To Wander in His Shade

But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wander'st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

from "Sonnet XVIII" by William Shakespeare

Sometimes they liked it rough and tonight was one of those nights. Justin had taken control of the scene and used the paddle on him, giving him three firm licks per cheek before putting it away and kissing his reddened skin.

Brian could hear him digging around in the toy chest and wondered what was next. He was lying on his stomach and couldn't see what Justin was doing but he trusted him, knew that, no matter what, Justin wouldn't hurt him. It was only as Justin pulled back his arm and snapped on the wrist band that he realized he was being shackled.

"No!" he yelled and snatched his arm away, tearing at the restraint. He didn't know why but he did not want it around his wrist, the feeling was instinctual and had no rational basis. He felt like a wild animal in a trap, shredding its own flesh to be free.

"Brian?" Justin was immediately alarmed and reached to help him but Brian shoved him away.

"Don't." He got the wrist band off and threw the shackles to the floor. His chest was heaving and he felt dizzy. There were red marks on his wrist, where his nails had scratched the skin.

"What's wrong? Brian?"

He pressed his fingertips into his temples. Saw

Someone holding his arm behind his back.

"No," he whispered. Saw

Himself, face down on a bed, arms held up over his head.

A man fucking him. Hard.

His face, tears streaking his cheeks.

He shook his head. "No." It couldn't be. He had believed him, believed him when he said that it had been consensual. Oh God…

Carefully, Justin neared him. Didn't move to touch him. He'd seen Brian like this before and knew how skittish he could be, how anything could set him off. He spoke softly, hoping the tone of his voice would calm him. "Brian?"

He looked over at him, grief marking his face as age had not. "He…"


Taking another breath, Brian said, "He raped me."

Justin couldn't speak for a moment. "Are you sure?" No need to ask who Brian was talking about. A vein in Justin's forehead pulsed and he had to clamp down on the urge to run from the house screaming.

"I remember." Brian could see it in his mind. "He must have given me something…" Remembered stumbling up the stairs, Kenneth holding his arm to steady him. Remembered lying on the bed, hoping the room would stop spinning. He'd imbibed more than alcohol that evening. He remembered Kenneth coming to him and trying to kiss him. He'd turned his head, tried to avoid the man's attentions and when it had become obvious that Kenneth didn't intend to stop, he'd fought him but all strength had left his limbs and he'd resorted to begging Kenneth to let him go. "Then he held me down…" He'd pleaded with him even as Kenneth gripped his arms. "Kenneth, don't. Don't… "And he raped me." His voice faded on the last word as did he.

To Justin, he seemed to wan. "Brian… I'm sorry," he said and, to his surprise, Brian came to him and allowed Justin to hold him. He did not weep but he shook as if standing naked in the snow. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry…" said Justin over and over again, "I'm sorry…" the words becoming a balm to soothe the hurt.

Justin had gone downstairs to fix him a drink. Huddled on the bed, head resting on his knees, he wished he could go back in time, back to that night in Birmingham. Why had he gone to that party? Why hadn't he gone home, taken an early flight and returned to Pitts? Hearing Justin in the doorway, he attempted to piece himself together before Justin could see how tattered he was.

But Justin knew. Taking his place by his side, he offered Brian the drink, watched as he knocked it back, and placed the empty glass on the night stand. He stroked Brian's cheek, fingers soothing tensed muscles. "You should try and sleep."

"I believed him," Brian said softly. "…so stupid."

"Don't think about that right now." Gently, Justin told him, "Come on, lie down."

With Justin's help, Brian got under the covers but he didn't close his eyes. Eyes that glistened with a fear he hoped was unobservable.

Justin cupped his face and kissed his cheek. "I'll be right here. I won't go anywhere."

Brian exhaled noisily. Justin had known that he was afraid. He could hide nothing from him. One lone tear escaped from beneath his eyelid and Justin kissed it away.

"It'll be okay. I promise. I promise," he whispered against his skin. "I won't let anyone hurt you ever again."

It'd taken a while for Brian to let go and sleep and even then Justin hadn't left him, had sat by him for another ten, fifteen minutes to make sure he had gone under. Satisfied at last, Justin crept from the suite and went downstairs to use the kitchen phone. Hands shaking, he dialed a number Brian had given him almost a year ago, in case of an emergency. A man's voice came on the line.


Justin shook, not from fear but from anger. And when he spoke, it was with a harshness born of rage. "He remembered what you did to him."

Silence. Then, "Justin?"

"You raped him. You drugged him and then you raped him, you sick sonofabitch. And if you ever come near him again, I will fucking kill you. Do you understand? I will kill you." He replaced the phone and leaned his head against the wall and cried.

He couldn’t breathe. His face was pressed into something soft and he couldn't breathe, couldn't cry for help, couldn't do anything but endure. Each time Kenneth entered him, he wanted to scream but he couldn't.

He couldn't move. Kenneth had him pinned to the bed, arms stretched over his head, legs forced apart by Kenneth's knees. The man had at least twenty pounds on him and it was enough, aided by the drug coursing through Brian's veins. He didn't know what Kenneth had given him but he knew he'd been drugged. His limbs felt heavy and he couldn't focus his eyes, focus his thoughts.

Which was a good thing as it kept him from thinking about Justin too much. Justin! he cried inside his mind. Justin! Only Justin couldn't help him now, no one could. The only thing he could do was to lie still until it was over.

And forget.

He awoke with a jerk. Looked around him to see where he was, expecting to wake up in Kenneth's bed again. There was Justin. Asleep. No bad dreams to keep him awake. No unpleasant memories.

No sense in both of them lying awake. Brian eased from the bed and padded downstairs, Leo having risen silently to join him. Together, they piled onto the sectional and watched television, the volume turned down low, the glow from the screen flickering over their faces in the dark. Grateful for Leo's company, Brian stroked the cat's fur, gleaning comfort from the simple motion. Everything's okay, he told himself. Everything's normal. It'd be the twenty-sixth in a few weeks and Justin had planned an extravaganza for his thirty-third birthday. He'd made some sacrilegious comment about being the same age as Christ when he died—but not within Joanie's earshot or she would have given him a tongue lashing that would have left him marked for life. "Everything's all right," he whispered.

"Then why don't I believe you?" asked Justin. Despite the fact that Brian had yet to cry, Justin knew he was aching inside and bottling it up would only acerbate the problem.

Sniffling, Brian asked, "Why aren't you asleep?"

"Why aren't you?"

Twenty questions. "I…" He fumbled with the remote. "I can't," he confessed.

"Bad dreams?" Justin asked as he plopped down next to him, displacing Leo who scrambled up onto the back of the sofa.

Instead of answering Brian said, "Every spring… I'm beginning to fuckin' hate spring." He laughed abruptly, as did Justin: he'd been having the very same thought. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" When Brian didn't respond, Justin shook him gently. "Sorry for what?"

"For this."

"Keeping me up?"

Frowning, Brian said tightly, "For being a fuckin' idiot over and over again."

"You didn't do anything wrong."

"Didn't do anything right either." He flipped off the television. "As usual."

When he was in his martyr mood, there was nothing Justin could do except wait it out. Brushing Brian's bangs back from his forehead, he offered a suggestion. "I think you should see Dr. Drew."

The thought alone of going to Drew and baring his soul yet again was enough to anger him. "I don't need to see him. I don’t want to see him. So drop it."

"Fine." Justin stood and started from the room. There was no point in continuing the conversation.

What am I doing? he asked himself, confused by his own actions. "Justin…"

He paused, the plaintive tone of Brian's voice getting him right in the chest.

"Help me."

Justin returned to the sofa and embraced his spouse, lending what strength he had.

Naked need forced him to continue. "I don't know what I'm doing."

"It's okay, we'll figure it out. We won't stop until we do."

Face buried in Justin's neck, Brian tightened his arms around him. Justin would find a way, he always did.

From the moment he'd gotten Justin's call, he'd known this one would be a bad one. The last few sessions he'd had with the ad exec, he'd gotten the distinct impression that something was brewing just beneath the surface unbeknownst even to Brian. When he'd picked up the phone and heard Justin's voice, he'd known that matters had erupted.

As Brian entered the office, he was certain his hunches had, unfortunately, been borne out. The man looked drained of all energy, his hair disheveled, clothes hanging on him as if he'd dropped ten pounds overnight. Once his patient had settled down, Drew asked, "What's going on?"

Without once looking at the therapist, Brian replied, "Last night I remembered what happened in Birmingham last year." His normally soft voice was even softer.

Yet Drew had heard every word clearly. Oh God, he thought. Not that.

"Kenneth… raped me. I remembered it."

"Why didn't you call me last night?" He'd given Brian his home number just for such emergencies.

"Figured someone should get some rest."

Despite the smart-ass answer, he could tell Brian was about ten minutes away from losing it and he needed to get as much information from him as he could. "What were you doing when you remembered?"

"Playing with Justin."

"What happened? Specifically?"

"He started to put something around my wrist and I freaked." He sniffled. "Kenneth… He …" Tears dropped into his lap.

Moving closer to him, Drew reached for his knee. "Brian?"

His shoulders shook as he cried and he tried, unsuccessfully, to cover his face.

"You don't have to hide from me," Drew told him. "It's okay to cry. It's okay."

Having held back the tears with Justin, Brian now released them. This was a safe place, Dr. Drew would never betray him and he didn't have to pretend to be strong when he wasn't.

After a minute or so, Brian wiped his face, crying jag over for the time being. "Fuck."


"I had a meeting today." He'd just remembered. Christ, the partners would be pissed.

"Fuck it. You're more important." Brian didn't dispute him but he didn't continue their conversation either. Instead, he stood and went over to the window, his favorite place in Drew's office, and stared out of it. The psychiatrist let him be. He'd come back when he was ready.

Finally Brian tired of the view and returned to his seat. "Why did he do it?"

Drew returned the question. "Why do you think he raped you?"

"Because I was stupid."


"Because I let him."

Rather than argue with him, Drew decided to try and dissect his feelings. "How did you do that?"

"I went to his party when I knew I shouldn't have."

"Why not?"

"I should have gone home."

"Did you imagine that he'd drug you and rape you?"


"Then how were you stupid?"

"I shouldn't have been drinking."

"Were you the only person drinking?"

"No." He paused. "But I was the only person who was raped."


"Do you remember me saying that I didn't know what was worse: being raped or being with him because I wanted to be?"

"I remember."

"This is worse." Tears spilled over his cheeks. "I wish I had never remembered."

"Why is this worse?"

He glanced away from then back at Drew. "Because it's twice now. It's like some kind of fucking joke." Brian rose.


"I have to go."

"Our time isn't up yet." And they had barely scratched the surface of the current issue.

"I have to go," he repeated.

Drew stood and gripped his arm lightly. "Brian, please, let's talk about this."

He shook off Drew's hand, then started for the door but Becker blocked his way.

"Where are you going?"


"Is Justin there?"

"He's in class."

"I want you to call your mom then."

"She's in class too."

"What about Lindsay? Michael? One of your other friends?"

"I don’t need babysitting."

"I'm not letting you out of this office to go home alone. So you'd better think of someone and call them right now."

"You can't keep me here."

"I will if I have to. Goddamnit," Drew said exasperatedly, "I'm trying to save your life."

"Maybe it's not worth saving."

"Tell that to Justin."

Remembering the promises he'd made to his lover both on their wedding day and since, Brian relented. "Debbie has Mondays off."

Drew folded his arms. "Then call her."

She'd taken one look at him in Drew's office and hauled him home to talk. So much for ending his session prematurely. Sitting him down across from her, she fixed him with a look that she'd perfected over the years and said, "Well?"

"I really don’t want to—"

"I gave up my day off to come over here. The least you can do is to talk to me." As if anything could have kept her from coming once she'd gotten his call.

"I don't think you want to hear this."

"Try me." If only people knew half of what she'd heard over the years working at the diner. And they were shocked at the things she said…

"Kenneth Harris… raped me last year."

"But I thought Justin said…"

"I couldn't remember. For a whole year I couldn't remember. Now I do. He raped me."

God love him, that was twice now that he'd been in a bad situation. "Brian… Kiddo, I'm sorry."

He shrugged. "Not the end of the world."

Knowing how much he hated being babied, she decided to leave him alone for a while. "You eat any breakfast?"


"Almost twelve."

"I'm not hungry."

"You will be by the time I finish cooking." Dusting off her pants, she headed for the kitchen.


She turned. He sounded weak, unusual for him. "Yeah?"

It took two attempts before he could get the words out. "Could you call Justin?" He felt chilled to the bone.

"I'll call him." Using the phone in the kitchen, Deb dialed Justin's cell and counted the seconds until he answered. He sounded panicked. Immediately, she said, "He's all right. He's home. I'm here with him but he wants you. Sunshine—"

"I'm on my way."

The connection was severed. She checked the family room: Brian was curled up on the sofa, shaking. Unable to comfort him, she went about making lunch and hoped Justin came soon.

He arrived before she'd finished deciding what to prepare. The Cherokee squealed to a halt outside and Justin came rushing through the side door, not even closing it behind him. As if guided by instinct, he found Brian in the family room and knelt next to him.

"I should have gone with you."

"I didn't want you to miss class."

"I couldn't concentrate anyway." He sat by him.

"I thought I could…"

"I know. It's okay. I'm here now." Brian laid his head on Justin's shoulder. "What is it?"

"I'm tired."

Justin eased him back onto the sofa. Found a throw and spread it over him. "Then go to sleep."

"I can't." His mind was constantly bombarded with thoughts and he couldn't find shelter from them.

"I'll get your pills."

"I don't want to—"

"Don't argue with me." Leaving him there, Justin ran upstairs to get the prescription sleeping pills that Brian hardly ever took. When he returned, he got a bottle of water from the beverage center and watched Brian swallow two of the pills.

"Thanks, Baby."

"Now, go to sleep." Leo had come in and jumped up on the sofa, settling down near Brian's feet. "Leo'll keep you company."

"Where are you going?"

Justin heard the fear in his voice. "Nowhere," he assured him. "I'm staying right here until you fall asleep."

Brian shut his eyes, too tired to keep them open even without a sleep aid.

"I love you," Justin told him.

"I love you."

He sat on the floor until Brian dozed off then, quietly, got up and went into the kitchen where Debbie sat at the island watching TV on the Icebox flip screen they'd had installed under the bottom of the upper cabinet by the sink.

"Is he okay?"

Justin shook his head. Took a seat next to hers. "I could kill Kenneth. I swear to God, Deb, if he were here, I'd kill him."

"Honey, I know you're angry—"

"Look at what he's done to Brian. How? How could he do that to him?"

"I don't know."

"Fuckin' asshole. Brian was just saying in New York how he wished there'd been something left between them. He actually felt guilty because their friendship was over. And that—that bastard was walking around… pretending that…" He couldn't finish.

Deb slipped her arms around him as he shed angry tears. "We'll take care of him, Sunshine. Don't worry. Brian will be all right."

But he wasn't so certain and he wanted to be. Needed to be for Brian's sake.

He was on his way to pick up Gus to spend the weekend and his hands shook on the steering wheel so much that he pulled over and parked just to give himself a moment. This Sunday would mark the end of the second week since Brian had remembered Birmingham and he didn't know if he could take a third week like the last two. Both of them tiptoeing around the house, afraid to cause the slightest stirring, afraid that any motion would overturn the delicate structure their lives had become. They did not speak about Kenneth, did not mention Birmingham, did not talk about Brian's twice weekly sessions with Drew. Not that Justin didn't want to but he knew that Brian was unwilling to do so. It was enough for him to have to think about it, dream about it, discuss it with his therapist without having to bare his soul to Justin when they were together. Still, Justin knew. How could he not know? Lying next to Brian at night, he watched him twitch as he dreamed; at meals he studied his pained expressions; and after every session with Drew, he saw tension and misery in every motion Brian made.

Worse, they hadn't been intimate since the incident that had precipitated Brian's remembering. They'd kissed, even touched one another briefly, but it went no further than that. Justin, afraid of being rebuffed, hadn't even attempted to initiate any lovemaking. And he understood that, although the rape had occurred a year ago, Brian was only now living through the trauma of having been assaulted. He understood that and he wanted to be patient and he wanted to take it as slowly as Brian needed but he missed him, missed him so badly that sometimes he left bed and sat in his conservatory and wept until his need subsided. More than once, at school, he'd paused in his work and wiped away tears that had suddenly sprung to the corners of his eyes. Xavier and Rennie tried to help but there was very little they could do to repair the rift between the two partners. There was very little anyone could do, including the partners themselves.

Love looks away
In the harsh light of the day
On the edge of nothing more
Days fade to black
In the light of what they lack
Nothing's measured by what it needs

Having regained some measure of composure, he started the car again and proceeded to the Munchers' house where Gus waited. Impatiently, Justin supposed and that made him smile, imagining Gus standing in the doorway with his SpongeBob pull-along by him, Beh strapped to it, raring to go. Maybe having the toddler with them for the weekend would lighten the mood around the house. To be sure, it couldn't get much heavier without crushing them both.

Just as he'd imagined, Gus was waiting in the doorway when he arrived at Mel and Lindz's place. Spotting his daddy, the little boy ran to tell his mommies, hurrying back to the door before Justin could walk up to it, Lindsay with him. Unlocking the door, she pushed it open and Gus ran to meet Justin.

"Hey, Gus."

"Hey." Having received his hug and kiss, Gus got his pull-along and was ready to go but Lindsay stopped him, the look on Justin's face worrying her.

"I know just what you need: raspberry lemonade."

Justin chuckled because they both knew that wasn't what he needed. But he accepted the offer and came inside for a glass. And a talk.

Wanting to see Brian and Leo, Gus fussed a little but settled down when the grownups told him he could stay at his daddies' house until Monday morning.

"I don't have to ask how you are. Or Brian. I can see it in your face."

"We'll be okay," he said softly, afraid that the floodgates would open and he'd end up crying at her dining table.


At that, he shook his head, already feeling the tears.

"Justin, you'll get through this."

Wiping his face, he said, "I just keep thinking, what's next?"

"Maybe nothing. Maybe you'll live happily ever after," she suggested and he laughed.

"As Ted says, possible, just not probable."

Having seen Justin crying, Gus came over and patted his leg to be lifted up onto his lap. Then the little boy touched his face. "You sad, Daddy?"

"Just a little."

Gus kissed him the way they did him when he had boo-boos. "Daddy feel better?"

Smiling, Justin hugged him. "Much better."

But that feeling left him upon finding Brian at home when they got there. It was obvious that Brian had had a rough day. He was stretched out on the chaise lounge in his office, eyes shut, desperately trying to relax but his muscles were locked and he couldn't.


"Give me a minute," he said.

"Gus is here."

Brian inhaled deeply and swung his legs off the chaise. That was as far as he got though.

"Bri, what's wrong?"

"Nothing. Nothing that you can do anything about." He stood and took off his suit jacket, and headed across the hall to the closet to change.

As he passed him, Justin caught his arm. "I love you."

"I know." Bending his head, Brian kissed him. Just then Gus came running in, having finished stowing his stuff, which meant taking Beh off the pull-along before tossing it into the closet, still packed. Justin's son.


"Hey, Sonny Boy."

"Daddy, look."


"One, two, three, four…" the toddler was counting his fingers.

"That's very good."

Justin watched him put away his sadness to play with Gus and that made his heart ache even more. There had to be some way to help Brian. He just had to try harder.

Later that evening, as Gus and Leo romped in the conservatory, Justin and Brian were afforded a quiet moment to talk in the kitchen while they fixed dinner.

"Something happen today?"

Brian chopped the veggies and pepperoni that would go on their pizza while Justin kneaded the dough. His movements were sharp, controlled, no motion wasted as he sliced green peppers and onions. Without taking his eyes from the cutting board, he said, "The ad campaign we did for Hyperion is up for an award."

He started to congratulate him, then realized the implications. Brian had come up with that ad campaign and then he'd had to watch Ryder run with it after the fiasco in Birmingham, a debacle that had turned out to be much more than just poor judgement on his part. "Did you tell Ryder about what happened?"

"It's nobody's business but mine." Then, realizing that his reply had been as sharp as the blade on the knife he was using, he tempered it. "It's hard enough going in and trying to work as is. If they knew… Justin… I couldn't do it."

"Then you don't have to."

Only one mushroom remained. He began slicing it and paused. "I just wish this could be over and done with. But I know it's not. There's always one final kick in the ass just waiting around the corner."

Remembering Lindsay's words, Justin said, "Maybe not this time. Maybe this is it."

Smiling, Brian shook his head. "You're amazing, you know that?"

Almost instantly, a flirtatious retort rose to Justin's lips and died there. Brian had to be the one to make the first move and only when he was ready to do so.

That he wasn't ready was made painfully obvious to Justin that evening. With Gus tucked away, Brian retired early. To sleep. Taking two of his pills, Brian turned the television down low and closed his eyes.

"Tired?" Justin asked.


Making as if to leave the bed, Justin said, "I'll go downstairs then."

Brian reached for his hand. "Don't leave me."

So he stayed with Brian, arm wrapped around his waist. He could feel Brian's heart beating, rapidly at first, then gradually slowing under the influence of the sleeping pills. When he finally went under, Justin released him and sat up in bed, frustrated and lonely.

The next day passed without incident. Brian and Justin took Gus out on a tour of the neighborhood on his tricycle; dropped by Nana Jenn's for lunch so that she could see Gus since it had been a while; and barbecued in the courtyard. By the time Gus' bath rolled around, they were all tired. However, playing in the tub always invigorated the toddler and he quickly found the energy to splash both his daddies and the floor.

"Told you we should have gotten in with him," Justin said as they mopped up.

"Wasn't in the mood," Brian replied, which had been his answer when Justin had first suggested they join Gus.

Somehow they got Gus dried off and his pajamas on and settled in for a leisurely evening since the little boy wouldn't hear of going to bed just yet. He climbed into bed with them and watched Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, undoubtedly a first for their upstairs DVD player. Gus, however, fell asleep halfway through the film so they bundled him off to bed and decided to finish the movie the next day.

Returning to their suite, Brian paused at the door. Justin was but a few steps behind him.

"What's wrong?"

He touched the doorframe lightly. "This. This is wrong."


"Us. Like this. It's not what I want."

"What do you want?"

"I want you," Brian said and his voice broke a little. Justin, taking a chance, closed the distance between them, laid a hand upon his shoulder. Brian turned and brushed his lips over Justin's. "Make love to me."

Justin cupped his face. "You sure?"

"I need you to touch me," he whispered and he kissed Justin again, less tentatively.

Baby, it was meant to be
For you and me
For us the stars aligned

For the first time in weeks, they helped one another undress, touching flesh that had become forbidden, now accessible again. Justin slid Brian's shirt from his shoulders, then covered his nipples with his palms. Brian took a sharp breath, then slowly released it as Justin stroked his chest and belly. His hands felt so good on Brian's skin that the man sighed and put his own over Justin's to keep them in place. He trembled a little. It had been so long. That a man who had slept with thousands of men would be nervous about being with any one man bespoke both the depth of hurt he'd suffered and the depth of love he had for his partner.

Freeing his hands, Justin ran them over Brian's back, soothing him with slow, easy strokes. He kissed his shoulders and felt Brian's skin ripple. Kissed his arm down to his fingertips. "I love you," he said around Brian's forefinger before turning to his chest again, kissing above his heart, along his neck as far as he could reach.

There's nowhere else I'd rather be
Than tenderly
Holding you close by

They laid down together on their bed and Justin could feel Brian shivering in his arms. He had to take things slow even though he wanted to be inside Brian so badly. Brian needed him to be gentle and he would be. "I want to make love to you." Unhurriedly, he unbuttoned and unzipped Brian's jeans and worked them over his hips, down his legs, and around his ankles, giving him the opportunity to take hold of Brian's feet. Brian had the most beautiful feet. Bending over, he kissed the tops of them. He kissed Brian's ankles. Parted his legs and kissed up from his calves to the insides of his thighs.

Brian shut his eyes and concentrated on breathing. He'd been afraid that things would have changed between them, that he wouldn't be able to forget about Kenneth, that Kenneth had numbed him. But he hadn't destroyed anything. Brian could hardly catch his breath he was so aroused, and just from Justin kissing him. Justin kissed his belly, kissed around his navel and he raised up as he took a deep breath.

"Bri?" Justin asked, alarmed and afraid that he'd done something wrong.

Brian pulled him up. "I love you," he whispered between kisses. "I love you."

"I love you."

"Make love to me."

"I have been. You just haven't been paying attention."

Brian laughed. He'd told Justin the very same thing the first time they'd made love. He remembered how long it'd taken him to gather up the courage to make love to Justin, afraid that he would hurt him, that he wasn't good enough for him, that he would fuck things up. Yet here they were, years later, together, married.

Baby, I look after you
Take care of you
Cause time is on our side
And no one could
Make me believe
But with you I feel God

Taking the initiative, Justin kissed Brian once more and eased his hand between his husband's thighs, caught hold of his penis; it had plumped and filled his hand easily. He'd bypassed it on his journey up from Brian's feet and he intended to redress his omission.

The moment Justin's lips touched the head of his dick, Brian covered his eyes with his arm. He couldn't look. If he looked he'd lose it and he wanted this to last a long time. Each time Justin's lips encircled the tip of his cockhead, he caught his breath. Up and down Justin traveled, coating his shaft with saliva until he was slick.

Holding Brian's cock up by the base, Justin regarded it, mouth open as if he were hungry for it and he was. He licked the head, savoring the flavor of Brian's skin. Licked it again and again, over and over until a bead of clear liquid appeared. Closing his lips about it, he lapped the precum up and sucked the head, hoping to coax more from the slit.

"Ah!" cried Brian and he arched his back, forcing his cock deeper inside Justin's mouth. His lover took that as a sign to kick things up a notch and went back to blowing him in earnest, traveling from tip to base, lips firm around his girth, tongue probing each crevice, each slit, each bump. And Brian continued to stiffen, continued to cry out.

Justin released him, wanting his balls now. He stuffed his mouth and sucked each testicle in its tightening sac, jacking Brian's dick as he fed on him.

His legs fell open even wider and he tingled all over, especially between his cheeks. Justin hadn't touched him there and he wanted to be touched there, wanted to feel Justin's fingers inside him, his tongue, his cock.

Letting go of Brian's sac, Justin raised one of his legs and licked the back of his thigh. Licked down from behind his knee to the crease between his leg and groin. He kissed down Brian's shaft and around his balls, then along his perineum to his hole. His tongue lashed the wrinkled opening and Brian moaned.

"Oh, God…" He grabbed his legs beneath his knees and held them up and open while Justin rimmed him. He could feel Justin's breath on his flesh as he kissed him down there, feel his tongue searching among the folds of his ass for entrance into his hole. The sensation was driving him crazy and he didn't think he was too far off from begging Justin to fuck him.

How long had it been since he'd listened to him groaning above him? Pressing on either side of his anus, Justin held him open and worked his ass over until Brian began to cry out through clenched teeth. And after the tongue came the fingers, one at a time, opening him up, stretching the entrance, preparing him for Justin's cock. Justin latched onto his dick once more, sucking him as he fingered his ass.

Justin's finger must have brushed against his prostate because suddenly stars exploded behind his eyelids and Brian grunted and came. He hadn't intended to but it'd been too long and it felt so good, Justin's mouth on him, fingers in him. He arched his back and came in his husband's mouth. "I'm sorry," he panted.

Taking his fingers out of Brian's hole, and licking a bit of cum from his lips, Justin asked, "Why? I intend for you to come at least three or four times tonight." He knelt between Brian's legs, his cock proudly erect, the tip wet and shiny with precum. He jacked it a couple of times, then reached for the lube on the bedside table. Holding his cock by the base, he squeezed lube all along the shaft, then slowly spread it. When he was done, he raised Brian's legs to his shoulders and positioned his cock. "Open wide," he said and the words made Brian's stomach flutter.

"Ah… ah," Brian stuttered and he inhaled as Justin pushed inside him, pushed up him, filling him, healing him. He felt his lover's scrotum press against his ass and smiled.

"Feel good?"


Slowly, Justin withdrew until only the tip remained, then he reversed directions and entered him again just as leisurely. Continued in that manner until Brian had loosened up a bit.

He could feel his asshole give, accustom itself to the thickness of Justin's cock once more. Feel it cling to Justin's dick, drawing it inside, wanting to keep it inside, resisting Justin's retreats. He knew that the entrance was swelling, reddening like a pair of lips and, like a pair of lips, tightening around Justin's shaft each time he tried to withdraw. Chest and neck red, Brian felt as if he were on fire. But God, it felt so good. So good.

Leaning over, Justin supported himself on one arm that was planted in the middle of Brian's chest. He held onto one of Brian's legs with the other arm and pumped his ass until Brian screwed up his face.

"Fuck me. Fuck me."

Justin increased the pace.


He plowed his ass, hips moving in a blur as he drove his dick into him.

Brian's cock twitched on his belly. It was hard again and drooling and he hadn't even touched It. Just being fucked by Justin was enough. He didn't know how much longer he could keep it together. He could feel the cum churning in his balls. Each time Justin's cockhead raked against his prostate, he hissed. Curling his head into his chest, he grunted, tensing against the desire to come. And then Justin hit his spot again and he shouted and came.

Brian's asshole was tight around his cock, massaging it in waves as it spasmed in response to Brian's orgasm. Throwing back his head, he let loose a low, ragged cry and ejaculated against Brian's prostate. Each time the tender opening brushed the hard organ, cum surged from the tip. When he was done, he kissed Brian's leg which he still held in his arm. Withdrawing when he was able, he laid down upon his lover, his smooth belly against Brian's cum-stained one.

Bashert means you're my man to be
You were made for me
I know this deep inside

Almost everything was set for Brian's birthday party that Saturday. Despite the fact that his actual birthday wasn't until the following Monday, they'd decided to have the party the weekend prior to the big day. The day itself, they planned on having an intimate dinner for two. Besides, if they had it on Saturday, everyone could party as much as they liked and then sleep it off the next day before heading to work on Monday. And it'd give the hosts a chance to decompress and to clean up the house leisurely.

There were, however, a few items still on the "To Do" list. Topmost on that list was what to get Brian for a birthday present. He'd sworn, as always, not to want anything but Justin was bound and determined not to accept that as an answer this year. Especially since Brian had given him such a fabulous anniversary present. He loved the conservatory and he wanted to give Brian something just as special. Only he didn't know what.

Brian was doing KP duty tonight and was busy making a marinade for the chicken he intended to grill. Sauntering in, list in hand, Justin leaned on the island countertop and watched his husband squeeze lime juice into a bowl. "So…"

"So?" Arched brow.

"What do you want for your birthday?"

"Peace and quiet."

"Funny." Justin grew desperate. "Brian."

"I don't want—"

"I don't want to hear that. Tell me what you want."


"Within reason. I'm not made of money, you know." It shamed him to have to say so but he didn't have unlimited funds and he refused to use their joint account to pay for Brian's present. He'd pay for it out of his wages at work.

"Okay. For my birthday… I'd really like it if you'd believe me when I say I don't want anything."

"No fair!"

Smirking, Brian tossed a chopped jalapeno into the marinade. "That's what I want. And you said anything."

"Ooo," grumbled Justin. "Fine. I won't say another word about it."

"What a wonderful present."


Brian laughed and finished the marinade and poured it over the dish of chicken breasts to sit in the fridge while he fired up the grill top on the stove.

Cocking his head, Justin asked, "Was that the door?"

"Might have been."

With round three having gone to Brian (as had the two previous rounds in the Great Birthday Present Bout), Justin went to check the door.

Watching him go, Brian shook his head. He had everything he wanted and if he needed something, he'd just go out and get it. For some reason, Justin couldn't accept that. He supposed his presents to Justin maybe made the young man feel obligated to reciprocate in some grand manner, if not on the same scale. Maybe he ought not to give Justin such extravagant gifts but he could afford them and he loved him. The money didn't matter. He frowned. Maybe Justin felt the same way about him. Turning the grill down low, he went in search of his spouse and hoped he could think of something he wanted for his birthday before he found him.

He was halfway through the family room when he heard Justin say, "You've got some fuckin' nerve. Get out! Get the fuck out of our house!" Quickening his pace, he entered the reception hall and stopped in his tracks.

Kenneth stood just inside the threshold. When he saw Brian, he attempted to come further into the house but Justin barred his way.

Despite a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach, Brian started forward again, pausing just behind Justin. He searched for his voice and found it crouched somewhere inside him. "What are you doing here?"

"I need to talk to you."

"Why didn't you talk to him the night you raped him?" Justin asked, moving to block Kenneth's way again as he'd tried to come in once more.

Ignoring Justin, Kenneth appealed to Brian directly. "Please, Brian, I just want to talk to you. Just for a moment."

Although he knew there was nothing Kenneth could say to make up for what he had done, Brian granted him the opportunity to speak. Moving away from the door, putting space between him and Kenneth, Brian said, "You've got five minutes."

"Brian?" Justin turned and searched his face. "You don't have to talk to him."

"It's okay."

Justin relented and let Kenneth in, then moved to Brian's side. "The clock's ticking."

"Brian… I'm sorry." Harris looked away from them momentarily but, to his credit, faced them again. "I know that I hurt you and I'm sorry. I was wrong and I know that there's nothing I can ever say or do to make things right between us but, Brian… Brian… I love you so much…"

"Love?" The word erupted from Brian's lips as if it had found its own way out. "Love me?" He shook his head. "You don't love me. You never loved me. I was never more than a possession to you, a prize, a new acquisition. Like your house, and your cars, your business. You don't know the meaning of love."

"That isn't true. I love you."

"Do you even realize what you've done? Do you? You drugged me. You raped me. And then you lied to me. For almost a year, you lied to me." Brian took a deep breath and Justin moved closer to him, to offer support if he needed it. "I asked you, Kenneth, every time we talked, I begged you to tell me what happened, to tell me the truth. And you lied. Every single time, you lied to me. You knew how important my marriage was to me, you knew how guilty I felt, thinking I had slept with you by choice. You knew that. And still you lied. You don't love me. If you loved me, you wouldn't have lied to me. Loving someone means putting their needs before yours." How long had it taken him to come around to that way of thinking? "If you loved me, you would have known that being with Justin makes me happy, it's what I need. You would have let me have that life. But, instead, you tried to take it away. Well, you didn't. We're still together, we're still in love, and you're still alone. And you will always be alone because you don't know how to love anyone because you never give anything. You only know how to take!"

Kenneth disputed Brian's interpretations of events. "You wanted me. Every time I used to see you on business, I could tell: you wanted me, you just didn't have the balls to admit it, to go after what you wanted. Which was ironic considering how you never seemed to back down from anything, how you always went after what you wanted. But I guess, just this once, you didn't have the guts."

Brian wished he could escape Kenneth's words but he had nowhere to run because the words were inside him now, echoing in his head. You wanted me…

"So I helped you. I gave you a way out. I gave you something to help you relax, to forget you had a partner back home. And you did. For a few hours, you forgot about Justin. You forgot about everything except me. All you wanted was me."


"You loved me! Even if it didn't last, even if you couldn't remember in the morning, it was worth it, just to touch you, to make love to you, to hear you say that you loved me."

Brian fixed his gaze on Kenneth. Water wet his face where a tear had fallen despite his wishes. "I hate you."

Harris seemed to shrink in upon himself. "Brian, don't sa—"

"I hate you."

"I don't hate you," Kenneth said. Tears ran down his face. "I love you. I've always loved you. And I tried so hard, Brian, I tried so hard to leave you alone… To stay away from you, to let you live your life… but I wanted you too much. And I'm sorry. I thought… I thought you wanted me as much as I wanted you. Maybe I lied to myself about that. But I didn't lie to you, Brian. Not about loving you. I do know what love is and I've felt it for you." As he spoke, he moved closer to Brian, unconsciously, as if he were connected to him by an invisible rope that was being wound about a wheel, drawing him closer and closer. "I still do." He wiped his face. "I could have had any man I wanted… but I wanted you. I would give anything, everything for you," he confessed, letting Brian hear the naked truth in his voice.

"Your five minutes are up," Justin told him and he went to the door and held it open, expression set in granite. "Please leave our home."

Imploring Brian with his eyes to say something, Kenneth waited for him to intervene. Brian had to feel something for him, he couldn't have been that wrong, that misguided… Desperately he asked, "Why couldn't you have said that you loved me, even the slightest bit, just once?" When Brian continued to say nothing, Kenneth muttered softly, "I'm sorry," and left.

Justin shut the door and locked it, as if afraid Kenneth would return. He stood with his back to Brian for some time, not wanting to face him again, to see the tears that he'd shed for Kenneth. But he didn't have to worry because Brian had already headed for the kitchen.

He told himself it was to check the grill but he knew the truth: it was to escape Justin's eyes. Eyes that would see how shaken he was by Kenneth's visit. I thought I remembered him holding me down. I thought… Brian turned off the grill, certain that neither one of them would have any kind of appetite after this. He didn't hear Justin come into the kitchen, stand by the la mattina.

"So what's it gonna be?"

Brian didn't turn around. "What do you mean?"

"You gonna talk to me or are you gonna go hole up in your study and pretend nothing's wrong?"

"There's a lot wrong," Brian confessed. "I think… I think he's right," he admitted, wiping the corner of his eye with the pad of his finger.

"He's not right," Justin assured him as he came up to stand next to him. Gently gripped his arm. "He raped you. I don't care if the drug he gave you had you begging him to fuck you, he took away your right to say, 'No,' and we all know that's exactly what you would have said if you'd had the chance. But he didn't give you any choice." Justin wiped away any remaining tears from Brian's face. "So fuck him."

Saying nothing, Brian embraced him and held onto him. But he couldn't forget Kenneth and that night, as Justin slept, he laid awake going over memories in his mind, wondering if he could trust any of them.

With no preamble, Brian walked into Drew's office and said, "I want you to put me under."


"Because I'm tired of not knowing what the fuck happened to me." Last night had been a nightmare.

Drew put aside his notebook. "I thought you said you did remember."

"Kenneth paid me a visit yesterday."


"And things don't match up."

"Maybe he's lying."

"Maybe." But he was afraid that the man hadn't been lying.

"There's no guarantee you'll remember anything. We've tried it before and you couldn't." At least three times he'd put Brian under with no results.

"Let's try again."

"Brian…" Who was he to say no? "Fine. We'll try again."

As usual, putting Brian under went without a hitch. The man sat in his favorite chair, eyes closed, relaxed and awaiting instructions.

"I want you to go back to the party at Kenneth's house. Last year. Do you remember?"


"Did you have a good time at the party?"

"Yeah." Small smile.

"Why's that?"

"I was the best dancer there."

Drew almost laughed cause Brian was a notoriously slack dancer. When you were beautiful, obviously, you didn't have to work too hard to attract attention and Brian hadn't bothered to develop any moves beyond the basics—when it came to dancing. His lovemaking skills, however, were prodigious and legendary. "Were you high?" the therapist asked.

"I had a few drinks." Then added, "And a few more. And a few more…" Laughed lazily. "Justin would not have approved." His face darkened.

"What is it?"

"I danced with Kenneth. He's a good dancer. Light on my feet." But the joke failed to keep a smile on his face.

"After you danced with Kenneth, what happened?"

He seemed to struggle with his next words. "Everyone else went home."


"So we could fuck." The words seemed to surround them.

"Did you want to fuck Kenneth?"

Brian hesitated. "Yes." No way to hide the need.

"Did you?"


"How did it make you feel?"

A crease appeared between his brows. "I felt… it was great."

"How did it make you feel?" Drew persisted with his question.

"I felt good."

"You liked having sex with Kenneth?"

"Yeah." His jaw trembled.

Maybe it was better not to delve too deeply into the details. Maybe it was best to move on. "What's the next thing you remember?"

He gripped the arms of the chair. "Waking up the next day."

Not wanting to go through that episode again, Drew brought him out of the trance. Brian blinked rapidly and pinched his brow.

"He didn’t force me."

"You don't remember everything that happened that night. There's still hours unaccounted for."

"Why couldn't I remember this before?" Drew hadn't even broken a sweat getting him to unearth the details of that night this time around.

"The mind's a tricky thing. Always trying to protect itself. Protect you the best way it knows. Maybe you weren't ready to know the truth."

Angry, he said, "That I didn't struggle. That I gave it up like some bitch in heat."

"That you were drugged," Drew pointed out. "Brian, he could have had you do whatever he wanted. We don't know what was in that drug. Be glad that you didn't struggle. You might have been hurt. Things could have been a lot worse."

"Yeah," he conceded, although he had a hard time imagining how.

So the freeloaders were coming over this afternoon to help 'celebrate' his birthday by eating his food and drinking his liquor. Jeez, how'd he get so lucky? He knew exactly how he'd gotten so lucky: Justin. You would have thought he was the birthday boy, he was so excited about today's festivities. Unfortunately, the guest of honor was anything but excited. He didn't feel like partying today. What he felt like doing was crawling back into bed and pulling the covers over his head and forgetting the world existed. Kenneth's visit earlier in the week—and the session with Drew—had left a definite bad taste in his mouth and he hadn't been able to rinse it away. For the past couple days he'd had to go to work and pretend to be fine when he hadn't been and if there had been any fairness in the world, he would have been able to spend today in peace and quiet. Instead, he was anticipating a horde of well-wishers. He supposed that was probably better than the day he would have spent brooding.

Justin came bustling into the family room and found him sitting alone at the table, staring out at the back yard. "Bri?"

"Yeah?" He turned. "You want me to do something?"

"You okay?"

"I'm fine." Repeated himself, "You want me to do anything?"

"No." Justin frowned. He knew when he was being put off but there was nothing he could do. "Brian… do you want me to call off the party?"

Yes, he wanted to say but he knew how much this party meant to Justin and he would make it through the day and smile at all the right places, and laugh at Michael's goofy jokes, and play hide-and-seek with Gus, and dance with Justin. He would do all those things and more because Justin asked so little of him and put up with so much, the least he could do was to enjoy his own fuckin' birthday party. "No, I don't want you to call it off."

"Then what's wrong?"

He shrugged. "I was just sitting here, that's all."

Kissing him, Justin went on his way, taking care of last minute details for the party. Maybe all Brian needed was to be left alone for a while. No problem. He had enough to do to keep him busy all morning.

He'd lost interest in the view now that his thoughts had been interrupted. With hours to go before the party, he decided to go for a run to clear his mind. As the weather was nice, he changed into his sweats and put on a tank top. Dropped by the kitchen to let Justin know he was going and then jogged down the driveway.

As the sound of Brian's footsteps faded, Justin hoped he'd find whatever it was he was looking for. He'd been restless last night and this morning a dark cloud had descended upon him from which he'd been unable to escape. That he'd found Brian sitting alone and staring at nothing had not surprised him. Justin checked his list again to make certain he had everything and then went into the family room to take a breather. Coming from wherever he'd been napping, Leo hopped up next to him and meowed softly. "He's gone," Justin told the cat. "I miss him too." He stroked the kitten's fur. "He'll be back soon."

Soon turned out to be an hour later. Sweaty and exhausted, Brian pushed through the side door and sat down on the back stairs. Shook his hair.

Having listened for him for the past ten minutes, Justin appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. Brian's skin glowed and his muscles were hard. Moving closer, Justin ran his hand over his partner's arm. Smiled with a bedroom suggestion in his eyes and mouth, his tongue issuing an invitation from between his lips. Despite being tired, Brian accepted and fairly ran up the stairs with Justin behind him.

Justin woke and snuggled up to Brian's side, intending to spend no few minutes basking in his warmth, when he glimpsed the alarm clock. "Shit!"

"What?" Brian asked sleepily, having awakened when Justin had.

"We've got half an hour before they're supposed to be here," he explained as he jumped out of bed and headed for the shower.

Brian sighed and threw back the covers. Here we go…

Showers out of the way, the two hosts dressed in record time and raced downstairs to begin preparing for the party. Luckily, there were no decorations to hang or balloons to blow up but they did have to set up the plates and glasses and silverware on top of the table in the family room and put out the munchies and drinks that would tide people over until the real food was ready. As they'd done at the Fourth of July barbecue, the gang was bringing sides and they were providing the meat.

"How are Rennie and Xavier getting over here?" Brian asked.

Justin paused for a moment, shocked that he'd even care. "Mace is picking them up." They'd gotten Keisha to agree to come and to bring Cecil.


"Dr. Drew say if he was coming?"

"Not. He said he thinks it's best if we don't transgress the patient/friend boundary too often."

"Too bad. He's the only person who dances worse than you."

Brian stuck out his tongue.

"So mature. And we are how old?"

"Thirty-two." He grabbed Justin by the waist and held onto him as he mock struggled. "Want to make something of it?"

Justin kissed him hard. "After they leave."

Growling deep in his throat, Brian let him go. "They gotta be gone by six then. So we can play all evening," he added.

"Fine by me."

Fifteen minutes later, just as they'd emptied the last bag of chips into a bowl and set out the dip, the doorbell rang. Brian grabbed hold of the back of Justin's shirt as he started from the room and pulled him back for a gentle kiss. They were both smiling as they answered the door.

"Happy Birthday!" yelled Mikey and Em while Ted mumbled. The three pushed past their hosts and headed for the family room with their presents and the food they'd brought.

"I told you they've done it today," Ted told the other two, having seen the smiles on Brian and Justin's faces.

"It's twelve thirty, of course, they've done it today," replied Em. "Knowing them, they've done it twice already."

"Does after midnight count as today?" asked Justin. Em nodded. Justin held up four fingers.

"Four times?" Ted asked incredulously. "When do you sleep?"

"When we're done fucking," Brian answered quite reasonably.

Mikey gave him a kiss on the cheek. "Happy Birthday."

"Yeah, Happy thirty-fuckin-third birthday. Yippee," he groused, fooling no one. "Where's Jeff?"


Brian waited for the gripe.

"He's always working."

"Well, he wants to get ahead."

"Well, I'd like to get some head."

Brian laughed and Justin smiled. Maybe this was just what he'd needed.

By mid-afternoon, once all their guests had arrived and eaten and were hanging out dancing, talking, laughing, and playing, Justin knew he'd been right to have a party. Everyone commented on how much Brian seemed to be enjoying himself. It was as if he'd shaken off Kenneth's visit and everything associated with the man. He danced with Keisha, played tag with Gus and Molly, told stories about when he and Mikey were kids, flirted with Rennie, dodged Deb's hand, and stole kisses from his husband whenever they found themselves in reach of one another.

Someone had put in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers and Molly and the college students sat on the couch in awe all over again as they'd all seen it numerous times. Gus wasn't really interested in it so he and Brian went upstairs and watched Toy Story which was still one of his favorite movies. He loved Buzz Lightyear and even had a Buzz toy that shouted, "To infinity and beyond!" at the press of a button. Of course, he yelled, "To infinity and beyond!" as well, infinitely annoying his parents after the first or second time.

Although Gus never tired of watching the film, Brian found his mind wandering. It was only when Buzz discovered that he was only a toy and not a hero, that he began to pay attention again.

All the things I thought I'd be
All the brave things I'd done
Vanished like a snowflake
With the rising of the sun
Never more to sail my ship
Where no man has gone before
And I will go sailing no more

Watching the toy tap into his last reserve of hope, believing he could fly, only to plummet to earth.

Clearly I will go sailing, no more

He felt a tear prickling at the corner of his eye, blinked rapidly and wished it away. Even Gus was sad, crawling back to the head of the bed to curl up next to his daddy.

Kenneth's words came back to him: "You wanted me. Every time I used to see you on business, I could tell, you wanted me, you just didn't have the balls to admit it, to go after what you wanted." He'd wanted to believe that he hadn't wanted Kenneth but he had. He hadn't fought him, he'd responded to Kenneth just the way Kenneth had wanted him to. He'd remembered, at least, under hypnosis. And hadn't told Justin. Didn't know how.

You loved Kenneth, he told himself but before he could descend into despair, Gus started giggling.

Buzz was getting drunk on tea and wearing a doll's hat on top of his space helmet. Gus always laughed himself silly at this part. He pointed. "Look at his hat," he said and Brian did and laughed too. Woody and Buzz would find a way out of Sid's house and everyone would be where they belonged, be who they were supposed to be. The heroes always triumphed. That was the Disney promise. Brian wished life in general had a promise like that. He could use a happy ending.

It was way after six before the last of the guests left; as expected, the Munchers and Gus were the last to go. The women had a hard time convincing him that they meant business when they said he couldn't stay the weekend with Brian and Justin. Finally, he accepted their decision but he wasn't graceful about it. Finding Beh, he stormed ahead of them from the house and got into his car seat without saying a word to either of his mommies.

"Your son," Melanie told Brian as if there was any doubt whose temper the tot had inherited along with his red lips and hazel eyes.

The two men waved to the toddler as Lindsay pulled out of the yard. At the last moment, Gus looked back through the rear window and waved. They waited until the car was gone before closing the door and going inside.

Brian sat on the stairs and began unbuttoning his shirt. "Glad that's over."

"You had a good time," Justin told him, taking a seat next to him and taking over the unbuttoning.

"I had a great time," Brian said and kissed him along his jaw.

"Clean-up tomorrow?" asked Justin, nuzzling his neck.

"Uh-huh." As good as what Justin was doing felt, Brian pulled away slightly.


"We need to talk."

"Finally?" Justin stood and held out his hand and Brian was reminded of the night Gus had been born. He'd stood on that ledge and reached down to Mikey. He took Justin's hand and followed him to their suite. Settled down on their bed. "So?"

"Dr. Drew put me under the last time I saw him."

"You remembered something about that night?" In the past, the therapist's efforts to uncover the details of that night had failed.

"I remembered what really happened," he said softly.


"He did drug me. But I didn't fight him. He didn't lie about that part." His face burned.

"That doesn’t matter. He raped you, no matter the details. And I can't ever forget that. Or forgive it."

"What about me?"

"Maybe you can forgive him—"

"Can you forgive me?"

"For what?" When Brian made as if to leave the bed, Justin caught his arm. "There's nothing to forgive." He began to stroke Brian's arm, hand moving in a lazy circle. Smiled to match. Reached for one half of Brian's shirt and drew it over his shoulders. "Now, wasn't there something important we were supposed to be doing?"

Brian laughed and took Justin down as he fell back onto the comforter.

He couldn't believe it was his fuckin' birthday and he was stuck at the office. Even more miraculously, he couldn't believe he actually cared. In the past, his birthday had been just another day to avoid. Who needed a once yearly reminder that you were getting older? Well, he turned thirty-three today and he couldn’t have been happier. He'd awakened to breakfast in bed, served by his very naked and very aroused spouse who'd proceeded to feed him a high protein meal. Smirking as he remembered going down on Justin, he heard the door open and assumed it was Cynthia coming to tell him something she deemed important but that would probably turn out not to be. "Yeah?" he said as he looked up. It wasn't Cynthia. "Get out." It was Kenneth. He stood, saying, "Get the fuck out of my—" His words died in his throat. Kenneth had drawn a gun from his jacket. He wasn't an expert on guns, couldn't tell one from the other, but he knew enough to guess that this one would do major damage to him if fired in his direction. "Kenneth… Kenneth, please… Please, Kenneth…"

Eyes cloudy, Harris said, "I would never hurt you," and he turned the gun on himself.

"No! Kenneth, no!" The gun went off and Brian shut his eyes. But it was too late. He'd seen. "No!" he yelled helplessly, eyes burning from being squeezed shut so tightly. "No!" The words wouldn't stop.

Cynthia came running, stopped abruptly when she saw the body on the floor, blood splattered on the rug. Staggering back, she threw up.

Falling against his desk, Brian wished the world away.

Justin went running down the hallway as soon as he got off the elevator. Ran towards the knot of people outside Brian's office. "Where is he?" Someone pointed down towards the other executive suites. Ryder's office was down that way. He rushed to it and found Marty sitting with Brian. "Brian?" Justin went to him, grabbed his hand, touched his face; he was so cold. "Are you all right?"

Brian turned and his eyes were dark as night. "Today's my birthday," he said softly.

Justin looked over at Ryder.

"They've taken his statement. He'll have to go down to the station tomorrow to sign it but you can take him home now." Marty trembled and shaded his brow momentarily. "My God, Justin… My God." He swallowed, pushed down his horror. "Get him out of here."

"Brian, come on. We're going home."

Offering no resistance, he stood and followed Justin down the hallway to the elevator. For a second, Justin thought he'd want to go into his office but he didn't show any interest in the hubbub. It was almost as if he didn't see it at all. After a while, Justin wondered if he was seeing anything. He moved like a blind man, relying on Justin's guidance, letting Justin take him to the Cherokee and open the door, buckle his seatbelt once he'd gotten in himself, all without saying a word, without any change in expression.


He swiveled his head but still didn't focus on Justin. Whatever he saw, it was not in the car, not in the parking garage. Justin suspected it was back in his office. Bloody carpet and a cold body—

"Christ—" he whispered, choking back the rest. Brian didn't need him to fall apart too. He had to be strong for him. Starting the engine, he headed home.

Just as he'd done at the office, Brian mutely followed Justin into the house and sat where he was directed.

"Brian?" Beginning to panic, Justin cupped his face, stared into his eyes. "Brian, please…" But there was no response. "Brian, please, say something."

His eyes widened and, for a second, he was like a wild animal, terrified, then he closed his eyes and shivered.

"Brian, do you know what happened?"

He opened his eyes once more and when he did, they were blank, empty. "I'm tired."

Justin sniffled and nodded. "Okay, lie down." Once Brian had lain down, he pulled a throw down upon him. Almost immediately, Brian shut his eyes. Watching him, Justin went out into the reception area and took out his cell. Dialed. Waited. When his party answered, he said, "Dr. Drew, you have to come. Right now."

After securing Drew's promise that he would be there as soon as he could, Justin returned to the family room to wait. Brian still lay with his eyes closed as if he were asleep but Justin knew he couldn't be. Brian never fell asleep that quickly without the aid of drugs. Justin sat in the chenille armchair and watched over him. No matter what, they would weather this storm as well.

It seemed to take forever for Drew to arrive even though, in reality, he was at the house within a half hour. Justin met him at the door with tears in his eyes. "I don't know… what…"

"It's all right."

"Did you hear yet?"

"It was on the radio, that there was a shooting. No details yet."

Justin gestured past the fountain. "He's in there."

"Has he said anything?"

"Not about…" Justin grimaced. "He just… He seems so lost."

Drew nodded.

He'd heard voices, they'd penetrated the thick fog swirling around him. But just barely. Very little got through. Sometimes impressions of faces, light, sounds. Everything filtered through a red haze. A mist. A spray. No! He jerked, tried to shut his eyes even tighter but couldn't. Never could he shut his eyes fast enough to keep from seeing. Sitting up, he covered his face.


"I saw…"

Drew sat next to him. "What did you see?" Justin perched on the edge of the chenille chair.

"I saw…" He took a deep breath and tried to clear his head, clear his vision.


No, he couldn't look, not dead on, even though it flickered at the edge of his sight, he could not look at it directly. Not again. "Nothing," he said in a leaden voice.


"Leave me alone." He rose but, once he was up, he realized he didn't know where he was going. Or, rather, he knew and he didn't want to go. All paths led back to his office, back to the horror that waited there.

He was getting through to him. That Brian responded directly to his questions, even to evade them, meant that he wasn't as far gone as Justin believed. Drew stood as well and faced him. "Where are you going?"

"No." Not back there, not… "There was so much blood."

"Whose blood?"

Brian shuddered and wrapped his arms around him to keep warm. "He… He had a gun. And…"

"And what, Brian?"

"And I don't want to see anymore," he replied and a tear rolled down his cheek. Followed by another. "I don't want to see anymore." So he closed his eyes and wept in Drew's arms.

They had gone upstairs, Drew and Brian, the therapist supporting his patient as if he were just out of a coma and hadn't regained the full use of his legs yet. He could have gone with them but, truthfully, he hadn't wanted to. He needed a moment alone, a moment to sort out all the conflicting emotions that were tangled up inside him to see if there was anything he could craft from them, some strength, some purpose that would allow him to be what Brian needed. But he was so afraid that Brian's needs had surpassed his supply.

Just then the doorbell rang, a welcomed interruption even though he knew it'd be Mikey and the gang with questions, questions he didn't have the answers to. Flush with inadequacy, he answered the door. Deb rushed in, the others behind her. "Fuckin' reporters everywhere." There hadn't been when Drew had arrived. "Sunshine, are you okay?"

"Yeah." His voice sounded miles away. Jenn touched his arm.

Joanie looked around. "Where's Brian?"

"Upstairs. With Dr. Drew."

"Oh, God—"


"He all right?" asked Mikey.

Justin blinked back tears. "No. He's not." He stopped Michael before he could climb the stairs. "There's nothing you can do." Released his arm. "There's nothing any of us can do."

Mel, who was there with Lindsay, asked, "What happened?" He'd called them to let them know the bare bones of the situation before they saw it on the six o'clock news.

Nothing much had changed. The story was painfully simple. "Kenneth went to Brian's office and shot himself in the head." He turned to Michael. "Jeff covering the story?"

"No. He told them he wouldn't. He's not a complete asshole, Justin."

"I know he's not." Suddenly he had the urge to sit and he did, right on the steps of the stairwell.

Alarmed, Jennifer sat next to him. "Honey?"

He covered his face. "Mom…"

"I know. He'll be okay."

"We were supposed to celebrate his birthday tonight." And, although he'd promised himself that he wouldn't, he began to cry.

When Drew came down a while later, they'd all adjourned to the family room and Ted and Emmett were busy serving drinks to those who wanted them. Justin was seated by the fireplace, staring into the empty hearth. He turned when he heard Drew's footsteps, rose and went to him. "How is he?"

"Asleep. I gave him something. Should keep him out for, at least, eight hours. Maybe longer." He eyed all of the people in the room. "I won't lie to you, it's going to be rough. He's…" Drew paused, unable to explain the enormity of the problem.

Em filled the void with a drink. "You need it, Doc."

"Thanks." He sipped it then continued his briefing. "Coming so soon on the heels of finding out that Kenneth had raped him… he didn't have any defenses against this."

"How do you defend against watching someone blow their brains out?" asked Vic incredulously.

"I didn't mean that, I meant… there's so much more involved." He finished his drink.

"Another?" asked Em.

"Gotta drive home," he smiled. Then the smile faded. "It's going to take a lot of hard work on all of our parts." At the pained expression on Justin's face, he said, "But he will survive it. He's a strong man and he has a lot to live for. Everything to live for." Handing Em his glass, he said to Justin, "I'll be back tomorrow. Call me if you need me."

Justin walked him to the door. "Thanks, Dr. Drew."

"He loves you," Drew told him, "and, more than anything, he wants to come back to you. Give him time."

"Watch out for the reporters." With Drew gone, Justin returned to the family room and his family and friends, but what he wanted most was for everyone to leave so that he could sit upstairs next to Brian.

Lindsay, who had been relatively quiet up until that point, took hold of his arm and bussed his cheek. "Go on up, we'll be down here if you need us."

"Where's Gus?" He'd suddenly missed the little boy.

"Mel's aunt is babysitting."

Nodding, he left them and walked slowly upstairs for, as much as he wanted to be with Brian, he dreaded it as well. Dreaded that he would find Brian so changed as not to recognize him or, worse, changed just enough as to constantly remind him of the way he had been.

He was so pale, his salon tan leached away by the events of the day. He seemed smaller, almost childlike somehow, even though as a child he'd been tall. Yet it wasn't his size that made him seem so young, it was the nakedness of his face, how it showed pain even as he slept. Drew was right: he had no defenses against this.

Drawing an armchair up to the bed, Justin took his hand in his and held it while he slept.

Downstairs, their family and friends waited. They'd turned on the television to see if there was anything about the shooting on the news. They'd missed the first local news hour and so they watched the national news. It wasn't the top news story but it came early in the newscast.

A reporter stood in front of Hyperion's headquarters. "Kenneth Harris was the founder and CEO of Hyperion Biotechnics, a Fortune 500 biotechnology firm located in Birmingham, Alabama. Just this year, Hyperion released the drug Afibrinase which is quickly becoming the standard in the treatment of ischemic strokes. By all accounts, Harris was a man with everything to live for." A picture of Kenneth flashed on screen. "But this morning, Kenneth Harris boarded his private jet in Birmingham and flew to Pittsburgh where he committed suicide in the offices of Searle and Associates, the public relations firm whose services Hyperion had retained for their advertising campaigns." A shot of the building where the firm had its offices. "He walked into the office of one Brian Kinney, a partner in the firm, and shot himself point blank in the head with a small caliber handgun. What drove Harris, a successful businessman, to kill himself? And why in Pittsburgh? Although no official statement has been released by either the Pittsburgh Police Department or Searle and Associates, some employees at Hyperion Biotechnics have a theory."

A man whose body and face were in the shadows, spoke. His voice had been computer modified to avoid recognition. "Kenneth Harris was in love with Brian Kinney. Last year, Kinney came to a party the company held at Harris' home and we could all tell that Kenneth was crazy about him. We all knew he was gay, it wasn't a big deal."

Another person, a woman this time. "Mr. Kinney was very handsome, very charming…" a picture of Brian, "everyone liked him. He was smart and very good at his job. He was just the kind of person Mr. Harris would have fallen for."

"Unfortunately," the reporter continued, "Brian Kinney was not available." There was a shot of the tree-lined fence outside the house. "According to sources, he lives here, in Pittsburgh, with his partner, an undergraduate student at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Arts. Mr. Kinney and his partner, Justin Taylor-Kinney, were the focus of intense media attention two years ago due to the trial of Christian Hobbs who had bashed Mr. Taylor-Kinney at his senior prom. Brian Kinney was a witness to the crime, having attended the senior prom with the then 18-year-old Justin Taylor." The reporter stood once more outside of the firm's office building. "Like some tragic hero in a modern day tale from Shakespeare, unrequited love may have driven this captain of industry to kill himself."

Debbie shut off the television.

No one said anything for a while, then Em stood. "I think I'll see what's in the kitchen. Justin might get hungry later on." He said nothing about Brian. Wordlessly, Ted joined him.

The phone rang and Lindsay went out quickly into the reception hall to answer it, speaking low into the receiver. She returned in a few moments. "Marty Ryder."

Having slept through the earlier commotion, Leo came padding out of the conservatory to see what was happening. Finding a room full of people that he knew, he made the rounds, rubbing his face and tail and body against their legs. If he thought it was strange that no one was particularly glad to see him, he didn't seem to care much.

Finding the remote, Deb cut the television on again and no one said anything until Em and Teddy came back out of the kitchen.

"I fixed a salad. He probably won't eat much more than that."

Jennifer thanked him. "I'm sure he'll appreciate it." Paused. "I think it might be best if we left them alone."

"Not on your life," exclaimed Deb. "They need us."

"Justin will call if he does. Right now, I think what they need most is peace and quiet."

Joanie agreed. "There's nothing Brian hates more than pity."

"It's not pity," argued Lindsay. "It's love. We all love them."

"We can love them tomorrow," she said, holding her ground.

Vic took their side. "They're right. Come on, Sis."

"Michael?" Deb asked.

"Someone should stay. Just in case some reporters try to disturb them."

Both Joanie and Jenn thought that was a good idea. The rest agreed and left Michael to hold down the fort. With everyone else gone, he ventured upstairs to check on Brian and Justin. From the doorway he saw Justin still holding Brian's hand. Waiting until Justin had looked around, he said, "I'll be downstairs."

"Where's everyone else?"

"Gone home. I thought I'd play bouncer, in case some nosy reporter decides to chance the front door."

"Thanks, Michael."

"Em made salad, if you want any." Justin shook his head. "Well, it's there."

Left alone, Justin freed Brian's hand and touched his face instead. He was still cool to the touch but warmer than before. Justin leaned over and kissed his forehead, fussed with the covers, and sat back in his chair to resume his vigil.

Sometime in the evening he'd fallen asleep and Michael had come in and spread a throw over him. He awoke, unsure if Michael was still there. Brian slept on. Going to the intercom, he tried the family room. No one answered. Then he saw a note on the bedpost.


I've gone home. I don't think any reporters are gonna hang out past nine. Call me if you need me.


It was eleven o'clock. His stomach rumbled, reminding him of missed meals. There was a salad in the fridge Michael had said. Checking Brian once more, he decided to chance it. Just long enough to bring it up.

Although the salad looked delicious, Justin wanted something a little more substantial. With Leo watching, he made himself a turkey sandwich as well and carried both sandwich and salad back upstairs along with a bottle of ginger ale. He positioned his tray on the coffee table by the fireplace and sat down to eat.


"Shit!" He almost dropped his ginger ale. Then, scrambling to the bed, he beamed at his spouse. "Hey."

"I'm starving."

Justin bit his lip to contain his joy. "You can have half my salad and sandwich."

"What kind?"

No matter what, he remained Brian. "Turkey."

" 'kay." Sitting up in bed, he rearranged his pillows. He didn't feel steady enough to get up and join Justin at the table.



"I've got ginger ale but I could run downstairs and get something else."

"We can share."

So they did; they shared a quiet dinner on their bed, saying very little, just enjoying the food and the company and the peace and quiet. Leo curled up between them, ready to settle down again for the night.

After they'd finished, Justin took everything downstairs and returned as quickly as he could. Maybe Brian would feel like talking, he didn't know, he just wanted to be ready for anything.

He found Brian still sitting up in bed, stroking Leo as if it were the most important job in the world, to such a degree was his concentration. Or so it seemed. Immediately, his eyes focused on Justin as he came into the suite and followed him as he came closer to the bed. His eyes were troubled.


He waited and when it didn't seem as if Brian was going to say anything else, he prompted him. "What is it? You can tell me. You can tell me anything."

Brian shook his head. "Not this."


Kenneth raised the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.

Brian flinched.

Touching him, attempting to ground him, Justin assured him, "Bri, I'm here."

Vision filled with blood and bone, Brian said in a hollow voice, "So is he."

Positive that he hadn't heard what he thought he'd heard, Justin sat up in bed. He had heard what he thought he'd heard: Brian getting ready for work. He came out of the closet knotting his tie. "Where are you going?" Justin asked needlessly.


"Brian… it's too soon."

"For what?"

"For you to go back."

Finishing with his tie, he shrugged. "They may not have my office ready today but I can work from one of the conference rooms."

Not wanting to get into an argument and aware that pretending it was business as usual was one of Brian's defense mechanisms, Justin tried to tread lightly. "You have to go downtown to sign your statement."

"Do it at lunch."

"It's probably crazy over there. Reporters, cameras. Probably crazy outside our house too. Was last night."

"We've handled reporters before."

Finally, he voiced his real concern. "Brian, I don't think you're ready to go back. I think you want to, I think you believe you need to, have to, but I don't think it's a good idea."

"Fine. That's your opinion and you've got a right to it."

"Do it for me." His ultimate weapon, one that he used sparingly out of respect for Brian's patience.

Brian sat at the foot of the bed, not looking at him. Through sheer willpower, Justin refrained from saying anything else over the next few moments while Brian thought through his options.

"All right. Just one day. For you."

Crawling across the comforter, Justin hugged and kissed him. "Thank you."

"You getting up?"


"I'm hungry."

"Oh, so I'm your cook now, huh?"

"I've gotta change clothes now that I'm staying home," Brian replied, his not-so-subtle reference to his having acquiesced to Justin's request.

With a second kiss, Justin climbed out of bed. "Anything in particular you want?"

"Surprise me," said Brian, heading back to the closet.

First things first, he had to take a leak and throw some water over his face. That done, Justin bounced downstairs with thoughts of breakfast dancing around his head. By the time he arrived in the kitchen, he'd settled on Belgian waffles. If Brian could wait that long. Smiling, he started the coffee. Brian would wait for his waffles.

Brian hung up his jacket and slacks and removed his dress shirt. Smelled the armpits. Still good. Hung it up as well. Rifled through his drawers for a pair of jeans. Snagged a sports shirt from its hanger. Maybe staying home wasn't such a bad idea. He could have a leisurely breakfast, maybe he and Justin could play—

He blinked and sat down on the bench in the closet. Swallowed. "No," he whispered, fighting back images of him and Kenneth. Images of the two of them entwined. Kenneth firing the gun at his head. Brian clamped his head between his hands. "No. No."

"Brian?" Justin found him like that. He put aside the cup of coffee he'd brought and sat down next to him. Softly stroked his thigh. "Bri? Bri, you okay?"

Unclamping his head, Brian looked down. He couldn't face Justin.

Justin brushed back Brian's hair. "It's all right."

Sniffling, Brian said quietly, "I hate this."

"It just takes time," Justin told him, thumbing a tear from his lover's cheek. He knew how impatient Brian could get with himself, believing he should be able to overcome anything in the blink of an eye.

"I hate this," he repeated. "And I hate…" But he couldn't say it. Couldn't say that he hated Kenneth because he didn't. He didn't hate him. God save him, he'd actually… loved him once upon a time.

"I know," said Justin. "I know," he assured him and he did. And it disturbed him that he did know how Brian felt, even more disturbing that he understood why. "It's okay."

Saying nothing, Brian laced his fingers with Justin's.

Around two in the afternoon, the police called to say Brian's statement was ready and would he come down to read over it and sign it? They'd spent a quiet day so far, relatives calling early in the morning, Justin telling them not to come over until the evening. Brian had spoken to Drew by phone as well; afterwards Justin had talked to him too, assuring the therapist that Brian was in no immediate need of counseling. Now that they were to venture forth, he wasn't so certain. He really hoped the reporters were gone as he didn't know how Brian would react to the intrusion.

As they exited the house, he thought he heard voices coming from the street. Looking towards the end of the driveway, he saw them: the news vans, reporters on foot with cameramen and photographers lying in wait for the perfect photo op, the perfect shot. Brian got into the Cherokee without looking in that direction even once. Gathering his reserves, Justin guessed. He knew that Brian was thinking about Kenneth: he had that pinched look on his face indicative of pain.

Reaching over, he squeezed Brian's hand then released him, turned his attention to getting them out of the driveway without hitting any of the mob assembled just outside the fence. As they paused at the end of the drive, reporters began yelling at them even though the windows were up.

"Brian, can you tell us why Kenneth Harris killed himself in your office?"

"Was it true that he was in love with you?"

"Did you and Kenneth Harris have an affair?"

"Did you love him?"

Brian endeavored to look straight ahead, not to glance to either side. It was impossible for Justin not to do so as he had to check the road in either direction before pulling out into the street.

"Justin, were you aware of any sexual relationship between Brian and Kenneth Harris?"

"Were the two men arguing over you?"

At that he almost responded but good sense prevailed—they were just clutching at straws—and he drove out into the street leaving the question unanswered.

They didn't talk on the way to the station, there being not much to say that wouldn't dredge up unpleasant memories. Brian was dealing with enough of those already.

As Justin parked the car in the parking garage, Brian said, "Too bad Willie wasn't there to drive us." Their cab driver from the trial. "He would have mowed down those reporters."

"Least a couple." They laughed then kissed sweetly before getting out of the car. Held hands as they walked to the elevator. "Maybe we could stop off and see Mace before we go back home." She'd come to Brian's birthday party on Saturday, she and Cecil, and had danced up a storm. Even Em had been impressed. She hadn't contacted them since Kenneth's suicide but she had to have heard.

"We'll see," Brian replied. He couldn't imagine that he'd want to spend any more time away from home after reviewing his statement. Couldn't imagine that he'd want to do anything but crawl away to lick his wounds.

They went inside the station, spoke to the desk sergeant, found their way to the office of Detective Warshawski who had a copy of Brian's statement at the crime scene all typed up.

Instructed by the detective to review his statement carefully before signing it, Brian read through it line by line, sometimes pausing when the memories came too strongly, sometimes putting the paper aside for a moment until the feeling of vertigo passed. He read all of it and found nothing in error. It was as he remembered, although things had been rather hazy yesterday. Unfortunately, it was pretty cut and dry: Kenneth had walked into his office, they had exchanged a few words, and then Kenneth had shot himself. He signed the statement.

"Everything look okay?" Det. Warshawski asked although it was a little too late now. He'd already affixed his signature.


The detective looked sheepish as if he didn't know how to deal with Brian. "I'm sorry about what happened. Tough break."

Amused by the sheer ineptitude demonstrated by the cop, Brian laughed. "I'm glad you're not a doctor. Your bedside manner sucks."

"Yeah, well," admitted the detective, "I never was too good at comforting people."

Brian sobered. "Don't worry. There's no point." He paused, avoiding Justin's eyes. "I don't think it's possible. Least not for me."

Saying nothing on the way to the car, Justin waited until they were buckled in. "You believe that? What you told that cop?"


"Please, don't give up. Please, Brian." He had visions of Brian about to swallow a handful of pills and it frightened him. If that happened, if Brian died, there'd be nothing for him. Nothing but darkness.

"I won't," Brian promised him. Added angrily, helplessly, "What a fuckin' mess." Grimaced. "I should have… I never should have let it go so far. I never should have—"

Those words echoed his own to Rev. Ophelia last year when he'd been angry at Brian for supposedly sleeping with Kenneth. And he remembered what she'd told him, that it was impossible to control people's feelings. "There was nothing you could have done. Kenneth was a grown man, you couldn't control how he felt. And you couldn't have known what he'd do."

Brian stared out of the window for a while. Then he said in a soft voice, "He came to my job, Justin. He came to me. On my fuckin' birthday. He wanted to hurt me. To punish me. And he did."

The reporters were still waiting for them when they returned to the house, still clamoring for their attention, demanding that they answer questions for which they had no real answers. It was easy to say that Kenneth was upset about the rape, about Brian's rejection of him, but did that really explain why a successful businessman with his entire life ahead of him would kill himself? Brian had said that Kenneth had wanted to hurt him, to punish him, but at the price of his life? Had Kenneth really believed that there were no other men, no other chances at finding love? Had he been that afraid that Brian would spill about the rape? What? Had he despaired that deeply because of his actions? Had he found them unforgivable? There hadn't been a note left either at the scene nor in Birmingham and, in Brian's office, the only thing Kenneth had said was, "I would never hurt you," and then he'd proceeded to hurt Brian immeasurably.

Now that they were home, he didn't feel like playing, didn't feel like doing anything but curling up on his chaise lounge and trying to forget that yesterday had happened. But he could not. He needed to find out about his office. Sitting in his study, he called Cynthia's desk, got a recording.

"You've reached the desk of Cynthia Banks, at Searle and Associates. I will be out of the office until May 3rd. If you're trying to reach Brian Kinney, he will be out of the office until further notice."

Until further notice. Cynthia was taking the rest of the week off and there was a message saying he'd be out of the office until further notice. He remembered Cynthia rushing into his office and seeing Kenneth and throwing up. She hadn't deserved to see what she had. He wished she'd been out that day. Hanging up, he wondered if she'd gone to her mother's. He had that number somewhere, in case of emergencies. Not wanting to disturb her if she were, he tried Marty's office first.

"Marty Ryder's office, Susan speaking."

She sounded short, probably expecting to have to deal with a reporter. "Susan, it's Brian."

Sharp intake of breath. "Brian, how are you?"

"I'm good. Marty in?"

"I'll put you through."

Marty came on the line. "Brian."

"Marty, I just called my office and got Cynthia's message. Do you know if she went to her mother's?"

"I believe she did. Brian… I'm sorry about what happened."

"Not your fault." Then: "Reporters been around?"

"Non-stop. You can hardly get in the building."


"It's not your fault. Is there anything you need?"

"Time machine," he joked. Only how far back would he go? Back to after the trial, when he'd first met Kenneth? Putting that thought aside, he asked, "What about my office?"

"Cleaning crew's been in there." Paused. "We'll have to replace the carpet. Any preference?"

"No." He almost laughed. Here they were discussing new carpet choices as if a man hadn't blown his brains all over the old carpet.

"That message on Cynthia's machine, I want you to take heed of it. Stay out as long as you need."

"I need to get back to work, Marty. I need to feel like my life didn't stop on Monday."

"Don't rush it, Brian, that's all I'm saying. You take care."

"Thanks, Marty." He hung up and thumbed the corner of his eye. Hoped the tears would stop there. But they didn't. He let them come, silent tears that trickled down his face. Despite what he'd said to Marty, he did feel as if his life had stopped on Monday. But it hadn't. And right now he needed to go downstairs and start dinner. It was his night to cook and he intended to do it.

Finding Justin in the kitchen about to start preparations, he shooed him away. The young artist didn't argue, just took himself into his studio to work. Despite not knowing when he was going to return to school, he had projects to complete. Rennie and Xavier had called yesterday and today with assignments and to find out how he and Brian were doing. They'd agreed to give the two spouses time to heal alone, promising to visit the weekend. Justin had almost told them to come over, he needed the distraction, needed to laugh. Daphne had called this morning as well, on the verge of driving up from Princeton but he'd convinced her not to. They were okay, he'd told her, even though that was a lie. They would be okay. He hoped. Right now, they were in survival mode, just trying to make it through each day as it came.

With Justin out of the way, Brian tried to concentrate on dinner. Problem was, he had no idea what to make. Taking Justin's advice, he checked to see what they had on hand. Everything. Or almost everything. They'd gone shopping Sunday afternoon to restock after the party. He wasn't in the mood to fix anything elaborate. Well, they had ground chicken, he could make chili. Checked the pantry for chili mix, found it, and went about gathering the rest of the ingredients.

Sitting in one of the armchairs in the conservatory, Justin tried to read a chapter in his textbook and found that he could not concentrate. Finally, he gave up the pretence and put the book away. Checked the plants to see if they needed watering. Sat listening to the sound of the water flowing in the simple fountain Joanie had designed for the conservatory. It was so soothing. Relaxing. He could—

The doorbell shattered the peace and quiet. Sighing, he resigned himself to enduring a visit from one of their friends or maybe even Joanie or Jenn. They'd come to the front door so Brian probably hadn't heard them. Opening the door, he found Lindsay and Gus standing on the other side. "Hey."

"Someone wanted to see you," she said and Gus came in and held up his arms.

Justin lifted him into an embrace and a kiss. "Hey, Gus."

"Hey, Daddy."

"Did you just come from school?"


"Was it fun?"


"What'd you do?"

"We painted."

"What did you paint?"

"Leo." His favorite subject. "Where's Leo, Daddy?"

"Upstairs asleep probably. You want to go see him?"


Lindsay stopped him. "You want to go see Daddy first?"

Gus thought about it. " 'kay. Where's Daddy?"

"He's in the kitchen," Justin told him. "I bet he'll be glad to see you."

Gus ran off to the kitchen to see Brian.

"So how is he?"

"Honestly?" She nodded. "I don't know. I don't know, Lindz. This…" He sat down in one of the chairs in the hall.

"How are you?"

"Hanging in there." He shook his head. "It's hard. Not to hate Kenneth for what he did. But then I think about what he did, that he killed himself, and I can't hate him, Lindsay. I don't know what I'd do if I lost Brian. Maybe I'd be desperate enough to do something like—"

"Don't say it." She twisted her hat.

"I've thought it," he admitted. "That if he died, I would do it. I wouldn't have anything to live for, Lindsay. Not without him."

Brian had turned just in time to see Gus rushing towards him and he'd put down what he was doing to prepare himself for an all-out assault.


"Hey!" Brian swung him up in the air and Gus shrieked.

"Do it again!"

Again Brian swung him up and then held him close. Kissed him. "I love you, you know that?"


"Love me?"


"You want to help me cook?"

"I want to see Leo."

"Oh," Brian feigned disappointment. "That's okay. You go see Leo and leave me here all alone."

Gus looked at his daddy, then tugged on his hand. "Go with me, Daddy."

"I have to cook."

The little boy looked conflicted. Then ran to the bottom of the stairwell and shouted, "Leo! Leo, come here!"

Brian laughed. Leave it to Gus to find the solution.

There having been no way Leo couldn't have heard Gus shouting, the cat came down the stairs. But he took them at a stately pace. Already he had begun to acquire the grace of an older cat now that he was a year old. Still some of the kitten remained as he jumped up in Gus' arms from the steps. The toddler giggled and carried Leo into the kitchen. There the two of them played on the floor while Brian cooked.

In the end, Lindsay and Gus had decided to stay for dinner, calling Mel on her cell so that she could join them. Joanie had showed up as well so they'd made it a family dinner, Mikey and the guys saying they'd come over later after a few drinks at Woody's. Justin had hoped that they'd have a few too many and just go home instead of dropping by; he'd been tired and had wanted to turn in early, but the guys had come and sat around talking about nothing for an hour and a half. Which had turned out to be exactly what Brian had needed. He'd laughed, really laughed for the first time in two days.

Now, as they retired to bed, he reached for Justin and kissed him softly. Then, just as gently, put him away from him. He wasn't ready for anything more. Justin understood.

"You going in to work tomorrow?"

"I don't know. Marty says I should take my time but for what? What, exactly, am I waiting for? I'm gonna go stir crazy around here if I stay home doing nothing."

"Then do something." Justin tossed his clothes in the hamper. Although making love wasn't on tonight's agenda, he still liked the feel of Brian's bare skin against his own. They rarely wore anything to bed unless Gus was visiting. Even then, a robe kept at the foot of the bed was infinitely preferable to briefs and pajamas.

"Like what?"

"You can start preparing the herb beds for planting. Turn the soil by the garage." They'd planned on cultivating a few vegetables this year in addition to the herbs. Tomatoes, peppers, maybe some carrots. Seeing the less than enthusiastic look Brian gave him, he offered another suggestion. "You could finish decorating your study." So far it contained a desk and chair for Brian and his chaise lounge. That was it. No place for a guest to sit unless on the Le Corbusier. No bookshelves, no side tables, just three pieces of furniture in a rather empty space. There wasn't even a rug beneath the desk, just the tiled floor. Brian kept saying that he preferred the stark look in contrast to the rest of the house and he said it now.

"I like it the way it is."

"Then you can look for stuff to go in the library." It too was conspicuously void of furniture. Books occupied about a fifth of the shelves but there was no seating, no tables, no lamps.

"I thought that's what we had Joanie for."

"She's busy with classes," Justin explained. He thought it was so cool that his mother-in-law was a freshman in college. She'd survived her first semester and come through with a 3.25 average, which was fantastic considering she'd graduate from high school over thirty-five years ago and had never attended any classes at the college or university level. Brian was proud of her too. He'd given her an amazing leather portfolio for Christmas, saying she needed something impressive when she shopped around her work.

But none of Justin's ideas appealed to Brian. He wanted to go back to work. "I'm going in," he announced, the decision made.

"You seeing Drew?" Brian had agreed to see the therapist every other day for a while, until Drew was confident Brian was back on his feet.

"Got an appointment in the afternoon." He slipped into bed, the sheets cool the way he liked them. Shared another kiss with Justin, "Night, Baby," before turning over to sleep. He felt Leo jump onto the bed and take up his accustomed place at the foot of the bed. The cat had long since given up the slender edge next to Brian for far roomier accommodations near the foot board. Still, he'd probably end up between them before the morning came.

Sliding up against Brian's back and wrapping an arm around him, Justin laid his head between his shoulder blades. Gave him a little kiss. Worried about Brian's plan to return to work, he was willing to support him if that's what Brian wanted. He just hoped everything went smoothly.

Now that he was here, he wasn't sure he'd done the right thing. Standing before the closed doors of his office suite, he felt some trepidation. It wasn't right that Cynthia wasn't there, guarding his inner sanctum. He felt her absence keenly and wished he'd called her last night the way he'd intended. But she needed time away from here, time away from what had occurred, and hearing his voice would have only dredged up memories she'd probably rather not recall. He was certain he did not wish to relive them. Even now he fought to clear his mind of specifics.

Before coming to his office, he'd stopped by Marty's, gotten Susan's assurance that they'd pulled up the old carpet and were awaiting the new. In the meanwhile, they'd put down area rugs.

Slowly, he turned the knob and walked into Cynthia's space. Flipped the switches that controlled the ceiling lights in both parts of the suite. The door to his office hadn't been closed, merely pulled to. A crack of light shone through.

Crossing the office to the door was harder than he imagined it would be. He paused, once there, with his hand flat against the wood panel. Pushed.

Kenneth stood with his back to him. He saw himself seated at his desk. Saw his other self look up. Say, "Get out. Get the fuck out of my—"

Kenneth drew the gun from his coat.

"Kenneth… Kenneth, please… Please, Kenneth…" he said, begging for his life. But Kenneth had no intention of killing him.

"I would never hurt you," the man replied and then placed the barrel against his temple.

He heard himself say too late, "No! Kenneth, no!" before the gun went off. Blood seemed to be everywhere. Kenneth's body crumpled. The other Brian yelled, "No! No!" and fell against his desk.

Brian stumbled back outside of his suite, screaming, "No!" as he backed out into the corridor. Fell against a wall. Shrieking. He could hear himself shrieking but he couldn't stop. Couldn’t stop the sound from leaving his lips. And the blood flowed outwards from his office, staining all it touched.

Marty found him in the conference room, seated on a sofa, shivering. "Brian?" Haunted eyes turned towards him. "Why did you come back so soon?"

"I didn't want to work in the herb garden." Tears spilled over onto his cheeks as he began to laugh.

When Brian had recovered, Ryder asked, "Are you're staying home tomorrow?"

"Yeah," he promised with a chuckle. "I'm staying home."

"I think that's a good idea." Laughed himself. "Not that Bob and Brad aren't in need of some serious supervision—"

"Thought that was Darren's job."

Ryder laughed again. "What did I ever see in that schmuck?"

"Younger version of yourself?"

Patting him on his knee, Marty rose. "You'll be all right. Same arrogant asshole as always." Paused at the door. "Take a week, take two. That's an order. Senior partner to junior partner."

Taking a deep breath, Brian didn't think he'd have any problem with following orders this time. He was beat.

The phone ringing woke him up. He reached for it without even opening his eyes. Didn't believe he was actually lucid. "Hello?"

"His funeral is today. You killed him, the least you can do is come and watch them bury your victim." Click.

Justin stretched. "Who was it?" he yawned.

Brian put the phone back and sat on the edge of the bed. "They're burying Kenneth today. That was my engraved invitation."

Concerned, Justin said, "Brian, you can't go." The press would be there, it would be a feeding frenzy. Brian was fragile enough as is.

"No. I can't," he conceded. It'd be like going to the courthouse for Chris Hobbs' trial, only a thousand times worse. The press still hounded them, gathering around the entrance to the driveway. A few had followed him to work yesterday, he hadn't even looked last night to see if his trip to the office had made it on the news. No way the press wouldn't be at the funeral today and if he showed up… And why would he show up? Kenneth had irrevocably ended their relationship the moment he'd given Brian that drugged drink. He'd thought. So why was he even considering going to his funeral?

Sliding off the bed, Justin declared that he had to get ready for class. When Brian didn't move, he began to worry. Went around and sat next to him. "What can I do?"

"Can't do anything," Brian replied.

He knew what Brian was thinking. "If you go… Brian, you know what it'll be like. The press will be all over you. Is that what you want? And what about Kenneth's friends and family? I'm sure a few of them blame you for what happened."

He knew they did. The phone call had confirmed that. "I know that I can't go." He rose and headed for the bathroom.

Justin sighed and followed.

In the shower, he washed Brian's back and tried not to think of happier days when all it took was a hand slipping down over someone's ass or crotch to get them started. But he couldn't help it. He pressed close to his husband and slid his arms around his torso, washing his chest with easy motions. He knew Brian could feel his cock plumping against his thigh. Hoped Brian wouldn't push him away.


"I just want to touch you. That's all."

But Brian turned and trapped Justin between himself and the wall. "That's not all I want," he said breathlessly and he kissed him hard. "How long until your class?" he asked between breaths.

"Fuck it," Justin replied and pulled him out of the shower and into their bedroom.

Tumbling onto the bed, they attempted to grab hold of flesh slippery with soap and water. Justin wrapped his hand around Brian's cock and stroked it while they kissed, feeling it swell in his hand. His own pulsed as they rubbed against one another and he could feel his asshole tensing, wanting Brian inside it. He continued to pull on Brian's dick, getting it harder and harder. Finally, he rolled Brian over onto his back and kissed his way down his chest, still jacking his cock. When he reached his groin, he went down on him, Brian's soft murmuring in his ears as he lovingly sucked him.

Justin had only intended to blow him until he was hard enough to ride but the taste and feel of Brian's dick kept him bobbing long after Brian was stiff: the taste of precum and the feel of his cockhead sliding over his tongue. With regret, he released him and waited while Brian lubed his erection. Then he squatted over Brian and slowly impaled himself on his dick. All regrets dissolved away as he was filled with cock. All thoughts vanished as Brian slid in and out of him.

Even though he knew better, Brian turned on the national news to see if there was any mention of Kenneth's funeral. Justin hadn't gotten home yet, he was working the evening shift at the diner and wouldn't be back until eleven which meant Brian and Leo were on their own. If he'd have asked, Justin would have switched shifts but he hadn't asked. It was time for him to start coping on his own. Which sounded great in his head but as he sat waiting for word of Kenneth's funeral on the news, he didn't feel quite so confident.

So far they hadn't said anything about Kenneth. Brian figured he'd grab a beer from the fridge when the news anchor said, "Earlier this week we reported on the suicide of Kenneth Harris, a prominent businessman in the biotech field. Today, Harris was buried in his home of Birmingham, Alabama. With the story, here's Jeff Crawford."

Brian watched in disbelief as Michael's boyfriend reported on Kenneth's funeral.

Jeff stood in front of Kenneth's home. "On Monday, residents of Birmingham, Alabama's exclusive Highgate neighborhood were shocked by the news that prominent local businessman, Kenneth Harris, had killed himself. By today, that shock had turned into sadness and anger. Sadness that such a vibrant and brilliant man had killed himself; anger that it was apparently due to a case of unrequited love."

A shot of people arriving for the afternoon service at the cemetery. "More than a hundred mourners turned out for the brief service at the St. Joseph's Episcopal Cemetery. A service which commemorated the life of both a biotech innovator and savvy businessman."

He switched off the television and sat stunned by what he'd seen. Michael had told Justin that Jeff had turned down the story of Kenneth's suicide. Obviously, that hadn't extended to his funeral. Anger rolled over him in waves and he longed to let himself be carried away by it but he couldn't. Mikey was his best friend. He had to try and understand for his sake. So he called him on his cell. "Mikey."

"Hey. How you doing?"

"Be doing better if I hadn't just seen Jeff's story on the news."

There was silence at the other end. Then, "I know what I told Justin…"

"Was it just a lie then?"

"They asked him to do it."

"Do or die?"

"He felt like he had to take the assignment."

"I see."

"Brian, I know you're pissed—"

"You don't know how I feel. You have no fucking idea." Paused to calm down. "I don't want him in my house ever again, understand?"


"Ever, Michael."

And Michael knew, the same as when Debbie used his full name, whenever Brian called him 'Michael' he knew his best friend was dead serious. "Okay." He waited a moment before asking, "You need anything?"

"No. I'll talk to you later."

Brian hung up before he could say goodbye.

Although Mel and Lindsay offered to have Gus forgo his weekend with his daddies, Brian insisted that he come over. "I'm not a goddamn psycho case. I can deal with a three-year-old."

"He's almost four and he's a lot to handle," Lindsay explained. "Even when you're in peak condition and you're not right now."

"I'm fine."

"No, you're not," she argued.

He'd come to get Gus by himself since Justin was still at work. He hadn't gone in, hadn't been able to face his office, not yet. Didn't want to deal with the sideways glances, the well-meaning comments from his co-workers. Or worse, having to explain to the other partners why, once again, the company was facing a public relations nightmare thanks to him. "I will be," he countered.

"How can you do that if you're chasing after Gus?"

"It's just for the weekend. Lindz…" He took a deep breath. "It's bad enough I can't go back to work yet; I can't let him take my son too."

"Gus isn't going anywhere." She held his hand, stroked the tops of his fingers. "I just want you to take care of yourself."

"I'm trying."

"You and Justin okay?"


"Talk to Michael?"

"Not since Kenneth's funeral."

Not since he'd seen Jeff's story, he meant. She knew.

"Michael's in a tough position."

"I didn't ask him to stop seeing Jeff. I just don't want to see Jeff."

"You're forcing Michael to choose between the two of you."

"I won't take the blame for him breaking up with Jeff. I'm sick and tired of being blamed for every fuckin' thing!"

Gus, who was playing in the livingroom with Beh, looked up alarmed.

"Bri?" It was more than just Michael and Jeff.

"Someone called me the morning of Kenneth's funeral. Said he was my 'victim.' "

"Bullshit." She could see the pain in his eyes. "Brian? It's not your fault."

"He came to see me, at home, the week before." He paused. "I wish I had been… kinder."

"He raped you."

"He loved me, Lindz." Brian looked into her eyes to gauge her reaction to his next statement. "And I felt something for him. Love. Something. And I shouldn't have. I shouldn't have felt anything for him."

She could hear the anger in his voice and it made her even more worried. Maybe spending some time with Gus was what he needed to take his mind off Kenneth and the guilt he was surely feeling.

Joanie had come over for dinner and she and Justin bustled around in the kitchen while Gus and Leo played out in the reception area and Brian sat alone in the family room not watching the movie that was playing on the television. He'd been home all week and was about to go stir crazy. And today's excursion to the Munchers' hadn't done it, not by a long shot. What he really wanted to do was to take a long drive, out on the Turnpike with a bunch of asshole drivers so he couldn't think about his problems, would be forced to concentrate on the road and nothing else.

Gus ran into the room and missed a floor lamp by an eighth of an inch.

"Gus, goddamnit, stop running!" Brian bellowed before he could even think, bringing Joanie and Justin out of the kitchen to see what was wrong.

The toddler stopped and his face crumpled.


He began to cry, loudly. Instantly, Justin was there to pick him up and carry him into the conservatory, one of Gus' favorite places.

Brian could feel Joanie's eyes on him.

"Do you want to end up like your father? Like Jack?"


"He didn't start out smacking you around. At first, he'd yell at you and belittle you and then when that didn't seem to work, he started hitting you."

"I would never hit Gus."

She sat next to him and waited as Justin often did, knowing he'd talk when he was ready.

He studied his hands in his lap, hands that could hurt the way his father had used his hands to hurt him. Hands like Kenneth's hands, one wrapped around a gun. "It was horrible," he whispered.

Joanie reached for him.

"And I loved him, Mom." He glanced at her, afraid to see her reaction. "So how do you think God feels about that?"

"I don't know about God but I know how I feel." She tightened her grip on his hand. "And I'm sorry, Brian."

Gesturing with his head towards the conservatory. "How do I tell him?"

"You don't. He knows," Joanie explained. "It's why he loves you."

"Because I loved someone else?"

"Because you can. Because you have a heart and you care."

"I wish that I didn't. Maybe if I hadn't…" He left the thought unspoken and stood. "I better go check on Gus." Paused by the fountain. "Thanks, Mom."

Still holding Gus in his arms, Justin looked up as Brian entered the conservatory. Gus had his face pressed against his chest, sniffling a little, spell almost over. Wordlessly, Justin signaled for Brian to take the toddler, which he did. A little frightened, Gus watched Brian with wide eyes.

Sitting, Brian stroked gently Gus' arm. "You okay?" Gus said nothing, just nodded. "Did I scare you?" Gus nodded again. "I didn't mean to scare you and I didn't mean to yell at you. That was wrong and I'm sorry. Do you forgive me?"

"Yeah," he said softly.

"Yeah?" Brian asked, planting a kiss on the little boy's cheek.

Gus giggled. "Yeah," he said, returning the kiss, stroking Brian's jaw which was devoid of hair. Sometimes Brian thought the toddler missed his beard but Justin had gotten one too many burns and off it had come sometime before their anniversary trip to New York.

"I love you," Brian told him, hugging him tightly.

"I love you, Daddy." As Brian put him down, Gus asked, "Daddy? Let's play hide-go-seek." It was his favorite game.

Brian smiled. Forgiveness always came at a price. "You go hide and I'll come look for you." He turned away and covered his eyes and started to count. "One, two, three—"

"Slow!" Gus reminded him before running from the room.

Justin stroked Brian's bare thigh from crotch to knee and felt a muscle twitch beneath his palm. Drew his hand back up along that same muscle and cupped his cock. Gently squeezed the head and shaft.

They were downstairs in the conservatory which had become one of their preferred places to make love, the fragrance of the flowers and the sound of the water from the rustic fountain lending an exotic feel to the ambiance. Even though he now had to religiously take his allergy medicine, Justin loved the conservatory.

He was sprawled out on the sofa naked, Justin next to him, hand around his dick, stroking it, and his cock was responding: he could feel it getting harder, longer, thicker. Justin had such talented fingers; the way they danced down his shaft, swirled around his balls, and brushed across the tip of his dick had him shivering. He drew Justin over onto his lap, the younger man's back resting on his knees and he leaned over and kissed him as he explored his lover's body, his own talented fingers seeking out the places where pleasure resided: tweaking Justin's nipples, tracing the line of his ribs, encircling his navel, and combing through the thick growth of hair at his groin. Brian palmed his little boy's scrotum and rubbed his balls as they kissed, Justin murmuring words of encouragement into his mouth.

He let his legs fall wide open, one foot hooked over the back of the sofa, the other resting on the floor so that his ass was conveniently available to Brian's fingers. The man wasted no time in traveling from his sac to his hole, the pad of one finger massaging the moist, tightly closed opening. Justin moaned as Brian gained entrance. His finger felt so good, playing in his hole, working it, relaxing it, preparing the way for his cock which Justin could feel against his side as they continued to kiss. He wanted it.

Reaching down, Justin gripped Brian's arm and eased it away, his finger sliding free of his ass. He turned onto his belly, went up onto his knees, and caught Brian's cock in his mouth.

"Yeah, Baby…" Brian whispered as his lover went down on him, lips and tongue driving him crazy.

Head twisting, bobbing, Justin sucked Brian's dick until it began to drip. Letting it free, he lapped at the tip, each drop of precum disappearing on his tongue. Drew it back inside his mouth for another go round.

He was so hard he ached and he wanted Justin so badly… He reached over and cupped a plump cheek, squeezed it hard. Probed between his buttocks until he found his hole again. In went his finger for the second time. Justin moaned around his cock, the vibration going straight to his balls, and he hissed. Justin's lips tightened around the head of his cock and his tongue rubbed over the tip making Brian rise up from the seat. Jesus, Justin knew how to take a man to the edge.

With Brian's dick hard in his mouth, Justin was loathe to release him but he wanted Brian's mouth on him, on his cock, wanted his tongue in his ass, and he wanted it now. Brian's dick slid free of his lips, shiny and hard. He kissed the head, kissed down the shaft, kissed his balls, still hungry for it. Finally, he pulled away and lay back against the arm of the chair. Held his cock up by the base. "Suck me," he commanded, voice thick with desire. "Suck my dick."

The words grabbed Brian by the balls and squeezed. He went down on his knees by the side of the sofa and gobbled Justin's cock. Saliva ran down the shaft as he slurped his way from head to balls.

Justin's stomach muscles clenched as Brian blew him. He was barely keeping it together, barely fighting the urge to come. "Oh!" he cried out and held Brian's head to his groin, cock buried in his throat. All he needed was a moment, just needed to be still one moment. There, he could breathe again. He let go of Brian's hair and the man resumed sucking his dick.

But Brian really wanted his ass. Drawing off of his meat, Brian pushed Justin's legs up, exposing his hole. Plunged his face between his cheeks and lapped his bud. Hearing Justin's groans, he redoubled his efforts, stiffening his tongue and pushing inside him.

"Ah! Oh God…" Justin's cock throbbed. "Oh God… Fuck me. Fuck me, Brian." He let his head loll against the arm of the sofa. "Fuck me."

But Brian wasn't through rimming him. He laved his hole with his tongue, loved his ass with his mouth until Justin's anus began to spasm. Kissing it, he slipped his tongue in one last time then rose up. His cock bounced against his belly.

Justin's eyes could barely focus. "Fuck me," he whispered.

Brian lubed his cock. Pulled Justin to his knees.

He held onto the arm of the chair as Brian got into position behind him. Mouth fell open in a soundless cry as Brian penetrated him. He felt Brian's cock slide deeper inside his ass. Felt it bump his prostate which sent him spinning. His vision had just cleared when Brian came to rest, pubic hair tickling his hole.

"Yeah," said Brian, resting for a moment, loving the way Justin's muscles held him. He backed out, feeling them clench him, trying to hold onto his dick.

He rested his head on his arm as Brian fucked his ass, forehead turning red as time passed and Brian continued to pump him. God, there was nothing like this, nothing like the feel of Brian's dick inside him, nothing like the sensation of his thick cock head bumping into his swollen prostate. He loved the way Brian would withdraw until only the head was left inside him, stretching his hole. Then he would pull out all the way and rub his hole with the wet tip. And then push back in and fuck him with the head alone.

Brian held his cock right where the shaft and glans met and fucked Justin with just the head, in and out, in and out until the young man was panting and begging him to put it in him all the way. He complied and buried his cock in his ass, sliding all the way home.

"Yes…" moaned Justin, wanting to shout.

He slowed down his strokes, fucking him with an easy motion, hips swaying leisurely. Ran his hands over Justin's sweat slicked back, squeezing his neck muscles, tugging on his damp hair. "I love you," he said softly. "I love you." He backed out of Justin and plopped down on a seat cushion. "Come on," he said and Justin straddled him, arms around his neck, and sat down on his cock.

"Ahh…" he sighed as he was filled again. He came to rest and tightened his ass muscles.

"Fuck yeah, Baby," Brian gasped.

Pumping his hips, he worked Brian's cock in his ass, muscles squeezing him, stroking him. He rotated his behind, tugging Brian's dick first in one direction and then the other.


Rubbed his cock against Brian's belly as he thrust his hips back and forth.

"Yeah, Baby, yeah…" Brian held onto his waist as the young artist worked his cock.

Then he began to bounce. Up and down, rise and fall, taking Brian's dick into his ass and then letting it slide free, but not all the way, just up a few inches, down, and up again. Mouth wide open, he fucked himself on Brian's cock, asshole clinging to the shaft as he rose and fell.

Finding Justin's lips, Brian kissed him deeply as they fucked, both of them groaning into the other's mouth, inhaling the other's breath, the other's cries.

His balls jumped inside their sac and he exhaled as cum surged from his cock to stain Brian's belly. He gripped Brian's dick as he came, asshole palpitating around the thick shaft.

Jutting upwards once, twice, three times, Brian erupted. He gripped Justin's buttocks and held them as he came inside him. When he was through, he slumped against the back of the sofa, exhausted, spent. Justin laid his head against his neck and kissed him softly and Brian stroked his ass, still buried inside.

"The super would have definitely left a note," Justin muttered and Brian laughed.


Kenneth walked into his office and he looked up. The words he'd intended to say stuck in his throat. Kenneth stopped and stared at him. They remained that way for some time before Kenneth started to speak. "Brian—"

"Don't. Don't say anything." He closed his eyes. "Please. Just… don't." He felt a pain in his chest, knew that Kenneth had killed himself.

He awoke, trembling. No matter how many times his mind tried to change the events of the past, Kenneth always died.

Wondering if he should pretend to be asleep any longer, Justin decided to fess up. He turned, asked, "Are you all right?"

"Yeah," Brian lied. Tried to brush off his concern. "It's hot, that's all." He threw back the covers and left the bed. Truthfully, it was a bit warm in their bedroom even though the heat was off, spring having arrived at last.

"You had another dream about Kenneth, didn't you?"

"It's been a week," he replied. He still hadn't returned to work, wasn't sure when he would. If the way he felt was any indication, it'd be a while yet. Cynthia had gone in today; he'd called her to tell her he probably wouldn't be making an appearance. That he didn't know when he'd be back to work. Drew had told him to take it easy, so had Ryder and Justin. Now, if he could only take their advice.

"Give it time, Brian."

"How much? How much more of my life do I give to him?" He sat in an armchair by the unlit fireplace.

Joining him, Justin perched on the edge of the sofa. Reached for his hand. "You're not giving him your life. You're taking it back. Bri, he can't hurt you anymore."

He laughed abruptly. "What more can he do to me?"


"Go back to bed."

"Come too."

He shook his head.

Knowing when to give up, Justin left him to brood. Kissed the top of his head as he passed. Felt Brian touch his hip. There was nothing he could do. Brian had to work this out for himself.

Upon waking, Justin saw that Brian hadn't come back to bed. He was still sitting in the chair, or rather he was slumped over in the chair, having fallen asleep in the night. Hating to wake him, Justin did so anyway. "Brian? Brian, get up."

He came to almost immediately. "What?"

"It's morning. You slept in the chair."

Brian stretched his neck and back. "Fuck."

"You want any breakfast?" He was starving and wanted to eat before heading off to class.


"You didn't eat much dinner last night." Had just picked at his food.

"I don't want anything."

"You should—"

"I said I don't want anything now would you please leave me the fuck alone!" and he stormed off to the bathroom.

Justin remained where he stood. He hadn't meant to push but he had. And he knew that Brian hadn't meant to snap at him, he knew that, but still, it smarted. Putting the hurt aside, he went downstairs to use the bathroom there before fixing something to eat. Leo padded behind him.

He knew he'd hurt Justin and he didn't know what to do to make it right again. Knew he couldn't promise him that it wouldn't happen again because it probably would happen again. Unless he did something about it.

"How you holding up?"

"I can't believe it's only been a week. Feels like it's been forever."

"That'll pass."

"I wish I could believe you."

"Why don't you?"

"Cause it's gotten… in me. And I…" He paused to get his thoughts together. "I feel like I'm wound so tight. Everything sets me off. I yelled at Gus this weekend. I yelled at Justin this morning. And I'm so…"

"So what?"


"At what? Who?"

"How the fuck could he do this to me? How could he…?" He went to the window as Drew knew he would. It was his place more so than the armchair he habitually sat in. Knowing what Becker's response would be to his statement, he stayed there as he spoke. "I let him die."


"I stood there and watched him die. I can't ever forget that. And I shouldn't. It should fuckin' haunt me to my grave."

"You are not to blame."

"He came to me. He wanted to talk and all I did was accuse him. I was so angry, I couldn’t listen to him. I just—I didn't want anything he said to be true. But it was. It was all true and… I didn't want to hear it. I just wanted him to go. I wanted him to be gone." He took a deep breath. "And now he is. Now he's gone forever. And I can't ever say that I'm sorry. That I… that I loved him and I'm sorry that I did because I shouldn't have. I should have left him alone, I should have stayed away from him. But I just… I loved him," he whispered. "Just not enough."

Drew went to him. "He knew, Brian. He knew."

But he couldn't be sure. That thought stayed with him the rest of the day: that Kenneth had died thinking he hated him.

Around four the phone rang. He thought it was Justin, checking on their dinner plans. He didn't feel like going out, facing the crowds. Even though the press had vanished, he was certain Kenneth's suicide was still relatively fresh in people's minds. Then again, the masses were fickle. Still, he didn't want to go out. "Hey," he said, certain that it was his spouse.

"Mr. Kinney?"

It wasn't. "Yes."

"My name is Bill Kramer and I am the executor of Kenneth Harris' estate."

He wanted to hang up but he didn't. "What can I do for you?"

"Mr. Harris wrote a codicil to his will just a few days before he died."

Brian felt a pain in his chest. "I don't know what it is but—"

"Please, Mr. Kinney, Kenneth was quite adamant about it. I had no idea what he had planned… I suppose, in retrospect, I should have suspected something. In any case, he did leave you something in his will. It's a painting. A Japanese painting. A special kind. They call them…" Brian could hear him rustling his notes.

"I don't care. I don't want it." He slammed down the phone; waited until he'd calmed down, and picked up the receiver again. Dialed Justin's cell. "You want to eat out?"

He didn't tell Justin about the call or the fact that Kenneth had left him a painting in his will. There was no reason to do so. He had no intention of accepting it. Didn't want to know anything more about it and hoped Mr. Kramer dropped it. There was a videocassette somewhere in the world of himself and Cam in New York that he'd had to throw away; he wanted no more posthumous presents.

"I'll get it!" he called out to Justin in his studio and shook his head. Why the fuck did the previous owners even bother putting intercoms in this house when all they did was yell at one another from different rooms? Flipping the speaker on, he asked, "Yes?" of the person who had knocked.

"Mr. Kinney?"

He recognized the voice almost immediately. "Mr. Kramer, I told you—"

"Please, it'll only take a moment."

Hand on the lock, he debated his actions, then turned it and opened the door. Kramer, who looked exactly as he'd imagined him—middle-aged, slightly overweight, well-dressed—stood on the other side with a paper-wrapped object in his hands. The painting, Brian supposed.

"Mr. Kinney, I know this is a difficult situation—"

"He shot himself in my office, right in front of me. Now you come to my home bearing gifts from the dead." Despite having said that, he stepped aside, waved the attorney in.

"Thank you."

Justin wandered out of his studio. "Bri?"

"Mr. Kramer, my husband, Justin. Justin, Mr. Kramer. Kenneth's attorney," he explained.

Saying nothing, Justin positioned himself close to Brian, took the proffered canvas when Brian wouldn't.

Kramer, looking relieved to have delivered it, reached into his jacket and drew out an envelope. "This is for you as well."

Brian took it. "Instructions?" he asked facetiously.

"Mr. Kinney, I understand your feelings."

"Everyone says that but no one does," he replied, anger seeping into his tone. Justin touched his arm and he tried to relax.

"Kenneth told me what happened. All of it." Kramer could barely hold Brian's gaze. "I won't make excuses for him, for what he did to you. I can only say that… he loved you very much. I saw what was happening to him, from the moment he came back to Birmingham after meeting you for the first time. I could hear it in his voice, see it in his eyes. He'd already begun to fall in love with you. It didn't matter that you were with someone else, that you were committed to another person, he loved you and there was nothing to be done for it."

Kenneth hadn't been the only one who'd been affected by their meeting, Brian confessed to himself. He'd found himself attracted to the biochemist almost immediately. But he'd had Justin at home waiting for him, even if things hadn't been perfect between them in the wake of Chris Hobbs' sentencing. Kenneth hadn't had anyone.

"Mr. Kinney, have you ever wanted something so badly you thought you'd die if you didn't have it? It was eating him up inside. Every time he saw you, said goodbye to you, it was like dying to him. Kenneth was a good man but he'd been alone too long, been dreaming about being with someone for so long, and you came along and you were everything he'd ever wanted. Everything. The only thing worse than never getting what you want is seeing it in front of your face, just out of reach."

Justin understood how Kenneth had felt. He'd felt that way himself sometimes over the course of his on-again, off-again relationship with Brian.

"After the party last year, Kenneth started slipping. Each time I saw him, I became more and more concerned about him. I asked him to get help but he was a very strong-willed man. Gradually, it seemed as if he'd pulled out of it and then, suddenly, in February, he began to get worse. I don't know what happened but he began to withdraw from his colleagues, his friends…"

I called him, Brian said to himself. I called him… He turned slightly away.


He gave a little shake of his head.

Kramer continued his story. "He took some time off in March, went up to a cabin he's got in the mountains. I didn't think being alone was such a good idea but he came back refreshed. Seemed himself again. Everyone thought so. And then, in April, everything fell apart again."

Brian regaining his memory of the rape. Both he and Justin looked down, ashamed of the unintentional parts they had played in Kenneth's downfall.

"He never meant to hurt you, Mr. Kinney," said Kramer. "I hope, in time, you'll forgive him. He would have wanted that." His message delivered, Kramer saw himself out.

Fingers gripping the edge of the painting, Justin fought down the urge to destroy it. Here was something else to hurt Brian, he was sure of it. And that letter, he wanted to throw it into the fire the way he'd thrown Chris Hobbs' letter into the flames at the inn. But, as they'd both learned, fire didn't destroy ideas, thoughts, or feelings.

Envelope in his hand, Brian found himself walking into the family room, Justin behind him. He sat down and studied the letter he held. Afraid to open it. To postpone doing so, he told Justin, "Unwrap it," meaning the painting.

It was of a Japanese woman, obviously an old painting, like something you'd see in a museum, Justin thought. He'd seen paintings like it in the Freer Museum in Washington, D.C. Unable to discern anything about the artist from the actual piece, he asked, "What does he say in the letter?" It had to have some special meaning, otherwise, why send Brian a painting of a Japanese woman?

Slowly, Brian opened the envelop and unfolded the letter. Braced himself for another blow. Read softly.

"Dear Brian,

"If you're reading this, then I'm probably dead and you've received the painting. I hope you'll keep it but if you can't, I'll understand. There are a number of museums that would take it if you don't.

"I suppose I should say first off that I'm sorry. I know that it doesn’t mean much but it's true. I'm sorry for everything that I've done to you and I hope that, someday, you can forgive me. I never meant to hurt you but I know that I did."

Brian's jaw tightened and he paused for a moment. Justin said nothing, just ran his hand along his arm and waited. Brian began to read once more.

"As for the painting, it was done by a 18th century master of ukiyoe or floating city paintings. It's of a beautiful, young kabuki actor from the play, Mask of the Oyama. In kabuki, men who play female roles are called oyama or onnagata. In Mask of the Oyama a young peasant named Kodayu and a young samurai named Taro fall in love but they cannot be together because of differences in their social classes. When Kodayu leaves the province to become a kabuki actor, Taro, devastated by his loss, commits suicide.

"Kodayu becomes an actor and is very successful. None of the other young apprentices are as graceful, as beautiful, as convincing as he is on stage. But his heart is not in his work. He still mourns Taro, his lost love. Heartbroken, he disappears from Kyoto.

"Years later, he appears at a monastery disguised as a young man named Koshichira. He pretends to be mute but the monks take him in as an acolyte. One day, Oda Gozaemon, the lord of the province, visits the monastery, sees Koshichira cleaning the floors, and mistakes him for a woman. Even after he learns of his error, he finds himself falling in love with the beautiful Koshichira.

"Afraid that Koshichira will not respond to him as he is, Lord Gozaemon disguises himself as Sakuya, a servant in the lord's castle, and sets about winning Koshichira's friendship. Over time they become closer but Koshichira knows that Sakuya is in love with him and he does not want that. He still loves Taro and cannot give his heart to another. Repeatedly he refuses Sakuya's advances until Sakuya decides to reveal his true identity. He tells Koshichira that he has no choice but to acquiesce to his demands and orders him to appear at the castle.

"Returning to the monastery, Koshichira decides to flee but before he can, Lord Gozaemon shows up to force him to obey. There is a struggle and Koshichira is slain. The spirit of Taro appears and together they vanish into the world of spirits, reunited at last."

Brian stared at the painting. Was that how Kenneth had seen him? As the beautiful Kodayu? Heartbroken and doomed? Had he seen himself as Sakuya or Taro? Either way, both men had been destroyed by their love for Kodayu. As Kenneth had been destroyed by his love for Brian. He finished the letter, voice shaking as he read Kenneth's final words.

"I've spent the past year lying to myself, pretending that I knew who I was and what I wanted, driven by guilt and fear and lust. I was both Kodayu and Sakuya, hiding from myself, lying to myself, and pursuing something I could not hope to attain. In my heart, I wanted what was best for you but I also loved you so much, wanted you so much. I would often think of you when I was alone, remembering how beautiful you were, how so very beautiful. Even now, when everything has gone wrong between us, it haunts me: the memory of you. I hope that you keep the painting and think of me as I so desperately wanted to be…" His voice broke at the end, "As a friend who loved you," and he closed his eyes against the tears that fell but the grief was too great and he sobbed. He too had hidden his true feelings behind a mask of indifference and self-delusion, refusing to see the truth.

Putting aside the painting, Justin held him until he was through crying, blinking back no few tears himself. Then, as Brian cleaned his face with the back of his hand, he asked quietly, "Where do you want to put it?"

Brian looked quizzically at him.

"The painting? Where do you want to hang it?"

He couldn't believe Justin's generosity and then he told himself that he should have expected it. When had Justin ever been less than understanding? Brian thought for a moment. "Maybe in the study."

Justin brushed a final, stray tear from Brian's cheek. "I think that's the perfect place."

Wanting to get a few more pieces for the study before he hung the painting, Brian delayed putting it up for a couple of days, until he was able to purchase a rug and a secretary to hold the household bills. With the furniture and rug in place, he and Justin went about finding the perfect spot for the painting. In order to protect it from the direct light of the sun, they placed it on the other side of the secretary, closest to the door and farthest away from the window. And, Justin noticed, out of Brian's direct line of sight.

Once they were done, they stood and surveyed their work. Justin smiled appreciatively at the painting. "He really is beautiful. But," he added, "not as beautiful as you are. No make-up, no masks… I could sit and watch you all day."

A little flustered by the compliment, Brian, nevertheless, retorted, "Then maybe you could finish the drawings you started… for Kenneth."

They'd discussed it in New York but he hadn't really done anything further than the one sketch in the hotel that was more playing than anything else. And after Brian had remembered what had happened with Kenneth last year, Justin had been certain that the idea had been effectively killed. Yet, here was Brian suggesting they finish them once and for all. "You mean it?"

"He would have liked that."

"What about you?"

"I suppose I could use a Dorian Gray portrait to keep me young," smirked Brian.

"Hidden away in the basement?" as they did not have an attic.

Suddenly serious, he answered, "No." No more hiding. "Out in the open. For everyone to see." He needed Justin to do the sketches, needed to feel like himself again, needed to see himself through Justin's eyes. Eyes that saw his imperfections and flaws yet still loved him. Eyes that witnessed the moments when his strength and courage wavered yet never gave up on him. Despite having seen the real him, Justin never stopped loving him, never stopped seeing the beauty inside him.

He was draped across the gold sofa in the livingroom. Naked, hair tousled for that just-fucked look. Which was appropriate since they'd just fucked a little while ago. He was turned towards Justin, face in clear view although his eyes were closed. One leg was braced against the floor, the other bent at the knee on the couch. He was an amber vision bathed in candlelight.

He really is beautiful. For a moment, the thought stilled Justin's pencil and then he raised his pad and began to draw. Slowly. Methodically. After all, they had the rest of their lives to work on it.

Little one
Just a little way
Today all we need is waiting
Little one
Just a little way
Today all of the dreams are waking


  1. "Already Dead," Beck Hansen, Cyanide Breathmint Music/BMG Songs, Inc. (ASCAP).
  2. "Bashert (Meant to Be)," Ari Gold, Boogie Sauce Music (BMI) from his new album, Space Under Sun. Check out his website at
  3. "I Will Go Sailing No More," Randy Newman, Walt Disney Music Company (ASCAP).
  4. "Little One," Beck Hansen, Cyanide Breathmint Music/BMG Songs, Inc. (ASCAP).

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