"How about painting a mural in the guest room?" Brian asked in response to Justin's complaint that he was at loose ends in terms of things to do during the summer. Artistically. He was well on his way to driving Brian crazy on the personal front however.

"Do we know what we're doing in there?" Justin replied, hoping to prompt Brian into revealing his plans.

But the man shrugged. "What do you want to—"

"Oh no," Justin interjected, "we're doing this together."

"I worked on the livingroom and dining room," Brian reminded him.

"And you did a good job, too." Justin nudged his husband. "So what do you think we should put on the wall?"

"Tuscany," he suggested after giving it some thought.

"Tuscany," repeated Justin in disbelief.

"We've got all those pictures from our trip. Pick something."

"I'm not that good," Justin argued.

"You are that good. Besides, it's not like it has to be a photographic reprint. You're an artist, be creative. Some hills, a few cypress trees, an olive grove…"

"Easy to say." Sounded like a lot of work and beyond his skills.

"Well," Brian told him, "you won't know until you get your bubble butt off the couch and try." He popped Justin on said butt as they were lying together on the bed watching television. Actually neither one had really been paying attention to whatever was on. Brian had been shuffling papers and Justin had been reading a biography of Paul Cadmus, George Platt Lynes, and Lincoln Kirstein. Frank's gift had sparked an interest in Cadmus and his life and Justin had found the biography at a used bookstore in town.

He'd asked his question of Brian originally in hopes that the man would agree to sit for a few drawings in the summer but Brian seemed bent on not posing for him, as the subject invariably brought up memories of Kenneth, whom he was endeavoring to forget.

In retaliation for Brian ragging him, Justin said, "This means getting out the photos from the trip and…" Brian groaned. "…going through them," Justin finished. Despite choosing photography as a hobby, Brian seemed to hate looking at photos. Justin told him so.

"Not all pictures, just vacation pictures. It's like watching Mikey's boring-assed slides from Paris."

"Except they're our pictures from our trip and you're a photographer."

"Doesn't make them any more interesting. And I'm an amateur."

"You," Justin said exasperatedly and pushed Brian with his foot, "are such a grouch."

In his defense, Brian explained, "I'm tired."

"Then put down your work and go to sleep." Justin snorted. Sometimes Brian could be incredibly dense. At that moment Leo jumped up on the bed, having returned from patrolling the house. "Even Leo knows it's time to call it a night."

Brian checked the clock on his nightstand. Almost midnight. He straightened his papers as he swung his legs over the side of the bed. He'd put them away in his briefcase, take a leak, and collapse. Silently, he prayed that Justin wouldn't be in the mood to play cause he didn't think he had the energy for it. No, he knew for a fact that he didn't.

Luck was on his side or else Justin knew just how exhausted he was because the young artist did no more than kiss him goodnight, then switched off the light on his side of the bed and turned over to sleep. Now that they'd been married for a while, Justin no longer felt the need to hold onto him in the night as they slept but Brian kind of missed falling asleep with Justin's arm around him. He guessed everything changed. Then, just as he was about to close his eyes, he felt the bed shift, felt an arm snake around his waist, and Justin's hair brush against his skin. Brian smiled. Maybe not everything.

Brian had bolted from the house before Justin could unearth their photos and mementos from their travels in Italy. Justin didn't care. He fixed himself a cup of coffee, heated a danish, and carried both to the family room. Television on and turned to Cartoon Network, he ate breakfast at the coffee table by the sectional and began going through the box of stuff.

Out came their airline tickets from London to Rome and the tickets for the Leonardo express train that took them into the city. They had gondola tickets from Venice, bus tickets to Tivoli, train tickets to Florence, to Venice, and Milan.

Brochures from and pictures of all the places where they'd stayed. Each hotel had been unique and beautiful. That Brian had gone to such care still amazed Justin. In Rome their room had overlooked the Piazza Barberini; in Venice they'd had a balcony from which they could see the Bridge of Sighs; they'd stayed in a hotel in Florence just steps away from the Ponte Vecchio which stretched over the Arno.

There were admission tickets to the Vatican Museums, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Uffizi, and the Florentine Gallerie dell'Accademia where Michaelangelo's David was housed as well as the Venetian Gallerie dell'Accademia which boasted works by Titan, Tintoretto, and Veronese. In addition to the admission tickets there were exhibition catalogues and museum books upstairs in the library that Brian had paid for without any fuss despite the cost. Just to see the smile on his lover's face as he'd eagerly devoured each page.

And photos. There were four photo boxes full of snapshots from their Italian holiday. The Colosseum, Palatine Hill, St. Peter's, the Castel Sant' Angelo, the Pantheon, Hadrian's Villa, the Tivoli Gardens, vineyards in Tuscany, the Pitti Palace, the Grand Canal and the Ponte di Rialto, the Basilica di San Marco, and the Zegna shop in Milan—Brian's personal favorite. Photos of them individually and a few of them together, when they'd been able to find other tourists willing to do them the honor of taking their picture. They'd picked up disposable cameras just for that reason, unwilling to part with Brian's expensive camera for any reason.

Finishing his coffee, Justin went through the pictures Brian had taken of the Tuscan countryside both from the train and also during their brief foray out of Florence into the surrounding towns. They'd both wished that they had more time to spend in Toscana, to visit Pisa, Chianti, and Siena and soak up the warmth of the region. More than anywhere else, it was this area which had prompted their plans to return to Italy someday. And he realized all over again that they'd duplicated the feel of the place in their home, the colors and furnishings echoing the rich palate and wonder of Tuscany.

Pulling himself out of his memories, he checked his watch: he had about a half an hour before he was supposed to be at work. Reluctantly, he put everything away and left the box by the couch. Italy would wait.

Coming home to an empty house (except for Leo), he found the box of mementos and photos where Justin had left it. "Hmm," he grunted and slung his coat jacket over the back of the sofa with a warning to Leo, "Don't even think about it," as the kitten jumped onto the sectional. "Come here." Leo ambled over and sat next to him, purring as he was petted, getting cat hair on Brian's slacks. Couldn't win.

When Justin returned a while later, Brian was intently studying a couple of photographs which he handed over to his spouse as he claimed a space on the sectional. "Something like this," Brian told him. They were pictures he'd taken of a vineyard: pink, red-roofed buildings in the distance with cypress trees towering over them, grape vines in the foreground, a tree-filled hillside with a road snaking through it sloping from the buildings down to the staked vines.

"I think I could do something like this. Simplify it. Just do impressions maybe."

"Impressions," smirked Brian. "Just think, you could start your own movement. You could call it… Impressionism," he said in mock awe. Then, "Oops, sorry, I think Monet beat you to it."

"Asshole. Just for that, you can help me."

He raised a brow. "Like I know shit about painting."

"You can help do the prep-work on the wall and you can wax it after I'm done with the fresco."

Brian frowned. "What about the smell?" He really had an aversion to the smell of paint. That much he hadn't exaggerated.

"Fine." Justin relented and let him off the hook. "But you owe me. Big time."

Taking his husband in his arms, Brian kissed him along the jaw. "Anything you want."

"Anything?" baited Justin.

"Within reason." He knew better than to offer Justin a blanket promise. No telling what the young man would want.

"What about a Fourth of July barbecue pool party?"

Brian groaned. So far they'd kept the pool to themselves, the only other person to use it being Gus on his week-long vacation during which time they'd taught him how to float and how to use his kickboard to move around in the pool. Their friends had been dropping huge hints about coming over and playing in the pool but he'd been able to foil their plans. Until now. "All right," he said, giving in. "But," he added, "just our friends. No neighbors."

"I like our neighbors," Justin argued.

"I like 'em too but that's just too many people at one time. Gus would spontaneously combust."

The little boy had met some of their neighbors while staying with them and the women, especially, had fallen in love with him and showered him with admiration which he had soaked up, seeming to regard it as his due. He was Brian's son all right. Rachel had even babysat for them giving the two men the opportunity to go out for a romantic dinner, no high chairs or booster seats in sight. Gus had liked her dog even though it had taken some doing to get used to him as dogs were very different from cats. Upon his return home, Leo had sniffed him thoroughly from head to toe while Gus tried to tell him all about Rusty and the things the Lab had done.

Meanwhile, Justin had begun to plan in his head. "This can be a dry run for Gus' birthday party."

"Birthday party?"

"Yeah. The last event of the season," Justin replied.

"Season?" Brian fell back and sighed.

Chuckling, Justin cuddled up to him. "Today Gus' birthday party, tomorrow the PTA. Brian Kinney, suburban dad."

The guys had commandeered a table in a relatively quiet corner of Woody's so they could talk without having to shout everything.

Em sipped his Singapore Sling and cocked his head. "So, a Fourth of July soiree huh? What would you wear to one of those?" he asked Ted.

"Red, white, and blue?"

Visions of Emmett showing up in a stars and stripes pair of Speedo and draped in an American flag cover-up made Brian declare, "No fuckin' way. No red, white, or blue."

"Hey," protested Justin. "That's not fair. After all, it is the Fourth of July."

"Okay," Brian amended, "you can wear two of the colors, but not all three. Deal?"

Justin consulted with Em before answering. "Deal," he replied and kissed Brian to seal their agreement.

"What should we bring?" Mikey asked.

Brian shrugged. "Ask Justin, this is his carnival side show."

"Whatever you want," he told Michael. "We're providing the meat and drinks so if you want bring a side dish or dessert, that's cool."

"Oh," Em exclaimed, "I can bring my mom's Fourth of July pie. It's got cherries and blueberries and whipped cream. Delish."

Ted checked with Brian. "Does the three color prohibition extend to food too?"

Instead of answering, Brian flipped him the bird.

"Bald eagle?" asked Ted.

Pecking Brian on the cheek a second time, Justin advised him to, "Give it up, Pookie."

"He will later on at home," Ted joked and Brian quipped, "Have you seen his cock? I've got no problem with that."

Michael, who was there without Jeff, said, "Could we not talk about cocks or fucking?"

"How long has it been?" Brian asked, smirking.

"Too long." Jeff had been out of town on assignment and phone sex was getting old.

Em offered a pithy bit of advice. "Absence makes the heart grow fonder."

"And the dick grow harder," Brian added.

An hour later they were slow dancing in their room, Justin having put on something suitably romantic. Brian could feel Justin's erection pressing against his thigh. Flexing the muscles in his leg, he felt an answering pulse and heard Justin inhale. With that as his cue, he unzipped his lover's trousers and slipped them over his hips. They fell to the floor and Justin stepped out of them. Next came the briefs and tee-shirt. When Justin had been completely divested of clothing, Brian began to unbutton his shirt. After a moment, Justin took over and leisurely finished the job before turning to the rest of Brian's clothes. Each item was duly removed, clever fingers managing to stroke his bare skin as they worked.

Naked and aroused, Brian knelt, his hair brushing over Justin's body, the young artist shivering in excitement. Then, unhurriedly, he kissed his way back up, nuzzling behind Justin's knees, between his thighs, around his navel and nipples, along his neck to his lips. As they kissed, Justin stroked and kneaded Brian's buttocks, fingers slipping down into the crevice between them to tease his hole. He gasped as Justin pressed against the center of his anus and rotated his finger. "Lay down," he was told and he did so. Felt Justin grasp his legs around the knees and raise them up. Felt wispy kisses on his thighs and cheeks. Felt Justin's tongue slither around his hole.

"Mmm…" he moaned and the tongue played among the folds causing him to shudder. He shouted when it gained entrance, grabbing hold of the sheets to steady himself as his body trembled.

"I wanna fuck you," Justin whispered and swiped his asshole with his tongue.

"Unh," Brian grunted.

Justin ate him out, face and lips wet with saliva, listening to his cries as his tongue dug deeper and deeper. Cock hard between his legs, it bumped into the side of the bed, smearing the comforter with precum. Redoubling his efforts, he continued to rim his lover until Brian arched his back and begged him to stop, don't stop, stop, stop.

Releasing Brian's legs, Justin did stop, but only to find the lube on the nightstand. When he was ready, he said, "Turn over." Brian did. "On your knees." Again, Brian complied. Justin climbed on the bed and moved between his thighs. One hand on Brian's back, Justin eased his cock forward, stopping just as the head made contact with Brian's hole. "You want it?" It was part of the ritual.

"Yes," Brian replied breathlessly.

Justin pressed against him, cockhead firm. "Say it."

"Fuck me."

He pushed hard and Brian cried out as he was penetrated. Inching forward, Justin didn't pause until he was completely buried in Brian's ass. "That feel good?"

"Yes." He was totally under Justin's control. All he wanted was to be fucked, hard. As Justin backed out of him, he squeezed his eyes shut, knowing that in a moment his lover would be thrusting into him once more.

Sweat trickled between his shoulder blades and down his belly as he fucked Brian for what seemed like forever. Every time he thought he was getting close to coming, he'd stop and rest for a few moments before starting again. Brian demanded to be ridden long and hard, that was the price of fucking him. Not that Justin minded. Sinking into Brian's warm, clinging hole, dick surrounded by his slick insides, Justin gave himself over to the motion of his hips.

Torso dropping to the bed, his ass still raised in the air, Brian began panting. His hole had begun to spasm, he wanted to come so badly his cock ached. Reaching back between his legs, he grabbed hold of his dick and began beating off, spreading precum along the length. Eyes shut tight, he grimaced and gasped. As he came, Justin fucked him harder, slamming into him until it felt as if Justin were coming in his hand.

She hadn't been surprised to hear from him, calling to find out if she was free for lunch. Luckily, she wasn't teaching that day and she'd taken Gus to preschool so she was free. It was the first time they'd been alone together in months it seemed. When he stepped across the threshold, they embraced and she squeezed him tight before letting him go and leading him to the sofa. Brushed his hair back from his face. He was letting the bangs grow longer and she was reminded of the brash, young college student she'd known years ago. Except that they had a child now and college was a decade behind them. "Missed you," Lindz said and he twisted his lips in a wry grin.

"Just saw you a week ago," he replied but he knew what she meant. "What's for lunch?"

"Chicken salad."

"Another hour on the treadmill tonight."

Pinching him through his shirt, she couldn't catch hold of his flesh, there wasn't a spare inch to grab. "You hungry?"

"That's why I'm here," he answered so she called him on his bluff and served lunch. Having taken four or five bites, he lay down his fork and said, "Sometimes I wonder if I'm ever gonna get it right."



Lindsay smiled. "Look around you. You already have."

"Which is why Justin and I are gonna be starting yet another round of HIV testing in a few weeks."

"So what happened?"

He shrugged.

"Has to be a better answer than that."

"Won't make any more sense." Knocking back a third of his lemonade, he wiped his mouth and said, "I wanted him. I can't lie about that. I wanted him and…" He couldn't tell her what Mikey had guessed: that he loved Kenneth just enough for it to hurt. Still, he figured she understood. Other than Justin and Michael, she was the person who knew him best. He shook his head. "I don't know what happened. I can't remember anything. The Doc and I have had session after session and I still can't remember." Another head shake. "Guess I don't want to remember."

"What good would it do?"

"Aren't you the one always preaching about the truth?" he asked.

Caught, she smiled. "Maybe this once, we could let it slide." Ate a potato chip. "All that matters is that you and Justin are okay now."

Amazed and bolstered by her optimism, he asked, "And you still wanna have another kid? With me?"

"I figured we did so well the first time, why not have another one?"

Spotting some of Gus' toys in the corner, Brian chuckled. "I never knew you were a masochist. What about Mel?"

"She's all for it."

"Yeah, I'll bet. What'd you have to do to convince her? Go down on her every night for a week?"

"I do anyway," she replied and laughed at the expression on his face. Then, turning serious, she asked, "What do you say, Pa?" laying her hand over his.

Taking hold of her fingers, he replied, "Why not, Ma?"

A smile widened her lips but she added, "Now, you've got some time to get used to the idea. I want to wait until Gus is a little bit older."

Reaching for his lemonade, Brian said, "I just hope he understands when he has to share his room with a little brother."

"What if it's a little sister?"

"Bite your tongue." He had visions of a miniature Mel no matter who actually carried the baby. Finished his drink. "You know, I had thought that it might be cool if you and Justin had a kid together."

"Oh?" She paused. Not that it was a bad idea, she'd just never considered it.

"But he's set on him and Daphne procreating so there you go. Guess you're stuck with my sperm."

"Luckily, I've acquired a taste for it," she joked and Brian nearly choked on his chicken salad.

"You trying to kill me?"

"Not before I get your jizz," and she popped another potato chip.

"I feel so loved."

As they picked through the ears of corn at the grocery store, Justin said, "Maybe next year we could grow something other than herbs."

"Like what?" Brian asked warily. They could barely keep up with the tiny garden they had.

"Maybe some tomatoes, some peppers, something small."

Least he wasn't talking corn. "Where?"

That was the question. They had a pretty big backyard but it hadn't been laid out with gardens in mind. "Maybe near the garage."


Justin took that for exactly what it was, a sound that signified nothing except that Brian would think about it. Later, as they tried to negotiate the huge selection of hamburger and hotdog buns Justin said, "We should get a bread machine. Make our own homemade bread."

"Yes, dear."

"Shut up." Brian mimed zipping his lips. "Actually, I like it better when they're open."

"Makes it easier for me to taste your buns," Brian said, leaning in close and flicking his tongue.

Taking a quick look around, Justin whispered back, "Hotdogs and buns… Mmm…" and he kissed Brian hard.

Brian grabbed about ten bags of some kind of bread from the shelf, he didn't care what. "Let's get the fuck out of here."

Justin swam lazily across the pool to the edge where Brian lounged, moonlight shimmering on the water, on their skin. Wrapped his arms about his neck and kissed him softly on the lips. Whispered, "Sure your husband won't catch us?"

"Gone for hours," Brian replied.

"So what do you like to do?" asked Justin, hand around Brian's cock, stroking it.

"Take photographs—"

"In bed," Justin said, interrupting him.

"We're not in bed."


Brian licked his lips. "This is nice."

Justin nipped his earlobe. "You like giving head?"

"Love it."

He released Brian and started up the steps out of the pool. Paused and sat on the uppermost one. Spread his legs and held his cock up by the base. The tip glistened. "Then get to it."

Brian cracked the back door. "Let's go." They'd come to pick up Gus for an early weekend stay and he'd immediately taken Justin outside to see an ant hill he'd discovered the day before. Lindsay had warned him not to touch it but she hadn't forbidden him to look at it and he found it endlessly fascinating.

"Maybe he'll grow up to be a biologist," Mel predicted.

"Engineer," guessed Lindsay. "What do you think?" she asked Brian.

"Architect," he said and for some strange reason, it had the ring of truth to it even though he'd only said the first thing that came to mind. "Design the Gay Hall of Fame," he joked.

"Wasn't that what they called the loft?" Lindsay teased.

"Not the Hall of Shame, the Hall of Fame," Mel said.

Brian gave her the finger just as Gus and Justin returned. At Justin's look, he sheathed his weapon and said to Gus, "Ready?"

"I readee," giggled the toddler and he grabbed his pull along SpongeBob backpack which had Beh strapped to it.

Taking Brian aside, Mel checked, "No fireworks, right?"

"Right," he sighed. "They're illegal and they can cause injury and death," he intoned.

"Lindsay talked to you, huh?"

"Lindsay talked to me," he replied, rolling his eyes. Even though he feigned disappointment, he'd never really been into fireworks himself and wouldn't miss them on his account but he thought Gus would have appreciated seeing them. He'd been too young the previous years for fireworks but he was just the right age now to be wowed by the monotonous displays of color and light. Unfortunately, they were having a Fourth of July pool party at the house tomorrow and they might not make it down to the river for the city's fireworks display at Pointe State Park and Mel and Lindsay had squashed any nascent plans of his to acquire illegal fireworks for their own home use. Still, they could probably see some of the fireworks from the house and they could turn on the radio and listen to the live music broadcast that accompanied the event. That's if Gus lasted that long. The displays didn't start until 9:45 and he was generally in bed by then. Maybe they'd get him to take a nap in the late afternoon. Yeah.

Bending over, Justin told Gus, "Tell Daddy to let's roll."

"Less roll, Daddy," Gus said, tugging on Brian's hand.

With the prospect of cooking all afternoon/evening tomorrow looming before them, the guys decided to drop by the diner for dinner and a chat with Debbie. As usual, she was more than happy to see Gus and hugged him warmly before seating him next to his dads. "So what can I get you to eat, Gorgeous Gus?" she asked with her pad at the ready to take down his order.

"Nuggets," he answered without hesitation.

Impressed, Deb took it down and asked, "Anything else?"

"French fries."

"French fries and nuggets for the littlest angel and what can I get for you two miscreants?" she asked of his dads.

"Pasta salad," said Justin, who'd worked today and couldn't bear the thought of actually eating a hamburger after serving them all day.

"Caesar salad," Brian decided and handed her their menus. "You coming over tomorrow?"

"Got my bathing suit all laid out," she promised him, going to put in their orders.

Brian tossed aside his napkin. "There goes my appetite."

With Gus playing around the fountain with Leo, the guys went through their barbecue checklist just in case they needed to make a last minute grocery store run tomorrow morning.

As Brian read down the list, Justin made sure they had the item.




Justin opened the fridge. "Coke, Ginger Ale, Root Beer, Grape… And there's lemonade and iced tea… Beer. I think we've got it covered."

"Got enough ice?"

He checked the freezer. Besides the trays of ice, they'd gotten four bags. "Yep."

Brian went to the next item. "Ketchup."



"Yep. And mayonnaise. Relish… and sauerkraut."

"Stop jumping ahead." Brian made his tick marks. "Buns."

Justin grinned and wiggled his behind. "Got 'em."

Returning the grin, Brian went on. "Steak sauce."

"Two bottles."

"That just leaves the meat."

Justin opened the freezer and began stacking the meat in the refrigerator to thaw. "Hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken, steak, salmon steaks, and shrimp."

"Think it's enough?" Brian asked.

"Maybe too much. I doubt if we'll need more than a pack of hot dogs since Gus is the only one who'll probably eat 'em. Maybe Molly." Daphne loved hot dogs too but she wasn't coming. She was doing the Fourth with her family. So back went the other two packs.

"And we can always thaw out more if we need to. Same thing with the chicken breasts and salmon."

Justin put half the salmon back and half the chicken breasts. "I'll leave out most of the steak and all of the shrimp since we didn't get but two pounds anyway," he said as he put back one pack of the steaks. "That it?"

"That's it."

Washing his hands first, he went into the broom closet and brought out a package which he handed to Brian.

"What's this?"

"Open it," he smiled.

Doing so, Brian chuckled and shook his head. It was an apron, full body, which said, "Kiss the Chef." He looped it over his head and modeled it.

"Amazing," Justin judged and gave him his prize: a kiss.

In ran Gus with Leo loping behind him. "Daddy!"

"What?" asked Justin.

"I have a cookie?"

Opening the jar on the counter, he handed Gus a chocolate chip cookie that he'd baked himself. Not that he'd made the dough from scratch. Pre-made block, perforated for easy dismantling and baking. He loved it.

"Thank you." Cookie in hand, Gus went back to the family room and sat on the floor rolling his car around while he ate. Brian checked to make sure he wasn't feeding Leo any of the cookie as they hadn't quite convinced him that cats didn't eat cookies or oranges or green peas.

"You think the rest of our kids are gonna be as good as him?" Justin asked Brian.

"He's something else all right." Brian reached into the jar and got out a cookie for himself.

Slipping his arms around his husband, Justin said proudly, "First class genes." Took a bite of Brian's cookie. Chewed reflectively, then asked, "Did Lindsay ever…? You know?" Raised a brow.

"You know what?" asked Brian, utterly confused.

"Taste it?" he clarified, although still not enough for Brian to decipher his meaning. Giving up, Justin asked, "Did she ever suck you off?"

"I'm not telling you," Brian replied and finished his cookie.


"She'd fuckin' kill me."

"I won't tell."

"She'll know. Somehow. It's like mothers have this secret power."

"Brian," Justin begged.

"Uh-uh. So drop it."

Trying another tactic, Justin said, "That means yes."


Gus returned interrupting Justin's reply. "I want some milk," he said softly, grabbing hold of and leaning against Brian's leg, a definite sign that he was winding down for the day. So his daddy lifted him onto one of the bar stools around the island and poured him a small glass of milk, just enough to wash down his cookie. Afterwards, Brian carried him upstairs, Justin behind them. Bath time. Or it would have been except that after brushing his teeth, Gus fell asleep before they had a chance to run a tub of water. Leaving his undies on and not bothering with his pajamas, they eased him under the covers and turned out the lights. Leo assumed his position at the foot of the bed. Gus' bath could wait until morning.

But the men decided that maybe they'd take one instead. While Brian brought up a bottle of wine and two glasses, Justin ran the water and lit a couple of tapers, set them on the window sill. Stood for a moment looking out at the backyard. Tomorrow it'd be filled with their family and friends; he could already hear the laughter and music, could see Gus running around in the grass playing hide-and-seek with Emmett and Molly. He chuckled imagining Debbie in her bathing suit and Brian with his hands over his eyes.

"What?" asked Brian, coming up behind him.

"Just thought about Deb in her bathing suit."

Brian groaned and shut his eyes. "Don't remind me."

"Tell you what," Justin said, "just think about me in mine."

He smiled. "Much better." Turned off the water. Bubbles came within five inches of the top. Without any preamble, they dropped off their clothes and slipped into the tub, Justin taking his customary place between Brian's thighs, leaning back against his chest.

Sighing, he smiled. "I love this bathtub."

"I love this bathroom," Brian commented.

Justin added, "It's so… decadent." He raised up and got their wine from the window sill. They clicked glasses. "Cheers."

"To us."

After a sip, Justin said, "I was thinking."


"Since you—" and he halted in mid sentence. Fuck. He was just about to say, "Since you're not working on the Hyperion account anymore, can we sneak in a few days at the inn?"

"Since I what?"

"Mm. Nothing," Justin replied hoping Brian would drop it but, of course, he wasn't going to drop it. He wouldn't have.

It had to be about Kenneth. "You can say his name. I won't fall apart." Brian shifted and put away his wine, settled back down.

"I know," Justin said softly. "I just… I don't want to hurt you." After all, it'd been less than a month since the incident.

"It doesn't hurt anymore."

He said nothing, yet Justin could feel the tension in Brian's body.

"I just wish… I could remember." He could still hear Kenneth's denial of rape in his mind and that, more than anything, drove him to try when everything and everyone else said let it go. Maybe Lindsay was right, maybe it was better not to remember.

"How would it change things if you did?" Justin asked, echoing her sentiments.

"Maybe… maybe it wouldn't," he replied although that wasn't what he'd intended to say. "Maybe I wouldn't feel like such a liar," he finally admitted.

Justin turned. "About what?"

"Almost everything." Brian looked away, paused then said, "I can't believe this is fucking happening to us. Again. I just—it was supposed to be different."

"Different how? We were supposed to live this fairy tale life? What?" Justin waited and when Brian didn't answer, he cupped his face. "Tell me." No more silences.

"I wanted to do this right," Brian explained. "I didn't want to fuck it up like everything else."

"But you didn't. We’re still together. He didn't ruin that for us. And you haven't fucked anything up. Look at you, at what you've accomplished: with your career, with your life. Look at you and Gus, and you and your mom, look at us. Gus loves you, you're a great dad; and I can't believe how far you and Joanie have come: you did that. And you're the best hubby in the entire world." Brian grimaced on cue and Justin smiled and kissed him. "And I love you. More than anything and anyone. I would do anything for you. That hasn't changed. Never will." They embraced and Brian pecked him on the cheek.

"I love you."

"I know."

Brian laughed and Justin turned and rested easily against him once more. Then he began to fidget. "What's up with you?"



"The hair on your chest."

Moving Justin out of the way, Brian looked down at his pecs. "It hasn't grown." Justin settled back down and Brian ran his hands over his husband's mostly smooth body, lingering over his buttocks and crotch.

"Don't start nothing you can't finish," the young man murmured in warning.

Brian cupped Justin's chin and tilted his face for a lingering kiss, challenge accepted.

He awoke from a dream of Tuscany. In it, he and Justin had been strolling down a dirt path that wound through a grove of olive trees. The sun-filled sky had been just as beautiful as the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. They hadn't been going anywhere in particular, just walking, wandering, much like life in Tuscany, he imagined. Life anywhere. Smiling, he opened his eyes to find Gus standing next to the bed, waiting patiently. "Hey," he said, clearing his throat.

"Hey," laughed Gus as if he'd caught Brian being silly.

Brian never knew what amused the toddler but laughter was better than tears. "You go pee yet?"

"Yeah." Gus climbed onto the bed and knelt next to Brian, examining his forearm which he held onto to keep his balance. In a moment Leo appeared, lightly landing on the comforter.

"The gang's all here." Brian laid back and closed his eyes, hoping Gus would join him and return to sleep.

"Daddy?" The little boy shook his arm until Brian opened his eyes again. "I'm hungry," he announced.

"You're always hungry. You and Justin."

At that, Gus climbed over him to get to his other daddy, falling in the process and jolting Justin awake.

"What?" he exclaimed, coming to all of a sudden. Looked around. "Hey, Gus."

"Daddy, I'm hungry."

Justin could understand that sentiment as his stomach felt a little empty too. "Me too." He got up and held out his arms. Gus went to him and together they started downstairs, Leo having decided to join them.

"Have fun," Brian said, fully intending to go back to sleep.

Justin looked back over his shoulder at him. "Come on, Dad. Chop chop."

"Cha cha," said Gus, waving at Brian.

Dragging himself out of bed and heading for the bathroom, Brian made a sign to the other two that he'd join them momentarily.

With Gus in his arms and Leo hot on his trail, Justin made a beeline for the kitchen where he settled the tot on a stool with a banana and scooped a handful of food into the kitten's bowl before disappearing into the downstairs bathroom. By the time he finished in there, Brian had come down and was pouring Gus a glass of juice. They shared a kiss.

"Today's the day, huh?" Brian asked.

"Ready?" Opening the fridge, he decided to make frozen waffles.

Brian filled the coffee maker with water. "Hell, we put on a wedding."

"Scarier still," Justin reminded him, "we had the neighbors over."

"Exactly." Brian perched on a stool next to Gus. "Can I have some?" The toddler held the banana up to his face and Brian took a bite. Chewed and swallowed. "Delicious. Can I have some more?"

Gus giggled and pulled the banana away, then offered it once more. "Here, Daddy."

"Thank you." He took a teeny, tiny bite and smiled as Gus finished off the rest before he could ask for any more. When the coffee stopped dripping, he poured both he and Justin a cup and added cream and sugar just the way Justin liked it. Handed it to him as he made strawberry sauce for the waffles.

"Thanks, Pookie."

"Pookie," laughed Gus and Brian put down his cup to tickle him and make him laugh even harder.

"If he falls off that stool, Mel is gonna kill you."

Brian swung Gus in the air to the toddler's delight, then held him close for a kiss. "Love me?"


"Good, cause I love you too."

"I love you, Daddy."

Waffles being one of his favorite foods, Gus nearly hummed as he ate, his parents amused by his happiness and attempting to hide their grins behind forkfuls of food.

When they were all done, they cleaned up and the men began to think about decorating the yard in preparation for the party that afternoon. Brian had forbidden the use of any patriotic accessories but Justin had talked him into using a variety of colors so that the yard at least looked festive.

"Think of it as Pride rather than the Fourth of July," Justin had told him.

"Whatever. As long as I don't have to think about that asshole Dubuya today, I'll be happy. Schmuck."

Leaving Gus inside painting in the studio with Leo curled under a window, they went about hanging the lights Rennie had given them as a wedding present. Entwining the strands of lights in the top of the pergola, they plugged the end into an outdoor socket and tested it out. Although the lights were faint in the early morning, they could imagine how bright and beautiful they'd look at night like their very own fireworks.

Since they weren't allowed to have firecrackers of any kind, Justin had picked up some colored, aluminum party favors that were shaped like sparklers. He'd also gotten some pinwheels and bubbles, something fun for all of them to play with during the day. But those would be put out later with the tablecloth and centerpiece. In fact, the sparklers would be part of the centerpiece along with some flowers and a couple of noisemakers left over from their last New Year's party at the loft.

They'd purchased a few gas torches that could be set around the backyard to provide light once evening came so Brian went around moving them while Justin watched and gave suggestions as to optimal placement. Once they were done with the torches, they went inside to see how Gus was faring with his picture.

"Wow, Gus," Justin exclaimed, squatting next to the young artist. "That's fantastic." He'd drawn what looked to be a rough approximation of Leo lying beneath the window. Justin could tell because the blob below the black lines was yellow. "Is that Leo?"

"Yeah," replied Gus a little abashed. He had worked very hard on the painting of Leo and wanted them to like it enough to hang it in the hallway next to the picture Daddy had taken of him and Leo.

Justin gave Brian a look as he hadn't said anything about the picture yet and it was obvious to him that Gus was waiting for some words of praise from his other daddy. "Oh, yeah," Brian said, "it's pretty amazing. I knew it was Leo right away. I think we should frame this one, don’t you?"

Even though he thought Brian was laying it on a little thick, Justin agreed. "We can hang it up. Where do you want to hang your painting, Gus?"

The little boy grabbed Justin's hand and tugged on it, so the two men followed him out to the gallery where he pointed to a space right next to Brian's photograph.

Brian couldn’t fault his placement. "We'll go out tomorrow and find a frame, okay?"

"Okay." Gus grinned and did a little head bob wiggle dance.

While Justin worked on the centerpiece with his assistant, Monsieur Peterson, Brian busied himself with putting the meat in marinades. For a few minutes he worked without distraction and then Leo came in and rubbed against his leg. Pausing, he bent over and ruffled the kitten's neck and laughed. If his tricks could see him now they wouldn't recognize him. Hell, he hardly recognized himself. And Jack, if Jack were still alive… Brian stowed the steak away in the fridge and washed his hands. If Jack hadn't died, maybe he and Joanie would have never reconciled. She most definitely wouldn’t have given any thought to a career, to going back to school, wouldn't have helped with the wedding, the house. As for himself, nothing Jack could have said or done would have kept him from marrying Justin, from building a new life for himself. He had been his own worst enemy. And Chris Hobbs.

God, he hadn't thought of that asshole for a while. He and Justin had been in the midst of yet another crisis this year when that anniversary had fallen so it had passed without notice. Resting for a moment, he sat at the island thinking about that night. As always, he heard himself shout, "Justin!" in warning, a fraction too late. Saw the bat strike. Watched Justin fall. He closed his eyes and tried to shake the memories but he couldn't. He could feel the dead weight of Justin's body in his arms and he trembled. The teen had seemed so fragile, his tether to life so tenuous. Brian had held him in his arms, terrified of losing him before he had a chance to tell him that he meant everything to him. Even though he sat in his kitchen, in his mind, he was crouched on the asphalt of that parking garage.

And then he felt a hand on his shoulder, soft lips upon his neck. Two arms wrapped themselves around him and he felt safe again.

Blue eyes as clear as the sky watched over him. "Hey."

"Hey," he replied and smiled as Justin brushed his bangs back from his face, much the same as Lindsay had done and he realized, not for the first time, how much the two of them had in common. Wondered if maybe, unconsciously, he had responded to the same thing in both of them. Both blond, both artists, both annoyingly hip to his ways. Both fighters for what they believed in. Maybe if Lindz had been a guy he would have stayed with her; as is, they'd both known that they weren't meant to be lovers. And he'd moved on. And had met Cam. But that was for another day. Justin had taken his hand and pulled him to his feet.

"Everything's done and we've got a few hours before our guests arrive…" he said with the lift of an eyebrow.

"What about Gus?"

"Taking a nap."

Brian snickered. "No fucking way you're gonna get him to take a nap in the middle of the day."

Justin crooked his finger and Brian followed him to the family room where Gus lay softly snoring.

Never one to let an opportunity slip through his fingers, Brian asked, "Where?"

"You'll see."

By the time Gus woke from his nap, his dads were cleaned up and ready to face their guests who were due to arrive soon. Giving Gus a couple of crackers to tide him over, the men set the table and made sure everything was ready. Napkins and utensils in a basket, the centerpiece in place, plastic plates and glasses arrayed in a rainbow of colors. Positioned a 12 disc CD changer under the pergola with a carrying case full of CDs next to it. They put out a cooler of drinks buried in ice and made sure they had enough places for everyone to sit, which meant bringing out some of the chairs from their casual dining set.

"What are we going to do with Leo?" asked Justin. If Gus were outside playing, Leo would certainly want to be out there with him and the little boy would most definitely want him to be out there.

"Guess we'll have to put him upstairs in Gus' room."

"He's gonna hate that and so will Gus."

"Well, he can't come outside."

Justin gave in, aware that Brian was only being practical. "Fine."

"It's not like it's Leavenworth," Brian pointed out. "He's got his cat house and box and we can put his food up there—besides all he does is sleep most of the day anyway."

Before they could discuss it any further, the doorbell rang. Justin took a deep breath and Brian smooched him on the forehead.

It was Mel and Lindsay, come over early in case there was anything they could do and also to see Gus whom they missed even though they'd only been apart one day. Brian understood how they felt. He often missed Gus the moment they said goodbye at the Munchers' front door.

"What'd you bring?" Justin asked, taking the huge casserole dish Lindsay had carried inside.

"Potato salad."

"Cool." He placed it in the fridge while the other three adults headed for the family room where Gus was playing with Leo. As he entered the space, he saw Gus tug on Mel's arm to get her to come look at his painting. Laughing, she and Lindsay followed. Before either Justin or Brian could say anything, someone else rang the doorbell.

Picking up Leo, Brian said, "I'll put him upstairs."

"I'll leave the door open. Otherwise we'll be running to answer it every five seconds."

It was Deb and Vic with a huge, bright and sunny sheet cake. Directing them to the kitchen, and noting that Deb wore her suit under a huge shirt cover-up and a pair of shorts, Justin left the door open and then carried Leo's food and water dish upstairs to Gus' room. Brian had just taken in his cat box and was heading back downstairs.

"Did he fuss?" Justin asked as he opened the door to the room.

"Curled up on the bed. He's a cat. They sleep." Brian waited until Justin had come out again. "Who was it?"

"Deb and Vic."

As they descended the stairs someone came in the back door. "Hey, Mom."

"It's a beautiful day," she said as Justin bussed her on the cheek and took her dish.

Brian kissed her as well. "Three bean salad?"

With a self-deprecating laugh, she confirmed his guess.

"They're out in the studio praising Gus' latest masterpiece," he told her and she joined the others. "Think I ought to fire up the grill?"

"Probably," Justin replied. "Well, so far we've got potato salad, three-bean salad, and cake."

"I think Mikey's bringing tossed salad," Brian said. Least that's what Mikey had told him the day before. "What about Jenn?"

"Pasta salad." A door slammed outside. "Someone's coming."

Within the next ten minutes, everyone else had arrived: Molly and Jenn, Ted and Emmett, and Mikey and Jeff. The party moved outside with Em doing DJ duty and loading up the CD changer before sauntering out to the pool and draping one of the chaise lounges with his lanky body.

Ted gestured towards him. "Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Tallulah Bankhead."

Gus couldn’t wait to show everyone his new swimming skills—which consisted of floating around the pool using his kickboard. While Brian tended to the grill, Justin got the toddler into his swimsuit and let him go. Duly impressed, his mommies cheered him on as he and Molly made a circuit of the pool. Once they'd taken their victory lap, the other guests joined them for a dip and Justin tried to take their orders for the grill. Assured that he'd surveyed everyone, he returned inside to relay the message to the chef and to bring out the chips and salsa.


"Two chickens, two hotdogs, and the rest want steak."

"What about you?" Brian asked, opening the fridge to retrieve the meat.

"I want you," he replied, sliding his arms around Brian's waist.

"Had me earlier today."

"I'm greedy."

Brian slapped the steaks on the grill, followed by the chicken. The hotdogs would go on later. "Gotta wait, Baby. I've got my hands full. They say how they want these?"

"Medium rare. You're the only one who wants to hunt his food before he eats it." Accepting a raincheck for playtime, Justin ferried out the salsa and chips. Gus met him at the table.

"Daddy, where Leo?"

"Leo's inside. Remember? He can't come outside."

"I go see him?"

"No, Gus, let him sleep. You can see him later. Okay?" The little boy pouted and Justin knelt and kissed him. "Okay?" Kissed him again. "Okay?" Gus began to giggle and squirm. "Okay?"

"Okay!" Gus yelled and dissolved into laughter.

"You want a chip?"


"You want some lemonade?"


A little thirsty himself, Justin poured them each a glass of lemonade and they sat on the double chaise and watched Deb and Vic and Emmett frolic in the pool. Jeff and Mikey were walking around the yard and Mel and Lindsay were checking out the herb garden by the kitchen.

"So Ted," asked Jenn, "ever think about buying a house?"

He gazed back at the pergola and solarium and shook his head. "Nothing like this, that's for sure."

"We can start small and work our way up," she said. "I've got some ideas."

"I bet you do," he replied, rising as if to stroll the yard.

She joined him. "We've got some lovely townhouses listed…"

Abandoned by her mom in search of commissions, Molly joined Justin and Gus by the tortilla chips. "Where's Brian?"

"Inside cooking."

"You think he needs some help?"

"Why don't you go ask him?" Justin suggested and grinned as Molly took off for the kitchen. He waited for the sound of a longsuffering sigh.

Eventually the meat was done grilling and everyone trooped into the kitchen where the sides were arranged on the island, and fixed their plates. Afterwards, Gus clutched a hot dog in one hand and a cup of lemonade in the other and sat on the double chaise lounge at Brian and Justin's feet eating happily.

"Good?" asked Brian and Gus nodded sparking a round of laughter.

"He's Justin's kid, all right," Deb commented.

"Loves those ballpark franks," teased Em.

"Plump when you stroke em," added Ted who was showered with a hail of balled up napkins.

"Hey, Brian," Mel called across the pool, "this steak is pretty good."

"He knows everything there is to know about meat," Justin told her. They all looked to Ted who busied himself with eating. Wise move.

Having finished his hotdog, Gus went to sit with his Nanas who were discussing a client of Jennifer's who had just moved into a new house and was looking for an interior decorator.

"Well, I'm going to be taking four classes this fall but I think I'll have time," Joanie told her. Gus watched her intently. "Remember I told you Nana was going to school too?" He nodded. "Isn't he adorable?"

Jennifer agreed. "He's too sweet. I love him to death." Gus went to her and gave her a hug.

"Nana Jenn."


"I love you."

"I love you too."

Having heard the exchange, Justin flashed on Jennifer hugging his son, his and Daphne's, and the desire for a child grew stronger. It wasn't that he didn't consider Gus to be his son as well as Brian's, he did. It was just… different. Maybe if they were Gus' legal guardians instead of Lindsay and Mel he'd feel more secure in his relationship. As is, he was never quite sure. He supposed it was how Mel had felt before Brian had surrendered his parental rights to her. And he knew that, over the years, Brian had regretted his decision. Not that he felt Lindsay and Mel weren't good parents, he knew that they were, he just felt as if he'd given something precious away that he'd never get back. And every time he and the Munchers had disagreed about Gus, Brian's decision had loomed overhead, darkening the day. Still, no one could deny that Gus was Brian's son. Brian's place in his life was inviolate. Justin only wished he felt as if his were. He supposed that it had more to do with his insecurity than any difference in the way he was treated. Gus loved him and if he didn't love him as much as he loved Brian, well, Gus didn't love anyone as much as he loved Brian. Justin understood the sentiment; it was how he felt as well.

Brian touched his face, making him look up. "You okay?"

"Yeah." He smiled, amazed that Brian had noticed the shift in his mood. "The steak was really good."

"You can thank me later."

"You think they'll ever leave?"

"Kicking them out after sunset," Brian promised with a grin. They both knew it'd be a long afternoon and evening. Everybody looked comfortable and as if they had no intention of leaving any time soon.

Now that he'd eaten, Gus was in the mood to dance. Encouraged by Em, he bobbed and weaved around the pool area while the adults clapped. Soon Molly joined him and the two kids kept everyone else entertained for quite some time before Justin pulled Brian to his feet, saying, "I'm tired of being a wallflower."

As if that was the cue they were waiting for, the other couples rose to take a turn about the patio too. For the next hour or so they danced, Brian and Justin parting after a while to partner with their mothers for a song or two before finding one another once more and swaying to a slow burning song that had them wishing their guests were gone.

"I love you," Justin whispered.

"Love you too," Brian replied with a kiss that went on a tad too long to escape notice.

"I thought your apron said 'Kiss the Chef' not 'Tongue Wrestle'," joked Jeff who had done some discreet kissing of his own with Michael. So he hoped. He'd been out of town on assignment for a week and hadn't had time to properly celebrate yet.

Neither Brian nor Justin answered, they were too busy kissing still and not even the laughter of their friends could hasten them. What did finally bring their kiss to an end was Gus tugging on Justin's arm and wanting to dance with him. So Justin reluctantly parted from his husband in order to dance with his son, Gus giggling while they did the Naked Dance as Justin called it since it was the dance Gus had first done naked and standing on top of their bed. Most of the people assembled had seen the toddler do his Naked Dance at one function or another but they never grew tired of watching him bounce around, especially with his Daddy Justin.

Supplanted by his son, Brian retired to the chaise lounge and took a needed breather. Today was going well. They'd needed to have some fun, to relax and hang with their friends. It'd been so long, it seemed, since they'd been really happy, thanks to Kenneth. "No," Brian voiced softly to himself. He wouldn't let Kenneth ruin today.

As the dancing seemed to be dying down, folks started discussing playing party games to while away the late afternoon. Brian and Justin made a food run to the house to replenish the chips and salsa and Brian quickly grilled the shrimp for a simple appetizer.

"How about, 'Have You Ever'?" suggested Em.

"What's that?" Molly wanted to know.

"It's where you ask a question like, Have you ever locked your keys in the car?" he explained, "and each person gets a point if they've ever done it. The person with the lowest points wins."

Gus was exempted from playing as he was still learning words every day and sometimes didn't understand what was being said around him but he sat on Brian's lap and clapped and laughed along with the rest of them. The biggest laugh came when someone asked, "Have you ever broken your zipper in public?" and Brian replied, "Yeah. The first White Party I went to. After that I switched to button fly."

"No velcro?" asked Em.

Brian grinned. "Allergic."

Afterwards they played Movie Star where each person had to impersonate a famous movie star in one of their roles and the others had to guess who it was. When it got to Brian, he squinted and said in a lazy voice, "Well, I don't know 'bout that. But I know that I thought about him every day for five years. And that was the only thing that kept me going." Of course, no one knew what film that was from so he tried another quote from another of the actor's movies, "I watched a snail crawl along the edge of a straight razor. That's my dream. That's my nightmare. Crawling, slithering, along the edge of a straight... razor... and surviving." In the end, he had to tell them who it was. "Marlon Brando." Rolled his eyes. "Jesus, don't you guys watch anything but porn?"

"Brian!" This from Joanie.


Around seven everyone was ready to eat again and Brian went back into the kitchen to grill up some more steaks and chicken and hot dogs. While Justin did hostess duty, Gus kept Brian company. Actually, he wanted to see Leo more than he wanted to help his dad and after Brian had given him permission to bring the cat downstairs, the two of them ran around the family room while Brian cooked. Lindsay wandered in and leaned on the countertop watching him.

"Look at you. Barbecuing."

"Not barbecuing. Grilling," he explained.

"You and Justin look so happy," she said.

He smiled. "That's cause we are."

"And the house looks fabulous. You really do have it all, don't you?"

Unbidden, the image of Kenneth appeared, haunting him. "Almost lost it all too."

Lindsay shook her head. "Never. Justin loves you too much." Coming around to stand next to him, she plucked at his apron strings. "Besides, where would he find another chef as cute as you are?"

"Justin tell you about the mural he's doing in the guest bedroom?"


"Tuscan countryside."

"Mel has promised me a trip to Italy."

"Better go soon before you have another kid."

"That's what daddies are for."

Cautiously he asked, "For how long?"

"Couple weeks."

Shrugged. "That I can do."

"You're a good dad," she told him with a kiss. Looked around at the sound of slapping feet. "Here comes the proof."



"Leo wants to go outside."

"What did Daddy say about that?" Gus fidgeted and didn't answer. "Gus?"

"No," he replied reluctantly.

"That's right. Leo has to stay inside, okay?"


Turning from the grill, Brian caught Gus' eye and raised a brow.

Lindsay tried again. "Okay?"

" 'kay." Sadly, Gus returned to the family room and he and Leo played on the rug by the sectional.

"Very good, Dad."

"We have this discussion every time he comes over."

"Well, he's got Justin's tenacity."

"And appetite."

"And hips." She laughed. "Did you see that dance he did outside?"

Brian chuckled and shook his head.

Just then Gus' other dad poked his head into the door in the family room. "Come on, Gus, let's go swimming," and the toddler abandoned Leo for the pool.

"I think I'm going back out too," Lindz announced.

Alone for all of a minute, Brian concentrated on brushing on marinade before his mom came into the kitchen.

"Need any help?"

"Nope." Looked over his shoulder. "Thanks."

Joanie climbed onto one of the stools around the island. "I didn't think about actually sitting on these things when I picked them out."

"They look good. And we all know, looking good is better than feeling good," he joked.

Joanie laughed. "That sounds like the old you." She studied him for a moment. "I almost didn't recognize you. Standing there. Cooking."

"Hmm," he replied, then said thoughtfully, "This was good day."

"You thought it wouldn’t be?"

"I thought about our one insane attempt to have a Fourth of July picnic when I was a kid. 'member?"

Joanie shaded her eyes. "Don't remind me."

That had been a catastrophe. A yard full of drunken Irish relatives, a hammered host burning burgers on the grill, and a hostess getting slowly plastered from her regal perch at the head of a picnic table. Brian had escaped and gone to Mikey's house, abandoning one madhouse for another.

"I was surprised when you said you wanted to have a Fourth of July party," she admitted.

"Well, Justin wanted it…"

"So you agreed."

"Least I could do," he confessed. "After everything that's happened."

"You can't blame yourself for that."

"Why not? It's my fault." Taking the meat off the grill, he plated it and got ready to return to the party.

Joanie slid off the stool to follow. Touched his arm. "I want you to enjoy your life."

He paused for a moment before answering. "I do. I do," he reassured her. Laughed abruptly. "Laughin' o' cryin', that's the Irish way," he said with a slight brogue.

Before she could speak, Deb and Jennifer arrived to help bring out the side dishes and Brian took the opportunity to escape the mayhem that ensued. But he couldn’t quite shake the feeling of melancholy that had descended upon him. Waiting until everyone seemed to be occupied, he got up and wandered around to the front of the house, using smoking as an excuse to be away from the party.

Justin followed him worriedly with his eyes but didn't go after him, recognizing his need to be alone.

He sat on the steps and smoked the one cigarette he allowed himself per day. Tried to keep his mind off Kenneth but, of course, that backfired. Ryder was preparing to meet with the folks from Hyperion next month to go over initial responses to the ads. He'd seen the TV ad himself and thought it was pretty effective. They'd gone with his ideas, hadn't changed anything. The night he'd seen the ad, he'd left Justin in bed and gone to stand in his office, shaking with anger, until the desire to scream had passed. It wasn't fair. None of this was fair. He'd worked hard on Hyperion's accounts, worked hard on the Afibrinase campaign and for what? To watch himself be supplanted by Ryder, to see doubt in the faces of his fellow partners every time they met, wondering what he'd done to sour things with Kenneth. Worse were the dreams he had, flashes of moments that could have been memories. He still didn't know.

"Herb garden looks good."

He'd heard someone coming, known it wasn't Justin. Glanced up at Jennifer. "He's out here every day doing something to it."

"Takes work."


Jennifer gestured towards the back of the house. "He's worried about you."

"Figured." Took a last puff on his cigarette and put it out. "I'm all right."

She brushed her fingers over the tall stalks of mint. "His father and I didn't set a good example, I'm afraid."

"My parents either."

"But here you are. Flourishing. It's something to be proud of." She held out her hand. "Walk me back?"

He accepted.

That evening, after the food was eaten and the stars had come out, they drove downtown to park and watch the fireworks. Gus, who had seemed on the verge of collapse, perked up as the first of the fireworks exploded in the sky above him. Seated on his father's shoulders, and waving his own aluminum sparkler, he was mesmerized by the Technicolor display, each shower of light as magical as the last. When the show was over, Brian and Justin parted from their friends and family and returned home with Gus, putting the toddler to bed.

"Daddy," he said sleepily.



Brian pronounced it for him. "Fireworks."


"They were pretty, huh?"

"Yeah. Boom!" he shouted, remembering how loud they were. Closed his eyes as Brian kissed him. "Boom," he said softly.

His sparkler on the bed beside him, Gus slept, the night filled with dreams of light.

It might have surprised some of their guests, but the time they spent working quietly together to set their kitchen to rights meant as much to them as an intimate dinner for two. It affirmed their partnership in the most basic way: taking pride in the beauty of their home, knowing where everything belonged, knowing how to work together, being aware of the other person at every moment. When they were done, they checked all the doors, set the alarm, put up the security gates at the tops of the stairs, and walked, arms about one another, to their bedroom.

"I think everyone had a great time," Justin said as they settled into bed.


" 'cept you." Justin waited for Brian to deny it but the man said nothing. "Tell me."

"I had fun."


"But nothing. I had a good time. Inhaled too much smoke from the grill…"

Only Justin remembered how Brian had left the party to be by himself. "I thought, maybe you, you were thinking about Kenneth, that's why you wanted to be alone."

He couldn't lie. "I was." Added, "I didn't mean to, I didn't even want to—"

"I know."

"I swear to you that I…don't want him. I want to be with you. I love you."

"You don't have to convince me. I know that you do. I've never doubted that."

"No matter what anyone says, if I knew what happened, I could move on. I could deal with it and let go. I feel… like part of me is missing."

Justin clutched his arm. "Brian…"

"I want it back. Whatever he took from me, I want it—"

"He didn't take anything. Nothing. Brian." He cupped his face. "You're here with me. Nothing's missing." Held onto him when Brian would have pulled away. "Stay here with me." Kissed him. "Please." Brian laid his head upon Justin's shoulder, let the young man embrace him, keep him safe, and in doing so he began to free himself from the burden of the past.

This was the first time he'd painted a room in the house without Xavier and Rennie's help. He'd called them the night before to tell them that he was going to do the guestroom alone. Both had given him much needed advice and expressed confidence in his abilities. He really missed them. Wondered if they'd stay in touch once they'd graduated and gone their separate ways. They would. Bonds that strong didn't just dissolve. Even if they didn't initially keep in touch, the connection between them would tug at them until they'd be forced to seek out the others. He imagined driving up to New York or down to DC to see Xavier's shows, Rennie's too. Maybe they'd do a show together. With that thought in his mind, he began to work on the mural.

Hours later he'd made some progress with the chalk drawing, transferring the design he'd worked out on paper to the wall Working alone, it would take him several days to finish the mural. He didn't mind. Outside of work at the diner he didn't have anything else to do. He spent a half hour or so in the garden, devoted the same amount of time most nights to cooking dinner, usually with Brian's help. Together they cleaned the house on the weekends. His was a rather leisurely life these days. For that he was grateful. Having lived through a number of chaotic times, he was more than happy to play the part of a satisfied hausfrau. And he was satisfied. Completely. Or would be if Brian were all right. Which he most definitely was not no matter what he said.

He'd be home in a little while. Exhausted from work yet vaguely dissatisfied. Justin knew how much it grated his nerves to watch the Afibrinase campaign from afar, having worked so hard on its conception. He understood the feeling, sympathized with Brian but could do little else.

"Justin!" Brian called, coming up the stairs.

"In here!" he yelled back and finished putting away his supplies.

Brian hovered at the door just in case Justin had done any painting but he hadn't. Smelling nothing noxious, he entered the room and studied the drawing. "It's good."

"Not finished yet."

"No rush. We don't have any furniture in here anyway."

"Any ideas?" Justin asked, hoping to prod Brian into revealing a plan, a preference, something.

Exchanging a kiss, Brian said, "Later."


"Not really," he replied. "Tired."

"What happened?"

"Nothing." Brian headed for their suite to change and Justin, torn between following him and giving him space, stood in indecision until Brian paused by Gus' room, waiting for him. He joined him, taking his hand.

"How about we go away for the weekend? Just for a couple days, just the two of us?" Waited for Brian's refusal.

"Maybe the Munchers can take Leo."

"Gus would love that."

"This weekend?"

"If there's room at the inn."

"I'll call," he said, reaching for the bedside phone.

Which was when Justin realized just how down Brian really was. While Brian checked on room availability for the weekend, Justin found his cell and dialed their favorite Thai restaurant. He didn't feel like cooking and Brian didn't feel like helping. Maybe the smell of lemongrass soup would stimulate Brian's appetite.

"They've got a cabin available," Brian said, hanging up the telephone. He removed his jacket. "I told them we'd be up Friday night." Loosened his tie. "I'm gonna take a shower."

"I ordered Thai." Kissed Brian on the cheek. "I'll be back."

For once Brian was glad to shower alone. Watching Justin go, he finished stripping and padded into the bathroom. Turned on the water and adjusted the temperature before stepping in the middle of the stall and getting soaked from two directions.

Today had been the worst. He'd had meetings with two teams involved with biotech firms Kenneth had help bring on board. Even though their products were vastly different and the campaigns nothing like the work he'd done for Hyperion, he couldn’t help but feel maudlin during both meetings. That feeling had persisted throughout the day. He'd worked his ass off on Hyperion's account and now he had to sit back and watch Marty run with his ideas, work with his handpicked team.

He turned and laid his head against the cool tile of the shower, let the water beat against his back. Why couldn’t he let go? They were his ideas, true, and if the ads won any awards, he'd get the recognition not Ryder so why did he care that Marty got stuck with the grunt work? Because he enjoyed managing accounts. He was the best account executive in the firm. His projects always came in on time and on budget. He got the most work out of his people: they were dedicated to him because he knew how to reward them plus they had the satisfaction of knowing that they were working with the best. Not anymore.

Ryder hadn't even let him tell them himself about the change in leadership. Truthfully, he wouldn't have known what to say even if he'd been given the chance. I fucked up, fucked the client, so I'm being punished. That was one truth he couldn't speak, not to the team, not to the partners. Ryder was the only one who knew. Ryder and Cynthia, who knew all of his secrets. She'd been with him for a long time and he trusted her to watch his back and she'd never failed him. Today she'd watched him leave work and, for the first time, she had to have wondered if he'd come back tomorrow. Not since the Kip Thomas debacle had he felt so estranged from the firm.

"Fuck it," he whispered and cut off the water. There was no point in dwelling on it. All he needed was to get away, to get away from Pitts, go walking out in the open, take his mind off of Kenneth and the mess he'd made of things. Only wherever he went, there he was. Not Kenneth. Himself. Wherever I go, there I am. An old joke but the truth nonetheless. If there was only a way for him to get out of his head…

He toweled off and slipped on a pair of lounge pants Justin had bought for him. Black and low-slung to emphasize what little ass he had. He was, as he'd frequently said, all legs. That was okay, Justin loved him just the way he was.

After dressing, with nothing to do but wait until Justin returned with dinner, he decided to do a few miles on the treadmill. Totally ass backwards to shower and then exercise but there you have it.

Fifteen minutes into his run he became aware of another person in the room. Slowed to a walk and then glanced over his shoulder. "Hey."

"You shower yet?"

"Yeah." Cut off the treadmill and got down.

Justin ran his hand over Brian's bare chest, his palm getting wet from the sweat. "Just have to do it all over again," he said, smiling slyly.

"Yep." Brian drew Justin to him and kissed him, savoring the feel of his lips.

"After dinner?"

"It's a date."

As Justin had hoped, Brian's appetite showed signs of returning when he espied the container of lemongrass soup. Removing the top, he inhaled deeply and sighed.

Taking a couple of candles to light the evening, they ate outside beneath the wisteria in the courtyard. Justin grasped Brian's hand across the table.


"We're so lucky." Brian said nothing, only squeezed his hand. "I love you." He smiled from beneath partially lowered eyelids. "I know I say it all the time but it's true. I love you."

"I love you too." Brian closed his eyes and Justin touched his face with his free hand. "Today was such a shitty day," he said. "And I just wanted… I wanted…" He sniffled. Smiled. "This. To be home with you. I missed you."

"You're here now. With me. So let's not waste it."

Brian laughed and freed his hand. Began to eat again.

They ran laughing up the stairs and collapsed on their bed, already aroused, hungry for one another. But instead of making love, they lay entangled in their clothes and the covers and in each other's arms and laughed the way Gus did when he was particularly amused by something that none of the rest of them understood. Finally, catching his breath, Brian said, "We need to get away cause I think we're going crazy."

"I can't wait to go ballooning again." Justin waited for Brian to nix that plan but the man only sighed audibly and tightened his grip on him. "Picnicking."

"Now that I can appreciate," Brian said, remembering them fooling around beneath a tree.

"Candlelight dinners… dancing…" Not that they didn't do those things at home but a change of scenery would be nice. Although they'd agreed not to take another month-long vacation like they had the year before, citing finances, Justin had to admit that he missed the time they'd spent together overseas, just the two of them, wandering around Europe in summer. It'd been romantic beyond belief and therapeutic, just what they'd needed after the insanity of spring. But this year they'd had a wedding and bought a house and decorated the house and there wasn't money for an expensive trip.

Still, as much as they loved the house and their lives in Pittsburgh, they needed a break from it all. Brian needed to rest and he wouldn’t do that here. Here he'd only think about things, think about Kenneth, have the Hyperion fiasco rubbed in his face. Justin knew that was one reason why work had suddenly become a chore for someone who loved to work. Having to watch Ryder run the Afibrinase campaign from the sidelines had to be hard. Especially since they were running with Brian's ideas. The night they'd seen the Afibrinase ad on TV, Brian had gone into his study and stayed in there for five or more minutes, seething, Justin had known. He'd let him be, left him alone, hard as it had been to do so.

The other reason life wasn't as pleasurable as it had been was Brian's continued inability to remember what had happened in Birmingham. Despite Drew's best efforts, he remained in the dark. There were dreams; Justin had been awakened on more than one occasion by Brian tossing and turning, maybe remembering something that had happened, he wasn't sure. Neither one of them was sure. He wished he could tell Brian to forget about it, to let it go, but he couldn't. Better than anyone, he knew the price of suppressing memories. He'd been there when Brian had begun to remember what had happened with the Coach. If Brian could be spared that experience this time around, he was all for it.

"I'm thinking about maybe taking another couple weeks off at the end of the summer," Brian said. "Not much going on at work. They don't need me."

"They do need you. Hyperion isn't the firm's only client."

"Just the one with the biggest advertising budget."

"I know that it sucks but there's nothing you can do."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"Then let it go."

"Easy to say."

"Well," Justin said, giving him back his own advice, "you won't know until you get your narrow ass off the couch and try," and he popped him on the butt.

"Ow," drawled Brian, letting Justin know that he was more than a little turned on by the blow.

Interpreting the intonation correctly, Justin slapped his ass twice rapidly, leaving faint pink handprints, one on each cheek. Brian wriggled a little as it stung but he didn't attempt to stop Justin or to escape. Which meant he wanted more. And Justin intended to satisfy his desire.

The sound of his hand smacking Brian's buttocks resounded in the room as he gave him three, four, five blows in quick succession. His face hidden in his folded arms, Brian winced. Justin had rather large hands and they were strong. These were no love pats he was delivering although he delivered them with love. After the last one, Brian screwed up his face. His ass was burning.

Gently, Justin leaned over and kissed the top of each cheek. His kisses felt cool to Brian's warm skin and the man relaxed giving him his opportunity. Continuing his kissing, Justin parted Brian's cheeks and made his way to the crevice. His tongue slipped between the tender buttocks and licked its way down towards Brian's rosy core.

"Oh, Baby…" He felt as if he were a winding path down which Justin was wandering.

They'd been on the road for a half hour and had been pretty quiet for the most part, a condition Brian knew couldn't last forever. Justin was a habitual talker. Sure enough:

"Gus was really excited to see Leo."

"I just hope the Munchers can keep him inside. I don't want to go back to the breeder for another one."

"Expensive?" He knew Leo had cost a good deal, he'd gone online and looked at the prices breeders were charging. Yikes.

"She'd kill me. He was the best of the litter. I had to swear not to let him outdoors before she'd even sell him to me," Brian explained. "I guess I didn't look responsible enough."

Justin fretted a little. In less than six months he'd fallen hopelessly in love with Leo. If anything happened to him, he'd be devastated. Gus too; and Brian, he suspected. "They'll be careful," he said, more to reassure himself than Brian.


Another of Brian's articulate grunts. Justin had grown to know them all and the various things each one meant and didn't mean. This one meant, "There's no point in worrying now." And he was right. They were on their way to the inn and he was excited by the prospect of spending two nights and days alone in the country with his husband. Even Brian seemed excited, or as excited as he would ever admit to being. He'd gotten a lot better about showing his emotions but every now and again he locked down and it took some doing to get him to open up. He'd been in lock-down mode for a while, ever since the incident in Birmingham and no matter how much Justin had gotten him to confess, he knew there was a lot more that Brian hadn't told him, wouldn't tell him probably without a lot of prodding. This weekend was Justin's way of gently applying pressure to his spouse.

Brian knew that as well and fully anticipated having to spend the weekend dealing with their marital issues. They were doing great, better than they'd expected but Kenneth had dealt them a blow that they were still reeling from. They'd absorbed the shock and gone on as best they could but their relationship had been tested, maybe even damaged except that they'd so far refused to admit the possibility. He took note of a road sign. "Half hour to go," he announced.

"Good. I'm starving."

"You're always—"

"I didn't have lunch."

"Why not?"

"Too excited."

Brian smirked. "Kids."

"I'm not a kid. I'm twenty-years-old."

"Wow. Really?"

"Don't hate me cause you're—"

"Don't even think it."


"Or else."

"Or else what?"

"Or else I'll take you over my knee, little boy."

"Exactly how bad would I have to be to get spanked?" After spanking Brian the other night, he'd been itching for Brian to reciprocate the favor.

"Keep pushing it," he warned.

Justin laughed and the sound filled the inside of the car like sunshine, brightening the evening as if it were noon instead of seven thirty. Trying his best to frown, Brian ended up laughing too. Pleased, Justin leaned over and smooched him. "You love me?"


Justin kissed him again, momentarily distracting Brian from driving to kiss him upon the lips. "Love me?" he asked again.

"Yeah," Brian confessed. "I do."

"Good." Added quite unnecessarily, "Cause I love you too."

Amused by Justin's satisfaction, Brian chuckled. "You're good for me, you know that?"

"That's why I married you."

"Felt sorry for me?"

Justin studied his partner. "Couldn't do without you."

Having checked into and out of half a dozen hotels on their trip to Europe, they were old pros and had settled into their rooms by the time their prearranged dinner arrived. Dinner at eight, that's what Brian had told them on the telephone and that's what he expected. They did not disappoint. Deciding not to dress for dinner, the two vacationers met the waiter still in their traveling clothes. While Brian tipped the guy, Justin opened a window to let in the breeze. The cabin was air conditioned but he wanted to enjoy the fresh country air while he could. After opening the window he put on some music, the second Rufus Wainwright CD, Poses. He couldn't wait for the new one to be released in September.

"Cigarettes and chocolate milk/ Those are just a couple of my cravings…" 1

There were fresh green beans and roasted herb chicken with a pomegranate sauce; hot buttered rolls that melted in their mouths and cool salads of baby greens tossed with a simple vinaigrette that didn't compete with the pomegranate sauce so much as complimented it. The wine was crisp and tasted of apples.

"To us," Justin toasted.

"To us."

"I really love being here," Justin said. This was their third trip to the inn and each time they left feeling more attached to it than before.

"Be nice to have a place like this, in the country or at the beach."

Justin's eyes widened. "Future plans?" he asked.

"Maybe." Brian shrugged. "Especially if we have any more kids."

"Don't you mean when?"

"Yeah." Another sip of wine. "I went to see Lindz the other day."

"Talk about having another child?"

"Mostly." Tore open a roll and chewed on one half. When he was finished, he added, "Talked about Kenneth."

After waiting a bit, Justin asked, "What about him?"

Another shrug. Held the second half of his roll in his hand. Forgotten for the moment. "Not so much him as me, I guess."

"I know you want to remember what happened and I want you to remember but maybe… maybe it's better if you don't."

"And then what? Go through the same shit as I did with the Coach? I don't want to go through that again."

Which had been Justin's fear as well. "I don't want you to either. But there's no point in trying to force it. And there's no point in beating yourself up because you can't remember."

"So I'm stuck."

"No. Maybe just… be patient. Maybe it'll come to you."

"And if it doesn't?"

"We move on. We can't spend our lives living in fear of what you might remember."

"I don't know what would be worse: remembering that he raped me or remembering that he didn't." That was the truth. It's probably what kept him from remembering, if the Doc was right.

"It doesn't matter."

"Yes, it does. It matters."

"Why? If he raped you, then what? What are you gonna do?"

"I don't—"

"And if he didn't, so what? So you slept with him. Brian—I don't care."

"That's not true."

"It is true. I don't care. I don't." He reached for Brian's hand. "You and me, we're for always. No matter what. I can't live without you anymore. That's not an option."

"So I do whatever I want and you put up with it?"

"That's not what I'm saying. I'm saying, I'm not a little boy anymore. We've both made mistakes, big ones. But that's no reason to break up a marriage. That's no reason to throw away everything that we have." He laughed. "Now, if it keeps happening, I'm gonna put you in a chastity belt when you go away on business."

Brian laughed too, the image too ridiculous to take seriously.

"But I love you. I trust you to do what's right."

The weight of that responsibility burdened him. "That's a lot to handle."

"Too bad. It's what you signed up for when you married me."

Brian nodded and returned to his meal, there being nothing more to say. Justin was right. He had agreed to all those things and more when they'd married.

They finished the rest of their meal in relative silence, talking of inconsequential things like the food itself, staying away from anything personal. When they were done, they sat for a moment at the table, unsure of what to do next, afraid that they'd disturb the quiet.

Justin, beginning to doubt if he'd said the right thing, spoke. "Brian—"

But he was not given an opportunity to finish. Brian rose, took him in his arms, and kissed him tenderly. "Don't ever leave me."

"Never," Justin promised.

"And don't ever let me off easy."

"I won't."

Brian was kissing his neck and that sensation warred with the feel of his cock which was planted firmly up Justin's backside. He was seated on Brian's lap, facing away from him, head thrown back and throat bared to his husband's kisses. Thighs parted, he moaned as Brian stroked him from the tip of his penis to the tips of his nipples. He threw his arm over Brian's shoulders and shuddered as Brian closed his lips around his nipple and sucked it. "Oh."

Letting go, Brian said, "Don't come yet."


"Just a little longer, Baby."

With Brian's hands around his waist, he clamped down on his spouse's cock and rode him, not touching his own but even so his balls began to throb. "I can't… I'm… I—I—"

His tongue flickered up Justin's throat as his fingers did the same to the young artist's dick setting off a series of spasms that shook Justin's entire body. He yelped and came, cum spraying his chest, his belly, the floor, the bedspread, and Brian's thighs and fist.

Brian wrapped his arms around him and held him firm while his own cock throbbed, a miracle since he was so hard he thought his dick had ossified. Jerking two, three times hard, he came inside Justin, cock sliding through his spunk. They'd dispensed with condoms, having decided that there was no point. They'd fucked without them by mistake and if he were going to give Justin anything, that one time would have been enough. So they'd gone back to fucking raw and didn't think about the consequences. It was too late for that.

They remained joined for a while and then Justin, having regained strength in his legs and having felt Brian begin to soften, stood and sighed as Brian slipped out of him. He laid on the bed, on his stomach, the cool air from the open window blowing over his buttocks. Brian reached for the wet towel and cleaned them both, then curled around his partner to sleep.

"I remember when you wouldn't even hold my hand," Justin told Brian as they walked hand-in-hand through the woods.

"You had sweaty palms," he joked.

Bumping him, Justin replied, "Who wouldn't around you? You always made me nervous."


"I always felt like I was doing the wrong thing, saying the wrong thing. I kept thinking if only I could figure out the magic word, you'd love me."

"It wasn't you."

"I know that now. But back then… I was… I was just a kid. And I was so in love with you I couldn't see straight."

Brian shook his head. "Sometimes I wonder why the fuck you bothered."

"Because you were everything I thought I wanted."

"Kids," Brian said disparagingly.

"And you were." Justin raised Brian's hand and kissed his knuckles. "More than I ever imagined."

"I still can't believe that I met you the same night Gus was born."

"What do you think that meant?"

"That you were both babies."

"Shut up." They walked for a bit in silence, then he asked, "So Lindz say when she wanted to have the new baby?"

"Said she wanted Gus to be a little older. I'm guessing sometime after he turns four, maybe five. A new kid would be easier to deal with if Gus were in school full-time."

"Maybe he could spend more time with us."


Justin slid his arms around Brian's waist. "I love him so much, even if I never had a child of my own, it'd be okay."

"Well, you are Daddy Jusin."

"I wonder if he'll always feel that way."

"Why wouldn't he?"

"Cause kids change."

"Not Gus."

Justin laughed. "Probably not. He's like you. Set in his ways."

"You mean he's a Pitt bull like you." Teased Justin. "A Pitt bull of love."

"I believe in holding on to my man," he said, laughing, and then tripped over a root and tumbled down, nearly taking Brian with him. Immediately, he knew something was wrong.

"You okay?" Brian knelt down next to him.

"I think I might have twisted my ankle."

"Can you walk on it?"

"Yeah. Just a little twinge, that's all." He stood with Brian's help.

"Maybe we ought to head back and have some lunch," Brian suggested and they walked back to the cabin slower than they'd left it.

For a while it seemed as if Justin might have escaped with just a slight twist but after a few hours his ankle began to swell and they both knew that he'd probably sprained it.

"I think we should get it x-rayed," said Brian, gingerly touching the swollen flesh. Upon hearing Justin's sharp intake of breath, he amended his statement. "We're getting it x-rayed." Dialing the front desk, he got the directions to the nearest hospital, then shepherded Justin into the Jeep despite his protests. "Be quiet and read the directions."

"I can't do both," Justin pointed out quite reasonably but after Brian cut his eyes at him, he settled down and did navigator duties without complaint.

He fucking hated hospitals, no matter what the circumstances. Especially hated them after Justin's stay in the hospital. Hated the secrecy, the way they whisked away your loved ones and left you to seethe, to imagine the worst. And he had after Justin had been attacked. He'd sat out in that hallway and imagined a life without him and had found that he couldn’t breathe. By the time Jennifer had come out to tell them Justin was stable if not out of the woods yet, he'd thought that he'd lost his mind. This time the situation was a lot less dire but he felt only marginally less jumpy. So many fuckin' horror stories about people going into the hospital for a broken leg and dying because they'd been given the wrong medication or been operated on by mistake. Urban legends mostly but there was maybe some truth to a few of the tales. Maybe.

When Justin finally came out with crutches and a gel cast on his foot and ankle, Brian could have sung "The Hallelujah Chorus". Kissing him on the forehead, he asked, "You okay?"

"Yeah. Gotta wear this for a week though," he replied glumly. Seven days in a cast, even a gel cast, was no fun. Especially with crutches. Good thing he'd probably be out of it next weekend when Gus was supposed to visit because no way could he run after a toddler wearing that freakin' thing.

"Let's go. We've still got the afternoon and evening left." They'd missed their berth on the balloon however as it had left two hours ago while they were sitting in the waiting room.

"And what am I supposed to do in this?"

"You'll see."

The muscles in his thighs trembled as the razor followed the curve of his scrotum. His chest rose and fell in time to Brian's strokes. Upwards, then downwards, smoothly removing lather and hair. His balls done, Brian turned to the creases between his thighs and groin. Followed the trail of wispy hair that led to his anus. When he was done, he wet a cloth in a basin of water and wiped his lover clean. Justin's cock twitched drawing attention to itself.

Smiling slyly, Brian took it in hand and rubbed his stubbled chin over the tip, around the head. The bristles gently scored the flesh. His tongue darted out. Justin gasped as he was licked. Brian's chin had accidentally touched his newly shaved balls. Hearing Justin's reaction, Brian repeated the motion, purposely this time. Justin shuddered and then uttered a small cry as Brian began sucking his scrotum. Mouth full of Justin's balls, Brian abandoned himself to his feast. Grew hungrier and devoured his cock as well.

Back arched and legs spread, Justin moaned as he was consumed. There was no inch of his cock or curve of his balls that had not been sucked, licked, kissed, and touched by Brian. His cock was tugged, pulled, stretched, as were his balls until they felt as if they would swell beyond the confines of his sac. Saliva coated his skin, soaked the pubes that had escaped razoring, ran down around his balls to wet his hole.

Leaving his groin, Brian raised Justin's legs and followed the path of his spit, tongue tracing the line of Justin's perineum until it came to the knotted hole that marked its destination. It fluttered around the circumference, sampled the folds, and then probed the center, begging entry to the warmth behind the tight ring.

Arms over his head, fists clutched around the spread below him. Justin writhed as Brian fed on his ass, grunting as his husband eased past the tight muscle of his sphincter and tongued the inner rim of his hole. "Fuck," he whispered head turning from side to side. "Fuck me. Please."

Brian rose and pushed him back further on the bed. Knelt over him and stroked his own cock with lubed fingers. When he was finished, he thrust two of them up Justin's ass and worked him until he was wet and relaxed. Removed his fingers and lifted Justin's legs to his shoulder. He barely felt the added weight of the cast. Cock hard against a soft opening, he pushed.

They fucked for what seemed like an hour, Brian thrusting into him slowly at first and then faster, faster, building up speed, working harder even though Justin's hole put up less resistance. Put up no resistance. Began to swell yet open wider to accommodate Brian's cock which continued to thicken.

Pausing, Brian let Justin's legs slide from his shoulders, then leaned over and kissed him, lips penetrating one another's mouth as his cock had penetrated Justin's ass. Remaining in that position, with his lover's legs around his waist, Brian began to fuck him once more. Justin could feel his legs beginning to cramp but he didn't care. All he wanted was for Brian's dick to keep sliding into him, keep stretching his hole, keep banging into his prostate, keep filling him up, keep driving him crazy. Mouth open, spittle flecking his chin, Justin held onto his husband's shoulders as they jerked on the bed. Brian's back was wet with sweat but he tried to hold on, pressing his fingers into his flesh, gripping his waist with his right leg, the left one having slid down from the weight and awkwardness of the gel cast.

Still they fucked. Justin's cock was caught between his belly and Brian's, sliding through sweat and precum. The head was a fiery red, swollen to its fullest girth; as was the shaft, which rubbed over Brian's abs, the skin on his stomach flushed from the contact. Justin didn't think he could hold out much longer. His balls were aching and not just from being pressed up against Brian's thrashing body. He wanted to come. He wanted to shower Brian with his jizz. He wanted to grip Brian's cock so tight in his ass that he screamed, that he never forgot what it was like to fuck him, that he never wanted to be inside anyone else. That thought triggered his orgasm. With a guttural cry he shot his load, cum surging from his cockhead. His juice was quickly spread by their heaving bodies, staining their chests and bellies.

Brian, caught in the grip of Justin's ass as he climaxed, hurtled headlong into his own orgasm, burying his face in his spouse's neck and shouting as he dropped his load. Even after he was down to a dribble, he kept pumping against Justin, loving the slippery feel of his hole as it slid over his cock.

When dinner arrived with candles and wine, Brian managed to throw on a robe and answer the door. Justin merely pulled the covers up over his waist and hoped that the waiter didn't notice the spicy smell of sex that permeated the air. They hadn't had the window open for fear of someone hearing them fucking. Brian was brazen enough for it but Justin had put his foot down. Enough people had eavesdropped on them as is.

The waiter came in and said nothing, only smiled and sneezed as he set up the table and then waited for Brian to sign the bill and hand it over. Justin turned red, wishing they had opened the window—as the breeze might have doused the heat in his cheeks as well as dispersed the aroma of sex—and hating the fact that he was so fair and so easily embarrassed.

Once the guy was gone, Brian poured the wine while Justin got into his robe and hobbled over to the table using one crutch. He handed Justin a glass after he'd settled down and offered a toast. "To my Baby, the best lay in the whole, wide world."

Justin couldn’t help but laugh and shook his head. "How romantic."

"Think I should write a line of greeting cards?"

"Maybe you should leave that to Maya Angelou," he suggested.

"How about this? 'To the Worst Fuck Ever. Have a great day/ no thanks for the lay,' " said Brian and Justin giggled. " 'I wish you best of luck/ and hope you learn to fuck.' "

"Stop it." He wiped his eyes and tried to sip his wine, snorted, and spilled it down the front of his chest. Before he could wipe it away, Brian had left his chair, leaned over him, and licked the wine from his skin. Licked up his neck. His chin. They kissed and Justin whispered, "You can fuck me anytime."

"Counting on it."

Later, after having eaten a delicious meal, they lay in bed, listening to music, and watched the sky darken and the stars come out in between kisses.

"I love you."

"Love you too."

"I don't want to go back."

"Have to."

"You're a partner. Can't you just call and say you're extending your vacation?"

"Yeah, and they could tell me to take a hike and extend it forever. I'm not the most popular partner in the firm these days," he admitted although it burned him to say so. There'd been a time, not so long ago, when he'd been the company's golden boy, could do no wrong. Now, it seemed as if nothing he did was right. That wasn't exactly the truth. He'd fucked up with Kenneth, that was certain; otherwise, his work was impeccable, as always. It only felt as if he was slumming.

Justin knew what was on his mind and kissed his bare shoulder. "It'll pass. You'll get some hot new account and wow everybody just like you always do. You'll see."

As Justin had once done, he asked, "You never stop believing in me, do you?"

And as he'd answered, Justin now replied, "You never give me a reason to."

Lindz opened the door to find Brian outside and Justin sitting in the car. "You can't come in for a minute?" she asked while Gus clamored to get up into Brian's arms.

"Justin sprained his ankle this weekend. He should get home, put it up." Brian kissed Gus and then let him go so the toddler could run over to the car and see his other daddy.

"Is it serious?"

Brian came inside the house and called Leo who came running. "Has to wear a gel cast for a week." Rubbed the cat's head. "Did you have fun?"

"He and Gus ran around nonstop. I got tired just watching them." She found his carrier and Brian loaded him into it while she gathered up the rest of his belongings. They walked out to the Jeep together. "Justin, are you okay?"

"Yeah." Gus was seated in his lap. "Feel stupid, that's all. Tripped over a tree root." Shook his head. "Dumb."

Gus pointed to Justin's foot. "What dat?"

"A cast."

"What dat?"

"I hurt my foot so I have to wear it until my foot gets better."

Mouth open, Gus tried to assimilate the information. When he got a boo-boo on his finger or his knee, Mommy put a Band-Aid on it and kissed it and made it better. Sometimes Daddy kissed it too. He looked up at Justin. "Boo-boo?"

"Yep, a big boo-boo."

Gus looked over at Brian who had gotten into the Jeep. "Daddy!"


He pointed to Justin's foot. "Boo-boo."


"Kiss it."

Brian smiled. "How about I kiss you instead?" and he did.

Gus giggled and said, "Daddy Jusin."

So Brian kissed Justin too. "All better?"

"All better," he assured him.

Having watched the proceedings with interest, Gus approved and clapped his hands before going to Lindz. He waved bye-bye to Leo and to his daddies. "Nite nite."

While Justin rested, Brian busied himself with emptying and putting away their bags and then preparing dinner. Nothing fancy, just a couple of steaks they'd left to thaw in the refrigerator before going away. A simple tossed salad. They ate by the pool, Justin stretched out on one of the chaise lounges, Brian in a chair on the other side of the small table they shared.

"You know," Justin said, gazing around at the back yard, "this isn't bad either. I'm glad we came home after all."

He was especially glad later on as they made love. Nothing beat being cradled in Brian's arms as they lay under the silk canopy of their bed. Even if it meant having Leo watch them from the toy chest, it was worth it just to feel his own pillow beneath his head. To inhale their scent on the linens. To look around and know where everything was, how everything fit together. How they fit together. To encircle Brian's waist as they fell asleep and know that they were both where they needed to be. He kissed a spot just below Brian's shoulder blade and whispered, "I love you," and closed his eyes.

Running his fingers over the ivory comforter covering a canopied cast iron bed with a filigreed headboard and foot board, Justin asked, "What about something like this?" He loved the way the linens' vine pattern echoed the shape of the bed's design. Very romantic.

"The bed or the comforter?"


Brian smirked. "You asking me or telling me?"


This time he laughed outright. "It's Italian at least." A little girlish but what the hell. He didn't have to sleep in it.

"What about two?"



"There's room."

Justin hated to ask but he knew that he had to. "What about our budget?"

"You mean we have one?"

"If it's too much, then we can keep looking."

"It's not too much," Brian assured him. "I swear."

Studying him, Justin said, "I don't think you'd tell me even if it were."

"We're partners, remember? 'til death do us part and all that? I wouldn’t lie about our finances."

"So we're okay?"

"Well, if you'd take a look at our bank statements or our investment reports, you'd know."

"You mean your bank statements and your investment reports."

"No, I mean ours." He glanced at the nightstand next to the bed. "I don't really like that one."

Taking a look, Justin agreed. "Let's find something else."

Just as they were about to turn away, a saleswoman appeared. "May I be of assistance?" she asked.

"We're browsing," Brian told her and before she could retreat, disappointed by his answer, he added, "And we want that bed. Two of them actually. Full sized. Bedding too. Thanks." Leaving her stunned, he and Justin sauntered on to look at nightstands. He really hoped she got her act together and started working on their order because he wanted to be out of there within the hour. That's about how long Justin lasted on the crutches before needing a substantial break.

In the end they purchased an armoire; a nightstand; and a round backed armchair with a matching ottoman, covered in a moss green chenille fabric that would pick up the greens in the Tuscan mural. They still needed a coffee table, maybe a writing desk and chair, blanket chest, but those could wait until another day. Right now they were on a mission to find lamps and a couple of area rugs. Justin couldn't believe that Brian had agreed on the slightly feminine looking distressed and painted furniture but when he asked him about it, Brian shrugged and said, "Molly'll like it." That was an understatement. Molly would love it. He couldn't wait for her to visit and see the new room. She'd demand to stay for the weekend on the spot.

But not this weekend. Even if the furniture arrived, they'd have their hands full with Gus. Especially since Justin was still kind of unsteady on his feet. The cast would be off by then but he wasn't confident that he'd be one hundred percent recovered. It had been a very humbling experience. And, at the same time, very hot. He and Brian had spent the entire weekend fucking their brains out and he fully expected to spend the week doing the same thing.

Brian had come home early from work and they'd had dinner and gone out to do a little shopping. Now that he'd painted the mural, they were both anxious to complete the room. But before they'd gone out, they'd spent about twenty minutes on the couch making out. With their shopping expedition over, Justin figured they'd go home and finish what they'd started.

He wasn't wrong. And afterwards he took off his gel cast and Brian helped him into the shower where he leaned up against the wall while Brian washed him from head to toe, sharing soft kisses until Brian had to kneel and his lips moved out of reach. They were both more than a little excited by the time they'd finished but luckily they were also rather tired.

As Leo watched from the toy chest, they crawled into bed and cut off the bedside lamps. Playtime was over. Taking his customary place next to Brian, the cat began to purr.

Since work was a bust with the cast, Justin spent all week at home fretting over not being able to get around the way he was used to doing and trying to concentrate on his art. But it was hard to focus on his drawing when there were so many other things to do like going online and trying to find additional pieces for the guestroom; waiting for the furniture they'd bought to arrive; playing with Leo; lounging by the pool.

On Wednesday he saw Rachel as he went to get the mail and she invited him over for a lunch that lasted most of the afternoon since neither one of them had anything else pressing to do.

"I feel kind of useless," he confessed to her.


"Wandering around the house with nothing to do while Brian's out working."

"You're a student, that's your job."

"Yeah, but I'm out of school for the summer."

"You sprained your ankle. Relax. Enjoy the week off from work."

He sipped his ice tea, eyes dark and thoughtful. "I wouldn't have any of this if it weren't for Brian."


"Meaning I should do more for him. I don't know."

"Justin, he loves you. You make him happy. I'd bet he'd say that's enough."

"He does," Justin confessed. "He says it all the time. I just wish I believed it."

"You don’t think he means it?"

"No, he does. I just…"

"You're at loose ends. That's all."

"Did you used to work?"

"Oh, I still do. I work from home. I freelance. Computer stuff."

"Must be good."

"I'm the best."

He laughed. "You sound like Brian."

"I like him a lot. You too. And," she added as the dog came over and sniffed them both, "Rusty likes you too."

"Gus loves Rusty."

"You know, anytime you want a babysitter, call me. He's the sweetest thing."

"Nothing like Brian."

"I don't believe that for a minute."

"Well," he admitted, "he has his moments."

"From the sounds coming from your house, he must have a lot of them."

Justin blushed from the roots of his hair down to his chest. "You've heard us?"

"Let's just say, you might want to close your windows." She let him off the hook. "Not us, but the folks on either side of you have been getting an earful."


"And both those ladies gossip." She laughed. "I think it's envy. Brian's pretty hot."

"That he is," Justin said smiling with pride.

"And apparently he's pretty good in bed."

"And out," grinned Justin. They had fucked way too many times all around the house for him to try and pretend otherwise.

"Trust me, if Christopher were that good, I'd be screaming too."

"They heard me scream?" he asked, appalled. "Shit."

"Must have been one of the times you were fucking in the pool."

He covered his face then tried to make the best of it. "Maybe we oughta charge admission."

"Or give lessons," she suggested.

He didn't know if it was the spices or the fact that they'd been separated for nine hours or if there was something about Justin in a cast that turned him on but the moment Brian leaned in and slipped his arm around his lover's waist to kiss him, he wanted him. "Hey, Baby," he whispered as he pecked his cheek.

Justin half-turned and received a second kiss, this time on his lips and wished he'd had his hands free but he was holding a crutch in one and the spatula in the other. Brian had brushed against him and he'd felt a definite bulge of interest that he wanted to investigate further. "Hungry?" he asked, subtext implied, he hoped.

Eyes shining, Brian replied, "Starving."

"The oven?"

"Do it," said Brian, already taking off his jacket and tie. Those went over a stool in the kitchen. As soon as Justin turned off the chicken, Brian whipped the pan into the oven and lifted his little boy in his arms. The crutches fell away.

Fighting the urge to throw Justin down on the nearest soft surface and fuck like animals, Brian carried him to their bedroom and laid him on the comforter. Watched as Justin stripped, then finished undressing himself. Dropped to his knees between Justin's legs and kissed his way up from his ankles (at least the uncovered one) to his crotch. Bestowing a kiss upon the young man's cock, Brian continued up his belly and chest, lapping his nipples until they stiffened. He left a trail of kisses from Justin's calves to his throat. Their lips met and they kissed until Justin thought he'd pass out. Not only was Brian kissing him but he was stroking his cock as well and it was responding to his talented fingers, throbbing and thickening in his hand. Brian broke off their kiss and went down on him, drawing an involuntary cry from Justin's lips as he sucked his dick. Justin leaned back on the bed, struggling to breathe because with each pull on his cock, Brian was stealing the air from his lungs.

Mouth wet with saliva, Brian continued to devour his lover's meat. He was starving for a taste of his juice and increased his efforts, squeezing his balls as he blew him until the first surge of precum flowed across his tongue. He withdrew Justin's cock from his mouth and smeared his lips with honey, licking the dripping head, kissing it, rubbing it across his face.

Justin gripped the back of Brian's head, fingers entwined in his hair, and tugged on it to get his attention. Brian looked up, Justin's cock still half in his mouth and the sight took Justin's breath away all over again. But Brian understood.

He slid into Justin with ease, having slathered on lube and fingered the young artist until he beat the bed with his fists.

The chicken piccata was delicious considering the chicken had sat in a cold oven while they fucked. Justin had forgotten to turn it on, which was just as well, least it hadn't cooked to the point of being a substitute for shoe leather. As is it finished cooking in the sauce the way he'd intended and was better than he'd expected. Continuing their lovemaking at the table, they moved into a different phase of seduction, contenting themselves with feeding one another and kissing away the stray bit of sauce, sharing sips of wine. After kissing very deeply for a few moments, Justin pulled away and laughed breathlessly.


"I had lunch with Rachel today and it seems as if our neighbors have heard us fucking."

Brian laughed. "No shit?" Raised a brow, amused by the news. "Add them to the list."

"She also said the ladies all think you're a hottie."

"That's cause I am."

"And all mine," Justin warned him.

"Don't worry. I'm not about to go prowling in this neighborhood. Too straight." Added, "Or go prowling at all. I've got a pretty hot husband myself."

Wiping his mouth, Justin smiled, got up and moved to Brian's lap. Kissed him hard. "How about we leave the dishes until later."

Brian rubbed noses with him. "And smart too."

Their furniture arrived Friday morning just as Justin was finishing a sketch he'd started the previous day. Using only one crutch, he went to answer the door figuring it'd be the delivery guys from the showroom. He couldn’t wait until this afternoon when he went to get his ankle checked and the cast removed. Although he'd been tempted to stop using the crutches and stop wearing the cast, the thought of maybe having to wear it another week always kept him on the straight and narrow. He hadn't even driven with the cast, even though it was on his left foot and theoretically he could have. He'd taken it easy, just as the doctor had ordered.

Within a half hour the guestroom furniture was up the stairs, set up, and put in place for which Justin gave them a hefty tip. Thanking them for their work, he shut the door and hurried to the phone.


"The furniture's here."

"How's it look?"


"Sweet. I gotta go, Baby. Meeting in five minutes."


"Is Joanie still coming to take you to the doctor's?"

"Should be here around three."

"Talk to you later."

"Later." Hanging up, he went back upstairs, Leo trailing him, and surveyed the guest room. The colors complimented the mural perfectly. It really was a pretty amazing room now. They still needed some curtains and accessories but Joanie would help them with those things.

Guestroom pic #1 | Guestroom pic #2

Looking around the room, Joanie exclaimed, "Justin, it's wonderful. I can't believe you two did this yourselves." She'd made the bed with Justin's help since he hadn't been capable of doing it himself in the cast. At least not quickly.

"Thanks. But we still need some help filling it in. It definitely looks a little bare."

"We'll find some curtains and a few vases, maybe a nice trunk to go at the foot of the bed—"

"That's exactly what we thought. And a writing table."

"Maybe a chaise lounge." Taking another look, she beamed. "I love it."

"Well, you're welcome to come and stay in it whenever you want."

"I may just take you up on that." Finding her purse, she asked, "Are you ready to go?"

"I can't wait to get this thing off my leg."

Going before him, she said, "I suppose the first thing you're going to do is to go out dancing."

He laughed as he carefully made his way down the stairs. "That's not a bad idea. Except Gus is coming over tonight to spend the weekend. Brian's picking him up after work. Hey, why don't you stay for dinner?"

"It has been a while since I've seen Gus. All right, but only if you let me cook."

"I've got a better idea. I'll cook and you look for stuff online for the guestroom."

Panic set in as Brian drove up to the house and saw Joanie's car still in the yard. She wouldn’t have been there if everything had gone all right with Justin's doctor visit. Grabbing Gus, Brian hurried through the back door and was just about to call Justin's name when he heard him singing in the kitchen. Gus wriggled and he put him down so he could run over to Justin for a hug and a kiss.

"The cast is gone," Brian said with relief.

Justin and Gus exchanged kisses. "Yeah. Your mom decided to stay for dinner. She's in there looking at curtains for the guestroom."

"Nana?" asked Gus.

"Yeah," Justin replied and put him down so he could go running in to her.

"Nana!" he yelled as he ran into the family room.

"I thought he'd never leave," said Brian. They kissed. "So everything's okay?"

"I don't feel a thing."

Brian took hold of his hand and laid it on his groin. "Nothing?"

"Behave." Justin gave him a squeeze. "Mmm, nice."

"After we get rid of Joanie and put the munchkin to sleep."

"You got it."

"Gonna get it." Hearing Gus coming back towards them, they parted reluctantly.


"Yeah?" Brian took off his coat.


"Soon as I finish cooking, Gus," Justin told him.

"Come on. Help me take my stuff upstairs," Brian suggested and he handed Gus his jacket. The toddler made sure it didn't drag on the floor as he walked in front of his daddy. Brian smiled, proud of the little boy.

Gus watched him as he changed clothes. Held out his hand. "I want."


He pointed to Brian's tie and laughed as Brian tied it around his neck. Wanting to show it to Nana and Daddy Justin, he left Brian in the closet and hurried back downstairs.

Even though they had company and had to play nice while Joanie was there, Brian intended to nevertheless kick things up a notch. Sliding on a black thong, he poured himself into a pair of well-worn jeans that molded themselves to his thighs and emphasized his basket. Slipped on his black wife-beater. Flexed the muscles in his arms. Justin would be drooling the moment he glided into the room.

He hadn't overestimated the effect his outfit would have on his mate. All during dinner he could feel Justin's eyes on him whenever he reached for something on the table or got up. And after dinner, once they'd cleaned up, he sat on the couch, legs spread, and watched Justin fidget.

Normally Justin was very attentive when Gus was talking but tonight Gus could have done a fire eating act and Justin wouldn't have noticed. He was enamored of his husband's lean physique. Even when Joanie tried to show them what she'd found online, he stole glances at Brian. God, he couldn’t believe how hot he looked tonight. All Justin could think about was his legs and ass, his arms and chest, and his cock. Mmm, his cock… He could practically see it through the thin crotch of those sexy jeans. Front and center and looking like it was ready to burst through his fly.

He checked his watch again, surreptitiously he hoped, and wondered when Joanie was going to leave. Not that they'd be home free. Gus had yet to even hint that he was ready to do anything but run around until midnight. Still, once Joanie was gone, they could work on Gus. But even Joanie seemed to be in it for the long haul.

Brian thought he'd lose it and laugh himself silly. Justin was about to jump him witnesses or not. Turning the fire up under him just a bit, Brian stood and sauntered across the room and when he was out of Joanie's sight line but directly in Justin's, he adjusted his package.

Joanie leaned forward. "Justin? Are you all right?"

"Yeah." His voice had cracked and he cleared his throat. "Yeah."

"Well," she said, "I think it's time for me to go home."

"Nana," complained Gus. He didn't want her to go. He'd been sitting in her lap and watching TV, Leo lying next to her on the sofa.

"I'll see you tomorrow maybe," she said. "Okay?"

" 'kay." He was used to hearing the word tomorrow.

"Walk Nana to the door."

Nearly sighing in relief, Justin walked with them and waved as she drove away. Meanwhile Brian had gone around and begun checking the doors so they could set the alarm and turn in for the night. He met them at the foot of the stairs and picked Gus up. "Come on, it's time for your bath."

"Leo bath."

"No, Leo doesn't need a bath." He sniffed Gus and wrinkled his nose. "But you do."

Gus giggled and sniffed Brian. "Daddy need bath."

"And he's going to take one. After you go to sleep," said Justin.

Which proved easier said than done. After taking his bath, Gus insisted on playing in their room because he wasn't sleepy, he and Leo tearing around the master suite until Justin was tempted to banish them to his room. Brian, meanwhile, had stretched out on the bed, providing a temptation of another kind.

Finally, Gus began to show signs of slowing down. Seated on the floor, pushing his car over the rug, he started to nod until at last sleep overtook him and he laid down. Justin scooped him up, careful not to wake him, and put him to bed. Practically ran back to his room and quietly shut the door. Brian was lying right where he'd left him. The television had been turned off and in its place soft music played. He made himself walk to the bed. Stripped. He climbed onto the bed, started at the foot, and crawled up on top of Brian.

"Hey," said Brian, voice low and smooth.

"Hey." They kissed deeply for a moment, then parted. Justin rose and held out his hand. It was taken. They came together and danced, arms about one another, softly kissing. Slowly, Justin began unbuttoning Brian's jeans. When the last button was undone, he slipped his hand inside. Felt Brian's warm flank which the thong did not cover. He eased the jeans down. Brian stepped out of them and they continued to dance and kiss.

Moving around back of Brian, Justin swayed with him, hands roaming his body, sliding up under his tank top, down over his hips and thighs. He raised Brian's shirt and kissed his back, his shoulders. Pulled the wife beater over his head and tossed it. Teased his nipples. Ran his nails over his abdomen. Over his cock which was still inside the thong he wore. Justin remedied that. Reached in and pulled Brian out of it. Only his balls remained covered. As they danced, Justin stroked Brian until his cock stiffened. Pushing down on it, he let go and it bounced in front of Brian. He pressed down again and stroked him. Let go.

Brian gasped as his cock struck his belly. Precum wet his skin. He could feel Justin's cock pressing against his thighs.

Justin took hold of Brian again and smiled as his fingers encountered the slick tip. He loved how quickly Brian got juicy. Loved the feel of precum as his hand slide up and down his shaft. Loved the taste of it. Moving around front of Brian, Justin knelt and pulled down his thong, releasing him completely. Then, face upraised, he stroked Brian's dick, waiting, waiting. There. A bead appeared at the tip of his cock. Patiently he waited. Played with Brian's balls. The bead became a teardrop. Stretched until a clear line had formed. Justin caught it on his tongue, then turned his head to the right. The line bisected his face on an angle from his cheek to his forehead.

Brian grew harder as he watched Justin play with his precum, face shiny and streaked. Then, apparently wanting more, Justin gobbled up his cock. Most of it disappeared into his mouth and he hummed as he sucked and licked the throbbing shaft. Brian could feel his cock head expanding, growing more sensitive and he hissed and withdrew after it brushed the roof of Justin's mouth. But Justin wouldn't give up. Grabbed him by the base of his cock and attacked the head again. Brian shouted as Justin nipped the edge of the corona, the tip.

Having submitted to Justin's mauling until his dick was nearly raw, Brian pulled Justin up and bent him over the toy chest. Cock lubed, he mounted him and rode him hard. Held onto one of the bedposts to steady himself as he plowed his partner's ass. Justin gripped the chest. His cock bounced in front of him from the force of Brian's thrusts. Precum landed on the top of the trunk like the loops and swirls of a Jackson Pollock painting. He grimaced as Brian repaid every nip and bite. Creating something beautiful was sometimes hard.

They knelt together in the grass and he offered the little boy a basil leaf. "Smell." Gus did so and wrinkled his nose. Giggled and tried to take the leaf from Justin to eat but Justin knew better. "I have to cook it first. Okay?"

" 'kay."

"You hold the basket and make sure none of the leaves fall out."

"Leeves?" Gus looked around for leafs like the ones he'd collected the previous fall.

Justin showed him the basil again. "This is a leaf."

"Yeah," said Gus, agreeing although the little green thing didn't look anything like the bright red, yellow, and orange leaves he'd gathered in his basket last year.

For the next fifteen minutes Gus helped Justin harvest herbs from the garden and Justin couldn't believe how patient Gus was watching him as he selected the matured leaves, how interested he was in growing things. Eyes wide, he absorbed every detail and did exactly what Justin asked him to do, even watering Leo's catnip when he was told. When he went inside the first thing he did after handing Justin his basket was to find Brian and tell him all about the garden; then he sat at the coffee table and drew green leaves on a sheet of paper.

"Maybe I was wrong about him being an architect," Brian said, observing him at work. "Maybe he'll be a farmer."

"Or a botanist," suggested Justin, washing the herbs and drying them, setting them aside until he was ready to use them in the meal he was preparing. "An underwater botanist," he said, "since he loves the water so much."

"Speaking of which, you want to go for a swim later?"

"With or without swimsuits?" meaning with Gus or later after he'd gone to sleep.


Justin shook his head in disbelief. "Don't you ever get enough?"

"No such thing," Brian assured him with a kiss and Justin had to agree.

Justin picked up a wooden figure, painted white and black. "What's this?" When Gus didn't answer, he added, "It says, 'baa baa'," and Gus brightened up.


"Sh-eep." Justin pronounced both syllables slowly.

"Sheeeep." He took hold of the toy animal and pranced it around the floor. "Baa baa."

Holding up another animal, Justin asked, "What's this?"

Tearing himself away from the sheep, Gus laughed. "Ruff ruff."

"That's right, that's the sound it makes. What's it called?"


His turn to laugh, Justin made one more try. "And what's Rusty?"

"A dog!" Gus shouted so loudly Leo jumped even though he was sitting next to Brian on the sofa. He took the dog from Justin. "I want see Rusty."

"Maybe we'll see him tomorrow."

But Gus was not placated. "Now!" It had become his favorite word.

From where he sat, Brian looked up and caught Gus' eye. "What are you yelling about?"

The little boy began to play again with the figure of a dog. He pouted a little. "I want see Rusty."

"What did Justin tell you?"

Gus pretended not to have heard Brian.

"Gus, what did Justin tell you about seeing Rusty?"

"Tomorrow," he said softly.

"Then no more yelling." Brian watched as Gus put the dog down. "Okay?"

" 'kay."

"Let me see your dog."

Instantly happier, Gus picked up the dog and carried it to Brian. "See?"

"I see."


Brian kissed him. "Dog."

"Dog." Leaving the toy with Brian, Gus ran back to Justin and hugged him. Then picked up another toy. "What dat?"

"I'm supposed to ask you the questions," Justin laughed and Gus began to giggle.

Brian was sitting in his office wondering if there was anything he could do to convince Ryder to let him take over Hyperion's accounts again. No matter how much work he had to do, it seemed as if it wasn't enough to make up for losing control of the Afibrinase campaign. Nothing was as challenging, as rewarding and he suspected that, despite Justin's predictions, nothing else would ever be again. So what am I going to do? He'd always loved his job. What would he do if that changed? If it became a chore to come to work? How would he continue to function in the company if he no longer felt a desire to be part of the firm?

Thoughts like that frightened him. He was about to take a walk to clear his head when he decided to check his email. The trolls were becoming less and less of a problem as he stopped responding to them and as the word got out that he was happily married. Still, every now and then one came along that made him laugh and he could use a laugh today.


I was working on this drawing of the backyard and I started to think about you and I couldn't stop so I decided to send you this email. I know you're probably busy but you don't have to read all of it at once. You can read a little bit and then come back to it when you've got the time. It's not like it's anything important. Just the same old same old: I love you. I need you. I want you. You've heard me say all of those things a million times. Probably gets boring: me telling you that I love you, but I do. Probably seems like something a kid would do, sending a love letter. But then again, I'm only twenty so it fits. And you're my husband so it's allowed. So here goes: I love you.

I also wanted to tell you that I'm proud of you. When I think about how far we've come from how we used to be, it amazes me. But it shouldn’t because I think you're amazing. I know it hasn't been easy, having me as a lover. I know that you've had to put up with a lot of shit from my parents and yours and your friends and the people at work. And me. I know that maybe it would have been easier for you to have been with someone else. Someone older, someone you could turn to, someone who could help you. I try the best that I know how but I don't always know what to say or do. Sometimes all I know to do is to love you. And I do.

Do you remember when we were in Tuscany and we went walking by that old farmhouse, the one you took the pictures of? Do you remember how you said that it seemed like it had been there forever? That no matter who was in charge in Florence, or Siena, or wherever, this place had survived. I want us to be like that. No matter what, I want us to last forever. I don't care how many times other people try to come between us, try to destroy what we have, we won't let them. We'll survive.

I guess I should go now and finish my drawing and let you get back to work. See you when you get home.


A snatch of a song came to him and he hummed it, taking the quiche out of the oven to let it rest and cool just a bit. Brian would be home soon and Justin wondered what he'd say about the impromptu letter he'd written. In hindsight he felt a little foolish, gushing like that but he couldn't help how he felt. He loved Brian, loved their life. Still…

He was about to get out the plates and flatware to set the table when he heard the Jeep in the driveway. For some strange reason his heart started to pound and he suddenly began to feel anxious. In an attempt to quiet those feelings, he went to set the table. Like Jennifer, he found routine tasks calming. As he distributed the knives and forks, he heard the door open and shut. Heard Brian troop through the kitchen and near him. He wouldn’t turn or look around. Laid the last plate down. There was no reason to delay their greeting any further so he turned. In Brian's hand was a bouquet of deep red, long-stemmed roses. Almost of their own accord his fingers reached for the flowers. Brian leaned towards him and kissed him as he surrendered the roses.

"I love you," Brian whispered. Shyly, Justin smiled and studied the roses. Brian smiled too, then said, "We need candles. And wine."

"And a vase," Justin said, having untangled his voice from his beating heart. "These are beautiful."

"Nothing compared to you," and they kissed again.

Dinner was a romantic affair, room lights lowered and candles flickering on the table, flames reflected in the stemware.

Brian gazed at his husband over the rim of his glass. His eyes looked like mossy agates.

Justin had gone silent. When Brian looked at him like that it was hard to think much less speak.

"That was a pretty intense letter you sent me." Put his glass down. "Something going on?"

Shook his head. "I was just… thinking about you."

"I'd been thinking about you too," Brian admitted. "About what you said. About some hot, new account coming along…"

"Something came up?"

"No." Smiled wistfully. "I was sitting in my office feeling a little sorry for myself. Maybe a lot sorry for myself. And I was thinking about what you said and trying to convince myself that it was true…"

"Did you?"

"Not until I got your letter. And then… it didn't seem to matter anymore. Whatever happens happens. As long as I have you, I could give a fuck about everything else."

Taking their glasses outside, they walked for a bit around the yard and then stretched out on the double chaise and watched the stars take to the stage one by one and named them.

"That one's Larry."

"And that's Curly and Moe," Brian guessed.

"No. For Larry Kramer."

"Oh. I guess that one's Harvey then?" he hazarded, thinking he'd discovered a pattern.

"Yep. And that's Mike."

"Mike?" So much for his pattern.

"Short for Michelangelo."

"Ah…" Now he got it. "That one's Oscar."

"And that's Hadrian."

"With Antinous next to him."

"Right where he belongs. And that one's Jake."

"Jake?" He didn't know any famous gay person named Jake.

"I just like that name."

That was Justin all right. Just when you thought you understood his reasoning, he switched logic systems altogether. "Maybe we'll have another boy and we can name him Jake."

"Jake and Gus. Good butch names," said Justin, which was what Brian had said about the name Gus when he'd suggested it the night the baby had been born. "You think Gus will be okay with a new brother or sister?"

"What? Having someone to boss around?"

"That's you not Gus."

"He'll be a great big brother."

Justin snuggled closer to Brian even though it would have already been difficult to find an inch of free space between them. "The best."

Pointing to a star overhead, Brian said, "We should call that one Justin." It was the brightest object in the heavens.

Eyes twinkling, Justin laughed, the sound like a meteor shower. "I think that's Sirius."


"Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk" by Rufus Wainwright from Poses, Rock and Roll Credit Card Music/Dreamworks Songs (ASCAP), 2001.

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