For most couples, going to NYC for their anniversary meant visiting major attractions and taking in a show; hitting one or two museums; and eating at a bevy of fabulous restaurants. Some of which they did, of course; but for Brian and Justin, it also meant taking long walks down NY streets in Chelsea, Soho, Greenwich Village, and the Upper East Side with no particular destination in mind. They strolled hand-in-hand, sightseeing, window shopping, and talking, drifting with the snow. Although Brian was trying to cut back on his coffee consumption, they still managed to duck into half a dozen coffee shops to escape the flurries. Inside these cozy hideaways, they sipped hot apple cider, hot chocolate, and even chai, all in an effort to break his caffeine habit.

And they talked. They held intimate, blue conversations in the hallways of museums as other patrons gazed at the Picasso, Miro, and Matisse; laughed quietly while occupying corner tables in dimly lit coffee bars; and played in the park, pushing each other with their shoulders until the roughhousing turned romantic and they leaned up against some stone wall to kiss. All the while whispering sweet nothings in one another's ears.

Ignoring fellow sightseers, fellow diners, waiters, cashiers, drivers, and museum guards, they conversed in hushed tones, sable words penetrating layers of clothes to brush against bare bodies, warm, soft, and incredibly erotic.

In their bed, their king-sized bed in their suite, they continued their conversations, whispering urgent requests that were instantly obeyed, eliciting louder responses, cries that were absorbed by the soundproof walls, cries that teased and aroused, locking them in a cycle of pleasure.

Lying together afterwards, they said very little; now was the time for silence. Pulses slowing from allegro to adagio, their hearts spoke one to the other, without words, and lulled them to sleep.

They were beautiful even in a city famed for beauty. Their passage down crowded streets never went unnoticed. People who paused for very little, not even their own lives, glanced at them, sometimes taking a second envious look. Which they ignored for the most part, being too enrapt with one another. They were young and in love. Another year had passed and they were still together, more than just together, their relationship was stronger than ever having survived yet another crisis, another test. This was their reward.

"Do you remember…?" began most of their conversations.

"Do you remember how nervous you were on our wedding day?"

"I wasn't nervous, I just didn't want to go up in flames."

"Do you remember how beautiful everything looked?"

"I remember how beautiful you were. How beautiful you still are."

"Do you remember when Gus tried to give you the fake rings off his pillow?"

"I worry about him sometimes."

"Your son."

"Our son."

In restaurants they fed one another tidbits to the amusement of the other diners. A grown man being fed by his husband. By his handsome, young husband. The diners were amused and jealous, acutely aware of their cold self-sufficiency.

Outside, they basked in the winter sunlight, grateful when it managed to pierce the cloud cover and the canopy of concrete and glass buildings. They missed their home, their corner of the Mediterranean hidden away in Pittsburgh behind stone walls and statuesque trees. Missed the enormous Palladian and French windows that coaxed the sun inside. Still, New York managed to seduce them as it had millions of other visitors before them.

Wandering through Chelsea, Brian deciphered a wistful look of longing on Justin's face. "Be nice, huh? Having a studio here."

Justin shrugged. "I guess."

"Like you've never thought about it."

"I used to think it'd be the best. Being in New York, right in the middle of everything, feeding off the energy…"

Softly, he replied, "Yeah." Looked around them at the bohemian types going about their normal, everyday lives: the next Pollock, Haring, or Basquiat. Justin would have fit in perfectly here. "Still think about it?"

"I have a fantastic studio and I have a beautiful home that I love…and a man that I love, more than anything in the world." It still gave him the chills to say that, to feel the words down to his bones. "I have you and I have Gus… I wouldn't give that up for anything. Would you?"

"Why would I want to?"

"I seem to remember someone dreaming about an office on Madison Avenue."

It had been more than a dream, it had been a way out of Pitts, a chance to be different, to forestall the inevitable: a slow decline. But he'd been wrong. He shook his head. "If I came to NY, I'd have to prove myself all over again," he said, although there were more reasons than that.

"Could start a branch of the firm here," Justin pointed out.

"I have everything I want in Pitts." He grimaced as he said it, then chuckled. "I always thought I'd have to go someplace else to be happy."

"And are you happy?" With me?

"You doubt it?"

Justin shook snow from his bangs. It'd begun to fall again, lightly.

"So," began Brian, "what should we do next?"

"Go back to the hotel?"

"It's early yet."

"We haven't tried out all the stuff that came in our gift basket." As part of the Erotica Package at the Library Hotel, they'd been given a set of Karma Sutra Love Essentials consisting of edible Honey Dust, Oil of Love, and a lubricating Love Liquid. Justin had beamed when they'd checked into their room to find a bottle of champagne waiting for them and a dozen red roses…

I tip the guy while Brian goes to the terrace doors and peers down the street. You can see the New York Public Library from our room. The façade is lit although you can't really make out the lions in front very clearly. Maybe because it's night and a little hazy out.

Chocolates on the pillow, a bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket, and a dozen red roses… it's very romantic. There's a bowl of strawberries and cream. Cool Whip, actually, low-fat, explained the waiter when he'd brought it up. We've had strawberries and cream before, once in the loft. Brian put one in my… I wonder if he'll remember. I certainly won't ever forget the feel of his tongue and lips as he ate it out of me. Just thinking about it makes my cock tingle. Not to mention my hole. I wish Brian would come away from the window. I want to start celebrating. Guess I'll have to go and get him. Just as I start towards him, he turns, smiles softly, lips just curving a bit, the corners rising just a little. I love his smile, love his lips. He has the most beautiful mouth. Better than strawberries. I can't help myself, I pull his head down and kiss him as if we hadn't kissed for days.

"Hungry?" he asks when we part.

"Starving," I tell him and I slide my hands up under his sweater. He draws slightly away because my hands are cool but they'll warm soon enough. I run my hands over his stomach, up his sides, across his pecs. Even though his muscles aren't as sharply defined or bulky as most of the gym bunnies that populate Liberty Avenue, he's solid. There isn't an ounce of fat on him. Solid, hard body beneath skin that feels like suede.

We kiss as I continue to feel him up, palms cupping his shoulder blades, fingers tracing his spine. I part my lips and he slips his tongue inside my mouth and instantly I've got a hard-on. Sliding my hand down the front of his jeans, I encounter his cock. Hard like mine. As we kiss, I stroke it, knead it, inch my hand down further to play with his balls which are moist and warm and fit perfectly in my palm. With my free hand, I undo the buttons on his fly and he works the jeans down around his slender thighs. I release his dick to slip my hand between them, feeling the cords of muscles that run the length of his legs.

His legs, his beautifully shaped legs. There have been times when I've gotten so turned on just by watching him walk across a room, following the space between his thighs. He has a pair of bell bottoms, tight at the top, hugging his ass and thighs and then blossoming around his ankles. Just the sound of them brushing against the floor…

I push him back onto the bed and kneel to remove his shoes and socks, his jeans. He's naked except for his sweater, stark against his skin, winter pale. Parting his legs, I take one in my hand and kiss my way from toes to crotch. Do the same to the other until his legs are covered in kisses. His cock rears up. I have to come out of my clothes.

He watches me as I strip, eyes lingering on my nipples, my cock, my ass. He loves my nipples, loves to bit them, lick them, kiss them until the tips harden. Loves to nibble on my cock. Ass too. I turn away to drop my jeans. I can almost feel his breath on my hole, feel his teeth as they tug on the edges, feel the tip of his tongue as it slides inside me. Which makes me even harder. My cock stretches towards my belly, the tip already wet, leaving silver smears on my skin where it touches.

His dick is dripping as well. I lie next to him and place my palm upon its neck. Slowly move up and down the shaft. Rotate my hand in place. Stroke his sac until it turns a rosy red. Precum has pooled beneath his cockhead. I lean over him, lift his cock on the backs of my fingers, easing it out of the way, and lap up the liquid that has accumulated on his belly. Lap it from his navel. More precum seeps from the swollen head, running over my knuckles. I lick them clean then engulf his cock. Lying head to crotch, I pleasure my man and myself, purring around his dick as he moans and writhes about on the bed.

I can't quite explain what it is about this act that drives me crazy but it does. He calls me his Pooh bear, his sticky sweet honey bear and it's true, I love sucking him off, face wet with precum, lips, tongue coated with the stuff. It makes me dizzy, sometimes I feel lightheaded when I'm going down on him. I don't know if it's the feel of him inside my mouth, the sound of him moaning, the taste of his flesh... the power I feel knowing that I'm doing this to him, I'm the reason his back is arched, I'm the reason he's panting, groaning… me.

Suddenly he pulls me off his cock. I turn and crawl into his arms, our erections pressed together, cock kissing. "What?"

"Maybe we should see what The Kama Sutra says about it."

"You complaining?"

He picks up the book from the bedside table, flips through it and hands it to me after finding the right section. "Read."

I lie on my back and begin to read as he removes his sweater and positions himself between my legs. Oh fuck… My voice trembles.

"Holding your lover's penis with your hand, place it between your lips and move your mouth about in tiny circles; this is called the `nominal congress'." I pause as he follows directions, as his mouth encircles the head of my cock, the tip warmed by his breath. A throb travels up the shaft, expanding my hole. And this is just the first step. Moistening my lips, I continue.

"Covering the end of the penis with your fingers collected together like the bud of a plant or flower, press the sides of it with your lips, first on one side and then the other, using your teeth also; this is called `biting the sides'." I have to catch my lip as he nibbles the shaft, using the pad of his finger to massage the head. Each bite is like a tiny shock of electricity. The sensation radiates from my groin to encompass my entire body.

He finishes snacking and looks up at me, red mouth shiny with saliva. "Go on."

Voice a lot shakier, I continue. "When your lover desires you to proceed, press the end of the penis with your lips closed together, and kiss it and pull at its soft skin as if you were drawing it out; this is called the `outside pressing'." I close my eyes in anticipation and he doesn't disappoint. My thighs tense and I raise my knees a little, pressing my feet into the bed as he softly kisses my cock and teases it with his lips, no teeth this time, but no less affective because of it.

"Keep going," he says, his mouth against my thigh.

"When your lover asks you to go on, put his penis further into your mouth, and press it with your lips and then take it out; this is called the `inside pressing'."

"Do you want me to go on?"

"Fuck yeah," I say and I almost laugh at the desperation in my voice. I can feel him smile before he closes his lips around me and then releases me once more.

"Holding the penis in your hand, kiss it as if you were kissing the lower lip; this is called `kissing'." God, he knows all about kissing. Whether he's kissing my mouth, my cock, my ass, he never fails to set me on fire. This time is no different from all the rest. My toes curl and I raise my hips from the bed as he kisses the head of my cock, tongue probing the hole, French kissing my dick. I cry out and he curls his tongue about the head, kisses me one last time, and waits.

It takes me a moment to find my voice. My throat has tightened up as has my asshole. When it relaxes, so does my throat. Both are hungry for his cock. "After kissing it, touch it with your tongue everywhere, and pass the tongue over the end of it; this is called `rubbing'." And he does, alternating long, leisurely licks with quick flicks. Through slitted eyes I watch him. His tongue covers my entire cock until it glistens. Saliva runs over the edge of the head and down the shaft, having mixed with precum. I'm so hard, I'm surprised that I haven't come yet. I'm so close, so close… Glancing at the next section, I moan. He reaches up and laces his fingers with mine, providing support.

"Put half of it into your mouth," pause, "and forcibly kiss and suck it." I lick my lips. "This is called `sucking a mango fruit'." The last few words come out as a whisper. My entire body tenses.

He strokes my thigh. "Relax." Kisses the smooth flesh on the inside. "Close your eyes." I do so and he forms a V with his fingers and slides it around the base of my cock. Lowers his mouth around me and takes in half of my dick as per instructions. I release the breath I've been holding and he begins to suck me. Turning my head to the side, I try to control my breathing while he feeds on me. The slit in my cock opens and precum bursts from it as if it were mango juice, released when the skin is split. Thick, clinging to his lips. Even though my eyes are closed, I can hear the noises he makes as he devours me. He lets go of me with a sucking sound. I pop out of his mouth and remain upright, seeping. Hands shaking, I lift the book to my face and read the final passage.

"Lastly, put his entire penis into your mouth, and press it to the very end, as if you were going to swallow it up; this is called `swallowing up'." Dropping the book to the bed, I grip his hair and hold on as he takes me all the way inside, cockhead brushing against the back of his throat. I feel his muscles press against the sides of my cock and I cry out. It feels so good, so good, all I want is to come, I want to fill his mouth with cum, to spray his throat with my spunk. His lips tighten around me and pull. "Fuck… fuck. Oh, God… Oh…" He tugs on me, twisting his head and I shout and explode. Eyes squeezed tight, I hold his head to me and I pump every last drop I have into his throat, grunting with each spasm.

When I can breathe again, I open my eyes and look down at him. He slides his lips off my cock and looks up at me and smiles. A drop of cum clings to his bottom lip and his tongue slips out and wipes it away. Fuck…

Justin was twenty-one and in two months he'd be thirty-three years old. Thirty- fucking three-years-old. Shit. Some days he felt every year of his age. Other times, he was like a teenager. Horny as hell and wanting Justin so badly he was tempted to leave work in the middle of the day and drive to IFA and kidnap him for a little early afternoon nookie. He'd done it once just a month after they were married. Found Justin in his studio working, and shut the door and fucked him right there, the young artist bent over his drafting board, neither one of them caring if they were overheard. Afterwards, he'd kissed his husband and straightened his clothes and returned to work, satisfied, sated for the rest of the day. Cynthia had given him a knowing look when he got back to the office but he'd ignored her. No need to give her any more ammunition. But he'd hummed and whistled to himself all afternoon and was certain he'd heard her giggling at him more than once. He hadn't cared. It had been worth every smirk.

They were having dinner in a small restaurant not far from the hotel, dark, intimate, tables far enough apart for privacy. They had a booth in the back, sat next to one another on one side and kissed when they thought no one was looking.

Christ, I am so fuckin' hard, Brian thought and he was. Dick pressed against the inside of his trousers. Although Justin had wanted to return to the hotel earlier and fuck after their trip to Chelsea, they hadn't, deciding instead to go to an early dinner and wander around midtown afterwards. Maybe they should have spent the evening inside. Involuntarily, he gave a low moan.


His lip curled. "I've got a hard-on like you wouldn't believe." Thinking Justin would be content with the update, he was shocked to feel a hand on his crotch. A hand which cupped him and squeezed, fingers that stroked unnecessarily.

"You're right."

"You're not helping," he told Justin but it felt too good, he couldn't push his hand away.

Justin smiled. Whispered, "Open your legs."


"Do it."

Brian spread his legs, hoping the table cloth would hide what Justin was doing. Bit his bottom lip to keep from moaning out loud as his lover unzipped him and reached inside his fly. Pushed down the waistband of his underwear and took hold of his cock. Turning his face towards the wall, Brian took a gulp of air as Justin pulled him out through his fly and wrapped his fingers around him. Tugged slightly, his hand barely moving.

The waiter arrived with their entrees but Justin didn't remove his hand from Brian's dick or stop what he was doing. Thanking the waiter, he continued to jack Brian off, eating with his right hand and smiling as if he were delighted with the meal. Brian tried to follow suit only to inhale sharply as Justin's thumb pressed into his cock hole. He was glad he hadn't taken a bite, he could imagine the scene: him choking on his dinner while Justin pumped his dick. Cautiously, he began to eat.

Later, Justin leaned over and asked quietly, "How is it?"

"Fucking fantastic," he said through clenched teeth. Justin had been working him for the past few minutes and he thought he was going to spontaneously combust. The usual turn-on of fucking in public had been amplified a thousand-fold by the fact that they were in the middle of a restaurant where people were eating, unaware of what was taking place in their midst. A couple of minutes later, he regretted letting Justin begin because he was close to coming and he didn't know if he could keep quiet any longer. "Justin…" he whispered. "Stop."

"I want to feel you come."

"Justin…" God, he hoped that the walls of the booth were high enough. Even though they were speaking softly to avoid attracting attention, his face was red, he could feel the heat on his skin, having spread from his chest, up his neck, and across his face.

Justin yanked on Brian's dick. "Come on," he said. "Do it."


"I want to eat your cum. Lick it all up."


He ran his thumb over the tip as he squeezed the head. "I know you want to. I can feel it. Come on, Pookie. Blow." He gave him another tug and Brian jumped in his hand, his belly muscles jerked and a spurt of cum struck the underside of the table. "That's it, give it to me. All of it." He drained Brian then held him while the man recovered. Brian hadn't made a sound, swallowing his normal grunts and groans in an effort not to draw attention to their illicit activities. When he began to soften, Justin released him, raised his fingers to his lips, and lapped away a few drops of cum.

Trembling, Brian placed his cock back inside his pants and zipped up.

The waiter came by. "Is everything all right, sir?"

"Just perfect," he replied breathlessly. "Everything's perfect."

"Delicious." Justin licked his finger and smiled, and continued to eat his Chicken Alfredo.

After dinner, they walked over to Rockefeller Center and stood among the flags of nations while people skated in the rink below, their conversation punctuated by laughter and screams, shrieks and groans as some of the less experienced skaters took tumbles.

"Ever go ice skating?" Justin asked.

"Once. As Mikey says, if God had wanted me on ice, he would have made me a vodka martini."

Justin laughed. "Michael said that?" Brian nodded. "Sounds a lot like you." Thought for a moment. "Guess that means you're not really interested in doing it, huh?"

"What? Down there?" He looked around. Actually there weren't a lot of people around and the skaters did look like they were having fun. Besides, they wouldn't be the worse ones on the ice. That'd be the guy in the blue and orange jacket and his girlfriend. Totally pathetic. Breeders. Tugging on Justin's coat, Brian said, "Come on."

With rental skates on their feet, they toddled out onto the ice. Brian figured he looked the way Gus had when he was learning to walk, arms akimbo, unsteady, unsure of whether he was going to take another step safely or fall on his ass. Much like life in general. But, as with Gus, whenever he faltered, Justin was there to help him up, to steady him, support him. Strong. Beautiful. Smiling in the lamp light. He returned the smile and held out his hand. Justin took it and together they slowly made their way around the edge of the rink under the watchful eye of Prometheus.

Having turned in their skates, they walked unsteadily down the street and up to St. Patrick's Cathedral. The church was closed but they figured it'd be nice to sit at the top of the landing and watch the world go by. It was only as they mounted the first of the steps that Justin remembered the video Brian and Cam had made when they'd come to NY, the one Brian had left on his father's grave. Turning to him, worried, Justin asked, "Brian…?"

The man shook his head and paused, then sat down with his back to the building.

Justin perched next to him. "I didn't think."

Eyes shiny in the night, he sniffled. "Me neither."

Taking him in his arms, Justin held him. "I'm sorry."

He supposed it'd been building all day, that his unconscious mind had been grappling with Cam unbeknownst to him. God, he did not want to think about him, did not want to deal with him today, not when they'd been so happy. Fuck it, they were here for their anniversary and he was sitting on the fuckin' steps of St. Patrick's sniffling over a trip he'd taken over a decade earlier. Cam was gone, and they had fallen apart years before that. Why the fuck— Taking a deep breath, he held Justin to him and hoped it'd pass, this feeling of déjà vu. And suddenly he felt a pain so sharp— Drawing away from Justin, he stood and took a few steps, stopped, unsure of where he was going, what he was going to do. Everything was so confusing, these feelings…

"Brian…?" Justin came up behind and touched his arm. Brian looked around and closed his eyes. "It's all right. I know. I know," he whispered because he knew that it wasn't just Cam. If it had just been Cam, Brian would have been able to brush it off. But that shit with Kenneth had shaken him and he hadn't completely gotten over it. In three months, they'd be marking a different kind of anniversary, one he didn't relish thinking about. Neither did Brian and, he supposed, Kenneth wasn't eager to recall the events of a year ago either. It was funny, the way people said winter was cruel when, in his experience, the worst things happened in the spring of the year. The prom, Xavier, Brian's suicide attempt, Kenneth… It almost made him laugh, the way it seemed as if every spring they were dealing with some crisis. He wondered, sadistically, what it'd be this year, then mentally crossed himself to ward off any evil.

He supposed he should have been angry, that Brian was still that affected by Cam and Kenneth but he wasn't, because what Brian felt for them was but one one-thousandth of what he felt for him. Furthermore, the fact that Brian could feel those things meant that he was growing as a person, evolving, allowing himself to be vulnerable, to be open and, no matter what, that was important to Justin. He'd rather have to comfort Brian over Cam and Kenneth than to have the man shut him out, pretend that he felt nothing. Justin never wanted them to return to the old days when he'd have to guess at everything, and wonder what Brian felt, what he thought because Brian hadn't trusted him enough to confide in him. If hearing hurtful things was the price of gaining Brian's confidence, then he'd gladly pay it.

Softly, Brian said, "I'm glad we didn't have our wedding here," and Justin laughed abruptly. Kissed him. The crisis had passed.

He woke to knocking at the door. Groaned and got up, tied on his robe, and let in Room Service. In addition to breakfast, there was a bouquet of flowers in a vase: irises, Stargazer lilies, snapdragons, mini gerbera daisies, and Queen's Anne Lace. Pretty.

"Happy Valentine's Day, sir," the waiter wished him without much enthusiasm.

"Thanks." Brian stepped aside to let him in. The guy set up breakfast quickly, passed Brian the bill, and exited speedily. Brian wondered if he was just conscientious or if the sight of Justin's obviously male and partially uncovered form bothered him. In any case, Brian didn't really care. He tapped Justin on the shoulder. "Breakfast." Went into the bathroom to pee and brush his teeth. Justin staggered in a few moments later and they performed their morning rituals in silence.

Kissing before sitting down to breakfast, Justin whispered, "Happy Valentine's Day," and cupped Brian's crotch.

"We should eat before it gets cold."

"Uh-huh," the young man said and pushed Brian back into an armless chair. Dropped off his own robe and then knelt and untied the belt around Brian's. Threw back the two halves of the robe, exposing his tight abs and rounded pecs as well as his thighs and sleepy cock. But not for long as Justin began to go down on him. Pretty soon Brian's dick had awakened completely and was actively seeking the warmth of his lover's mouth. At which point Justin pulled away and stood up. Found the gift basket the hotel had left for them. Untied the bag of Honey Dust and used the feather duster that came with the set to dust Brian from head to toe, paying particular attention to his nipples and cock. Having dusted him, he set about cleansing him of the golden particles, licking a trail from his throat to his groin. By the time he reached his cock, there was a line of clear liquid running down the shaft. Lapping it away, he hummed. Honey-flavored precum. He'd definitely have to take the Honey Dust home with him, maybe order a couple extra bags.

Having gotten Brian nice and hard, he reached inside the basket and took out the Love Liquid included with the gift pack, and squeezed just enough over the head to provide the barest amount of lubrication. They both liked it a little rough. Then, crouching over his lover's lap, he waited. Brian positioned his dick, head probing between his cheeks until it found the object of its search. Gripping Brian's shoulders, Justin lowered himself onto him, the wet head spearing his hole. Yes… "Ugh…" he moaned and pushed down again, taking another couple of inches inside. Buried his face in Brian's neck and kissed his throat as he came to rest on his lap, dizzy from the sensation of Brian's dick head bumping into his swollen prostate. Sometimes he wished he could open up his body and have Brian suck his prostate the way straight guys sucked women's clits. But having him hit it each time he thrust inside him wasn't bad either.

Brian was content to have Justin slide up and down his cock, establishing the rhythm, setting the pace of their fucking. Legs spread, he held onto Justin's ass and let him rise and fall as he wanted.

After a few minutes of going slow, Justin increased the tempo. Still leisurely enough to feel every inch as it entered and exited him, it was just fast enough to increase the friction a little, making Brian even harder. Sweat had begun to form on their skin and they were warming up nicely.

He loved feeling Brian's bush beneath his cheeks, loved rubbing his own against Brian's belly. His cock left a silvery trail. Taking Brian all the way in, he held onto his neck and leaned back, worked his hips back and forth sharply, then sat back up and rotated them lazily, keeping Brian deep inside him. For the next few minutes, he continued to tighten his muscles around Brian, using them the way he would his fist if he were jacking him off. Then, responding to some internal clock, he began to bounce on him again.

"Yeah, Baby…" Brian urged.

Muscles in his thighs tiring, Justin nevertheless continued to pump Brian's cock. Laid his lips next to Brian's ear and whispered, "Fuck me, Daddy." A delicious shiver went through the both of them. Justin had never called him that before during sex and it turned them both on so incredibly that, "Shit," was all Brian could say in response.

But Justin breathed in his ear, "Fuck your little boy." Continued to ride his cock. "Mmm, Daddy… fuck me."

Brian wrapped his arms around him and stood with Justin still impaled on his erection. Carried him to the bed and laid Justin on his back, thrusting in and out of him wildly.

"Fuck me, fuck me, fuck me…" Justin chanted, legs crossed behind Brian's back.

"…so tight," said Brian. "Love that tight, little hole."

"Fuck me, Daddy," he whispered and clenched his legs tighter around Brian. "Fuck me… Harder." He raised his hips to meet Brian's thrusts and tightened his asshole. God, he felt so dirty, so hot, so fucking hot. "Fuck your little boy."

Brian kissed his chin while he jabbed his hole. "First time," he gasped, caught up in the game now. "First time getting fucked."

Justin moaned. He hadn't believed it could get any hotter. Wondered where Brian would go from here.

"I bet you used to put your fingers up there. Didn't you, little boy?"

"Yes." The rawness of the query shocked the truth out of him.

"Twisting around in that tight, little ass."

"Yes!" he hissed. He could feel his insides do a flip-flop.

"Wish I could have been there. Put my fingers up your hole. Lick your hole. Suck your hole. Eat your hole."

Justin shuddered and gripped the covers. Each time Brian had said the word hole, the sound had pulsed through his cock. A surge of precum wet his belly. He wriggled his hips, his cock sliding between them, balls rubbing up against Brian.

"I can see you. Lying there with your ass up in the air. Dreaming about cock."


"Wanting some cock. Wanting someone to come and take you, come and fuck you."

"Mmm…" God, it'd been just like that. Lying in bed, fingering his asshole, wanting to feel a dick inside him, wanting it to fill the emptiness inside him. Until one day the finger hadn't been enough and he went down to Liberty Avenue… and met Brian.

"Needing it so bad you could scream." Justin whimpered. "I'm here. And I'm gonna make you feel so good..."

"...feels so good." He felt dizzy. He couldn't remember being this aroused before. His entire body tingled.

"Fill that tight, little ass with my cock."

"I love it."

"Split that pretty, pink ass wide open."

Eyelids fluttering he moaned, "Oh…"

Licked the side of Justin's jaw. "I wanna hear you beg, little boy."

And he begged, fighting to breathe, fighting to remain coherent enough to speak. "Fuck me, Daddy. Fuck me. Daddy… Mmm… Daddy… Oh, Daddy. Daddy!" And he arched his back and blew his load, pumping hard against Brian's body. "Oh! Oh!" When he finally slumped to the bed, cum clung to Brian's chest and belly.

Brian dug in and pounded him while he came. His hips continued to thrust until his balls had expelled the very last creamy drop. Collapsing upon his lover, he inhaled deeply, Justin's scent in his nose, his head. Nobody had a little boy like his. Nobody.

"Now, hold still," Justin told him as he took up a position at the foot of the bed.

Brian felt a little silly lying naked on the comforter, body sprinkled with Honey Dust and flowers, a gerbera daisy head in his navel. "I thought you had given up on the series," he said, referring to the portraits Kenneth had commissioned from Justin. He didn't know how he felt about Justin continuing them. In a way, it shouldn't have mattered, after all, things were settled between him and Kenneth. More than settled, they were finished. What Justin decided about the portraits was his own business.

"It was a good idea," he said, not wanting to commit to anything more at this point.

But Brian wanted to know what his intentions were. "To sell to Kenneth?"

He shrugged. "Would that bother you?"

For a moment he was tempted to say that it wouldn't but then he decided to tell the truth. "Yeah. It would."

"Then I won't sell them to him. But," he said, "I still want to finish them. Okay?"

Brian closed his eyes. "Draw away."

When Justin had finished sketching him, he brushed away the flowers and removed the daisy from his navel and kissed his belly. "Go out?" They'd been in all morning.

Groaning a little, Brian agreed. "You're a sadist."

"Come on, let's take a shower," Justin said and he picked up a handful of flower petals and dropped them down his back as he walked into the bathroom.

Lips parted, Brian followed the path of the flowers as they tumbled down Justin's spine and over his buttocks. Rising, he very nearly ran. Time for his reward.

Having wandered around the Metropolitan Museum of Art for an hour or two, and having seen probably only one-tenth of the items on display, they returned to the hotel, changed, and took a cab to Tribeca. They were having dinner at Chanterelle, something both foodies had been looking forward to since they'd begun planning for their trip to New York. For their anniversary, they were going to Le Cirque 2000 but they were just as anxious to visit Chanterelle tonight.

Justin immediately fell in love with the open dining room with its white tablecloths and flower arrangements; Brian liked the lack of fussiness, something he always complained vocally about in their own dining room although, secretly, he thought their dining room was elegant, tasteful, and beautiful. As did everyone else. Actually, their entire house was pretty impressive with almost all of the rooms finally finished or close to being finished. All except one. Justin's studio.

Beginning with steamed zucchini blossoms with lobster and shrimp, they progressed to Cumin Crusted Tuna with Lemon and Leeks and Grilled Salmon and Garlic Confit, then finished off with a quartet of chocolate desserts, some of which Brian actually ate since they planned on walking around the neighborhood for a while after dinner.

They strolled through Washington Market Park, no particular destination in mind, eventually sitting on a bench and talking, as they seemed to do each day of their trip.

Leaning into Brian, Justin asked, "You don't mind about the portraits, do you?"

"I said I didn't."

"No you said, 'Draw away.' "

"Same difference."

"So you do mind."

Brian looked up at the night sky. "It's hard."

"I know."

"Fuck." He shook his head. "I feel like I'm walking around—like I don't have…" Shook his head again. "Shit, I don't know what the fuck I'm trying to say."

"I'll stop then."

"No." He fixed his gaze on Justin's face. "You won't. I won't let you."


"I won't let this stop us. Not ever. We do what we have to do. You're an artist, that's what you were meant to do."

"I can draw something else."

"But you wanted to draw me. And I want you to."

At that Justin laughed. "You hate sitting for portraits."

"As long as you make it worth my while," he grinned.

Not wanting to bring it up but knowing Brian was thinking about it too, he said, "It'll be a year in a few months."


"We've come a long way."


Unsatisfied with his monosyllabic answers, Justin confronted him. "You're not telling me something. Is it Cam? Is that it? Did you and he come here when you drove up?"

"No. Mostly hit the Village."

"Then what?"

"I…" Deep breath. "You and Xavier, you're still friends. After all the shit we went through, you two are still close. I can't even imagine talking to Kenneth, being in the same room with him."

"It was different."

"It always is." He stood. "I just—" Kicked at the grass. "Fuck it."

"No." Justin came up beside him. "Tell me."

"Cam… is gone and Kenneth and I are through. Over and done with." It frustrated him, trying to explain how he felt and not knowing exactly what he meant himself. Except that it felt like something was missing, had been missing all along and he'd only recently discovered the loss. Since Kenneth. He'd tried to explain to Lindz, before the wedding, trying to figure out why he had been so upset by the thought of Kenneth not being there. "I wanted there to be something left." He looked away. "And there's nothing left."

Taking his hands in his, Justin told him, "There is. There's us. You and me. And that's everything, isn't it?" When Brian didn't answer right away, he asked again, "Isn't it?" pleading with his voice for Brian to tell him that it was because if it wasn't, God…

Nodding, Brian leaned his forehead against Justin's.

A kiss as gentle as a flower blooming woke him. He opened his eyes to blue sky and golden sunlight. A liquid warmth spread throughout his body as Justin wrapped arms and legs about him.

"One year," Justin said, beaming down at him with a smile that caused his eyes to sparkle.

"Happy Anniversary, Baby."

Another kiss, then Justin got up and went searching through his drawer. Brought back a silver box with dark blue paper roses clustered on top. Their wedding colors. "Happy Anniversary."

Brian accepted it, fingers brushing the petals of the fragile paper roses. "I thought we said no gifts."

"You paid for the trip. The least I could do was to get you a present." He snuggled close. "Open it."

Curious, Brian removed the roses and the silver wrapping paper. Inside was a slim book. "Ecstasies by James Broughton."

"It's poetry."

More than that as Brian discovered. They were gay love poems. Justin took the volume from him, opened to a page, and read a few verses. "Let me drink deeply of thy sacred fountain/ its bitter-sweet honey-hot milk of love./ Let me lie drunken at thy throbbing spring./ This is the mouth and the taste of God."

"Wow," said Brian. "That was pretty hot."

"There's more."

Brian removed the book from Justin's hands and put it aside. "Later." Right now there were kisses to be had.

Resting after a lifetime of kissing compressed into a few minutes, they lay holding one another for a while before Justin eased away and traced the line of Brian's hip with his finger, an explorer walking a desert ridge. "I think you've picked up a few pounds."

"What? On my ass?"

"Mmm, maybe. Turn over. I need a better view."

Raising a brow, Brian complied. Waited a few moments. "Well?"

Justin leaned over and kissed the tops of his buttocks. "Definitely."

"Definitely bigger?"

"I definitely want some," and he nipped Brian's tush before opening the bottle labeled Oil of Love. The scent of cinnamon wafted through the air. Kneeling between Brian's parted thighs, Justin poured the oil down the middle of his back, the viscous liquid running down his spine, heating the skin along its path. Brian twisted slightly as Justin parted his cheeks, allowing the oil to wet and heat his hole.

Then, as Justin pressed his finger against the folds and the warmth increased, Brian arched his back. "Christ," he hissed and the finger slid inside, taking the heat with it.

And so it began. A morning of lovemaking to celebrate their anniversary, to celebrate having survived another year together. It'd been a rough year, filled with its share of heartache and troubles but it'd also been a good year; they'd emerged stronger than ever, more committed to one another and having greater faith in each other. Still, it'd taken its toll and sometimes Justin wondered if they would ever recapture the feeling of contentment that had enveloped them the first few months after their wedding, when nothing seemed impossible, when they'd been constricted only by their imagination and time. Being happy had seemed effortless.

Yet, they were happy now too. Even if they had to work at it, struggle with despair and the desire to give in, even if they were sometimes afraid, uncertain as to which path to take, they remained together, remained steadfastly committed to their marriage. Not once had it ever occurred to either of them to give up on one another even if, at times, each felt as if they'd given up on themselves. They had persevered. More than that, they had triumphed over adversity. They still had hope, hope that the next year would be better, that they would have decades in which to continue building.

Curled together, they made plans for Brian's thirty-third birthday, Gus' fourth birthday, and Justin's final year at IFA.

"I think," Brian suggested, "we should go away next summer after you graduate. Celebrate our anniversary, our birthdays, and your graduation all at once."

"We could take Gus with us. He'll be almost five. Old enough to have his own room so we could play."

"Mmm..." Playing. What a good idea, thought Brian but Justin was ready to make plans now.

"Where should we go?"

That was obvious. "Second part of our Grand European Tour." It'd been postponed yet again in favor of staying home this year as well and stealing away for a series of weekend trips instead.

"Might be too much for Gus."

The crowds, the noise, the endless hallways filled with art; walking from one end of the city to the other… Sometimes it had almost been too much for him as well, thought Brian.

They'd had a fabulous time in the Bahamas, so… "I was thinking maybe we could go to Hawaii, some place like that… rent a beach house on Maui or something."

"No museums?" Brian asked incredulously.

"They have museums in Hawaii. And historical buildings and—"

"Beaches," said Brian, his eyes already half-closed just thinking about it: the warm sand, bright sun, cool waters… "Sounds like a plan."

"How long?"

"For however long we can steal Gus from the Munchers."

Last year they'd split up their time with him, keeping him a week in the beginning of the summer and then a week at the end. This year they were taking two weeks all at once. Maybe by next year they could negotiate three weeks with the toddler. Justin moved closer to Brian and slipped his arms around his chest, hands resting on his back. Kissed him above his heart. Next year this time he'd be almost through with IFA, looking forward to graduating and starting his career. Despite the fiasco with the Harris commission, he felt confident that he'd have others. In the meantime, he was going to look into internships for the summer and/or fall. Which made him think about next year. He sat up again. "What if I have a job next summer? I don't think they're gonna want me to take off three weeks to go to Hawaii."

"Then you'll just have to wait to find a job after we get back." He paused, knowing it was a sore spot with Justin. "It's not like you have to work."

"Yeah, I do." Reaching for Brian's cigarettes, he lit one and laid back against him, puffing contentedly. They'd both cut back drastically but every now and again he liked to have a smoke. "Remember the mortgage?"

"It's getting paid now."

"I don't intend to be a trophy wife."

"You're an artist."

"I can be a commercial artist. You have artists working for you in your art department." Immediately he felt as if he'd made a mistake.

"You could come work for the firm."

Big mistake. "No, I can't."

"Why not?"

"Because you're a partner in the firm."

"So?" Brian took a hit off of Justin's cigarette.

"So I'd be working for you."

"Working with me."

"Working for you. You're a partner, I'd be a peon. Which means I'd be working for you."


"So, I think it'd be better if I worked someplace else."

"Or didn't work at all. You should concentrate on your art," Brian said before Justin could raise any objections again, "not churning out toilet paper ads."

"Andy Warhol turned shoe ads into art."

Sighing, Brian gave in. "Researched any companies?"

"Not yet."

"Send out your letters now, maybe get something for the summer. Companies love summer interns cause a lot of staff take vacations and the free labor comes in handy. Plus, if you intern in the summer, then there's a better chance that they'll keep you come fall when the busy season rolls around and they're looking for people who know their ass from a hole in the ground." He stole another puff, then handed the cigarette back. "Just… don't forget: the art comes first. Don't give up your dreams."

Something about the way he said it, maybe the pause, the tone, told Justin that more than just his dreams were involved. That maybe Brian had given up on a dream of his own. Not certain if he should pry yet unable to keep silent, Justin asked, "Did you?" Felt Brian stir. "Give up on a dream?"


But the answer was too abrupt, too quick to be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but. "I thought we could share anything."

Easing Justin from him, Brian sat up in bed wishing he could have another smoke. Finally, he answered, "I used to think that maybe Cam and I would open up an agency together. Lindz would run the art department." He smiled softly. "But Lindz decided to teach and Cam… went away."

Which was why Brian had pushed so hard for him to work at the agency. Dreams died hard. Justin touched his face, stroked his cheek with his thumb. "If—"

"No," he said, shaking his head. "You were right. You'd be working for me and it's not like it's a two person agency. The other interns would know, the other employees, the partners… they'd freak if you came to work for us."

"I bet we'd be great together."

Brian grinned. "We are great together."

And Justin breathed easier. He'd done the right thing by saying no and it wouldn't come back to bite him on the ass. He gave Brian a gentle kiss. "How about we stop talking and do what we do best?"


"Fuck you."

"Thought you'd never suggest it."

Hours later, they stumbled from their room to walk down the street to Grand Central Station. Planning to sample Aureole's fare tomorrow for lunch, they thought they'd check out another of Charlie Palmer's restaurants in New York, Metrazur, which overlooked the bustling main concourse.

"Did you ever see The Fisher King?" Justin asked Brian, knowing how much he liked Brazil.

"Mmm. Not bad," he replied, which in Brianese meant it was actually quite good.

Of course, Justin was referring to the scene in the film when everyone dances in Grand Central Station. It'd only been a dream, Robin William's character daydreaming during rush hour, but it was a fabulous scene, surreal yet somehow absolutely true. Looking down at the people hurrying to catch their trains, Justin could imagine them suddenly finding partners and waltzing, destinations forgotten, interjecting a bit of magic into their mundane world.

While not exactly intimate, the prix-fixe lunch was delicious and having taken the last bite of the bittersweet chocolate sorbet they shared, the two sauntered around the station, browsing the shops. Always on the lookout for gifts for Gus, they stopped in The Children's General Store where they bought him a flower growing kit. He had been such a good helper with Justin's herb garden the year before that they decided to give him a little patch all to himself this year where he could putter.

"You were a pretty good helper yourself," Justin told Brian, blushing when he remembered them fucking outside the day they'd planted the herb garden. God, he'd yowled like a cat in heat and when Mel and Lindz had come over later to bring Brian's birthday present, they'd commented on the places where he'd torn up the grass with his hands, flailing about while Brian pounded him into the ground…

Giving him a peck on the cheek, Brian asked about their plans for the afternoon. He could practically smell Justin's desire: rich, earthy. "We've got five hours until our dinner reservations."

With a shrug, Justin replied, "Maybe we can just walk around Times Square or…" and he got a mischievous look in his eye. Thinking about yowling.

"Or what?"

"We can go back to the room."

"And do what?"

"We'll find something."

Brian grinned. "I've always wanted to see Rear Window." The hotel maintained a video library of the AFI's top 100 films, something they hadn't taken advantage of as yet on their trip. And they wouldn't, if Justin had anything to say about it.

As he strode on ahead, certain that his spouse was watching his every move, Justin replied, "Oh, you'll be getting a view from the rear, all right," and he twitched his hips ever so slightly.

Laughing, Brian jogged to catch up with him.

Playing most of the afternoon, they napped for an hour afterwards and woke to get ready for dinner. They had reservations at Le Cirque 2000, something Justin had been dreaming about for years. Why they'd never come up before (outside of his aborted attempt to run away) he didn't know. Maybe it was because Brian and Cam had done New York and he'd never been sure how Brian would feel about them repeating that trip despite Brian telling him that he wouldn't mind. Most of the time you had to look beyond what Brian said to discover how he really felt about something. Not that he lied deliberately, it's just that sometimes words failed him and other times he used words as a shield to keep people away, to protect himself. But he was working on it, with Drew, working on voicing his feelings, talking things out. And he did try. Now that he'd found someone who'd listen; someone who'd be on his side no matter what yet wasn't afraid to tell him he was wrong if that was the case; someone who loved him unconditionally but who had expectations of him as well. I love you, no matter what, but I need you to explain to me why you do the things you do, that's what Justin tried to get across to Brian, and he thought he'd been successful. They still had problems like any other couple but they'd learned how to talk things through and it had made all the difference.

As he fastened his watch, he heard a noise and turned; Brian came out of the bathroom and Justin paused, unable to remember what he'd been doing. Brian was, in a word, stunning. Dark grey wool suit paired with a silver tie faintly patterned in paisley. His wedding ring and sterling silver bracelet completed the ensemble. Justin smiled and slipped his arms around him. Of course, he always thought Brian looked beautiful even when he didn't exactly look his best. In fact, he liked how boyish Brian seemed in his old jeans and a plain white tee-shirt, his hair mussed and a five o'clock shadow darkening his jaw. It was at those times that Justin could see the teenager Brian had been, even more clearly than Mikey's old yearbooks had shown him. He often wondered what it would have been like, growing up with Brian, being teenagers together. Except that they wouldn't have known one another most likely, having come from different backgrounds, different socio-economic classes. Maybe he would have been a different person, a person Brian wouldn’t have looked at twice, wouldn't have bothered with at all. So he smiled, grateful that they'd met when they did, that they'd made the most of their time together. Softly, he said, "You look beautiful."

"So do you," Brian replied as he did look quite fetching in a navy blue suit, a slightly darker than sky blue shirt, and a deep burgundy tie. The hues complemented his eyes and hair perfectly. Brian had remarked more than once that he preferred Justin in blue as it brought out the color of his eyes and he loved Justin's eyes. He took Justin's hand and gazed into those selfsame eyes.

After a moment, Justin broke into a crooked smile. "What?"

"I was just admiring your eyes."

"You see them everyday," he said, although he understood what Brian meant as his made him feel the same way: deep hazel eyes that smoldered with a loden green fire when he was aroused or angry.

"And I admire them everyday." They kissed and stood holding one another, savoring the moment.

Hidden beneath his clothes was the gold waist chain Brian had bought him in the Bahamas. It made him feel decadent wearing it. He couldn't wait to return to the hotel room and have Brian peel away each layer of clothes until he lay naked except for the chain. He was tempted to ask Brian if they couldn't stay at the hotel and order room service instead. Still, he was excited about Le Cirque 2000 too. What they needed to do was to go. Now.

Even though the restaurant was but a brief walk from the hotel, the two celebrants journeyed by car to their destination, alighting in front of Le Cirque with stars in their eyes, anticipating the culinary delights awaiting them inside. For the occasion Brian had sworn not to think about such mundane things as calories or fat and had promised to enjoy himself—and his sumptuous meal, complete with dessert. They'd forgone the tradition of eating their wedding cake on their anniversary since it would have meant bringing it with them on the trip. However, they fully intended to consume it—and each other—once they returned home.

Shown to their table, they devoured the menu and the sights, trying to ascertain if anyone famous dined among them. At least Justin did so; Brian feigned indifference and studied the list of entrees. No one, in his opinion, was as fabulous as they were. Glancing at his spouse once more, caught up in his beauty, he paused in his studying and reached for Justin's hand. Held it and promised everything with his eyes.

Drawing his hand away gently, Justin blushed. "Stop it," he urged under his breath as the waiter arrived and took their drink orders. Very proudly, he asked for, "Champagne," as he was now legal. Still, he was carded, kicking Brian beneath the table as the older man grinned and drawled, "A bottle. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin."

The poor waiter was hard-pressed to divide his attention between them. Which to choose: the cherubic blond with the bright blue eyes and a smile to match or the sly hazel-eyed devil with the knowing smirk and raised brow? Luckily for him, they weren't available. He had noticed their wedding bands. "Special occasion?" he asked.

"Anniversary," beamed Justin. "We've been married a year."

"Congratulations. I'll return with your champagne."

Left alone with his husband, Justin tilted his head. "I love saying that."


"That we've been married for a year."

"Oh yeah?" Brian leaned forward and smiled. Propped his chin on his hand. "Why?"

"I like to see the disappointment on their faces." He laughed as Brian's face registered surprise.

"About which of us?" he asked, recovering nicely.


"That's my Baby," he growled. "Always know your worth."

Looking around, Justin commented, "This place is fabulous."

Brian refrained, turned his attention to the menu once more, reminding Justin that, "He'll be back soon."

"Order something for me," Justin said.

"Appetizers, entrée, what?"

"Whatever." Grinned. "I like it when you take charge." Paused. "Daddy."

"Don't you start," Brian warned, already feeling a stirring in his groin.

"Or what?" He mouthed, You gonna spank me?

Brian's answer was interrupted by the waiter's return. He opened the bottle without any theatrics (which disappointed Justin as he liked a show) and poured the wine. That done, he went through the specials and, after a moment, asked, "Are you ready to order?"

"We'll have the Lobster Consommé for starters." Closed his menu and handed it to the waiter. "He'll have the Chicken Diable and I'll have the Veal Milanese." His choices were in honor of the meal they'd had at their wedding: Chicken Calabrese and Veal Florentine Royal. He wondered if Justin noticed the significance.

After the waiter had departed, Justin said with a soft smile, "That was very romantic." Raised his glass. "To us."

"To us." The crisp champagne reminded Brian (irrationally, he thought) of Halloween and then he realized it was because it tasted faintly of caramel and apples. He closed his eyes and savored the wine, thinking of the caramel apples Joanie had made one year for him and Claire.

"You know," Justin said after putting down his flute, "I wouldn't have minded staying home."

"Now you tell me," Brian said, shaking his head, Halloween memories gone on a wind that blew them away with the autumn leaves.

"But this is nice too."

"Besides, if we'd stayed home," Brian explained, "we would never have gotten any peace."

Confused, Justin asked, "Why not?"

Brian waved his hand. "Cause Lindz, Joanie, and Jenn wanted to throw us a party."


"Which means they would have been over at our place from sunup to midnight."

Which meant no nookie. "This is better," Justin agreed. "Much better," he added, thinking of the many times they'd made love just today alone.


Keeping to his word to have dessert, Brian ordered a flourless chocolate cake with coffee ganache and coffee cream accompanied by coffee granite while Justin sampled the Chocolate Pot de Crème with a vanilla flavored crème brulee, macadamia nut nougatine and vanilla and caramelized macadamia ice cream.

"I've seen Jacques Torres' show on Food Network," Justin told him. "He used to be the Executive Pastry Chef here but he's moved on."

"Can't complain," Brian commented. "That was fabulous." Drank the last bit of his coffee and asked, "Ready?"

"Can't wait." They were going on a carriage ride in Central Park and, as if the heavens had known it was their anniversary, the skies were clear and star-filled.

Paying the bill and leaving a hefty tip, Brian stood and held Justin's chair causing the young man to blush to the tips of his ears. But a woman sitting at the next table smiled and said just loud enough for them to hear, "Chivalry isn't dead." Brian grinned and gestured for Justin to go before him. Coats retrieved and buttoned tight, they made their way over on foot to Fifth Avenue where a line of carriages waited across the street from the Plaza Hotel. It actually wasn't super cold but cold enough that they planned on some serious snuggling once they were in the carriage. Justin felt a momentary twinge of guilt over the fact that the horses were out working but they didn't look miserable and he'd done a little research about them on the internet and figured it was okay for them to take a ride around the park. He'd also read that the drivers around this area would try to entice customers to ride in their carriages as there was no queue and no rule about first-come, first-served but, so far, none of the drivers had tried to get their attention despite the fact that no other tourists had approached them.

Brian strode up to the nearest driver and asked, "How much?"

The man shook his head.

"Excuse me?"

Again, the man shook his head.

"What does that mean?" he asked, although he was perfectly aware of what it meant. The guy didn't want to take them, a gay couple, around the park. He wanted him to say it. He wanted him to say it to their fucking faces.

"It means," the guy said finally, "that I don't hire out to nobody I don't want to."

"Come on, Bri," said Justin, gently tugging on his arm. He'd seen the look on Brian's face and it didn't bode well for the driver. When Brian hesitated, he applied a little more pressure but said nothing more.

Silently, Brian turned from the carriage and looked down at Justin. Saw the desire to avoid trouble in his eyes. Taking his hand, Brian abided by his wishes and they started to go past the other carriages and into the park. They'd do it on foot if they had to.

"Hey, buddy, come on," they heard. "I'll take you."

Looking back at the line of carriages, they saw a man waving to them from a pretty white one and went towards his horse.

"That's Caesar," he explained as Justin reached out and petted the horse's nose. "How long you want to ride?"

"An hour," Brian replied and then he and Justin climbed aboard. "Thanks," he added.

"That guy, total asshole. Probably beats his wife and he's bitching about f—gays," the guy said with a wry grin, hoping they hadn't noticed.

But Brian had and still it didn't bother him. Justin either. They were getting their romantic carriage ride through Central Park and nothing was going to spoil it for them.

To enter the park, the carriage went around a beautiful fountain that immediately reminded them of the ones they'd seen in Rome, and past a statue of General Sherman. Justin whispered that information to Brian as he'd gone on the Central Park website at home and had a map with him.

Over the next hour they took a tour of most of the southern and central parts of the park, from the Grand Army Plaza up as far as the southern tip of the reservoir and then back again, stopping at interesting points so that Brian and Justin could get out and examine some of the statues more closely. As they passed the Children's Zoo and the statue of Balto across from it Justin said, "We have to bring Gus up here." He and Gus had watched the first movie about the heroic huskie one Saturday afternoon when Brian had sequestered himself up in his study working furiously on an account that was in trouble. Despite having Leo and loving him, watching Balto had made Justin yearn for a dog in the worst way.

Getting out to get a look at the Wisteria Pergola, Justin pointed back to the east and said, "The Frisk Collection is over there, on the other side of the wall."

"Another museum," sighed Brian. "Are we going there tomorrow?"

"No," Justin said. "Maybe next time."

"When we bring Gus," promised Brian, because if he said it, he'd made a promise, one he intended to keep.

"He'd love the statue of Mother Goose."

They climbed back into the carriage and the trip began again. In addition to Balto and Mother Goose, there were statues of Hans Christian Anderson (whom they regarded as a little too advanced for Gus at this point), Alice in Wonderland, and the Queen of Hearts fountain. Gus loved Alice in Wonderland, loved shouting, "Off head!" whenever they watched the movie. He especially liked the fact that they played croquet with flamingos. Mel and Lindz had gotten him a croquet set for his birthday and he played almost everyday in summer although he rarely got any of the balls through the hoops unless he was right up on them.

They went past the Metropolitan Museum of Art which they'd visited Friday for a few hours. Actually, they hadn't done as many museums as Brian had feared. They'd actually spent far more time just wandering the streets and talking. Sometimes, it felt as if they hadn't talked in ages. Which was ridiculous because they talked all the time. Really talked. Not just about trivial things like what to have for dinner or whose turn it was to pick up the dry cleaning. They talked about their plans for the future, about Gus, about their relationship, how they were feeling, the house, everything. If anything about Brian had changed over the years that Justin had known him, it was that he was more open to talking. Justin had done that, and Drew, and life. Having to go through a number of extremely trying times had convinced him that he couldn't make it alone anymore, he needed people, he needed Justin and their friends, needed Drew, needed to connect with the people who cared for him, who loved him.

On the other side of the park, they drove past Shakespeare's Garden and statues of Romeo and Juliet and The Tempest. Went by Strawberry Fields and the Imagine Mosaic; Tavern on the Green.

"There are too many great restaurants in New York," declared Justin since it was one of the many places they wouldn't be dining in this time around.

"We'll be back," Brian reminded him. "More than once. We've got the rest of our lives."

Snuggling close to him, Justin smiled.

Soon after the ride drew to a close and they found themselves back where they started and hesitant to dismount. Paying the driver, Brian gave him a healthy tip. "Thanks again."

"Any time."

With Justin's hand in his, Brian asked, "Wanna take a cab or walk?"

Anxious to get back to the hotel, Justin answered, "Cab." The night was still young and it was still their anniversary and there was still celebrating to be done.

They started at the door, taking off piece by piece: coats, gloves, and shoes tossed to the side by the time they reached the dining table, jackets, ties, and socks dumped as they bumped into the edge of the bed, kissing by now in between removing their clothes.

"Should have worn a tee-shirt and some jeans," Brian grumbled as he fought with the buttons on his cuffs.

Struggling with his belt, Justin agreed. "Fuck."

"If I can ever get out of this shit," Brian promised him.

Justin grabbed the front of Brian's shirt and tore it open, one button flying off in the process. His own, he just whipped over his head. Pausing, they came together again, hungry for one another.

Although it was difficult, Brian broke off their kiss, dropped to his knees, and removed Justin's pants. Licked his belly and pulled down his underwear as well. Pushed Justin back onto the spread before standing and taking off the last of his own clothes. He climbed onto the bed and drew Justin to him, their cool bodies already heating up. With one last kiss, Justin parted from him, moved away just a bit, and lay propped up on one elbow, legs resting slightly apart, looking up at his lover from beneath heavy, blond bangs. His creamy skin was an invitation to touch him. The gold chain around his waist winked in the low light of the room. Slowly, he rolled over onto his back and parted his legs. Waiting.

Sliding over to him, Brian ran his hand across his smooth belly, fingers brushing over the chain to move further down and comb through a forest of dark blond hair. Lowered his head and nuzzled Justin's nipple, kissed it leisurely, tongue lolling about the edges.

Justin clasped the back of his neck and whispered urgently, "Make love to me."

Lips hovering over a taut, cinnamon colored nub, Brian smiled, then raised his head to kiss his lover. Hand between the younger man's legs, he lightly cupped his plump scrotum and stroked it as they kissed deeply, Justin moaning into his mouth. They parted again, eyes slightly unfocused, chests rising at a somewhat elevated rate, and just held one another. "I love you," said Brian, bussing him gently on the lips.

Fingers caressing Brian's cheek, Justin replied, "I love you." Kissed his chin and then his lips, and then there were no more words for they weren't needed.

Having begun in haste, they slowed down, savoring every moment. Justin spread before him like a banquet, Brian took his time sampling every delicious morsel. Massaged cinnamon scented oil into his skin, from his shoulders down his arms, down his back, over his hips, down his legs to his feet. When he finished, Justin turned lazily revealing an erection that Brian brushed his lips over, kissing the tip. Then he went about massaging the front of him with as much care as he'd shown the back, until Justin's skin shone. Bag of Honey Dust in hand, Brian sprinkled Justin's body, painting a golden sheen upon him. Having rolled him over onto his stomach again to dust his posterior, he began his feast there, parting his legs, spreading his cheeks, and stretching his tongue to feed on the wrinkled bud between them. A taste of honey.

His hips rose of their own accord as Brian licked up and down the center of him, tongue washing over his hole, the edges drawing close, then opening, hoping to entice the tongue down into their midst. He groaned as Brian teased him, the tip of his tongue playing among the folds of his ass. Reaching back, he gripped his behind and endeavored to spread his cheeks even farther apart, to force his hole to stretch open even wider. He wanted Brian's tongue in him, needed that.

But Brian was content with leisurely eating around his hole, keeping his tongue moving, even if it was a lazy motion, keeping it outside of him, making him hover on the brink of collapse. Every time Justin thought Brian was going to make a foray inside his hole, Brian turned his focus elsewhere, kissing his buttocks or running his tongue up his spine. Justin whimpered and urged him, "Please."

"What?" Brian asked, mouth buried between his shoulder blades.

"Do it."

"Do what?"

"Put it in me," he gasped as Brian had begun licking his hole once more.

"Put what where?" inquired Brian, biting one juicy cheek.

"Your tongue," Justin replied breathlessly.


"In me."


"In my ass," begged Justin.

Brian lapped the edges of his hole, then held a finger to the center of it. Pushed. The pad of his finger entered Justin, then the rest of the digit to sounds of pleasure emanating from the general direction of Justin's chest. For a minute or more, he plied his hole with his finger, relaxing the entrance until he judged it ready. Pressing on either side of Justin's anus, Brian spread him wider and stiffened his tongue.

"Oh!" cried Justin as Brian's tongue entered him. "Yes…" Time lost all meaning as Brian rimmed him until his cock was rock hard.

Drawing his dick back between his thighs, Brian divided his attention between it and Justin's ass, often licking his way up from the tip of his cock, over his balls, and up around his hole. At a sign from Justin, he sucked the head until his lover arched his back and began to grunt.

"Fuck. Fuck… Fuck."

Lips sealed tight around his cock, Brian couldn’t have agreed more. Justin's pisshole opened and precum flooded his tongue. Sliding his mouth all the way up to the base of the shaft, Brian sucked him with obvious pleasure. His own cock was getting harder, rising between his thighs.

Justin writhed about as Brian alternated between sucking his dick, rimming his ass, and licking his balls. He reached back and grabbed Brian's head, held him to his ass and hissed as the man's tongue burrowed inside his hole. Finally, Justin collapsed onto the bed, content to let Brian do as he pleased. Body trembling, he lay there helpless to do anything but moan and to enjoy the fruits of his husband's lovemaking skills.

Loathe to do so but wanting to take things to the next level, Brian withdrew his tongue from Justin's hole and sat up. Moved to the side of the bed and stood. Pulled Justin's body across the comforter until his ass was near the edge of the bed and his legs hung over the side. Standing between his legs, Brian said, "Open up."

Just hearing the words made him dizzy. He held open his cheeks, waiting for Brian to enter him.

The sight of Justin's pink hole made his cock throb. Touching himself, he imagined sinking down upon Justin, sliding between the swollen edges, delving to the depths of him. With a moan, he felt a sudden wetness in his palm. Precum. Dripping like honey. He spread it over his dick and reached for the lube. Stroked his cock a few more times until it practically begged him to fuck Justin. He rested one knee upon the bed and rubbed his cock over Justin's hole. Felt it pucker up, then relax. Rotated his cockhead against the wrinkled opening.

Justin could feel him, hot, wet, and he pushed his hips back, increasing the friction. Take me, his action said and Brian obliged. He groaned as Brian entered him, released his cheeks and braced himself against the bed while Brian continued to fill him. Squeezed his muscles tight as he felt Brian's balls press against his skin. "Oh, Baby," he heard Brian whisper, and he relaxed his hold so that Brian could slide back down.

The bed made nary a sound as they fucked, so smoothly that neither one knew when one motion ended and another began. In and out were part of one continuous movement.

Brian's groin and Justin's buttocks were red where their bodies touched. There were blotches on their chests and necks, further physical manifestations of their arousal.

He supported himself on one hand and used the other to hold onto Justin's waist as he slid in and out. Even as his mind floated, his body remained focused on the moment. There was nothing else but this act of lovemaking. And although his cock was primarily concerned with Justin's ass, he was aware of his entire body, through touching his sweaty skin, smelling his sex, hearing his moans, and tasting him still on his tongue. Feeling his balls throb, Brian withdrew. He didn't want to come just yet. Not yet. He wanted more, wanted it all. Wanted to fuck Justin all night if he could. Crawl inside of him and fuck him from within.

He was burning up and wanted to come so bad he could feel it spewing from his cock. But Brian had stopped moving, had pulled out of him. So it was to be a long night. Which pleased him even as it frustrated him. They'd been married a year, had been having sex for almost four years and Brian had yet to disappoint him, had yet to bore him. He couldn't imagine what it'd be like not having the kind of sex life they had. Trusting Brian implicitly, he waited.

Justin's hole was even puffier around the edges after having been fucked for ten or fifteen minutes and looked so inviting that Brian almost plunged back inside to finish. But he didn't. Instead he pressed down on his money spot and did his deep breathing exercises until he felt in control of his body once more. Going to the bathroom, he cleaned his cock and then came back with a wet cloth and lay down beside Justin, drawing his lover to him. Kissed him gently, then opened his mouth to initiate a more vigorous bout of kissing. Their cocks brushed against one another as they kissed, making love with their tongues, and Justin clasped the two stiff shafts in his hand, keeping them in constant contact. Precum began to spill from the tips, lubing them up, and Justin loved the feel of Brian's slippery cock sliding up against his own. He wondered if that's how Brian and Nic had felt when they'd fucked him in unison that time. As opposed as he'd been to the idea of a threesome at the time, it had turned out to be an unforgettable experience. A shiver went through his hole and he released their cocks and drew Brian's hand down between his legs.

Understanding what was required of him, Brian probed between his cheeks and penetrated him with three of his fingers. As they kissed, he finger fucked Justin until the young man's cock poked against his belly and Justin grabbed his arm and held it still. Chest heaving, he fought to calm down, to make it last, not to come. Slowly, Brian withdrew his fingers and waited while Justin relaxed. They kissed softly as they held one another, barely moving, content just to be touching. By the time they parted again, their erections had subsided significantly.

Justin stroked Brian's belly. His fingers brushed against Brian's cock, still red, the head still slightly flared. Turning head to foot, he grasped the base of Brian's dick and went down on him. Brian gave a tiny cry as he was a little tender but soon he was moaning in the back of his throat as Justin sucked him off. Fumbling between his husband's thighs, he found Justin's cock and began stroking him, feeling him stiffen and then pulse as he tugged on him. Just as he was getting used to this stage of their lovemaking, Justin changed the tenor by nibbling on his cockhead. Brian cried out and rose up off the bed before slumping back down. His dick felt like it'd been assaulted yet the sensation was one of pleasure not pain. Over and over, Justin ran his teeth over the surface of his glans until he thought he would lose his mind. Then, perversely, Justin licked over the same area, eliciting much the same response. Finally, he probed his pisshole with the tip of his tongue, digging down into the hole making Brian shout.

Sucking the edges of Brian's cockhead, Justin licked beneath the cap, then took him into his mouth and slid down the shaft. His head bobbed over Brian's groin as he blew him, loving the power he had over his man, taming his proud cock. When he released Brian, he was extended to his full length and swollen to his widest girth. Precum bubbled from his cock and spilled onto his belly. Justin licked it from his skin. He wanted him now.

Under Justin's direction, Brian sat up against the headboard of the bed and held his cock away from his stomach. Justin straddled his hips, facing away from him, and sat down on his cock.

"Yes!" he cried as he was pierced to the core. With Brian's hands around his waist, supporting him, he rose and fell upon his lover's dick, fucking himself with abandon. He twisted his head to kiss Brian, their mouths joined as they bounced on the bed. Rocking on Brian's cock, he felt a hand around his own, jacking him off.

For Brian, making love to Justin was like discovering all of a sudden that you owned something precious and rare, something that maybe had seemed commonplace once upon a time but now had acquired a value beyond reckoning. Justin cradled against Brian's chest, intimately joined to him, they were so complete together, in and of themselves, that the world could have ended and they wouldn't have had any regrets save that they did not have more time to be together.

I am Yes
I am your Yes

    I am I am your
    Yes Yes Yes

Both of them still shaken from having come, sweat glistening on their bodies, Brian carried Justin to the bathroom and plunged them into a tub of lukewarm water to cool them off. Forehead pressed to Brian's shoulder, Justin trembled in his arms. "I can still feel you inside me," he whispered, tears trickling down his cheeks. He wanted to say more but couldn’t, couldn't find the words to explain what he meant, to explain how profoundly he'd been affected by their lovemaking. He felt rived to the core, exposed, raw. Gently, Brian kissed his temple and held him in silence, knowing exactly how Justin felt because it echoed his own feelings.

I am into your fire
I am into your fire over my head

    Do me to a turn
    Burn me to the ground
I am into your fire for my life

"I thought," Justin began again, "that I had lost you." The episode with Kenneth. "I thought you would do it… that you would kill yourself." He'd been holding it inside for so long, the fear and, now, after having been so open to Brian, his feelings spilled out. "I don't know what I would have done."

"Never again. That's what I promised you, remember?" After the attempt two years ago, he'd sworn to Justin that he would never again allow himself to become that desperate. Fiercely, he held his lover to his chest. "I'll never leave you. I promise. No matter what."

The wind ruffling their hair, they stood on the outside deck of the Empire State Building, behind the metal fence, and gazed out over the city. They'd decided to skip the Statue of Liberty, saving it for when they brought Gus with them. Secretly, Justin thought it had something to do with the conspicuous absence of the Twin Towers from the skyline. Brian had found out in the months after Sept. 11 that his college friend had indeed been among the dead and, while they hadn't been close, still his death had affected him deeply. But today, all such thoughts of mortality had vanished. The sun was out and even though it was chilly, they relished the experience and laughed like children. Ignoring the other passengers in the elevator, they kissed on the ride down only parting as the doors opened and everyone spilled out to go their separate ways.

At lunch, they held hands, sitting next to one another and sharing their meals, garnering looks from the other diners as they giggled over some private joke and almost choked on their cocktails. Aureole's didn't disappoint although even they had to admit that they were not as focused on the cuisine as they might have been. Maybe it was a holdover from last night, from the closeness they'd felt, but their greatest desire was to go home and be alone, be together.

Retrieving his credit card from the waiter, Brian asked, "Ready?"

"I've been ready."

They made one stop to pick up their luggage from the hotel, thanked the staff for a most enjoyable stay, and headed for the airport. It was time to say goodbye to the Big Apple and return to Pitts.

Stepping out of the Cherokee, Justin stood for a moment in the yard and smiled before grabbing his stuff from the back and following Brian to the house. Their house. Their home. Just inside the front door, they stopped and, with lazy grins on their faces, began to kiss. "Bed," whispered Justin between kisses.

"Uh-huh," replied Brian.

But before they could start up the stairs, Justin smelled… food. Broke away. "I smell food."

"That's because you're always either hungry or ready to fuck."

"Don't you smell it?"

"Better food than cat shit."

"So gross," said Justin, wrinkling his nose.

"But you love me anyway." Pulling Justin into his arms, he began to kiss him again and the younger man forgot all about food and turned his mind to more important things.

"I felt that," Justin mumbled and they both chuckled as they kissed. He was just about to unzip his pants when the lights came on and someone yelled, "Surprise!"

Brian jerked away from him and slumped against the wall. "Fuck. You almost made me swallow Justin's tongue."

The gang came from out of the living and dining rooms, sheepish looks on their faces. All except Deb.

"Well, we figured we'd better stop you before you two got busy. I, for one," said Debbie, "have no desire to listen to you two fucking. Again."

Exasperated, Justin asked, "Is there anyone here who hasn't heard us fucking?" No one said anything and the whole gang was there minus Jeff, Molly, Daphne, and Justin's friends from IFA. He sighed and shook his head.

Gus bounced up and down trying to get Brian's attention until his daddy picked him up and kissed him soundly. "You miss us?"


"We missed you too." Turned to the others. "So what are you freeloaders doing here?"

Lindsay said, "We decided to throw you an anniversary party."

"Our anniversary was yesterday."

"Well, you weren't here."

"Exactly," he pointed out. "We weren't here. Hence there was no need for a party."

"You haven't had your anniversary cake yet."

"We were planning on having it tonight," he smirked. "In private."

"Well, you still can," said Joanie, anxious to steer the conversation away from sex. "After you have dinner with us and open your presents." She kissed his cheek. "Happy Anniversary, Son."

"Thanks, Ma." He exchanged looks with her and she smiled. Then he did too. Everything was ready.

Having recovered from being embarrassed, Justin asked, "So where's the food?"

"In the conservatory," said Mel.

"Why's it out there? We've got two dining tables."

Putting Gus down, Brian caught the front of his sweater in between his fingers and tugged. "Come on, the sooner we get this over with, the sooner they'll go." Leaned in. "And we can fuck. All. Night. Long."

"I've got school tomorrow."

"Be late." Brian paused at the doors of the conservatory, then threw them open and went in first. Cut on the lights.

Behind him Justin was about to grouse about having a party out in the practically bare conservatory when Brian stepped to the side and he saw the room for the first time. Mouth open, he just stared for a few moments. Then he found his voice. "Brian?"

He bussed him on the cheek. "Happy Anniversary, Baby."

Over the past year they'd managed to decorate every room of the house except for the sunroom since it was used primarily as a work space for Justin and he'd insisted that all he needed was his drafting table, his chair, Gus' easel, and a cabinet to keep his supplies in. Which, aside from a few anemic looking plants and the mosaic table and chair set, had been the only objects in the room when they'd left for New York. Everything had changed.

Replacing the mosaic set was a reddish-brown stained rattan dining ensemble with cushions covered in a fabric that featured fanciful vines and buds in burgundy on a gold background. Rather than going with the typical-looking wicker set, Brian and Joanie had found a stylish suite that echoed the past, the rounded backs and turned legs giving the suite a more formal look. Over it hung a bronze colored chandelier with an alabaster bowl and cup shades. To the right of the table was a loveseat and sofa that matched the dining set except that the cushions had been done in complimentary fabric to add visual interest.

To the left of the room was a dark rattan armoire standing next to a winged-back chair grouped with an ottoman, a small bombé chest, and a reading lamp. The doors of the armoire were open to reveal Justin's art supplies, and some of his art books.

Next to his drafting table and Gus' easel was a second easel made of walnut. Obviously an antique with an intricately carved crest at the top and incised details on the legs. Justin touched it in wonder.

"Victorian Renaissance Revival," explained Brian. He could see the question in Justin's eyes and preempted it with, "Don't ask." He had definitely paid more for items in the past but the easel had cost a pretty penny, especially for so little wood. But it was an antique and he could already tell that Justin loved it, loved all of the furniture in the room.

And everywhere there were plants. Green foliage in every imaginable shade and shape. Even though it was still winter there were brightly colored blossoms all over to bring a touch of spring to the room. In terra cotta and wooden planters, glazed pottery and shiny copper pots, aligned on the floor along the walls, on shelves, and hanging from the ceiling, plants and foliage of every color, shape, and size softened the sharp lines of the conservatory. There was even a water feature, a bamboo basket with a stone bowl inside, water bubbling from the center. Paradoxically, it managed to bring warmth to the room.

Justin turned to his husband, practically speechless. "Brian…"

"You like it?"

"I love it. How?"

"My mom and I have been working on it for two or three months now. Ordered everything and then she came over on Friday and they've been here the whole weekend getting things ready."

He threw his arms around his neck and embraced him. "Thank you."

"Anything for my Baby."

Irrationally, Justin felt tears begin to well up in his eyes. He looked aside and tried to thumb them away.

"What's wrong?"

It came to him in an instant. "You do so much for me," he said, remembering what he'd told Brian and the entire congregation the day of their wedding: "He loves so much, gives so much, it makes me ashamed of how little I have to give him. All I have is me."

"It's nothing."


"Trust me," Brian told him and he held his face in his hands and kissed him softly and reminded Justin of what he'd said that day: "He deserves everything that I have because I can't live without him. Without him, there's nothing, because he means everything to me." "It's nothing compared to what you do for me. What you give me. I wouldn't have anything if I didn't have you." They embraced tightly.

"You'll always have me," promised Justin and it was one promise he knew he'd be able to keep all the days of his life.

More like a family dinner than a party, they dined on a hearty Tuscan vegetable soup served with rosemary chicken and schiacciata, or flatbread. Gus insisted on sitting between Brian and Justin on the sofa after having been away from them for over a week. Leo curled at their feet, having explored the newly decorated room thoroughly. He hoped that Justin left the door open at night so that he could add it to his rounds. Since Leo had stayed with Gus at his mommies' house, the tot had to give his daddies a complete report regarding the cat's activities during his three-night visit, careful to tell them about playing ball with Leo and how the cat had scratched him when he tried to take the ball away from him. Brian kissed the spot causing Gus to giggle but he did say afterwards that it felt much better now that Daddy had kissed it.

"Is that what you tell him after he kisses your boo-boos?" Mel asked Justin.

"I usually don't say anything at all," he replied.

"Too busy moaning," Brian added, earning him a dirty look.

"We know," everyone else said, laughing. They'd all heard Justin moan, even Joanie and Jenn, who both turned red at the memory.

To turn them from that topic, Justin introduced another. "So, where are our anniversary presents?"

Lindz went to her bag and pulled out two packages. Handed one to each of them. "From all of us."

"For me?" Brian asked in mock surprise. He opened it quickly then looked up in confusion as he saw what it was.

"Show us," Vic demanded.

"Napkins," said Brian, holding them up. But they weren't just any old napkins.

"Martinelli Ginetto," announced Justin who had opened up his present and found a coordinating tablecloth. "They're beautiful." A gorgeous damask tablecloth in gold paired with rich apricot-colored napkins in an ornate floral pattern that complimented the gold silk dupioni drapes and the deep red and gold chenille jacquard fabrics on their dining chairs perfectly. He could hardly wait to set the table with their new linen. "Thanks, guys. This is fantastic."

"Well, we started to get you a paper gift since it's your first anniversary but I convinced them that this would be so much better," said Em.

"And so much more expensive," groused Ted who had loaned Em the money to contribute to the gift.

"I can't wait until Christmas," said Jenn. She'd agreed to spend Christmas with Brian and Justin this year and, instead of going to visit her mom, her mother was coming down to stay with Jenn. Or Justin and Brian. Depended on how she felt about her mom by that time. In any case, she knew the dining room would be stunning, the new linen adding just the right touch to an already magnificent room.

Last Christmas the guys had come over to Brian and Justin's for Christmas dinner—even Joanie, along with Claire and her brood. They'd set up a kids' table where Gus had reigned despite being the youngest. This was his house and he'd made sure that John and Peter knew it. But he had let them play with his toys—not the new ones—but the ones he already had upstairs in his room. Leo, he kept from them as well, not certain if the two boisterous boys knew how to treat a cat.

Justin could still see the tree they'd erected in the reception hall, resplendent in garnet and gold. He'd gotten Brian to let him hang icicle lights along the front of the house even though the house was hidden from the street traffic and no one but them and their guests would ever see or appreciate their efforts. The entire house had looked so beautiful, both inside and out. Joanie had helped but he and Brian had done most of the work. It'd been the best Christmas ever, their first in their new home, first as a married couple. They'd sent out homemade Christmas cards from Brian Kinney and Justin Taylor-Kinney with a picture of the two of them on the cover. Brian had grumbled a bit at that part, saying it was way too precious for him, but he'd taken the picture and signed his name to the cards. To Justin's way of thinking, it'd been the perfect Christmas. This year would be even better.

Watching his partner, Brian could tell that he was already planning for the holidays and it made him smile, how excited Justin got about decorating the house and having friends and family over. He supposed, if he were being honest with himself, he'd admit how much he enjoyed it as well. Not as much as Justin, but he didn't hate it. Besides, it gave him something to think about during the holidays other than work. And seeing the joy on Gus' face when he opened his presents was worth every irritating person in the eternity checkout lines at every store, every annoying Muzak Christmas carol, every screeching kid and bellowing adult trying to hold onto a shred of holiday spirit. Last year he and Justin had given Gus a fiery red tricycle. The toddler had loved it. They kept it in the garage for Gus to ride up and down the driveway and sidewalks when he visited and the sidewalks and driveway were clear of snow. He wondered what he'd get him this year. Maybe he would be old enough for the Baby Jeep he'd been threatening to buy him every year since he was born as he would finally turn four this summer, the recommended age according to the manufacturers.

"So do you know what all of these plants are?" Michael asked Justin.

He shook his head. "I don't know shit about flowers."

"You will," Joanie promised him. "There are tags on everything and detailed instructions in the armoire."

"How many different plants are in here?" Jenn asked.

"Twenty. Bouganvillea, Camellia, Ficus, three kinds of Fuchsia, Jasmine, Calla Lilies… Something for every season. There's even an orange tree."

"Will it produce real oranges?" asked Justin.


Ted said enviously, "Freshly squeezed orange juice from your very own orange tree."

Looking around, Em said, "I definitely need to find myself a sugar daddy."

Justin choked on his wine and Brian laughed as he patted his back.

Their guests had all gone, even Gus, although he'd made a big fuss. He hated leaving Leo just as much as he did his daddies. But Lindsay and Melanie hadn't given him any choice: he had to go home. To his other home. And leave Leo and his daddies behind. Of course, he wrangled a promise from all of the adults to let him stay the upcoming weekend before he'd allow his mommies to take him away. Like Brian, he understood his position in life and how to make the most of it.

House to themselves, Brian and Justin carried their slice of wedding cake upstairs to eat in their suite. They loved having the two seating areas in their room as well as the bistro table and chairs out on the pergola where they could have intimate, romantic meals. As if they didn't have the entire house in which to have intimate, romantic meals. But, somehow, having dinner in their suite made it that much more special. Private. And closer to the bed. Turning on the fireplace, they curled up on the sofa and fed bits of cake to one another in between kisses until their mouths and faces were sweet with frosting. Then, leaving the plate upon the coffee table, they retired.

"That wasn't too bad," said Justin. "The party," he explained.

"Nope. Maybe we should go away next year too."

"We're going to Maui, remember? In the summer."

Brian kissed the tip of Justin's nose. "We could go back to the inn. Just for a day. Or two. Or we could stay in a hotel here in town, like we did that year for Valentine's Day."

"That was amazing."

"Sans Souci was amazing."

"You were amazing," Justin told him, remembering the skywriting above IFA. "J, I love u. B.," with a heart in place of the word 'love'. He would never forget that day. But he didn't think anything could top this year's anniversary and Brian's gift to him. Just thinking about his new studio made him smile.

Brian noticed. "Happy?"

"Thank you. For everything."

"I told you—"

"I know. But thanks anyway."

"You're welcome."

Justin burrowed closer. Laid his head on Brian's chest. "I love you, Pookie."

He remembered the first time Justin had called him that, in London, all those years ago. Jesus. Years ago. He tightened his hold, until he could feel Justin's heart beating against his chest, keeping him alive, keeping both of them alive. "I love you too, Baby."

Within moments, content to be home again and where they belonged, in each other's arms, they drifted off to sleep.

He missed Justin even before he'd awakened completely. Opening his eyes, he reached back to feel an empty space behind him. Smiled. He knew where Justin was. Downstairs in his newly decorated studio. The young artist had beamed all evening, pleased beyond words with the space. Brian imagined him curled up in his armchair flipping through his book on Lucien Freud, mind awash with ideas, hardly able to wait until the next day to put them down on paper. Remembered when he'd been like that, just starting out in advertising, ready to set the world on fire with his brilliance. Years later, he'd accomplished most of his goals. And he had something he'd never thought he'd have: a family. Rubbing the ring on his finger, he felt another smile flitter across his lips. And then it faded.

Although he would never tell Justin, he had thought of killing himself after the incident with Kenneth. He hadn't wanted to go on, hadn't wanted to live with the knowledge of what had happened. There had been a moment when he'd felt so empty, so devoid of life that it would have been a simple thing to just not be anymore. Sitting in his office at work, he'd thought, I can do it here and not taint the house for Justin, making it impossible for him to live there. He deserved that much, to keep his home, the home they'd made together. And it had hurt so badly that he'd gotten up, intending to go into the bathroom and take the pills he'd been hoarding for weeks, and then he'd seen it. The portrait Justin had done of him and Gus, asleep on the couch, the one he'd given Brian their first Christmas together after they'd exchanged rings. He'd stood and studied the picture, imagining all of the Christmases he'd miss, the anniversaries and birthdays, and he'd begun to cry. He couldn't leave Justin. He no longer had the will to do so. All he could do was go on. So he'd cleaned up and finished out the day and gone home, determined to live.

Checking the clock, he saw that it was a little past midnight; it'd be an hour earlier in Birmingham. Before he could change his mind, he picked up the phone and dialed. In between the first and second rings he almost hung up but then he heard Kenneth's voice.


Paused. Then, "Kenneth."


Brian's hand shook. He would hang up then, if Kenneth didn't want to talk to him.

"I'm surprised to hear from you."

Deep breath. "I thought… we could talk."

"Happy Anniversary."


"You do something special?"


"We're talking. I'm expressing an interest in your life, acknowledging your marriage, what the fuck more do you want from me?"

He couldn’t deal with Kenneth's anger, shouldn't have called. "I made a mistake—"

"Wait. Don't hang up."

He waited.

"I'm sorry."

"I'm sorry about what happened." There'd been so many misunderstandings, so many things said that were nearly impossible to take back, so much pain and anguish on both sides.

"I know. So am I."

"I… I thought maybe… " Rubbed his face. "I don't know… That we could be friends."

There was a long pause, then Kenneth said, "Brian… I'm sorry."

He sniffled. "Yeah." Attempted a wry grin. "I'm sorry I bothered you."


"Night." He hung up the phone and squeezed his eyes shut. A tear slipped beneath his lid and he hastily wiped it away. Sat with his arms wrapped around his middle thinking maybe, maybe Kenneth would call and they could work something out, maybe it didn't have to end this way, that maybe, for once, he could salvage something, keep something to hold onto other than the misery.

But the phone didn't ring and, after a while, he was able to put away the hurt. For now.

Unable to sleep without Justin, he got out his book of poetry and began to read, to wait for his husband to return to bed.

So reaffirm firmly what began with a Yes
and praise the right thing that improved on the dream.


"Anthem of St. Priapus," "Wondrous the Merge," "The Aisles of Eden," and "Always Ever and Only" by James Broughton from Ecstasies.

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