At first it alarmed him, waking and not seeing his ring in its customary place but then he smiled, remembering: I'm married now. For a few minutes he admired the ring, as if it were a new addition instead of one that had merely shifted positions. Yet, upon that one small change, great ones had occurred. "…I now pronounce you partners for life." He turned over. There lay his partner, his spouse. My husband. Another smile.

You are my angel
Come from way above
To bring me love

So beautiful. Sunlight caught in the golden strands of his hair; blue eyes hidden by closed lids. Brian brushed Justin's bangs back from his forehead, exposing the scar that he would carry all of his life. But he lived. "I love you," Brian whispered even if Justin couldn't hear it.

"I love you too," came the reply, a smile curving about Justin's lips. He opened his eyes and laughed.

"Playing me, huh?" asked Brian, pushing him gently.

Defending his actions, Justin explained, "I didn't wake up until you touched me." They moved closer together and kissed. Parted slightly and remained arms about one another. "So when are we opening up our presents?"

"I'm rubbing up against you and all you can think about is opening wedding gifts?" He sighed and rolled away. "I must be doing something wrong."

Justin neared him again and cupped his crotch. "You're doing everything right," he assured him and they began to kiss again, presents forgotten.

After a moment, Brian exclaimed, "What the fuck!" and reached behind him, grabbing hold of a ball of fur. He dropped the kitten between them and collapsed on the bed. "Shit. First Gus, now the cat." There was always someone keeping them from fooling around.

"Hey, Leo." Justin had already begun petting the kitten. "How did you find us, huh? Did you hear us talking?" The kitten purred and pushed his head against Justin's palm.

"What about me?" Brian asked, wishing Justin was stroking him.

"Wait your turn."

Brian pouted. "What about marital rights?"

"Your cock won't fall off if you wait a few minutes." He turned his attention to Leo. "Or a few hours," he added. "Will it, Leo?"

"Hours?" Brian's voice cracked and he reached for Justin but the young man scooped Leo up in his arms and escaped the bed.

"Are you hungry, Leo? Let's go eat." He grabbed his robe from the trunk at the foot of the bed and carried Leo from the room. Leaving Brian behind.

But not for long. Grumbling, he put on his robe and followed his wayward partner downstairs, picking up Leo's food and water bowls and the rubber mat that went with them as he passed Gus' room. He noticed that the kitten's litter had been used. Smart cat.

Justin had found the bag of Kitten Chow by the time Brian arrived with the bowl and was feeding Leo from his hand, the slender kitten eagerly munching the crunchy bits.

"Here," said Brian and Justin dumped the food into the bowl and set Leo down while Brian replenished his water supply.

"Think we ought to feed him in here?" Brian had put the mat and the two bowls down next to the la mattina.

"As good a place as any. And we're coming down here every day anyway."

"Guess." Stretching, he began to go through the under counter fridge taking out eggs and bacon and butter and starting breakfast while Brian attended to the coffee and bagels, the ad exec having regained the sense of harmony that he'd missed when Mikey had been there and Justin had not. "What are you smiling about?" asked Justin as he whisked the eggs.

"Nothing." Pause. "Everything." Which, in turn, made Justin smile too. He understood what Brian meant.

Finished with the coffee, Brian perched on a bar stool and swung his foot to and fro while Leo tried to catch hold of his toe.

"If he grabs you…" Justin warned.

"Trust me, I felt those claws this morning. Right in my ass." The kitten had climbed up the side of the bed and inadvertently hooked Brian's behind through the sheets.

"Did you buy him any toys?" The kitten had grown tired of chasing Brian's foot and was now under Justin's feet as he attempted to cook.

"Still downstairs probably." He got up and jogged to the family room, Leo behind him, his attention attracted by the rapid movement. Brian returned, Leo in tow, carrying a present. It was a rather large box labeled "The Guys". "I think Mikey and Ted and Emmett and Jeff bought this." He tore off the wrapping and dropped it to the floor. Immediately, Leo pounced on it and fought the bow.

"Holy shit!" exclaimed Justin. "You told them." It was a cobalt blue KitchenAid mixer.

He shrugged. "They asked for suggestions and I gave them one."

Justin hugged him and pecked him on the lips. "You're the best hubby ever."

"Do not call me hubby."

"Okay, Pookie."

Brian smacked him on the butt and unpacked the mixer as Justin returned to breakfast. The bacon was done and he only had to scramble the eggs. Pausing in his unpacking, Brian popped the bagels in the toaster. The aroma of coffee and the sound of Leo crunching the wrapping paper filled the air.

Since it was officially their honeymoon, they set the table and took their meal in there; Leo investigated the room while they ate.

"Lot of energy," Brian commented as the kitten stalked shadows and pounced on phantoms. He ran and tripped over his own feet and fell, got up and shook himself off and began again. Brian laughed. "Reminds me of Gus." Twisted his lips in a wry grin. "Reminds me of you." Took hold of Justin's hand across the table. "My Baby Cat."

"I thought I was your Pooh Bear."

"That too."

"I do love milk and honey," he said, licking his lips lasciviously.

"Tell me about it. Drained me dry."


"Last night," Brian clarified for him. "I've had a few hours to replenish the supply."

Justin laughed helplessly. "I love you."

"Better." Brian added softly, "Cause I don’t know what I'd do without you."

Stretching out his ring hand and admiring the platinum band all over again although he'd been wearing it for over a year, Justin said, "This means you don't have to." Brian caught his hand and kissed his fingers.

Breakfast over, they cleaned the kitchen and lounged on the sectional sofa. Both ignored the pile of presents that remained, not wanting to stir for a while, luxuriating in one another's arms and company, with nothing more pressing on their agenda for the rest of the day other than deciding what they'd have for dinner or when they'd next make love. And judging from Brian's reaction to their kissing, Justin was guessing they were about to make love on the sofa.

"What about Leo?" he asked between kisses as Brian untied his robe and slipped it from his shoulders, kissing them as well.

"What about him?" Impatiently, Brian snatched off his own robe and cast it aside.

"He might watch us."

"Might learn something."

"I don't want to do it if he's looking at us," said Justin, although he was starting not to care as much because Brian had caught hold of his cock and was giving it a good workout.

"Don't think about it," he advised and pushed Justin back upon the seat cushions and spread his legs, lowered his head and began going down on him.

"I… I—Ah," he breathed and then he fell silent except for an occasional sigh or cry. He felt indecent, legs and arms akimbo, back and buttocks molded by the warm leather, cock throbbing inside Brian's mouth, his lips parted and flecked with spittle. Eyelids fluttering, he moaned as his lover's tongue made a circuit of first the head and then the shaft. Married life was definitely for him.

Justin woke and sat up. Leo? Where was he? He woke Brian with his movement as he left the couch and hunted for the kitten.


"Leo. I don't see him anywhere. Leo?" he called but the cat did not come. "We gotta find him."

Rising, Brian assured him that the cat had to be in the house somewhere. "He couldn't have gotten outside."

"He might be lost. He's so small and the house is so big. He might hurt himself."

Sighing, Brian resigned himself to searching for their missing pet. "You look down here and I'll go upstairs." He had to get something else to put on anyway as his robe was wet with cum.

"What about the basement?"

"Door's closed." He paused to kiss Justin. "We'll find him." Climbing the tower staircase, Brian could still hear Justin calling to the kitten even at the top. Entering Gus' room first, he softly called the cat's name thinking he'd probably be in there asleep in his house but he was not. Next he checked the laundry room since it had enough crannies that he could have gotten wedged in between something but Leo wasn't there either. Going to their room, Brian called him and was about to give up and hope that Justin had found him when he saw a mound of golden fur in the middle of their bed, half-hidden in the comforter. Brian checked him. The kitten was fast asleep. Smiling, he went to the intercom and buzzed Justin downstairs. "I found him. Asleep in our bed. Smarter than us."

When Justin arrived, Brian was in the bathroom running water in the shower so he joined him.

Looking askance at his spouse and the sultry grin on his face, Brian asked, "Aren't you tired?"

"I'm twenty and I'm on my honeymoon," Justin replied. "There's no such thing as being tired. Besides, we took a nap." He nudged Brian's throat. "Please?"

"Baby, I'm thirty-one and I'm bushed."

"I like your—"

Brian intercepted his hand. "I know you do."

"So fluffy. How do you do that?"

Turning his back on the curious young man, Brian tried to shower but Justin had other ideas. There was more than one way to get what he wanted. If the direct route failed, then he'd have to resort to more circuitous means. Squeezing a hand full of bath gel in his palm, he leaned against the shower wall and began stroking himself.

Determined that he would ignore Justin, Brian tried to concentrate on bathing but his mind and imagination kept returning to his self-pleasuring partner.

"Mmm…" Justin murmured and rubbed the head of his cock, the ruddy flesh covered in suds. Raising his cock in one hand, he used the other to fondle his balls.

"Fuck," Brian cursed and abandoned his plans to remain on the sidelines. Pushing Justin's hands out of the way, he took over and jacked Justin's dick, squeezing his sac roughly and tightening his fist around the swollen head until Justin hissed in pleasure and ejaculated.

"Yeah," he whispered and drew Brian's head down. "That felt great."

Kissing Justin soundly, Brian handed him a bar of soap. "Good. Now, wash my back."

With Justin satiated for a while, the two men dressed and returned downstairs to open their presents. Leo, who had slept through their bathroom adventures, woke in time to trail behind them.

"He knows he's getting more wrapping paper," said Justin.

Grunting, Brian made a detour downstairs and found the cat toys where Cynthia had left them. He had all of the packages opened before Justin had removed the wrapping from the present he'd chosen from the pile. Getting Leo's attention, he tossed the catnip balls and mice down on the floor and watched the kitten leap for joy. "That'll keep him busy for exactly five minutes," he predicted.

Meanwhile, Justin had finally unwrapped the present from Nana Rose and Xavier and Trey. It was a dark-colored, natural fiber vase inside of a matching holder, the copper-colored fibers spun and arranged to look like a tear-shaped wire basket. "Wow, this is beautiful."

"Nice. Where are we gonna put it?"

"Top of the armoire in our bedroom. It'll be perfect. And there's nothing up there now." Reaching behind his back, Justin handed a small box to Brian.

"What's this?"

"Present for you."

"That wasn't necessary."

"Didn't say it was. So open it."

Lips pressed together to keep from smiling, Brian opened the box and laughed. Inside where a dozen silver tokens. Not bus tokens or subway tokens, these were love tokens. Taking out one, Brian read the inscriptions on both sides: "Kiss token. Good for one kiss." Then another. "Hug token. Good for one hug." He turned to Justin. "Where's the one that says, 'Good for one blow job'?"

Justin found a coin. "I think this covers it."

"Love token. Good for one roll in the hay," read Brian. "Does this mean I'm going to have to beg for it from now on?"

"Just like all married guys."

Opening Lindsay and Mel's gift next, they discovered a handmade designer clock with an embossed copper face and wavy chocolate cherry-colored copper arms radiating from the center like a lotus flower.

"I like it," declared Justin. "I think we should put it over the fireplace in our room."

"It looks like it's surrounded by tits. Leave it to the Munchers to buy us a clock with boobs."

"Least it matches the sofa and the coffee table." Trying to distract him, Justin pointed out another present, he asked, "Who's that from?"

Brian read the label. "Deb and Vic." Rolled his eyes. "God, I hope Vic picked this out."

Although he felt as if he ought to defend Debbie, Justin secretly hoped so too. Luckily, Vic's taste had prevailed and the siblings had bought the newlyweds a lovely, pearly picture frame etched with the words, 'I am my beloved's ~ My beloved is mine.' "For our wedding picture," exclaimed Justin. "It's beautiful. It's perfect."

"Thank you, Vic."

"We're making out pretty good," Justin commented.

"Good friends."

"The best."

Dragging over a huge box, Brian glanced at the tag and held it between his hands for a moment before putting it aside.

"Who's it from?"

"Kenneth," he said casually, then reached for another.

"Let's open it."

With more than a little trepidation, Brian removed the wrapping from the present and opened the box. Reached in and lifted the gift from inside.

"Oh, my God, is that…?"

"Our stemware." He turned the wine goblet in his hand. "Looks like he bought twenty, thirty pieces. Ten sets."

"I can't believe he got that many," Justin said. But, of course, Kenneth had; he had the money and he was in love with Brian, wasn't he? "Oo," said Justin, suddenly remembering. "I wonder how much of our china we got." He began searching through the packages for anything with Ryder's name on it or the firm's. "Found it." Opened the slender envelope. "Fuck," he said with awe in his voice.


"They got it all."

"What does that mean?"

"Complete place settings for ten. China and silverware."

"Fuck," agreed Brian. That was very generous of them

"I can't wait to throw a formal dinner party. Our table's going to look so beautiful."

Hoping to distract him from thoughts of dining room furniture, Brian handed him another box. "Keisha and Cecil."

Justin opened their gift. "Check this out," he said, taking two smaller boxes from the larger one. He opened one of them, removing an usually shaped container from the box. It was shaped kind of like a gourd.

"Looks like a cock," Brian said.

"Stop it," warned Justin and he took the rest of the items from the boxes. Turns out they were a saki set and a sushi set in complimentary colors: the saki set in gold and the sushi set in a metallic silver color with gold and white accents.

Brian opened their present from Joanie. She'd insisted on getting them a gift although they'd assured her that her work on the house had been enough. "Lanterns." Each of the rust-colored iron lanterns contained a pillar candle. The filigreed iron reminded Justin of the grates over the tower windows and the entry way gate. "Cool."

"We could hang them in our room, by the French doors, and then take them outside when we want to have an intimate dinner for two on the pergola."

"Sounds good to me."

"Need a table and some chairs out there," he hinted.

"We could sit on a blanket," countered Brian.

Justin smiled, remembering their picnic in the solarium and the picnic they'd gone on after ballooning in the country. "I like picnicking."

Brian's reply was interrupted by Leo, who had decided that now was the perfect time to climb up on Brian's lap and demand to be paid attention to.

"He really likes you."

Petting the kitten absent-mindedly, Brian said, "Yeah, well, he'd better not get used to it. He's your cat."

"Our cat."

"Your cat."

Watching him pet the kitten, Justin asked, "Why don't you like cats?"

"I don't dislike them. I'm just not a pet person."

As Leo softly purred and settled down as if he had no intention of moving ever again, Justin said, "Yeah, I can tell."

Over the next half hour they managed to open all the rest of their presents: Daphne had gotten them decorative throw pillows covered in beautifully embroidered and beaded silk and velvet fabrics. For some reason both Jenn and Molly and Claire and her boys had given them wall sconces although they were designed differently. The Taylor women had gotten them a sconce in the shape of a tree with mirrored leaves on the metal branches. Which reminded Justin of the metal tree branches with mirrored leaves that they'd used for the wedding. That were still attached to the walls out in the reception area. Eventually they'd get to it. Claire and her brood had opted for a pair of sconces made of metal that Justin decided would look perfect on either side of their bed as they had a faint Middle Eastern cast to them. Contrary to expectations, Rennie hadn't given them some strange work of art or a black crucifix but instead had opted for a string of beautiful lights with gold shades and beads that they could hang from the pergola like their own personal stars.

But the most surprising—and heavy—gift came from Dr. Drew. It was a marble bust of Michelangelo's David. Sitting it on top of the table, Justin studied the stone carving and then compared it to his living, breathing spouse. "You really do look like him," he said. "Except for the hair." More than one person had commented on that during their trip to Florence last year. It was amazing the number of people who had crowded around Brian, looking at him instead of Michelangelo's masterpiece. "So," he said as he surveyed their haul, "I guess we should make sure to send out thank you notes."

"Yes, Miss Manners," smirked Brian.

Justin wadded up a bit of wrapping paper and flung it at him.

In retaliation, Brian reached into his box of love tokens and tossed one over to his husband.

Reading it, Justin snickered and began to unbutton his jeans.

Neither one of them wanted to leave the house but Monday morning had come and it was time to return to the world. Since Spring Break was coming up in a couple of weeks anyway, they'd decided to push their honeymoon back until then so that Justin wouldn't miss any classes. But they hadn't taken into consideration how difficult it would be to leave home after having spent their first weekend together as married partners.

Justin leaning against the side of the Cherokee, Brian pressed against him, they made plans for dinner between kisses.

"I kinda have a taste for lobster," said Justin, smiling shyly as they'd just spent a fortune on the house and the wedding. By all rights, they should have been dining on bologna for a very long time.

"Go out or stay in?"

"I'll pick up two on the way home."

"Deal." Final kiss. "Later."

"Later." Watching Brian stride over to the Jeep, Justin remained where he was, a silly grin on his face, only getting inside his own car once Brian had started down the driveway, waving as he pulled out of the yard.

The silly grin lingered about his lips as he settled down for an hour of art history. Rennie and Xavier came in a few minutes later and feigned surprise at seeing him.

"Would have thought you'd be home spending quality time with your hubby," teased Rennie.

"He had to go to work," Justin told her. "Besides," he added, "he needed a break from fucking."

Xavier laughed. "That's a first."

"Did you like our presents?" asked Rennie at lunch. They'd decided to stay on campus and eat in the cafeteria, something none of them relished but it was food and it was hot.

"They were awesome. Thanks, guys."

Rennie smiled. "Brian looked so hot." Then, "You didn't look too bad either, Prep Boy."

"What a ringing endorsement." Rolled his eyes. "So, did you and Trey have a good weekend?"

"Most excellent," replied Xavier, sticking his tongue out. "He really, really missed me."

"I bet."

"It's getting hot in here/ so take off all your clothes…" sang Xavier.

"Ewww. I do not want to know about your sex life," said Rennie. "So, Prep Boy, how many times did you and Brian do it?"

Justin laughed. "I'll bring you the videotape. It'll last longer."

As he'd hoped, the Jeep was in the yard when he got home with the lobsters. Nearly running to the house, he found Brian in the kitchen standing over a pot of boiling water. Dropped the bag of crustaceans in the sink for the time being while he and Brian kissed hello. "You're home really early."

"Missed you." Brian kissed Justin's neck while unbuttoning his jeans.

"What about the lobsters?"

"Give 'em a few more minutes to live." And they laughed as they stumbled towards the family room.

Cuddled up in their bed, they fed the last of the lobster to one another, sharing butter kisses in the process. Leo watched from the foot of the bed, the fish smell curiously inviting but as he'd never had seafood, he wasn't quite sure what to make of it and Justin refused to give him any saying it'd probably give him diarrhea or something, just the thought of which was enough to keep Brian from sharing. Besides, the lobster was delicious and they didn't want to waste one bite.

When it was all gone, they lay in bed, not wanting to move but they eventually did, taking their dirty plates downstairs and cleaning up a bit before returning to their suite and burrowing beneath the covers. It was cold so they'd turned on the fireplace upstairs and built a fire in the downstairs fireplace. Jenn had been right about it. When it was on, they hardly had to use the furnace. Especially since they weren't occupying many of the rooms anyway.

"I could hardly concentrate today," Justin told Brian. "I kept thinking about the wedding… about you…"

"I was in a meeting and I think Ryder had to say my name three times before I actually heard him." He laughed. "When is Spring Break again?"

"Two weeks."

"So far away."

Justin concurred. "I can't wait until next Friday." Then asked, "You're sure you're going to have the whole week off?"

"Everything's set. Trust me, Ryder knows better than to fuck with my honeymoon. Plus, it'll be the last time we have any peace and quiet before the renovations start."

"But it'll be so worth it though when they're finished." Visions of bathing by moonlight danced in his head. Along with visions of him and Brian frolicking in their new shower.

"Better be for the money we're paying them," groused Brian but Justin knew it was just a put-on. Brian had been the most excited about redoing the bathroom. He wasn't very fond of it right now. Too frilly. Still, he and Justin had managed to have a very nice honeymoon night bath in the tub. Very nice. He could still hear Justin moaning as he'd jacked him off. Which was definitely giving him ideas…

Justin bopping around him, Brian swayed to the music and tried to keep up with his partner who was well on his way to dancing the night away. They'd been out on the floor for twenty minutes and Justin was showing no signs of slowing down. Granted, it had been a while since they'd gone out dancing and they had a lot of catching up to do. Still, Brian wasn't sure if he could keep up with the coed. Just as the current song segued into the next, he was about to suggest they take a break when he recognized the beat: The Crystal Method. "Busy Child". No way would Justin sit out that one, he loved that song. Sure enough, he grinned and began bouncing. Luckily, Brian spotted Em out of the corner of his eye. Grabbed his arm.

"Here. Keep him company." Kissed Justin and headed for the bar.

"I guess I didn't know.
I guess I didn't know.
Get Busy Child.
Get Busy Child.
Get Busy Child…"2

"Beam, single," he told the bartender. His and Justin's previous attempt at partying half the night had resulted in him having to wear dark glasses to work and Justin puking in the toilet way too early in the morning. Granted they didn't have anywhere to go tomorrow morning (or the next nine mornings) but he didn't intend on spending it hugging the porcelain. Better things to do. Like lying in bed. And fucking. A whole week ahead of them with nothing to do but whatever they wanted. Oh yeah.

"Bet he's thinking about fucking," said Mikey as he and Jeff sauntered up to the bar.

Brian clicked his tongue. "Bingo."

"Where is the Boy Wonder?"

He pointed to the dance floor although Justin and Em were lost in the crowd.

"Couldn't keep up?" asked Jeff.

"Don't even try." He lifted his glass of Beam. "He knows where to find me."

Meanwhile, Em had hit the wall too. When the next song came on, he bowed out and went in search of refreshment. Met up with Brian and Jeff and Mikey at the bar.

"Where's Justin?" Brian asked.

"Still out there. He never gets tired."

"Tell me about it," said Brian. He'd been happy to go back to work after the wedding if only to get a break from the nonstop fucking. And talking. And planning. Justin never slowed down.

His preferred partner having abandoned him and the backup having jumped ship as well, Justin continued dancing on his own, figuring Brian would eventually rejoin him. Smiling at the thought of his husband pushing through the crowds, trying to find him, Justin didn't see the guy approaching until he was right up on him. Which startled him.

"Sorry," the guy said. "Wanna dance?"

"Sure." No harm in dancing. And the guy definitely had some good moves. Still, he preferred dancing with Brian. There was something cute about the way Brian would scooch down to look into his eyes even though it was a major pain for him to do so. Brian said he did it cause he loved Justin's eyes. Although he was enjoying himself dancing and thinking about Brian, Justin couldn't help but notice that his dance partner had moved in way too close and that his hands kept straying to his ass. Stepping back, he smiled. The guy moved closer. Justin paused and said, "I'm in a relationship."

The guy grinned. "So?"

"So," said Justin, "I'm only interested in dancing."

"So you say."

"So this says," Justin told him, holding up his ring. "I'm married."

"That's nice." The guy grabbed for him but Justin avoided his grip.

"Okay, dance over." Started to walk away but the man wasn't having it and managed to catch hold of his arm. Rather than make a big scene, Justin asked him, "Do you know who Brian Kinney is?"

"Yeah." Everyone knew who Kinney was.

"Well, I'm Justin Taylor-Kinney," Justin said and flashed the ring again.

"You're the guy Kinney hooked up with?"

"Uh-huh." The guy backed away, hands up, and disappeared in the crowd. Justin shook his head and chuckled. Ordinarily it would have pissed him off that he had to invoke Brian's name to get rid of some asshole but they were married now so it was different. Going in search of Brian, Justin decided he'd keep that little episode to himself. Knowing Brian, he'd demand to know who the guy was so that he could go after him and kick his scrawny ass. Not that Brian was brawny but anger had a way of transforming him into someone nobody wanted to fuck with…

But that Justin definitely wanted to fuck. Brian grunted as Justin bounced on top of him, riding his dick and jacking off at the same time, precum shiny, dripping over the edge of his cockhead. Sitting down upon Brian's erection, taking it all the way inside his ass, Justin tugged on his own cock, beating it until the shaft was rigid and his pisshole gaped open, spilling sticky juice onto his fist. As he pumped his dick, he fucked Brian's with his ass, squeezing him until his partner shouted and shot a load up him. When Brian was done, Justin rose up off him and moved up his body, knelt over his head, and squatted until he could feel Brian's tongue against his hole.

Holding Justin by his thighs, Brian ate him out, spooge oozing over his face, while his little boy jerked above him. When he'd eaten his fill of ass, he reached up and drew down Justin's cock, sucked it until Justin cried out and came, cum spraying his throat.

Sitting back against the lower kitchen cabinets, Brian asked, "How many are left?"

"Let's see," said Justin, "the back stairs, the guest room, Gus' bathroom, Gus' room, the gallery, the front stairwell, the living room, the dining room, the downstairs bathroom, the upstairs hallway, and the conservatory. Oh, and the two closets downstairs."

"So we've done our room, our bathroom, the walk-in closet, my office, the library, the sitting room upstairs, the family room, and now the kitchen."

It was Wednesday and they'd already gotten through a third of the places in their house where they could fuck. They'd just finished in the kitchen, Brian having gotten the urge to copulate while watching Justin fix lunch. When the young chef had bent over to place the roasting pan in the oven, Brian's libido had flared up and he'd grabbed Justin and bent him over right at the kitchen island. Luckily, they kept a bottle of olive oil on the counter. Brian had massaged it into and around Justin's hole and slipped inside him with no more than the usual resistance. Fucked him hard and fast, Justin's load splattering the island cabinetry. Afterwards they had collapsed on the floor, entangled in their clothes.

Raising his face for a kiss, Justin said, "We smell like focaccia." Lifted and sniffed his shirt. "So does this."

"Why do we even bother getting dressed?" asked Brian.

"Propriety's sake?"

"Fuck it." He stood and held out his hand. Pulled Justin to his feet.

Correctly deciphering the look on his face, he asked, "Where?"

With a grin. "Surprise."

As Brian tugged on him, he grabbed the bottle of olive oil. Just in case. Good thing the chicken had another hour and a half in the oven.

That evening, having decided that going mostly naked was a lot more expedient than dressing and undressing all the time, they lounged around in their robes and went through their wedding pictures. Just last week they'd finally finished putting away all of the decorations from the wedding. Justin had insisted on keeping every flower, every light in a box marked "Wedding". The topper from their cake was safely stored away in the freezer awaiting their first anniversary.

Although they hadn't videotaped or photographed the wedding itself, not wanting to taint the ceremony, Jase had taken some beautiful formal pictures afterwards. And most of the guests had brought their own cameras and snapped away during the reception so they were sure to get a few more photographs in the weeks to come. But, for now, they poured over the ones they had.

Holding up a picture of the two of them standing by the French doors to the conservatory, the lit candelabra to one side, Justin said, "We looked amazing."

"Hottest grooms ever."

Lips curved in a soft smile, Justin added, "That was the best day of my life."

"Only get better," promised Brian.

"Need to get an album for these," Justin said and began putting them away in their envelopes.

"Maybe we'll make it out of the house tomorrow." Then, as Justin climbed over onto his lap and kissed him, Brian mumbled, "Or Friday." Another kiss. "Saturday."

It had taken all of their strength to shower, dress, and drive to the mall. Now, Brian wondered if he'd have the fortitude to look at the plethora of photo albums Justin paraded in front of him to get his opinion. Silently he thanked Deb and Vic for their present as it eliminated the need to buy a frame for their wedding picture. Justin had loved the frame they'd bought them so they would use it to display their favorite shot from the wedding. Of course, that didn't stop him from looking at other frames just for the heck of it. Which necessitated Brian practicing all of his relaxation techniques to keep his temper. Wouldn't do for the newlyweds to start yelling at one another in the middle of the mall. In the end Justin chose a wedding album made of acid-free handmade paper that included a keepsake envelope and memory pages. The cover had a white rose on it and a gold heart and Justin loved it. Brian would have preferred something less frilly like the Kate Spade nylon album or a leather covered album but he figured he'd only have to look at the album every single time someone came over and wanted to see their wedding pictures, and whenever Justin was feeling sentimental, and on their anniversary, and…

Shutting his eyes, he tried to think of happier—photo-free—times.


He heard Gus' voice before he spotted the little boy running away from his mommies. Squatting, Brian opened his arms and swooped Gus up in a big hug. "How's my Sonny Boy?"

Gus laughed and kissed Brian, then waved at Justin who leaned in for a kiss as well.

Having caught up with them, Lindz and Mel hugged the two men. "So," Lindsay asked, "how's married life treating you?"

"How do I look?" asked Brian.

"Exhausted," said Mel.

"Then it's treating me extra well," he bragged. Gus tugged on his hair. "Yes?"

"I want to see kit cat."

"You want to see Leo?"


Lindsay told them, "He's been wanting to visit you for the past three weeks."

Blushing slightly, Justin said, "We've been kind of busy."

"We figured." She reached for Gus.

"No!" he yelled and he wrapped his arms around Brian's neck. "I want go with Daddy." It was the weekend and that meant staying with Daddy.

Lindz tried to explain. "Gus, Daddy and Daddy Justin need some time alone. You can go visit them next week."

"Now," he pouted.

Used to being the no-nonsense one, Mel reached for him. "We have to go, Gus. Come on."

He hugged Brian tighter. Shook his head, eyes growing larger and shinier. Any moment the tears would start and he'd be on his way to a full-fledged hissy fit.

Not in the mood, Brian made an executive decision. "You can come see Leo and then we're taking you home. Tonight. Deal?"

" 'kay."

"Sucker," teased Mel.

An hour later while Gus and Leo tore around the house like a couple of maniacs to the sound of the stereo which Justin had cranked up so that he could hear it in the kitchen while he fixed lunch, Brian began to think that he had lost his mind. Retreating to his office on the second floor, he sat in the chaise lounge—the only piece of furniture in the room—and exhaled slowly. At some point he had to think about getting a desk in here and a couple of chairs but, for now, he liked the empty feel of it. Closing his eyes, he savored the silence.

For all of ten minutes and then Gus came running into the room, Justin not far behind him. "Lunch!" Gus shouted. He really got excited about meals. Pulled on Brian's arm trying to get him up. "Come on, Daddy!"

"I'm coming, I'm coming."

Justin grinned. "Music to my ears."

Having taken Gus back to the Munchers, they'd returned home hot and horny. Justin wanted some cock and he wanted it bad. Stripping in record time, he tackled Brian to the bed and practically ripped his clothes off, then kissed him deeply as he stroked his dick. The moment he felt Brian's cock begin to stiffen, he pulled away from his mouth and latched onto his meat.

Brian closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing as Justin sucked him. He seemed famished, barely letting Brian out of his mouth for the next fifteen minutes, lashing him with his tongue in between nibbling on the head, licking the slit, sucking his balls, and deep-throating his cock. Arching his back, Brian groaned, grabbing and holding onto the sheets as Justin tightened his lips around the head and sucked it so hard Brian thought he would scream. "Justin, Justi—Justin. Oh. Oh… oh." He ran his fingers through Justin's hair and bit his lip. His cock slipped from Justin's mouth and he risked a glance. Precum bubbled from the tip. He watched as Justin flicked it away with his tongue. More appeared and Justin lapped that up as well. Then, just as his slit opened, Justin closed his teeth about one half of his cockhead. Applied the gentlest of pressure but it was enough to make Brian shout. "Fuck!" He rose up then slumped back onto the bed, dick throbbing, body trembling. Covered his face with his arm as Justin continued to go down on him.

Justin held his cock down against his belly and sucked his balls while Brian whimpered and swallowed cry after cry. "Baby—Baby… Oh. Oh…" Gritted his teeth as Justin ran his tongue up and down the center of his sac. Tears sprang to the corners of his eyes and he was glad he was lying down and not standing up as he didn't think he had the strength in his legs to keep him upright if he had been. Precum wet his belly as his cock continued to weep while Justin mauled his balls. The tendons in his legs were tensed, tight as steel. His pubes were wet with Justin's saliva. His asshole had begun to spasm. He didn't know how much longer he could hold out.

Although his jaw and neck were fatigued, he wasn't about to end his feast. He couldn't remember when he'd blown Brian like this before and he was enjoying every moment of it. His own cock was quite hard, already dripping, already wanting to slide up Brian's ass but he didn't want to stop what he was doing and he knew Brian didn’t want him to stop. Still, his dick was hungry and he knew if he didn't satisfy it, he'd never be able to finish what he'd started. Reaching for the lube, he oiled his cock and raised Brian's legs, eased his dick up his hole and began fucking him.

Brian pressed down on his cock, not wanting to come yet, wanting Justin to blow his wad and then continue sucking him off. Still, he did enjoy having his ass reamed. Justin was ravishing his hole and he loved it. Pumping as hard and fast as he could, Justin suddenly shuddered and came. He rested a moment, then joined Brian on the bed, head to groin, and resumed his sucking.

Spawled on the bed, cum seeping from his hole, Brian bit his lip to keep from moaning. His dick felt a foot long and at least three inches across. His balls were rock solid and ached. The head of his cock bumped into the roof of Justin's mouth and Brian gave a shout. His buttocks tightened and he jerked as cum flew from the tip of his dick. Giving a long, ragged, "Ah…" he rode out his orgasm until the last few drops of jizz wet Justin's tongue. He shivered as Justin licked him clean and kissed the head. Kissed it again.

Turning around, Justin snuggled up against Brian, his hand wrapped around his lover's cock. Kissed his chest. "That was great."

Brian closed his eyes. Great didn't even begin to come close.

As if it wasn't enough that it was going to take almost six weeks for the contractors to finish the renovations to the bathrooms, Justin wanted to add insult to injury by tackling the dining and living rooms.

"I don't know why this can't wait," Brian said, knocking back the last of his coffee. He was limiting himself to three cups a day and it was hard. Espying a dram still left in the cup, he drank that as well, feeling slightly foolish but a bit more satisfied all the same.

"Because I'm sick of looking at two gigantic empty rooms every time I come inside the house," Justin explained. "Besides," he added, "if we do it now, we'll be done."

"Still have the guest room to do," Brian reminded him.

"Yeah, but that's minor compared to the living room and the dining room."


"If it's money, and you think we can't afford it, then we don't have to do it right now."

Brian wished he had another cup of coffee to fortify him. "It's not the money. It's…"

"It's what?"

"The aggravation," he wanted to say but even he had more tact that that. And more brains. "The time commitment. I'm really busy at work right now—"

"You're always busy at work."

"And what does that mean?"

"That you're always busy at work."

Swallowing a retort that was guaranteed to get him, at least, a day or two of silence, Brian rose, wiping his mouth. "I don't have time."

"To look for furniture, to continue this discussion, what?" asked Justin, unwilling to let go that easily. He followed Brian into the kitchen and waited while Brian rinsed their plates and loaded the dishwasher.

"Take your pick." Without looking to see what Justin's reaction was to his answer, Brian went out into the hallway and grabbed his jacket and briefcase. "See you later," he said and exited the house.

Left behind, Justin stared at the door, debating his next course of action. What he really wanted to do was to go outside and continue their discussion but he could see it degenerating into an argument and the last thing they needed was for the neighbors to think they were a couple of drama queens who were going to have daily shouting matches on the front lawn. But it burned. Brian had a way of ending conversations that made Justin want to choke him. If he didn't want to talk about something, he didn't. He just walked away and pretended that they were through discussing the issue. Even if he spent the next three hours thinking about it, he'd never let on that he'd given it another thought.

Leo rubbing up against his leg gradually brought Justin out of his black mood. There was no point in standing around getting angrier and angrier. Brian had gone to work and he needed to get to class. Going upstairs, he found something to wear, dressed, and used the toilet in Gus' bathroom since theirs was in a state of disarray, the contractors having begun gutting the room in preparation for redoing everything. Once they had the new partition wall erected, he and Xavier and Rennie planned on painting a small mural on the side facing the windows. Broken columns entwined with vines done in sepia tones. Brian's idea. And a good one. He had them when he put his mind to it. All over again, Justin got angry. Brian wanted the house to look fabulous and yet he didn't want to be bothered to get it looking that way. It's as if he thought it just happened by itself. He waved his hand and said, "Make it so," and it was accomplished. Well, it didn't work like that. Last time around he and Joanie had done a lot of the legwork and then Brian had come along and bestowed his blessings on this idea and that as if he were Caesar. Not this time. Even if they ended up yelling at each other over every stick of furniture in every fucking showroom this side of Philadelphia, they were going to do this together. Fuck him.

It was with this thought in mind that he arrived at school. Intending to stop by his studio, he ran into Rennie and she whistled. "So what'd he do this time?" she asked, having heard about his and Brian's monumental battles on more than one occasion.

"Nothing." He didn't want to talk about it, especially with Rennie who would run immediately to Xavier and tell him everything. Not that he really cared except that he didn't want them to think that he and Brian were already having problems only a month into their marriage. Justin paused. Fuck. This Saturday was their one month anniversary. And here they were acting like a couple of total assholes. Well, Brian was. He felt completely justified in asking Brian to help with decorating the rest of the house. Only, maybe he could have handled it better.


Cynthia brought in his appointment book. "So how are the happy newlyweds?" she asked and then regretting saying anything. Face black as the sky before an impending tornado, he looked about ready to demolish anything and anyone in his path. And she was the only thing in his path at the moment.

Not answering her question, he removed his sterling silver case from his jacket pocket, took out a cigarette, and lit it.

"Uh-oh," she intoned and then backed out of the office and shut the door.

Smoke curling above his head, some of the tension went out of his neck and shoulders. Christ, he'd been angry with Justin. Still was, if he'd only admit it. And for what? Because Justin wanted to finish decorating the house? What the fuck…? Sometimes he had no idea what pushed his buttons and why. Sometimes his anger surprised even him. Granted he was busy at work right now but Justin had been quite correct in saying that he was always busy. So why had it made him so angry, furious enough that he'd left without even giving Justin a kiss, something that he'd never failed to do since they'd gotten married. One month and they were already having knock-down, drag-out fights about nothing. Fuck… This Saturday was their one-month anniversary. The perfect opportunity to make-up because he already regretted his actions and his hasty words. But he'd felt the anger radiating from Justin like a white hot heat at his back and he knew it'd take more than an apology to set things right between them. Or a bouquet of flowers, or a romantic dinner for two. It'd take some major crow-eating and, beyond that, a huge gesture on his part, something that said he was willing to meet Justin halfway.

Putting out his cigarette, he dialed Cynthia's extension.

"Yeah, Boss?"

"Do I have anything pressing this morning?"

"Wayfarer team progress report."

They were on-schedule with their campaign so that could be pushed back. "Can you get them on the calendar for tomorrow?"

"Will do. Want me to keep this afternoon clear too?"

"Do it." So, technically, barring any unforeseen emergencies, he had the entire day free. Getting an outside line, he called his mom next and, after the shock wore off at his request, she supplied him with the information he needed. "Thanks, Mom."

"You sure you don't want me to help?"

"Nope. Later." With the necessary information in hand, he gave Cynthia instructions to hold all of his calls, cut off his cell, and settled down for a long morning.

By lunch time Justin had calmed down enough to laugh with Xavier and Rennie about his Drama Princess moment this morning.

"Good to know some things haven't changed," said Xavier.

"What? That Brian and I still argue?"

"That no matter how much you argue, two hours later you're ready to make-up."

"You've never made-up with him," he said with a raised brow.

Rennie sighed. "Yeah, but he got to fuck him. How come everybody's slept with Brian but me?"

"Cause he's not into pussy," replied Justin, trying not to think about mess he and Brian and Xavier had made of their lives—temporarily. Risking a glance at Xavier, he saw that his friend was grinning at Rennie, not letting it get him down. Neither would he.

"Well," said Rennie, "he fucked Lindsay, didn't he?"

"In college. A million years ago." He grinned. "Sorry, Rennie, but Brian's bisexual days are over. And the Pity Fuck Shop is closed. Permanently."

She pushed him, laughing. "Shut. Up." Then she thought. "I bet he'd do it. If you'd let him."

"Go find your own stud. He's mine."


He nodded. "Absolutely. He's only got enough cock for me."

She looked inquiringly at Xavier and he threw up his hands. "Don't look at me. I'm not fucking you." But he and Justin knew what she was really asking and he had no intention of telling her that Brian had enough cock for all of them. And then some.

He waited until Brian had slipped his arms around him to breathe easier. Twisted his head and joined him in a kiss that lasted no few seconds. When they parted, he said, "I'm—"

"No apologies. No regrets," said Brian.

"That's a great sound bite but it doesn't work too well in real life," Justin told him. "So, I'm sorry." He ran his thumb over his face. Kissed him again beside his mouth.

"Me too," whispered Brian. Then he checked out dinner. Chicken quesadillas. "Sweet." Taking off his jacket, he draped it on the back of one of the chairs at the table before setting it. Leo jumped up in the chair and began to sniff around. "Do not get cat hair on my jacket," Brian ordered even though he knew he'd end up with the lint brush in hand trying to remove Leo's fur from the collar.

Bringing out dinner, Justin paused. "What's that?" he asked as there were piles of papers on the table at the end opposite their plates.

"Furniture." He waited until Justin had put down the food. "For the living and dining rooms."

Unwilling to let himself feel euphoric until he had the entire story, Justin asked, "Did your mom do this?"

"I called her, got the addresses of some web sites, and then I spent all fuckin' day looking at furniture and fabric and lights and shit." He picked up their plates and served them. "So sit down and eat so we can get started picking out something."

A broad smile illuminating his face, Justin sat down and poured the wine. Stared at his partner.

"I said eat." Brian cut his eyes at him and took a sip of wine.

"I love you, Pookie."

"Asshole." Then smiled reluctantly.

In the end, they spread the papers over the table and ate around them, looking at the printouts as they devoured their meal.

"I like this."

"You would," Brian said as Justin was looking at one of the dining chair options and the florid fabric that the sample picture used.

"What's wrong with it?"

"I fucking hate that fabric."

"We don't have to get that fabric. We can pick out our own." Not wanting to get into that discussion right away, Justin asked, "What about the chair?"

He shrugged.


"Okay, I'm not—it's not what I'd pick." It was a very ornate French reproduction, Louis whatever. He'd only printed it out because he'd known, instinctively, that it was something Justin would like. He had visions of them sitting down to a meal at Versailles. Good grief.

"So what would you like?"

"Something simpler."

"How simple?"

He pulled out a picture of a very simple dining chair, Italian, of course, clean lines, in a neutral colored fabric.

Justin examined it without much enthusiasm. "It's nice but…"

"But what?"

"But it looks like the furniture you had in the loft."

"So?" said Brian, a little stung because he'd liked the furniture in the loft.

"Well, you sold the furniture in the loft because you said it wouldn't fit with the house so why would we go out and buy a dining suite that looks just like the stuff you sold in the first place?"

"Fine." God, he hated it when Justin was right about something that he should have seen for himself in the first place.

"We need something a lot more formal."

"We have to fucking eat in there. I can't eat in that chair," he said, pointing to the one Justin had picked out.

"It's not like we'd eat there every day. It's only for special occasions."

"So why spend thousands of dollars for a table and some chairs?"

"For the times when we do need it. You might have company functions or something and we'd need a formal dining room."

"Formal is fine, just not—frou frou."

Sighing loudly, Justin said, "Too bad we can't get Michael Payne."

"Who's that?"

"The guy from 'Designing for the Sexes.' "

"We're the same sex or haven't you noticed?"

Justin popped his hand. "Stop being such a grouch."

Sipping the last of his wine, Brian said, "We definitely need Joanie." Before they killed one another.

After cleaning up, they retired to their suite and Brian marveled that they'd ever gotten it done even though the process had been slightly different. After having spent the day doing grunt work, he appreciated the effort Justin and Joanie had gone through with the rest of the house, especially in this room. Embracing him, he kissed Justin gently.

"What was that?"

Teasing, Brian replied, "Foreplay."

Justin came home with Gus to find Brian grilling salmon in the kitchen. He'd gotten off a little early from work to come home and cook. Although Justin fixed most of their meals, every now and then Brian put on the apron and did KP duty, if only to give Justin a break. He wasn't a terrible cook, just not very imaginative. But, with Justin's cookbooks in hand, he could follow a basic recipe as well as anyone else and managed to turn out a number of simple yet tasty meals. He was especially good with grilling. Justin couldn't wait until they had their first barbecue. Totally suburban.

Having called to Leo first, Gus ran into the kitchen to find his daddy and give him a big hug.

"Hey, Sonny Boy."



"See?" He showed Brian a seashell he'd painted at school. It was bright purple and orange and yellow and red, all of Gus' favorite colors.

"That's beautiful."

"Here." He handed it to Brian and signaled to be let down.

"You mean I can have this?"

"Yeah." Gus looked around to see Leo coming. "Hey, Leo. Hey." The cat purred as Gus stooped to rub him and then the two of them ran into the other room, the kitten as glad to see Gus as the toddler was to see him.

Kissing Justin, Brian studied the shell. "Well, where should we put this masterpiece of postmodern art?"

"Mantel," replied Justin, taking it from him and carrying it into the other room. It was as good a place as any until they bought something especially to display the little boy's creative endeavors. "You talk to your mom?" he asked as he returned to the kitchen with a bottle of white wine in hand and took a seat at the island.

"Said she'd come over Sunday after Mass. Guess what?" Brian rummaged in the drawer for the corkscrew and handed it to Justin.

"What?" He looked around to see if Gus and Leo were still in the family room. They were, playing on the floor with Leo's catnip ball.

"She registered to take classes at the community college."

"No shit." He opened the wine, then took the two glasses Brian gave him and poured some for both of them. Sipped it. Delicious.

"They've got this two-year program in Art. She can take classes there and then transfer to a university that has an interior design program." Brian tasted the wine. Good choice. It'd pair perfectly with the fish.

"She's really serious about this."

"Well, she says it's the only way she'll be able to learn enough to get a license so why not." He removed the salmon from the grill. "They've got an accredited program at LaRoche so she oughta feel right at home," he said since LaRoche was a Catholic college.

"Gus!" called Justin and the little boy came running. "Let's wash your hands, we're eating in a minute." He held Gus up to the sink and watched as he went through the motions. He'd become an expert at cleaning up. "Good boy." Taking down Gus' plastic tumbler, Justin handed it to the toddler to carry to the table. After putting out the dishes and glasses, and wine and water, he lifted Gus into his booster seat on one side of the table, then took his seat on the opposite side. Brian usually sat at the head when Gus visited as the little boy insisted on sitting next to his daddy. It tickled Justin that no matter how much Gus loved him and called him Daddy, he was still closer to Brian in many ways. Probably because Brian was his age emotionally. Smiling at his secret dig, he didn't see Brian come up next to him.

"What are you grinning about?"


"Hmm." Brian served the salmon and steamed green beans and watched Gus spear a bean and eat it eagerly. He loved them. However, as much as he loved green beans, he loved to talk even more and launched into a long and convoluted story about school that, Brian supposed, had something to do with the seashell he'd brought him. Plus, he also began to sing them a song he'd learned although he seemingly hadn't quite mastered either the tune or the words one as they didn't quite fit together. At least he hoped the song wasn't supposed to sound like that. "Gus—Gus, eat your food first and then you can sing a song for us, okay?"

"Daddy, I—I—"

"Eat first. Okay?"

Resigned to wait, Gus replied, "Okay." Then turned his attention back to his beans.

Justin chuckled. "Stay of execution."

"Tell me about it," Brian grumbled.

"You know," Justin ventured, not certain how Brian would take his comment, "you should let him talk when he wants to. You don't want to stifle him. Kids should be able to tell their parents about their day."

"It's not like I don't talk to him after dinner."

"I know but—"

"Besides, he's two-and-a-half-years-old. He can barely walk and eat at the same time, much less talk and eat."

As with their discussion about furniture, Justin recognized what Brian was doing: ignoring him and his concerns and it pissed him off just as much now as it did the other morning. "Fine," he said shortly and concentrated on finishing his food.

Later, after they cleaned up, Gus did sing his song for his daddies and Leo, startling the cat with his enthusiasm. Touching the parts of his body named in the lyrics, he sang, "Head, shouders, nee and toes, nee and toes." Got a little mixed up in his parts but persevered. "Head, shouders, nee and toes, nee, toe." Took a deep breath, and continued his song, "Eyes and ears…" thought about it, "mouth and nose." Another breath. "Head, shouders, nee and toes!" 3 Jumping up and down, he clapped for himself even as his dads did too, laughing all the while.

"That was great," Justin told him as Gus came to him and buried his face in his shirt. Raised him up and kissed him. "Wasn't that great?" he asked Brian.

"Oh yeah, the Fourth Tenor," earning him a shove.

That night they took a communal bath in Gus' new tub. Since all they'd had to do was to remove one freestanding tub and install another, the contractors had finished that job earlier in the week. Brian and Justin showed Gus the new tub and he watched, his eyes growing bigger, as they filled it. There was something soothing yet exciting about the perfectly round tub. Then, dropping off their clothes, they all three got in and washed, Gus splattering them (and the floor) with water until Brian warned him to stop. Justin found Gus' rubber ducky and sang as he danced the toy across the surface of the water.

"Rubber ducky, you're the one./ You make bath time lots of fun./ Rubber ducky, I'm awfully fond of you./ Woo woo be do." 4 Gus loved it, having seen Ernie sing it many times on TV and even tried to do the Ernie laugh which Justin did much better causing the toddler to giggle uncontrollably. Brian merely shook his head and tried to enjoy the water before it got cold or Gus peed in it. "Come on," Justin said to him, "sing something."

"I don't know any songs about rubbers," he replied.

"Come on, sing something," begged Justin and Brian got a thoughtful look on his face. There was a song that he did remember from "Sesame Street".

"We all live in a capital I
in the middle of the desert
in the center of the sky.

"All day long we polish up the I
to make it clean and shiny
so it brightens up the sky."

He picked up Gus and scrubbed his back and hair as he sang.

"Rubbing it here
and scrubbing it there.
Polishing the I
so high in the air.

"And as we work we sing a lively tune
'It is great to be so happy on a busy afternoon.'
And when we're through with the day's only chore,
we go into the I
and we close the door.

"Capital I, capital I, capital I, capital I…" 5

Having finished, he held Gus in his arms, suddenly saddened by the song as he had always been as a child. He didn't understand why, maybe it was the music, maybe it was the vision of the capital I standing stark against the sky, but whatever it was, it never failed to make him feel a little melancholy, a little wistful.

Justin said nothing, only moved a little closer to Brian and Gus.

With Gus and Leo tucked away in bed, Justin having read The Berenstain Bears Say Goodnight to him, the grown-ups retired to their suite.

The television on to CNN, Brian sat up in bed as Justin finished putting away his clothes and joined him. Turning it off, he said, "You were pretty pissed with me at dinner. The other morning too," he added before Justin could protest.


"I know that I can be shitty sometimes and I'm sorry."

"It's like you don’t hear me."

"I do hear you."

"Then you don't listen," said Justin.

"Sometimes I don't," he admitted. "Not right away. Sometimes I need a while."

"It makes me feel like you don't value my opinion."

"Not true."

"It's how I feel." But he didn't say anything else about it. There was nothing left to say. They were at an impasse. Brian could promise him that he'd try to do better but only time would tell if he truly would. So there was nothing to do but wait. Meanwhile, he had other things on his mind. "That was a really beautiful song."

"You've never heard it before?"

"They must have stopped playing it on 'Sesame Street' by the time I came along."

Brian plucked at the comforter ignoring the dig. "For some reason, it always made me feel… lonely."

"Were you?"

He shrugged. "Until Mikey came along."

"I was lucky," Justin said. "I've always had Daphne. Sometimes I wanted to clobber her," he laughed, "but I was always glad she was there. And then Molly was born, a lot later but…"

"Lindsay's thinking about having another kid."

Justin became instantly alert. "And?"

"And… nothing. We haven't really talked about it." This to smooth any potentially ruffled feathers over not having been consulted. "She just mentioned the possibility. Before the wedding."

"What do you think?"

"I think we have our hands full with Gus." He smiled thinking of all the things the little boy managed to get into in a day. "But I worry that maybe he's lonely too."

"He's only two-and-a-half. I don’t think he gets lonely."

"Maybe. Not yet. But he might, later on. If she had another kid now…"

"You really want to?"

"I don't know." Readjusted his pillow. "What do you think?"

Justin paused before answering. "It's a lot to think about. We just got married, just moved…" Shook his head. "I don't know."

"Well, luckily, we don't have to decide tonight. And, who knows, Melanie might not be ready for another kid. Lindz either. I think she was just throwing the idea out there. Weddings bring out her maternal instinct." He cut out the lamp on his side and burrowed into the covers. After a moment, Justin did the same.

"Might be nice, having a little girl."

"What the fuck would we do with a girl?"

"Same things we do with Gus."

"Jesus, aren't there enough dykes in that house already?"

Justin pinched him. "She could be tough and still be straight. Look at Rennie."

"Okay, now you're scaring me."

"Or we might have another little boy." He moved closer to Brian and propped himself up on his husband. "What if we had two little boys and one was straight and one was gay?"

"It happens."

"You think Gus is going to be gay?"

"Too early to tell."

"Deb said she knew Michael was gay when he came out the womb."

"That's cause he was singing show tunes."

"That was Emmett," laughed Justin. "It wouldn't be too bad. Having another child. Would it?"

"Guess not." Then he turned to Justin. "Although…"


"I kinda thought our next child would be yours."

"Well, Daphne's definitely not ready to have a child."

"What about you and Lindz?"

Even though it'd be by turkey baster, it still made him feel weird. "She's like twelve years older than me."

"So am I."

"It's not the same thing." He paused. "Besides… I don't think I'm ready to have a child."

"You already have one."

"That's different."


"Gus is your son."

Brian turned over onto his back and pulled the covers up to his chest.

"I didn't mean it like that. I just meant… It's a big responsibility and I don't know if I'm ready for that."

"Yeah." About to settle down to sleep, he rolled onto his side and felt a hand brush against his hip, fingers gently gripping his thigh. A kiss between his shoulders. And then the fingers moved to his groin and encircled his cock. Began to stroke him. He could feel Justin pressing against him, feel him hardening.

"I want you," the young man whispered at his back, rubbing his cock against his ass. Justin released him and climbed on top of him. Holding onto the headboard, he moaned low in his throat as Brian sucked him hungrily, wanting to get him hard fast so they could fuck right away.

As he blew Justin, he stroked his own cock and fingered his hole. He couldn't wait to feel Justin throbbing inside him.

Pulling away, dick rigid and leaking, Justin lay back down behind his lover and lubed his cock.

Brian inhaled sharply as Justin pushed into him and exhaled slowly while he filled him with his thick meat. He loved the way Justin penetrated him at a stately pace so that he felt every hard inch of him going in. Loved the way he'd just as leisurely withdraw. In and out, over and over until he was good and relaxed.

With Brian's hole loosened up a bit, Justin began to thrust harder, jabbing his cock between his sweaty cheeks.

Moaning, Brian bit his lip. Christ, it felt so good. His dick bounced in front of him as Justin fucked him from behind, balls slapping against his ass.

After a few minutes, Justin rolled Brian onto his stomach, still joined, and continued pumping him. Brian's ass felt so good, so tight, so warm, so soft, so sweet. Rotating his hips, he corkscrewed Brian's hole until the man began to pant.

"Oh, Baby…" he moaned, and gave a drawn-out cry. Brian gripped the edge of the mattress, trying to ground himself as his body threatened to fly into a million pieces. He didn't know how much longer he could hold out. Justin's dick… He whimpered and clenched his teeth.


Instantly, everything stopped. Justin looked around, his eyes attempting to focus again. "Gus, what's wrong?" Gently, he backed out of Brian and drew the covers over them.

The little boy reached for Brian. "Daddy?"

Finding his voice somewhere deep in his belly, Brian said, "I'm okay. Daddy's…okay."

Luckily, Gus was still half asleep. After verifying that Brian was indeed all right, he laid his head upon his daddy's arm, barely awake.

Sliding from the bed, Brian carried him back to his room and tucked him in again, then returned to the master suite and shut the door. Collapsed next to Justin. "Shit," he groaned.

"Guess we should have closed the door."


Now that Gus was back in his room and the momentary crisis averted, Justin really wanted to finish what he'd started. He reached for Brian's cock and stroked it. Kissed his chest. "Wanna?"

"You up for it?" he asked and Justin placed his hand on his cock to let Brian feel how hard it was still. Turning onto his stomach, Brian waited. It wasn't long before Justin was back inside him, wildly fucking his ass. Burying his face in his pillow, Brian smothered his cries as his cock pulsed and he got closer to his orgasm. Dick sliding against the sheets, he humped the bed while Justin plowed his hole.

Cock hard as steel, Justin withdrew and then began to punch fuck Brian, sliding all the way out and then all the way in, Brian's asshole unrolling over his dick as he exited the soft opening.

Mouth open around his pillow, Brian shook as Justin started deep fucking him once more, dick buried in his ass and swelling, pushing forward, forward, always forward until Brian thought Justin's cock would end up in his belly. Balls tight against his shaft, Brian grunted and came, cum wetting the sheets below him. His asshole tightened around Justin, bringing him off as well, the younger man filling him with creamy jizz.

They spent Saturday cleaning and playing with Gus and trying to figure out how they were going to celebrate their one-month anniversary with the toddler there, especially now that he'd discovered them mid-fuck the night before. They'd hoped that he'd forgotten, had chalked it up to a dream, but he had asked Brian at breakfast, "Why was you crying?"

"Were," Justin had said, automatically earning him a hard look from Brian. "Sorry," he'd whispered.

But Gus hadn't been distracted by the grammar lesson and had persisted with his question. "Daddy hurt?"

"I wasn't crying and I wasn't hurt," although his ass had still been tender that morning when they'd gotten up.

Now, with dinner fast approaching they made a quick decision: they'd feed Gus at his normal time, tire him out, put him to bed, and then have an intimate dinner for two out in the conservatory. With the intercom system fully functional, they could keep an eye on Gus remotely and also have a little more privacy and warning if he woke up as they always put up the security gates at the top of the stairs when he was asleep.

If Gus thought it was a little strange that his daddies only ate a little bit of food at dinner, he didn't dwell on it as they watched one of his favorite movies afterwards, Winnie-the-Pooh; and then they let him play with his toy boat in the fountain; and then he and Leo played hide-and-go-seek in the family room until he was ready to collapse. Barely able to stand, he let his daddy carry him upstairs and put on his pajamas. He was too sleepy even for a story and was out almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

Brian smiled and kissed him on the forehead, then returned downstairs with a blanket in tow. Met Justin in the conservatory where he was setting the table. "Mission accomplished," and it was only nine thirty, plenty of time to celebrate. While Justin got the food from the kitchen, he snagged a cushion from the sectional and a bottle of red wine from the bar.

Toasting one another over candlelight, they leaned together and kissed.

"I can't believe it's been a month," said Justin.

"Feels like we've been in this house forever. Even with the renovations."

Justin looked around the almost empty conservatory. "This really was the perfect house for us."

"Jenn did good."

"So did you." He laughed. "My mom said you were flirting with the owner's wife and that's why we got it at such a good price."

"Your mom's hallucinating if she thinks eight hundred thousand dollars is a good price."

Justin paused with a piece of steak halfway to his mouth. "But it's worth it, isn't it?"

"Every penny."

"None of the other houses on the block seem as nice as ours."

Aware that he was treading dangerous waters, Brian asked, "Still want to have a meet and greet?"

"Maybe in the summer, when the weather's nicer. We can have a pool party or something. The next door neighbors seem okay and Rachel from down the street."

"Well, at least no one's spray painted 'faggots' on the house or the cars."

Laughing, Justin said, "I would never have believed that anyone would actually drive a car with 'faggot' written across the door. I mean, I know I said I didn't give a shit but…That was something else."

"I tried to get it on my license plates but they wouldn't do it."

"You're joking, right?" When Brian didn't own up to the joke, Justin shook his head. "Only you."

Later on as they had sex on the floor, Brian kneeling between his thighs and jacking him off as he fucked him, Justin was glad there was only one of him. And that he was his.

He didn't quite feel that way when Joanie came over on Sunday with her swatches and sample books. Then, he was wishing with all of his might that somehow Brian might be transformed into someone a lot less contrary and annoying. They'd both gone online that morning and looked at furniture separately and collected a pile of printouts that best represented what they wanted in the living and dining rooms. And neither one of them, most of all Brian, was willing to compromise.

Or so it seemed.

"Now," said Joanie, "Justin, what do you see in the dining room?" Since the two rooms were only separated by three archways, the color schemes and styles would have to be complimentary, so she figured they might as well start in the smaller of the two spaces.

"I think we need something formal. Classic looking. Warm. Not," and he directed his comment at Brian, "something modern and cold."

"When you say classic, what do you mean?"

"Like Queen Anne or Louis XIV or something like that."

"Any choices for colors?"

"Something rich. Like maybe a deep wine or burgundy and maybe gold."

Jotting his answers down, she turned to Brian. "And what do you think about Justin's suggestions?"

"I don't think modern has to mean cold. And I don't want anything too ornate." He still had nightmares about Marie-Antoinette's salon in the Trianon.

"What about the colors?"

"The colors are okay."

"So, we can agree on a color scheme, at least. Now, we'll be using the same colors in the livingroom too. Is that okay with you?" she asked him.



"Fine with me." He couldn’t believe Brian had agreed to the colors that easily. Of course, getting him to agree about the furniture would be a lot harder.

Instead of immediately going about looking at furniture, Joanie asked them about the curtains and whether or not they wanted to wallpaper the walls or leave them as they were, having been done in an amber Italian plaster. Then, since Gus was waking up from his nap soon, she sat upstairs in their room and did a little work on Brian's laptop computer while they prepared lunch.

After they'd all finished eating, they gathered around the table and looked at her suggestions.

"Since this house is modeled after Italian villas, I thought something like this might work in your dining room. It's called a Tuscany armchair and it's more formal than contemporary furniture but it's not as ornate as some classic furniture. What do you think?"

Brian studied the picture. The chair had a curved back and the arms ended in a fiddle-headed fern shape but it still had relatively clean lines. "I like it."

Justin looked it over. He liked the carved legs and the silhouette of the curved back suggested something more ornate. One thing bothered him though. "I don't want leather on the chairs. It's too cold."

"We can put some other kind of fabric on them. I would suggest a chenille, maybe a jacquard pattern. Take a look at these." She handed them some swatches, some in solid colors, others in a floral or botanical pattern, most of them in the color range of burgundy with varying amounts of gold accents. "We can upholster the two end chairs in one pattern and the side chairs in a complimentary pattern."

Brian found a fabric that he thought he could live with. "This."

"And this," said Justin, handing her another of the swatches.

Both swatches were jacquards, Justin's in a striped pattern. "I think we should use this one," the striped botanical, "on the hosts' chairs and the other pattern on the guest chairs. Is that agreeable to both of you?"

They nodded.

"Well, I think that's a good start. We've got chairs and fabric."

"That still leaves the table, rugs, and all the other furniture and accessories," Brian pointed out.

"But we've done the hardest part. The rest will fall into place, I guarantee."

"Is that a money back guarantee if we're not completely satisfied?" he asked.

"You mean you're paying me for this?"

"Of course," Justin told her. "That way you'll have some practical experiences to put on your resume."

"Did Brian tell you I was going to school in the fall?"

"I think it's great. I'll take you out to get a good backpack. I know what to look for."

Gus, who had been playing with Leo, came over and said, "Nana, I got, I got SpongeBob."

Joanie laughed. "And it's very nice," she told him, taking him into her arms. "So, I'll look around and see what I can find and get back to you next weekend. Is that good for you?"

"Perfect," said Brian. "You wanna take a look at the work upstairs while you're here?"

"Are they still on schedule?"

Justin went with Gus upstairs to pack his bag, the Munchers would be there soon to pick him up. Transitioning him back to their place always went smoother if they came on Sunday afternoon before dinner and got him rather than waiting until later. And if Brian or Justin took him to school in the morning, it was nearly impossible for them not to promise to pick him up in the afternoon.

Although they'd only ripped out the existing fixtures so far and begun rerouting the pipes to their new locations, still the contractors promised them that the job would be completed on time and to their satisfaction. There was a month's worth of work left on the space including erecting a glass wall out in the sitting area to form a home gym and putting up the sauna they'd purchased. Brian couldn't wait for that to be completed. They were waiting though, as the contractors were using that space as a staging area and wouldn't get to it until the very end of the job.

"So, are all of their workers gay?" Joanie asked as the two men who owned the company were.

"I don't know, but I do recognize three or four of them." Lifted a brow.

She understood. Former sex partners is what he called them even though she'd heard him and Justin refer to people like that as tricks. She hadn't asked them why they called them tricks or why they used the phrase, "turning tricks." Actually, she didn't think she wanted to know. Not really. She already knew way too much about their sex life, having heard them one morning prior to the wedding. Sitting in the car with Jennifer afterwards, her face had burned for a long time. Even though she'd never actually seen two men have sex, she could imagine what occurred and it still made her feel slightly uncomfortable to think about Brian and Justin doing those things. Of course, she couldn't imagine Brian and Justin wanting to know what she did in bed either. Not that she'd done anything recently. Not for a long time, even before Jack had died. Their sex life had been non-existent. That's what he'd had his women for. No matter how long it'd taken them to get where they were, she actually believed in Brian and Justin, in their relationship, and their intent to remain faithful to one another. It made her proud of her son and her son-in-law. She smiled. Finally a son-in-law she liked. And he was married to Brian. Leave it to him to land a good husband.

Alone at last, they ate pasta sitting on the sectional and watching "Velvet Goldmine." It had become one of their favorite films ever since they'd watched it in the hotel in the Bahamas. Brian still thought Ewan McGregor was hot even though they'd seen the film at least three times.

Halfway through the film, they lost interest in it. Not that it wasn't entertaining, just that they'd found something better to do than watch a movie. After all, they were still newlyweds.

Kissing up the stairs, they made their way to their room, stripping as they crossed the threshold, halfway naked by the time they got to the bed. Brian let Justin finish undressing while he opened the toy chest. He'd gotten some new ones and slipped them in without Justin having noticed. Tonight was the perfect time to try some of them out. Dropping off the rest of his clothes, he smiled at the picture Justin presented: lying across the bed, legs spread, cock drooping between his thighs. He placed the toys on the top of the chest, out of sight, crawled onto the bed, dropped the lube next to them, and straddled Justin. They kissed until they were hard, cocks moist at the tips. Hands full of Justin's ass, Brian lay back and let his lover rub against him, cock and balls sliding over cock and balls, aided by a generous application of lubricant. Justin moved forward, rubbing his hole over Brian's balls. He was just about to reach for his dick, to climb onto it, when Brian stopped him. "Not yet," he whispered, and eased Justin away from him. He got up. "Turn over," he said, and Justin rolled onto his stomach and went into a crouch.

Brian retrieved the toys he'd gotten out of the chest and lubed the first one with cream. Justin's hole was already tensing and relaxing in anticipation of the pleasures he would experience. As always, the sight of Justin's anus made him hungry for it. Wetting his fingers, he pushed two inside of him and probed him, Justin gasping and enjoying the sensation.

"Mmm…" he moaned and wiggled his ass.

Removing his fingers, Brian picked up the well-lubed toy and pressed it to Justin's hole. Slowly, muscles bulging with the effort not to hurt Justin and to, simultaneously, keep penetrating him, Brian eased the huge dildo inside him.

"Ah! Oh…" groaned Justin as his hole stretched around the wide latex head. God, it ached, he didn't think he could take it all, but then the head passed through and he breathed easier as his ass became accustomed to the girth.

Two inches in diameter, the dildo was the smaller of the two he'd purchased. He could tell that Justin had experienced some pain taking it in and he wondered if he'd even get the chance to try the larger one out on him. Still taking it easy, he began to work the dildo in and out of Justin's hole.

Hands in fists, face screwed up in pleasure and a little pain, Justin tried to relax as Brian fucked him with the dildo. Even though there was pain, it was fading, and the most delicious feeling had begun to wash over him.

Brian withdrew most of the dildo, then said, "Fuck it."

Sighing, Justin swayed back against the dildo, fucking himself on its broad head and heavily-veined shaft. He tightened his ass and held it inside him as he rotated his hips, then let it slide free and bounced back and forth, taking only the head and an inch of the shaft at a time.

The sight of Justin's hole gliding over the toy made Brian's cock twitch. It was time for the bigger one. Removing the dildo, he lubed up the second one and pushed it up Justin's ass.

He cried out as he was stretched even wider. "Oh! Oh! Mmm…" His chest worked furiously as he fought the urge to scream.

"That's it, Baby. You can take it, come on." Brian eased the two-and-a-half-inch wide head inside Justin. "It's gonna feel so good." He only inserted it about a third of its nine inches. Holding it in place with one hand, he used his free hand to play with Justin's balls, to tap them lightly with the palm of his hand causing the young man to squirm and cry out. He grasped the head of his cock and squeezed it and Justin jumped, moaning, the dildo moving inside him. Brian stopped and told him to turn over.

Justin lay on his back, moaning as he saw the monster that protruded from his ass. Helpless to stop himself, he pressed down then moved away, his body struggling to find a comfortable position. He'd never had anything this broad inside him before.

When Justin settled down again, Brian began to wiggle the dildo back and forth, simulating a vibrator. Justin screamed, unable to stop himself. The sensation was incredible. His cock pulsed and he grabbed it and began tugging on it as Brian continued to jiggle the toy. Looking down between his open legs at the wide dildo wedged up his ass, at the muscles in Brian's arm tensing as he worked his hole, Justin felt himself floating on a haze of pleasure. His hands worked his cock and balls on their own; he was lost.

Watching Justin's balls bounce in their sac, Brian succumbed to the desire to taste them and opened his mouth around one testicle, sucking it until Justin began to shout. Brian felt the drops of cum rain on his head and released Justin, turning his face upwards towards a shower of jizz.

The first week of April began with them anxiously awaiting the completion of their bathroom. Each day they came home and lifted the plastic sheet that separated their bedroom from the work area and tried to gauge the workmen's progress. By the end of March, the plumbing had been completed, the shower installed, and the wall construction completed. At the end of the first week in April, the other walls of the bathroom had been painted and the decorative tiles applied. Justin, Xavier, and Rennie were going in on the weekend to paint the mural on the new divider wall. In addition to the overall painting, some of the fixtures had been put in place. Now, all that was left for the contractors was to install the rest of the fixtures and to lay the new tile on the floor. Then they'd have to build the new glass wall out in the sitting area, put in the sauna, and their work would be done.

Having secured a promise from Brian not to interrupt them and not to offer any guidance or suggestions or criticisms, the three friends started early Saturday morning working on the mural. Justin had sketched out a rough drawing and he and the others had added embellishments and refined the sketch until it met with their satisfaction. Since they were basically doing a tracing on the wall done in sepia tones, they didn't expect it to take more than a day. After having researched buon fresco or wet fresco techniques where the pigments were mixed in with wet plaster to become part of the wall itself in the same manner that Michelangelo had painted the Sistine Chapel, the trio decided that they wanted to do something less demanding. So they settled on modified secco or the dry technique where paint mixed with an adhesive was painted on dry plaster. Traditionally secco frescoes were less durable than true frescoes but that actually suited them better as they wanted to imbue the mural with a feeling of decay, of deterioration; to suggest that they had come upon the ruins of some ancient palace where only bits and pieces of a wall painting might have survived.

The previous day, Justin had coated the wall with glue to prepare it for the fresco. Now that it had dried, the painting could begin. Using charcoal, they reproduced the drawing of the mural freehand onto the plaster, making corrections as needed. Then, they fixed the design with an ochre ink and, afterwards, began the process of applying the casein paint. The effect, as the parts of the mural began to take shape, was that of an opaque watercolor painting in nearly transparent shades of yellow ochre, burnt sienna, and raw sienna.

Taking a break after close to three hours of work, they went downstairs to find Brian working at the table in the family room.

"Where's lunch?" Justin asked as he kissed his husband.

"I ordered Chinese."

"Get anything vegetarian?" asked Rennie.

"Stir-fried tofu and green beans. And spicy sesame noodles."

Rennie plopped down in the chair next to him. "I love this man."

"We know," intoned Xavier and Justin. Brian just lifted a brow and kissed her on the cheek, earning him a glowing smile from Rennie and a glare from his spouse. The last thing Justin wanted was for Brian to encourage her crush.

"So," he asked, "how goes it?"

"We've got about a third of it done," replied Justin. "We can finish the rest of the painting this afternoon, let it dry, and then tomorrow I'm going to put on a glaze and wax it and it'll be done."

"How's it look?" he asked Rennie, not trusting Justin's objectivity when it came to painting. The young artist was much more comfortable with pen and paper than he was with a paintbrush and, as such, was simultaneously dubious about his own talents and suspect of painting in general.

"It looks fabulous," she said. Although she worked primarily in sculptural forms, she was an excellent painter and had no such reservations as Justin. "You're gonna love it."

"What do you think?" he asked, addressing his question to Xavier who had sat down next to Rennie, careful not to take a seat anywhere near Justin.

"Like the lady said, it's da bomb."

"Sweet." To Justin, "Then when can I see it?"

"When we're done this afternoon."

He nodded. "I gotta go into the office anyway. Left some papers that I need."

Which Justin recognized for the excuse it was. Brian couldn't stand it any longer, being banished from the work site so he was leaving the house to minimize the risk of him throwing caution to the wind and sneaking a peek anyway.

Brian's Jeep was in the yard when he came home from taking Xavier and Rennie back to school and he knew, without a doubt, that the man had probably hurried upstairs to take a look at the bathroom. Going inside, he expected to find Brian in their suite but he was in the kitchen instead, heating up the leftovers from lunch.


"Did you go look?"

"Thought I'd wait for you." Smirked. "In case you needed to explain any complex painting techniques."

Justin grinned and tossed his keys in the basket they kept on the countertop just for that purpose, and went to set the table. He was starving.

Expecting Brian to rush through dinner, he was disappointed. The man ate at a leisurely pace and then cleared away the dishes as usual, cleaned up, poured a second glass of wine, sat down on the sectional sofa, and put his feet up.

"Brian!" shouted Justin in exasperation.


"Don't you want to see the bathroom?"

"You mean I can now?"

Nearly pulling him from his seat, Justin lead him upstairs and into their suite. "Close your eyes."

"How will I drink my wine?" he asked as he'd brought the glass with him.

Justin took it from him and sat it on the toy chest. "Close your eyes."

"They're closed."

"Come on." He guided Brian to the bathroom, positioned him in front of the wall, and said, "Okay. You can look now." And he held his breath. God, he hoped Brian liked it. They'd worked so hard on it and Brian was such a perfectionist when it came to the house that if he didn't like it, he'd let them know in no uncertain terms.

He paused once before opening his eyes, hoping that the wall would be what he'd envisioned, and then again before speaking. In that instant, Justin felt his hopes sink and then Brian said, "Baby, it's incredible." The vision he'd had in his head had been transformed into something that surpassed his expectations. He could almost imagine that he'd walked out into the Italian countryside and stumbled onto an outcropping of tumbled columns overgrown with vines and plants, still echoing faintly the glory of times past, low hills rising gently in the distance.

"You mean it?"

"It's perfect." He smiled. "I can't wait until this room is finished and we can soak in our tub, across from our brand new mural." He put his arms around Justin and held him.

"It'll be like bathing in a pool in the woods," said Justin.

"Moonlight coming in through the windows."

"Mr. Kinney, if you're not careful, someone might mistake you for a romantic."

"Is that so, Mr. Taylor-Kinney?"

As usual, it gave him the shivers to hear someone call him that. "Say it again."

"Mr. Taylor-Kinney," Brian repeated with a kiss.

Bathroom (revised)

On Thursday, Brian got a call at the office from Justin letting him know that the bathroom had been completed. He'd gone home in the mid-afternoon to rest before his evening shift at the diner and found the contractors doing a final walk-through of the space.

"How's it look?"

"Fabulous," he replied and, even then, the words failed to adequately describe the new room. From the bronzed tiled border taking the place of a non-existent chair rail to the new walk-in shower made of a transparent bronze-colored glass blocks to the new terra cotta flooring and the amazing dividing wall, the room radiated elegance and style. "I can't wait until you see it."

"When are you getting home tonight?"

"After eleven."

"Too late for a bath?"

"Perfect time." He could see Brian smile in his mind.



Justin hadn't exaggerated the job the contractors had done. The room was exquisite. Walking inside the shower, he ran his hand over the ceramic tiled back wall, feeling the stone-like details. Stepping out of the shower onto the terra cotta floor, he imagined how it would feel when the tiles were warmed. They'd had the contractors reinstall the heating system beneath the floor, no luxury but a necessary expense for those cold winter nights in Pittsburgh. The walls had been done in a two tone Venetian plaster finish, saturating them color: a pearl-colored marbleized effect on the top half and a raw sienna on the bottom, both with a slightly metallic sheen that matched the bronze border tiles. In the midst of the rich hues, his Philippe Stark fixtures held center stage. Far from seeming cold and modern despite the clean lines, the wood accents contributed to the overall warmth of the space.

Although he'd been the one to suggest building the partitioning wall, he hadn't been completely sure what it'd look like when it was done and what it'd do to the feel of the bathroom but now that it was up, he loved it, loved how it divided the large space and the resulting coziness.

With Justin working, he was on his own for the evening. Changing his clothes, he rummaged through the fridge trying to find something quick and easy to fix for dinner. Leo hovered nearby, waiting for his dinner as well.

"Sorry, Leo." Brian put off his search to scoop some dry food into the kitten's bowl. "There you go." Returning to the refrigerator, he found a chicken breast that was already cooked and some peppers in the veggie bin. "Stir fry it is." Luckily they also had some sugar snap peas and a handful of shiitake mushrooms. There was an unopened bottle of Szechwan stir fry sauce in the pantry and enough rice in the canister for three or four servings.

When dinner was ready, he hunkered down on the sectional and watched "The Powerpuff Girls" as he ate, Leo curled up next to him. Snickered to himself. God, if his former sex partners could see him now. A married man, a family man. Unbidden, his father's words came back to him, "Never should have been a family man." But he was and, surprise surprise, he actually liked it. More than liked, he loved it. Loved his home, loved his family. Christ, he groused silently. I've turned into fucking Ward Cleaver. Leo pushed his head into his hand, wanting to be rubbed. With a fucking cat. Talk about a stereotype. A gay man with a cat. He laughed aloud scaring Leo but the kitten recovered quickly and came back for more lovin'.

Leaving the couch only to clear away the dishes and to grab a glass of wine, Brian put his feet up and, within a half hour, was asleep, Leo at his side.

An especially loud noise on television must have woke him because he came to all of a sudden with a jerk. "Shit." Checked the clock on the DVD player. Ten forty-five. Justin would be home in less than half an hour. Time enough to make preparations.

With Leo trailing behind him trying to keep up as best he could, Brian managed to get everything ready by the time he heard the front door slam close.

"Brian!" called Justin.

"Up here!" he yelled back. Why Justin didn't just come on up and find him, he didn't know. Or, better yet, use the intercom. Coeds. Within moments he heard Justin's footsteps on the stairs and then in the bedroom. He met him by the closet wearing his black, silk robe.

"Wow," Justin said appreciatively.

"Mmm," he responded and began to undress his spouse. When Justin was completely nude, Brian lead him to the bathroom where a dozen votives lined the window ledge next to the tub. A bottle of wine chilled in a bucket, next to which were two glasses. The tub was filled to the brim with bubbles.

"How romantic."

Brian dropped off his robe and got in, gestured for Justin to join him. They settled down with audible sighs. The water was just a tad hot in anticipation of it cooling off as they soaked but it felt great. For a while, they just sat together in silence, Brian's arms around Justin, and then they began to talk: about the bathroom, about their plans for the dining and living rooms, about their second month anniversary which was coming up the following week.

Taking their choices for the dining room chairs, Joanie had designed a room that combined the clean lines Brian desired with the formality that Justin craved. She'd begun the laborious process of putting together a price list so that they could finalize their decisions about furniture, fabric, mirrors, other accent pieces, and rugs. Brian still wasn't sure about the Oriental rug Justin wanted but both Justin and Joanie had assured him that the table needed something to anchor it in the room. The biggest source of contention, however, was the Murano glass chandelier that Justin had his eye on. Not only was it expensive, it was gold. To Brian, chandeliers meant thin brass fixtures hung with crystals and glass, not an ornate, gold-colored, glass behemoth that, to him, would dominate the room.

"Which is why we need the rug," Justin had said. "To balance out the chandelier."

They'd had several very tense discussions about the piece and Brian was to the point where he either wanted to give in and say, "Fuck it," or unequivocally nix Justin's choice and go with something simpler. Lying in the tub, his husband in his arms, content, comfortable, he found himself leaning towards the former. What did it really matter in the end? Justin was right, they'd eat in the room maybe ten times at the most in a year. In the final analysis, having peace in their household was worth any twinges he felt when he looked at the light fixture. Besides, it wasn't as if it was ungainly or unattractive, it just wasn't what he'd expected. Putting those thoughts from his mind, he turned to the activity at hand: lounging.

"So what's your favorite thing about the bathroom?" Justin asked.

"Hard to say." He thought as he took a sip of wine. "It's a toss-up between the tub and the wall. You?"

"Definitely the tub. And the wall," he added, reaching for his own glass which was almost empty. Finished the wine and then placed the goblet back on the window sill and settled back down. "This was a great idea."

"I'm full of them."

Justin laughed. "Full of shit," and he turned and covered Brian's lips with his own before the man could respond. You never knew what would come out of Brian's mouth. For someone with as much taste and sophistication as he had, he could be surprisingly crude and somewhat vulgar. Justin supposed it had a lot to do with the way he was brought up. Which was a very snobbish thing to think on his part but he would bet money that he didn't have that he was right. As Brian would say, he definitely hadn't grown up among the country club set. More like the billy club set. Amused by his thoughts, Justin giggled into Brian's mouth causing the man to pull away.

"I think it's time to get out of the tub. Someone's getting silly."

"Getting horny," he said and he straddled Brian's hips and rubbed up against him, letting him feel his incipient erection.

Leo, who had been wandering around the house, finally grew curious about his masters and came to see what they were up to. Meowing softly, he walked around the tub trying to figure out what they were doing. Taking a handful of suds, Brian blew them down at the cat who jumped out of the way and then cautiously approached the bubbles to investigate. Sticking his nose in the suds, he backed up and sneezed. Sneezed again and ran out of the bathroom.

"Maybe we should surround the bed with suds when we have sex," Brian said as they'd been interrupted more than once by the kitten sitting at the foot of the bed and watching while they were fucking. If they became too vigorous, he'd move to the toy chest and peek over the foot board, something Justin found very disconcerting in hindsight even though, during the actual act, a crowd of people eating popcorn and slurping soda could have been watching them and he wouldn't have cared.

"Well," he suggested, "I think we should take advantage of this window of opportunity to stop talking and start…" He kissed Brian and got out of the tub, suds sliding down his body as the water ran off of him.

Reaching out to touch a slick, round cheek, Brian licked his lips. That sounded like an excellent idea.

Sticking her head in the door after knocking, Cynthia announced, "There's a Gus Peterson here to see you," and then a small hand appeared and pushed the door open even wider and Gus came into view.


"Come here, Sonny Boy," drawled Brian and the toddler ran across the room and climbed onto his father's lap. Bestowing loud kisses upon one another's face, they embraced. "What are you doing here?"

Lindsay had come in behind Gus and prompted the little boy. "Tell him. Remember what Mommy said?" Gus looked at her without comprehension. The excitement of seeing Daddy had forced any previous discussions from his mind. "We came by to say Happy Birthday?" she prompted him.

He remembered. "Happy Bir'day, Daddy," said Gus and he kissed Brian again.

"Do I get a present?" teased Brian and Gus looked around at Lindsay who handed him a box wrapped in bright blue and yellow SpongeBob SquarePants paper with a purple bow on top.

"Gus picked out the wrapping paper and the bow."

"Here," said Gus, giving the box to Brian.

"Thank you." He made to put the box away but Gus was having none of that.

"Open," he ordered in his He-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed voice, which he'd probably picked up from Brian.

So, smiling, Brian opened his present. Inside the box was a round disc of fired clay with a small handprint in the middle. "Wow, that's beautiful." He wasn't quite sure if it was supposed to be a paperweight or an ash tray.

"Gus did it," Lindsay explained needlessly.

"You did?" Gus nodded, suddenly shy. "You made this for me?"

"Yeah," he replied softly and received another big kiss which made him giggle.

"Thank you."

"We'come," he answered, very pleased with himself even though Lindsay had helped him with the present.

Lindsay leaned in and gave Brian a kiss. "Happy Birthday. Got any plans?"

Raising in brows in mock surrender, he said, "I agreed to help Justin plant his herb garden in the morning and then we're having a romantic dinner for two out in the courtyard that night. If we're lucky, the festivities will continue through Sunday," he told her with a wry grin.

"So don't bother showing up until the afternoon," she ventured to guess.


Wondering if she were making a mistake bringing it up, she did so anyway. "So how does it feel? Thirty-two-years old."

He didn't even think about it. "Feels great," he answered. "Although, I have to admit, that being twenty-years-old feels pretty good too."

"Good thing you've got a twenty-year-old then."

"Got the best one."

At that she laughed, then smiled gently. "I can't believe you've been married for what? Nine weeks now?"

"We celebrate monthly."

"How sweet."

Looking dubious, he commented dryly, "Yeah."

"Sorry. It's too late. I was at your wedding and we all know now what a romantic you are at heart."

Caught, he laughed and shook his head. "Go figure."

Tired of being left out of the conversation, Gus asked, "Daddy, go home?"

Before Brian could answer, Lindz interjected with, "Not this weekend. Remember? Next weekend. You can spend next weekend with Daddy."

"I want tub." And then he added, "And Leo."

"He loves that tub," Brian explained. "And Leo."

"And you and Justin and the house."

"Loves you too. I don’t know about Mel or your house."

"You." She popped him on the arm. Held out her hands for Gus. "Kiss Daddy goodbye and let's go."

Knowing when to argue and when not to make a fuss, Gus dutifully kissed Brian, climbed down from his lap, and waved bye-bye as he and Lindsay left.

He was really looking forward to tomorrow night. Candles, champagne, white table cloth spread over the table beneath the wisteria which had bloomed, the air heavy with its scent. They planned on buying a rustic table to go out in the courtyard, one that would seat at least ten or twelve people but, for now, they decided they'd use the mosaic table and chair set Justin had bought online. Normally they kept it in the solarium where they'd had two monthly anniversary dinners. This would be their first dinner outdoors.

Leo met him at the door, meowing softly as was his way. "Hey, Leo."

Justin called out, "Hey."

Putting his briefcase and overcoat on the steps of the stairs, Brian made a detour into the kitchen. Kissed his partner. "Smells good."

"Chicken. Thyme and lemon. Pretty soon we'll have our very own fresh thyme."

As Mel would say, "Yippee."

With a smack on the arm, Justin sent Brian along to change and hoped he put on something very sexy, very revealing, and very easy to get out of as he'd been thinking about him all day, wanting to touch him, to make love to him. Even though they'd been together, really, for three years, his desire for Brian had not diminished, only increased exponentially. And since their wedding, that desire had grown threefold. He looked for any excuse for them to be together both sexually and non-sexually; longed for him in the middle of the day when Brian was busy at work and he was in class, supposedly paying attention to a lecture or struggling with a painting but, instead, daydreaming about his husband. My husband. As usual, it made his stomach flutter. He couldn't wait until his court date in a couple of weeks when it'd become official, his name change. Justin Taylor-Kinney. Already he used it in his daily interactions with people. The first time someone had called him Mr. Taylor-Kinney, he'd had to pause before answering, the thrill had been that great.

As if he'd been privy to Justin's thoughts, Brian had put on his black tank top and a weather-beaten pair of low-slung jeans that rode his hips. Top button undone. Beckoning curious fingers. He caught Justin eyeing him as he took down a couple of plates to set the table. Grinned. Even at thirty-one-years and three hundred and sixty-four-days old, he still had it. And Justin still wanted it. Not that he'd ever doubted. Nevertheless, he was flattered.

The chicken, as expected, was delicious. And even though they were only sitting at the dining table with Leo curled in one of the empty chairs, no candles, no champagne, it felt special. Finishing their meal, they held hands across the table and talked about their week, Justin telling Brian about one of his last assignments for school: to paint a still life. "Everyone knows my painting's for shit," he grumbled

"Can't excel at everything." He found himself constantly reminding Justin of that fact as the younger man was a bit of a perfectionist and was used to being the best at everything. And even if he wasn't the best, he expected to be.


"You did a good job on the mural. Maybe you just need more practice."

"What I need," he said ruefully, "is a miracle." Kissing his fingers, Brian reassured him that one would be forthcoming. "You never stop believing in me, do you?" Justin asked with wonder in his voice.

"You never give me a reason not to," Brian replied.

Satisfied, Justin rose to clear away the dishes, Brian helping him, neither saying much, content to work side-by-side, movements coordinated, having done this hundreds of times. Leo tumbled from his perch to follow them first into the kitchen and then upstairs where they all settled down on the bed, Leo to nap, the two men to watch a film or, at least, to pretend to watch. That ruse lasted all of twenty minutes, the last ten spent snatching furtive glances at one another or shifting needlessly to bring them in closer contact. Finally, giving up all pretence, they clicked off the television and sent Leo on his way, the kitten climbing into his house without a fuss, having been banished from the bed on many other occasions.

"You really don't mind helping me tomorrow?" asked Justin, gently stroking Brian's side, curled up against his chest, very nearly purring the way Leo did after he'd been brushed.


"Even though it's your birthday?"

He shrugged. "What else would I do?"

Laughing, Justin kissed his throat. "I could think of a few things."

"What makes you think we won't get to that?"

Justin climbed on top of him and kissed him, lips barely touching. Glanced at the clock and kissed him again, this time harder. "Happy Birthday," he whispered.

"You know, we could have gotten one of those window planter things," Brian pointed out as he loosened the soil with a shovel.

"You promised to help."

"I am helping. Look at the blisters." He briefly displayed his hands which were completely unaffected by his labor.

"Poor Pookie. I promise I'll kiss 'em and make 'em better. Later," he added in case Brian had any ideas about quitting now. First they had marked off the sections of the beds, next they had to turn the soil, and then they'd have to add the compost that they'd bought to raise the beds in preparation for planting the seeds and seedlings they'd purchased earlier in the week. After all of that was done, they planned on laying stepping stones between the beds, mostly for decorative purposes.

Luckily they had gotten up at the crack of dawn to try and get most of the work done before the full force of the sun began to beat down upon them. It was still spring but already they'd had some pretty hot days. Today's sky was clear and the forecast last night had predicted plenty of sun.

Brian had begrudgingly gotten up when Justin called him; put on his cut-offs, tank top, and an old pair of sneakers; eaten his birthday breakfast dutifully; and girded himself for a day of forced cheerfulness. He did not care for manual labor and this "Green Acres" scenario was definitely not to his taste but Justin wanted an herb garden and Justin wanted him to help. So help he would. Of course, he was going to be rewarded later on. After all, it was his birthday. Besides, they were only planting a small garden; how long could that take?

Much later he wondered how two hours could manage to feel like twenty. The sun had put in an early appearance and sweat poured from his body. Wiping his brow, he paused to pull off his tank top, and wiped his face again. Took a breather and then spotted Justin bending over. At which point he caught his breath.

His partner was wearing a pair of navy blue shorts that he'd bought years ago (that long?) for their trip to the Bahamas. Split up the side for ease of movement, they were short enough to afford Brian a view of his cheeks when he bent over. Dropping his shovel, Brian sidled up behind him. Clasped his hips.

"You rang?" asked Justin, feeling Brian's crotch against his behind.

"Break time."

Justin laughed throatily and shook his head but he did throw down his shovel as well and allow Brian to lead him over to the house. Not bothering to go inside, they kissed beneath the shadow of the eaves, Justin's back against the wall. It was only when Brian's hand slipped inside his shorts and made to pull them down that Justin demurred. "Someone might see," he murmured quite reasonably as the garden was located between the house and the garage and hence at the end of the driveway.

"Wouldn't be the first time," replied Brian, palms cupping his ass, but he desisted and contented himself with a few more deep kisses, then released his partner and sighed. "Later?"

"Definitely," promised Justin who had just about gotten to the stage where a troop of Girl Scouts could have tromped up the driveway and he wouldn't have cared. Eyeing the bulge in his shorts ruefully, he picked up his shovel and began mixing in the compost again.

At last they'd finished preparing the beds, now they could actually begin to plant the herbs. Tarragon, basil, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, parsley, and spearmint for them with a bed of catnip for Leo, the latter fenced in to keep the neighborhood cats from disturbing the plants. Some of the herbs, like the catnip, parsley, and basil could be grown directly from seeds, the others from cuttings. The spearmint they would plant in a container as it was very invasive and would take over the garden if left to its own devices.

Looking at the size of the areas for each type of herb, Brian asked, "Do we really need this much tarragon?"

"Some of them might not make it."

He nodded. Made sense. Not everything lived. Despite the care you took. And if you were careless, you might find yourself kneeling next to the person you loved—he shut his eyes and took a deep breath. It scared him, how suddenly it would come upon him, the panic, even now.

"Brian?" Concerned, Justin paused in his planting. Maybe he'd gotten too much sun.

"I'm all right."

Finishing up the basil, Justin surveyed the beds. They'd planted everything and just in time. Noon was fast approaching and despite Brian's reassurances, Justin was worried. "Lunch?"

Brian wiped his hands on the front of his pants leaving prints. "I thought you'd never ask." Rising from the ground, he grimaced. His legs were covered in dirt as were his arms and he was sure there were smudges on his face as there were smudges on Justin's and dark shadows in his brightly colored hair. "Maybe a shower first."

Meeting him at the side door, Justin ran his hand up under his shirt and across his back, feeling his muscles, hard from exertion. "Sounds like a fabulous idea."

Just inside the door, they kicked off their sneakers and carried them in their hands, hoping they'd track less dirt that way since they had to travel from the kitchen stairs to their bathroom, the entire length of the house. Watching Justin walk in front of him, his plump buttocks beckoning to be touched, Brian began to care less and less about showering and more and more about finishing what they'd begun earlier that day. As if he'd felt his partner's eyes on him, Justin looked over his shoulder and smiled.

Shoes tossed onto the floor, Brian's clothes followed. Justin waited. Dropping to his knees, Brian pushed up Justin's shirt and kissed his belly, tasting dirt and sweat, and skin. Lips following his sweet line, Brian inched his lover's shorts down around his hips, kissing every stretch of skin that was revealed until he was rooting down around the base of Justin's cock. Which twitched as Brian's tongue flicked over the head and then under, lifting the tip so that it slid between eager lips. Lips that closed about it and held it in place while the tongue washed over it. Lips that parted slightly so that the head was completely enclosed. And then the first few inches of shaft.

Justin moaned and ran his hands through Brian's hair, fingers brushing over the nape to remain there, gently guiding him as he went down on him. Cock stiffening. Thickening. Stretching towards the back of Brian's throat. He pumped his hips slowly, sliding in between those beautiful red lips. In, out, over and over until he could feel every bump on his lover's tongue.

Coming up for a breather, Brian kissed the tip, then licked away a bead of precum that appeared. "I love your cock," he whispered and opened his lips over the head once more and sucked it hard, eliciting a cry from his little boy as another drop of sticky juice appeared and was swiped away. Brian rubbed the swollen head over his lips as he kissed the sides, the bottom. Holding it up against Justin's belly, he licked the shaft from root to tip, painting the underside with saliva.

"Oh," gasped Justin and he rolled his head back against the wall as Brian took his cock back inside his mouth and sucked him again.

Hungrily, he fed on his lover's dick, tugging it one way and then the other, twisting his lips about the girth of it, feeling the head blossom inside his mouth. He knew Justin was close to coming from the sounds he was making and the way he gripped his hair.

Pushing down on Brian's shoulders, Justin simultaneously rose up on his toes and thrust his hips towards his partner's head, fucking his face. Shouting, he came, the wall cool against his back as he slumped to the floor, cock pulled from Brian's mouth, cum spurting on his lips and face. Justin rested where he was for a few moments, Brian's arm around his waist, and then he pushed his lover back onto the floor and straddled him. Kissed him, smearing his cum on their lips and cheeks. He lapped Brian's face clean then kissed him again, sharing the last of his spooge.

"Baby…" breathed Brian but when Justin made to reciprocate, he stopped him. Kissed him. "Later."

Only Justin wasn't interested in waiting until later. As soon as the opportunity arose, he took advantage of it, taking hold of Brian's cock and stroking it, pressing his lover back against the wall and keeping him there (a ruse on both their parts since Brian could have escaped) while he jacked him off. Lips fixed around one of Brian's nipples, Justin sucked his tit while his fingers worked his cock, alternating feather soft strokes around the perimeter of the head with rough tugs on the shaft. He rolled his balls in the palm of his hand, then closed his fingers around them, pulling them gently, Brian's cock dipping from the movement, a strand of precum stretching from the tip. "Feel good?" he asked and Brian moaned. Freeing his balls, Justin rubbed the sac with his open hand, one finger prying between his cheeks to play in his hole.


The young man used both hands on his lover. The fingers of one wrapped around his shaft, the others teased his balls and asshole, probing the moist opening until a finger gained entrance. Groaning, Brian shut his eyes and came. Justin's hand was sticky with cum, which he rubbed into Brian's skin.

"You're bossy," Brian said when he could speak again.

"Uh-huh." He pulled Brian into the middle of the shower and got the gel. "Now, hurry up, it's time for lunch."

After a leisurely lunch and an hour-long nap, the two men got up and went back outside to finish up, positioning the stepping stones between the beds and putting the miniature fence up around the catnip. When they were done, they put away all their tools and surveyed their work.

"Looks great," Justin decided and Brian didn't disagree. "Course," the teen said, with a wicked grin on his face, "we need to shower again." As they did. Both were sweaty and streaked with dirt once more.

"Hold on," Brian said and he went and got the garden hose. Dropped off his clothes right there in the driveway. Not one to lag too far behind, Justin did the same and hoped no one decided to come visit them. Least the cars provided some shelter from the street. Standing in the yard, hosing one another off, they were both reminded of being kids and having their mom do the same thing to them in the summer. Like a little boy, Justin giggled and danced around as he was hosed down, shook his hair from his eyes and smiled. Gently spraying Justin's back, crystal droplets of water rolling down onto his buttocks, Brian admired his slender form. Christ, he was beautiful. By the time he handed off the hose to Justin, he was sporting a fairly impressive erection.

"That for me?" laughed Justin and he playfully sprinkled it with water. "Think this'll make it grow?"

"Needs something to eat," growled Brian.

"I wonder what dicks eat?" he asked, grinning.

"Come here and I'll show you," Brian replied, reaching for him, and Justin danced away from him and sprayed him again.


"Come here," Brian repeated and again Justin moved out of reach and doused him.

"No." Squirted him once more. "Stay back. Or else."

"Or else what?"

"Or else… I'll scream." Moving steadily back.

Brian stalked him. "Go ahead. Scream." He pounced and caught the slippery young man who dropped the hose and attempted rather ineptly to fight him off. All the while laughing. Brian dragged him down into the grass and pushed him onto his back. Nipped his neck. "Scream."

"Make me," Justin challenged him breathlessly.

So he did.

Feeling as if he hadn't seen them all day, Leo stuck close to them when they came in and positioned himself inside the exercise room as they sat in the sauna. Surprised that Mikey or his mom hadn't called, Brian was, nevertheless, glad as he was bushed. He supposed he needed to remember that he wasn't in his twenties anymore. Although he was in very good shape, there were only so many hours in the day that he could spend at the gym and time was definitely catching up with him, slowly but surely. On the plus side, Justin was pooped too and he was only twenty so Brian didn't feel too bad. In fact, he felt damn good. They hadn't fucked like that in a while. Not that the sex wasn't good between them, it was great, but they hadn't had a really wild session since March. Between moving, and getting married, and the renovations, and every day life, he supposed they hadn't had the energy to get down and dirty. Today they'd done both. Gotten down in the dirt and grass and fucked like they hadn't had sex for years. He was certain the neighbors must have heard them as Justin had moaned and groaned while getting pounded into the ground and had shouted when he came, screaming Brian's name while his hole had tightened around his lover's cock. Brian was tired and sore and not from the gardening. He just hoped he was up for another round tonight.

Justin felt Brian stir next to him and started to drift off. He was exhausted. Brian and he hadn't fucked like that since their honeymoon. Although he treasured the gentle lovemaking that had become the norm these days, he also liked it rough sometimes, Brian pinning him down and fucking him hard, wearing him out. Liked feeling raw and stretched, so tender that the slightest touch caused him to wince. He had slipped onto the sauna bench, careful not to sit down directly on the hard board. Brian had hammered his hole and he'd loved it. Screaming his name, tearing up fistfuls of grass. He'd felt like an animal almost. Even now it made his cock stir. He smiled as he closed his eyes. Later…

Brian was seated in the middle of the closet contemplating his choice of dinner clothes. A half hour earlier, Justin had risen and showered and dressed, needing to pick up a few items for dinner. Brian's job was to dress and set things up outside. Or maybe to set things up and then dress. Throwing on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt, he went downstairs and grabbed the box of decorations from the closet. Inspired by Rennie's wedding present of decorative lights for the pergola, Justin and his mom had gone shopping again.

There were strings of lights to hang in the arbor, the gold, antique ivory, and cinnamon shades of Japanese silk and organza nestled among the drooping stalks of purple wisteria blooms. They'd moved the mosaic table out to the courtyard, over which Brian now draped a gold crushed tissue silk table cloth and set white pillar candles upon it. To complete the look there were dark golden-colored linen napkins and amethyst plates and glasses. As it was still a little cool most nights, he also set up the Italian made patio heater they'd purchased for the courtyard to provide a little extra warmth when the temperature dropped after sunset. When everything was in its place, Brian returned upstairs to shower and dress. Justin would be returning soon. He hoped.

Having just slipped his sweater over his head, he heard footsteps approaching in the hallway. In a moment Justin came inside the closet. Eyed him approvingly.

"You look amazing."

"Thanks." He did; in a crew-necked, grey vertical-striped Kenneth Cole cotton sweater made in Italy and woven with such skill that the entire piece seemed to shimmer. Lightweight and form-fitting without being tight, it emphasized his chest and accentuated his slender frame.

Moving into his arms, Justin kissed him and ran his fingers over Brian's shoulder, feeling the fabric. "Happy Birthday."

"You look pretty amazing yourself."

"You noticed." They'd both picked up things at the Kenneth Cole store. Justin had opted for a simpler look, choosing a dark seashell-colored, short-sleeved, cotton knit sweater with all over ribbing and accented with three black bands running around his chest and a narrower set of black stripes stretching down his torso. Both wore black trousers.

"Get everything?" asked Brian.

"Yep. So, we should probably start cooking. If you do the steaks, I'll fix a salad and grill some polenta."

"Is there cake?" Grinning, Justin assured him that there was cake. "Deal."

With Leo following them, they descended to the kitchen and began gathering ingredients. Brian was going to cook the steaks outside in the courtyard and leave the kitchen grill for Justin and his dishes. The kitten was content to wander around the kitchen with the two of them but when Brian left for the courtyard, he had to make up his mind as to which one he wanted to be with. In the end, he didn't have a choice as they didn't intend to let him outside, the breeder having assured them that Burmese didn't do well outdoors. Not that they were too fragile, they were too trusting. No survival instinct. So, Leo had to content himself with standing inside the livingroom and watching Brian from behind the glass door. Eventually, that got boring and he returned to the kitchen to weave sinuously between Justin's feet as he cooked. Used to it and used to dealing with Gus as well, Justin barely broke stride.

In less than twenty minutes they regrouped outside, Leo having gone upstairs to nap after eating his food. The steaks were marinating in the small outdoor fridge and Brian poured the wine while Justin plated the polenta and sprinkled a compote of fresh plum tomatoes and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano over it. When he was done, he raised his glass. "A toast." Brian raised his. "To my husband on his thirty-second birthday. Like fine wine, you only get better as the years go by. Cheers."

The tips of his ears red, Brian replied, "Cheers."

Justin took a sip. "This is good. Is this another bottle from Italy?"

"Yeah. I say we go back this year and restock." It was a joke between them as they'd decided to stay home this summer and work on the house and save a lot of money.

"Maybe we could go back to France too and hit the Loire River valley vineyards." If you were going to dream, dream big.

"Works for me." He smiled and cut his polenta in two. Stopped. "I forgot the music."

"Later," said Justin. "I like it just the way it is. Quiet. Just the two of us." It was certainly romantic enough, eating by the glow of the candles on the table and the lights strung in the wisteria, without having any music.

Chewing his food, Brian finished eating and then said, "It's kind of strange. I thought I'd hear from Mikey or my mom."

"I told them to call tomorrow. Why do you think Lindsay and Gus came by to see you yesterday at your office?" At Brian's curious look, he explained, "I wanted you all to myself today."

Amused, Brian asked, "All to yourself, huh?"

"Uh-huh. No interruptions, no distractions, no company. Just me and my old man."

"Not so old," countered Brian.

Stroking his fingers, Justin agreed, "Not old at all."

Having dispensed with the appetizers, Brian got up and put on the steaks. The smell tickled their nostrils and whetted the edge of their hunger. Intending to cook his just for a few moments, he set it aside while starting to grill Justin's until it was well-done. A waste of good beef in his opinion but Justin wouldn't eat it otherwise so what could you do? Besides, each time he managed to cook the meat for a shorter period of time, figuring he'd eventually get Justin to accept it medium-rare.

As Brian brought the steaks to the table, Justin said, "I should probably be serving you. After all, it's your birthday."

"You will be. Later on."

"Promises, promises." Slicing off a piece, Justin closed his eyes and chewed blissfully. "Perfect."

Brian agreed. It was the perfect birthday. Good wine, good food, and the best company imaginable. They reminisced as married couples did, laughing over memorable moments in their trip to Europe.

"Remember that night we came home drunk from dinner and you flirted with the desk clerk at the hotel?"

Cocking an eyebrow, Brian asked, "Where?" There'd been a lot of hotels, a lot of flirting, and a lot of nights when they'd returned from dinner slightly tipsy.

"In Rome."

"Oh, him." Brian smiled. "He was kind of cute."

"And very married."

"So was I."

Which pleased Justin as they had only exchanged rings in private at that point. Still, each of them had taken those promises seriously, no matter that they'd both failed in various ways to keep the vows inscribed in the bands. There'd be no failures this time. No matter what. Even if they each went out and slept with a dozen guys, together or separately, their vows would remain intact because they understood now that it had nothing to do with adhering to the letter of the law and everything to do with keeping faith in their hearts.

"I loved that hotel," Brian added. "And the hotel in Venice. And London. And Paris."

"The ones in Spain weren't bad either," Justin reminded him.

"Beds were good for bouncing," teased Brian.

"But not as good as our bed."

"Nothing's as good as our bed for bouncing," Brian agreed.

"How long is our mattress supposed to last?"

Brian thought and replied, "As long as we do."

"Forever then," smiled Justin.

Steaks and salads consumed, they sat and watched the stars for a while, content just to be together.

Justin scooted his chair around the table until he was sitting next to Brian, leaning on his shoulder. "Better than the view from the Eiffel Tower," he whispered. Cupping his face, Brian kissed him softly.

"So where's my cake?"

"Wait here." Grinning, Justin carried their dirty dishes into the house while Brian put out the dessert plates and dishes. With his back to Brian, Justin called out at the door, "Close your eyes!" Brian did so and waited, wondering what surprise his Baby had in store for him. Carefully, Justin placed the cake on the table and said, "Okay." Brian opened his eyes. "Happy Birthday!"

Brian laughed and shaded his eyes. It was a cake in the shape of a young man lying on his back, a blond twink that reminded him oh so much of his little blond twink. Masturbating. His hands wrapped around a gigantic cock from which sprouted a wax Prince Albert with a wick. Which was lit. "Fuck! Where did you get this?"


"She made this?"

"Uh-huh. I designed it." He leaned over and kissed his lover. "So blow it out," he said, laughing.

Barely able to do so for chuckling, Brian finally managed to blow out the candle.

Justin deftly removed the candle from the tip of the cake and said, "I think you should have the first… bite."

With a raised brow, Brian bent over the frosted erection and opened his mouth, then drew back. "If you have a camera on you and this ends up in a photo album, I will kill you."

To assure him that he didn't, Justin patted himself down. "See? I'm unarmed. Now go on. Be careful. There's a dowel inside the cock."

Leaning again, Brian engulfed the head of the cake cock and sucked the frosting from it before biting off the tip. Inside was a creamy filling. Eating, he gestured to the cake and Justin took the second bite—after removing the dowel—reducing his simulacra's dick size by half. Mouths smeared with cream, they kissed, Justin eventually straddling Brian's lap. He could feel his lover's cock beneath him. "Like it?" he asked of the cake.

"I love it," Brian replied. "I love you."

Deciding to save the cake for later, they cleaned up downstairs and then carried the cake and a bottle of champagne upstairs to their bedroom. Justin turned on the stereo and they danced, pressed close together, arms about one another.

"you'll be given love
you'll be taken care of
you'll be given love
you have to trust it…"

Slipping off Justin's sweater, Brian eased him back onto the bed, then removed the rest of his clothes. Afterwards, with Justin's eyes glued to his every moment, he stripped, lingering over each item of clothing until he was completely naked and Justin's cock had slightly thickened. Turning him over and spreading his legs, Brian began to rim him.

Arms folded beneath his head, Justin relaxed and enjoyed his lover's actions and the effect they were having on him. Arching his back, he gasped as Brian encircled his hole. "Feel good?"


He licked up the middle of his ass. "Better?"

"Yes…" Justin's knees and toes dug into the comforter.

He nosed around Justin's buttocks, probing his hole. Justin reached back and spread his cheeks, inhaling sharply as Brian rimmed him. Then, just as he thought he'd gotten things under control, Brian flipped him over, scooped two fingers' full of cream from his birthday cake and spread it over his asshole.

"Oh, God," he gasped, still a little sore from earlier in the day, as Brian's fingers sank into him and began sliding in and out, establishing a rhythm that left him breathless. He could feel his hole stretching, the edges rolling with each motion of Brian's hand.

Pulling his fingers out of Justin, Brian smeared cream over his cock, then knelt between his open legs and drew them up over his shoulders. Justin reached down and took hold of his cock, stroked it, fed it to his ass. He engulfed the head and shaft, taking them with ease, holding Brian's cock with cream-slicked muscles.

Heedless of the mess, they fucked on the comforter, Brian, at first, kneeling on all fours, Justin's legs over his shoulders; then leaning back, his arms supporting him as he thrust his groin forward, cock entering Justin shallowly. Withdrawing completely after a while, Brian turned his lover over and mounted him from behind, parting his cheeks with his cock, nudging his hole for a moment before sliding through the slippery opening.

Mouth open, Justin panted as they ground against one another. Pushing his hips back to meet Brian's thrusts, Justin squeezed his partner's cock with his hole, pleased to hear Brian's groans of delight. Far from being passive, he garnered great satisfaction from fucking Brian's cock with his ass. Listening to Brian moan, feeling his saliva drip down upon his back, Justin smiled, then shouted helplessly. "Oh… Oh…" he whimpered. Precum spilled from his cockhead onto the bed and he lowered his body onto the comforter, rubbing his throbbing cock against the silky material.

Brian began jabbing his hole fiercely. He wanted to come. Needed to come. His balls felt like they were about to explode and he was burning up. His cock was raw and—and—"Uh!" he cried out and buried his face in Justin's hair. Breath ragged, he continued to pump his lover's hole, feeling it tighten around him, holding him in place, feeling Justin jerk beneath him, spilling his cum onto the comforter. Even after they both ceased to ejaculate, they remained together, taking pleasure from the intense, intimate contact.

Having spent most of the morning in bed, the two men dressed in the afternoon to pursue their separate interests: Justin ensconcing himself in his studio to try and come up with some ideas for his still life painting, Brian taking out his camera and documenting the most recent change to the house and grounds: the herb garden. Just as he was about to head outside, the phone rang. "Yeah?"

"Happy Birthday."

"Mikey. Where's my present?"

Michael laughed. "I would have brought it over yesterday but I was under strict orders not to set foot on the property until Sunday. What you doing?"


"Want some company?"

With Michael on the way, Brian started giving some thought to lunch or rather to having a very substantial afternoon snack. They'd had breakfast around eleven which would tide him over for a while but he didn't think he could wait until six to eat again. Justin would probably be occupied all afternoon; when he had a project to work on, he could stay in the studio for hours and not notice the passage of time. He supposed he was the same way when he was tackling a tough campaign; knew he was the same way because Justin had complained about it often enough. Well, he wouldn't complain about Justin—mostly because Mikey was coming over to distract him for a while.

"So what'd Justin get you for your birthday?" They were sitting out in the courtyard, the table and chairs still set up from the night before. Brian had removed the lights and the candles but he and Justin had decided that they liked having the mosaic set out there. At least until they found a larger table.

Brian shrugged. "We had dinner and dessert," at which his lips curled in a half-smiled.

"No present?" asked Michael.

"I told him I didn't want anything."

Pushing him roughly, Michael laughed. "Oh, I see. He doesn't have to give you anything but you want a present from me." He'd picked up a beautiful burgundy shirt that he had been certain Brian would love. And he had.

"I didn't say he didn't give me anything, I said he didn't get me anything." At Michael's confused look, he explained, "He gives me everything. All the time."

Michael shook his head. "I would kill to have Jeff say that about me."

"He will. Look how long it took me to realize that about Justin." Thought about the circumstances, about almost losing Justin, and his face darkened.

Knowing how easily Brian's moods shifted, Michael grasped his arm and squeezed. "I'm so happy for you."

"So you don't think marrying him was a mistake anymore?" teased Brian.

"I know it wasn't. I knew that on your wedding day. I'd never seen you look happier."

Softly, Brian confessed needlessly, "He makes me happy." Just as he was about to say something sarcastic to cut the sweetness of the moment, the doorbell rang. With Michael left to enjoy the sun, he went inside and switched on the intercom in the livingroom. "Yeah?"

"Happy Bir'day, Daddy!"

Secretly, he'd been hoping that the Munchers would bring Gus over. "Which door?"

"Side," replied Lindsay.

So he traveled the length of the house, glancing in the studio to see if Justin was still working, which he was, and let his son and his two mommies in. Gus in his arms, he asked, "You guys staying or what?"

"Going shopping," replied Lindz. "Pick him up tonight? After dinner?"


"Where's Mikey and Justin?" Mel asked, having seen Michael's car.

"Justin's working in his studio and Mikey's out in the courtyard."

Lindz grinned. "Have a good birthday?"

"Had a great birthday."

"Saw the garden. Looks good."

Mel added, "Saw where some of your grass looked torn up. Stray cats?" she asked, knowingly.

"Yeah," he replied in a deadpan voice while the two women laughed. Giving Gus big kisses, they departed. Brian buzzed Justin in his studio. When the artist answered, he said, "Gus is here. You ready for a mid-afternoon snack?"


"Am I eating Gus?"

"No," said the toddler. "No eat me."

Turned out Michael had to go as he was meeting Jeff so the three men were left alone. Well, not quite alone as Leo had come bounding down the stairs when Gus called. He'd gotten a lot steadier on his feet in the past two months and took the steps like a pro. He and Gus played Catch Me If You Can in the family room while Brian and Justin grilled a couple of roasted chicken and provolone panini. It was such a nice day they carried the food outside and sat in the courtyard and ate. At least the two adults ate, Gus wasn't hungry and after taking a couple of token bites, he was back in the house to play with Leo, promising not to go any further than the livingroom where they could see them. This was not only for Gus' safety but for Leo's as well. Gus, being two, was not exactly wise in the ways of cats and after Justin had caught him trying to put Leo in the fountain, they'd had to sit down and have a very stern talk with him regarding the things he could and could not do with the kitten. Both Brian and Justin foresaw having more of these talks the older Gus got. He had an insatiable curiosity for life and boundless energy, a combination guaranteed to land him in trouble. But they wouldn't have wanted him to be any other way.

Wanting to get back to work, Justin left Brian and Gus to amuse themselves and sequestered himself in his studio again. Brian had a time convincing Gus that Daddy Justin needed to be alone for a while. Finally, he had to agree to push Gus around the neighborhood in his car. They'd bought him a second one to keep at their house because no one wanted to cart the other one between houses.

Although Justin kept threatening Brian with the idea of throwing a housewarming party, they hadn't done so. Primarily because of the construction to the upstairs bathrooms but mostly because they'd been partied out after the wedding and they cherished the time they spent alone. As a result, they hadn't actually met all of their neighbors. Not ones to stroll around the neighborhood on the weekend, they'd only met the families who lived on either side of their house—and Rachel. Actually, Justin had met her. And they'd only met their immediate neighbors because of the construction to the house.

Luckily, today they met no one on their circuit of the neighborhood. Brian wasn't exactly in the mood for it and Gus was being a little fussy, mostly because he missed Leo and Justin. So, they headed back after wandering for fifteen minutes and Brian went to talk to Justin while Gus played with Leo.

Knocking first, he entered the studio and found the young artist gazing out of the window. He kissed him on the back of the neck. "Thought you were working."

Justin picked up his pencil again. "Break."

"Gus wants to spend some time with his Daddy Justin."

Studying the blank page of his sketch pad, Justin replied, "I can't. I need to concentrate."

"Well, Gus has been asking for you."

"He can wait," Justin said tightly.

"For you to finish staring at the pool?"

"I was thinking." Again, his voice was tight, a warning which Brian completely ignored.

"Funny, it looked like you were goofing off."

Justin got up and gestured to the door. "Go away." Added, "Now."

Folding his arms, Brian stood his ground. "Sorry, this is my house." The moment the words came out of his mouth, he knew he'd made a huge mistake. Justin's face shut down and the young man gathered his belongings and exited the space. Brian followed behind him. "Justin. Justin, wait!"

"Fuck you!"

Waking from a cat nap, Gus sat up and rubbed his eyes. Said sleepily, "Daddy…"


"You deal with it. He's your son," he said and stormed from the house.

With a sigh, Brian sat on the arm of the section and silently berated himself for being such an idiot. "Fuck." Confused, Gus crawled across the seat cushions and laid his head against Brian's thigh, his daddy the only source of stability in a world that had suddenly gotten very scary. Brian looked down and raised him up, held him. "It's okay. Daddy Justin'll be back. I promise." Only, he wasn't as certain as he sounded.

Slamming the door to his studio at the Institute, Justin startled Bledsoe, who said, "I thought you had your own studio at home. Glass walls, sunlight, great view. What the fuck are you doing here?"

What indeed. "I don't want to talk about it," he replied and settled down to work. It wasn't that he didn't use the studio at school any more, he did when he was on campus already, it was just that he hardly ever came in on the weekends. Why would he? He did have a great studio at home. Glass walls, sunlight, great view. Great house. A house he'd believed was just as much his as Brian's. Wrong again, Sunshine. And still he knew Brian hadn't meant what he said, hadn't meant it to sound that way. So why had he gotten so angry? He'd wanted to knock Brian out. Why couldn't he ever have a moment to himself? That's all he'd wanted. Two or three hours to work. What good was it having a home studio if he couldn’t do any work? Why couldn’t Brian keep Gus occupied for a few measly hours? That's all he was asking for. Why was it so hard for Brian to understand that sometimes he needed to be by himself, he needed to think, to concentrate, to be free of all distractions, all concerns, so that he could create?

Well, he wasn't getting much creating done sitting there thinking about Brian. He'd driven all the way in town to school, he might as well use his time constructively. Except that he was no longer in the mood to sketch. All he could do was think about the blow-up they'd had. Think about Rennie asking him how he planned to do it all: be an artist, a student, a husband, a father, and he'd blithely answered that he was already doing all those things, that he'd only do them better once he and Brian were married. Fool. What the fuck had he been thinking? He hadn't been. He'd been floating on a haze of happiness.

How were they going to manage? Brian was busy with work, he was busy with school, with his art… how were they going to balance their careers with raising a family? With being good spouses? Suddenly he felt very young indeed, was aware of the fact that he was only twenty and had no idea how any of this was supposed to work. His parents had failed to make time for one another and, subsequently, their marriage had fallen apart. He didn't want the same thing to happen to him and Brian. Cradling his head in his hand, he whispered, "Shit."

Bledsoe took a moment from his work to come around the partition and say, "Go home and talk to him. My aunt's a therapist and she says the number one thing people do wrong is to let things fester until it's too late. Even if you say the wrong things, it's better to say something than nothing at all."

He heard the door to the Cherokee slam shut and counted to ten. Don't let me fuck this up, he prayed silently. Not certain if he should let Justin make the first move, he decided to wait for an opening. Gus was upstairs finishing his nap. After Justin had left, the toddler had begun to nod again so Brian put him down, along with Leo. He hoped they'd sleep for a while, giving him and Justin time to talk. Sitting at the table, he waited for Justin to find him.

"Hey," said Justin, coming in and putting down his bag, his portfolio and sketch pad.


Joining Brian, Justin took a deep breath before speaking again. "I'm sorry."

"No, I am. I didn't mean the things I said."

"I know." He paused. "It scares me sometimes."

"What?" Brian leaned forward, waiting for Justin's answer.

"Having to be so many things to so many people." He shook his head. "I'm only twenty-years-old and I'm in college, I've got a husband, a family… Sometimes I wake up in a sweat, terrified that I've done the wrong thing, that I've forgotten something. There's school, and work, and you, and Gus, and our friends… and, sometimes… sometimes I just need to be by myself."

"I see."

"It doesn't mean—"

"It's a lot to ask of you."

"I don't mind. Brian—" he began, exasperated by the fact that his spouse had misunderstood. "I love you," he explained. "I love Gus, I love our life. It's just… it's a lot sometimes to deal with."

"Maybe we should have waited on the house. Maybe we should have waited until you were done with school," Brian suggested.

"And what about Gus? We got the house so we could spend more time with him. Should we have waited on him too? Brian, even if we'd waited until I was done with school, then I'd be busy building a career. Were we supposed to wait forever?"

"No. But… You're right. I guess we just need to deal with it."

"Which is what we're doing. So don't freak out on me." He knew Brian too well.

"I won't."



But it continued to haunt Brian over the next week, especially since Justin was occupied during much of it, working on his painting.

He'd finally come up with an idea, had made the preparatory drawings, and was now in the process of actually painting the canvas. He had another week before he had to turn it in for the end of the year show and he was nervous. Painting was not his forte. Yet, as busy as he was, he could tell that Brian was still concerned about their conversation. Sitting in his studio, he worried about him, his tendency to obsess over problems, to brood. Even though he was still seeing Drew, sometimes he neglected to tell Drew everything that was bothering him, preferring to deal with his problems on his own until things had gotten so fucked up that he was forced to confess everything. He was better about talking things out but he still had a long ways to go. Maybe they both did. When Brian got home, he'd talk to him about it.

Of course, Brian came home and tossed one of his love tokens onto the countertop, wanting to play, and Justin forgot all about his intentions, his attention focused on Brian's cock as he worshiped it, lips and face shiny with precum, sucking the swollen head until the slit gaped open and loads of luscious cum erupted, flowing over his tongue as he drank every drop. Pulling Brian from his mouth, he caressed his shaft, eagerly licking the spooge that continued to ooze from the tip. Brian sighed and muttered, "Mmm…"

Justin kissed the head and lapped a last bit of cum. "Tastes good." He nudged Brian's balls. "I want some more."

Laughing softly, Brian ran his fingers through the hairs at the nape of Justin's neck. "Gotta wait a while."

Tongue slipping behind his lover's sack, Justin said, "I can wait." He rose up. "Long as you keep me occupied."

Kissing the young man, Brian promised, "That can be arranged." He ran his hand over Justin's smooth ass. "Most definitely."

Eyes closed, Justin's lips parted as Brian eased a well-lubed dildo up his hole, having teased it with his tongue and fingers until Justin cried out for more. Kneeling on the bed, Justin leaned forward as the vibrating dildo slid all the way inside him, shaking him to pieces. He loved play time.

The blue silk tie or the grey? Holding them up side-by-side, Brian decided that he was in a blue mood. Besides which, the blue one reminded him of Justin's eyes which was always a good thing.

"You think this is all right?" Justin asked of his outfit.

"I could come with you," Brian offered but Justin shook his head.

"You're busy. Besides, it's just a formality. And," he added, "we can celebrate tonight."

Brian looked over his clothes. Pale blue shirt, navy slacks. "You'll freeze." Justin always felt the cold more than he did.

"I've got a jacket too."

"No tie?"

"I hate ties. They make my head look huge," he explained.

Brian laughed. "Your head is just the right size," he said and kissed Justin, then proceeded to knot his own tie.

"Not that one," said Justin. He tapped his forehead. "This one."

"Nasty boy," Brian commented. "I gotta go." Justin grabbed his suit jacket and followed him downstairs. They kissed again at the door. "Dinner in or out?"

"Let's go out."

"I'll make reservations somewhere. Later."

Justin waved as Brian walked away.

After Chris Hobbs' trial and sentencing, he'd hoped never to set foot in a courtroom again. Still, he reminded himself that this was just a formality. He'd petitioned the court for the name change, had his fingerprints taken for the criminal background check, and advertised his new name in the paper of which he had a copy to submit to the Clerk of Court. Now all he had to do was show up in court and wait for the judge to sign the Order. That is if no one objected; but who would? Just a formality.

Parking the car in a lot down the street, he walked to the courthouse with a lighter step than he'd ever approached it in the past. This time there'd be no protestors, no media, no slogan-shouting spectators and in an hour or so, he would have officially changed his name to Justin Taylor-Kinney. Smiling, he began to climb the steps to the front door of the courthouse when he heard someone call his name.


He turned, not believing it was who he thought. "Dad?"


It had been a while and he didn't know whether to hug his father or to shake his hand. In the end, he just stood there without making any kind of overture. "You here on business?"

Craig looked decidedly uncomfortable. "No, Justin. I'm here to see you."

"Me?" Confused for a moment, understanding cleared up any uncertainties. "You read about me changing my name?"

"Your mother told me."


"She thought I had a right to know."

"It's none of your business." He started to turn but Craig caught his arm.

"Justin. Just—hear me out."

Pulling his arm free, Justin set his face. But he waited. "You've got five minutes and then I have to go."

"Justin, why are you doing this?"

"Brian and I are married now."

"What does that have to do with your name?"

"Mom took your name when you got married."

"Justin…" Craig looked pained.

"I know you don’t recognize our marriage. Fine. And the state of Pennsylvania doesn't either. That's fine too. But there's nothing stopping me from taking Brian's name."

"Is he changing his name?"

"He doesn't have to."

"Neither do you."

"I want to," he explained. "And you can't stop me."

"I can object."

"I'm not a minor. You can object but it won't make a damn bit of difference. All you'll do," he added, "is make me hate you." Craig backed up. "I don't want to hate you, Dad. I wish…" He started again. "I wish you would try to understand." Craig focused on the marbled steps. "I'm happier than I've ever been in my life. He makes me happy. He loves me. And I love him. So I'm doing this." Justin started back up the steps.


He paused.

"I don't approve. But I won't try to stop you."

Justin looked down at his father. "I want you to be a part of my life." He waited to see what Craig would say and when it looked as if he wasn't going to say anything, he glanced away, wanting to go but unable to.

"I want that too, Justin." Craig rubbed his face. "But I can't be. Not as long as you're with him."

Nodding, Justin pulled his coat closer about him. "See you around." He went up the steps quickly without looking back. Once inside the courthouse he found a restroom. Shut himself inside a stall and laid his forehead against the wall.

Order in hand, signed by the judge, he walked back to his car, trying to ascertain if he felt any different now that he was no longer Justin Matthew Taylor but Justin Matthew Taylor-Kinney. Unintentionally, he'd begun to smile. By the time he reached the car, he was beaming. "Yes!" he whispered as he got behind the wheel.

Even though he had afternoon classes, he didn't feel like going to the Institute. Instead he put the car in gear and drove to the diner. He couldn't wait to tell Deb the news.

Striding in like Brian himself, he grinned as he saw her talking with one of the new post-op waitresses, Lola. He waved and she finished her conversation and came over. "Hey, Sunshine. What are you doing here? You don't work until tomorrow."

"Just came back from court."

"Court?" She frowned, then remembered. "Oh, Sunshine, is it final?"

"Yep." He smiled broadly.

Squealing, she made him sit down in a booth and got them both a slice of blueberry pie to celebrate. "This is so exciting."

"We're going out to dinner tonight. I can't wait until I get my new driver's license, and Social Security Card, and change my records at school, and shit! that’s a lot of forms to fill out." His head ached just thinking about it.

"Justin Taylor-Kinney. Has a nice ring to it."

The smile returned. "It does, doesn't it?" Then he remembered. "My dad showed up."


"My mom told him I was changing my name and he showed up to try and stop me." He held his fork loosely in his fingers. "I told him that I wanted him to be a part of my life." Pushed a few bits of crust about the plate. "But he said that he couldn't. Not as long as I was with Brian."

"Oh, Sunshine, I'm sorry."

He shrugged. "I still have Brian."

"And Jennifer and Molly and Joanie and, God help us, Claire and her kids. And you have all of us, your friends, who love you too. And we'll always be there for you, no matter what." Which made him smile again. "That's my Sunshine."

They'd met at home to change clothes before going out and for a moment it seemed as if they might not actually make their reservations as they began kissing and helping one another undress which led to making out on the bed and before they knew it they were about two seconds from making love when they remembered that they were supposed to be at the restaurant in twenty minutes.

"Fuck," swore Brian as he pulled away from Justin who was very aroused and looked very sexy with his tousled hair and slightly parted lips. Shaking his head, Brian stumbled to the closet to find something to wear.

Arriving at the restaurant a mere ten minutes late, they were relieved to find that their table was still available. Tucked away in the back of the dining room where they could treasure their privacy. Brian held Justin's chair for him, making the young man blush as always, and took his own seat across from him. Reached for Justin's hand and smiled. "Justin Taylor-Kinney, huh?"


"Kind of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?"

"I like your tongue," Justin said and then covered his face as he realized the waiter had arrived and most likely had heard his last statement.

"He'll have a Tongue Tangler and I'll have a martini," grinned Brian before he kissed Justin's fingers. The waiter smiled and went to put in their orders.

Justin freed his fingers and stroked Brian's cheek. "I love you."


When the waiter returned, Justin conquered his embarrassment to ask him, "What band is that?" The song had kind of a twanging Indian melody line over a trip-hop beat and it worked for him.

"Massive Attack," the guy replied. "Mezzanine album."

"Sweet." He smiled at Brian. "I like it."

"Recollect me darling raise me to your lips
Two undernourished egos four rotating hips
Hold on to me tightly I'm a sliding scale
Can't endure then you can't inhale
An out-of-body experience…"

"Everything went okay today?" Brian asked between sips of his martini.

"Yeah." Justin covered the lie by concentrating on his drink.


Sometimes he felt as if Brian could read his mind when he knew, in truth, that Brian was just good at reading his body language. Of course, with the way he was acting, a blind man could read it. "My dad showed up."


"He was really upset about me changing my name but he didn't stop me."

"Don't think he could."

"He couldn't," Justin admitted. "He says he can't be a part of my life if I'm with you."

Brian rubbed the top of Justin's finger with his. "That a problem?"



Turning his hand over, Justin held onto Brian's. "Positive."

"in my home no chrome as clear as
see me now with my nearest dearest
been there when i'm over careering
room shifting is endearing
between us is our kitchen…"

As he came through the doors, Cynthia looked up and handed him a message.

"He called this morning?"

"Yeah. Seemed a little anxious."

"Well…" Leaving her at that, he went inside his office and shut the door. They'd get to his schedule later. Right now he had to decide what to do about the message he'd received. Despite seeming eager to view the one drawing Justin had completed of Brian, Kenneth hadn't contacted them since the wedding. Busy with the renovations, Brian hadn't worried, hadn't read anything into it. Justin, for his part, was happy not to have to think about Harris. Besides, they were newlyweds, had better things to do.

What the fuck did Kenneth want and why couldn't it have waited until later? Well, there was no time like the present to find out.

Kenneth came on the line shortly after Brian dialed his private number. "You're in."

"What can I do for you?" Best to keep things on a professional level.

"Need to take a meeting. We've got a new product and we'd like to discuss marketing strategies with you."

"Sure. My calendar's free."

"Would you mind flying out here this week? Say Thursday maybe? Spend a couple of days with us? We'll have you back home on Saturday."

"This Thursday." He hoped the tone of his voice conveyed his displeasure. It'd be enough time for him to see Justin's show but…

"I know it's short notice—actually," Kenneth explained, "I've been wanting to discuss this with you for a while but with moving, planning for the wedding, and dealing with the new house, I figured you had enough on your plate. We're pretty excited around here," he continued when Brian said nothing. "Could be the very thing to take us to the next level. Instant brand name recognition, total market penetration, that's what we're looking at."

It was difficult not to become infected by Kenneth's enthusiasm and there were few phrases more pleasing to an advertiser's ears than 'total market penetration'. It was definitely a sexual thing. "Thursday it is," he said finally. "You wanna give me any more details?"

"I'd rather you see things for yourself. No preconceived notions."

"Fine. We'll make the arrangements on this end and bill you."

"I'll see you Thursday morning then."

As he buzzed Cynthia, Brian wondered how he was going to break the news to Justin.

He heard Justin puttering in the kitchen as he came in the side door and smiled. Maybe he'd be in time to help. Serving as Justin's sous chef was one of the things he did to relax after a stressful day. Chopping vegetables took his mind off of advertising by focusing his attention on the task at hand. And, as an added bonus, the executive chef was very easy on the eyes. Putting down his briefcase, Brian wrapped his arms around Justin's waist and kissed him along the line of his jaw. "Hey."

"Hey," the younger man replied, turning in his lover's arms to embrace him as well and kiss him upon the lips.


"Miss me?"


Justin smiled and broke from Brian's hold. "You gonna shower or help me?"

"Let me change and I can help you. And then we can shower together later," he suggested with a lascivious grin. "Where's Leo?" He was surprised the kitten wasn't with Justin, getting in the way the way he usually did.

"Around. He's been exploring every since I got home. I think he probably slept most of the day."

"He slept most of the night."

"He's a baby. That's what they do."

"I think it's more like he's a cat and that's what they do."

As if he'd heard Brian's voice, Leo came padding in from the family room and meowed. The man nudged him with his toe, then left to go change, the kitten following down behind him as fast as his short legs could carry him. Although he was growing by leaps and bounds, he was still a bit clumsy, and occasionally he tripped over his own feet which always made Brian and Justin laugh. But, he'd get right back up again and continue on. Same way Gus had when he'd been learning to walk. More than once Brian had commented on the similarities between the toddler and the kitten. And like Gus, Leo seemed to love Brian without hesitation. Halfway up the stairs, Brian scooped Leo up and carried him the rest of the way, figuring it would be easier than waiting for the cat to negotiate the steps. He was pretty good at getting up them, just slow and Brian was anxious to change and return downstairs.

"So," asked Justin as Brian settled down at the island to peel potatoes, "how was work?"

"Same." Kenneth called and I have to go running. Not wanting to bring it up right now, Brian decided to wait until later, hoping for a more fortuitous moment—not that he believed there was such a thing. "Ow!" exclaimed Brian. He'd been teasing Leo, swinging his foot to and fro and the kitten, predictably, had hooked his toe.

"You keep forgetting he has claws."

"I don't know how. They're always in me."

"We could get him declawed."

"Nope," said Brian. He was firm on that point even though they risked their furniture and curtains. So far they'd been able to dissuade him from clawing things. Except for Brian.

"Well, we're going to have to get him fixed."

"No way."


"The balls stay. Everything in its place." That had been his philosophy when the Munchers had wanted to circumcise Gus and it was his philosophy when it came to fixing Leo. Brian stroked the cat's back with his foot. "Isn't that right, Leo?" And Leo purred softly, basking in the attention.

Which served him well later on while his two owners played without him. Once the water came on, he scurried away and padded back to the bedroom to wait.

One day apart and it was as if they'd been separated for years.

"I missed you," Justin whispered as Brian squeezed a palm full of bath gel and worked it into a lather on his little boy's skin. Hands around Justin's shoulders, Brian made his way down the younger man's arms, then across his chest, fingers encircling his nipples before teasing them. Justin pressed his back against Brian's chest, feeling the hard nubs of his lover's nipples rubbing his shoulder blades. The twin sensations were arousing. Taking hold of Brian's hand, he guided it down his torso to his groin. "Yes," he sighed as Brian wrapped his fingers around his cock and began to slowly stroke him. Closing his eyes, he rested against Brian's body and gave himself over to his lover's sure touch. Brian knew how to make him feel good. His hands slipped down between Justin's thighs, then up again to enclose his cock and balls. As he stroked Justin, Brian rubbed his scrotum too, gently kneading his sac until his testicles grew firm. Justin reached back and ran his hands over Brian's hips. He could feel his lover's cock stiffening against his thigh.

"I love you," Brian told him as he removed his hands from his crotch. He dropped to his knees and held Justin's cock up to his lips. Kissed the tip. "I love you." Opened his lips and let the head pass through to the inside of his mouth. Tongue flicked over the slit and withdrew. Brian released him, then went about licking his cock while Justin squirmed. Head twisting, tongue ever busy, Brian lapped him until Justin's dick was shiny with saliva. Now that Justin was slick and hard, Brian began to suck him. Cheeks hollow, he went down on his lover, cock sliding between his lips with ease, tip brushing the roof of his mouth. Soon he tasted precum. Letting Justin go, Brian swiped the tip with his tongue. Pressed on either side of his cock head, forcing his slit to open, and licked the bead of precum as it appeared.

Justin groaned as Brian continued to suck precum from his cock. He was so hard, so ready to blow, he could hardly contain himself. And Brian's tongue just kept teasing him, torturing him. His cock felt huge and so hard… Leaning back against the shower seat, Justin fell onto it, head thrown back, legs open wide. Brian continued to bob over his lap, to draw his lips over the shaft, pressing hard about the head, sucking Justin until the younger man began to moan, sound bubbling from between his lips. Grabbing Brian's head in his hands, Justin arched his back, then slumped against the wall. "Brian…"

With a kiss, Brian freed Justin's cock from his mouth. "Baby…" Curled his tongue about the swollen head and licked it again.

"Fuck me," Justin begged in a whisper. "Fuck me."

Curled around him, Justin lay with his head on Brian's chest. "That was perfect."

"Isn't it always?"

"Mm-hmm. But that was extra perfect," he replied drowsily.

Brian stroked his hip. "I'm glad because I've got to go out of town this week." He hadn't intended to blurt it out so baldly but it was said now and couldn’t be unsaid.

"Out of town?" Justin kept his voice neutral but his body betrayed him, tensing. "You'll be there Wednesday?" The night of the show.

Brian drew him closer. "Leaving Thursday morning. I'll be back Saturday."

Even though he knew the answer, Justin asked anyway. "Where?"

Without hesitation—because he knew if he hesitated, Justin would read into it—he replied, "Birmingham. New product line." That was the way, keep it low-key, act like it was a reasonable request—and it was—and maybe they'd get through this without a major Drama Princess Moment.

"Didn't waste any time," Justin commented. In coming after you again.

Choosing not to address the subtext—which had been communicated quite clearly—Brian, instead, responded to the overt question. "I think they've been sitting on this for a while, waiting until the move and the wedding were over."

"How considerate."

His tone said otherwise. So Brian had to deal with it now. "Baby—"

"I know. It's business." He shut out the voice in his head that said, "It's Kenneth," because that would get them nowhere, another discussion about Kenneth and his not-so-hidden agenda. Justin had really believed that, after having seen them marry, Kenneth's attitude and objectives would change. Stupid.

The last thing he wanted was to have another discussion/argument about Kenneth Harris and his motives. He wanted to lie next to his partner and fall asleep without a care. But how could he now when the spectre of Harris hovered around their bed? Just as he was about to speak again, Justin raised up and kissed him, then settled down to sleep. From the foot of the bed where he'd been watching them, came Leo, finding a place on the opposite side of Brian, near the edge of the mattress. Eventually, Justin would work his way to his side of the bed and the kitten would move into the vacated spot between them but, for now, he was content just to be near Brian.

Recognizing the signs of exhibition anxiety as he'd come to term it, Brian tried to be as supportive as possible of his young artist, not even commenting on Justin's less than impressive wardrobe choice although the sight of him in his Dawson Creek ensemble was akin to waving a red cloak in front of a bull. Biting his tongue, he decided to dress down himself, slipping on his low-rider jeans and a black tee-shirt.

Justin, who had been absent-mindedly dressing, seem to come out of a fog and asked, "Are you ready?" seeing Brian's outfit and not really believing that he was actually going to wear it.

"Yeah." He grabbed his thigh-length black leather jacket and slid it on. "We doing this thing or what?"

With the jacket on, Brian looked more like the man he knew. Smiling, Justin said, "Come on. There are masses to be wowed."

Knowing exactly what he meant, Brian said, instead, "You mean your painting is that good?"

"You." He chuckled and led the way out.

In the car Brian asked, "Is Nana Rose coming up?" He was actually fond of her, despite her connection to Xavier. In reality, he was beginning to like Xavier again, now that the unpleasantness of last year was over. It helped that he was involved with Trey and that it had lasted this long. Helped that he and Justin were married, that their relationship was solid in spite of the occasional spat.

"I don't think so. Xavier said she couldn't get the time off from work."

"Trey coming?"

"Can't. He's got to defend his Honors thesis and he's freakin' out."


Justin couldn't believe that Brian actually cared one way or the other. Still, he'd asked.

"Rennie's parents making it?"

"Yeah, and they're bringing Picasso, Rodin, and Isamu Noguchi with them."

Cutting his eyes at his husband, Brian replied, "I guess that means no."

Justin felt bad for his friend. "Her folks are so lame. All that money and they can't be bothered to hop a flight to Pittsburgh. I bet they don't even come to graduation." He fiddled with the radio then cut it off. "This semester lasted a thousand years."

"Well," Brian commented, "summer vacation's coming up, you can relax."

"There's still work and the commission for Kenneth Harris."

"It's not like you have to work full-time at the diner and Kenneth will wait. He didn't give you a deadline for the sketches."

"No, but he'd probably like them sooner rather than later."

"He never even asked about the one you finished," Brian pointed out although, in a way, he was glad. There was something about the sketch, it made him feel naked, exposed, and it wasn't just the fact that he'd been naked except for his burnt sienna sweater. Justin had managed to capture something essential about him in the drawing and he didn't know if he really wanted Kenneth to be in possession of a part of him. Mikey's voodoo jokes aside, it made him feel a little uneasy.

"Maybe you can ask him when you see him tomorrow."

Making no promises, Brian replied, "Maybe."

Despite the breezy way he spoke of Kenneth, Justin was far from pleased with the fact that Brian was going to see him. Even though it was for business, he knew Kenneth, knew how much the man wanted Brian. Despite having watched them marry, despite his declaration of friendship, Justin still didn't trust him. Not entirely. And no way would he ever pass up an opportunity to try and win Brian for himself. Especially when Justin was back in Pittsburgh and he was on his home turf. Being his charming self, dazzling Brian with his wit and sophistication, his worldliness, his business savvy and acumen. Justin had wanted to ask Brian not to go, to send someone else in his place but who else was there? And if he did ask him, what would that say to Brian except that he didn't trust him? Only he did. He did trust Brian. He just didn't trust Kenneth, no matter what the man had said.

Noticing how quiet Justin had got, Brian incorrectly assumed it was because of the show. In order to minimize his nervousness about his painting, they'd exempted their friends and family from coming. Brian had reiterated that exemption when he'd called around to make certain that none of them decided to ignore their request and show up. "You can see it in the house," he'd told them since they intended to hang Justin's artwork in the gallery space.

It was a much less stressful affair for Justin this year in many ways. Last year they'd been recovering from their fiasco with Xavier and he'd been terrified that Brian would see the true state of their affairs revealed in the triptych he'd done. And he had, recognizing them and their relationship in the series of sketches. This year the subject matter wasn't at issue, it was the medium itself. Still, it'd be over soon. They'd go in, mingle, browse the artworks on display, take a quick look at his, and go home. The evening would be over in an hour or so and they could put it behind them.

Entering the hall, they found Xavier and Rennie hanging around the door, as if waiting for them.

"Hey, Brian," said Rennie and Justin laughed.

"Hey, Rennie," he said and she glanced at him without speaking before turning her attention back to Brian.

Who smiled and kissed her on the cheek. "Hey, Terror Girl."

Xavier and Justin cracked up.

"So, where's the cheap wine?" Brian asked.

Rennie took his arm. "I'll show you."

"Bring you something back?" Brian inquired of Justin.

"Yourself. Untouched. And a glass of white wine if they have it." Watching Rennie escort Brian towards the bar, Justin shook his head. She'd never give up. Neither would Kenneth. That was the truth that Brian refused to acknowledge.

Noticing the change in his expression, Xavier asked, "Something wrong?" Justin had been ecstatic Monday afternoon, having successfully—and legally—changed his name to Taylor-Kinney.

"Brian's going on a business trip. To see Kenneth Harris."

"Oh," he said, understanding completely. He'd seen the way Harris had looked at Brian during the wedding reception and he figured Justin definitely had something to worry about. Still, he said, "Brian wouldn't give him the time of day. He's got his Boy Wonder, what would he want with Harris?"

Maybe nothing but Kenneth would give him everything, unasked. All Brian had to do was to accept it.

"He loves you," Xavier reminded him. "You two are like," he laughed, "I don't know, some kind of romance novel, J. You go through hell but you always end up together."

"Why do we have to? Why can't we just live happily ever after and fuck all the rest of this shit?"

"I don't know. Maybe cause life ain't easy."

"I'm not asking for easy, I'm just asking for a break."

"It's just a business trip, J. He'll go, spend a few days in a crappy hotel in the deep fuckin' South, and he'll come running home to you." Like always.

Smiling and shaking his head, Justin said, "You're right. I'm being a Drama Princess."

"Do what you do best," grinned Xavier.

"Fuck you." But Justin grinned too. "Let's go look around. Rennie's probably got Brian held up in a corner somewhere trying to grope him."

Turns out she had taken him to see her painting, a beautiful still life done in the manner of Vermeer. The light seem to shine from someplace deep within the painting, giving every object a golden sheen. Of course, the objects were somewhat less traditional than the technique. She'd chosen to paint a grouping of sex toys. Leaning in to Brian, she whispered, "You inspired me."

He laughed and kissed her on the lips briefly. "Too much, Terror Girl."

Justin didn't know what to say and Xavier just blushed and moved on.

Xavier's painting was just as technically proficient although it reminded Justin more of Cezanne, the colors vibrant, the objects seemingly in motion, at odds with the very idea of a still life. As with Rennie, he'd chosen untraditional subjects: garbage in an alley, something he would have seen every day of his life growing up in DC. Somehow, he'd endowed the humble objects with a beauty that belied the ugliness of the context.

"You've got a future in advertising," Brian told him. "Anyone who can make garbage look like that would have no problems selling fuckin' ugly shoes," he said, remembering the hideous shoes that had brought him and Kip Thomas together.

"Sorry," said Rennie, "Xavier's an artiste. He intends on starving for his art, isn't that right?"

"Personally," Xavier told her, "I like to eat. Three meals a day plus snacks if I can get them. And," he added, "I do love the bling bling."

She laughed cause Xavier was the one of the few people she knew, besides Justin and Brian, who didn't wear any kind of chain around his neck. He said it reminded him of slavery too much. She'd decided not to ask him why the numerous piercings and tattoos didn't.

"I wanna see yours," Brian said to Justin.

"No point in putting it off," he replied and he took Brian to where his painting hung.

He'd taken as his starting point Henri Matisse, who, having been influenced by Cezanne, also employed bright colors and patterns to suggest movement and life in what was a representation of stillness. Entitled "Brian as a Still Life" it displayed a pair of cut-off shorts, tennis shoes, and a white tank top lying on the floor of the bathroom. The vibrant blue of the shorts and the white of the tank top and shoes contrasted wonderfully with the rich red terra cotta floor and the warm sienna walls. The faux paint on the walls and the grid-like pattern of the floor added movement to the painting, as did the position of the discarded clothes that suggested they'd just been dropped off and Brian had just stepped out of view of the painting into the shower.

"Wow," said Brian. "That's beautiful."

"You're biased."

"Most definitely. But I'm not blind. It'll look fabulous out in the gallery." He turned to include Xavier and Rennie. "All of them would. What do you think?"

"How much you paying?" Xavier asked although he didn't intend to take their money.

"Bargain with me," Brian told him.

A twinkle in his eye, Xavier retorted, "That'd be like making deals with the devil," and Brian laughed. He couldn’t disagree.

Thrilled at the way the evening had turned out, Justin basked in the warmth of his partner's arms. They'd come home and made love in anticipation of spending way too many days apart, the first time they'd be apart since getting married. "It'll be strange, having dinner alone at home."

"You've had dinner alone at home since the wedding."

"Yeah, but you were just at the office, not in another state."

Kissing him on the temple, Brian reassured him, "I'll be back before you even start to miss me." Justin didn't bother to state the obvious, that he already missed him. They both knew that he did, there was no point in voicing it. "Besides, you'll have Leo. And Gus." The toddler was coming over on Friday to spend the weekend. "You'll be too busy to think about poor old me in hot-assed Birmingham."

"Please, you'll be in air conditioned comfort the entire time," snorted Justin. Brian was not one for walking around outside in hot weather.

"Don't blame me for being fragile," he joked, expecting Justin to laugh but he didn't.

Instead he fixed his eyes on his partner and said quite seriously, "Take care of yourself."

Kissing him once more, Brian assured him that he would.

Thursday morning came much sooner than they'd have liked and Brian found himself dawdling as he finished packing and got ready to drive himself to the airport.

"Sure you don't want me to take you?" Justin asked again. "No point in paying airport parking if you don't have to."

"I might be able to fly back earlier than planned."

"Or you might have to stay later."

"I'll be back Saturday afternoon if not earlier," Brian assured him.

Throwing on his robe, Justin headed downstairs. "I'll get breakfast."

It was four o'clock. Brian didn't feel like eating but if Justin fixed something, he would eat it, the least he could do to try and ameliorate the coed's feelings about the trip. Leo had awakened with them but was too sleepy to do much more than notice their rising and then close his eyes again. Sitting at the island counter in the kitchen, they half-heartedly nibbled on bagels with cream cheese and crunched a couple slices of bacon each. Brian had washed some strawberries which they imbibed as well, along with a super strong cup of coffee for him and orange juice for Justin.

Having eaten, Brian gathered his bag and his briefcase and loaded them into the Jeep. Returned to the house for a final farewell. Stood embracing Justin by the back stairs and tried to disregard the apprehension in his eyes. He kissed him sweetly on the lips and then on the forehead. "See you Saturday."

"Call me when you can."

"Tonight. Promise." One last kiss and then he turned and walked out of the house without looking back.

Inside, Justin closed the door, then cleared away the dishes, and returned to bed. Only, he couldn't sleep. Lying on Brian's side, he inhaled his scent, still clinging to his pillow. He'd be back on Saturday. Just two days away.

After an uneventful flight, he disembarked in Birmingham and found the car that waited to take him to Hyperion. And Kenneth. During the journey to Alabama, he'd tried to clear his mind of any thoughts except for business but hadn't been able to. He missed Justin already. Had been tempted two or three times to call him on his cell and had refrained.

On the ride to the complex, he turned over in his mind all the reassurances he'd given Justin and prayed that they had been needless. Maybe Kenneth really was ready to give up on the hope of a sexual relationship. Maybe they could be friends and nothing more.

Stepping out of the car and seeing Kenneth waiting just inside the massive glass doors of the Hyperion building, Brian felt his stomach knot up. Being the master of the poker face, he ignored the feeling and smiled brightly as they shook hands.

"Marriage seems to be agreeing with you," Kenneth said. "Thanks for tearing yourself away."

"I'm sure you'll make it worth my while." Then he added, "Increasing Hyperion's advertising budget, maybe," just to make certain Harris understood that there was nothing personal at stake for him. It was just business.


"So when do I hear about this fabulous new development that's going to make Hyperion Biotechnics a household name?"

Kenneth laughed. "Maybe not Hyperion Biotechnics. We'll have to come up with a suitable brand name for our new subdivision. I'm hoping you can help us out with that as well."

Anxious to find out what was going on, Brian asked, "So what exactly are we talking about?"

Brian tossed the folder of materials down on the tabletop. "Anti what?"


"In English."

"Stroke medication."

"Lucrative market?"

"Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States."

"So what's your drug do?"

"Remove blood clots. See, there are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Both have to do with a disruption in blood flow. With an ischemic stroke, usually there's an obstruction caused by a blood clot, so doctors try to restore blood flow to the brain. In a hemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel usually ruptures and doctors have to stop the hemorrhaging."

"So what's so special about your product?"

"The market." Kenneth grinned. "Ask me how many drugs are currently available to treat ischemic strokes?"

"How many?"

Kenneth held up one finger.

"Fuck…" Brian said in awe.

"We would be the second."

Having gotten over his initial excitement, a question came to mind. "But why would anyone buy your drug as opposed to the other?"

"Window of opportunity."


"Person has a stroke, doesn't really know that's what's happening. Maybe sits around the house for an hour or so, doesn't feel any better, goes to the hospital. Unless there's a stroke unit in the hospital, people experienced with recognizing the signs of a stroke, more time goes by."


"So the therapeutic window for the other drug is three hours. Unless a person gets to the hospital and is diagnosed with having had a stroke within those first three hours, the drug is useless."

"And no one's come up with a drug that works with a larger window?"

"Lots of clinical trials, all of us in a tight race to get FDA approval. Everyone trying to come up with a drug that works and extends the window while minimizing the risk of massive brain damage to the patient. Doesn't do you any good to have a drug that works at twelve hours if the person's lost functioning in half their brain."

"How long is the window for your drug?"

"Six. Hours."

"That's double the time that's out there." Even as a layman that was an impressive figure.


"And FDA approval?"

"In the bag."

Flipping open the folder once more and picking up his pen, Brian said, "Take it from the beginning. And talk slowly. It's been a while since I had biology or chemistry."

Yet, somehow, Kenneth doubted Brian had any problems with either subject.

He'd forgotten how much he liked working with Kenneth. Although he spent some of the day away from Harris, they were in enough meetings together for him to remember why he'd been drawn to the man in the first place: he was sharp, smart, witty, and serious about business even though he didn't take himself too seriously. He spoke his mind, no bullshit, but he listened to other people's opinions too —if they made sense. As the day drew to a close, Brian found himself feeling warmer towards Harris than he had in a while. He'd missed the give and take between them. So when Kenneth invited him to dinner, he accepted.

"I just need to call Justin." There hadn't been a moment in the day when he'd had a chance to do so and if he waited until after dinner, Justin would be furious. He found a quiet place to talk and rang him.


"Hey, Baby."

"I didn't think I'd hear from you until later."

"I got a break before dinner. What'd you do today?"

"Cleared the stuff from my studio at school and brought it home. Helped Xavier and Rennie pack." He paused. "You having dinner with Kenneth?"

"Yeah. What about you?"

"I told Xavier and Rennie I'd hang with them."

"Good." Justin needed to stay busy, stay occupied; less time to think about him and Kenneth.

"Look, I'd better go. They're waiting. Call me tomorrow?"


"I love you."

"Love you too." He closed his phone and smiled, glad that Justin wasn't sitting at home pining for him. It made being with Kenneth easier.

Seeing him come from down the hall, Kenneth beckoned to him. "I got us reservations at Ocean."

"Is that a good thing?"

Kenneth laughed. "A great thing, my friend. Best seafood in town. Menu is out of this world."

Holding up his hands, Brian said, "I trust you." After all, Kenneth's standards were pretty high and he had a phenomenal chef in his employ.

"You wanna change first?"

Brian thought about it. "This'll do." No point in tempting him. Maybe if they went in businessmen drag, things would stay on that level and not degenerate into something personal.

"Ha!" he chortled. "You did not."

"I did," replied Kenneth with a grin.

"Shit." Brian shook his head in admiration. "That I would have liked to have seen."

"The guy was a lazy asshole who had been coasting on his reputation for years," he said of the scientist he'd shown up at some conference. "I just thought it was time somebody called him on it."

"You're something else, you know that?" Brian finished his wine and tapped the rim suddenly bashful. He hadn't intended to say that and hoped that Kenneth would overlook his unintended admission.

Harris covered his own reaction by downing the rest of his wine as well. He'd been touched by Brian's words. "So," he asked, "how's Justin?"

"Good. They had their final show yesterday."

"How's the commission coming?"

Brian made a face. "He's got one finished and he's been thinking about the second piece, what it should be."

"Any ideas?"

"Something about the water."

At which point Kenneth began having visions of Brian standing naked beneath a showerhead.

"But he's not sure. Waiting for inspiration, he says."

"Hmm…" Kenneth didn't say what he was thinking, which was that Brian was inspiration enough for any man. "The next time I'm in town, I'll have to come see what he's done." He studied Brian's face. "I can't imagine anyone…" Let the thought and the words trail off, hoping the feelings would drift away from him, only they did not. I can't imagine anyone capturing those eyes, that face… Christ, he's beautiful. He looked slightly away then back again, unable to help himself.

Checking the watch he only wore during business hours, Brian said, "I think it's my bedtime." He couldn't meet Kenneth's eyes.

"I'll call for the car." He signaled their waiter and asked for the bill, then dialed his chauffeur. Time to go home. Alone.

There had been a moment, just before he'd gotten from the car when he'd almost invited Kenneth up for a drink but he'd known that once Kenneth was there, it would be next to impossible for him to leave again. So he'd said nothing. And now he sat alone in his room, stripped down to his undies, sitting on the bed smoking the cigarette he hadn't allowed himself all day, wondering if he could end his trip early and go home tomorrow. Picking up his cell, he called Justin, hoping that he'd returned from dinner. When no one answered after three rings, he started to hang up and then he heard the click of the phone and, "Hello?"


"What's up?" Tense, wary.

"Just thought I'd call to say goodnight."

Immediately he relaxed. "Remember that time when you called me to say goodnight? I had complained that you never kissed me goodnight and then you called to say it." He paused. "I always wondered why. What made you do it?"

Brian shrugged although Justin couldn't see him. "No reason," he replied, lying. There had been a reason. He'd been going over in his mind what it would be like if Justin went away for school, if they had to say goodbye and start over again without one another. And it had saddened him to think that he was losing Justin even though he hadn't admitted to himself or to Justin how much he needed him. How much he loved him. "It wasn't a big deal."

"It was a huge deal. I still remember us talking in Babylon about giving up my dreams, about sacrificing my needs to satisfy my parents. It was the first time I really realized how much you cared. How much you loved me." Justin waited a moment. "Seems so long ago."


"I never thought we'd get this far," he admitted.

"Me neither," and he chuckled softly. "Night, Baby." Better hang up before they both got maudlin. Or horny. Neither of which would do them any good.

Justin apparently agreed. "Night."

Brian put down the phone and laid back on the bed, sending futile smoke signals from the tip of his cigarette, yet satisfied and fortified for the coming day.

Looking at himself in the mirror, he wondered if he was making a mistake having dinner with Kenneth tonight at his place. The only reason he'd accepted was that he didn't want to bother with going to a restaurant after the hectic day they'd had at the complex. Exhausted but still wound up, he'd come back to the hotel, changed into his sweats, and gone jogging in Linn Park which was only a few blocks away from the Crowne Plaza. Wished he'd brought his cellphone as the park had a fountain in the middle and an iron pavilion. The fountain had reminded him of Leicester Square; and Justin had petitioned him to think about having a pavilion or gazebo built at the far end of the back yard. He'd told him that there was too much going on in the yard already and he didn't think a pavilion would do anything but clutter up the place. Justin had not been amused.

He checked his outfit again. Calvin Klein Spring 2003 collection. Normally he didn't wear a lot of CK cause he thought the brand was overexposed and definitely overhyped but Justin had picked out the shirt and slacks so he wore them occasionally to please him. Short-sleeved, three-button black shirt and a pair of black pants that Justin declared to be "perfect" but that he thought flapped around his legs way too much. Of course, all of Justin's pants were baggy so yeah, to him, they were perfect. Plus Brian thought the crotch was way too low. Nevertheless, he wore them. Had to admit, he did look sexy. Smiling slyly at the mirror, he suddenly frowned. He did not want to look sexy. What he wanted was to look very, very married. Very happily married.

And he was. So what had that impulse last night been about? "Nothing," he told himself. Idle curiosity.

But it'd been more than that. There was no point in trying to deceive himself. He was attracted to Kenneth, always had been. Didn't mean that he was going to run off with him or even allow himself to be tempted by the man, it just meant… that he was attracted to him. So what's wrong with that? he asked himself. Nothing. As long as he keeps his hands to himself.

On an impulse he called Justin. Not on his cell, just in case he was busy, but at home. Got the machine. "Hey, Baby. Just called to say I'll be home tomorrow with my virtue intact. Talk to you later." He paused. "I love you." Hung up and got ready to go downstairs to meet the car that would take him to Harris' home.

Kenneth tried not to stare as Brian stepped over the threshold, tried not to notice how gorgeous he looked decked out in black and silver—the silver being his sterling silver bracelet and platinum wedding ring. Kenneth focused on that fact as he greeted his guest. He's married. I was at his fucking wedding. Cool down and just breathe. But every time Brian moved his arm and the silver bracelet caught the light, he found himself mesmerized by his strong yet somehow delicate-looking wrist. And his fingers… Kenneth couldn't tear his eyes away from his hands, even when he was confronted by the wedding band. After a while, he could tell that Brian had noticed and the resulting self-consciousness saddened him.

"I wish you wouldn't," Brian said softly, picking up the drink Harris had fixed for him.

"Wouldn't what?" he asked even though he knew.

"Look at me like that." Which, of course, made Kenneth feel awkward as well. "Maybe this wasn't such a good idea."

"We can't even eat together?"

"I'm married."

"I haven't forgotten. How could I? Every fuckin' time I look at you, there it is. That ring!"

Setting his glass down once more, he started to stand. "I should—"

"Brian—I'm sorry. Please… Give me another chance."

A voice in the back of his mind that sounded not surprisingly like Justin asked, "To do what?" Then said, "Go back to the hotel and forget it. Forget about him," but he ignored the voice. Wearily he asked, "Why do you always do this?"

Kenneth thought of a dozen lies he could tell Brian but he couldn't lie to him, could only tell the truth. "Because I love you. And it kills me—"

"Stop it."

"If I can't love you, fine, that's your prerogative. But I ought to have the right to say how I feel. In my own home."

The evening had quickly spiraled out of control. "I should never have come."


"I don't want to talk about it anymore."

They were silent for a while, then Kenneth said, "I'm sorry. I swear to you, I promise myself every goddamn time that I won't make a fool of myself and then I see you… and every good intention…"

"Why do we always end up having the same fucking conversation?"

Angrily, Kenneth said, "You tell me what to do, how to stop feeling this way, and I'll do it!"

He studied the faint pattern woven into the napkins, something he never noticed even in his own. Anything to keep from focusing on the growing feeling of vertigo that seemed to have taken hold of him. "What do you want from me?"

"Everything," he replied honestly although he knew that Brian hated to hear it.

He left the table. Walked around the beautifully appointed room not seeing anything at all, the designer's craft wasted on him. Lost in thought. Going over all some of the more difficult moments in his life, the tough decisions he'd made, not knowing at the time where he'd found the strength—or the stupidity—to make some of them. When he spoke, it was as if someone else was talking, at least, that's what he hoped considering what he was proposing. "I'll stay with you tonight. Stay here. Be with you."

Kenneth half-rose from his seat, on the verge of accepting.

"But we give up this pretense of being friends. We fuck and then that's it." He stared at a painting on the wall, blind to the gorgeous colors, the skillful brushstrokes, the exquisite details. "That's the end of our acquaintance. Outside of business we don't see each other, we don't talk to each other, no contact. None." He paused. "Or I can go back to the hotel… and we… we can forget this ever happened." Head bowed, he waited, trembling.

For an instant, Kenneth wanted to say, "Go home, but he couldn't. He couldn't send him away. Having starved for so long had made him greedy. He longed to grab Brian, hold him tight, keep him, keep whatever of him he could. Joining Brian by the painting, he reached for him as he said, "Stay with me." Brian looked over at him and Kenneth immediately wanted to take his words back. His eyes were so large, so dark.

"I thought it would be enough." Half-smiled. "For us to be friends. I thought…" Shook his head. "Stupid, I guess. To think that you cared."


"To think that being my friend would be enough." His eyes slid away. "But, of course, it isn't. Why would it be? What have I ever had to offer anyone except this?" Gestured at his body. "All that I am," he pronounced.

"No," Kenneth argued. "No, it isn't." Risking a touch, he loosely grasped Brian's wrist. "I want all of you. I want… I want you. In my life. Every day until I leave this fucking world. That's what I want. What I can't have," he said through clenched teeth. "And it makes me crazy. It makes me say and do things that I wouldn’t do if I weren't… so in love with you. I love you," he said gently, voice full of wonder as if he'd only just realized the extent of his feelings. He dropped Brian's wrist and turned away. "You should go." Having given himself a moment, he started out of the room. "I'll call Carl."

Released, Brian sat back down and cradled his head. Christ… And he ached. For missed opportunities; for meeting at the wrong time; for not being strong enough not to feel anything; for wanting Kenneth at all when he had a husband who loved him more than anyone should, more than he deserved, more than he ever thought anyone would ever love him. On the other hand, here was Kenneth telling him that he loved him, that he wanted him… Brian opened his mouth, then closed it. No.

Only it wasn't as easy as telling himself, No, and then forgetting about all that had happened that evening. Back in his hotel room, he made a great show of packing his bag, carefully folding his clothes even though they were just going in the wash, to the cleaners. He rearranged his briefcase a half dozen times, shifting papers and folders until the compulsion passed. His stomach complained about its missed meal but he was wound up too tight to eat. Finally, having exhausted his meager repertoire of mindless tasks, he sat on his bed and stared at the television, flipped through the channels until he came upon something familiar. The news. Didn't watch it, just set the volume at a comfortable level and tossed aside the remote. Laid back upon the bed hoping the white noise would lull him to sleep.

But his mind would not let him rest.

Twice he picked up his cell phone, not certain who he'd call: Justin or Kenneth, and twice he put it down unopened. Still the desire persisted. The desire to reach out and connect with another person. In the past it had driven him to do all manner of thing, usually to his detriment. He hadn't forgotten his actions in Los Angeles, hadn't forgotten the look on Justin's face as he told him, "I thought I could make a difference, I thought I could love you enough, give you enough... but I can't." Brian closed his eyes. It is enough, he promised him silently. There was no way he was going to jeopardize their marriage for Kenneth, no matter what he felt for the man. He had Justin and that was enough.

He hoped it was enough. It had to be because there was no going home to Justin and being happy, being content if he had strong feelings for Kenneth; and he knew that to leave Justin would kill him. There'd be no way to stay with Kenneth and not ache for Justin. His only choices were to either be miserable or to forget about Harris.

They'd parted hastily, neither one attempting to say more than was absolutely necessary to get him out of the house and into the car. At the last moment he'd turned and started to say… something, he didn't know what, but Kenneth had already looked away. He wondered if that would be the last time he'd ever see Kenneth, if he'd be left with this image of him turning away, misery couched in the set of his shoulders.

He thought about the scene in The Bridges of Madison County where Francesca watches Robert drive away, heard her words, "For a moment I didn't know where I was. And for a split second the thought crossed my mind that he really didn't want me, that it was easy to walk away." That scene never failed to make Justin a little misty-eyed. He had never allowed himself to feel anything during that moment for fear that he'd feel too much. He knew the pain of having to make a choice that was killing you. Knew the wretchedness of waiting, wondering if you'd be chosen. Knew the lingering ache of uncertainty. He'd thought that was over now that he and Justin had wed and yet, here he was again, feeling torn inside.

And Kenneth, what was he feeling right now? Brian wanted to shove all thought of him from his mind but he couldn't. What had Kenneth done after he'd left? Had he mechanically gone about the business of forgetting him? Had he regretted his actions? Cursed Brian and himself for ever having met, for ever having admitted that there was more to their relationship than friendship?

I never meant to hurt you, he thought. I never intended… To what? To care for you as much as I do. And then a voice inside his head asked, Do you love him? But he did not answer.

Movements heavy, as if he were trudging through snow, he undressed and shivered before sliding beneath the covers. Drew the comforter up to his chin and sat staring into the darkness.

He paused, holding the car door in his hand before closing it. Despite being exhausted and hungry, he hesitated, needing a moment before he faced his family, needing a last bit of peace, savoring the silence, using the brief time to strengthen his resolve. He would put the trip behind him, that's what he'd decided on the plane. So all he had to do now was uphold that decision.

Hearing Brian at the side door, Gus came running from the family room to meet him. "Daddy!" he shouted, so glad to see Brian that he bounced up and down wanting to be picked up and hugged.

Brian obliged him. "Hey, Sonny Boy." Kissed him as well and held him, grateful to be home again.

Pointing at Leo and Justin who had trailed in his wake, he said, "Leo bad."

"What did he do?"

"I caught him swinging from the drapes," said Justin. "Trying to climb up them, I guess." He slipped an arm around Brian and kissed him. "I’m glad you're back."

"Me too." Brian eyed Leo. "So what are we going to do with you?" The kitten stared at him as if he understood, looking slightly contrite.

"I got some of that spray you're supposed to use to keep them from scratching stuff. Put it on the curtains and the furniture. Nothing stained," he added quickly, knowing that Brian would be concerned about his leather sectional, among other pieces.

"Is it working?"

"Seems to be."

Bored with their conversation, Gus motioned for Brian to put him down and then he and Leo scampered off giving the spouses the opportunity to say hello once more. As he had Gus, Brian held onto Justin as if they'd been apart for weeks instead of days.

"You okay?" Justin asked, not that he didn't appreciate the embrace, but it worried him, the moods that sometimes came over Brian without warning. Because he knew how Brian tended to obsess over something, brooding in silence until he could no longer hold it all inside. In the past he'd done foolish things because of that tendency.

Releasing Justin and picking up his bags once more, Brian shrugged off his concerns. "Yeah."

"Trip go okay?" he asked, following Brian upstairs.

"Fine." Dropping his briefcase off in his study, Brian slung his luggage bag in the closet and plopped down on the bed. Fell back.

Justin joined him, laid a hand on his belly. "Hungry?"


"I'll see what I can find." He leaned over and kissed him, then left him to his rest. If he needed to talk, he would, eventually. Until then, there was no point in forcing the issue.

With Justin gone, Brian shut his eyes and practiced forgetting about Kenneth.

Gus snuggled beneath the covers in his race car bed. He loved his bed, loved his room, loved Leo, loved his Daddies. Reaching up, he touched Brian's face to get his attention even though Brian was looking down at him. "Daddy?"


He pointed up at the ceiling, at the faintly glowing stars. "See?"

"See what?"

He paused, trying to hear the word in his head the way Mommy told him to. "Stars."

"That's right," Brian told him. "Stars." His speech was getting clearer everyday but sometimes he had trouble with consonant pairs like "th" and "st".

"Can we go?"

He could see people taking commercial shuttle flights in Gus' lifetime, it wasn't too farfetched an idea. Maybe even in his lifetime, although he'd probably be an old man by the time they did. It'd be cool, to die and have his ashes scattered on the moon. Smiling, Brian said, "Maybe someday."

Which was good enough for Gus. " 'kay."

"Give me a kiss," Brian asked and the toddler complied. "I love you."

"I love you, Daddy."

" 'night."

"Nite nite."

Having seen to it that Beh was nearby and that Leo had found his corner of the bed, Brian cut off the overhead lights and left a tiny SpongeBob glowing in the wall by the bed. He checked to make sure the intercom was on send and that the door was cracked, and then went to his bedroom. Closed the door shut.

Two glasses and the rest of the bottle of wine they'd opened and shared at dinner sat on one of the bedside tables. Justin lay on the bed. On his belly. Naked. A sheet draped over his hips. He turned onto his side. Lifted the edge of the sheet.

Dropping off his robe, Brian joined him, ran a hand over his flank. "God, I missed you."

Justin caught his hand, held it, stroked his fingers. "Brian…"


"Did something happen in Birmingham?" When he saw that Brian was about to brush it off again, he added, "I know that something's been bothering you." Brian looked as if he were debating telling him so Justin settled down to wait.

"I had dinner at Kenneth's place last night," he said finally. "Wasn't the best idea I've ever had but… we'd been getting along so well, I thought that maybe, maybe we had finally gotten this friendship thing right. So I went. And I'm sitting there… and he's looking at me."

Although he knew, Justin asked, "Looking at you?"

He could see Kenneth sitting across from him, surreptitious glances becoming penetrating stares. "Like he wanted me."

"That's because he does." When Brian didn't say anything, he asked, "Then what?"

"I got really angry and we argued. I just—we always end up having to deal with that shit. And I asked him why."

Because he loves you.

"He said it was because he loved me. So I gave him a choice." Here was the hard part, the part he didn't want to tell Justin but he had to because they were supposed to share everything. "I told him he could sleep with me and our friendship would be over… or we could remain friends and forget about ever fucking."

If Brian's confession shocked Justin, he didn't let it show. Only asked, "What did he choose?" As if there had ever been a choice.

"What do you think?"

Justin hated to ask but he had to, had to know the truth. "And did you?"

Once upon a time, Justin's question would have hurt but they no longer had any illusions about living the perfect life. There was only life, full of mistakes and regrets, and they lived it the best way they knew how. "I meant what I said. I promised to be faithful to you and I meant it."

"I'm sorry."

"I just…"

"Brian, I'm sorry. I know how much his friendship meant to you."

The best thing to do was to put Kenneth away and forget about him, that was the only course of action open to him, the only one that would give him any peace. "He made his choice."

Curling up in Brian's arms, Justin laid his head upon his chest. Listened to the strong, slow beat of his heart. He'd missed that. "I'm glad you're home."

Fingers entwined in Justin's hair, Brian replied, "So am I."

"What do you think about this one?" Daphne asked, pointing to a deep burgundy sofa with a pleated skirt, and a scarf and throw pillows trimmed in gold with tassels. School was out and she was home for the summer and hadn't found a job yet so she'd agreed to help Justin shop for furniture. "It's kind of modern. Kind of vintage."

He liked the fabric which was patterned but in one color. "I like it. But I don't know what Brian would say. I think it's probably a little too girly for him."

"It's weird but, you know, there's something, I don't know, a little girly about Brian."

"Daph! He is not girly."

"Well, feminine then. It's hard to explain but he reminds me of… a cat."

Justin smiled. "He calls me Baby Cat."

"So that makes him Big Cat. Big Cat and Baby Cat. I like it."

He warned her, "If you ever tell him I told you that, I'll kill you."

Taking a seat on the sofa, Daphne patted the cushion next to her. "Wow, this is really comfortable."

Drawn to the piece despite the fact that Brian would probably hate it, Justin joined her. "It is." Ran his hand over the arm. "God, this is fabulous."

She checked out the tag. "Raymond Waites." Her eyes opened wide. "Maybe we can find something cheaper."

"I really love this sofa." Justin took out a pad and pen and jotted down the information.

"You would pay that much for a couch?"

"You obviously haven't seen the price tag on the dining table and chairs."

She raised a brow. "Expensive?"

"Don't ask."

Bouncing on the chair, Daphne said, "Your place should be in "House Beautiful" or "Architectural Digest"."

"Be good for Joanie's business." He stood. "She's going back to school in the fall."

"Awesome. It's really amazing how well you guys get along now. I remember when she said she didn't want to have anything to do with Brian. Or you."

As they wandered through the rest of the section, Justin agreed. "Brian was so incredibly hurt." Felt the fabric on another sofa remembering how Brian had come to him at Deb's place and cried in his arms.

"But now everything's cool."

"Yeah," he said. "We're the perfect family. Except…"

Alert to the possibility of trouble, Daphne asked, "Except what?"

"Lindsay's been thinking about having another kid." He pointed to another sofa, this one a rich red as well although the fabric was a floral pattern and Brian hated most floral patterns. They sat down but neither one thought it was very comfortable.

"What does Brian say?"

"He thinks it might be good for Gus to have a sibling."

"Probably. It's hard being an only child."

"And you think growing up with Claire or Molly was easy?"

"We were in junior high school when Molly was born. She didn't exactly grow up with us."

Of course, there was more to the baby issue than he'd mentioned. Yet. "So, anyway, Brian also thinks that our next child should be mine."



"With Lindsay?"

"I told him that you and I had always said we would have a kid together. Besides, I'd feel a little weird having a baby with someone that much older than me."

"Brian's that much older than you."

"It's different."

"I don't know. Maybe it would be better if you had a child with Lindsay. After all, you're both blond."


"And I'm not. That matters to some people."

Of course, she meant that she was black. "It doesn't matter to me. Besides, you're straight. I figure it evens out."

Daphne laughed and bumped him with her shoulder. "You!"

"So you think we should wait?"

"Definitely. Babies take a lot of time, a lot of care. Even for part-time parents. I'm not ready for that. Not yet. But," she began again, "if you had a child with Lindsay, your child and Brian's child would be related. They might even resemble each other."

At that he laughed. "No way. Gus looks exactly like Brian. Even with Lindsay's nose, it doesn't matter. He's the spitting image of Brian."

"Can you imagine, having a little boy who looks like you?"

He smiled. "Might be nice." It'd be more than nice. Even though he loved Gus and Gus loved him, it wasn't the same as sharing the same genes, the same flesh and blood. Having a part of you that would live on even after you were gone. A you that you could watch grow up, seeing what might have been if things had been different. Still, he knew that he wasn't ready for that, not now. And as much as he loved Lindsay, she wasn't Daphne. "I want to have a child. But I want to have one with you."

"And you will. I promise. Just not now. 'kay?"

"Okay." They'd walked around the gallery and come back to the chair he and Daphne had liked so much and nothing else in their wanderings had come close. He gave it a final stroke. "Let's go. I've got to get home so I can start convincing Brian that this is the perfect sofa."

Over the next few weeks, he worked on the ad campaign for Hyperion's new antithrombotic drug and Joanie and Justin worked on driving him crazy with the new living and dining room designs. Since they weren't making any architectural changes, all they really had to do was to assemble the various pieces of furniture and accessories. Which meant Brian and Justin had to make some choices, which meant they actually had to agree. On everything. Joanie would not accept any half-hearted abdications of responsibility. "I don't care," didn't cut it. Neither did, "Whatever." Brian learned the painful way just how much backbone his mother had developed. And attitude.

Additionally, the closer the two rooms came to being completed, the more Justin wanted to have an open house to meet and greet the neighbors. Knowing that Justin wouldn't take no for an answer, he agreed. Halfheartedly. Which was all Justin was going to get on that issue, which the younger man knew, and he took it. Ran with it. Began making plans with Joanie. All Brian had to do was write the checks, supply the credit card, and show up for the event. With a big ole smile on his face which Justin planned on being assured of by spending a little quality time with his hubby prior to the party.

Livingroom | Dining Room

Finally, the week of May 19th, Joanie brought over the very last items, a pair of custom-made topiaries created just for their house. Positioning one in the painted planter by the entrance to the livingroom and the other in a corner of the dining room, she surveyed her work from all angles and was pleased with the results. The men wouldn't be home for a few more hours and she didn't feel like driving to her place just to turn around and drive back, so she plopped down on the sectional and rustled up the remote. Fumbled with the controls for the digital cable until she managed to turn on the television and find HGTV. She'd have no problem killing a few hours. The boys had promised to treat her to dinner. After all of her hard work, the least she deserved was a meal at some fancy restaurant. Although Brian and Justin had sworn they'd pay her for her services, she couldn't take their money. They were family and, besides, she knew how much they'd paid for their new house and the furnishings. There'd be other opportunities to collect a paycheck. Especially since Justin was dead set on having an open house. At the very least, she might pick up one or two commissions from that event alone. And once Brian's business associates took a gander at the place, there'd be more forthcoming. She'd already taken one meeting with Marty Ryder and Liz Ryder-Kelly and was confident they'd retain her for their substantial redecorating project. Already her mind was aflutter with ideas for the Ryder-Kelly's new master bedroom and bath.

Luckily, she was able to catch "Bed and Bath Design" and pick up some helpful tips. There was so much to learn and she couldn't wait until she was able to enroll in the Interior Design program at LaRoche. Brian had pushed for her to enroll in college immediately instead of starting out at the community college but it'd been so long since she'd sat in a classroom, she knew she'd feel better starting slowly and then working her way up to a degree program. Maybe by the time she finished the two-year program at the community college she'd feel confident about going to college. As is, she just felt nervous and very, very old.

After "Bed and Bath Design" she watched a few more programs on HGTV and before she knew it, either Brian or Justin was pulling into the yard.

"So is it finally done?" Justin asked as he came into the family room.

"It's perfect, if I do say so myself."

He smiled. "Brian'll be happy. He told me the other day if he looked at one more lamp, he was going to lose his mind."

"Too late," replied Joanie, laughing as she joined him on his way into the livingroom.

Although the rooms had been virtually complete for a couple of days now, he still hadn't gotten used to seeing them they way they were now. A holdover from months of looking at two empty spaces. He whistled. "It's fabulous. The topiary is perfect." It was a round topiary made of boxwood and punctuated by dried flowers: burgundy roses, golden yellow roses, and creamy white ones. Leaning over, he inhaled. There was a hint of fragrance but not much. Joanie must have warned the florist about his allergies and Brian's abhorrence of heavy scents.

"Come see the other one," she said and led him to the dining room.

"Wow." Expecting to see a matching topiary, he was surprised to see that this one was made using dried fruit: pomegranates and lemons, to be exact. The topiary had a pleasant citrus aroma. "That's amazing." But he hadn't expected anything less. The same person who did the topiaries had also created two stunning centerpieces for the dining table and the coffee table in the livingroom. For the dining table, she'd created a topiary made to look like a slice of cake, with moss icing, burgundy parchment roses, and a faux strawberry filling made of tiny berries. There was even a gold fork with a burgundy ribbon tied around it to coordinate with the porcelain plate upon which the cake rested. Brian had complained about it being a little girly but he'd been impressed nonetheless.

"Think Brian will like them?"

"He'll love them." As if he were letting her in on a secret, he told her, "He loves these rooms. He won't admit it, but he does."

"I do what?" the subject of their conversation asked, coming into the dining room with his suit jacket over his arm and a grin on his face.

"Love what your mom's done to this place."

"For what we're paying her, I'd better," he joked and gave his mom a peck on the cheek.

"What about me?" asked Justin and Brian pecked him on the cheek too. "You," laughed Justin and waved him away. "I'm starving. Where are we eating?"

"Got reservations at The Cove."


"I've never even heard of it," Joanie admitted.

Justin reassured her that not many people had.

"Cuts down on the riff-raff," Brian commented. "Speaking of which, are you planning on changing?" he asked Justin.

"What's wrong with what I have on?"

Raising an eyebrow, Brian checked his watch. "We don't have time. Just go change. Trust me, we'll all be happier if you do."

"Won't have to listen to you bitch," said Justin, smiling sweetly, and he sauntered off.

Joanie popped Brian on the arm. "You should stop."

"He'll never learn to dress if I do."

Checking out her own outfit, she began to feel a little self-conscious. Maybe she should have gone home and changed too.

Smiling, Brian told her, "You look lovely."

"Now go kiss and make up," she ordered him.

"Saving that for later. After you go home," he smirked.

"Better hope you're not sleeping in the guest room," she retorted.

"Obviously, you've never seen me make up." For the second time that evening he kissed her. "You did a great job."

Joanie beamed.

"See? And I didn't even have to fu—"

"Brian!" Shaking her head, she went to check the throw pillows on one of the two sofas, even though they didn't need plumping.

With Joanie occupied for a while, Brian went to put out Leo's food. He hadn't seen the kitten yet which meant he'd probably been upstairs sleeping and was now more than likely watching Justin change but, eventually, he'd come down looking for his chow. Brian had just finished scooping out the dried bits when he heard Justin thundering on the stairs, Leo sure to be behind him trying to keep up. He leaned against the island counter and waited.

Justin walked into the kitchen and modeled his outfit: a blue and white striped jersey over a pair of navy slacks.

Catching hold of him, Brian bestowed a huge kiss upon his lips. "Much better."

"I'm thinking about using pansies as the border for the invitations."

"For what?" They were in bed talking as they usually did before falling asleep, especially if they weren't intending to play.

"The housewarming."



"You're joking, right?" Sometimes he wasn't sure when Justin was kidding and when he was genuinely clueless.

"Why not?"

"We're queer and we're sending out invitations with pansies on them? What's it gonna say on the inside? 'Come on over to our house, you'll have a gay ole time?' "

"Shit. I never thought about that." He really hadn't. It was a lot to keep up with, all the euphemisms for being gay. Especially the historic ones. He was a modern kind of guy. Gay was good enough for him. "Shit."

Brian snickered. "Fuck it. I say do it."

"I'm not going to put that—"

"The pansies, chickenshit."

Maybe they could use them. Maybe no one else would notice. "They are pretty."

"And so are we."

"Actually, I prefer, totally hung."

"Then it's a good thing I am."

"You're going to behave, aren't you?" Why did he even bother asking. Of course, Brian wouldn't behave. Still, it was worth a try. "I don't want our neighbors getting the wrong idea about us."

"And what would the wrong idea be?" As if he didn't know.

"That we're common."

"Anyone can tell that we're uncommonly good."

Giggling, Justin said, "That's Kebler's." Sobered. "I want to give a good impression."

"Which would be?"

"That we're just like everybody else." Justin laughed before he could even finish the sentence.

"If that's what you want," chuckled Brian. "we're in deep shit trouble."

Justin leaned back against Brian. "I just want them to like us."

"I'm gorgeous and you're adorable. They don't stand a chance."

"They'll be in love with us before the evening's done. Then again, everyone falls in love with you," said Justin carelessly. "You can be charming when you want to be."

But Brian had gone back to Birmingham in his mind, heard Kenneth tell him, "I love you," quite needlessly as he'd known that Harris loved him. "Yeah," he said softly, having come back home.

He knew what and of whom Brian had been thinking. "Have you heard from him?" Although Brian had been busy with the new campaign for Hyperion, Justin had gotten the impression that his contact with Kenneth had been minimal.

"He's called a few times. Updates on the approval process." Shrugged.

"You think you'll have to go back to Birmingham?"

"Definitely. Probably soon. They're set to get FDA approval any day now. When that happens we have to move and move fast."

"Why can't they come here?" There were planes that went to and from Birmingham. On top of that, Kenneth had his own plane.

"It's easier to send me there."

"Then why does it have to be you?"

"Cause I brought Hyperion on board, I've been the main contact from day one. Can't just change that without a damn good reason."

"How about the CEO is after your ass?"

"My ass is off limits to him."

"Why won't he believe that?"

As Justin had about their fictitious relationship when they'd first begun fucking all those years ago, "We believe what we want," Brian explained.

Justin thought about a subject they'd studied in class this past semester. "Like trompe l'oeil," he said. "We think the illusion is real because we don't want to see the truth." He snuggled up to Brian and took hold of his hand, traced the design in his wedding band. "And the truth is, you belong to me."

Smiling, Brian replied, "Absolutely."

For the fortieth time—in fifteen minutes—he asked himself what he was doing getting ready to host an open house. What's more, he couldn't believe that everyone on their block had responded to the invitation positively, assuring Justin by phone that they would attend the soiree. Although they'd briefly spoken with the people on either side of them, they hadn't had extensive conversations and no one had actually been inside their house. Brian figured their neighbors had to be very intrigued by them. After all, they were the only gay couple on the block and the only couple with a spouse under the age of thirty. He couldn't imagine what they thought they did behind closed doors.

"What about this?" Justin asked, coming out of the closet and modeling his outfit. He'd finally decided on a pair of tan linen pants with a drawstring waist and a white camp shirt. This, after having put on three different outfits first.

"Turn around."

"What?" asked Justin, turning, hoping he wouldn’t catch the hem of his pants in his new leather slides.

"I just like to look at your ass," replied Brian.

Justin bumped him. "You promised to behave."

"And you promised to make it worth my while," he said, pulling Justin to him and kissing him soundly.

"Afterwards," he whispered. Checked out Brian's ensemble: black, short-sleeved sweater and chocolate, flat-front trousers. "This is nice," he said of his sweater, which had textured horizontal tiger stripes.

"Had it for years. Packed away, I guess. That's one of the hidden benefits of having a walk-in closet: I'm finding stuff I'd forgotten I had bought."

"Brian Kinney wearing last year's fashions. Say it isn't so."

Swatting Justin on the bottom, Brian started out of the bedroom. Their guests would be arriving in fifteen minutes or so. Time enough to make sure everything was perfect.

There were eight houses on their street and all seven of the other couples showed up at six for the open house. Standing at the front door, they and Leo greeted their guests as each couple arrived, directing them to the family room where the buffet was set up. Within a few minutes, everyone had assembled, Leo having escorted them to the family room, tail held up like a standard, the guests entranced by his soft meow and beautiful liquid eyes. When the last couple walked away from them, Brian and Justin kissed briefly and went to play hosts.

Rachel, who had met Justin once outside the house before they'd moved in, spoke up. "The food looks wonderful but I'd really love to have a tour before we eat. Do you mind?" Leo curled around her feet, intrigued by the smell of her dog.

"Fine with me," said Justin. Brian shrugged. "Where do you want to start?"

Of course, the ladies all wanted to start in the living and dining rooms which they'd glimpsed walking through the reception hall. The hall itself garnered some appreciative looks for the fountain and the inherited artwork arrayed on the walls.

"We had our wedding out here," Justin explained to a couple of the women who made him promise to show them the pictures later on.

"Are those Turner prints of Venice?" asked an older woman, Laney. She and her husband, Frank, were the oldest couple on the block, somewhere in their sixties. Brian and Justin were surprised by their attendance, presupposing that they would have abstained, disapproving of a gay couple, and a young couple to boot, in their midst. But they'd come in, smiling, and had greeted them warmly, welcoming them to the neighborhood.

"Yes," replied Justin. "We met an elderly man last year who ran an antique shop. He passed away soon afterwards and left them to us. The silver service too." Brian slipped his arm around Justin and hugged him briefly before moving into the dining room. He knew how much Sebastian had meant to the younger man and had been happy to hang the prints in such a prominent place. They even had a photo of Sebastian and Thomas among photographs of their relatives and friends on the mantelpiece in the family room. "He was like a grandfather to me," Justin explained.

"I've always wanted to go to Venice," Laney said.

"It's amazing," Justin told her. "We went to Europe last summer and spent over a week in Italy. We loved it. I can't wait to go back."

Rachel gasped as she saw the chandelier over the dining table. "Where did you get this?"

Brian sighed. He knew they'd gravitate to that thing just to spite him. "From a supplier here in the States but it was made in Venice. Murano glass."

"That's it," she told Christopher who was looking as pained as Brian. "That's just what I've been looking for. For our dining room. Something different."

"That's definitely different," Christopher agreed. "And probably expensive."

Brian said nothing, it was better that way. He and Justin had had enough terse discussions about the chandelier. It was time to let it go.

The other guests wandered around the two rooms, murmuring appreciatively at the classic-looking furnishings. The lighting fixtures in the livingroom were admired as well, especially the wine red lamp with the beaded fringe and the crystal and amber glass chandelier.

Someone opened one of the doors to the courtyard and everyone went out for a moment, the scent of wisteria perfuming the air and the fountain gurgling contentedly.

They toured the rest of the first floor, peeking into the conservatory which hadn't been decorated beyond Justin's easel, Gus' easel, and the mosaic table and chair set.

"You have a child?" asked a middle-aged woman of Brian.

"Gus. He's two. Almost three. He lives with his mothers."


"They're lesbians." He smiled and the woman smiled back, then went to find her husband, undoubtedly to share the latest news. Brian chuckled softly and caught up with the group which had moved on to the kitchen.

As they walked through the gallery, Justin explained that they intended on displaying artwork from the Institute. At the moment they had on the walls the three still-life paintings he and Xavier and Rennie had done plus the sketch Justin had done of Brian after they'd first met, which the ladies all examined quite closely. There were also a couple of photographs Brian had taken of Leo and Gus and downtown Pittsburgh. He had some of Justin too but they weren't for public viewing.

"Who did these?" asked one of the younger men in the group, Nicholas.

"I did," Brian replied.

"Two artists in the family."

"Actually, I'm in advertising," explained Brian. "This is just a hobby. The camera does most of the work."

"I do a little amateur photography too," Nicholas said. "But I'm not this good. What kind of camera do you use?" and he and Brian discussed lenses and shutter speeds as they climbed the spiral stairs to the second floor.

Frank, Laney's husband, loved the library even though there was an obvious paucity of first editions or any editions of worth except for Justin's art books, some of which were expensive if not priceless.

"Are you a rare book dealer?" Justin asked him.

"Publisher. But," he added wistfully, "publishing's not what it used to be. I'm just about to retire. Held out for years but maybe it's time to sell. Take Laney on that trip to Venice that she's always wanted. Stay a while."

As expected, the master suite aroused some interest and not just for the decor. But they'd been careful to lock their toy chest so the prurient tastes of their guests went unsatisfied. Leo, who was used to sitting on it, hopped on top and made himself (and the trunk) the center of attention.

"What breed is he?" asked a middle-aged man whose name Brian couldn't remember.

"European Burmese. Chocolate."

Petting Leo, who loved it, the man said, "Well, he's beautiful. Are you going to show him?"

They'd learned that they could, that the CFA had begun to award ribbons to the European Burmese but they didn't intend to put him through that. "He's strictly a lounge around the house cat. Isn't that right, Leo?" And the cat hopped down to follow them into the bathroom.

Although she'd been polite, Rita, the woman who'd asked Brian about Gus, had been quiet the rest of the tour until they reached the bathroom. There, she was drawn to the dividing wall. Running her fingers over the waxed and buffed surface, she studied every inch of it, entranced by the delicate ruins. "It's magnificent. Did you use a professional artist?"

"Justin and his friends painted it," Brian boasted, quite proud of the wall and of his spouse's talent.

Risking a smile, she said, "Your house is so beautiful. Everything in it is just so… beautiful."

Obviously not a writer. "Thanks."

"You seem very happy here."

"We are."

As if she were imparting some great secret, she said, "The people who had it before you weren't."

Not certain what to say, he fell back on his mother's advice and didn't say anything.

Downstairs, the neighbors continued to quiz Brian and Justin about the house and themselves while consuming a light supper. Luckily they'd rented chaffing dishes so the hot food had remained hot and the hors d'oeuvres were no worse for wear for having sat out twenty minutes longer than they'd expected. The dinner, catered by the Zoo, won rave reviews.

Portishead played in the background, Beth Gibbons singing about being a woman. The irony was not lost on either Brian or Justin.

"From this time, unchained
We're all looking at a different picture
Thru this new frame of mind
A thousand flowers could bloom
Move over, and give us some room…"

"They did our wedding reception," Justin explained. "The dessert's by the baker who made our cake. Her name is Gaia and she's amazing."

"I've been to her shop," said Rachel. "She has the best lemon bars in the city."

"You have to go to the Liberty Diner if you want really good lemon bars. And if you come in while I'm working, I'll give you a discount."

"What do you do there?" she asked.

"I'm a waiter. Started out as a busboy," he boasted.

"And you go to school full-time and have a husband and a child? How do you do it?"

Glancing at Brian, he smiled. "He's low-maintenance."

Laughing, Rachael shook her head. "He looks like he's beyond high-maintenance."

Caught out, Justin laughed too. "Stratospheric. But he's worth it."

"And you two did all of this yourselves?" someone asked after they'd calmed down.

"We had help. My mother-in-law is a phenomenal decorator."

"You think she could do something with our house? My husband and I can't agree on anything."

"Believe me," he told her, "after working with us, she's ready to broker the peace in the Middle East."

Promising Nicholas that he would come over and check out his home darkroom one day soon, Brian shut the door and leaned against it.

Justin slipped his arms around him. "That wasn't too bad, was it?"

"I survived."

"You did very well. Everyone was very impressed."

"With the house."

"And us."

"You're a good host."

"Ess," joked Justin, sticking out his tongue. They kissed.

"Mmm," murmured Brian and kissed him again.

Justin backed away from him and kicked off his shoes. Pulled off his socks. And his shirt. Moved in closer and said, "Open my pants and close your eyes and you will get a big surprise."

Snickering, Brian pulled the string on Justin's pants and slid his hands inside back of them. "Oh." Cupped Justin's bare cheeks and traced the line of the thong around his waist. "Nice."

Justin dropped his pants and stepped out of them, letting Brian see all of the thong. There was a nylon zipper in front, the white of the plastic contrasting with the black material of the thong itself. He turned and displayed his smooth ass. Looked over his shoulder and smiled. Started up the stairs certain that Brian would follow.

Kicking off his shoes, Brian did. By the time he got to the library, he'd left a trail of clothes behind him. He paused by the stairwell and leaned against the wall, waiting. Justin stood by the entry to their bedroom, feet planted apart. Taking hold of the zipper on his underwear, he pulled it down. Slowly. Then opened the two halves of the thong and reached for his cock. Eyes fixed on Brian, he spat in his hand and began to stroke himself. Imagining it was Brian's hand, Brian's slender fingers wrapped around his dick, tracing whorls on his skin.

Staying put and watching until Justin began to stiffen, Brian pushed off the wall and walked towards him, his own cock growing heavy. Crouched so that their crotches were on level and rubbed against Justin, palms curved around his behind. Gnawed on his neck, red spots marking his path up and down Justin's throat. Head thrown back, Justin gripped Brian's hair as he continued to rip his neck and to pump against him. He could feel his cock hardening. Suddenly Brian picked him up and carried him to the bedroom. Laid him down and stripped him free of the thong. Justin opened his thighs and tightened his legs around Brian as they kissed, mouth devouring mouth. He was dizzy, so excited he could barely think. Every time Brian's cock brushed his thigh, his belly, his cock he wanted to shout. And when Brian lowered his head and began to blow him, he did cry out and then smothered his cries as Brian teased and taunted him, tugging on his meat and twisting his head as he sucked him raw.

Brian finally released him and knelt over him. Gently stroked him, coaxing a surge of precum from the tip of his swollen cock. Licked his fingers clean. Justin shivered and reached for Brian's hand. Drew his fingers into his mouth and sucked them, the act sending pulses of pleasure through both their bodies. Each time Justin's lips tightened around one of his fingers, Brian caught his breath: it felt like Justin was sucking his cock. After a few minutes of that, he did want Justin's mouth around his dick. Pressing down on it, he fed it to his lover, brushing the moist head over his soft lips before allowing it to slip inside.

Picking up the phone in response to Cynthia's buzzing, Brian absentmindedly said, "Yeah?"

"We got approval."

Kenneth. Immediately, the adrenaline sent him into high gear. Dampening his enthusiasm with effort, he asked, "News release?"

"Going out as we speak. You coming down this week?"

"You want me to?"

" 'preciate it if you would."

"Two days or one?"

"Better make it two. In case we have to tweak something. I want to go with this as soon as we can."

"I'll get Cynthia on it."

"Brian… thanks."

Allowing himself to smile, Brian replied, "Congratulations."

"See you Thursday."

He could tell Kenneth was pleased and not only about the FDA approval. What was he going to do? The situation was rapidly deteriorating and he was running out of options. The problem was, he didn't want to hurt Kenneth and yet that was probably the only way he was ever going to convince the man that there was no hope for them.

"Justin…" Jennifer gazed around the rooms in wonderment. "This place looks fabulous."

"Joanie did all the work," he told her.

"Well, she's a genius. It's, it's magnificent." Following Justin out of the livingroom, her hand lingering on the surface of the console table by the doorway, Jennifer took one last look at the space before they crossed the hall to the family room where they had coffee together. And talked. "It feels like I haven't seen you in ages."

"Sorry." He supposed he'd been a little upset with her for telling his dad about his name change. "Dad tell you I saw him at the courthouse?"

"He did." She sipped her coffee. "Justin… I know you probably think I was wrong to tell him but I thought he should know."

"He says he can't be a part of my life now that Brian and I are together for good." When Craig had first said that to him, it had hurt. Now, it didn't hurt so much anymore. His life went on, with or without his father.

"I know. I tried to talk to him but he won't see reason."

Justin shook his head. "No wonder you guys got divorced."

"Maybe he'll come around eventually," she suggested.

"I don't care, Mom. I've got so much going on, I don't have time to worry about whether or not he'll come to accept me. It's been too long and I've been through too much."

"He does love you. He'll always love you. You're his son."

He disagreed. "The son that he loves… that's not who I am and he doesn't want to know me. The real me. He'd rather pretend that one day I'll wake up and be the person that I used to be."

She tore a Danish in half and nibbled at the corner of one piece. Said sadly, "So my little boy is gone for good?"

Justin smiled, his cheeks warm. "No, not gone." He's just someone else's little boy, now.

"So, you and Brian are doing okay then?" she asked. "As if I have to ask," Jenn added. "You look as happy today as you did when you got married."

"Because I am. He makes me happier than I ever thought I'd be." Raising a brow, he inquired about her love life. "I thought for sure you'd show up to the wedding with a date."


"You're pretty, you're smart, you're an amazing real estate agent—"

"You're biased."

"Found the perfect house for us."

"That was luck," she admitted.

"So, there's no one?" he asked, prying further.

Pausing for a moment, she smiled shyly. "Well, there have been a few… inquiries."

"A guy asked you out?"

"More than one," she boasted.


"And I said I'd think about it."

Justin fell back in his chair. "Mom. What are you waiting for?"

She shrugged. "A… a feeling."

"What kind of feeling?"

"Something that says, 'This is the one.' Does that make sense?"

Remembering how he'd felt when he first met Brian, he understood what she meant. "Yeah," he replied. "It does. I hope it comes. You deserve to be happy too."

"Oh," she said, "I am happy. I love my job, I love spending time with you and your sister. And my new son-in-law and my in-laws. Joanie and I had lunch not too long ago. My life is good."

A grin sneaking its way past his good sense, Justin thought about the nights he and Brian spent making love until the early hours of the morning and he knew that good was not enough.

Having deciphered the meaning of the grin, Jenn said, "Not everyone needs sex as much as you and Brian seem to," and laughed at the mortified look on Justin's face.

But he recovered quickly. "No, but they'd be a lot happier if they had it as much as we do," and he laughed as well.

They'd turned in early, Leo curled up at the foot of the bed waiting for them to fall asleep so he could take his place in between them. Brian had shared his news about his impending trip to Birmingham with Justin and the young man had, understandably, been less than thrilled.

"So this is it, huh?"

"Yep. Pretty exciting."

"I guess." He smoothed the comforter.

Understanding why Justin was responding the way he was but wanting him to be a little excited for him, Brian said, "Think of it as my solo exhibition."

"I'm sorry. It's not that I don't think it's important because I do. I know how important it is to you, to your career."

"And to millions of stroke victims."

"You really think it's going to help?"

"Kenneth does. And I believe him."

The confidence Brian seemingly had in Kenneth came through in the strength of that statement. "Why?"

"He's never lied to me. Not that I've found out."

"Pretty rare." He couldn't say the same himself. Neither of them could.


"I've always tried to tell you the truth."

He heard the hurt undertone in Justin's voice. "I know."



Justin paused. What was the point in risking an argument. "Do you think maybe we could go to the inn this summer?"

"That's not what you were going to ask me." Three years together had given him the ability to read Justin almost as well as Justin read him.

"Doesn't matter."



"Maybe," Brian said, answering Justin's question even if it wasn't the one the young artist wanted to ask him.

"Maybe what?"

"The inn." Kids.

"Oh, yeah."

"Depends on how busy I am with this new campaign."

"Just a weekend. That's all." Although he tried not to, he was beginning to feel resentful of the time Brian put in at the office. Beginning to feel like one of those executive wives who turned to gardening or charity work to fill the void left by her husband's absence.

"I think that could be arranged." He leaned over and kissed his spouse, rubbed noses.

"I love you." Pecked Brian's throat, feeling a little frisky. "You know…"

Brian laid back. "Baby, I'm really tired. I was running around like crazy today trying to get things done."

Rolling away, he commented, "Kenneth calls and you jump."

Well, they were back to that. "O-kay."

"I didn't mean that."

"It's just business."

"It's not just business!" Justin couldn't keep quiet any longer. "He loves you. And you—you're attracted to him. Don't deny it." Although what he wanted most in the world was for Brian to deny it.

He didn't. But he did say, "And I married you. That should count for something."

"It does."

"Then why do you feel threatened by him?"

"Because he would do anything he could to get you."

"But, Baby, there's nothing he could do. No. There is." At Justin's look of fear, Brian said, "The only thing he could do is to somehow be you. And last time I looked, there was only one of you in the whole, wide, fucking world. For which I am eternally thankful."

Justin rolled his eyes. "Shut up."

Softly, Brian asked, "Why won't you trust me? Trust me to do what's right?" Jesus, a year ago he wouldn’t have defended himself because God only knew what he'd do from one moment to the next. But he'd made an effort to change, to be a better person and still…

"I do," Justin assured him. "I do trust you. I just don't trust him and I never will. No matter what he says, he loves you and that means something, Brian. You don't just put those feelings away and forget about them just because you can't have the person that you love. I know. There were days when I would have given anything not to have loved you," he confessed. "But I didn't have a choice. And neither does he."

"Well, neither do I. I love you, I married you, and I intend to spend my life with you. I'm sorry Kenneth has to be hurt but there's never been a moment, the entire time he's known me, when I've ever given him the slightest impression that I would give you up."

"I believe you, I do." He had to, it was the only way he could stand by and not do something more drastic like demand that Brian not see Kenneth, which would get him nowhere except in the doghouse with Brian.

"Then no more discussions about Kenneth?"

"I'm done."

"Good because I'm tired and I intend to go to sleep." Giving Justin a final kiss, he turned over onto his side. On cue, Leo got up and padded over to Brian and laid down next to him.

Justin stroked the kitten's fur for a moment, then turned over to take his own rest.

Despite being a self-confessed exhibitionist, no matter how many times Brian stood up to pitch an idea to a client, he always felt a little nervous at first. But once he began talking and started focusing on the idea rather than the clients, the nervousness disappeared and he did what he did best: seduced his audience.

As he set up his boards, he reflected that he could have brought Cynthia along to help. Funny, the thought had never crossed his mind, that he could have brought an assistant. Didn't really matter, he was used to being a one-man show.

"We all know what a drug ad looks like. They show you a person, preferably someone attractive, enjoying a happy life thanks to their product. A couple walking down the beach, children playing in the park, guy walking his dog. No one wants to focus on the disease, no one wants to be negative, so they play up the positive aftereffects." Several people nodded. They understood.

He paused, his next words a little difficult for him because of their personal nature. "When Justin—my husband—" and he thought that it was peculiar that it didn't seem strange to him anymore to say that Justin was his huband, "was attacked, I remember sitting in the hospital, not knowing what was going on, not knowing what they were doing, whether he would live or die. And even after he was out of the woods, the doctors would come around and speak gibberish to us and I've never felt more helpless in my life.

"I know how it feels to be afraid. To feel as if no one understands what you're going through. Hyperion has a product that could potentially save millions of lives. How may spouses, how many children have to sit in a hospital waiting room wondering if someone they love is going to make it or not? And even though nothing can really take away that fear, how much easier would it be if they understood just what was going on? If they knew, in plain English, what was happening and, more importantly for Hyperion, just how this drug would work? So we educate them. About strokes and about our product. About why it's better than what's currently out there." Again he paused, gauging their reaction. So far no one looked dubious.

He uncovered his board showing a print ad for the drug. It was a picture of two people sitting in a hallway much like the hallway where he and Mikey had sat waiting for Deb and Jennifer to arrive. One of the people was looking up at a clock on the opposite wall, the other person was looking down. Brian read the ad's heading, "With a stroke, every second counts." He pointed out the secondary text. "Your loved one has had a stroke. Three hours have passed. It's not too late. We can help." Pointed to the tertiary text. "Here's where we explain the problem, what the treatment is, and give all the pertinent details about the drug. And then at the bottom," indicated the last large line of text, "we hit them with the tagline, 'Afibrinase. We give you more time for life.' "

Removed a second board which was storyboarded for a television ad. "For the TV spots, we use the same concept except that we intercut the secondary text with shots of doctors and nurses at work. Go to the drug information part. And at the end, show a shot of the patient recovering in the hospital with his or her spouse, son, daughter at their side, and end with the drug name and the tagline." He avoided Kenneth's eyes, focusing instead on the VPs arrayed around the table. Then he heard a voice, Kenneth's voice.

"I like it."

Brian finally looked over at him.

"I more than like it, I love it." Sketched in the air, "Afibrinase. We give you more time for life." Slapped the tabletop. "Fuckin' love it."

One of the female VPs grinned. "It is catchy."

A male colleague shook his head. "Doctors are gonna hate it."

"Good," said Kenneth. "Put a little fire under their asses. You know how many doctors refused to even consider Activase?" which was the other drug currently approved for this type of treatment.

"Well, that's not entirely fair. After all the data from that one study—"

"Is up for interpretation." No one disputed Kenneth's take on the situation. "I say we give the people the power to go in asking questions and let the doctors earn their fees."

None of the VPs disagreed.

Taking a seat, seduction complete, Brian smoothed his tie and asked, "Anything else?"

Kenneth opened the car door and held it for him. "You sure you don't want to go out to dinner?"

"I'm bushed," he said as Kenneth got in behind him. "I'm ordering room service, putting up my feet, and relaxing. I've been hustling non-stop on this campaign for a week."

After having signaled the driver, Kenneth told Brian, "Well, rest up because there's going to be a small cocktail party at my place tomorrow to celebrate getting FDA approval and having had the good sense to retain the best damn advertising firm in the country. Which means you have to be there."

"Count on it."

Stretching out his legs, Kenneth said, "That really was an A-class piece of work."

"As soon as I get back to Pitts, we'll start casting for the ads and we should be up and running within a week, two at the tops."

"We also need to come up with some ads tailored to the medical community to put in the leading journals, particularly the ones that cover strokes and cerebrovascular diseases."

"Something a little less sensational," suggested Brian.


"Also, tomorrow, I want you to look at the package my reps are taking with them on the rounds. See what you can do to…" he hunted for the right phrase.

"Sex it up?"

Instead of answering, Kenneth smiled.

Falling silent, Brian gazed out of the window, nothing really to see except for trees and highway and other cars. The complex was outside of town and it would take twenty minutes or more to reach Birmingham proper. He wondered what Justin was doing, if he was out watering his herb garden or making plans for further agricultural endeavors. They really needed to find a gardener. The watering they could handle as there was a drip irrigation system in place but as far as cutting the grass was concerned, he'd pass. And Justin sunburned way too easily.

"Are you okay?"

He looked around. "Just thinking about the yard."

Kenneth laughed. "The joys of home ownership."

"We planted an herb garden on my birthday."

"Happy Birthday."

"It was in April." He smiled briefly. "Sometimes I feel like…" Gave his head a tiny shake.


At first he was going to shrug it off but then he decided to answer. "Like someone else. My life's… not exactly what I thought it would be five years ago."

"But that's a good thing, right?"

Brian glanced back out the window. "Yeah," he said, facing Kenneth once again. "It is."

That conversation stuck with him even as he boarded the elevator for his floor. His life had changed in so many ways from what it was five years ago. There'd been no Gus, no Justin, no house, no partnership. Five years ago the only thing he'd wanted that he now had was the partnership. He certainly hadn't wanted a child, a spouse. But he had all those things now. Responsibilities, not only to his job but to his son, to his husband. He remembered telling Michael, "The only person I'm responsible for is myself." Jesus, that had only been three years ago. And he'd been talking about Gus and Justin.

He changed into a pair of jeans and a tee-shirt and flipped through the Room Service menu, ordered pan/oven-roasted chicken with rosemary and portobello mushrooms. As he waited for his dinner to arrive, he stretched out on the bed and searched the channels on the television for something to watch. Ended up leaving it on Cartoon Network and closing his eyes. He could hear Gus in his head, giggling at something on the TV, Justin laughing too. A quiet moment was a rare thing in their house if Gus and Justin were around. Yet he preferred it to the quiet. The loft had been very quiet most of the time before Justin had arrived on the scene. He used to turn on the stereo just to drown out the silence. And the thoughts in his head. The way he was doing now with the television.

He checked the time. Justin would still be at the diner. Afternoons he worked there, mornings he spent in his studio, said he focused better early in the day. Evenings and nights belonged to Brian. When he was home. Which had been a rare occurrence this past week. He'd come home more than once after nine, found Justin in the studio sketching or lounging with Leo curled next to him. Despite his having told him not to, sometimes Justin hadn't eaten, had waited for him to return home to share a meal, a quiet moment before bed. To sleep. Exhausted, he hadn't been much in the mood for romance. A few mornings they'd played before he'd headed off to work but, all in all, it hadn't been a good week for them.

Once he got back from his trip, there would still be a great deal of work to do but, hopefully, his schedule wouldn't be as hectic. And he intended to delegate the work. There was no need for him to be involved in every aspect of the campaign. Let someone else deal with the commercials, the print ads, buying air time and publication space. He had good people working for him, he had to trust them to know what they were doing. Had to or else he and Justin were headed for a major pileup.

He had vacation time coming up in two weeks, was only taking a week but Gus was coming to stay with them that week and he intended to enjoy himself, maybe even make it to the clubs one night if they could find a babysitter. Two of the ladies in the neighborhood had volunteered after having seen Gus' picture on the mantelpiece. Brian and Justin both had assured them that he was a handful but they all had cooed and fallen instantly in love with the toddler after only having seen a photograph. Of course, Justin believed that it probably had more to do with his gorgeous daddy than it did with the adorable two-year-old. The ladies had seemed most impressed with Brian. Then again, most people were.

Including Kenneth, he told himself. He'd seen the hunger in Kenneth's eyes, which the man had tried to hide but couldn't successfully do. Not relishing being alone, he'd almost accepted Kenneth's offer of dinner but, in the end, he'd refused. He was tired, maybe too tired to fend off the man's advances, subtle though some of them were. It was actually the subtle ones that gave him the most trouble. The times when Kenneth abandoned his strategy of actively pursuing Brian and, instead, charmed him by being himself.

Don't think about him. So he opened his eyes and tried to concentrate on the Japanimation cartoon on the television but he didn't have any idea what was going on other than one group of bizarre-looking creatures were battling another freakish looking team. Maybe he should have taken a shower.

Dinner demolished, he set the tray on the writing/dining table and was about to run a bath when his cell rang. Justin. "Hey, Baby."

"You at dinner?"

"Just finished."

"Guess I should let you go then."

"Why? I had Room Service. Too tired to go out," he explained.

"Kenneth must have been disappointed."

"He was too happy with the campaign to be disappointed by anything."

"So they liked it?"

"They loved it."

"You think you can come home tomorrow then?"

"Can't. They want me to help them spice up the information packets the reps take around to the physicians." Didn't know if he should add that Kenneth wanted him there for a party at his house. But he did. "Plus, there's some shindig the company's having to celebrate the new drug."

Justin didn't ask if the shindig was at Kenneth's place, he didn't think he wanted to know. At least there'd be safety in numbers. "But you'll be back Saturday."

"As scheduled." He smiled, thinking of Justin waiting home for him, a couple of salmon steaks on the grill, salad in the fridge. "Maybe we can have lunch out in the courtyard when I get back," he suggested.

"Make it dinner. I gotta work Saturday. I'll leave you something for lunch in the fridge before I go in though."

Brian's smile grew wider. "Did I tell ever you you were the bestest twinkie ever?"

"I am not a twinkie." Justin paused and Brian knew that he was beaming. "I'm your husband."

"I love you, husband."

"I love you too."

Neither one wanted to hang up but there didn't seem to be anything else to say at the moment, at least nothing pressing. " 'Night."

" 'Night."

Closing the cell, Brian stood holding it for a moment, then put it away and went to run his bath.

The day had been very productive, Brian having met with the reps who would make the rounds with the physicians who would potentially prescribe Afibrinase. He'd taken a look at their information packets and made some suggestions regarding packaging and graphics, nothing too drastic, little touches that would hopefully jazz up their presentation just a tad. Sometimes that made all the difference in advertising.

Now, stepping out of the car in front of the hotel, he began to mentally prepare for the evening ahead. A party at Kenneth's house. Senior VPs, the members of the research team for Afibrinase. Spouses. Not his and not the host's as his was at home in Pittsburgh waiting for him and Kenneth had none. He wants you, his mind said unnecessarily.

"He can't have me," Brian whispered aloud, surprising himself. He was glad no one else was in the elevator with him. Alighting on his floor, he let himself into his room and checked the clothes he'd brought with him for something suitable. Justin was always teasing him about the number of outfits he took with him on a two-day trip but Brian knew that you had to be prepared for contingencies. What if you went out somewhere formal? What if, at the last minute, the client wanted to go see a baseball game or do something stupid like that? You had to be ready for anything. He'd done almost everything with clients. Including almost fucking one.

Telson. As he selected the clothes he'd wear that night, Brian shook his head. He still couldn't believe that he'd actually gone to the hotel intending to fuck that guy. And what about Kenneth? The voice in his head was being a pest today. "I'm not fucking him." It made him feel better to say it out loud, to hear the words emerge from his mouth. So it was said, so it would be done. For an instant he thought about calling Kenneth and canceling on him but he knew Harris would take it as an insult if he didn't show and he wanted to show, he wanted to celebrate the approval of the drug, the approval of the campaign. He just didn't want any hassles.

Holding up the casual outfit he'd brought with him, he wondered if it was too late to go out and buy something else. Jeez, he was surprised Justin had let that pass his suitcase inspection. It was one of his sexier ensembles: black, matte silk shirt and a pair of close-fitting pinstriped grey slacks. The pinstripes made his legs look even longer, not that he needed any help in that department. Justin often told him that he had beautiful legs, loved to lie next to him and run his hand from Brian's calves to his thighs. Loved to lie above him with Brian's legs wrapped around him.

Brian shook the vision from his head. God, he wanted to go home and make love to Justin, in his own bed, in his own home. Business trips used to excite him with the possibilities of visiting places he'd never been but he'd learned over the years that most places were like every other place these days. Every city looked the same to him, every experience was the same: another high-rise office building, another taxi ride from the airport. Again he shook his head. That wasn't exactly true. What was true was that he wanted to be home, he wanted to sit down to dinner with Justin in the family room, and load the dishwasher afterwards, and then climb the stairs to their bed. He wanted to hear the tiny cries Justin uttered when they made love, feel him tighten around him.

"Stop." Taking a deep breath, he began to strip. He'd shower, change, take a cab to Kenneth's place, have a few drinks, eat some canapé, maybe dance a couple of dances, and then return to his hotel room and pack. And tomorrow he'd take a flight back to Pitts. Back to Justin.

Kenneth greeted him at the door. "I would have sent the car for you."

"It's okay. The taxi wasn't much. Besides, we're billing you for it," he grinned.

"Worth every penny." He showed him to the livingroom where some of the guests were assembled. A few nodded to him, one or two half-waved. "What's your poison?"

"Cosmo." Last one he'd had was at Woody's about two weeks ago. He and Justin had gone out with Jeff and Mikey and Deb and Vic.

"Coming right up." Harris stepped over to the bar and ordered Brian's drink and one for himself, then carried them back to where the man was sitting.

"I could have gotten that."

"You're my guest," Kenneth said, handing the drink over. He sat next to Brian on the sofa. "Tired?"

"Little." Tasted the Cosmo. "Perfect." Laughed. "I should really have something to eat with this."

"Your wish…" began Kenneth who signaled one of the waiters circulating about the room. The young man brought over a tray of appetizers from which Kenneth selected a few and placed them on a cocktail plate. "Thanks." Passed them to Brian.

"Personalized service. I like it."

"I'm an attentive host."

"I think your other guests are feeling neglected," he pointed out.

Kenneth leaned in. "Fuck 'em."

Brian chuckled.

Sharon, who was slightly tipsy, tried twice to cross her legs and gave up. Waved the effort away with a flap of her hand. "So what's your husband like? Mine's an ass."

"Mine's got a great ass," replied Brian and she cackled.

"I like you." Smiled crookedly. "You're cute. No." She amended her statement. "You're hot." Reaching for his knee, she missed by a mile. "I've never made it with a hot guy."

"I've only ever made it with hot guys," he told her.

"What's your husband's name again?"


"That's it. So, is he hot?"

"Totally. Blond, blue eyes, and a smile like you wouldn’t believe." He took out his wallet and passed a picture to her. It was of them on their wedding day. "They call him Sunshine."

When her eyes uncrossed she examined it. "He's adorable. Look at him." Smiled. "Look at you." Gave him back the photo. "Makes me almost wish Robbie was here."

"Where is he?"

"Home. He hates these kind of things so I don't make him come."

"So how are you getting home?" he asked as she already seemed a couple of sheets to the wind. Of course, he was starting to feel a little woozy himself.

"Came with a friend. She doesn't drink." Laughed. "Party pooper." Finishing off the dregs of her drink, she raised her glass. "I seem to be empty."

"Well, we can't have that."

"Walk me to the bar?"

He rose and gave her his arm. Maybe together they'd make it.

"Chivalry isn't dead after all," she purred and patted him on the rear.

An hour later, he was feeling more than a little woozy: he had definitely passed tipsy a ways back and was headed towards being rip-roaring drunk. Someone had replaced the Top 40 hit parade with some house and electronica and Brian had begun to feel right at home. Next thing he knew he was dancing with two guys and a woman he suspected was Sharon but he wasn't quite sure as his eyes weren't doing a great job of focusing on anything at the moment. Still, the music was hot, he was hot, and he felt like he could dance all night…

Reaching down and feeling around next to the bed, he found a trash can and heaved into it. Wiped his mouth with his hand and laid back, head cushioned by a pillow covered in silk. Silk. He didn't remember any silk sheets on the hotel bed. And there was something else. The smell of sex in the air. With his eyes still closed, he turned his head. He could tell he wasn't alone. His pulse rate began to speed up. Oh God, no. No. He opened his eyes. "No." Almost falling in the attempt, he scrambled away from the bed despite feeling as if he'd run a marathon. His body ached but it was nothing compared to the pain in his chest. "No," he moaned and covered his face.

Kenneth lay in the bed. Sleeping. Now stirring, Brian's movements having disturbed him. He sat up. "Brian."

"No." Trembling, he backed away and bumped into a dresser behind him. Knocked something onto the floor. Kenneth threw back the covers and rose, took a step towards him. "Stay away from me." As he continued to approach, Brian yelled, "Stay the fuck away!" Kenneth reached for him. "Don't touch me!" He stumbled away and began searching for his clothes.

"Brian, please—"

"I want to go back to the hotel."

"Brian, let me explain. Brian…"

He found his briefs, wadded up next to the bed, and held them in his hands, still on his knees, head bowed. His shoulders shook as he wept.

Kenneth picked up his robe and tied it on. "I'll get Carl to take you back."

He had no idea how he managed to get himself dressed, much less how he walked to the front door and waited for Carl to arrive with the car, Kenneth hovering uncomfortably in the background. Saying nothing as he exited the house, Brian boarded the car and hunched in the rear as Carl drove him back to the hotel. He tried to keep the tears at bay but could not. They rolled down his cheeks in the darkness. He felt disconnected from the world, didn't even know what time it was. Risking a glance up front, he located the dial in the dashboard amongst all the other gauges and gadgets. It was a little after five. Five o'clock. And he had no idea what had happened, had no memory of anything that had occurred in the past eight hours. Except that he had slept with Kenneth. Yet even that was something he could not remember.

Slinking past the attendant at the front desk, he prayed for the elevator to come quickly, then practically ran to his room, strength abandoning him as soon as the door was closed. He sat on the floor and covered his face, feeling the tears slide down his palms. "Oh, God… Oh, God…" What was he going to do? He had no idea. The one thing he did know was that he couldn't do it alone.

"Hello?" The voice on the other end belied the fact that Drew had been deep in sleep.


Instantly the man seemed more alert. "Brian, what's wrong?"

He nearly laughed. "Everything."


"Fuck. Fuck." And he began to sob again.

Drew sat up and put on his glasses. That always made him think more clearly. "I want you to calm down."

"I can't…"

"Brian, tell me what happened."

"I can't go home. I—"

"Where are you?"


Kenneth Harris. Shit. "Did something happen?"

"I can't go home."

"Brian, what happened?"

"I… I can't remember. I woke up… with Kenneth. I was… I was with Kenneth."

"You had sex with Kenneth."

"Oh, fuck… I can't go back there and…" He wanted to hide, wanted to find a dark hole and crawl into it and never exit again.

"When's your flight?" First things first. Get him home and then deal with the crisis. "Brian? Brian, when's your flight?"

"Nine. Nine thirty, I think."

"I want you to check. Find your ticket and check it." Drew listened as Brian rummaged around for the ticket. He could hear him opening the jacket. "What time?"

"Nine twenty-five."

"Okay, I want you to take a shower and get dressed. You understand?"

"It's so fucked."

Keep him focused. "Take a shower and get dressed. Then pack your stuff. Are you listening to me?"

"I can't."

"You can. And after you're done packing, I want you to call me again. Can you do that, Brian?"

"Everything's ruined."

"No, it isn't. Now, do what I said. Okay? Okay?"

"All right."

"Brian, I swear to you, we'll figure something out." Only he wished he was as confident as he sounded.

"You packed?"


"Feel better?" Even though he knew he wasn't.

"I'm going to lose him."

"No, you won't."

"He's never going to forgive me."

"He will."

"Why?" He really needed a reason he could believe in.

"Because he loves you." Brian began to cry. "Brian, I need you to stay focused. I want you to check out of the hotel and take a cab to the airport. I want you to call me right before you board the plane. Can you do that?"

There was a long pause. "I'll call you."

He'd been anxious for the past hour, hoping Brian would call, hoping he'd done the right thing. When the phone rang, he pounced on it. "Are you at the airport?"

"We're about to start boarding."

"What time does your flight get in?"

"One thirty."

"I'll meet you there. Justin drop you off?"

"I drove"

"So I'll meet you and we'll go someplace and talk. Is Justin going to be home?" He'd deliberately put the other half of the equation out of his mind during the entire ordeal. One thing at a time.

"Supposed to be working."

"Then we'll go to your place. And we'll figure out what to do." Silence. "Brian?"


"I'll see you soon."

Brian closed his cell and waited until they called for first-class passengers to board. As he settled into his seat, he hoped he'd be alone in his row. He was in no mood for idle chit-chat. It was all he could do not to burst into tears, to keep it together, to hold on until he reached Pitts. After that, he refused to speculate.

He saw Drew waiting by the exit to long-term parking. There's no turning back now, he told himself.

"You okay?"

"Better." He shifted his bag from one shoulder to the other just to give him something to do. "Thanks. For being here. For being there this morning."

"I'm glad you called."

"Sleeping alone?" he asked with a slight grin.

"Virtuously." Brian dropped his eyes. "Brian…"

"I tried not to think about it. On the plane. I tried to sleep, to keep my mind blank or occupied with work but it didn't help. It's all I thought about. And Justin. How he's going to react. I don't want to lose him, Doc. I can't. But I can't think of any reason why he should stay."

"He loves you."

"How much is he supposed to take?"

"Listen, there's no point in trying to guess what Justin's going to do. We need to focus on you. On how you're feeling."

He looked around at the busy people, swarming over the space like ants, and shuddered. "I need to get the hell out of here."

Despite wanting nothing more than to curl up in bed and hide, Brian had to deal first with Leo, who came running to the back door when he heard the key and insisted on being worshipped for a few moments before he would even think of letting the two men talk. After having placated Leo, he turned his attention to Drew who would be a lot harder to please. Brian put on the coffee and, once it was done, joined his therapist on the sofa by the fireplace.

"So tell me what happened."

"There was a party at Kenneth's house. A cocktail party. I had some drinks. Maybe too much. I thought I could handle it. Guess I couldn't."

"What's the last thing you remember?"

"I was dancing with some of the people from the research team."

"Do you remember the other guests leaving?"


"Do you remember having sex with Kenneth?"

"No. I woke up in his bed and I don't know how I got there."

"Did you take anything?"

"What? Drugs? No."

"Do you think maybe Kenneth—"

"No." Despite having thrown up he couldn't imagine that he'd been drugged. That Kenneth had—no.


"He wouldn't." And he believed that.

"Why are you so sure?"

"Because he's not that kind of a person." He wasn't like the Coach, wasn't… a rapist.

"But he'd take advantage of you while you were drunk?"

"We were all drinking."

"Brian, I know you don't want to think that—"

"It didn't happen that way."

"You don't know what happened. Did you ask him?"

"I just wanted to get out of there."

"Are you okay? Physically?"

"I wasn't a virgin." Not like before: a scared fourteen-year-old pretending to be wiser than he was, in over his head, lost after the first moment.

"That's not the point."

He put down his coffee after having picked it up, the need for it gone. "Justin is coming home and I don't what to say, how to explain what I've done."

"I want to talk about you. How do you feel?"

"I'm gonna lose him."


"What am I going to do?"

"Talk to him."

"I would give my life for him. And all he wanted was for me to be faithful to him."

"You have been." At Brian's head shaking, he asked, "Are you planning on leaving him for Kenneth?"


"Then you have been faithful."

"If I lose him, then there's no point to any of this."


"I'm telling you this now because I want you to understand." There was no give in his gaze and Drew believed him to be sincere.

"It won't come to that."

Before he could answer, he heard the door open. Leo rose to jump down. Justin.


"In here," he replied although his voice barely carried.

Justin came in smiling. "I got off—" He saw Drew and the smile vanished. He searched Brian's face, then backed away. "No."

Trying to stop things before they escalated, Drew said, "Justin—"

"No!" He ran off, ran up the stairs.

"Stay here." Drew went after Justin, found him at the doorway of their bedroom. "Justin…"

He slumped against the doorframe, angry tears streaking his face. "No. Not again. Not Kenneth."


"How many times! How many more times do I have to forgive him? I can't—I can't do this anymore." It just hurt too much. They'd come so far and now it had all been undone.

"Justin, listen to me. You don't know the entire story."

Bitterness nearly choked him. "What's the excuse this time?"

"I think Kenneth, or someone at the party, drugged Brian." He watched as anger turned to concern.


"He doesn't remember what happened to him. There are almost eight hours of his life unaccounted for."

"Does he think Kenneth drugged him?"

"He doesn't want to believe that he would. He says he was drinking and that he was drunk. But, Justin… I think he was drugged." He added, "I think Kenneth might have raped him."

Just the possibility of that having occurred shook him. He didn't know if he had the strength to deal with it. He remembered Brian coming to him in the diner that time, arranging for them to meet at his place; remembered Brian asking him if he'd ever forced him to have sex, terrified that he'd done so and hadn't remembered. Both he and Drew knew how difficult it had been for Brian to come to grips with having been assaulted. The nightmares, the insecurities and doubts, the hidden fears. To go through that again… "I don't want to do this."


"I'm so fucking tired."

"I know. But, Justin, so is he. And he's scared. He's scared of losing you, he's scared by what he thinks he's done. He's terrified by the idea that he might have been raped—he won't even consider it."

Another thought frightened Justin. "Did they use protection?"

"I didn't ask. I was too busy trying to get him home."

The problems, the trials never ended. "This time last year it was Xavier." There was no such thing as happily ever after.

"I'm sorry." If any two people deserved a reprieve, they did.

"I'll kill him."

Like at the trial, when Justin had run to comfort Brian, standing over him and daring the world to hurt him, he'd gone into protective mode.

"If he hurt Brian, I swear…"

And, as he'd done at the trial, Drew had to find a way to channel Justin's anger into something constructive. "Right now, you've got more important things to do."

Hearing them descend the stairs, he resisted the urge to run away. Whatever Justin had to say to him, he'd hear. But he couldn't meet his eyes as Justin came and sat next to him. The touch of Justin's fingers on his neck as he brushed them through the hair at the nape brought tears to his eyes. That Justin could touch him so intimately, so soothingly despite everything threatened to undo him.

"Are you all right?" Justin asked softly.

Unable to speak, Brian shook his head. The tears began again and he wanted to hide his face but there was no hiding from Justin. He'd seen him naked. There was no place to hide from him, not even within himself.

Justin enfolded Brian in a gentle embrace and held him. "It's okay. I'm here," he told him. "I'm here."

With Brian tucked away in bed upstairs, Justin walked Drew to the door.

"I really wish he'd go and get checked out now," the therapist said, a crease between his brows.

Justin concurred. "But he won't. Maybe when he gets tested…" although that would be weeks away and by then whatever was in his system would have worked it's way out or done whatever damage it could.

A slip of paper exchanged hands.

Justin glanced at the scribbles without comprehending what they said.

"I know how much trouble he had sleeping… last year."

"He won't take them."

"At least he'll have them if he needs them." Before he left, he added, "Watch him closely. If he seems… if something seems strange, take him to the hospital, don't argue with him, just do it. Or call me and I'll come over and we'll Shanghai him and take him whether he wants to go or not."

"Should I be worried?" Justin asked, concerned that Drew seemed so concerned about Brian's health.

"Luckily," he said, "Brian's probably taken every drug known to man. He'll more than likely shake it off, if he was given something. Maybe he's right and he wasn't. Just—be careful." Giving Justin's arm a squeeze, he left.

And Justin was alone, except for Brian hopefully sleeping upstairs with Leo beside him. The kitten never lost an opportunity to take a nap although Justin didn't expect Brian to be up there long.

What would they say to each other now that Drew was gone? Even though he'd gone to Brian and tried to comfort him, tried to understand, he had to admit to himself that he was angry. With Kenneth… with Brian. Angry that he'd gone to that party, that he'd been drinking, that he'd put himself in a situation where Kenneth could take advantage of him. If he had. Maybe…

No. Shaking the thought from his head, he busied himself with lunch/dinner, in case Brian woke up and wanted to eat. Not that he would. Whenever he was stressed about something, his appetite was invariably affected, effectively vanished. Best to keep it light. Maybe a salad.

Taking the ingredients out of the refrigerator, he stood at the island and washed the vegetables, then began chopping and tearing everything apart.

He couldn't sleep. Didn't suspect that he would sleep easily again for a while. The guys used to wonder how he could work all day and party half the night but the truth was, even if he had stayed home, he wouldn't have rested. A good night's sleep was the one thing he hadn't been wealthy enough or smart enough to acquire.

But that had changed so he'd thought. Gradually, over the years he'd known Justin, he had become adept at sleeping. Not that he hadn't had a restless night since Justin had come into his life but they'd become the exception and not the rule. He'd had bad periods though and this episode was already shaping up to be one of the worst.

Meowing, Leo came over and demanded to be petted, which Brian did absentmindedly. Pretty soon Justin would be up wanting to know if he would eat and he didn't want to, had no appetite whatsoever, but he would eat because it was such a little thing, the only thing he could do right now to please Justin. Why hadn't he stayed at the hotel? Or better yet, come back to Pitts after his last meeting? He could have caught an early flight and been home last night, tired but happy to be back where he belonged. And everything would have been perfect.

He heard the door open. Swung his legs over the edge of the bed and waited.

"Hey," said Justin as he sat down next to him.

"Hey." So much energy just to say one word.



Although he knew Brian was lying, he was grateful for the small deception. "I made salad. Grilled some shrimp."

Looking away, Brian said softly, "I'm sorry."

"I know that you didn't meant to hurt me."

And Brian said, "One night Jack came home drunk. Not unusual. It was a Friday and he'd gotten paid so he'd gone out drinking with the boys. Anyway, he came home and he was in a good mood. Sometimes it happened. And he wanted to dance. He came home, put on some old record he and Joanie used to dance to way back when, and he came upstairs and got her out of bed. It was late, eleven, twelve o'clock at night and we're all up because the old man wants to dance. And they danced. For a while, they looked great. And then he gets the bright idea to swing Joanie around. Only Jack wasn't too steady on his feet because he was loaded. He didn't realize it, of course, because he was loaded. He's swinging Joanie around and she's getting dizzy and he's getting dizzier and the next thing you know, Jack stumbles and Joanie goes flying. Falls over a coffee table and gets banged up. Arm bruised, hip bruised… And he never meant to hurt her. But he did." He stood and began to walk from the room.

"You're not Jack," Justin told him and he paused. Justin joined him. "You're not Jack," he said once more, taking hold of Brian's arm.

"No," Brian agreed. "Because he never lied to her. He never told her that he wouldn't hurt her, so she never had any reason to expect anything better." And he pulled away and left the room.

Justin sat back down on the bed, Leo nudging him, perplexed maybe by their behavior. He himself understood very well. There was no reasoning with Brian when he was in one of his martyr moods. "It's okay, Leo," he told the kitten, wishing he believed it himself. Loathe to spend the evening with the black cloud of Birmingham hovering over them, poisoning the air, he thought maybe he could call Michael or Lindsay, have them come over and take Brian's mind off the past twenty-four hours but he knew that Brian wouldn't thank him for it and he didn't know if he could endure two or three hours of pretending everything was normal either. Deciding it was probably best not to have guests, he padded downstairs to join Brian.

Found him plating the salad and arranging the grilled shrimp on top. Without speaking, he handed a plate to Justin and picked up the bottle of vinaigrette that his partner had prepared. They carried everything to the table where Brian had already set out two wine glasses and a bottle of Chianti, silverware, napkins. In silence they began to eat, neither with much appetite.

Finally, Justin said, "We used to have dinners like this at home. Where no one said anything. My dad would eat and my mom would pretend to eat and I swore that it would never happen to me."

"What would you like me to say?"

Justin's answer was interrupted by the telephone. Before he could answer it, Brian had risen, grateful for the intrusion.

"Yeah," he said, not really thinking about who it could be.


Kenneth. Brian started to sever the connection when he spoke.

"Please. Don't hang up. I just—I just wanted to say that I'm sorry."

Brian replaced the phone on the hook. Waited for all expression to leave his face before returning to the table.

"Who was it?"

"Wrong number."

The evening had passed slowly, Brian watching but not really seeing a film on television, Justin sketching by the fireplace, unwilling to leave Brian on his own. Now, as they undressed for bed, the truly difficult moment had arrived. Brian could feel Justin's desire for him and he longed to feel something other than shame and sadness but he did not unless it was the regret that seemed as much a part of him as his hair, his fingers. Turning over quickly to avoid the look of pain on Justin's face, he closed his eyes.


He felt the bed shift, knew that Justin was moving towards him and he tried to contract into a ball.

Justin stopped, drew back, rebuffed. Turned away from him and stared at the windows.

For most of the morning they managed to keep to themselves, having eaten a light breakfast together at the table during which time they'd said very little to one another. After clearing away the dishes, Justin had gone into his studio to work and Brian, Brian had gone outside. He walked the yard from front to back, examining the flowers along the house, the trees that lined the fence, the patio area, the pool. The weather had been so unpredictable that they hadn't even taken the cover off yet. Now that they'd had some days warm enough for swimming outside, Justin had called a company about servicing the pool. Someone was supposed to come over and check things out at some point. He wasn't in that big of a hurry himself. Especially since Mel and Lindz had charged him and Justin with teaching Gus how to swim. Which only made sense as they had the pool and Gus was going to spend a week with them this month.

Sitting on the patio just above the pool, he surveyed the yard. He and Justin had talked about building a tree house but Lindz had nixed that idea, afraid that Gus would fall out of it and hurt himself even though they hadn't planned on building it until he was older. Still, they wanted him to have a place to play outside. Inside, he had his room which was bigger than most kids' rooms and play rooms put together. There was no problem with space or privacy.

Suddenly he sniffled. What right did he have to make plans? Once again, he'd fucked things up. Justin was in the house pretending to work so that he didn't have to think about the mess Brian had again made of their lives and he was outside wondering where they'd go from here. A new home and a life in shambles. Separated again after having sworn never again to be apart.

His drawing had lost its interest. He'd only gotten out paper and pencil in the first place to keep his mind off of things. Now, looking at Brian seated on the patio, he found that he could not concentrate. Especially when he realized that Brian had begun to cry. He could see his shoulders shaking, see his body shaking with sobs. Justin stood, intending to go to him, when the doorbell sounded. Christ. He spoke impatiently into the intercom. "Yeah?"

"Justin, it's Drew Becker."

He breathed easier. "Which door?"


"I'll be right there." He found Drew at the front door dressed in a pair of shorts and a polo shirt, as if he'd just come from or were on his way to a tennis date.

"I'd ask how you were doing but I can see how you're doing. Rough night?"

"We've barely said a dozen words to each other since you left yesterday." Justin looked down, tears beginning. "He's… out back. Sitting by the pool and crying. All I can do is watch him."

Drew put his arm around Justin and held him briefly. "We've been through a lot together. I don't intend to give up on you two. Not yet. It's way too early for that."

"Four days ago… we were happy," he said. Went and sat on the steps of the tower stairs.

"You will be again."

"That a promise?" asked Justin but he wasn't naïve enough to believe that Drew would answer.

"I think that you need to get out of the house for a while. Have you gotten Brian's prescription filled?"


"Why don't you go do that?" Drew suggested. "Get some fresh air."

"And then what?"

"And then we'll see."

Nodding, Justin went to go find the prescription.

Drew walked through the hall to the conservatory and then out one of the French doors that led to the backyard. It struck him, once again, how beautiful the house and grounds were, how elegant and ordered; how well matched Brian and Justin were with the house, being beautiful themselves. Elegant. Yet their lives were highly disordered. Sometimes he wondered if that wasn't their natural state, if somehow they didn't thrive on chaos. Brian especially seemed to go out of his way to find trouble. Still, to be fair, he couldn't have avoided the situation with Kenneth. They were business associates and that relationship demanded that they spend some time together. Brian had had no choice.

He'd thought it was Justin coming to ask him about lunch but the stride was all wrong. Turning, he saw who it was and glanced away.

"Nice to be missed."

"Where's Justin?"


"You here to baby-sit?"

"I'm here to talk."

"Don't feel like it."

"Fine." He perched on the patio next to Brian. Said nothing, just gazed up at the sky.

Brian thumbed the corner of his eye. "What do you see up there?"

"Sky, clouds. Nothing magical."

"It is to Gus." Paused. "And Justin."

"And you?"

He glanced upwards then back down again. "No."


"I said I didn't feel like talking." He stood and headed back to the house.

"You can't run away from your problems."

He laughed abruptly. "I found that in a fortune cookie once."

"You said you didn't want to lose him," Drew called after Brian. "How about you prove that?"

Brian turned and flung out his arms. "You got a time machine?"

"You don't need one. But you do need to talk to him. Stop shutting him out."

"He doesn't want to hear what I have to say."

Drew felt chilly. "Then tell me."

He shaded his eyes against the sunlight then went inside.

Figuring he hadn't gone far, Drew found him in the family room, perched on the couch. He took a seat and waited. Brian said nothing, wouldn't even look at him. Finally Drew took the initiative. "Do you think you'll say something that I haven't heard before?"

"Maybe it's not about what you've heard. Maybe it's about saying something that I don't want to say."

"Like what?"

"Leave it alone. Leave me alone." Before Drew could stop him, he'd left the room. This time the therapist didn't follow him. It was obvious that whatever Brian needed to get out of his system, now wasn't the time.

He was still sitting in the family room when Justin returned from the drug store. In answer to the young man's unasked question, he said, "Maybe next week."

"Maybe next week what?"

"He'll feel like talking."

"And I'm supposed to wait until then?"


"What about me? What about what I need?" He threw the bag he'd carried in onto the sofa. "When is it my turn?"

Not wanting to be cruel but feeling that he had to put an end to that kind of talk, Drew reminded him, "You had your turn. Last year," he said softly.

Justin sat.

"I'm sorry."

"It's true." He twisted the band on his finger. "I almost lost him last year."


"I can't go through that again." Hugged himself. "I can't."

Drew tried to reassure him. "It won't come to that."

"You can't promise me that! You can't promise me anything. I’m afraid to leave him alone. I'm afraid to close my eyes… And it's only been one day." He shuddered. "How many more days do I have to go through?"

"He just needs some time. He'll come around. He'll talk to me and we'll figure it out. All of us."



"What else can I say? I either believe you and have some hope… Or I don't."

He'd gone upstairs to sulk. That's what Justin would have called it and he would have been right. And he would have except that Leo managed to sneak into the room with him and refused to leave his side. Refused to leave him alone. Wanted to be petted and stroked. To be loved.

Much like Kenneth had.

Brian held his head in his hands. Why couldn't he remember? He'd been drunk hundreds of times and he'd never had a memory lapse like that before. Maybe it was a good thing that he had forgotten. It was easier that way. Nothing to hold onto. No memories, fond or otherwise. Except that it wasn't easy. If it were easy he'd be downstairs with Justin helping him fix lunch instead of sitting upstairs in their bedroom brooding. Maybe he should have talked to Kenneth last night. Found out what had happened and why. Only he knew why they'd slept together. Because Kenneth loved him. And what about you? He tried to turn away but the voice persisted. Do you love him?

He went outside onto the loggia, grabbing his cigarettes from the nightstand. As the door shut, Leo meowed softly, upset at being left behind. Agitated, he paced for a while then settled down to watch Brian from the inside.

I should have talked to Drew. Smoke encircled his head. And said what? That he didn't know. What about tomorrow? He'd tried to forget that tomorrow was Monday, that he'd be expected to go to work and report on his trip, on the progress they'd made, on the fine job they'd done for Hyperion. All the while thinking about Kenneth, about waking up next to Kenneth, knowing that they'd had sex.

And the test.

He needed to be tested again.

Suddenly he felt very tired and the thought came to him, What if he raped you? What if you forgot because he raped you?

The door opened behind him. "Brian?"


"You want anything for lunch?"

"Like what?"

He lifted a shoulder. "Whatever you want."

"I'm not really hungry," said Brian, taking a draw on his cigarette.

"You should eat." Knowing that it was a risky proposition, he approached him.

"Don't say it. Don't say that you understand how I feel. And don't say that you understand what happened because you don't. You weren't there. You don't know."

"Then why don't you tell me?"

"Because I don't know!" Maybe I don't want to know.

Taking his arm, Justin said, "I just want to help."

"Help me do what? Remember? You want to help jog my memory so that I can remember fucking Kenneth?" Justin flinched and let go. "You want to help me analyze my feelings for him? Maybe discover that I—"


"Then what? What exactly are you going to help me do? Deal with the fact that I might be HIV positive? How about that? Think you can handle that?"

Justin started towards the house.

"No. So why bother talking about it?"

He turned back. "Because you promised me that you would. That we would share our lives. Come what may." Shook the tears from his eyes. "But maybe you didn't really mean it. Maybe I was stupid for ever believing in you."

Hand trembling, Brian stubbed out his cigarette and made no attempt to stop Justin. What would he say to him if he did? I'm sorry? It was way too fucking late for that.

He didn't see Justin for the rest of the day, holed up as he was in their bedroom, Justin keeping to his studio and the first floor. He kept waiting for the doorbell to ring and one of their friends to show up to make the hellish day complete but no one did. Small favor. So he wasted away the afternoon pretending to read The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger which he'd bought now that they'd released a new and expanded version. He'd always felt a kind of kinship with Roland. Understood how it felt to watch everything familiar vanish around you, leaving you alone and confused, holding onto memories and habits that no longer had a place in the world. Or worse, knowing that the world had passed on, leaving you behind. Tempting you with the idea that if you'd only find the right door, the right key to open that door, you'd be able to return to normalcy.

Only the world he'd used to inhabit, he'd left voluntarily. Partying, drinking, drugging, tricking. He'd turned his back on that life to make a new one with Justin. Normalcy now meant responsibilities, duties, vows, and promises that seemed impossible to keep. Except that Justin asked so little. All he wanted was for Brian to open up to him. Talk to him. Yet that was so much. Especially now when he was sure of very little.

Around dinner time Justin appeared at the doorway. "There's lasagna."

" 'kay."

Without waiting to see if he'd come down, Justin departed.

Washing up, Brian went downstairs to find the table already set for two. A bottle of red wine decanting. Testament to Justin's eternal optimism. Leo was munching away at his bowl. Justin was fixing their plates. Everything as it should be, everything in its place.

"Smells great," he said as Justin sat down.


Before taking a bite, he asked, "What's in it?"

"Bolognese sauce. Prosciutto, beef, and pork."

"Mmm…" He tasted the lasagna. "Delicious."

As if he'd been waiting for Brian's judgement, Justin began to eat as well. "I'm glad your appetite's back."

For a few minutes they busied themselves with eating. It was easier to focus on the food than to converse, especially about difficult things. But, finally, Brian broached the topic, "I'm sorry about what I said today."

Accepting his apology, Justin replied, "I know that I can't really help you—"

"Sometimes I say things that I don't really mean because I don't know the right things to say." He lowered his fork. "This time… I don't think there are any right things to say."

"It doesn't matter to me. I just… I don't want to be shut out. Even if it hurts." He reached across the table and held Brian's hand.

"It will. It will hurt, no matter what." He pulled free, left the table, stood hugging himself by the window to the pergola. Tears crawled down his cheeks. He heard Justin's chair scrape the floor. Felt Justin's arm snake around his waist. Turned and returned the embrace.

He'd thought that things would be different. After all, they'd come to some sort of understanding, some kind of peace. But tonight, after they'd gone to bed, Brian had turned from him, the same as the night before.

What is she trying to do? Win the Administrative Assistant of the Year Award? he thought as Cynthia greeted him at the door and took his briefcase and coat.

"Welcome back, Boss."

"Yeah," he replied, reaching for his cigarettes.

Putting his things away, she exited.

Good. Maybe she'd leave him alone which was what he desperately needed this morning. Taking that first puff on his cigarette, he nearly sighed. Last night had been a fucking disaster.

Cynthia returned with a cup of coffee, left it on his desk, and hightailed it out of his office, shutting the door behind her.

Shit. Still, it was better than being at home. Last night he'd turned away from Justin's offer of comfort. A foot away from his husband, he'd felt the young man's pain and disappointment but had been unable to assuage his feelings. This morning Justin had barely looked at him much less spoken to him as he'd gotten ready for work.

As he walked to Ryder's office, he went over in his mind all the ways he could fuck this up and swore to himself that he wouldn't. He'd go in and report on the new campaign and he'd leave and that would be that. He'd finish out the day and never let on that he was screaming on the inside.

Ryder waved Brian in. "Saw Kenneth on the news last night. Looked good."


"They ran a story on their new drug. Saw it on CNN last night."

He would have seen it, if he and Kenneth were talking. "Must have missed it."

"You didn't know about it?" He frowned. "Have you talked to Harris today?"


"Maybe you should. That was some spectacular free publicity. We need to make sure we follow-up on it."

"Yeah, I know how to run an ad campaign, Marty." Instantly he regretted the tone he'd taken. So much for laying low.

"Something wrong?"

"Everything's fine."

"Sure? Problems at home?"

"Why do you assume that there's something wrong between me and Justin?"


"I really resent that," he snapped as he stood.


The door slammed shut.

Inside his office, he closed the door and slumped against it. What the fuck was he doing? As if he had any room to be righteously indignant. Truth was, it had pissed him off that Ryder had hit the nail on the head. "Fuck." He dropped into his chair and swiveled around, stared out the window. What was he going to do?

When the door opened, he knew it was Marty. Holdover from the old days when he'd been an underling. "Brian? I came to apologize."

He shook his head. "You don't have to."

"I didn't mean to imply anything negative about you and Justin. I respect your marriage."

"I know. I'm just… Still tired from the trip, I guess."

"Why don't we postpone the partner's meeting? You can go home, relax."

He started to refuse. The last thing he wanted was to go home and do nothing but dwell on this past weekend. But he couldn't imagine actually getting anything productive done at work today. Maybe the safe thing to do would be to go home and deal with his personal issues first. As if they could be resolved in an afternoon. "You don't mind?"

"You've worked hard on the Hyperion campaign. What's the point in being a partner if you can't enjoy any of the perks?"

"I appreciate it."

Once Marty was gone, he set about packing his briefcase. Cynthia came in, a worried look on her face.

"You okay, Boss?"

"Just a little tired."


"Positive." And he froze.


"I'm okay. Do me a favor. Contact the people on the Hyperion team and let them know that Kenneth went for the concept and we need to get moving. Print ads, TV spots, the works. They can start casting for the ads so we can roll next week. The partner's meeting is pushed back to tomorrow. Find out when it is and schedule a team meeting around it."



She smiled. "Brian Kinney delegating. Who'd have believed it?"

He grabbed his coat. "See you tomorrow."

"Bye-bye," she waved and hoped he got some rest. He looked awful.

When he realized what he'd done, he apologized and tried to wipe the guy's shirt off as best he could. Luckily, he was cute and the guy liked twinks. Stammering another apology, he figured he'd slink away out back and try to get his shit together.


Of course, she'd seen. Half the diner had seen him pour ice tea down the guy's shirt front. "Yeah?"

"You all right?" Her voice was the model of concern.


"Then maybe you should see about getting some glasses."

He cringed. In an instant she had turned hard. That was her way. No one took any offense. "Sorry."

Then the concern returned. "You don't look so good."

"I'm fine."

She pulled him aside. "You were never a very good liar. Hey, Lola, taking five," she shouted and they went outside. "So, what's going on?"

It wasn't his secret to tell but he was just about to the breaking point and really needed to talk to someone. "It's Brian," he said unnecessarily.

She snorted. "Of course, it's Brian. What's going on?"

"Something happened while he away on business."

That was a euphemism if she'd ever heard one. "Who'd he sleep with?"

Her immediate assumption that he'd deliberately slept with someone hurt. "He didn't do it on purpose."

"Who was it? Some trick?"

"Kenneth. Kenneth Harris."

"Holy shit." Deb searched his face. "You know what happened?"

"No. Neither does he. He doesn't remember anything," Justin explained.


"Last thing he remembers is being at this party at Kenneth's house. After that, nothing."

Carefully she asked, "Did he go to the hospital? Get tested for drugs?"

Justin shook his head. "He says he wasn't drugged and that he didn't take anything."

"Well," she said, "if there's anyone who knows about drugs, it's Brian." Smiled. "I thought that would cheer you up."

He sniffled and looked away.

"Sunshine, I'm sorry. I know this sucks big time. But he's home and he's all right."

"He's not all right." Justin knuckled a tear away.

She hugged him. "He will be. He always comes through. And you'll help him. Just like you always do."

"What if I can't? What if no one can?"

"That's negative thinking and I will not have any of that. You hear me?" She lifted his chin. "Do you?"

"Yes, ma'am."

Pecking him on the cheek first, she popped him on the butt. "And don’t call me ma'am."

He smiled for the first time in days. "Thanks, Deb." Maybe things would be all right.

That feeling lasted until he pulled into the yard and saw Brian's Jeep already there. His heart started pounding and he leapt from the Cherokee and ran into the house shouting, "Brian!"


Justin rushed into the kitchen, saw Brian standing at the stove grilling fish it smelled like. He slumped against the fridge and took a deep breath.

"What's wrong?" asked Brian, turning from the stove and looked closely at him.

"Nothing," he said.

"Justin?" Brian didn't believe that for a moment.

"I thought…" He took another draught of air. "I thought…"

"No," Brian told him, having gone cold once he realized what Justin meant. "I swear to you, I would never do that." Shaking, he gathered Justin in his arms. Held him as he sniffled. "I swear."

"Don't leave me."

"I won't. Baby, I promise."

Now that the danger was over, Justin's fear gave over to feelings of desire. He wanted Brian, wanted him badly. Holding onto him, he tried to kiss him but Brian avoided his touch. "What?"

"Not now."

"Then when?" he wanted to know.


He drew Brian's head down. "Please."

"I said no." Brian pulled away and turned back to the fish.

Watching him for a moment, Justin said, "I'll be in the studio."

"Lunch'll be ready soon."

"Fuck it. Since you won't fuck me," he added before going.

Brian turned off the grill and removed the fish. Counted to ten and then to twenty and then to a hundred and then he went to find Justin.

He was sitting at his drafting table, pencil in hand, staring at the sky.

"What do you see up there?" Brian asked.

Justin's head moved slightly. "Used to see us. The future."

"I used to daydream about making love to you. Cynthia would come into my office and I'd be sitting there, this stupid-ass smile on my face, hard as a fuckin' rock." Justin started to rise. "I loved having sex. I loved fucking. Now there's this hole in my memory and I don't know why. Except that maybe I don't want to remember what happened with Kenneth. Maybe I don’t want to touch you because it reminds me of touching him. And I don't want to know. I don't want to know what that's like."

"So we let him destroy everything between us?" He did rise then and go to Brian. "I can't live like this, with these walls between us. We need to talk, we need… I feel like every since you came back from Birmingham, everything's changed. You won't touch me, you won't make love to me—"

"Why would you want me to?"

"Because I love you! No matter what you've done, I still love you. And I thought you loved me. I thought, I thought between us we could make everything right again." Brian said nothing. "I guess I should get back to work." He returned to his drafting table and sat down, face towards the back yard.

After a moment, Brian left the conservatory.

Separately they had leftover lasagna. Then Brian retired upstairs to do some work in his office leaving Justin the family room. Unused to choosing between the two of them, Leo paced from floor to floor until he finally tired himself out and went to sleep on their bed.

Justin flipped through the channels then gave up. Left it on a nondescript mystery. He had a mystery of his own. How he and Brian had gone from being deliriously happy to being utterly miserable. Except he knew what had happened. Kenneth fucking Harris had happened. Scheming and planning and waiting for an opportunity, for a moment of weakness. And he'd been rewarded for his patience. He'd finally gotten what he wanted. Only he hadn't. Justin was sure that Kenneth had wanted more. He'd wanted Brian but he hadn't gotten him. All Kenneth had done was fuck things up for everybody.

Cutting off the television, Justin seethed. He had to get out of the house, get away from Brian and thoughts of Kenneth. Wished he could get out of his head, forget about everything. But he couldn't. He couldn't forget. But he could get out of the house for a while and hang.

"I think you're expecting too much too soon," she told him.

"Daph, he won't even kiss me."

"He's been through a traumatic experience."

"It's not like he was raped." Although they couldn't be sure, couldn't be sure Kenneth hadn't drugged Brian to make him compliant. And if that were true… Jesus, he didn't even want to begin to think about the repercussions.

"Still, losing his memory on top of being with someone else must be hard for him. I don't understand why you're being so impatient."

"Maybe because after all of the shit we've been through, the one thing I know we can't do is make it alone. He'll worry himself to death and then when he can barely stand it anymore, he'll ask for help. And meanwhile we're both miserable, we're both losing our fucking minds. The least we can do is go crazy together." He tossed his swizzle stick onto the table. "And… we're newlyweds. I miss him. I miss touching him. I miss him holding me." If Kenneth had ruined that, no matter what Dr. Drew said, he'd find a way to make him pay for hurting Brian.

"It won't be for forever. You'll come through. You always do."

No one except maybe Drew really understood how hard it had been for them. No matter how many times he'd shared his fears, his friends and family could never really know what it had been like for him, listening to Brian explain why he wanted to kill himself. They'd never know what it had taken for him to offer Brian a choice between living with him and dying. Never understand just how committed he'd been to accepting Brian's decision, whatever it was. And they'd never know how empty he'd felt inside, knowing that if Brian died, so would he. Dr. Drew was the only one who understood and he had his hands full with Brian. There didn't seem to be anyone he could talk to.

He'd gone to bed alone, leaving Brian in his study and he'd awakened alone, the covers undisturbed on Brian's side of the bed. He checked the clock. Brian was probably downstairs having breakfast. He'd slept through him showering and dressing. One of the benefits of a baronial suite. Justin found him in the kitchen, standing at the island drinking a cup of coffee. "Where did you sleep last night?"

"Sofa," he replied.

"Plan on sleeping there tonight?"

Brian rinsed the cup out and left it in the sink. "I'm late."

Too shocked to say anything, Justin watched him leave the kitchen. Leo came and stood on his hind legs, leaning against him. Justin felt as if he could barely support the weight.

There was nothing he could have said. He'd spent the night, sleepless, on the sofa despite having found the bottle of sleeping pills Drew had prescribed. Left it unopened on the coffee table, preferring to stare at the black hole of the fireplace all night.

Now, seated behind his desk, he found that his mind was not on work. Not on Justin either. Instead, it turned repeatedly to Kenneth. And the eight lost hours. Kenneth knew what had happened. He could ask him and Kenneth would tell him. If only he'd ask.

An hour later, after having pissed around trying to avoid doing anything, he called the biochemist on his private line, bypassing his secretary.


"It's me."

"Is this about the campaign?"

"I want… I want to know what happened."

"What do you mean?"

"What happened that night."


"I don't remember."



"We had sex."

"That much was obvious."

"Then what do you want me to tell you?"

Brian looked about in confusion. What did he want Kenneth to say? That he hadn't been raped? That he'd wanted to sleep with him?

"Do you want me to tell you how we danced together after all the other guests were gone? How you led me to the bedroom and undressed me?"


"How you kissed me…"


"How you moaned when I touched you? When I pushed inside you? When I fucked you?"

Brian hung up the phone and stared warily at it as if he were afraid it'd suddenly come to life and strike him. If he could believe Kenneth, at least it wasn't rape. But the thought of him voluntarily having sex with Harris brought him no comfort.

All day his thoughts were bombarded with images of Kenneth making love to him. In the middle of the Hyperion team meeting he suddenly looked away from the table, cheeks flushed.

"Brian?" someone said and he shook his head, shook free of the vision that had taken hold of him.

Only to succumb later in his office: flashes of skin touching skin, lips parted in a moan. He held his head and closed his eyes, hoping the darkness would help. But it didn't. He knew what would.

The door slamming startled him and he rose, not really sure what had happened but intending to find out. Just as he neared the front door, Brian came from out of the shadow of the tower stairwell and grabbed him. Kissed him hard. They stumbled back into the shadows, coming out of their clothes. A tube of lube fell from Brian's coat pocket.

Justin gripped the curving banister as Brian pumped against him. The line of the banister echoed the strong line of his back, arched, shoulders tensing, buttocks flexing. Sweat followed the path of his spine and he groaned as they struggled against one another.

Brian held onto his waist and buried his cock deep in his ass. His luscious ass. His round, perfect, beautiful ass. He wanted to stay inside him forever. Giving him a couple of hard thrusts, he backed out of Justin and fell against the wall, dropped down to the floor, dick pointed towards the roof. Justin gave him but a moment and then he knelt over Brian's waist, reached back for his erection, and sat down on it, crying out as he was penetrated. Hands braced on the wall, he fucked himself on his husband's cock, bucking against him. Brian's belly was streaked with silvery precum. As Justin bounced above him, he gripped the young man's swollen cock and pressed the head. Massaged it, coaxing even more precum from its reddened tip. Justin yelped and came, creamy jizz crisscrossing Brian's chest. He slumped against him, Brian sucking his tit as Justin's ass tightened around him and brought him off, shooting up his lover's asshole.

Utterly spent, Brian leaned against the wall, his breathing gradually returning to normal.

Feeling him soften, Justin rose up, freeing himself, then settled back down on Brian's lap, arms wrapped around his neck and shoulders. Softly, he kissed his face, making his way leisurely to his lips. "I love you," he said, kissing him once more.

About to respond in kind, suddenly the implications of what they'd done became clear to him, sending tremors through his body. He trembled as he buried his face in Justin's chest.

"What?" asked Justin, confused by the change.

"We didn't use protection," he whispered, afraid almost to say it out loud. "I forgot."

"It's all right."

"No, it isn't." Brian tried to put Justin away from him but he wasn't having it. He held on tighter.

"Talk to me."

"I don't..." Confused, frightened, the words wouldn't come.

"Then don't say anything," Justin replied and stroked his hair.

The peace held for a week, the two of them having arrived at some place where they could be together without discussing what had occurred either in Birmingham or at home. It was, at best, a fragile peace, one whose shaky tenants wouldn't hold up for very long under intense scrutiny, but it allowed them to function, to go about their daily lives without undue stress. For that, they were grateful. But they were each knew that it would not last. That fact hovered over their heads, just out of sight, but present.

Brian saw Drew once without mentioning either the episode in the stairwell or the phone call to Kenneth that had precipitated it. Neither had he told Justin that they'd spoken. The sins of omission piled up.

They had dinner with the Munchers and no one brought up Birmingham although both women knew what had happened. Debbie knew which meant everyone knew. But no one broached the subject. All of their friends were very careful not to bring up Kenneth Harris which, ordinarily, wouldn't have been difficult to do as they did not think about him on an everyday basis. Ordinarily. Now, he was on everyone's mind. They all surreptitiously watched Brian for signs. Of what, they did not know.

Justin refused to think about the possibilities. If Brian wasn't as carefree as before, at least he wasn't brooding, not visibly. They made love, using condoms, and talked of inconsequential things. Brian ran on the treadmill and then steamed in the sauna when he got tense; Justin sketched. It was enough. For the moment.

And then Frank brought over the book.

He showed up one afternoon around one. Justin had the day off and was home puttering about, not really doing much of anything but wasting time. The events in Birmingham had rendered his commission null and void, if not officially, then de facto. He couldn't imagine completing the drawings under the circumstances and, as a result, he found himself at a loss as to what to do with himself. He was to have spent the summer working on the commission for Kenneth. Now…

At the knock, he went to see who it was and prayed that it wasn't any of their relatives or friends. He just wasn't in the mood. Probably wasn't though. They were most likely at work. Opening the door, he found Frank standing there with a book in his hands. "Hi."


After the initial surprise had dissipated a bit, Justin invited him in. "Can I get you something?"

"Oh, no," Frank declined, "I just finished lunch." He did, however, take a seat when it was offered, handing Justin the book as he sat. "I thought you might like that."

"Paul Cadmus: The Male Nude," Justin read on the cover of the hardbound book. "I've never heard of him."

"You've probably seen his work, just didn't know whose it was. He was gay," Frank added.

Which explained why he'd probably thought Justin would like to read about him.

"Wasn't extremely vocal about it. Considered himself an artist who was gay, not a gay artist."

Justin opened the book, flipping through the accompanying essay, growing more curious as Frank sketched a hasty portrait of the artist. His early relationship with another painter and his lifelong friendship with the man and the woman who would become the man's wife. How they all worked together and took photographs using a collective name: PaJaMa.

"I think I've seen that name before." Having come across some of the smaller nudes, he anxiously turned to the back of the book and began paging through the larger plates. "Wow," he said, appreciatively, "this is amazing."

"He was an extraordinary artist."

"Reminds me of Michelangelo or one of the Renaissance painters."

"He considered himself an heir to the artists of that period." Hands on his knees, Frank stood. "Well, enjoy the book."

Standing too, Justin said, "I'll return it as soon as I can."

"No, no, that's a gift."

Justin shook his head, tried to give the book back. "I can't…"

"Of course, you can. It deserves a better fate than sitting in my library gathering dust." The matter was closed.

Accompanying Frank to the door, Justin said, "Thank you."

"I thought of him when I saw the sketch you'd done of Brian. It's quite good. Are there more?"

Rosy color crept into his cheeks. "A few," he equivocated.

"Well, you're very talented and you've got quite a model. Be a shame to waste the opportunity." Saying goodbye, Frank took his leave.

Going to his studio, Justin spent the next hour pouring over the plates in the book, studying each drawing in detail, going back and reading the essay closely to absorb as much as he could about Cadmus and his technique. Not only that, he was fascinated and touched by Cadmus' story. For thirty years, he sketched his lover and companion, Jon Andersson, each change lovingly documented in his work.

Afterwards, he sat at his drafting table, gazing out at the sky. He'd been pissing around as far as the commission from Kenneth Harris went. Hadn't really put in the time he should have and now the opportunity had probably passed him by. He didn't have any idea how things would eventually play out between Brian and Kenneth but he was wasting time. Commission or not, he had an amazing model, one he never grew tired of looking at. Maybe it was time they both remembered that.

He spent the rest of the afternoon putting Brian through numerous poses in his mind, each capturing a different facet of his personality, a different mood, and he thought that if he had a hundred years, there would still be variations left to discover.

When Brian arrived home, Justin was hard-pressed not to begin sketching him immediately. It felt as if a hundred years had passed since he'd last put pencil to paper. But somehow he managed to make it through dinner, engaging in small talk as they ate. After they cleaned up, Brian decided to veg in front of the television which gave Justin his opportunity. Surreptitiously, he hoped, he retrieved his sketchpad from the studio and sat in one of the armchairs near the fireplace, which gave him a good vantage point from which to draw. He'd been working steadily for a few minutes when Brian's head swiveled towards him.

"What are you doing?"




Brian looked away. "Don't."

"Why not?"

"I don't want you to."


He got up. "Just stop it."

Justin met him as he headed for the doorway. "Brian. Please. Talk to me." The man started to leave again but Justin moved to block his exit. "Please."

"Leave me alone," he growled, pushing past him.

"I can't!" And something of the desperation in his voice must have gotten through because Brian paused. But now that he had Brian's attention, he found that the right words had escaped him. In truth, he didn't know what he could say to make Brian listen. Sniffling, he stared past Brian at the reception hall, the hazy golds of the Turner paintings casting a dreamy pall over the space. "I promised that I wouldn't," he said, picking up where he'd left off. "Standing right over there." Justin pointed towards the French doors leading to the studio. "I promised that I would help you, take care of you for as long as I lived." A tear slipped down his cheek. "That's all I know how to do," he confessed. "And to love you." He couldn't meet Brian's eyes, couldn't see the rejection in them. It was too much. He remembered Rev. Ophelia telling them that they would be shelter for one another, and warmth; remembered thinking that day, I can do it. I can be the man he needs me to be. I can. But now it seemed as if he couldn't be that man. In pain, he began to walk away when he felt Brian's hand on his shoulder. Turning, he rushed back to him, to the promise of an embrace, and he rested his head on Brian's chest, content to be momentarily reprieved from grief.

"No one understands."

"What are we not understanding?" asked Ophelia. Justin had showed up on her doorstep and she’d joked, "Here for marriage counseling so soon?" The haunted look in his eyes had made her regret her levity.

"How lost I feel when things aren’t right between us," Justin replied. He stirred his cup of tea pointlessly as the sugar he’d put in it had long since dissolved.

"It’s like that song," she said, hoping to make him smile. Sang, "When something is wrong with my baby,/ Something is wrong with me." 9

Justin laughed although it had the slightly tangy taste of bitterness.

"We do understand, lamb," Reverend Ophelia explained. "We were there. And because we were there, we know, just as you do deep down, that it’d take something very powerful to tear you two apart. Now matter how bleak it looks to you now."

"Kenneth is powerful. And what Brian feels for him… that’s powerful too."

"But it’s not one one-hundredth of what he feels for you. Tell you a secret?" She leaned forward. "I’ve never seen anyone more in love than he was on your wedding day. I can’t believe that’s changed."

Reluctantly, he admitted that it hadn’t. "It’s not that he loves me any less… It’s that he maybe realizes that he loves Kenneth more than he’d thought. It was just innocent flirtation and then it became something more and he wouldn’t deal with it. He just—he just let it grow." And that’s what he was really angry about, that Brian had known what might happen and had done nothing.

"How can you stop feeling what you do? Despite being married and in love with your husband and him loving you, here you are telling me that you’re scared. And no matter what I tell you, you’ll go on feeling scared until it passes or until you learn how to deal with that fear."

"I know that’s what he was doing. But, now, everything’s all messed up and I’m afraid it’s only going to get worse. I…I'm afraid for him." He couldn’t even say, "I'm afraid he might try to kill himself," and all the reassurances on Brian’s part couldn’t make him believe otherwise. Brian was close to the breaking point. All it’d take was one seemingly harmless event and he’d crack. Justin could see the signs. They’d been there last year and he’d ignored them to both their detriment.

Having unraveled the meaning behind his words, she asked, "Do you think he might harm himself?"

"He says that he won’t. But he’s tried before. More than once."

"Then you’re wise not to believe him. But, Justin, lamb, all you can do is to have faith." She touched his knee, squeezed it briefly. "Faith in him, in his love for you, and in your love for him. Have faith that the vows you spoke were more than mere words. I believe that they were. I believe that everything you said to one another is true. That the truth of it is inside of you."

He set his tea down upon the coffee table, watching ripples form. "It’s hard to believe that, late at night, when you’re sleeping alone. Feels like someone's opened a window and let the cold in."

Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth for the other. That's what she'd said and she knew that he was thinking of those words as well. Wished she had the right words to comfort him but she did not. What could you say to someone who was facing the very real possibility of losing the one person they were meant to be with? She'd said all she could, given him the best advice she had. Have faith. She hoped it'd be enough.

On their own for the evening, Brian and Leo had supper alone, Brian seated at the table, Leo lying in one of the empty chairs, and then settled down on the sectional to watch television until they drifted off. Their plan was succeeding admirably when the phone rang, disturbing the peace.



He sat back on the sofa. Kenneth. Over the past week he'd been in contact with Hyperion but via the members of his team who spoke with the VP in charge of sales. It was an arrangement that seemed to suit both he and Harris as he hadn't heard from him since their abortive phone call that Tuesday. "What do you want?"

"To talk to you."

"There's nothing to talk about."

"So you've forgotten what happened between us?"

"Yes!" Brian exclaimed, almost laughing.

Kenneth didn't find the joke, such as it was, very amusing. "I told you what happened."

Angry, Brian replied, "Your version of the truth."

"You wanted me. You came on to me."

"So you say."

"Everyone at the party saw you."

"Saw me do what?" he challenged.

"Ask me to dance. Saw you kiss me. Saw you almost drag me down in a corner to fuck." He was being deliberately crude, not wanting to leave Brian any wiggle room.

"That's a lie."

"Just because you don't want to think about it, doesn't mean that it didn't happen."

And he could see it in his mind, him rubbing up against Kenneth, wanting to fuck, like some kind of animal driven by instinct. It wasn't difficult to imagine. He'd imagined it before, before the incident, more than once if he were being honest with himself. He'd desired Kenneth. No. "No," he said aloud. "You did something to me." As frightening as the idea of being raped was, it was less frightening than the alternative. "You gave me something."

"Gave you what?"

"You drugged me, you put something in my drink. Roofies, Liquid E, something you cooked up yourself, I don't know. But you gave it to me and then you—"

"And then I what?"

"And then… you raped me." He shook so badly he could hardly hold the phone. There was silence on the other end. The only sound on the line was his breathing. Suddenly, he was in the locker room after school, clothes soaked, blood rushing from his head. He felt dizzy.

When Kenneth responded, Brian could hear the pain in his voice despite the fact that he spoke barely above a whisper. "I would never hurt you. Never. I love you. I would have gone my entire life without ever," and here his voice cracked a little, "touching you."

Brian closed his eyes and the locker room vanished. Kenneth had told him the truth. Always. As he'd said to Justin, the man had never lied to him. "Kenneth—"

"But that you could even think I'd do something like that proves to me… that you don't feel anything for me. You don't even know me." He paused. "You were right." Deep breath. "We should end things between us."

"Kenneth, wait—"

"After the Afibrinase campaign is in place, Hyperion will find a new advertising firm. I think that's best." Harris paused again, the words difficult to say. "I hope you have a good life." Hung up.

He'd known. He'd known all along that he hadn't been drugged, had known that he'd gone to Kenneth because it was what he'd wanted. The drinking had only given him the courage to do what he'd always wanted to do. That he couldn't remember only meant that the guilt had been too great. He'd punished himself by forgetting. Only a coward after all. The phone began to complain so he switched it off and placed it back on the coffee table.

Not only had he lost a business associate, he'd lost a friend. Because of his weakness. Because he couldn't own up to his actions. Because he'd rather pretend that he was something he wasn't: virtuous, innocent. Christ… Hearing Justin's key in the lock, he cut off the television and rushed outside to sit at the bottom of the stairs in the courtyard, crying in the darkness, the sound muffled by his hand.

An emergency partners' meeting had been called for that morning. Kenneth Harris had contacted the firm at the opening of business to inform them of his decision to move Hyperion's account at the end of the quarter. Despite every attempt by the partners to ascertain why he felt a move was necessary and what steps needed to be taken in order to retain his business, Kenneth had been most adamant regarding his decision and, in the end, the firm had to acquiesce. So the partners' meeting wasn’t a strategizing session but rather a tribunal formed to assign blame and mete out suitable punishment.

As per his role in the disintegration of relations between Harris and the firm, Brian sat meekly at the table, eyes meeting no one else's. He hadn't said ten words during the frantic conference call to Hyperion's CEO, not trusting himself to keep it together. Now, all attention focused on him and he wished he were anywhere but in his seat.

"So?" one of the partners asked. And waited as Brian didn't immediately respond.

"We're sitting here with egg on our goddamn faces, gentlemen," Jennings pointed out angrily. "One of our biggest accounts has just flown the coop and left us with nothing but a mess. And I, for one, want to know why."

Still Brian said nothing.

Finally Ryder addressed him by name. "You want to tell us what happened, Brian?"

"I did my job," he replied. "The team and I came up with the best concepts possible for Hyperion." As long as he kept it on a professional level, he had a chance of walking out of the meeting alive.

"Then why is he pulling his business?" Cassidy asked.

"You'd have to ask him that."

"We did and you heard what he said." Which had basically been nothing other than a declaration of intent.

"Then what do you want from me?"

"An explanation," replied Mason. "Hyperion is one of our biggest clients. You brought them on board, you handled them…"

"Which means I must have fucked up," Brian concluded. And he had. But he couldn’t tell them that. Not if he wanted to remain a partner in the firm.

"None of the rest of us had the opportunity," Cassidy countered.

Searle, who had remained quiet until now during the inquisition, said to the other partners, "I think Brian's work speaks for itself."

There was silence, then Ryder spoke. "He's right. Clients come and go for whatever reasons, logical or not. We can't control that. We can only make sure that we do the best work we possibly can."

But Mason wasn't through. "So how's it going to look when Hyperion leaves us right after the launch of a successful campaign? What's that going to say to potential clients?" he asked.

"It'll look bad," agreed Searle. "But it would look worse if the campaign failed." He fixed his gaze on Brian. "Which it won't, will it?"

Ryder answered, "Of course not. It's solid work. A-class."

Searle gathered his papers. "Then I suggest we immediately begin to formulate some strategies for minimizing the fallout from Hyperion's desertion."

"And is our newest partner going to be involved in that as well?" asked Jennings. "I seem to remember he's going on vacation next week."

Before Brian could answer, Searle replied, "He'll be back."

Having returned to his office, Brian took what felt like his first breath all morning. Listening to Kenneth on the speakerphone and not being able to talk to him, to say the things he needed to say, had been extremely difficult. And having to defend himself to the partners when there was no defense had proven impossible. If Searle and Ryder hadn't spoken on his behalf, he didn't know what he would have done. He couldn't have told them what had happened. Not after the Kip Thomas fiasco. Even Ryder would have voted to toss him out on his ass.

Still, the lie didn't sit well with him. Sitting at his desk, brooding, he heard a knock and then the door opened. He knew who it was.

Coming in and hovering around Brian's desk, Ryder asked, "You want to tell me what really happened?" He hadn't believed for one second that Brian had been surprised by Harris' move.

He owed him the truth. After all, Ryder had been his mentor when he first arrived at the firm, had shepherded him over the years, making certain he was given opportunity after opportunity to shine, overlooking indiscretions just as long as the work held up. Looking him in the eye, he said, "I slept with Kenneth Harris."

Ryder shook his head and started to leave.

"It's not like you think."

"How could you do something like that after what happened with Kip Thomas?" Despite the fact that Thomas had dropped the suit, the issue had come up again during Chris Hobbs' trial bringing with it more bad publicity for the firm. The partners had been livid and it was only Brian's work history and the attendant awards that had saved his job.

Feebly, Brian replied, "You don't understand."

"What I do understand is that I made a mistake. In thinking that you could be a responsible partner." He left, anger having garroted him into silence.

Cynthia appeared. "I'll hold your calls." Closed the door softly.

But he'd barely heard her. Ryder was right. He'd let down all of his partners. Especially Justin. He'd failed him in their personal life and now it seemed even his job was on unsteady ground. If they forced him out of the company, the lifestyle he and Justin now enjoyed would become a distant dream. No more house, no more trips abroad. If he couldn't be faithful to Justin and couldn't provide for him, then what good was he? That Justin could make his way in the world without him, he was certain. Without Brian to hurt him, to constantly disappoint him, Justin would flourish. He was the only thing keeping Justin mired in the muck. Without him, Justin might have a chance to thrive. Without him, there was an insurance policy that would pay the mortgage on the house if Justin chose to remain on Whitman Drive. Without him, there was the possibility that Justin might find someone who'd care for him, who'd love him the way he deserved.

Brian opened the drawer in his desk where he kept the sleeping pills Drew had prescribed for him. He'd brought them from home on the pretense that he wouldn’t succumb to depending on them if they were out of sight.

It took him several moments before he could even reach for the bottle. Most of that time was spent trying to subdue the voice inside his head telling him he was making a mistake; but he knew better. It'd only get worse.

I hurt myself today
To see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
The only thing that's real

Best to go now. As he picked up the bottle, he shivered.

Outside the sun shone as it had all week. The weather had been perfect. Sunny but mild. They'd hoped that it would last through the next week while Gus vacationed with them. They'd wanted to teach him to swim.

Brian stood. He couldn't think about those things now, couldn't, not if he wanted to go through with it. Grasping the bottle tightly in his hand, he started for the door. The executive men's room was just down the hall. He could do it in there and Cynthia wouldn't have to find him in a puddle of his own vomit. Most importantly, the house would be preserved for Justin, he wouldn't ruin that for him.

As he crossed the floor he glanced up, out of habit, at the drawing Justin had given him for Christmas. Of him and Gus asleep on the sofa in the loft. He treasured that sketch, among other reasons, because neither the sofa nor the loft belonged to him anymore. He'd moved on, taking his memories with him. Taking his partner and his child with him to continue building upon a life that they had help create. A life he was now destroying.

"No," he whispered, teeth clenched. He was doing the right thing. Gus and Justin didn't need him. They had family and friends who'd be there for them, who'd love them, care for them. They would go on without him consistently undermining their growth.

He traced the lines of the sketch, eyes following the curve of his arm, wrapped around Gus' body the same way it wrapped around Justin's when he held him. The bow of his lips that Justin's tongue sometimes outlined as they kissed. Turning away, he tried to forget the past and ran right into the future. He and Justin celebrating their six month anniversary, seated beneath the wisteria tree, holding hands across the table. Gus learning to swim, froggy kicking in the pool. Running through the house with Leo. A tear slipped from beneath his eyelid but he made no attempt to wipe it away. There'd only be more. More tears, more images, more poltergeist come to haunt him, doggedly pursuing him towards life.

Standing by the drawing, he wept, dropping the bottle of pills on the carpeted floor. Sounded like maracas. Or rattling bones. He sat on the sofa beneath the drawing when his legs began to feel weak. Cried until the desire to die had left him. Cried until the need to live filled him, strengthened him, gave him purpose. And after he finished crying, he wiped his face and slipped the sleeping pills into his briefcase to take home.

That afternoon he composed an email.


"I'm sorry for what I said. I was wrong. I know that you would never deliberately hurt me. Only you have hurt me. Not physically. But you loved me when the last thing I wanted was to be loved by you. To have to think about you. To fall in love with you. I won't ever say it but this once. I do love you. But I can't have you. I made a promise to Justin that I intend to keep. And even if I didn't, I wouldn't have any choice. I'm bound to him in a way I can't explain. And it has nothing to do with exchanging rings or vows and everything to do with something that I feel in my bones. I don't want to hurt you but I need you to understand. If I had never met him, you and I would never have met. I would never have been the kind of man you could love. I would never have even thought of loving you. It's all so completely fucked up. But it'll pass, the way we feel right now. The pain will go away and we'll move on. I'll always love you, same as I'll always love Cam. But I can live without you. I can't live without Justin. I can't even die without him. It scares me sometimes, how much I need him but I know that he'll always be there for me so I don't ever have to be afraid. Not even of myself and the stupid things I do. Like hurting a friend. I'm sorry.


His finger hovered over the mouse and with one gesture, he erased the letter.

Brian must have come in the back way because Justin didn't see him until he was walking towards the pergola. Meeting him at the door, Justin studied him for a moment. "You okay?"

"I was just thinking we need to get someone out here to look at the pool."

"I called, remember? He's coming Saturday."

"Yeah." Scratched his head. "Guess I forgot."

"I wonder if he'll be hot," joked Justin.

"Just like a fucking porno flick," laughed Brian.

A sudden smile lit up Justin's face. "It's been a long time since that's happened."

"Mmm," Brian uttered noncommittally.

"I missed hearing you laugh," he confessed shyly. His smile grew brighter as Brian slipped his arm around his shoulders. "You hungry?"


For the first time in almost two weeks they sat together at the table without any awkwardness. They talked quietly together and when they fell silent, it was a silence born of familiarity, of knowing how the pauses fit into the rhythm of their lives.

As they got ready for bed, Brian told Justin what had happened with Hyperion, told him that things might change as a result of the biotech company parting with the firm. "We might lose everything," he warned, wanting Justin to be prepared for the worst.

After a pause, Justin replied, "Not everything. Not anything that's really important."

Wordlessly, Brian agreed.

Cupping Brian's face in his hands, Justin whispered, "Kiss me." Brian's mouth brushed against his in a gentle kiss. "Kiss me," he murmured and again Brian did so, softly. "Kiss me," he begged and Brian smothered him in kisses that silenced the flow of words momentarily. "I missed you," he confessed and Brian kissed him once more, then held him tightly to his chest.

"I love you," he said as he pressed his face against Justin's hair.

That night they lay entwined in bed, content just to hold one another, taking the first tentative steps towards being in sync once more. Finally, after two weeks of uncertainty, Justin was able to shut his eyes and take his rest. After his young partner had gone under, Brian stayed awake for a while watching him sleep. It was one of his guilty pleasures, looking at Justin as he was drawn into a dream. He knew, from experience, that Justin did the same thing, studied him as he snored softly, ignorant of his audience; and he wondered if Kenneth had watched him toss about in a strange bed, instinctively missing his husband's warmth?

Afraid that somehow his thoughts might penetrate Justin's dreams, he turned away from him. Leo, who had been perched on the top of the toy chest, padded over bed and bodies to reach Brian's side. Settled down near the edge of the mattress and laid back against him. Brian absentmindedly stroked him, the kitten purring in contentment.

I should have sent that email to him, he thought. I should have tried to explain. He shivered, momentarily chilled. I should have told him. Should have told him everything. But how could he have? To have written anything would have encouraged Kenneth, regardless of the missive's actual message which was, You can't have me. Forget about me.

Brian inhaled deeply and a tear rolled down the side of his nose. Forget about him.

As she had days before, Cynthia met him at the door.

"What?" he asked, a trace of his old irritable self present in his voice.

"You'll never guess," she began but she didn't have a chance to finish as Marty came into the outer office from the hallway.


He continued on into his office with Ryder behind him. Put down his stuff. Change was in the wind. Had to be good or else Cynthia wouldn't have been that excited. What had Mel said about him? That he was made of Teflon? "Shit just won't stick to you," she'd said. He'd survived yet again. "Yep?"

"Got a call from Hyperion. Seems they've decided to stay with the firm."

Played it cool. "Say why?"

"No. But there are going to be some changes."

Brian sat. He could guess what they'd be.

"From now on, I'm going to serve as liaison to Hyperion. The VP in charge of sales will be our main contact within the company."

It was as he'd expected. "Fine."

"It goes without saying that I hope you're not planning to continue seeing Harris."

"I wasn't seeing him. It was one time and it was a mistake."

Marty paused before speaking again. "I've decided not to tell the other partners about your latest indiscretion. Don't make me regret that decision." Reprimand delivered, he left.

There was nothing Brian could say. He deserved every lash he got and then some. Posing as a lamb, he waited for Cynthia to come in with a cup of coffee and his schedule. But he couldn't maintain the deception and he grinned, showing the tips of his teeth and his true nature. Time to start kicking some asses again. Fuck Hyperion. There were plenty of other companies in the world needing a world-class advertiser and he just happened to be available.

Cynthia raised a brow at the expression on his face. "Uh-oh, the sheep better hold on tight to their coats. Somebody's about to get fleeced."

Mel let the curtain drop. "They're here, Gus," she told the little boy who came running from the kitchen where he'd been 'helping' Lindsay. Even though he was spending the next week with Brian and Justin and they were picking him up before dinnertime, he'd been hoping to get some of the pasta Lindz was fixing. He loved spaghetti. In fact, Mel thought, there was very little in the way of food that he didn't love. Maybe Brian and Justin would stay for dinner. Of course, she was hoping they'd take Gus and go so she and Lindsay could have a romantic supper for two.

As soon as Brian opened the door, Gus flew to him and he picked the little boy up and hugged him. Gave him a big kiss. "I'd say he missed us," he said to Justin.

"Definitely. Hey, Gus."

The toddler kissed his other daddy. "Where Leo?"

"Leo's at home. You ready to go?"


"His bag is still upstairs," Mel said, so Brian and Gus went to get it. After they'd gone up, she said, "That's a one eighty from last week."

As Lindsay escaped from the kitchen, he explained. "He came home yesterday and, I don't know, something had changed. Hyperion had decided to drop the firm and you would have thought he'd be upset, and he was, but he also seemed… at peace with it. Like he'd finally decided to let go of Kenneth."

"That's fucked about Hyperion though," said Mel. "After all Brian did for them."

"Well, they must have thought so too because they've changed their minds. They want to stay with the firm."

"He talk to Kenneth?" asked Lindsay.

"He says he didn't. Ryder's taking over the account. And Kenneth is dropping out of the picture too."

"It's probably for the best. He looks good, better than he has in a long time."

Justin nodded. "Now we just have to get through the next six months."

The testing. "You worried?" Mel asked.

"Kenneth wouldn't have risked Brian's life. He loves him." He paused. "And Brian loves him. That's what makes it so hard."

"But he loves you more," she assured him. "The one good thing I can say about that asshole is that he loves you. More than anything."

Before he could reply, Brian came bounding down the stairs with Gus' suitcase in hand. "Let's roll."

"Less roll," said Gus a.k.a. Mini Me, proudly carrying his SpongeBob backpack.

First they had to put away a week's worth of summer clothes for Gus and then they started on dinner. They'd been tempted to stop somewhere and pick up something but Gus wanted spaghetti and it wouldn't take long to fix that, especially since they had sauce already prepared and frozen for the evenings when they didn't feel like take-out or cooking from scratch.

As Justin boiled the pasta and heated the sauce, Brian put together a pretty basic salad while Gus and Leo played at their feet, trying their best to precipitate a domestic accident. Which got Brian to thinking about his recent troubles and thoughts about suicide. Thoughts about their future should anything happen to him. "You know," he said, "we never did contact the lawyer about the trust, or drafting our wills, or setting up power of attorney for both of us."

Not a subject he was comfortable discussing, Justin replied, "We said we'd wait until things settled down."

"Well, they're settled. As much as they probably ever will be," he added with a little snort. "So we should think about doing it. Soon. Gus." The little boy had bumped into him as he scrambled away from Leo's dancing paw. Hearing the warning in his daddy's voice, Gus gave him some room.

Joking, Justin asked, "You thinking about dying on me?"

Although it had cut a little too close to home, Brian managed to reply lightly, "With the way you drive the Cherokee, I wouldn't be too cocky if I were you."

"My driving?" asked Justin, eyes wide open. "I bet the skid marks from the Jeep are still outside of St. James."

"Historic artifacts," bragged Brian. "But, seriously, we need to make sure everything's in place."


"If something happened to me," and he paused, thinking about Thursday and the struggle he'd gone through, "I want to make sure you're taken care of. There's a life insurance policy that I took out a couple years ago, you're the beneficiary. It should be enough to pay the—"

"Can't we do this later?"

"You wanna end up like those women whose husbands die and they don't even know how much money they have in the bank or where the insurance policies are or anything?"

He hated hearing those stories. "No."

"Then we need to talk."

Brian was right. He hadn't known anything about the insurance policy and he had no idea how much money was in their joint account. He hadn't used it since Brian set it up, preferring to stick with his substantially smaller personal checking account funded by his paychecks from the diner. "You'll make the appointment with the lawyer?"

"Yeah. But," he said with a smile, "it can probably wait until our vacation's over." Justin returned his smile. "Watch out," Brian said, "the cat's behind you." Leo had returned and was about two seconds away from tripping Justin down. "Who needs your bad driving when we've got Gus and Leo to keep us at death's door?"

Sticking out his tongue, Justin said, "You'll want some later."

"Count on it."

While Gus sat on a pillow at the coffee table and colored, Brian and Justin watched Sleepy Hollow on DVD.

"Fuck, he's beautiful," Justin said in awe of Johnny Depp. "We definitely have to go see Pirates of the Caribbean when it comes out." Especially since it was a Disney picture. They'd probably have to take Gus although they'd been spared Finding Nemo. The Munchers had done movie duty on that one. Actually, he wouldn't have minded seeing it since the film was animated. Maybe he'd go see it anyway, now that all the kids had probably exhausted their parents' patience and the showings would be virtually kid-free. Maybe a miracle would occur and Brian would go with him.

"Should I be jealous?" Brian asked, derailing his train of thought.

"He reminds me of you." To Brian's raised brow, he said, "He has kind of an androgynous quality to him."

"And I do too?" he asked, amused.

"Sorta. You're not afraid of being beautiful."

"Gotta work with what you have," Brian boasted with a sensual roll of his bare shoulders. Now that it was summer he lived in his tank tops. Something Justin appreciated greatly.

Still he ordered him to, "Stop flirting."

Brian pursed his lips. Crooked his finger.

Shaking his head, Justin climbed onto his lap.

"Daddy, look." Gus raised his book for Brian to look at unaware that his daddy was busy at the moment.

Gazing at Justin, Brian replied, "Perfect."

The sound of really bad polka music guided him to the family room where Gus danced in front of the television while four grown men dressed in primary colors sang some inane song that he could only imagine was designed to drive sane people stark raving mad. Leo was nowhere in sight. Good taste.

"What the fuck is that?" he asked Justin who came out of the kitchen with two cups of coffee in hand. "Thanks, Baby. What is that?"

"The Wiggles," he replied.

"The Wiggles!" shouted Gus and he began to sing along although the words made no sense to either adult.

"Of course. The Wiggles." As if that explained anything. Pressing his fingers to his forehead, he retreated to the kitchen where the decibel level was reduced by a mere fraction. "Maybe I'll go sit outside," he told Justin and made his way to the door. Sat out on the steps and smoked, having snagged a pack of cigarettes from the cabinet in the kitchen. With the mosaic table out in the courtyard, they didn't have anything for the back yard or he would have gone out there. The pool guy was coming this morning, maybe they would go out this afternoon and find something for the patio. At least a table and some chairs, maybe a chaise lounge. With the pool open for business their friends would want to come over and party. It'd be good to see the guys and not have to think about… things. He sipped his coffee and tried to ignore the pain in his chest. It would go away. In time.

"Hi, I'm Danny Sommers. The pool guy," he said, holding out his hand, which was attached to a very strong and very tanned forearm.

Brian, out of habit, gave him the once-over. Blond. Blue eyes. Totally hot. He grinned and took his hand. "Brian Kinney. The homeowner." Gestured with his head towards Justin. "Justin Taylor-Kinney—"

"The homeowner's husband," the young artist said, wanting to make sure Danny understood just how things were around the house.

"Cool. So where's the pool?"

They showed him to the back and then went inside while he worked. Justin burst out laughing as soon as they were alone. Relatively speaking, as Gus was glued to the window watching Danny work. He'd wanted to go outside but his daddies wouldn't let him, knowing he'd probably get in the way. "Do you think that's his real name?"

"Who knows?" Brian laughed. "Shit. I've actually seen Danny Sommers play a pool guy."


"Ted." Ted of the voluminous porn collection. They'd had pizza and watched porno flicks one night, getting totally hammered in the process. He'd thought that it'd be an excuse for one of the guys to put the moves on him but none of them had. Smarter than they'd looked. They'd all known what a piece of work he was. The tricks hadn't had a clue. Not even Justin.

"Can you imagine…?" Justin began, then grinned. "We could invite him in for a glass of iced tea…"

Brian smirked. "Get him out of those hot, sweaty clothes…"

"Take a group shower…"

"Group fuck. Get him all hot and sweaty…"

"I bet he's got at least a nine-inch cock."


Excited by the prospect, Justin embraced Brian and raised his face. They kissed for a while and, discreetly, they hoped, rubbed against one another as Gus continued to watch Danny fiddle with the pool.

"If we buy something today, how long will it take for it to be delivered?" Brian asked the salesman.

"A week at the most."


"You have my word."

"Not to be rude," Brian said, "but I'd rather have it in print."

Before the flustered salesman could recover his composer, Justin tugged on Brian's arm and they went off to see what they could find. Gus was already having a ball. At last, furniture he couldn’t hurt. His daddies hadn't even warned him not to touch anything.

"What about something iron or aluminum?" Justin suggested.

"Long as there's a cushion. I can't sit on anything hard."

"Oh really?"

"Except your cock," he whispered.

Justin laughed then pointed to a set. "I like this." Scanned the description. "Bentana. Means window in Spanish. Has a 50's retro art deco look. What do you think?"

"Definitely a possibility." He liked the curved arms and slanted back. Simple yet stylish. "Let's keep looking. Maybe we'll see something else we like."

But they didn't. Not right away. Everything was either too plain in Justin's opinion or too frilly in his. They glanced at the wicker stuff but none of it really appealed to them and the teak wood furniture seemed too heavy. Just as they were about to give up, they came upon a different manufacturer's line and fell in love with a set.

"Renaissance," read Brian. He loved it. Clean lines, tasteful fabric, cushions on the back and bottom, perfect.

Justin liked the knotted emblem that decorated the chairs, giving it a needed touch of decoration. He especially liked the bronzed finish. "Fits. Italian villa, Renaissance furniture. Works for me."

"Like this finish?"

"Yeah. What about the fabric?" The display model was done in natural-colored fabric, almost white.

"Maybe something a little darker."

Flipping through the samples, Justin asked, "Canvas or Antique Beige?" since he knew Brian was not about to put on something brightly colored or printed although he personally liked the cognac Nobility fabric that reminded him of the damask chenille fabric on their dining chairs.

"Canvas," said Brian, conforming to Justin's expectations. "I like the Nobility but it's too dark for the outside," he added with a wry grin. He knew how his Baby's mind worked.

"Can we get a couple of the chaise lounges too?" he asked meekly, knowing that the furniture wouldn't be cheap and they had just finished redecorating two rooms that had cost a pretty penny.

"Yeah, we can get a couple of chaise lounges," said Brian smiling. "How about a double one?"

"So we can cuddle," Justin suggested.

"Exactamundo." They'd watched Demolition Man one night not too long ago and Brian had been quite taken with Wesley Snipe's character, Simon Phoenix.

In the end they bought the hundred and seventeen inch table, eight chairs, the double chaise lounge, and two single chaise lounges figuring if they had any more guests than they had chairs for at the table, the extra people could sit around the pool. Gus already loved the lounge and they had to practically coax him from it with the promise of ice cream when it was time to go.

Justin held Gus up to the display case. "What kind do you want, Gus?" The little boy's eyes were two hazel saucers. With thirty-two flavors and no reading skills, it was a tough decision. Figuring he needed to help him out a bit, Justin gave him some choices. "How about Vanilla?" Gus shook his head. "Chocolate?" Again he shook his head. "Rocky Road?" Gus looked confused. "It's got chocolate ice cream and marshmallows—"

"Marshmallows!" he shouted. He loved marshmallows. Especially when Nana put them in his hot chocolate.

"It's also got nuts," Brian warned. Which would be easy for Gus to swallow and choke on.


"How about Oreo Cookies 'n' Cream, Gus?" Brian asked the toddler. "You like Oreo cookies don't you?"

He nodded. Oreo cookies were good. Sometimes Mama gave him cookies and milk and let him dunk his cookies in the milk and make a mess but it was fun. "Yeah!" he yelled, getting more and more excited.

"Yippee," groaned Brian. "Like he's not hyped up enough." In the end they got Gus the Oreo Cookies 'n' Cream and Justin got some of the Rocky Road and gave Gus a few of the marshmallows. After some coaxing, Brian ordered Raspberry sherbet that was almost the exact shade of his lips.

Figuring they'd spare the upholstery in the Cherokee, they ate their treats in the mall even though Brian's teeth were on edge with all of the people crowding in around them. The only time he liked being in a crowd was when he was on drugs and dancing or fucking. Gus, on the other hand, loved being in the food court. He waved at the little kids who passed by and inhaled all of the delicious smells coming from the different fast food joints. Especially McDonald's since he hardly ever got food from there. Tugging on Brian's arm, he said, "Daddy. I want French fries."

"Not now. Finish eating your ice cream."

"No!" he pouted and started to put the cone down but Brian gave him his patented 'I don't think so' look and he changed his mind and held onto it. But he still pouted and refused to finish his cone.

"Then I'll take it and put it in the trash," Brian threatened and he reached for the ice cream.

Gus drew back his hand, refusing to surrender the cone.

"You've got ten seconds to start eating that or I'm taking it away," he warned.

"Brian…" Justin realized that Brian was probably right but he also realized that Gus was two-years-old and his reasoning skills were highly underdeveloped.


"Gus, you can't have any French fries right now because we're eating at home later. I'll make you some French fries when we go home and eat. Okay?" Gus nodded. "Don't you want your ice cream anymore?" The tot didn't respond. "Can I have some?" Gus held it up to him and Justin took a lick. "Mmm, that's so good. Can I have some more?" Gus giggled and pulled it away. Began to lick it himself.

Saying nothing, Brian leaned over and kissed Justin's cheek. The younger man blushed as they'd garnered the attention of the shoppers around them but he smiled and worked on dousing the warmth in his cheeks with the rest of his Rocky Road.

Brian ran a tub of cool water and plunked Gus down in it. Tonight they began preparing him to eventually get in the pool. Gus was used to having water in his face from showering with them but he didn't know anything about moving around in the water, breathing underwater, or floating. Justin had gotten a book on teaching children to swim from Borders and they figured over the next few days they'd instruct him in the basics so that by the end of his visit, he could get in the pool and use the paddle board they'd bought him. Most importantly, they both agreed that the goal was for him to feel relaxed in the pool and to learn how to float. Since the pool was five feet deep and probably a little intimidating for a two-year-old, they agreed that the best thing to do was to start in the bathtub. Which wasn't a problem as his tub was fairly large. So they'd put on his swim trunks—the plain ones, not the suit with the floatation devices already built in that came with a matching hat which Brian loathed—and run the tub full of water. After Brian lifted Gus into the water, Justin told him what they were going to do.

"Okay, Gus, I want you to listen to us very carefully, cause this is really important. Okay?"

" 'kay."

"Remember how I told you that we would go swimming in the pool once it got hot enough?"


"Well, it's hot enough now."


"But, first, you have to learn how to move around in the water and how to float. Okay?" He nodded.

Over the next half hour they got him to play choo-choo train, walking around in a circle to get used to moving through water; and they played the "People in the Water" Justin singing a song as they got him to do various movements.

"The fish in the water go up and down,/ Up and down, up and down/ The fish in the water go up and down/ All through the water."

They went through moving back and forth, and left and right, paddling, and splashing. Then Justin hit upon the novel idea of singing "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes" song while Gus touched all the parts of his body named in the song. The song Brian could have done without but it turned out to be a brilliant ploy as it got Gus used to putting his head in the water as he tried to touch his toes.

Which led to a game of Jack-in-the-Box in which he bobbed up and down in the water, holding his breath and going under and popping back up again while they clapped and encouraged him.

Finally, the last thing they went over was blowing bubbles under water. First they got him to put his mouth under water and blow bubbles, coming back up just as he ran out of breath, which scared him a little, and then, after he'd gotten good at that, they worked on him putting his entire head under water and blowing bubbles. They'd both noticed that he kept his eyes closed but they figured they'd work on that next time with his goggles.

At the end of the half hour, Brian got him out of the tub and hugged him. "Natural born swimmer," he boasted and Gus basked in the attention. That evening, while Justin cooked, Brian called Lindsay and Gus told her all about his adventures in swimming. He couldn't wait to get in the pool.

"So how did he do, Dad?" she asked Brian when Gus gave up the phone to go play with Leo.

"He did great. Wasn't scared of the water or anything. Course, it was just the bathtub. We'll see how he does in the pool."


"We'll be in there with him and we'll take it slow, Mom."

"You doing okay?" They hadn't talked for a while, not like they used to, not in a while. Not since his first trip to Birmingham.

"I'm fine," he answered although she could tell the question had colored his mood somewhat.


"Lindsay, I'm fine. I just… I made a mistake and it's over now." Which wasn't the truth and they both knew it but it was an easy lie.

"Have you thought anymore about maybe having another child?"

"After what happened?"

"So we wait a year, that's not too long."

He tried not to think about the worst case scenario but he couldn't help it. "What if…"

"You're Brian Kinney. You always come out on top."

He glanced over at a noise, saw Justin setting the table. "Gotta go."

She knew when she was being put aside. "Call me?"

They'd talk. Eventually. Like they always did. "Later."

The pool boy knocked on the door and waited. In a moment it opened. The man of the house had come to see who it was. He smiled. Not all of his house calls paid off. This one definitely would. He could already tell. The way the guy was checking him out. Hair, chest, basket. Oh yeah, he'd definitely score. What was there not to like? Blond hair, blue eyes, boyish chest, a nice package in contrast, and an ass that wouldn’t quit. He could feel the guy staring at it as he sashayed past.

"The pool's out back."

He waited for the owner to close the door and show him the way. Studied him from behind. Tall, wide shoulders, slender hips, and the outline of his cock had promised a good time to be had by all. He had a great chest too, which he could see perfectly as the guy had answered the door shirtless. The only thing he seemed to have on was a pair of cut-off sweats. Course, he only had on a white tank top and a pair of running shorts himself. Had to be comfortable in his line of work.

"There it is," the owner pointed out quite unnecessarily as he could plainly see the object of his quest.

"Perfect," he said and he cupped the guy's crotch. Definitely wouldn't be disappointed.

"I thought you were here to work on the pool, check the hoses..."

"I’m more interested in yours." He squeezed the owner's package. "Feels like it's in good shape."

For a moment neither said anything as they studied one another from beneath half-lowered eyelids. Then:

"Brian," the owner said, introducing himself.

"Justin," he whispered with a kiss and he eased Brian's sweats over his hips. They dropped to the stone patio soundlessly. For the next ten minutes they kissed by the pool, the tank top and running shorts joining the sweats. He loved the feel of the man's hands on his bare ass, squeezing his cheeks as they kissed, tongues venturing into foreign yet familiar mouths. His cock began to swell, to brush against Brian's thigh, and he reached for the guy's dick, stroking it until it poked his belly.

They moved to the pool, taking it slowly, step-by-step immersing themselves in the water, still kissing, his hand still wrapped around Brian's cock, feeling it thicken beneath his fingers. Once in the pool, Brian moved away from him and ducked beneath the water, shaking his head as he broke the surface. Beautiful. His muscles glistened in the moonlight. Justin leaned back against the edge of the pool, elbows over the top, and parted his legs. Kicked a few times lazily. Brian moved between his thighs and grabbed him. They kissed hungrily, Brian's hands roaming his body, sliding over his shoulders and down his sides, along his legs.

Breaking off the kiss, Brian licked down his torso, tongue encircling his nipples, dipping in his navel. He cupped Justin's ass and lifted his hips from the water, then went foraging. His tongue licked the length of Justin's cock, tasting chlorine but it didn't dissuade him from continuing. He bobbed over the young man's dick, taking the head into his mouth and sucking it softly before proceeding down the shaft. Justin's head lolled back on his neck and he moaned out loud, unable to keep silent.

Brian immediately released him. "Shh. I don't want the neighbors to hear," and he went back to work, Justin having to bite his lip to stay quiet. Finally Justin raised Brian's head and they returned to kissing.

They slipped from the water and made a pallet of their clothes, not enough padding to really be comfortable but enough surface area to keep them off the patio stone. Justin lay back on the makeshift nest, his erection straining over his abdomen. Joining him, his own penis stiff, Brian stretched out over him, Justin wrapping his legs about his waist. Lips swollen, they continued to ply them with kisses. Brian's muscles flexed and Justin nearly purred, running his hands up and down his back, over his shoulders, and along his arms. He was rock solid.

Raising up and moving down his body, Brian began to kiss Justin's chest. He traveled from one shoulder to the other, kissing along his collar bone. There were traces of kisses all around Justin's nipples, all along his ribcage. Brian licked down the center of his body, kneeling on the hard stone as he came to Justin's cock. Justin took his dick by the base and held it up. The head was firm and dark. Brian kissed the tip. Kissed it again. Kissed around the edges of the glans. A bead of precum appeared. He opened his mouth around the head without touching it and flicked his tongue over the apex. The bead disappeared. Closing his mouth, he fed on Justin's cockhead until he was writhing beneath him, a cry threatening to erupt from his lips at any moment.

Brian let go and they exchanged places, he lying supine on the pallet, Justin crouched above him. He wrapped an arm about the younger man and pulled him down so that they were touching all along their bodies. Cocks hard and wet, they pumped against one another as they kissed. He probed between Justin's cheeks and massaged his knotted hole. Justin flung back his head and began panting. Rubbing hard against Brian. He wanted to come so badly. Giving Brian a final kiss, he pulled free and knelt over his chest. Tugged on his cock. Brian felt him up as he masturbated. God, his nipples were so sensitive and Brian kept rubbing his thumbs over them, kept pinching them. He leaned over, supporting himself on one hand, and jerked on his cock with the other. His dick was close enough now for Brian to suck him and he did, hands holding onto his slender thighs. Justin convulsed and came, dick sliding over Brian's lips, cum flying from the tip. When he was through, he rolled over onto his back, palm around his balls. Brian's cheeks were streaked with jizz.

Brian got back into the pool to wash his face and Justin joined him, sitting on the lowest step so that his head was level with Brian's crotch. Taking hold of his dick, he began to blow him, gradually increasing the pressure with which he sucked him until Brian trembled above him.

"I'm gonna come," he warned Justin as he pulled his cock from his mouth.

"I like getting wet," was the reply.

Brian towered over him, jacking his meat. Precum dripped from his dick. His lips parted and he jerked.

Justin closed his eyes as he was splattered with cum. Face, chest, and neck. Smiling, he rubbed it into his skin. Eyes still closed, he felt Brian move in the water, felt his hands on his body, drawing him near as they kissed. He remained where he was as Brian washed him, a palm full of water at a time. Then, in a husky voice, he asked, "Are you satisfied with the quality of my services?"

Kissing him soundly, Brian replied, "Very."

As Brian entered the house, Deb looked around from her post at the sink. "Where's the rest of the Kinney clan?"

"Shopping. As usual," he replied, going to perch on the chair by Mikey.

"So why aren't you?" he asked. "After all, it is your second favorite activity."

Brian shrugged. "Not in the mood."

Taking two sodas from the fridge, Debbie set them on the kitchen table before headed downstairs, saying, "I've gotta finish the laundry."

Michael laughed. "Subtle she's not."

It could have been a day out of their past. The two of them sitting on Debbie's rickety picnic table and bench sipping ginger ale. Except that they were no longer seventeen and Brian was married with a two-year-old son.

"So," began Michael, "it's a nice day, huh?"

Brian snickered. "Guess subtlety's not your strong suit either." He took a sip of ginger ale and frowned. Not one of his favorites.

Cutting to the chase, Michael asked, "What happened?"

"I don't fuckin' know, Mikey. I don't remember shit," he confessed. "I woke up in his bed and… we'd fucked. That's all I know." Squinting, he slipped on his sunglasses. Michael watched as a tear rolled from beneath the edge of them.

"Brian…" He touched his arm. "It's okay."

"No," he answered, "it's not."

Michael could feel him trembling next to him and he tightened his grip on his arm. "You love him, don't you?" And then he answered his own question. "Of course, you do." They'd known each other most of their lives and the one thing he knew about Brian was that he was, despite all of his other failings, a moral person. He'd given his word to Justin that he would be faithful and the only way he would have broken his word for anyone else was if he'd loved them.

"Not enough," Brian said softly.

"Just enough to make you fuckin' miserable," Michael added and he embraced his friend and held him as he shook, then removed his sunglasses and gently wiped away his tears as he'd done before. After Cam had broken Brian's heart.

It'd taken a long time for Brian to get over Cam and he'd only done it after locking away his feelings and becoming the Brian Kinney everyone had envied and lusted after: the ultimate party boy, the undisputed King of the Backroom. Only Michael had known the real reason: that he'd been afraid to let anyone that close again, close enough to hurt him. Until Justin had come along, not knowing a damn thing except that he wanted Brian. Youth and ignorance on his side giving him the strength to walk the gauntlet of Brian's many tests until, finally, he'd gotten what he'd wanted. And then Kenneth had entered the picture, threatening to screw everything to Hell.

"It's over now, Brian," Michael told him. "Forget about him and be happy."


"I'm sure the Boy Wonder has a few ideas," he said, pushing him with his shoulder. Brian pushed back. Certain the crisis was over, Michael was just about to suggest that they hit Woody's for a real drink when Brian spoke again.

"I wanted him so much."

"That's no crime."

In a whisper, he said, "I still do."

"You won't always," Michael assured him.

"I hope;" and he put on his sunglasses again.

For a while, after Brian had gone, Michael sat on the bench outside worrying. That Brian would once again shut himself off from his feelings, that he would retreat into a place deep inside him where he could hide his emotions, camouflage his vulnerability with attitude, coldness, and sexual promiscuity. Although he'd never stopped loving Brian, he sometimes hadn't liked the person he'd become after Cam left him. But they were best friends, which meant that no matter how much he'd disliked some of the things Brian had done, he'd always supported him, all the while trying to nudge him towards being human again.

Until Justin.

Michael smiled softly. He had to believe that Justin would never give up on Brian, that no matter how difficult times got, he'd always be there to lend Brian the strength he needed. Not for the first time, he wondered what it would have been like if he and Brian would have gotten together. Maybe they would have crashed and burned like Brian and Cam and their friendship would have long since turned to ashes. That possibility, and the feeling that his life would have been immeasurably emptier without his best friend, had always kept him from pursuing a sexual relationship with Brian. Until Justin, he'd never believed that any other man would have a place in Brian's life and he'd been content with his lot. It'd taken a long time before he was able to admit to himself, or anyone else, that Justin had succeeded where all else had failed: he'd found the key to Brian's secret place, found the parts of him he'd locked way, and freed him to love again.

"All right, Gus, take a deep breath." He did. "Now put your head under the water and blow it out." Brian watched as the little boy put his head beneath the water and blew out. This time he'd put on his goggles so he could see but he still had his eyes closed. When Gus came back up for air, Brian told him, "Keep your eyes open the next time."

"No." Shook his head.

"It's okay. You've got your goggles on. Try it." Gus took a deep breath and put his head under the water and blew his bubbles. Brian watched him closely. He had his eyes open. When Gus came up, he clapped for him. "Amazing." Gus hopped up and down in the tub. "Now, I want you to hold onto the side of the tub." Gus held onto the edge. "Now, kick your legs." The little boy looked confused.

"He doesn’t know how to float, Brian." Justin watched from the other side.

With one hand around his arm and the other beneath his chest, Brian held him up so that his feet floated from the bottom of the tub. "Okay, kick." Gus kicked weakly. "Harder." He giggled and kicked up a storm, so much so that water splashed over the edge. "Good boy." Gus continued to kick until Brian deemed it enough and told him to stop. "You think you're ready to go into the pool?


"You sure?"


"Come on." He lifted him from the water and changed him into his swimsuit. It was blue with green frogs on it and there was a matching hat. "Where does she find these things?" Brian groused. Justin grinned and popped him on the butt. "Ow!"

"Let's go." He grabbed Gus' kickboard.

Before they got into the pool, Brian went over the rules. "You are never to get into the pool without me or Daddy Justin, got that?" Gus nodded, eyes grave. He knew when Daddy was serious. "And no running or playing around the pool. It's slippery and you might fall in. Understand?" Again, he nodded. "Last rule is no eating in the pool. Okay?"


Because it was easy for little kids to get dehydrated, Justin had put some bottled water in a cooler and had it near the pool. There was fruit in there as well. All the books said that it was okay to eat fruit and then go swimming as fruit was easy to digest. It was fatty foods that were hard to digest that gave people problems.

They'd also gotten special towels just for the pool. Big, thirsty towels in bright colors that Gus immediately took to. He couldn't wait to wrap up in it. But before that, he wanted to get in the pool.

Brian got in first, climbing slowly down the steps to set an example for Gus. Once he was in the water, he waited at the side. "Sit down at the edge," he told Gus and the toddler did. Then Brian raised him up and held him in his arms. Gus shivered. "Cold?" He nodded. "It'll warm up in a minute."

While Gus adjusted to the water, Justin climbed in with his kickboard. Without calling attention to his actions, he began to scoop water in his hand and pour it down Gus' back. At first he wriggled, trying to get away from the cold water but then he began to giggle as he got used to the feeling. Within a few minutes he was raring to get in the water.

"You ready?" Brian asked and he lowered him into the water but Gus began to complain. Although he'd been excited about getting in the pool, he suddenly realized that the water was much deeper than the water in his tub and he was a little afraid. Drawing him up again, Brian said, "I won't let you go, I promise. I'll always be there. Daddy Justin too. So you don’t ever have to be scared. Okay?" Brian kissed him and felt Gus' hand on his face. It made him feel incredibly strong that Gus trusted him with his life, whether he knew it or not. At that moment, with his son in his arms and his partner by his side, he felt more alive than he had in a long time. He'd survived. He was still alive. He kissed Gus again, savoring the feel of his soft cheek. "Ready?"

"I readee, I readee," he chanted just like SpongeBob.

"Then let me see you kick," and he held on while Gus stretched out and kicked his legs, supported by the water's buoyancy and his daddy's strong arms.

"You're doing great, Gus," Justin told him. "Keep kicking."

And he did, the water bubbling around him as he kicked away.


  1. Massive Attack, "Angel".
  2. The Crystal Method, "Busy Child".
  3. The Wiggles, "Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes".
  4. The Children's Television Workshop, "Rubber Ducky".
  5. The Children's Television Workshop, "Capital I".
  6. Bjork, "All is Full of Love".
  7. Massive Attack, "Inertia Creeps".
  8. Portishead, "Glory Box".
  9. Isaac Hayes and David Porter, "When Something is Wrong with My Baby".
  10. Nine Inch Nails, "Hurt".

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