wan and dim.

Not wanting to expose Brian's problems to public scrutiny but needing advice, Justin sat next to Emmett and said softly, "Brian…hasn't been sleeping."

"More time for fucking," Ted joked but he knew what Justin was saying same as Em. They'd all noticed the bags under Brian's eyes, the jerky movements bespeaking a lack of sleep and, despite his efforts not to show it, they all knew how devestated he'd been by Justin's betrayal. "Look, he'll be fine. He always is." Which was true. Brian could take care of himself. He guessed.

Emmett concurred although his bedside manner was better. "Ted's right, sweetie. Brian just needs a little time, that's all." There's no one better at coming out on top than Brian.

But Justin slipped from the booth, dissatisfied. "That's not all."

"What's not all?" Deb asked, coming up behind him.

"Justin's worried about Brian," Em said casually, mind already on what he would going to order. Which was not the special.

"Well, he should be," she said. "He's a fuckin' mess." The guys all looked at her guiltily. "So what are you gonna do about it?"

"I don't know."

"Well, who else is gonna know if you don't? He's your partner, your lover, so you fix it. That's what you signed on to do so get to it. You've been fucking around long enough."

"Deb—" She wasn't being fair. He had tried, Brian just--

"Don’t Deb me. You should have never gotten involved with Xavier in the first place but you did. We all make mistakes. So fine. It's over. But it's not over because Brian can't forget. And he shouldn't. You hurt him, Sunshine, more than anyone's ever hurt him before. He's not going to get over it in a day." God, that felt good. It was what she'd been dying to say all along. Of all the stupidity... a fuckin' threesome. She could have told them that was gonna blow up in their faces. Brian didn't share. Toys, secrets, or lovers.

"I didn't expect him to. I just—I've said I'm sorry a hundred times and I mean it and I'd do anything, I just don't know what to do."

She patted him on the shoulder. Even though she wanted to smack him sometimes, she loved him; he was a good kid and he wanted to be a good partner to Brian. "Then ask him."

"He won't talk about it."

"You make him. Cause until he does, you're never gonna be able to go forward. You're just gonna keep spinning your wheels." She left him standing by their table and went for a pickup, her job done for the moment.

Justin thought about what she said. It was up to him. Still, now was not the time to think about it. He took out his pad. "So what do you guys want?"

Since Justin had the afternoon shift at the diner he'd bring something when he got off work, so Brian sat and waited for him to arrive with dinner. Aware that drinking on an empty stomach was not the wisest move he could make he, nevertheless, poured a shot of Beam and stretched out on the sofa. His session with Drew stayed on his mind and he knew the shrink was right but he wished that he wasn't, wished that they didn't have to go back into therapy, wished—What? That, for once, he could have gotten a fucking break. Jesus, sometimes he wondered if he hadn't been cursed from birth. And then he berated himself for being stupid because he knew that he hadn't been. This was just life. Shit happened. Happened to everyone. Emmett hadn't exactly had an idyllic childhood down in Mississippi; and Mikey hadn't rejoiced at not having a dad no matter how many times Brian had told him it wasn't all it was cracked up to be; and Ted, well, Ted had been Ted which meant that he'd probably spent most of his childhood being…Ted. He was like fucking Eeyore.

So things had gone wrong. It happened. So he'd gotten his heart broken. Again. He'd survive. The important thing was that they were together and they'd figure it out together. Tightening his fingers on his glass, he laid it against his forehead momentarily before finishing off his drink and wished he'd put in a couple cubes of ice.

The door rattled as Justin unlocked it.

Carrying his empty glass with him, Brian hoped that the teen didn’t jump to conclusions. Justin thought he drank too much anyway. And smoked too much. He had cut back on the E and the Special K though, only lit up a doobie every now and again. To keep Justin happy with him. Grinning ruefully, he went into the kitchen and waited for Justin to lock the door behind him. They kissed briefly as the teenager put the food on the counter. Not mentioning the smell of alcohol on Brian's breath, Justin told him, "I got chicken vindaloo and some naan. The diner didn't have anything good tonight."

"What a surprise." He got down two plates and a serving platter for the naan. "I'm starving."

Dinner was another quiet affair; they'd been having a lot of those lately. Silence meant you didn't have to talk about hurtful things so you could concentrate on eating your food and cleaning your plate. They'd both learned those things from their parents. How many silent meals had they witnessed/participated in between the two of them?

Looking over at Brian, at the way he avoided his eyes, at the way he paused every so often and stared at nothing, Justin decided to speak. "Brian?"


He waited until Brian raised his eyes. "Tell me what to do."

It would have been easy to lie, to pretend that he didn't know what Justin was talking about and even though he'd promised Drew that he'd talk to Justin about their problems, he wasn't really up to it, not tonight, not on four or five hours sleep and eight hours at work and one really tough hour with the therapist and an hour and a half of waiting for Justin to come home. But Justin had asked. "I saw Drew today."

Fear gripped him. He hoped he'd be able to keep it out of his voice. "And?"

"And he thinks we need to start seeing him again. Actually, he thinks we never should have stopped in the first place. We're the fucking poster boys for lifelong therapy."

"What do you think?"

Brian laughed and spread his hands helplessly. "I think I'm about to go fuckin' crazy. I think if I don't get a good night's sleep, I'm gonna lose it. And if we don't work this out--"


"--we're gonna lose each other," he continued

The trembling began again and he hid his hands beneath the table, in his lap, but his whole body shook so there was no point. "I'm sorry." So fucking inadequate but it was all he had. An apology and a love so strong it moved him even when he didn't want to be moved.

"I know you are," Brian said softly. "I know, baby."

He wiped at his eyes. "When do we start?"

That night Brian palmed a couple of sleeping pills, not caring that he'd pay for it later, just wanting to sleep through the night without dreaming. As he slipped under, he felt Justin's body move closer to his and took comfort from the warmth, nestling into it.

Glancing around the reception area, Justin leaned into Brian and whispered, "I'm beginning to hate this place."

Brian smiled. "Me too," and they laughed, for the first time together in a while. That first night, after Justin had come back to him, they'd spent slowly making love, too glad that they'd made it to think about anything except that they were together. They hadn't thought of consequences, had only held onto one another and kissed as if they'd been apart for months, made love desperately yet gratefully. It had only been in the morning, when they'd awakened, that they'd realized their reconciliation was far from complete. It'd been a small thing, a matter of making plans for the upcoming weekend, Justin wanting to go to a movie Friday night and Brian saying, "What about you and—" and stopping, remembering that there was no longer any Justin and Xavier and yet not really believing it in his heart and Justin had moved away from him, hurt that Brian doubted him and they'd stood there, lost for a moment before turning to other tasks, to showering and fixing breakfast and forgetting. Only neither of them could, not really, not with Justin heading off to class, to see Xavier, and Brian heading off to work, to worry about it, the fear gnawing at him like a cancer in his gut. They should have called Drew then, should have gone to see him that moment, should have never put it off, never have fooled themselves into believing they could heal the rift between them with sex and good intentions.

So here they were, two weeks later, waiting to talk to Drew with two weeks more of shit to dissect and analyze. But they were here. That was the first step, that they realized they needed help. Looking over at Brian, taking note of the stillness that seemed to surround him, Justin again, silently, asked him for forgiveness. Because he knew the man was barely holding it together, was using the stillness to buffer his faltering resolve. Like a penniless whore, gathering the once glamorous rags of her former life around her, Brian grasped at his remaining shreds of strength and it hurt Justin to watch him do it. "You okay?" he asked needlessly because he knew he wasn't.

"Yeah," Brian replied, following the script.

Each in his place, the two lovers waited for Drew to begin with his infernal questions. "So," he said, crossing his legs and folding his hands over his lap, "how's tricks?"

Brian laughed, the sound like a burst of gunfire. He shook his head. "Doc…" Laughed again, this time softer. Justin merely smiled, a bit concerned. Still, anything that could make Brian laugh, even if it was slightly tinged with hysteria, was a good thing.


Taking the lead, Justin said, "We're here."


"Because I fucked up our relationship."

"And you want me to do what? Give you a lollipop?"

Angry at the therapist's levity, Justin snarled, "I want you to fucking help us."

"Ah, now that's different."

Realizing what he'd said in the first place and why Drew had responded as he had, Justin, nevertheless, grumbled, "Asshole."

"Maybe so, but I'm the one with the psych degree and you're the ones with the fucked-up relationship."

That stung, just as Drew no doubt intended it to. Even Brian sat forward in his chair, pain etched on his face.

"You don't like what you're hearing?" asked Drew. "Good. Cause that's not what I'm here for. You want babying, go talk to your friends or your parents. I'm here to tell you the truth, not some tarted-up lie so you can feel good about yourselves. You're right, you fucked up your relationship," he told Justin. "But you didn't do it alone. You had help," he said, looking at Brian. "You were wrong," he explained," and I'm not talking about being wrong in some kind of absolute, moral way, I mean you made a mistake. We all did. We all sat in this room and we fucked up. Big time. All trying to keep the two of you together and all the while we weren't doing a damn thing but tearing you apart. I was wrong," he admitted to them, "and I'm sorry."

"No." Brian disagreed. "You tried to stop me. You wanted to call it off but I wouldn't. I thought it was my only chance."

"Because I forced you into a corner," Justin said. "I was greedy and I didn't care how much I was hurting you. I just wanted it to be okay, I wanted everything to be okay but I didn't want to work for it."

Before Brian could answer, Drew stepped back into the conversation. "So we were all wrong. Now what? Where do we go from here?"

"We want our life back the way it was," Justin answered.

"You can't have it back." Drew paused, waited for one of them to object. Neither did. "You can't go back. You can only go forward."

"What does that mean?"

And Brian said, "It means that nothing is ever going to be the same again," and the sadness in his voice made Drew wish he could have lied to them.

"That’s right," he said and then offered them a glimmer of hope. "But things could be just as good or even better. They don't have to be worse, you know. I think that's something to strive for, don't you? For things to be better than they were. For your relationship to be stronger, better than it was." In the silence that ensued, Drew opened his notepad. "So let's talk about where we are right now and where we want to be when we're done. I want each of you to tell me how you feel now and how you want to feel, say, a month from now. Brian, why don't you go first?"

With a glance at Justin, Brian began to speak. "I feel…"

"Go on." Don't stop now.

"I feel alone." Again he paused, not wanting to hurt Justin with his confession but Drew was looking at him, waiting for him to explain. "And scared." Shit. "Like there's no one I can depend on to stand by me."

"What about Justin?" And, sadly, Brian shook his head. "It's okay," Drew reassured him.

"No, it's not. I know that he's here with me, I know that, and I want to trust him, I want to think that if I needed him, he'd be there for me."

Justin stirred, looked away from Brian, down at his hands. His chest felt so tight, felt as if his heart was going to burst through.

"It used to be that even if we were miles apart, I could still feel him. Now, it's like we're a world apart even when we're in the same room. I keep having these fucking dreams and I wake up knowing that he's gone, that he's left me—"

"I would never leave you," Justin told him, unable to keep silent any longer.

"But you did leave. You were gone."

"No." Justin denied the charge. "I never left you."

"Every week when you walked out to be with him, it felt like you were never coming back." And sometimes I think I didn't want you to, so that it'd be over, so that I could stop hoping.

"But I did!" insisted Justin. "I did come back."

"And every time you did come home, it seemed like there was less and less of you left, until it felt like you were gone. To be with him."

"But I left him for you. I love you. Brian—" Justin's eyes were shiny. "Don't you believe that?"

And Brian was silent for so long that Justin thought he would have to leave the room because if Brian didn't believe that he still loved him, then they had nothing.

"I believe you," Brian said softly. "I know that you love me. And I love you."

"You just don't trust me." A tear rolled down his cheek. He lowered his head.

"Do you trust Justin?" Drew asked Brian and watched as the man debated his answer. "The truth, Brian. Do you trust Justin? Do you believe him when he tells you that he'll never leave you?"

And once upon a time, just five short months ago, the answer would have been yes. Without hesitation. He hesitated. Said barely above a whisper of the wind in the eaves, "No."

Justin stood and it was only Drew's hand on his arm that stilled him. He sat again, not looking at Brian.

"What would it take for you to trust Justin again?"

"I don't know!" Brian bellowed, the desperation in his voice matched by the wildness in his eyes. He slumped in his chair. "I don't know."

"Then why the fuck are we even here?" Justin asked. "If he doesn't know—"

"We'll find out, Justin. We'll do it together."

The misery washed over him leaving his face tear-streaked. "I didn't mean it. I never meant to hurt you. Please," he pleaded with Brian, "please say you believe me."

"But you knew it would, Justin." Brian wiped his own face. "And I begged you not to. I did everything I could to stop you and you wouldn't."

"I'm sorry."

"I know. I know you are."

And Justin saw the truth in Brian's eyes. That it didn't matter if he was sorry or not. Brian hadn't forgiven him. Stealing a breath, Justin fought down the panic that had arisen.

When it seemed as if neither of them was going to say anything more, Drew asked Brian, "What would you like to accomplish in the next four weeks?"

But instead of answering, Brian stood and walked from the room.

Wearily, Drew said to no one in particular, "Bet you couldn't see that coming."

"What am I going to do?" Justin asked and Drew moved into the chair vacated by Brian.

"Be patient. He's hurting, Justin."

"I'm hurting too."

"This is twice now this has happened to him," Drew explained and he could tell by the look on Justin's face that he hadn't thought of that.

"Shit." He said the name aloud. "Cam."

"So it's not just you he's dealing with, it's you and Cam and the fact that he can't ever satisfactorily resolve what happened between them."

"He said they'd settled it."

"They made peace by agreeing not to deal with it anymore. That's not the same thing. I don't want that to happen to you. Which is why no matter how hard it gets, you don't give up on him, or yourself. Even if he does, you stick with it because he needs you, Justin, and he loves you. He loves you more than anything in this world."

"And all I did was hurt him."

"You hurt each other. That's the way life is. But it doesn't have to end there."

"How can I do anything if he won't talk to me?"

"He'll come around. He's on BK" --Brian Kinney-- "Time so you know it'll take a little bit longer," Drew teased and Justin smiled, just a flicker of a smile but enough to let the therapist know that he'd gotten through to him. At that moment, Brian returned looking more than a little hang-dogged. "That'll be fifty dollars extra," Drew announced.

"For what?" asked Brian, frowning.

"For walking out on the session. And it'll be fifty dollars extra every time you do. Got it?"

"Asshole," mumbled Brian.

"Well, that's one thing you and Justin both agree on. Now, can we get on with this? I'd like to go home sometime this evening."

"Hot date?" Brian smirked.


And Brian laughed at the image of Drew sitting on top of a volcano, hot white lava flowing from between his legs and, as if he knew exactly what Brian was thinking, Justin laughed too.

Drew grinned. Least that hadn't changed. If they could still laugh together there might be hope for them after all.

There was a message from Lindsay waiting for them when they got back home. Wanting to know if they'd take Gus for the night next Friday.

"What do you think?" Brian asked Justin.

He shrugged. "Your call."

Although he couldn't imagine being in the mood to run after Gus all evening, he couldn't turn Lindsay down. She'd been there for him during this entire fiasco and he owed her. And maybe, just maybe Gus was what he needed to get him out of this funk. As he made to call Lindz he caught a glimpse of Justin stripping and paused, struck again by the teen's beauty. He turned away and shut his eyes for good measure. After a moment, he picked up the phone and dialed Lindz's number.


"Hey, I got your message."

"Can you do it?"

"Why the advance notice?"

"To make sure you were free."

"What time do you want me to come and get him?"

She paused. "Bri? Everything okay?"

"Yeah. What time?" Fuck, she always knew when he was lying and he was lying like a rug right now.

"Look, we can get a sitter—"

"I asked what time?"


"Fine. Later." He hung up before she had a chance to quiz him any further. Fuck. He sat on the arm of the sofa, facing his computer. He could hear Justin in the shower. What the fuck was he going to do? Everything was shot to hell and their visit to Drew's office hadn't exactly done the trick and he felt like he was about to go into nuclear meltdown at any moment. Maybe I just need to think about something else. Taking his Mapplethorpe book down from the shelf, he sat on the carpet in front of the sofa and cracked it open. And remembered

Justin giving him the book on their anniversary

A cabin full of flowers and candles

Them making love most of the evening

He closed the book and leaned his forehead against the top edge. Christ. What the fuck was he going to do? A tear slid down his cheek and onto the front cover. He hadn't heard the shower stop nor did he hear Justin as he came down the steps and paused, watching him cry. He was so deep inside the misery that a twenty megaton bomb could have gone off inside the loft and he wouldn't have noticed.

Justin watched him until he couldn't stand it any longer and went into the kitchen to see about dinner. That, at least, he could do without fucking it up.

As he deveined the shrimp for the Pad Thai, he thought of all the meals they'd shared, the simple joy that had come from just being together. He saw, in his mind, Brian sitting on the other side of the counter crushing garlic for a sauce or crying as he chopped an onion, refusing to do as the books said and place a potato on the end of his knife, saying it looked stupid. Then saw Xavier sitting in Brian's place, watching him cook. Leaving his work, Justin opened the Beam and took down a glass. Poured a shot and knocked it back. But the burn wasn't enough to numb the pain he felt. He could drink a pint of bourbon and still it wouldn't help. Putting the bottle back in place, he returned to preparing dinner. Alone.

Brian's hair was still damp from his shower. Water dripped down along his jaw. Justin reached with his napkin to wipe his face and stopped. Withdrew the offer. Then, angrily, he said, "I feel like I don't have any right to touch you."

"I'm sorry."

"And then what? You're sorry, I'm sorry, we're all sorry and it doesn't mean shit." He carried his plate and glass to the kitchen. They rattled as he placed them in the sink. "Tell me what to do!"


He rushed back to Brian and knelt by him. Gripped his leg. "Tell me."

But Brian could only shake his head. He didn't know.

And Justin laid his cheek against Brian's thigh and cried because he was scared, really scared that there was no way out of this mess except that they be apart.

Softly, Brian stroked the nape of the teen's neck. Oh, baby… After a few moments, Justin raised his head and Brian drew him up into his arms and held him, both of them trembling. He thumbed away a tear from Justin's cheek. Kissed him tenderly. "We'll make it," he whispered against his skin. "I promise." He tightened his arms around the boy. "I just don't know how," he confessed, unable to lie to him.

Next Friday finally arrived, the days having stumbled and lurched by as if time itself had been exhausted by their trials. Knocking on the front door, Brian waited for the Munchers to answer and hand over the rugrat. God, he hoped Lindsay wasn't in one of her talking moods. He just wanted to grab Gus and hit the road. He'd been talked to death these past two weeks. Unfortunately, Lindz took one look at him and pulled him inside the house.


"Sit. Mel's getting Gus ready." She craned her neck and yelled up the stairs. "Mel! Brian's here!"

"All right!" the other woman yelled back down and Brian winced. No way was Gus gonna be the strong, silent type with these two as role models. Of course, he'd seen him and Justin yell at one another too and not always pleasantly. Shit, just like his parents.

"So what's wrong?" she asked, sitting on the sofa.

He sighed and gave up, sat in an armchair near her. "Same shit."

"You and Justin still having problems?"

That made him laugh. "Problems?" He laughed again. "That's a fucking understatement." He sobered. "I swear, Lindsay, sometimes I think all I'm doing is reliving my old man's life, just twenty times worse."

"Don’t say that."

"Why not?" he asked, standing up and pacing the floor. "It's true."

She refused to concede the point. "No, it isn't. You're just going through a rough spell—"

"A rough spell?" He stared at her as if she'd turned blue and sprouted an extra set of arms. "Lindsay, my life's a fucking mess. I don’t even know—" No. He wouldn’t say it. Couldn't.

Going to him, she touched his arm. "Where's Justin?"

"Studio. Their last show is Wednesday and he's freakin' out cause he's behind." His jaw tightened and she cupped his face.

"You have to have faith."

Closing his eyes, he rasped, "I'm so tired, Lindsay."

"I know." She kissed him. "I know." As Mel came down the stairs with Gus in her arms, she told him, "We'll find a sitter."

But Gus had seen him and wriggled and squirmed, shouting, "Dada!"

Preparing to be attacked by a tiny whirlwind, Brian shook his head. "It's okay. I could use the company."

Only, as he and Gus pulled from the house in the Jeep, Lindsay couldn't help but feel that what he really needed was some time alone, away from everything and everyone. She'd never seen him so low, not even after Cam.

"I never thought I'd see the day when I felt sorry for that asshole, but I do," said Mel before leaving Lindsay to close the door.

Gus had called for Pooh for about five minutes before settling down, sniffling a little as he sat in his daddy's lap and watched The Rugrats, taking bites of the dinner Brian was trying to feed him in between eating his own meal. But neither of them had much appetite. Finally, Brian pushed aside both their plates and gave up. Maybe Gus would eat when Justin returned. Unfortunately, Justin returning home would do little to improve his appetite.

After an hour of watching one garish colored cartoon replace another, Gus began to get restless so Brian got out his fire truck and pushed him around on it for a while until Gus momentarily screeched himself out of energy. Then it was back to the sofa to play with Beh while Brian cleared away the dishes and tried to ignore the clock which said that Justin would probably be home in a little while.

But another hour passed and still Justin hadn't appeared. And Gus was getting sleepy. Brian bathed him and changed his diaper and put on his pajamas and laid him down on the bed and read from his favorite book, The House at Pooh Corner, until the baby's eyes closed and his grip on Beh slackened.

Leaving him to sleep, a throw pulled over him, Brian returned to the livingroom and curled up on the sofa while some movie played itself out on the television. He couldn’t say what it was about or who was in it as he didn't pay much attention to it. Instead, he spent most of the remaining forty-five minutes of the film trying to convince himself—unsuccessfully—that Justin's continued absence just meant that he was hard at work, that it didn't mean he was with Xavier, that he had nothing to worry about, that all of that was over and—and—

He sat up and shut off the TV and ran his hands through his hair, covered his face. Then he heard a key in the lock. Quickly, he turned the movie back on and stretched out on the couch.

Justin figured that Gus was probably asleep so he took greater care than usual to close the door as softly as he could. Locked it and set the alarm. Put his stuff by the desk. Saw Brian on the sofa. "Hey."

"Hey. There's take-out in the fridge."

"I grabbed something and took it back to the studio," Justin said.

"Oh." Alone? he wanted to ask. He shut off the film he hadn't been watching anyway for the second time. "Get a lot done?"

"Not enough," admitted Justin. "Gus asleep?"

"Finally. He was a little fussy." Brian looked towards the bedroom. "I think he missed his Pooh."


Brian shrugged. "Your work comes first."

And even though he was pretty sure Brian hadn't meant anything by it, the words pinched Justin sharply and he winced. "You come first. You and Gus."

"We'll be here when the work is done," Brian assured him.

The words were out of his mouth before he had a chance to censor them. "You sure?"

"Where else would I be?" asked Brian, not bringing up the fact that it was Justin and not him who had wandered.

But Justin didn't need reminding, it was in Brian's face, in his eyes whenever he looked at his young lover. The look of betrayal. No matter how hard Brian tried to hide it, it was there, in every glance. Not wanting to see it tonight, Justin headed for the bedroom and stopped. He could feel Brian's eyes on him, wanting him and unable to admit it, unwilling to make even that small a gesture. And he would have gotten angry and stormed out of the room except that he wanted Brian too, had been wanting him all day, and he didn't care anymore, didn't care if he had to beg or plead, whatever it took he was willing to do.

He had looked away, not wanting to see Justin leave the room, wanting to call to him so badly and not doing so. Because of pride, anger, stubbornness, he didn't know, but something kept him from telling Justin that he needed him and the need was overwhelming. Covering his face with his palms, he hoped that it'd go away. And then he felt Justin's hand on his shoulder.

Somehow Justin found himself in Brian's arms, straddling his waist, and trying to catch his breath between kisses while Brian worked at getting inside his clothes. Soon his sweats were down around his knees and Brian's hand was around his cock, stroking him as they kissed. His tongue slipping inside Brian's mouth, he moaned softly while Brian ran his thumb over the head of his dick. Brian spat upon his hand and continued to stroke him, tugging on the stiffening shaft until a bead of precum appeared. He smeared it over the reddened tip. Justin inhaled sharply. Brian spat on his fingers again and then they began to wander, to explore between his thighs, his cheeks. Justin felt the pad of a finger rub over his hole, press against it, slide into it. It was a bit rough, with only spit and his precum to lube the way but he took it. Impaled on Brian's finger, he ground his dick against his lover's belly, leaving glistening trails on his skin. Panting openly but quietly as Brian fingered his ass, Justin swallowed countless cries, his hole clinging moistly to Brian's skin, the slit in his cock gaping open, weeping sticky tears. One hand around his waist, Brian held Justin in place while he shoved his finger in and out of his ass, his own cock hard and growing harder by the moment. Justin clamped his mouth to Brian's and groaned, hoping he didn't wake the baby but it felt so good, Brian's finger all the way up his hole, fucking his ass, making his stomach ripple, making him beg for more, not with words but with the way his hole kept clenching Brian's finger. With one last muffled grunt, Justin came against Brian's abdomen, cum dripping down into the man's pubes.

Cum that lubricated Justin's hand as he stroked Brian's cock. Still perched on his lap, arm thrust between them, fingers tightening around the hard shaft and swollen head. Brian laid his head against the sofa and sighed as Justin worked his dick, hand sliding up and down the length of him, cupping his balls to tease them, to run a finger beneath them, up the center of his sac. His dick was trapped between them, between their hot bellies, sliding in cum and sweat, sliding through Justin's hand. He could feel his balls grow even harder, aching with the need to release. Justin closed his hand around the head of his cock and squeezed it ever so gently and Brian groaned, precum gushing from his hole, moistening his lover's palm. "Justin..." he moaned, not able to keep quiet, certain his balls would explode. He felt as if the skin of his scrotum was two sizes too small to contain the cum bubbling inside. All he wanted to do was to ejaculate, to fill Justin's hand, to wet their bellies again. To let go, to let it go. The muscles in his thighs tensed as his buttocks tightened and he raised his hips up off the sofa, thrusting his meat through the circle Justin had made with his thumb and forefinger. Knowing how close Brian was by the sounds his partner made, the teen jerked and pulled that much faster and harder on Brian's slippery cock until the man shouted and came.

He woke to the sound of moaning, tight, tortured. Turned and saw Brian lying rigid on the bed, tears and moans squeezing past clenched muscles. At any moment he knew Gus would awaken and begin to cry, the baby was already stirring, and Brian, he hoped he could wake him before that happened. Sliding from the bed, Justin went around to the other side and shook the sleeping man. "Brian. Brian, wake up. Wake up," he whispered. Brian's muscles were like iron, it felt like holding onto a metal bar. "Brian." He watched as Brian struggled to escape the dream and fail. A cry burst from his lips and Gus jerked awake, began to fuss.

Brian's eyes flew open. "Gus?"

"I've got him," Justin said and he stood and reached over Brian to pick the baby up. Gus had already begun to whimper. Bouncing him lightly in his arms, Justin kissed him and whispered soothing words to him until the toddler closed his eyes again and laid his head on Pooh's shoulder to sleep. Once he was completely under, Justin carried him around to his side of the bed and put him down again. Brian slipped out. "Where are you going?"

"Livingroom," he mumbled, grabbing a throw from the foot of the bed. But he wouldn’t sleep, not after this. He'd just lie on the sofa and listen to the minutes tick by.

Satisfied that Gus was out for good, Justin made his way over to Brian via the bathroom and the kitchen. Squatted next to him and handed him a bottle of water and two baby blue pills.

"No," Brian began to argue.

"Take 'em. You need to rest." He watched as Brian swallowed the pills and gulped down half the water. "Now, come back to bed."

But Brian shook his head and refused to be swayed.

Looking back from the doorway, Justin saw him stretch out on the couch and close his eyes, pull the throw over him. He watched for a while, then turned away.

Jenn poured two cups of coffee and carried them to the dining table where Justin sat staring at his breakfast as if it were a Surrealist painting. He'd come over to help her rearrange the furniture and to get out of the loft for a while. Brian had been in a pissy mood, brought on by a lack of sleep—having rejected a second night of pill-induced slumber. Which was understandable since he'd spent most of Saturday morning in a haze, recovering from Friday night's dosage. When Saturday night had come, he'd shaken his head and steadfastly refused to take any more of those "goddamn pills." So they'd both awakened at three in the morning, Brian shaking still from the dream. And it had been with regret that Justin had watched him pick up the bottle of Beam. But he'd also been relieved when the alcohol seemed to have done the trick and Brian drifted off again. There'd been no more episodes. But this morning when they'd gotten up, Justin could tell Brian was still groggy and in a bad mood and he had left with something akin to relief. Now, of course, he was just worried.

"Honey, what's wrong?"

"Everything," he replied. Rubbed his eyes, tired too. "Everybody tried to warn me but I wouldn't listen. And now…now, everything's…" He searched for meaning in the bottom of his coffee cup.

"Everything's what, honey?" she asked although she knew what he meant.

His ring gleamed in the early morning light streaming through the kitchen window. But the shine wasn't as bright as it had been, somehow it'd been tarnished. Despite being platinum, despite the fact that it wasn't supposed to tarnish, it had. Or rather, he had. Brian's golden boy hadn't been good enough. "I came back," he began, "and it's worse than it ever was."

"It takes time."

"For what?" he asked. "For him to decide that he can do without me, that he doesn't need me? That he's better off without me?"

She would have been worried except she'd seen them in court, seen the way the man had reached for the boy for support and she knew that, no matter what, Brian needed Justin. "I don't think he believes that. And neither do you." She smiled softly. "I know I don't."

Before he could answer, Molly ran in. "Hey, Justin," she said, pushing him in his back.

"Hey, brat."

"Where's Brian?"

His little sister had definitely joined the Straight Girls for Brian Kinney Fan Club along with Daphne and Rennie. "Home."

Satisfied that he wasn't there, she ran back upstairs to play. And it made him laugh that she was so obvious in her affections.

"She really likes him," Jenn said, shaking her head.

"Me too." He smiled and began to eat again.

"Then don't give up," she told him and it amazed her that she was sitting in her kitchen telling Justin not to give up on a relationship with a man who, just a little over a year ago, she wouldn't have believed was capable of love. But she'd seen the proof of how much he did love her son. Despite all of the hateful and carelessly cruel things he'd done to Justin early on in their tumultuous relationship, he'd proven his devotion, his commitment to the teenager.

It was easier said than done. Don't give up; everyone told him that and, yet, no one told him how not to give up, to feel hopeless in the face of so much adversity. Every time he looked at Brian, he could see his mistake reflected in his eyes and it hurt, sometimes so much that he wanted to scream but he couldn’t because the moment he gave into the urge he was afraid he wouldn't be able to stop, that he'd become this screaming mouth, continuously vomiting up pain and heartache and hunger and need.

Silence greeted him as he opened the door and he wondered if Brian had gone out after all but when he went into the bedroom to kick off his shoes (a habit he'd picked up from Brian) he found the man asleep. Which worried him. It was after one in the afternoon. Brian should have been up by now and it looked as if he'd never left the bed. Sitting next to him, Justin gently touched his face, hoping to rouse him. Brian's eyelids fluttered and then Justin found himself looking into his beautiful hazel eyes, clouded with sleep but still amazing. "Hey."

"Hey." Brian yawned. "What time is it?"

"After one."

He sat up. "Shit." Worked a kink out of his neck. "You done helping your mom?"

"Until next time." He plucked at the bedspread. "You hungry?"

"Let me shower first. We can go out."

Justin watched him ease from the bed and pad into the bathroom. He seemed a little unsteady on his feet. "You okay?" Justin asked, walking behind him.

Flushing the commode, Brian rolled his shoulders and headed for the shower. "Yeah."

The idea having come to him in an instant, Justin pulled off his clothes and joined Brian just as he was about to turn on the water. At Brian's questioning look, he asked, "Need help?" It was what he'd asked Brian in the hotel room in New York after suggesting he take a shower.

Brian smiled softly, remembering. He didn't think they'd be doing anything but showering this afternoon though. Least not until he got something inside his stomach besides Beam. He had awakened mid-morning, still tired, and had gotten up and done another couple of shots. They'd done the trick but now he felt thick-headed. Not as much as he would have if he'd gone the sleeping pill route but he still wasn't himself. No matter, it had been worth it not to wake up in a sweat, heart pounding, barely having escaped the shadow once more. He shuddered, wondering what would happen if he ever failed to wake before the shadow reached him.

Misinterpreting the cause of his trembling, Justin asked, "You want me to turn the hot water up?"

He shook his head. There wasn't enough hot water in the world to banish the chill inside.

Some asshole was complaining about the quality of the food and Deb told him, "Look, honey, if you want quality, go to Papagano's. You want good company, you come here." She spotted the boys. "Hey!"

Brian slouched in a booth while Justin waved and sat across from him.

"Excuse me," she told the food critic and made her way over to where the guys sat. Gave Brian the once-over and pronounced, "He looks like shit."

"Feels like it too," Justin told her.

"Would you two stop fucking talking about me like I'm not here?" he groused.

"Sounds the same," she said, taking out her pad. "What you having?"

"The least noxious thing on the menu," Brian said without taking his eyes off the tabletop.

Exchanging glances with Justin, Debbie sat next to the teenager. "All right. Talk."

"Maybe I should interpret my order. Fries. I'd like some fries."

"Fuck the fries," Debbie announced. "Spill."

But Brian refused by saying, "That's what I pay Drew for."

"And he's not helping," she pointed out which was unfair because Drew was helping. Drew was the reason he hadn't gone completely out of his mind.

"Maybe," he confessed, suddenly scared by the notion, "maybe no one can."

Hearing the helplessness in his voice, Justin tensed, reached for Brian's hand but stopped mid gesture. With Debbie sitting next to him, he had no avenue of escape and he wanted to run away, to get away from the pain in Brian's voice, in his eyes, in his beautiful eyes. Justin turned his head and waited for the moment to pass, for the urge to cry to dissipate.

"Jesus fucking Christ," brayed Debbie, "what the fuck has happened to you two? You're telling me that after all the shit you've been through, you're gonna let Xavier," Justin flinched when she said his name, "break you up? And he's gone, he's out of your lives."

"Then maybe it isn't him," Brian said, unwilling to name the teen again.

Seizing on the opportunity, Justin asked, "Then what is it?"

But he didn't know. He shook his head.

"Brian?" He couldn't believe it, Brian just wasn't saying but he had to know. He had to.

"I don't." Direct gaze, the hazel eyes troubled. He slid to the end of the booth. "I need some air." And he was gone, striding from the diner unaware of the eyes that followed him with worry, with interest, with regret.

"Sunshine?" Debbie studied the teen, then pulled him to her, hugged him tightly. "It'll work out, you'll see."

"How?" He sniffled, then shaded his eyes because the tears were coming, already spilling over his cheeks.

All around him the men came and went, talking of petty jealousies and minor affairs, brief liaisons, momentary infatuations... and he wanted to yell, "Shut the fuck up!" He didn't want to hear it because their problems were nothing, nothing compared to his loss. He was losing Brian, he could feel it, and no matter how much he fought it, tried to hold onto them with both hands, the man was slipping away from him. And the pain, it was more than he thought he could stand. How many more nights could he watch Brian leave bed, driven away by a dream? How many more times could he leave Drew's office feeling raw and stripped of skin? How many more tears could he shed before the darkness surrounding them overwhelmed him? He felt Deb's hand on his arm and uncovered his face.

"He's coming back in."

"Thanks," he said, wiping away the last of the tears.

She kissed his cheek. "It'll be good again, Sunshine, I promise. He loves you too much to give up on you."

But he had, he wanted to tell her. Brian had given up on them. Taken off his ring and called it quits. I did that, I made him lose faith in us.

As Brian neared the table, Deb asked, "Drama Queen break over?"

Instead of getting angry, Brian grinned. "Where are my fries?"

Relieved that he seemed to be over whatever had driven him outside, she scooted out of the booth. "Coming right up. Sunshine?"

"A burger?"

"You got it." Leaving them to put in their order, Deb smiled. A burger and fries. Sweet.

Justin sniffed, smelling cigarette smoke. "How many did you have?"


It was a lie but he decided to accept it anyway.

"You going to the studio?"

"Maybe." Paused. "I don't know what good it's gonna do."

Brian studied the teen's lowered head. Reached over and tousled his hair, making Justin look up at him. "Stop worrying."

But Justin persisted in his negativity. "I feel like I haven't had any time to work."

"You'll have the best piece in the show."

"We can't all be the best," Justin responded angrily because what did Brian know about not being perfect, not being the best, not always getting what he wanted? And then it hit him. He knew a lot about it. He and Cam had taught Brian all about coming in last place.

Softly, Brian said, "I remember this competition I entered right after Cam and I broke up. I slaved away on that damn ad for weeks and it was still a piece of shit. It's like every time I tried to work on it, all this other crap kept crowding in my head and I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn't focus on what I was doing."

Wearily, Justin said, "Don't tell me. You won."

"No, I came in dead last cause it was a piece of shit ad," laughed Brian. "But I'm still here and I'm still in advertising and I'm pretty damn good if you ask me. If you ask anybody. So fuck it. It's one show. You can't always be the best." I know.

As Brian pulled up to the Institute, Justin asked, "You coming in?"

Brian shook his head. It was still too soon. "When do you want me to pick you up?"

"Two hours. Any more and I'll lose my fucking mind." He leaned over and kissed his lover goodbye. "Later."


Justin noted the fact that Brian hadn't called him baby. Hadn't called him that in a long time. Climbing down from the Jeep, he closed the door and watched Brian pull away, probably headed for Lindsay's place or to see Michael. He made his way into the building and hoped like hell Xavier wasn't around.

For once he'd gotten lucky, neither Xavier nor Rennie appeared to be in although he wouldn't have minded seeing Rennie. She had a way of cutting through the bullshit and cracking him up even if it came at his expense. He needed a laugh today. Maybe he should have gone with Brian, gone to see Gus except that they'd just seen him Friday and Saturday and also Lindsay hadn't quite gotten over what he'd done to Brian even though she'd admitted that Brian had contributed to their problems as well and she knew that Justin's heart had been breaking too.

What had he been thinking? He knew what he had thought, that somehow they would make it, the three of them, he'd really believed it. Well, he'd really wanted it to work out and when it hadn't, he knew he should have just given up Xavier and begun working to patch things up with Brian but he'd been scared, terrified of what Brian would do, say. He'd been afraid of losing them both even though he'd known that, in the end, he would never have given up Brian for Xavier, he'd always known that. It was just that abandoning Xavier had hurt too.

So here he was, alone in his studio, staring at his horrific drawings wondering if they were even worth working on, wanting to be with Brian so badly it hurt—but not the way they were now, he wanted to be with him the way they used to be. When they'd make love and laugh in bed and talk to one another. Now, now they avoided really talking because of the risk of bringing up something hurtful, something hard to talk about. And although the sex was still good, some of the intimacy had been lost and they both felt it keenly. Now they made love desperately, grasping after a closeness that continued to elude them.

Taking another look at his sketches, Justin debated destroying them and starting over again. But there was no time. The show was in three days. No way could he come up with something new in two. Best thing to do was to start matting the pieces he had and to let it go, stop thinking about it. Brian would be back in little over an hour.

He hadn't gone to Mikey's or Lindz's place or any of his other familiar haunts. Instead, he'd gone to the one place no one would have predicted: Joanie's. He'd gone home. Although he no longer considered it home consciously, every now and again he got the urge to return there. Like lemmings to the sea, he told himself as he walked up the drive. A flash of curtain told him that she'd seen him; and he knew that she was probably touching her hair, smoothing her clothes, fiddling with the knick-knacks on the coffee table, things she did whenever company was due to arrive. Pausing for a moment, he knocked, waited a second, then pushed open the door. She would have unlocked it when she saw him coming.

"Surprised to see you," Joanie said, standing awkwardly, not sure if she should come forward and hug him or remain where she was and let him make the first move.

He dawdled by the door. "Yeah. It's been a while." Then he moved towards her and leaned over, bussed her cheek shyly.

She smiled and touched his face briefly before he pulled away. For all of his swagger, he was still skittish and she wondered how he could be after having been touched by so many people. A holdover from when he was a little boy she supposed. Constantly on the verge of fleeing. He'd perch in chairs, sway from foot to foot, watch what was going on around him out of the corner of his eye, careful not to be caught unawares. And yet he had been. Justin had caught him unawares. Amazed all over again, she glanced at the wedding band—commitment band—around his finger. Although she'd always imagined him with a family of his own, she could have never imagined that his family would end up including him and his lover and his son and his son's two mothers. Smiling again, she asked, "Where's Justin?"

"Studio. Working on a project. There's an art show at the school this week. You should come," he told her. "Wednesday. Around seven."

"Maybe," she replied, promising nothing. Something she'd picked up from Jack Kinney, same as he had. In fact, Brian had picked up a lot from Jack. He looked like his father, not as stocky but he'd inherited his height and Jack's nose, Jack's hair color when he was young. The eyes were a throwback to her side of the family as were the rounded cheeks, red lips, and slender fingers. But somehow, even though she could attribute for most of his features individually, as a whole his beauty had always baffled her. And, truthfully, bothered her even as she'd been proud of it. His beauty. That would have been more useful to Claire. Poor, plain Claire. But she supposed men had their need of beauty as well. And he'd made use of his. Only now, he looked a little pale and listless. "Is something wrong?"

Sitting on the edge of the couch, he studied the cut glass figurines before him on the table. Remembered being just a little boy, a baby really, and hearing Joanie call out to him to leave them alone. Don't break them. Look but don't touch. "How'd you do it?" he asked. "When Pop started fooling around, why'd you take it? Why didn't you kick him out?"

"Because we were married. And back then, marriage meant something."

"It didn't mean enough for him to keep his vows."

"It meant something to me."

"Were you ever tempted to…? You know?"

"No." And her answer left no room for reinterpretation. "Are you and Justin having problems?"

"You could say that."

"You've been seeing other people?"

He laughed. Shook his head.


"Fell in love with someone else." Fuck, I wish it was that simple. But he couldn't even begin to imagine telling her the whole truth. It even amazed him sometimes, what they'd done, the stupidity of it all.


She genuinely seemed worried for him. "But it's over now," he assured her. "Only…"

"It isn't." Because it never is. No matter how many times you supposedly forgive him or tell yourself you don't care, you do.


"You still love him, don't you?" she asked although she hadn't needed to, she could see it in his eyes that he loved Justin, probably always would.

"It's not that."

"Then what?"

Always the same question and he never had an answer for it, was never able to completely explain just what was wrong, how he felt, how scared he was, and how incredibly saddened he was by all of it. "I don’t know."

Reaching across the table, she laid her hand upon his. In all the years that Jack had cheated on her, she'd never understood it, never made peace with it. Now he was gone, yet the feelings still remained: the anger and the disappointment. Didn't seem fair somehow. "I'm sorry. I don't have any answers." Never had.

"Neither do I," he confessed.

Joanie stood as if the solution had suddenly come to her. "I do have cookies."

Laughing, he followed her into the kitchen.

Chocolate chip macademia nut cookies in his belly and more in a Ziploc bag, Brian waited for Justin to emerge from the entranceway to the Institute. Soon, as if on cue, the teen appeared and sauntered over to the Jeep, running a couple of steps at the end. "Hey," he said as he got in.

"Hey yourself." Brian took off at his usual breakneck speed. "Get any work done?"

"I decided to take your advice and stop worrying about it." The way I've stopped worrying about you getting a speeding ticket.

"Haven't I told you I'm a genius?" He came to a screeching halt at the light.

With a sideways glance, Justin replied, "I'm still waiting for proof." Giggled as Brian punched him lightly in the shoulder.

As if they'd been energized by their brief time apart, they laughed all the way home at various and sundry silly things that occurred to them or that they observed on the streets during their journey. By the time they'd taken the elevator to the top floor, they were hungrily kissing one another the way they used to.

Justin grinned and pulled off his jersey. Tossed it aside. Slowly opened his zipper. By the time it reached the end of its track, Brian was there slipping his hand inside.


Baby... "Yeah…"

They made love right there on the floor, on their hands and knees, yowling like cats in heat, the hair standing up on the back of Brian's neck as Justin moaned. Satisfied for the moment, they stumbled into the bedroom to rest, drawing energy from their closeness, in preparation for the next go round.

Justin lazed on Brian's chest, stroking the man's belly gently, hand sliding down into his pubes, sleepily tugging on them until his fingers came to rest on his cock and stopped. He drowsed…

And woke to the sound of Brian stirring in bed. Not moaning, not struggling against an involuntary silence, just turning over. And the relief he felt was so great that he nearly started laughing.

Before he had really prepared himself mentally, Wednesday came. And with it the show. At the last minute he almost called his friends and family and asked them not to come. But he knew his mom and Debbie and Lindz and Em would come whether he wanted them to or not. Brian too. So he told himself that it'd be over in a couple of hours and he could go home and lick his wounds and maybe Brian would take pity on him and kiss them and make them all better.

As he always did whenever they were going out, Brian checked Justin's outfit and shook his head. "Artists," he muttered as if that explained everything. Lindsay dressed the same way, as if she used up all her creativity on the canvas. Oh well, he considered himself his canvas and worked hard to impress. "I am my own masterpiece," he was wont to say.

"Fortunately," Justin told him, "not everyone cares about clothes as much as you do."

"Not clothes. Image." Gesturing at himself, he said, "Mine says I'm successful and have good taste," and indeed it did. The tailored grey linen pants and black silk shirt that must have cost at least a couple hundred dollars fit him perfectly and presented a picture of somber elegance and grace.

"Well, mine says I make two hundred dollars a week," Justin retorted.

"I would buy you--"

"No. You do enough for me as is."

"We're partners," Brian pointed out quite reasonably.

"Right. So what does it matter what I wear?" Justin added equally reasonably.

And Brian wrapped his arms around him. "It doesn't. I just like it when you look nice."

Justin kissed him. "You like it when I'm naked."

"That too."

They kissed again, easy with one another like they hadn't been for a long time and Justin wondered how long that easiness would last once they got to the exhibition. Xavier would be there and he and Brian hadn't spoken since Brian went to his studio and handed Justin over to him. Plus there was the matter of the art itself. Justin had no idea how Brian would react once he saw the pieces Justin had submitted. He hoped they could make it through this evening without any problems but he wasn't willing to bet money on it. Or his future. To distract his thoughts, he asked, "They bringing Gus?" He'd been at the 9/11 memorial show.

"Lindz said he's been grouchy this week so they're leaving him with my mom."

"I was kinda hoping she'd come tonight."

"Joanie's not big on modern art or postmodern art or art in general. Unless it's a crucifix. And I don't mean one submerged in piss either," he said, referring to the notorious Piss Christ that had landed its creator and the NEA in hot water with Congress.

Justin scrunched up his face. "Brian."

"What?" He kissed the teen again, amused, and tugged on his shirt. "Come on. We'll be late."

"I thought you liked making grand entrances."

He saw them from across the room as they entered the exhibition space, no few heads turning as they walked in, no few eyes on them both, cosmopolitan beauty paired with youthful enthusiasm, two for the price of one couple. He could hear the sound Justin would make as he slipped a hand under the waistband of his pants, imagine the feel of Brian's skin as he slid his shirt off his shoulders... He wanted to tell the hungry eyes that followed the men that it wasn't worth it because no matter how far either of them strayed, they'd always end up together. Wasn't that what he had learned the hard way?

The moment they walked inside, he felt Xavier watching them but he refused to look for him figuring they'd run into one another sooner or later. He did wonder if Nana Rose was around, if she'd made it up from D.C. He'd love to see her.

There were the guys: Mikey, Jeff, Emmett, and Ted. He didn't see Lindz and Mel but had no doubt they'd be there. Deb and Vic too. He and Justin sauntered over to them.

"When's class start?" Em asked, gazing at the art around him. "I need some serious instruction."

"Where's your stuff?" asked Jeff. "And can I get an interview with the artist?"

"It's in the back," Justin replied, "but wait until later to see it." He sighed. "It's not very good. In fact, it kinda sucks."

Mikey frowned. "I don't believe that. Besides, why would they let you show it if it was that bad?"

"It's a student show. They have to take whatever you have," Justin explained.

"Well, who cares?" Brian asked. "You're in school to learn not because you're already Pablo fucking Picasso."

"I agree," said Jeff. Pulled on Michael's arm. "Let's go mingle."

"I'd like to mingle with him," Em said, pointing to an instructor who was not, thankfully, Trevor. Brian didn't want to face him just right now.

As the guys paired off and left them, Justin turned to Brian. "Don't look at it yet, okay?"

"Fine. But I came to see your stuff. I could care less about the rest of this sh-- Hey, Rennie." He leaned over and gave her a big one right on the lips almost sending her into a swoon.

"Hey... Brian," she replied once she got her breath back. "Hey, Boy Wonder."

"Your parents come?" Justin asked.

"They are so lame. All that fuckin' money and they can't find time to come and see my work. Fuck 'em."

"I love this girl," Brian grinned, and took her arm. "Lead the way, mademoiselle."

And tittering in a way very unbecoming for a member of the Feminist Art Club, Rennie showed him her pieces, leaving Justin to either follow or not.

Deciding he'd give her a few minutes alone with her scope, Justin glanced around and saw Mel and Lindsay enter. They made a beeline for him. Kissed him soundly.

"Hey, baby," said Mel. "Where's the asshole?"

Justin laughed. Brian had gotten so used to her calling him that that he didn't seem to mind anymore. "With Rennie. The guys are here but I haven't seen my mom and Molly or Deb and Vic."

"They'll be here," Lindsay assured him. "Where are your drawings?"

"Way in the back where they belong. Shit, I wish I'd never come."

At a signal from Lindsay, Mel went to snag them a couple glasses of punch. "So," she said once they were alone, "what's wrong?"

He shrugged. "I'm stuck in this strange place artistically and I don't know how to get out; and the pictures I did for the show..." he shook his head, "I can't explain them but it's how I felt. And it scares me."

"Then you have to go with it until you're in a different place. Think of it as your blue period."

He smiled as she'd intended. "Yeah, I guess."

Wandering among the other students' work, he heard a familiar voice, turned with a smile brightening his face. "Nana Rose!"

"Justin," she called and held out her arms.

He went to her, as if she'd been his grandmother, and hugged her. In actuality, he just held on, let her squeeze him, and took comfort from her presence, from the quiet strength in her arms.

"I'm so glad to see you," he whispered. Just smelling her perfume made him think about the three of them dancing in her livingroom, how happy they'd all been. Only now it also made him feel a little guilty.

With a peck on his cheek, she let go of him. Studied his face. "Look at you. Just as cute as ever. How you doing, baby?"

"Okay," but he didn't believe it and he knew she wouldn't either.

"Now how about you try that again?"

He gave a tiny shake of his head. "I'm sorry," he told her.

"For what?"

"For what happened… with Xavier." She had every right to be angry because she'd warned them, had told them to be careful and they hadn't been.

"Xavier is going to be fine. When the time is right, he'll find someone to love, someone who'll love him."

"I did love him."

"I know you did, baby." Rose patted his face. Poor baby, she hadn't envied him, caught in the middle, wanting to do what was right for all of them and not being able to.

"I just—I couldn't leave Brian. Maybe if things had been different…"

"But they weren't. You did what was right for you. That's all you can do. Who knows, maybe in some parallel universe, you and Xavier get together. Or maybe in every single one of those other universes, you and Brian get together. Maybe you were meant to be together. Maybe that's where you've always belonged." She laughed. "You can tell I've been reading too much science fiction. But you never know. I don't claim to see everything and of the things I do see, I don't claim to understand all of them. I just do the best I can." Craning her neck, she asked, "Now, where is he? I want to see if he's as fiiine in person as he is in that picture you showed me."

"He hasn't been sleeping too well lately..."

"What? That's your excuse for letting me down?"

Taking the challenge, he looked around for Brian. Spotted him. Pointed. "There he is."

Rose looked where he indicated. Saw a tall, slender man in black and grey, moving through the crowd with ease, people stepping aside as he passed, many looking after him with undisguised interest, him seemingly oblivious to it all. "My God… That man is beautiful. Sleep or no sleep."

"He'll do," Justin teased. "Just don't tell him you think he's cute."

"Cute? He's gorgeous."

"And don't tell him that. His head is big enough as is."

"Everybody needs a little stroking every now and then," she said and when Justin blushed she laughed. "But I bet you've got that under control."

"Nana Rose!"

"Now," she announced, "I'm going to look at some art and get a little cul-ture." She kissed him again. "I'll see you later."

"How long are you staying in town?"

"Just long enough for Xavier to pack his stuff for the summer."

"Will I see you again?"

"Count on it, baby." She paused. "Do me a favor."


"Talk to him. He misses you."

Justin waved as she made her way across the room and went in search of Xavier.

He'd seen Justin talking to the woman and assumed that she was Xavier's grandmother. She looked like Xavier. Same facial structure and slender height. But whereas Xavier's beauty was angular, all sharp corners and edges, hers was tempered, rounded, comforting. He'd glimpsed the teenager mulling around the exhibition but hadn't spoken to him not even to tell him how much he liked his pieces. They were good. Good enough for Kenneth's corporate headquarters. He hoped Xavier remembered to send Harris his portfolio. Maybe he'd tell Justin to remind him. Lost in a thought, he didn't see her until she was right by his side. He looked down and met a pair of questing brown eyes. It felt as if she were looking into the very depths of him. Unusual for him, he broke contact first.

"You know who I am?" she asked.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Ma'am?" A twinkle appeared in her eye. "Call me Rose."


For a moment they stood silently, the man in black and grey, the woman in bright, vibrant colors, a strange pair to be sure.

"Justin loves you a great deal," she said finally.

"I know." It was the only thing he did know sometimes.

"And yet you're standing over here alone like you don't have a friend in the world."

It was true, he had been. Had been feeling that way too, as if he didn't belong. And that was another sign that things had changed because he hadn't felt that way during the 9/11 show, then he'd felt as if his whole family was around him, as if he were safe. Now, he just felt scared as if he were losing everything that ever mattered to him. He glanced at her, dismayed that a stranger was able to pick up that much about him just from the way he stood. Twice he started to say something in response, to deny her words but he couldn't.

So she spoke. "It's hard, loving someone enough to let them make their own mistakes. Even if it means hurting yourself. I watched Xavier's mama go out into the world and I knew that girl was gone do wrong... something in her eyes, too trusting. And she didn't disappoint me. Sometimes I wanted to lock her up somewhere just to keep her safe but I couldn't."

Softly, Brian said, "I should have told him no. I should have made him stay home, never let him go after Xavier."

"How were you gone stop him?" Amused, she awaited his answer.

"I don't know. I just should have. Anything would have been better than this."

"Him hating you because you didn't trust him? Because you kept him from doing something he felt he had to do?"

"Everything's all wrong now."

"It won't always be."

"I don't know that," he said, desperation giving an edge to his voice. Swallowed. "Anyway, why do you care? We hurt your grandson too."

"He'll live. And, hopefully, he'll be smarter next time. Lord have mercy, did you really think it would work out?"

"No. But I couldn’t stop him from doing that either."

Sidling up to Xavier, Justin glanced at the sculpture his friend was studying. It was good. Not as good as Xavier's stuff but it was good. He could see the wheels turning in Xavier's mind, dissecting the piece, reconstructing the process by which it'd been built. Finally, when it seemed as if Xavier had come to a stopping point, he disturbed the quiet. "Hey."

"Hey. You see Nana?"


"She was dying to get up with you."

"I missed her." Missed you too. "How have you been?"

"Good. You?"

"Okay. I guess."

Xavier smiled. "You lying as much as I am." They both laughed, caught out. "I saw your stuff."

"I know, they're for shit." Justin tensed, waiting for Xavier's pronouncement. The one thing they didn't bullshit one another about was art.

"They're harsh. But they're real. They're the best things here."

Mouth open in amazement, Justin was stunned into silence. Then he asked, "How can you say that?"

"You can feel the pain. Yours and his." He looked away from his friend. "What did Brian say?"

"He hasn't seen them yet."

"Then he doesn't know."


Xavier wanted to touch him, to reassure him, but he couldn't. He could never touch him again. Never hear him catch his breath as he came, knowing he'd done it, he'd caused him to feel that kind of pleasure. They'd never again be lovers but he could be his friend, talk to him. "You two okay?"

Honestly, Justin answered, "No."

"I'm sorry. I mean it."

"I ruined everything."

"He'll get over it. He's pretty strong. It took a lot for him to give you up but he did it, so he can do this too." I remember looking into his eyes, he was so lost I'm surprised he made it back home.

"I don't know if he wants me anymore," Justin confessed.

"He loves you." Your coming home and telling him it was over between us was more than he had hoped for and all he'd ever wanted.

"But I don't know if he wants me. Why should he? All I've done is hurt him."

"And loved him, been there for him, taken care of him, supported him." He couldn't believe that he was standing there, defending Justin's relationship with Brian. "He'll come around."

"I don't know what I'd do without him, Xavier."

"I'm always here." The words were out before he could really think about the implications.

"Xavier..." He didn't want to hurt him but there could be no misunderstandings.

"I know." Xavier smiled softly. "I'll talk to you later."

As he started to walk away, Justin said quietly, "I miss dancing with you."

Xavier said nothing, just smiled again and left.

He took a deep breath. Time to go find Brian.

Spotting Trevor off by himself, Brian decided to kill some time. "So how's the statue coming along?"

"It's coming." Trevor glanced sidelong at him. Still beautiful. Still the most desirable man he'd ever met. Ever fucked. "Did you tell him?"

"Yeah, cause I haven't been kicked in the nuts enough recently." Shit. Not him too.

"I'll take that as a no. So much for honesty."

Brian was genuinely confused. "Is that what you want? For me to tell him so that what happens? So that he'll get pissed off and cop an attitude with you? What?"

"So we just forget what happened?"

"I have."

Trevor moved closer. "I don't think so."

He almost laughed but he knew that would be the wrong thing to do at that moment. "It was just a fuck. Just like all the others."

"But you can't tell him about it."

"I won't tell him. I'm not gonna screw things up even more than they already are over a meaningless fuck."

"Maybe you should have thought about that before you begged me to stay."

"We both understood what was going on and if you want to turn it into something it wasn't, that's your fuckin problem but don't blame me. I never lied to you about what it meant." Out of the corner of his eye he saw Justin coming. Jesus... What incredible fucking horrific timing. And Trevor looked like he was about two seconds away from announcing to the world that they'd fucked.

Taking Brian's arm, Justin spoke to Trevor. "Hey, Professor Janson."


The teen looked up at his lover, a crease appearing between his brows. He knew something was wrong. Brian wanted to look away but if he did, Justin would never let up until he spilled it. So he maintained eye contact and asked in a pseudo-annoyed tone of voice, "Is it okay if I see your drawings now?" Anything to distract him and to get away from Trevor.

"Come on."

With each footstep Brian expected Trevor to call out to them but he didn't. Breathing a sigh of relief, Brian followed Justin to the back of the space where a small number of people had gathered.

Fuck, thought Justin. He was hoping they'd be alone, that Brian would have a chance to see the drawings without an audience. And he was surprised. That anyone would bother to look twice at the pictures. Maybe Xavier was right and they were good. Maybe he'd just lost his perspective on things because of the subject matter. The one good thing about the crowd was that it kept the artwork from view that much longer. And then the people began to disperse.

"I don't see what the big, fuckin' deal is about. Those people--"

Brian stopped and Justin felt him tense up. "Brian?"

It was them. Completely unrecognizable unless you knew them, knew what they'd been through. A triptych of grotesque figures connected in horror. On the first panel, two figures in a bed, one of them burrowing through the other's body, stretching it beyond tolerance, having entered by way of its anus and making its way to its chest and, presumably, its heart.

On the second panel, again two figures, this time putting their heart and lungs, their livers and kidneys into jars, having opened themselves up, in preparation for an embalming, to be entombed, sans organs, while still alive.

And the last panel, the lovers, for that was what they were, sitting calmly by the sea, their backs to the water, a shapeless shadow emerging from the depths.

Next to the three drawings, a placard said, "Love in Three Parts".

Brian swayed a little, steadied himself. "It's us."


"We..." He looked away.

"Brian, I'm sorry--"

"Look at us." He pointed to the pictures. "Look at us!" Backed away. "Fuck."

Justin called after him but it was too late. He was gone.

Having heard his voice and seen Brian leave, Jennifer came hurrying from around a partition. "Honey?"

"I gotta go after him."

"Maybe you should let him go. Let him calm down."

"He won't. Not without me."


"Mom, I know what I'm doing." Brian having had a head start, Justin exited the building. He was nowhere in sight. Hoping that he hadn't gone to the Jeep, Justin checked the parking lot first but the car was still there. Then he tried to think of all the places Brian might have gone to and could have gotten to in a relatively short period of time. The other buildings were open but Brian had never been in them. He'd probably stay outside. The courtyard. It was enclosed yet accessible. Please, let him be there.

He found him seated on a bench, having a cigarette. Everything would have been normal if Brian's hand hadn't been shaking and if half the cigarette hadn't turned to ash, unsmoked. The ash fell, a tremor having passed through Brian's hand. Justin sat next to him, not too close. Waited for Brian to speak and when he didn't, took a chance. "Come back inside."

"I feel like we're trapped in a nightmare that just keeps getting darker. I don't know which is worse, this or that fucking dream I keep having but I know that... I know that I can't keep doing this. We can't keep going on like this."

"Tell me how to fix things and I'll do it."

"Is that really how you feel about us?" he asked, jabbing his cigarette in the air, in the direction of the exhibition.

He was talking about the drawings. "I don't know."

"Cause we're in deep shit trouble if it is."

"Maybe," Justin admitted.

Brian stubbed out the remainder of his cigarette, wishing he'd brought a joint with him. "Shit."

"Let's go away." The idea had come out of nowhere to him and he grabbed hold of it as if it were the only life jacket in a hundred miles of sea. "Just for the weekend. We could go to that inn we went to last year. For our anniversary."

"You really think that's a good idea? The way things are?" He could see them killing each other in the woods and no one finding their bodies for days, the animals having gotten to them and eaten away their flesh.

"It's what we need. Time alone. To talk. No distractions. Just us. What do you think?"

Maybe it was what they needed, to get away from familiar surroundings so they could stop running into the shades of past mistakes, to go to a place that had good associations, where they'd been close and there'd only been the two of them in their bed. So he gave Justin a fake scowl and said, "I think I'd better wear my old shoes this time. Last trip I got racoon shit all over my Miu Mius," he complained.

"Only you would wear brand new Prada tennis shoes to the country."

"I guess I'll wear my Chuck Taylor's instead."

"You don't have any Chuck Taylor's."

"Really? Duh." Sometimes Justin was a little slow.

"Fuck off."

Brian moved closer to him and slid his arm around Justin's waist; the teen leaned against him.

True to her word, Nana Rose called Justin and invited him to take her to lunch. So he went by her hotel and she and he taxied to Liberty Avenue and got out in front of the diner. They'd all thought it was best if Xavier and Brian didn't come, which saddened all of them (for different reasons) but it had to be that way, there was no point in muddying the waters again.

"Hey, Sunshine!" Deb called out to him. She and Vic hadn't made it to the show, Vic had been feeling a little under the weather but he was better now.

"Sunshine?" Rose asked. "Fits. Or it would, if you'd smile." At that, he did smile. "Cute as can be."

"Hi. I'm Debbie Novotny."

"Rose Robinson. Xavier's grandmother."

"He looks like you. You two want a booth?"


Throughout the introductions Justin had said nothing. It was only as they opened their menus that he spoke. "I lived with Debbie after I left home. And after Brian kicked me out of his place."

Rose laughed. "That sounds like a story I want to hear."

"It's a good one," Deb told her as she set down two glasses of water.

When she'd gone again to wait on another table, Justin said, "Brian took me in cause my dad was being a real a—" He stopped.

"A real asshole?"

"Yeah." He laughed. "Anyway, I forgot to set the alarm one day and Brian got robbed. He totally freaked."

"Doesn't seem like the type at all," Nana Rose joked.

"So I stole one of his credit cards and ran away to New York."

"Lord have mercy. By yourself?"


"To do what?"

"Become a go-go boy."

"Well, you sure can work those hips," she laughed.

"Or wait for Brian to come find me, whichever came first."

"And did he?"

"He brought me home and asked Deb if I could live with her."

"They must be very close."

"Her son, Michael, is his best friend and Brian practically lived at their house when he was a teenager. His dad was pretty harsh. He used to hit Brian, and nothing Brian ever did was good enough for him."

"Explains a lot."

"He's been through so much." Justin looked down at his hands.

"So have you," said Deb, having returned to take their orders. "You both deserve a break. Now, what can I get you?"

Lunch over, they strolled down the avenue window shopping, Rose haggling with a street vendor over the price of a scarf with which she promptly tied her dreads. Justin told her she looked beautiful. And she did.

They took a cab back to the hotel where Justin hugged her and kissed her and promised he'd call her. As the cab drove him away, he wiped his eyes, amazed at how close he felt to her. No matter how fucked up things had gotten, the one thing he'd never regret was meeting Nana Rose.

The two lovers left for the country right after work, having packed the night before, and arrived at the inn in just over an hour and a half. It had still been light enough for them to take in the scenery, which they had, more to keep from talking than anything else, which was ironic considering why they'd come to the country in the first place.

Their old cabin wasn't available but there was one "just as nice" the proprietor assured them besides which it was a little further out which meant they'd be certain not to be disturbed by the other guests.

With food on its way, they tossed their bags on the floor and stretched out on the bed to catch their breath. Eyed the whirlpool bath gratefully. After dinner, it was a date. Finally, the bellboy arrived with their meal and set it up on the dining table, complete with candles and fine china.

His appetite an uncertain thing under the best of circumstances, Brian stared down at his plate, hunger having fled but since Justin had already begun to eat his serving of walnut and pancetta pansoli, he decided he'd better try to get something down or his lover would worry. So he speared a couple of the asparagus tips that came with the ravioli and hoped the taste would trigger his errant appetite.

"Mmm," Justin muttered before getting up and going to his bag. Took out a CD and popped it into the player by the bed. Returned to the table.

Brian listened to the CD, trying to dredge up a name from his memory. He recognized the voice if not the song and had in his mind the vague image of a black man, tall, dark, beautiful. But the name… "Who is this?"


He nodded. Did remember him. Had seen the CDs on the storage rack, some of Justin's contributions to the collection. But he'd remembered then, the song with the video of Seal dancing alone and singing. Not the one from that lame-assed Batman Forever movie but the one about dying. "A Prayer for the Dying," that's what it was called. He liked him. Smiling, he continued to eat.

"He's pretty hot," Justin said, knowing how his man's mind worked.

"Yeah," was all he'd say. Thinking about Seal made him think about Trevor. The fact that the singer looked like he'd been carved from ebony. He could see Trevor releasing him from stone, his strong, capable hands roaming over that perfect body…



"Gerbil's working overtime."

Justin's invitation to talk. He almost laughed but it wouldn't be funny, the teen's reaction if he told him about his encounter with Trevor. And he should. He knew that he should just tell him and get it over with except… he couldn't. But what if Trevor tells him? But why would Trevor do that? What good would it do? So he lied. "This is nice."

"The CD? I made it from the three albums I have—"

"No. This. All of it. You were right," he said, taking a sip of the perfectly chilled Chardonnay. "We needed this." And Justin smiled, really smiled, the first one in so long it made him turn away when he realized how much he'd missed it.

"Brian?" A hint of worry.

He looked back up and smiled. Took Justin's hand and held it, fingers brushing over his ring.

You know I didn't mean to hurt you love/ I just need some light on my life/ But when a man is wrong/ Facing all the mistakes that he's done/ There can be no right... 2

They danced after dinner, taking comfort from being together, from being alone, from being free, for a moment, from the worries that seemed as much a part of them as their flesh and blood. Paradoxically, despite the words of the song, they hoped that they could find forgiveness, redemption even.

Oh, my friend/ I sometimes get things wrong to get things right/ Oh, my friend/ You know I sometimes get things wrong to get things right/ Oh, my friend/ When I'm wrong/ Facing all the mistakes that I've done/ When a man/ When this man is wrong/ There can be no right/ There can be no right.

Brian's arm tight around his waist, Justin gave himself over to the need coursing through his veins. Pulling Brian's head down to kiss him again and again, not wanting to part, not even to draw breath. The hunger, God, ravenous for one another, wanting to devour, to consume. He bit Brian's lip and heard his lover cry out, not in pain but in lust, wanting Justin to eat him, to feed on him. "Baby…"

"Yes." Justin pulled away slightly, eyes shining, then kissed him hard, mouths mashed together. He gasped and grabbed the back of Brian's head, held him still as he chewed on his lips, sucked his tongue.

With a moan, they parted again, faces flushed. Brian could feel his cock pressing against his fly. Watched as Justin stripped down to his briefs, white like a little boy's. His little boy.

Eyes fixed on his partner, Justin walked over to the whirlpool and stepped inside. Dropped beneath the surface, then resurfaced, hair plastered to his forehead. He sat on the edge of the bath, legs open in invitation, briefs translucent, clinging to his buttocks, his cock and balls clearly visible, clearly defined against the wet cloth, a shadow where his hole was.

In a rush, Brian plunged into the water, fully clothes except for his socks and shoes which he'd abandoned when they'd first arrived. Body between Justin's thighs, he grabbed hold of the teen's neck as they kissed once more, trying to ignore the tightness at his groin. In a less than smooth motion, he had his jeans unbuttoned providing some relief but he didn't care because Justin's tongue was in his mouth and, somehow, of its own volition, his hand had cupped the teenager's dick and was busy stroking it through the soaking wet material of the cotton briefs. Without breaking contact, Brian rose from the water. They fell back upon the floor, Justin's legs wrapped around his thighs, groins ground together, cocks straining against confining cloth as they continued to gnaw on one another's mouth.

Somehow Justin came to be on top and he sat up, suspending their kissing and placed his hands on Brian's still-covered chest. Rubbed the silk cloth over the man's super sensitive nipples. Brian sighed as they stiffened. Justin tore open his shirt and latched onto the nubs, one and then the other trapped inside his mouth, tongue lashing the tips. Brian lifted his torso, trying to push them inside even further but Justin pulled away. Turned to the man's lower half instead. Tugged Brian's wet jeans down and off, leaving his thong in place, irregardless of how little it was actually doing to keep his cock confined or even covered. The head and an inch or more of the shaft had escaped the cup and peeked over the waistband.

"Oh, baby…" he whispered as Justin licked his cock, just the part that had poked free. Each lap of the boy's tongue sent shivers down his spine and he wished all of his cock had come free because his balls were aching for the touch of his baby's tongue. As if he had heard Brian's thoughts, Justin eased the thong down around his thighs and had Brian in his mouth in an instant. The teen's lips slid down his shaft and Brian closed his eyes and concentrated on not coming. Because it was hard. With any other partner he'd have been able to disconnect himself from what was happening, isolate his arousal someplace other than his cock, but with Justin it took all of his willpower and skill not to come the moment he started to go down on him. Those thick lips were almost impossible to resist. He moaned and lifted a hand, let it fall back into the pool of water beneath his palm. Raised his knees, then lowered them again, feet sliding across the slick tiled floor. Jesus…

He released Brian's cock from his mouth and opened his lips around his sac. Sucked the smooth flesh while continuing to stroke the man's dick. His fingers were wet with precum. He could hear Brian moaning and it made him harder, made him hungrier for his meat. Despite his desire, Justin was gentle with Brian; knowing how sensitive his balls were, he lightly nipped them, opening his mouth around the fat orbs and only letting his teeth graze the surface, and even that was enough to set Brian off. He shuddered and grunted, buttocks tightened. As soon as he relaxed, Justin did it again and Brian gave a little cry and begged him to stop. "No, oh God, no… I’m gonna…" Again Justin nipped him. But this time Justin had placed a hand behind Brian's nuts and pressed down on the spot right above his prostate. Hand in place, he took Brian's cock back inside and sucked him hard, willing the man to come with his lips and tongue. Brian jerked beneath him and shouted, gripped by his orgasm. But he did not come. Justin pressed harder with his knuckles until Brian had settled down. When he judged it safe to release him, he did. The man lay on the floor, chest heaving, utterly undone. His limbs trembled as Justin lay against him, too weak to even hold him.

While Brian recovered, Justin began to kiss him once more, his own hard-on tight against Brian's side, caught between their bodies. He wanted to come so badly but he wanted to wait, to wait until Brian was hard inside him, until he was on his back yelling for Brian to fuck him harder. He drew away, feeling a pulse go through his dick. But first, before Brian fucked him, he wanted him to eat him out. Stepping back into the whirlpool, he soaked himself again, then got out and laid down on the fake bearskin rug before the cold fireplace. It was too hot for a fire but the rug would do just fine. Lying on his back, he waited for Brian to turn over and look at him.

Breathing a little steadier, Brian got on his hands and knees and faced Justin. The teen was on his back, body glistening once more, briefs plastered to him. His cock was so hard Brian was surprised it hadn't torn a hole through his underwear. As is, it tented them. And his balls, round and high… Brian longed to lick them, suck them. But he waited to take his cue from Justin.

Brian's attention focused on him, Justin turned over onto his side and gripped the waistband of his briefs in one hand. Slowly drew them down.

Fuck. Brian's dick twitched as Justin's luscious ass came into view, smooth skin, round cheeks, deep cleft.

When the briefs had reached the tops of his thighs, Justin turned over onto his back and lifted his legs. There.

Wet, pink and waiting for his tongue. Brian gazed at the boy's hole, exposed to view. Crossing the floor on his knees, he grabbed hold of the briefs, raising Justin's legs off the floor, keeping his legs up out of the way, and lowered his face between his cheeks.

The first lick made him moan uncontrollably. Just a light flick to let him know he was there, and then Brian pressed his tongue harder against his hole. Justin's muscles tensed as the tip played in the folds of his ass. This was what Brian did better than anyone. "Yes!" he uttered and felt his hole open and Brian's tongue ease inside. "Uh—" He grabbed the rug in both fists and swallowed a cry. Nerves fired all over his body, as if a dozen men were licking every inch of his skin. All that from Brian's tongue buried in his backside. He could feel precum trickling down his belly.

Brian curled the tip of his tongue and Justin's muscles fluttered. He willed his hole to open wider, wished Brian could get his entire tongue inside him, could lick him from the rim to the deepest recesses of his ass. He felt Brian's teeth close on the edge of a fold and cried out as the man tugged him open and nibbled on his rosy flesh. Over and over again Brian gnawed on the wrinkled folds of his ass until Justin thoguht he'd lose his mind. His back arched and the rug twisted beneath him as he fought to hold on. Sweat ran down between his pecs to pool in his throat.

He'd been inside Justin many times and it never failed to amaze him how much he loved riming him, tongue-fucking him until the pink ring of muscle began to spasm and beg for more than his tongue, beg for the feel of his cock sliding through. Removing his tongue, he opened Justin with his finger. The teen jumped a little, then settled down to enjoy the smooth, easy strokes as he fingered him. Sliding first from side to side, then from top to bottom, Brian's finger made a thorough circuit, the pad rubbing over the ridged surface of the inside of his ass. Without breaking his stride, Brian nuzzled Justin's balls and lapped at them as he continued to work his finger in and out. He kissed the round sac and whispered, "Do you want me to fuck you?"

Justin's eyelids fluttered. "Yes."

Brian withdrew his finger, then massaged the outer rim of his ass, the ring of muscle having swollen and grown more tender. He heard Justin take in a sharp breath. "You want it bad, don’t you?"


"Bad enough to beg?"

"Fuck me."

"Fuck you?" he teased.

"Fuck me."

Brian lowered his head and kissed Justin's hole. "I am. I'm gonna fuck you…"

"Fuck me."

"Fuck your sweet ass..."


"Until you scream." Leaving him for a moment, Brian got the condoms and the KY. Encased his cock in latex and slathered lube over the length of it. Used his fingers to lubricate Justin's hole too. Briefs still around the teenager's legs, Brian held onto them with one hand and with the other he guided his cock to its destination.

Yes! This was what he'd wanted. As his hole stretched around Brian's cock head, he imagined how it looked and made a mental note to see if they could make another video. Just thinking about the other two was enough to make him hard most days. But that was for later, right now he was too swept up in the feel of Brian's dick as it made its way up his hole. The head hit his spot making him tingle all over, then moved on. He could feel Brian's balls pressing against his ass. He was in.

Taking a moment to rest, Brian began a slow withdrawal, keeping his eyes on Justin's face to gauge his responses to his lover's actions. Not that Brian needed to. He knew Justin, knew a hundred different ways to please him. And right now, Justin was pleased.

Asshole slick with saliva and lube, hard cock thrusting up inside it; hips pumping, rising to meet Brian's lunges, Justin held onto the rug and gritted his teeth. He wanted to scream, to tell the world how much he loved being fucked by his man. He loved the fact that he was utterly under Brian's control. With his legs still entangled in his briefs, his ass full of his lover's cock, he was completely in Brian's hands, to do with as he wished.

Responding to some internal signal, Brian slowed everything down. Hips swaying leisurely to and fro, he kept them hovering on the brink of pleasure, pushing them closer and closer but never releasing control, never allowing them to tumble over the edge.

Justin sighed and reached for his dick, gave it a few easy strokes, squeezed his balls. He let his hands slide down between his thighs. His fingers brushed over Brian's groin, combed through his pubes, encircled his dick. "Mmm," he moaned, the throbbing organ hot beneath his hand. "Yeah..." He eased a finger inside his hole, along side Brian's cock. Pressed the tip against the hard shaft. Brian shuddered and paused. Justin withdrew his finger, then eased two inside and began to stroke his meat in earnest.

He loved it. Sloppy fucking. Feeling Brian's wet cock between his fingers, feeling his own slippery hole. He rubbed his thumb along the neck of Brian's dick and sighed.

Brian withdrew entirely and looked down at Justin's hole, bright pink and gaping open from its pounding, from the teen playing in his own ass: loose, relaxed, and still hungry. He released the teen's legs and helped him onto his knees. Gripped the sides of his hips and entered him again.

"Oh, yeah… Oh, yeah--Brian. Brian."

"I know, baby. I know."

Justin's head hung between his shoulders and he groaned, moaned, and whimpered as Brian fucked him even harder than before. Each thrust jostled him. He felt wide open and yet tight as Brian filled him completely. His cock bounced before him, stiff between his legs, precum dripping onto the bear rug. One more thrust, one more, right there, right… right there. Yes, yes, yes. Brian freed a hand and encircled the teen's cock. Justin yelled. "Oh, God! Oh, God…" He didn't care who heard him. The head of his dick expanded and a gush of precum wet Brian's fingers. The man rubbed the teen's slit and pisshole and Justin choked and jerked. Cum erupted from the tip. Eyes shut tight, he grunted and his hole clenched Brian's dick. Working his hips back and forth, Justin forced Brian's cock to nudge his prostate over and over again. Fucking himself on his lover's dick, the boy continued to come until his balls were empty. He sighed and relaxed, releasing his hold on Brian's meat.

Relieved and unbearably hard, Brian began jabbing him again, his cock having swollen as well. His balls slapped against Justin's ass as he plowed his hole. Hands spread over his back, Brian gave a final thrust and shouted. "Oh, fuck…" His hips moved mindlessly as he dropped his load. "Oh, fuck," he breathed again as the last spasm gripped him. He leaned over Justin's body and, still buried inside him, kissed his shoulders and the back of his neck. "I love you," he whispered.

Justin shut his eyes, satisfied.

He looked up, momentarily lost, then remembered where he was, remembered that he and Justin had come here to try and patch things up between them and it'd worked. He felt closer to his partner than he had in weeks. Maybe things would be better from now on. He went to reach for Justin and couldn't raise his arm, tried to look over at him and couldn't move his head. Panicked, he tried to call him but couldn't open his mouth. And then he saw it. A spot of darkness blacker than the night around it, there on the ceiling and he knew, somehow, that it looked so small because it was far away. But it was growing, spreading, moving closer and closer to him; it was like watching a plant bloom, the process speeded up by a camera. His heart raced and he tried to close his eyes but he couldn’t, not with that thing getting closer to him and Justin. Justin! Justin didn't know, slept unaware and he had to save him, couldn't let the shadow touch him, devour him. Justin! he screamed in his mind, as it kept getting closer and closer, the darkness hanging over them, only a few inches away. His chest ached from the effort to scream, to wake Justin before it touched them—


The teen jerked awake and grabbed Brian as the man's eyes flew open at last, wide with terror. "It's okay, I'm here. I'm here," and he wanted to cry because he thought they were finished, the dreams were finished but they weren't. One evening of making love wasn't enough, one weekend in the country wasn't enough. God, he wanted to cry.

Brian did. Curled in Justin's arms, he wept because he'd believed the dreams were over and it hurt, it hurt so much that he'd done everything he could and nothing had helped. No matter how hard he tried, nothing changed and he was losing everything, everything was slipping through his fingers. He sobbed and held onto Justin's arm but it was only illusion, neither of them was strong enough to stop the dreams and one night the dreams would win, the shadow would envelope them, and the fight would be over. And he was so tired...

Justin was terrified. He'd never seen Brian like this before, so lost and out of control of his emotions, weeping wildly. "Brian? Brian, please… talk to me."

But he said nothing. There was nothing left to say. Tears crawling down his cheeks, he tightened his grip on his lover, finding no comfort there, the action unconscious, an automatic response that had nothing to do with any confidence in either of them. And he cried.

Laying his head upon Brian's crown, Justin held him and the tears did come then because he knew as Brian did, he felt it too: the beginning of the end.

As the sound of Justin's misery penetrated his own pain, Brian grew angry. How hard had they fought to be together only to fall apart now? They'd survived Justin's dad and fuckin Chris Hobbs and that goddamn trial and Cam and everything else only to lose to this? To a fucking dream no matter what it stood for?

"No," he said and he startled himself.

Justin loosened his grip. "Brian?"

"No," he repeated and he turned and faced Justin. "I won't do it. I won't let it win. You hear me?"

"I hear you," replied Justin as a tear rolled down his face.

Brian wiped it away and kissed him softly. "I won't let it win," he whispered grimly against his baby's cheek. "I won't."

Put your shoes on/ Walk with me into this light/ Finally this morning/ I'm feeling whole again/ It was a hell of a night 3

Sunlight streamed through the trees, lighting their path as they wandered the land around the cabin. Hand in hand they walked the woods, grateful just to be alive and together.

Just to be with you by my side/ Just to have you near in my sight/ Just to walk a while in this light/ Just to know that life goes on

"Oh shit." Brian covered his eyes with his hands.

"Chicken," laughed Justin as he removed them. "Everything looks so beautiful from up here."

Up here meaning from the basket of a hot air balloon travelling way too far above ground for Brian's tastes. Justin had talked him into it and he was having second and third thoughts about the wisdom of being up in a balloon with Mr. Greenjeans at the controls. The guy fuckin looked like Mr. Greenjeans from Captain Kangeroo.

"Sure it does," he grumbled, "until you hit a tree or crash."

Justin kissed him on the chin. "Just think about the picnic we're going to have when we land." Brian blanched. Maybe thinking about food isn't such a hot idea, he said to himself.

But by the time they touched down an hour later, Brian had begun to enjoy himself.

"Next, parachuting," Justin told him and Brian looked at him like he'd lost his mind.

"Not in this fuckin lifetime," Brian said.

Justin kissed him again, certain the pilot was getting an eyeful and an earful today. "You'd do it for me, wouldn't you?"

Pretending that it didn't affect him at all, Brian couldn't quite pull it off and Justin knew he had him and grinned, pleased as can be. Brian muttered beneath his breath, "Fucker."

The pilot declined their invitation to join them, having seen and heard more about gay life than he'd probably wanted to on the trip over. So they took their basket and blanket and walked a ways out of direct sight of the balloon (they could still see the brightly colored canvas through the trees) and set up camp. There were chicken salad sandwiches and potato chips, a crisp white Zinfandel and chilled fruit. After they ate, they stretched out on the blanket, Brian's head on Justin's belly, the man half-dozing as the teen named shapes in the clouds. Suddenly, Brian laughed.

"What?" Justin demanded.

"We're like an ad for some California vineyard."

"Ridiculously romantic," Justin said, supplying the punch line of the joke, and he laughed too because they were but they deserved it, especially after the night they'd had, after the month they'd had, the past two months really. He ran his fingers through Brian's hair. "I love you."

"I know."

Justin shoved him. "Asshole."

"That's my name, don’t wear it out." He crawled on top of his lover, kissed him long and hard. Pulled away, leaving Justin momentarily breathless. "You were saying?"

"Shut up and kiss me again." Added as Brian got closer, "Asshole."

There were more than a few blades of grass and twigs caught in their clothes as they returned to the balloon. Which the pilot pretended not to notice. Justin supposed he was used to couples making out on these excursions. He just hoped the guy stayed upwind of them.

Even though they'd made love during lunch, the moment they hit the cabin they tore off their clothes and fell upon one another. They'd never get enough, that was what Brian always said and Justin was beginning to believe he was right. As he climbed onto Brian's erection, he certainly hoped it was true.

Lying entwined on the bed, waiting for their strength to return so that they could wash (they smelled a little ripe) Justin began to hum and Brian smiled and then laughed outright as he recognized the mumbled words. And Justin giggled because he'd been caught out, because he hadn't thought Brian would know the song because why would he? But he did because he'd read the same stories to Gus too.

Tra-la-la, tra-la-la,
Tra-la-la, tra-la-la,
Tiddle-iddle, tiddle-iddle,
Tiddle-iddle, tiddle-iddle,

Fuck, he hoped Justin was home and had cooked. He'd skipped lunch today to get some last minute work done on an account and he was starving. As he pulled open the door, he smelled steak. Thank God, he said to himself and then out loud, "Did I ever tell you you're the best twinkie in the whole wide world?"

"Don't call me a twinkie," Justin said from his post in front of the stove, then grinned. "I better be the best."

Giving him a peck first on the neck and then on the lips, Brian headed for the bedroom to change and saw the mail on the dining table. Remembered grades were due. "You get em?" he asked, certain Justin would know what he was talking about.

"Yeah," the teen replied.

Detecting a less-than-pleased note in his voice, Brian poked his head out of the bedroom as he removed his tie. "What?" Justin shrugged. He left the bedroom. "What?"

"Professor Janson."

Brian tensed. He'd known before Justin had opened his mouth.

"I mean, I know I'm not the world's greatest sculptor but I did all the assignments and my stuff wasn't the worst in the class."

"What'd he give you?"

"Fuckin C plus."

Brian went hot all over. Motherfucker. He ducked back into the bedroom and got his shoes, came out again and sat down to put them on.

"Brian?" Justin looked worried. "You can't do anything. It's up to him what he gives me. You can't go there," he said, panicked when it looked as if Brian was determined to do just that. "Brian?"

"You deserve better than that."

"Look, it's nothing. I'll get over it."

"Fucker did it just to get at me."

"I know he made that pass at you but come on--"

"That's not all." Brian waited for Justin to sit. Fuck, he didn't want to do this, not when things had gotten halfway good between them. He hadn't had a dream for four days, had thought that maybe they were over for good. Shit. It was always something. "While you were in DC... that night you didn't call--"

"I called." It was still a sore subject between them.

"Late. Anyway... I went to Babylon and got completely wasted. Trevor was there. He got me to go home, even followed me in his car to make sure I didn't end up decorating the highway."

Justin stood. "I don't want to hear this."

"I was freakin out, Justin, cause I knew you were with Xavier and I--I just needed someone to want me--"

"My fuckin teacher?! Fuck." He looked away, angry. "Fuck it, Brian."

"I'm sorry. It was just that one time and I thought he understood."

"But he didn't. Cause who can fuck the great Brian Kinney and not want more?"

Brian reminded him, "You were in DC shoving your fucking tongue down Xavier's throat, so I don't think you've got any goddamn room to talk. I said I was sorry. And I'll take care of it."

Scared, Justin tried to hold him back. "Don't."

"I won't be long." He grabbed his keys, slamming the door close behind him.

Justin turned off the steaks and put them on a platter. Then sat on one of the barstools to wait.

He'd seen Trevor's car in the parking lot and knew he was inside. Glancing in the window of his studio, Brian saw him. Working on the statue. Fucking asshole. He pushed open the door.

Trevor turned. "What do you want? You made it perfectly--"

Brian swung and hit him squarely in the jaw. Trevor stumbled and fell back against the statue. "Fuck you," Brian snarled.

"What the hell--"

"You fucking gave him a C plus and you know he didn't deserve it."


"You asshole. You want to hurt me, to get back at me, be a man and come after me. You don't fuck with him, you understand? You understand!" he bellowed.

Trevor got up cautiously, unsure if Brian was going to hit him again.

"I want it changed."

"I can't give him an A."

"You give him what he deserves. He knows he's not an A fuckin student but he knows he's better than a C plus."

"I'm sorry."

"Fuck you." He started to go.


He turned. "You ever fuck with him again, I'll be back. And I'll make you wish you hadn't." With that, he left.

Trevor rubbed his jaw, recalled the anger in Brian's eyes. In those eyes he'd tried so hard to replicate first in clay and now in stone. So that he could forget them, forget the way they'd teased on the dance floor, the way they'd blazed when they'd fucked. And he couldn't. Picking up a hammer, Trevor slammed the head against the statue. Stone chips flew. He struck the statue again.

He would forget.

He jumped as the door opened and Brian came inside the loft. Still angry. He could tell by the dull gleam in his eyes and he wondered what had happened, although he was afraid he knew the answer.

Brian said nothing, just came in and made for the bedroom. Justin followed him, sat on the bed while he changed. When the man was done, he joined his young partner and willed his pulse to stop racing. Took Justin's hand in his. "I'm sorry."

Justin moved into his arms. "Me too." He rubbed Brian's belly through his shirt. "Steaks are ruined."

In his thirst for justice, he'd forgotten about dinner. Now his hunger returned sharper than ever. "Let's go out."

"Somewhere nice. Not the diner," frowned Justin.

"Fine," offered Brian, "as long as you don't wear anything from the Dawson Creek Fall Collection."

"There's no such thing."

Brian stood and spread his hands as if he were Vana White. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, our next model, Justin, is wearing a lovely blue cotton jersey with a white racing stripe down the side and a pair of grey cargo pants." Grinning, he fended off the boy's attack and laughed as Justin pulled him down onto the bed and tickled him mercilessly before kissing him for a very long minute.

"Delivery," Justin whispered in his ear and Brian agreed, the teen already unbuttoning his shirt and sliding his hand inside.

Seated naked on the rug in the livingroom, food spread out between them, they went over the details of their upcoming trip. Justin told Brian that their passports should be arriving any day now and Brian said that he'd ordered the plane tickets from Pittsburgh to London and from Paris to Pitts. "I also confirmed our hotel reservation in Paris."

"You mean Cynthia did. What about London?" since they were going there first.

"Still looking for someplace… different."

"We could always stay with the Queen," Justin suggested.

"I didn't know Emmett had a place in England. No wonder he can't afford to pay rent here."

"He always says it's hard being a queen among commoners."

"He's right, he usually is hard among the commoners."

Justin laughed and popped a won-ton in his mouth. Chewed reflectively. Brian waited for him to share his thoughts. "Know where I've always wanted to go?" He shook his head. "Hong Kong."

"Bang. Cock," Brian said, smirking.

"Maybe next year we can go to Asia. Do Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Sydney…"

"Uh-huh," Brian replied noncommittally, wondering how much that would cost him.

"Go scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef."

"Get eaten by a Great White shark."

"Exploring the Australian outback."

"Exploring the backrooms in Beijing."

Justin nudged him with his foot. "Behave." Paused with a piece of sweet and sour chicken halfway to his mouth. "Do I have to put a leash on you when we're in Europe?"

Up went his right eyebrow the way it did when he was amused. "Might be fun."

They were in the Jeep and Justin was driving. Why was Justin driving the Jeep? The sun was shining and they were on their way to the Big Q. God, why the fuck did they have to go there? Justin parked and got out of the car. Brian reached for the handle to get out and couldn't. Immediately his pulse rate increased. He didn't try to move his head, knew that he couldn't, and he was afraid to anyway, afraid of what he might see slouching towards the car, a lumbering darkness. Hearing a noise coming from behind the Jeep, he cut his eyes towards the side mirror. They widened in terror. There. The darkness, man-high and man-shaped, shambling towards him, eyeless yet somehow fixed on him, its mouth gaping open, stretched in a parody of speaking, the horrible sound of his mangled name raising the hairs on his forearms. "Iaannn…" Paralyzed by fear, he could only watch it come closer and closer, until its image filled the mirror. Its presence was like a blast of cold air on the otherwise warm day. The tips of his fingers ached as he gripped his thighs. A tear slipped down his cheek. He saw five black fingers reach for him and closed his eyes. Felt the coldness permeate his bones as the hand reached inside the open window and touched his shoulder.

He drew in a deep breath and his eyes flew open. Shivering from the cold even though he was under the covers, he lay there, trembling for a moment then rose on shaky legs and went to find temporary relief. He had awakened, but too late. The shadow had touched him. Even now he could feel the fingers of ice inching towards his heart. The pain was incredible. How long would it take before his heart stopped? Before his lungs filled with frozen oxygen? Aware that it was a futile gesture at best, he reached for the bottle of Beam. He couldn't pour the shot of bourbon fast enough. Knocked it back and poured another.


Refusing to meet his eyes, he said, "Go back to sleep." He didn't want Justin to see the frost in his eyes.

But, of course, Justin came forward. "What are you doing?"

Lifting his glass, he explained, "Having a drink," as if that weren't obvious.

"What's wrong?"

He headed for the livingroom. "I woke up thirsty."


"Go back to bed," he ordered the teen but Justin ignored his command.

"Brian, please... Dr. Drew said--"

"Fuck Drew! And fuck talking! And fuck--" He stopped. No, he wouldn't say it. Didn't mean it.

"Me? Fuck me? Is that what you wanted to say?"

"Go back to bed," he said, each word like a stone dropped in a well. Justin reached for him and he flashed on the dream, on the shadow's hand reaching for him. "Don't touch me!" If only he could save Justin, keep him safe from the darkness, from the shadow... he had to, that was the most important thing: to save Justin. The way he hadn't in that parking garage. I can save him and we won't have to go through what we did.

Confused, Justin continued to reach for him. "Brian?"

The feel of Justin's hand upon his arm was like fiery ice. "No!" In an instant he'd pushed the teenager away from him. In a flash he saw Justin's head snap back, struck by Chris Hobbs/him. Heard the sound of the bat striking his skull. I hit him. He saw Justin fall. Onto the cement. Flash. The floor. Forehead bleeding. No! "Justin!"

He tripped over his bookbag lying in wait behind him and crashed into the barstools; hit the floor, entangled in metal bars and a plastic seat. His head struck the hard tiled surface and he winced in pain.

Brian knelt by him, moved the barstool from on top of him. "Justin?"

"I'm okay," he replied weakly. The back of his head ached but he didn't think it was serious. He started to get up.

"No." Brian looked around, panicked. "I'll…" He frowned, confused. The darkness blinded him. He looked out at the world through sightless eyes. His throat burned from the cold. It was inside him. He saw

the shadow striking Justin with a baseball bat.

himself swinging the bat towards the teen.

He shook his head, denying the vision but it was hard and the image lingered even as he spoke. "We have to go to the hospital."

"I'm all right," Justin told him and again tried to rise but Brian eased him back.

"I'll get your clothes." He stood, uncertain, then disappeared into the bedroom.

Justin lay back and closed his eyes. Oh, God…

They'd taken him in the back. He could see

himself sitting in the hallway crying, waiting for Mikey to come. Blood on his face, his hands, his clothes.

himself sitting on the witness stand as Keisha asked him, "Why did you assault Mr. Taylor?"

He bit his lip and looked away from the nurse who was taking down Justin's information.

"Sir? Sir, are you a relative?"

"No," he whispered. I'm nothing.

She picked up the phone expecting to hear that one of her parents had died and heard his voice instead. Her heart stopped. She listened to him tell her Justin was in the hospital and was out of bed before he could finish. Thinking, Not again; and then her mind turned to other things, to practical matters like what to do with Molly while she was gone.

Hands shaking, he laid his forehead against the steering wheel. He'd fled the hospital, not sure what he'd intended to do but knowing he couldn't stay there, not with Jenn coming, not wanting to see the accusations in her eyes. You hurt him. Flash.

Saw himself crouched over Justin as the teenager lay on the floor of the loft, blood pooling beneath his head. Brian stretched out his arms and watched the darkness spread from his fingertips to his elbows.

He sobbed and gripped the wheel with white fingers. No. I didn't do that. I... He lifted his head and pressed his fingers to his temples. I know what happened. I was there.

Justin turned around and looked as he swung the bat.

"No..." He got out his cell, speed dialed a number. Waited for an answer, nearly coming out of his skin in the meanwhile. He had pulled over in front of a row of closed stores on a street he didn't recognize except that he knew that he was somewhere near his apartment building.

A sleepy voice came on the line. "Huh?"

"It's me," he said, voice weak and pale.

"Brian? Is that you?"

"Help me." He caught his breath. "Please."

"Where are you?"


"Are you home?"


"Can you get home?"

"I… I think so."

"I'm coming to your place. Okay?"


"Brian? Brian, it'll be all right."

The phone going dead sent him into a panic. After a few moments his vision cleared enough and his limbs stopped shaking enough that he was able to start the Jeep again.

Coming through the opened door, Drew saw Brian was sitting on the steps of his bedroom, face streaked with tears, hugging himself. "Brian, where's Justin?"

"Make me forget," he whispered, voice hoarse from weeping.

"Forget what?"

"Everything." He hid his face, then snatched his hands away. They were wet with blood. He moaned.

Drew squatted in front of him. "Brian, where's Justin?"

"At the hospital."

The therapist forced himself to remain calm. Brian was teetering on the edge. Drew could smell the alcohol on Brian's breath and prayed that the teen was all right, that they hadn't been in an accident. "What happened? Brian?"

"Help me."

"I will but you have to tell me what happened."

The man looked so mournful, so abject in his misery that Drew longed to hold him. "I hit him." Staring at his hands, Brian said, "I pushed him and he fell."

Drew looked around and noticed for the first time the overturned barstool and the bookbag on the floor. Understood what must have happened. That Brian had pushed Justin and the teenager had tripped over the bag and fallen.

"And he hit his head."

"Why did you push him?"

But Brian grabbed his head in both hands as if he were trying to keep the pieces together. "My head hurts." He sobbed and his hands trembled, loosened their grip. "It hurts." He leaned against the doorframe, still crying.

Drew touched his face lightly. "I'll make it stop, okay?" Brian didn't answer but his eyes closed, trusting like a child that Drew would take care of everything. The man left him and found a glass, filled it with water. I have to get him calmed down, have to figure out what happened. He handed Brian both the water and a pill from a bottle in the bag he'd brought with him, not certain what he would find when he got there. When Brian had swallowed it, he helped him up. "Come on, I want you to lie down." He settled Brian under the covers and sat next to him on the bed, stroking his hair. "Close your eyes."

"It hurts…"

"It'll stop."

"What have I done?"

"Shh… We'll fix it, I promise." Drew sniffled, looked up to keep the tears from falling. "I promise."

What had happened? It was all he could do to wait until Justin returned. If he returned. He'll be back. Despite everything, Justin loved Brian, he wouldn't leave him, not yet, not unless things were worse than they seemed. And they might have been, he didn't know. Brian hadn't been able to tell him much beyond the bare facts and Drew suspected the veracity of those. It was clear that Brian wasn't thinking clearly, was hysterical, panicked, maybe even suicidal. He hated to think how he would respond if Justin didn't return. He didn't think Brian would make it if that happened. So much of their individual strength came from being part of a pair, came from the bond between them. Being together meant that they could be better, stronger than they would have been apart. What would happen to them if they no longer were together?

The door opening startled him. He checked to make sure Brian was still out and he was, still sleeping peacefully, the drug having achieved what nothing else could. Drew got up just as Jennifer and Justin came inside the loft.

"Where is he?" asked Justin, moving forward only to stop as Jenn tightened her grip on his arm.

"Asleep. Are you all right?"

Before Jenn could answer, he told him, "Just a bump. He didn't hurt me," he said emphatically, which let Drew know that the teen had argued that point with his mother.

"You'll be okay?" she asked.

"I'll be fine. I just want to go to sleep."

She looked leery so Drew added, "I'll be here." Satisfied that Justin wouldn't be alone with Brian, Jennifer nodded. Gave Justin a kiss.

"If you need anything…"

"I know." When she had left, he reached for the counter to steady himself.


"They gave me this painkiller…"

Drew took his arm. "You can get in with him. You won't wake him and I think it'll do both of you some good."

"Is he okay?"

The lie that he was about to give voice to receded. "No, Justin, he's not okay. But we'll deal with that in the morning."

I can't lose him. No matter what, no matter what I have to do, I'll do it. I just... Please, help me.

He didn't know who he was talking to, didn't know if anyone was listening or if they cared but just thinking the words helped, made him feel a little stronger, a little surer of himself and what he had to do. Risking a touch, he laid his arm across Brian's body and held him. I love you. He blinked and the tears slipped from beneath his lids. That was his real prayer, the only thing he really believed in. I love you...

Upon waking he remembered. He felt the warmth of Justin's body next to his. Risked a glance. So bright, his golden boy, his beautiful baby. A shadow crossed the sleeping teen's face and he swallowed a moan. No. Not Justin. He closed his eyes to clear his vision but the first thing he saw when he opened them was a trickle of blood seeping from Justin's forehead. He had done that. He'd hurt him in so many ways. He eased back the covers and padded to the bathroom. Justin slept on.

He closed the door behind him. Not wanting to, he faced himself in the mirror. The nearly featurless form of the shadow stared back at him. He reached towards the surface of the mirror and the shadow responded. His fingers touched the cold glass. He was the darkness, the darkness was part of him, infecting everything and everyone he touched. No one had escaped harm, not even himself. It was too late for him. But he could save Justin. Justin was the good part of him, Justin and Gus, the two things he'd done right and he had to make sure the shadow didn't overtake them too. He lowered his head, eyes shut, summoning the strength to do what needed to be done. Then, mind made up, he pulled out the drawer where he kept his razor. Took it out and opened the top. I'm sorry, he told his sleeping lover, but I did it for you. He reached for the blade--

The door slid open. He turned. There stood Drew. The therapist said nothing, just waited to see what he would do. His hands shook. Without wasting a motion, Drew moved to the side. And Justin came into view. Still asleep, still ignorant of Brian's actions. The gesture said more than any words. Do it with him in sight, Drew seemed to challenge him.

Slowly, he closed the razor and returned it to its place. Only then did Drew leave the doorway, walking back towards the rest of the apartment. Brian followed. As they passed the kitchen, Drew asked, "Coffee?" Brian shook his head. The shrink took seat at the end of the sofa nearest the computer desk and faced the bedroom so that he could keep an eye on Justin. "Then we can get started right away."

"There's no point," Brian said wearily as he sat on the other end, eyes fixed on the windows in front of him.

"Why now?" Although it made sense, that Brian had fought it until he'd done the one unforgivable thing: he'd hurt Justin.

"Because I'm what's wrong. It's me," he admitted and Drew could see the pain in his eyes as he said it.

"Talk to me. Tell me what you're feeling. And no more bullshit, no more holding back. You tell me all of it."

Brian averted his eyes from the sunlight pouring in through the windows. Said softly, "He was right. My old man was right. He always said I wasn't good enough and he was right. I'm not." He spoke slowly, haltingly. "And nothing I do, not this place, or the job, or the clothes, or the drugs makes a damn bit of difference. It'll never be enough because I'm not. And I've always known it. Everyone has. That's why Cam left. That's why Justin…" He couldn't say it. "Because I'm nothing. And all this shit," he gestured at the loft and everything in it, "was just my way of putting off what should have been done a long time ago." As he spoke the tears flowed but he didn't bother to wipe them way. It was as if it was normal. "But I can't do anything right. Not even that," he finished, just above a sigh.

"You tried to kill yourself after Cam left, didn't you?" It made sense, that a similiar situation would evoke a similiar response; that the dreams: the darkness and the shadow, were symptoms of the despair creeping upon him once more.

"I came home every night for a week, thinking he'd be there or that he'd call. Because I… I couldn't believe that he didn't want me. Because… Because I loved him so much. And I wanted to believe that Jack was wrong, that I was good enough, that I… But he didn't call and he never came and it just kept getting harder and harder to care about anything."

Drew saw Justin come and stand in the doorway. The teen said nothing, just stood there listening, watching. Brian was unaware of his presence.

"So I got these sleeping pills." Laughed. "Two bottles to make sure I didn't fuck it up. I could just hear Jack in the hospital, 'You couldn't even do that right. She should have gotten rid of you before you were born like I wanted her to.' " Brian paused as if the pain was too much.

"What happened?"

Brian laughed again, a bitter sound. "Mikey came over. And he wouldn't leave. It's like he fuckin knew. And he wouldn't leave. And I couldn't do it with him there... and after he left I couldn’t do it because I didn't want him to blame… himself." Brian covered his face and sobbed. "But I should have. Because it's been so hard..."

Justin came bounding down the stairs. Drew could hear the anger in his steps, see it in the set of his jaw.

"Where are they?" Brian looked up, startled and ashamed that Justin had heard his confession.

"What?" asked Drew.

"The pills. The ones you gave him last night. I know you've got more. Where are they?"

"Justin—" Drew was afraid, unsure as to what Justin was doing, wavering between stopping him and letting go on. In the end, Justin didn't give him a choice.

The teen turned on Brian. "You want to die, then do it! I'll even help you. I'll give you the fucking pills, I'll fuckin feed them to you if that's what you want. What were you gonna do? Do it while I was asleep? Wait until I was gone?" Brian didn't answer. "You don't have to. I'm not afraid. And you don't have to be either. Because I'm here. You're not alone. I'm here and you don't have to be afraid anymore. Whatever you want, I'll do it. If you want me to, I'll hold you... until…" he swallowed, "until you're gone. Cause I'm strong enough for that, understand? I'm strong enough to watch you die." And then I would. Tears streaked his face but he continued despite them, his voice strong if not steady. "But if you want to live, I'm strong enough for that too. I'm strong enough to help you live. But you have to decide. You have to decide what you want. And you tell me and I'll do it. I'll do whatever you want… cause I love you. But you have to decide. I can't do that for you. You have to decide," he said, sitting next to Brian and facing him. "You have to decide."

Blues eyes fixed on his, Brian was caught. He couldn't look away and he couldn't shut his own eyes. Justin wouldn't let him free. He had to decide what it was that he wanted, what he would do: either surrender to the darkness or fight it, continue to struggle against it. Because this was his reward, Justin was his reward. Justin was still there. He hadn't gone, hadn't been scared away, hadn't abandoned him, hadn't given up on him. In a whisper, he said, "I want to live." Justin grabbed him and held him tightly, surprising strength in his slender frame and Brian realized that that had always been the wonder of Justin, that he was so strong, that he was strong enough. "I want to live."

And Justin closed his eyes and allowed himself to lean on his partner.

Brian preened on the steps of St. Patrick's Cathedral while Cam filmed him, a disembodied voice which asked, "Ever think about getting married?" and Brian shrugged, a slender young man with slightly shaggy hair and pouty red lips, lips that pursed as he replied to the question.

"Never did anything for my folks." Looked from under his bangs. "You?"

"Not like we can."

And Brian grinned, his hazel eyes sparkling with mischief. "We could do it right here. Get married." He moved closer. "In." Closer. "St. fucking Patrick's Cathedral." The camera fell away, shooting footage of the ground before going to black.

The next shot was of the two of them kneeling together in a secluded corner, the camera perched on something, looking into one another's eyes solemnly. And then they both started to laugh and fell into one another's arms giggling like Catholic school girls. They kissed, drew apart, then kissed again.

Pausing the VCR, Brian asked, "You want to see the rest?"

"You were so beautiful," Justin told him instead of answering his question. "You still are. Even more than you were back then." He raised Brian's right hand and kissed his fingers. The platinum band shone against his pale skin.

Brian hit the play button on the remote and watched as his younger self and a lover who had since passed continued to kiss. He had thought that they'd be together forever, had thought that he'd found a soul mate. Our little group has always been/ And always will be until the end... 5 Had thought being with Cam was a way to keep the darkness from overtaking him, to keep the hateful words from echoing in his head, "You'll never be anything but a punk. I wish to God she'd gotten rid of you the way I wanted her to;" to soothe the sting of a dozen careless slaps and the dull ache of neglect. Even though he'd had Mikey, that hadn't been enough. Mikey was his best friend, Michael had to love him but Cam, Cam chose to love him and they hadn't been together for years and years the way he and Mikey had been. Cam hadn't known him the way Mikey had, hadn't known that the hurtful things that he said and did sometimes weren't his words or his actions but Jack's. Cam hadn't known that the arrogance and coolness were his way of fighting the shadow, of hiding his weaknesses. But Cam had loved him anyway and he'd opened up his heart to him and loved him in return.

And then it was over. Cam had gone. He hadn't been enough. He hadn't been good enough.

Justin continued to hold his hand and Brian let the tears come. It was all right to cry, all right to rely on someone else, on Justin, because Justin would be there for him and together they would fight the darkness, banish it from their lives: it had no place there anymore.

Squatting, he carefully lay the videotape of him and Cam in New York on top of Jack Kinney's grave. Opened his jacket and removed the award he'd gotten for his HIV awareness campaign, the picture of his father holding him when he was a baby, and the cowry shell bracelet that Cam had given him and Justin had replaced. These too joined the video. That done, he stood and moved a few feet away, waiting.

Pausing but a moment, Justin placed a drawing of Chris Hobbs next to Brian's things, then set the statue Xavier had made for him on top of it. The edges of the paper fluttered in the slight breeze. Justin joined Brian at the foot of the grave. "You sure?" Brian had asked him when Justin had taken those things from the loft and Justin had nodded. He had no need of them anymore. Brian cupped his face and kissed him softly and together they left the cemetery, leaving behind their offerings to the furies, hoping they would be enough to buy them the peace they deserved.

Things that you do are always with me
You're laughing, you're always here
What's the use of crying?
It won't matter when we're old


1 "She's Becoming Gold" music and lyrics by Marc Cohen, Museum Steps Music, ASCAP, 1993.

2 "When a Man is Wrong" music and lyrics by Seal, Perfect Songs, BMI.

3 "Another Day" music and lyrics by James Taylor, Country Road Music, Inc. (BMI), 1997

4 "Winnie-the-Pooh," A. A. Milne, The World of Pooh, E. P. Dutton & Co, Inc., 1957, p.26.

5 "Smells Like Teen Spirit" music by Nirvana, lyrics by Kurt Cobain, Virgin Songs, BMI.

6 "Deep Space" music and lyrics by Rickie Lee Jones, Easy Money Music, ASCAP.

Heels Over Head