The reason I recommend 'Betrayal' by Julesmonster is not only because it's so well written, creating a wonderfully detailed AU world, but also because these characters are so much more mature and (in some respects) real than the ones we saw in the show. By keeping their relationship out of the view of the Family, both Brian and Justin had time to grow and change and become the people we want to see them as. It's a wonderful read and the fact that it's part of a nice long series will keep you entertained for many fanfic-filled nights. Enjoy! - TAG
Everyone thinks Brian and Justin broke up after the attack at the Prom. What happens when they find out that Justin never was out of the picture? And what have he and Brian been up to in the meantime? Some Michael bashing...
STORY #1 of the Perfidy Series
Categories: QAF US
, Admin Pick Characters:
Brian Kinney, Justin Taylor, Michael Novotny
Alternate Canon, Alternate UniversePairings:
Dec 18, 2016 Updated:
Jan 25, 2017
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
A/N: This story started out as a single work based on the idea that Justin and Brian might have found more happiness together outside the "helpful" influence of Brian's friends. One story, however, didn't seem to do the thing justice and I eventually turned into a series. Hope you enjoy this first story. Jules
1. PART 1 by Julesmonster
2. PART 2 by Julesmonster
3. PART 3 by Julesmonster
4. PART 4 by Julesmonster
5. PART 5 by Julesmonster
6. PART 6 by Julesmonster
7. PART 7 by Julesmonster
8. PART 8 by Julesmonster
9. PART 9 by Julesmonster
10. PART 10 by Julesmonster
11. PART 11 by Julesmonster
Justin Taylor closed the door to his one room studio apartment and sighed as he dropped his backpack onto the small kitchen counter that served as his table, desk and food preparation space. He probably should have put the bag away, but he was just too tired after his grueling day. He'd been up since five, worked the breakfast shift at the Liberty Diner, gone to three classes, and spent another three hours working at his second job at the art supply store before going to baby-sit Gus for Lindsey and Melanie. All he wanted to do just then was crawl into his bed and sleep for a week.
Of course, his bed wasn't really a bed. It was a futon that also served as the only seating in the apartment aside from the stool by the counter. He might have had room for a real sofa and bed if his easel and painting supplies didn't take up the entire corner by the large windows. At least he had a bathroom with a big tub. He would need it tonight.
Ever since the attack at his prom, Justin suffered from severe and debilitating headaches and muscle tension when he was stressed. When that happened, a long hot bath was the only thing that helped besides the prescription painkillers which made him groggy for two days and he simply couldn't work that way. He had two jobs to pay for his little shithole apartment and for his tuition, since his father had refused to pay from his educational trust.
Justin shook his head and walked to the bathroom, where he began running the water to fill the tub. Then he added bergamot and lavender salts to the water. The clerk at the homeopathic store had suggested them, and Justin found that they did help quite a bit. He went to the medicine cabinet, grabbed the bottle of ibuprofen and shook out three tablets. It would have to do for tonight. He had life drawing in the morning and needed to be fully functioning.
Once he'd stripped down and tossed his clothes into the laundry hamper, Justin stepped into the tub and sighed as he sat down in the fragrant water. He leaned his head against the cool tiles of the wall and closed his eyes, allowing the heat and fragrance to relax his body and mind. He found that he could simply let his mind drift and his problems seemed a bit less overwhelming during his late night baths.
It was almost twenty minutes later when the phone's shrill ring broke him from his peaceful haze. He grabbed the cordless phone from the stand beside the tub and pressed the green answer button.
"Hello?" Justin sighed lazily.
"Hey, you sound relaxed," a charmingly familiar voice drawled over the line. "Taking another bath? You keep this up and you'll turn into a muncher."
Justin chuckled. "I'd need a bit of surgery first. And then I'd probably end up a breeder. Who wants to touch girl parts? Yuck."
Brian Kinney had to laugh at that. "Tough day?"
"Just long," Justin said. "I worked both jobs, had three classes and sat with Gus tonight. I just got home a little while ago."
"You shouldn't schedule so much for one day," Brian scolded. "The doctor said-"
"The doctor said I'm fine," Justin interrupted. "And I don't usually have quite so much packed into one day, but then Steve called in sick and Gary couldn't find anyone to cover from three to six. And I had promised Mel and Lindsey that I'd stay with Gus while they went to their committee meeting tonight. I couldn't just cancel on them."
"Yes you could," Brian disagreed. "And you could drop one or both of those jobs too."
Justin sighed, feeling the tension returning to his neck and shoulders. "We've had this conversation before, Brian."
"And we'll keep having it until you see that I'm right." Brian declared imperiously.
Justin had to laugh at his tone and the tension began to dissolve again. "Do you really want all of Liberty Avenue to think that you're keeping a rent boy?"
Brian paused at that. "What? Fuck no. But that's not what you would be."
"Hmm," Justin said. "You want to pay my tuition, put me up in your loft, give me an allowance for food and clothes and in exchange you get my delectable body all to yourself. Sounds like a rent boy to me."
"Justin..." Brian growled in warning. "I don't see what the problem is. I make enough money to support you. And people do this all the time."
Brian paused to think for a minute. "Your parents married young and your mom worked while the asshole went to school. Once he was finished, she went back to school and he paid her way."
"Right," Justin said. "But they were MARRIED."
There was silence over the phone line.
"Forget it Brian," Justin told his lover. "I need to do this for myself. Besides, Mom said that she and her lawyer are making headway. Hopefully, I'll have access to my trust fund by the fall semester and this won't be an issue anymore."
"So you'll let the asshole pay for your education, but not me?" Brian asked.
"No," Justin disagreed. "I'll let my grandfather pay for my education. My mother's father is the one who set up the trusts for Molly and me. My father is just supposed to oversee it. But he's being a dick."
"As usual," Brian said. He could hear the water splashing around in the tub from over the distance and felt bad for bringing the subject up when Justin had already had such a difficult day. "You feel better?"
"Yeah, the headache is almost gone," Justin said tiredly. "I'll be fine by morning."
"Tomorrow's your life drawing class?" Brian asked.
"How about I pick you up beforehand and we go for breakfast?"
"Will you pick at me for what I choose to eat?" Justin asked.
"It depends," Brian hedged.
"On if you order enough to feed a platoon of lumberjacks." Brian teased.
"I don't think lumberjacks come in platoons," Justin retorted. "Maybe a herd?"
"Or a gaggle," Brian suggested. "So how about it? I'll pick you up at seven."
"Sure," Justin said as he pulled the plug on the drain and carefully got out of the tub. He'd already dropped one cordless into the tub while talking to Brian late at night and couldn't afford to replace another phone. The two continued to talk about their respective days while Justin dried himself off and hung his towel on the rack. Then he went back into the other room and grabbed an apple from the bowl on the counter. His mother visited at least once a week and always brought food, including a selection of fruit for his fruit bowl.
He munched while Brian recounted his pitch to the Green Hill Consortium. They were looking to launch a new line of men's toiletries and Brian had wowed them with his campaign.
"So they went for the naked guy in the shower?" Justin asked as he tossed his apple core into the trash.
"Of course," Brian said and Justin could hear the smirk through the phone. "They signed the contract this afternoon. And you know what that means don't you?"
Justin smiled. "It means a big bonus to the hotshot ad executive who hooked them."
"And it means we can take that trip to London for your spring break," Brian said.
"Really?" Justin asked, his exhaustion forgotten for the moment. "We can go?"
"Unless you think it will make you look like a kept man," Brian teased.
"Fuck! Who cares?" Justin said. "We're going to London."
"When does your break start?" Brian asked.
"Two weeks from Monday," Justin told him. "Oh shit. I have so much to do. I'll need my passport, and I'll have to find coverage for my shifts at both jobs. And I'll need to have my midterm projects complete before we leave, since they are due right after we get back. And I'll need clothes. Mom will love an excuse to go shopping, and she'll probably loan me her luggage..."
"That stuff can wait," Brian told him. "We can discuss it more in the morning. You should be in bed."
Justin, who had just crawled under the sheets laughed. "I am in bed. Alone and naked and missing you."
Brian smirked again. "You'll just have to dream of me, then won't you?"
"I always dream of you," Justin said before yawning.
"Goodnight Sunshine," Brian said softly.
Justin was asleep almost as soon as he turned out the light.
Brian hung up the phone and shook his head. Why Justin insisted on doing everything the hard way was beyond him. If he'd had someone, anyone, willing to help him through school, he would have jumped at the chance. Instead, Justin worked himself nearly to death to prove a point. Probably to his father. What Justin didn't understand was that nothing he did was going to make Craig Taylor accept him. And Brian would be damned if he let Justin work himself to death only to be hurt by that bastard again.
He picked up his beer and walked to his sofa and sat down to think. How could he make Justin understand? They had been having this same argument for months, ever since they had learned that Craig refused to release the funds for Justin's tuition back in August. The bastard hadn't come to see Justin in the hospital once, and when he finally left after weeks of treatments and therapy, he learned that his father had betrayed him by blocking payment for his tuition.
By that time, Jennifer Taylor had moved out and was well on her way to divorcing the prick. She had taken Justin home to finish recovering before classes began at the Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Art in September. Even after being released, Justin had quite a bit of work to do to regain his life. He had suffered from tension and migraine headaches, had bouts of depression, and had nightmares where he remembered flashes of that awful night.
Brian had experienced his fair share of nightmares since then, as well, though his were clearer since he had seen it all and remembered everything. Justin had slowly regained most of his memories of the prom, but still had blank spots of their walk to the garage and the attack itself.
But they had both slowly overcome that night. Now Justin was back to his stubborn ways and Brian was... Well, he was changed.
The changes weren't noticeable to the average observer. And they were not all attributable to the attack on Justin. Some of those changes had begun the night Justin had walked into his life, as was evidenced by the fact that he, Brian Kinney, had attended the prom as a thirty-year-old. Somehow, when Justin was involved, all of his rules, all of his barriers, all of his instincts for self-preservation flew out the window. If he could have taken Justin's place that night, he would have gladly died to save the younger man.
Why? What did it all mean?
He had spent weeks, months even, mulling everything over. And then he came to one conclusion: who the fuck cared? What was really important was not the why or the how. What really mattered was the who. And Justin was the only answer to that question.
And so his nights at Babylon had dwindled, though Justin said he didn't mind if Brian went out. And the tricks he had picked up in the last six months were fewer than he once had in a week. In fact, it had been more than a month since he had fucked or been sucked by anyone other than Justin. The amazing thing was that he didn't miss it all that much. Even on a night like this one, when Justin was sleeping on the other side of town and he was free to do what he wanted, he chose to stay home.
Of course, some people were slow to see the changes in him, or didn't want to see them. Mikey was a prime example of that kind of denial. He was too busy with his own life to notice that Brian wasn't at Babylon every night. And Mikey always had an excuse for why Brian went home alone when he did go. He'd sobered up for the most part, only drinking a fraction of what he had in the past. And the only drug he did these days was to smoke the occasional joint. He was as clean and sober as Brian Kinney had ever been in his life, and no one else seemed to notice. They were too blinded by his past to realize that he had changed.
Of course, that was alright by Brian. It wasn't as if he cared what people thought of him. He would have thought that at least Mikey would have noticed, but...Mikey always did idolize Brian's profligate ways, living vicariously through him, and he'd never really accepted Justin into their lives. Or Brian's. And since Brian chose not to talk about his relationship with Justin with anyone, most people, including Michael Novotny, just assumed they had each moved on.
Justin hadn't been back to Babylon since the attack. One of the residual effects from the head trauma he had suffered, besides the tendency to get stress headaches, was that he was uncomfortable in large crowds. Justin's therapist had told him that it might take years for him to truly feel safe again, and that certain situations could induce anxiety attacks. For Justin, large crowds and enclosed spaces had become a trigger. He was getting better, and Brian thought he'd probably be able to get back to the club before too much longer. Maybe they could try a small club while they were in London.
Brian drained the rest of his beer and glanced at the clock. It was 11:30. Babylon would be crowded with a mass of hot sweaty male bodies right about now. Brian was almost tempted to go. Almost. Instead he took the empty bottle to the recycling can and made his way to his bedroom. He'd think for a bit about how to get Justin to change his mind, and then go to bed and dream of Justin.
"So, where are we going?" Justin asked as he tossed his backpack into the back of the Jeep and pulled on his seat belt.
"Roxanne's" Brian told him. It was close to Justin's school and it offered much better fare than the greasy shit the Diner served. It was one of the few upscale restaurants in town that opened for breakfast, and Brian often brought clients there for breakfast meetings. Besides, he knew that Justin liked the place.
"Good, I love their frittatas," Justin smiled.
A few minutes later, Brian pulled the jeep into the restaurant's parking lot and the two men made their way into the warm building. After being seated and placing their orders, Justin looked at Brian with an expectant look.
"So, are we going to discuss the trip?" Justin asked.
Brian was quiet for a minute before nodding his head. "Yes."
Brian sighed. "You don't have Friday classes, so do you think you could get away Thursday afternoon? I have some business in Vermont that I need to take care of before we go. I thought we could fly there Thursday, I could take care of business Friday morning, and then we'd take a rental car to Boston and catch the flight to London on Friday evening. What do you think?"
Justin shrugged. "That's fine. When will we be back?"
"The next Saturday," Brian told him. "That will give us a day to reacclimatize to the time difference."
"What sort of business are you working with in Vermont?" Justin asked.
Brian hesitated. "It's more like a scouting expedition. Ryder wants me to check out a couple of local businesses that he saw on vacation there last month. Thinks they might have the potential to go national, but wants my input before we approach them."
Justin nodded and took a large dink of his orange juice before saying, "Sounds like he trusts you more these days."
"He does," Brian smirked. "I didn't tell you last night, but I got more than a bonus and vacation from this latest coup."
Justin raised his eyebrows and looked at Brian. "Partner?"
"As of this morning," Brian confirmed. "We meet with the lawyers at ten and should have everything signed and sealed by lunch."
"Wow," Justin said. He might have said more, but the waiter arrived with their breakfasts, frittata for Justin and an egg white omelet for Brian. Once the waiter was gone and they had begun to eat, Justin looked back at Brian and grinned. "Congratulations."
"I'm having a celebratory lunch with Ryder this afternoon, but I was hoping you and I could have a private celebration tonight?" Brian asked.
"I'm all yours," Justin told him. "I have to work at the store until four, but after that I'm free."
"Good," Brian told him. "Dress up, because we're doing this up the right way."
"Le Mont?" Justin asked.
"I love the view from Mount Washington," Brian agreed.
"You just like looking down over your domain," Justin laughed.
For the rest of breakfast they talked about plans for while they were in London. Justin wanted to see all of the museums and touristy spots, while Brian wanted to shop on Bond Street and Oxford.
"I am not spending my time in London wandering through a dusty old museum named for the most uptight breeder in centuries," Brian stated adamantly.
"The Victoria and Albert Museum has some great exhibits, though," Justin cajoled. "And Victoria wasn't all that uptight until Albert died."
"Still, the thought of it makes my dick shrivel," Brian complained.
Justin laughed. "Fine, we'll stick to the National Gallery and you have to concede the Tower of London."
"Hmm, the Tower? Isn't that where they keep the Crown Jewels?"
"Yes," Justin chuckled. "Trust you to hone in on that point."
"Alright, it's a deal," Brian smirked. "And I get at least two full days of shopping, agreed?"
"Agreed," Justin smiled.
By that time they were both finished and getting ready to leave. Justin followed Brian out to the jeep and they were soon on their way over to PIFA. Brian looked at Justin again. "What are your plans today?"
"After class this morning, Mom said she'd drop by and take me to lunch," Justin said. "I thought I'd tell her about London then and ask her about my passport and about borrowing luggage. Then I'll be at the store until four. After that, back to the apartment to get ready for tonight. Will I need to pack a bag?"
Brian smirked at Justin's unsubtle way of asking if he was spending the night at the loft. "Yes. And we've had this discussion before as well."
Justin sighed. "I'm not moving in, Brian. You hated having me there last time."
Brian nodded. He had hated Justin living with him last year, but things had changed since then. He wasn't going to push the point right now, but he wasn't giving up. This vacation, Brian intended to get his way on all the arguments they had been avoiding lately.
"I'll be by to pick you up at seven; our reservations are for seven thirty," Brian told him as he pulled up outside of Justin's school. Justin leaned over and gave Brian a kiss before grabbing his backpack and stepping out.
Just before closing the door, Justin leaned back into the jeep and said, "Thanks, Brian."
"For breakfast, for the trip, for not pushing, for...for everything," Justin said.
Brian nodded in acknowledgement and leaned over to kiss Justin again. After a couple minutes he pulled away and said, "Later."
"Yeah," Justin sighed as he hitched his bag up his shoulder. "Definitely later."
Brian went to the office, thinking of all of the things he needed to get done before their trip. As soon as he walked through the door to his office, he was calling for Cynthia. Twenty minutes later, the blond woman left his office with a long list of tasks to accomplish and a bemused smile on her face. Brian Kinney would never cease to shock her.
"So how was class this morning?" Jennifer Taylor asked her son as they drove through the traffic around campus.
"Good," Justin said. "I'm just about finished with my midterm project and should be ready to take a break next week when school's out."
Jennifer glanced over at Justin and knew that there was something he wanted to tell her. "So what are your plans for Spring break?" she asked pointedly.
Justin smiled. "I never could fool you. Brian wants to take me to London."
Jennifer didn't say anything to that for a minute, processing the information and formulating a reply. "Well, that sounds rather exciting. Will you be able to get the time from work?"
Justin nodded. "I made a few calls while I was waiting for you after class. Gary will just rearrange schedules for the week. He owes me because I picked up a few last minute shifts for him lately. And Debbie said she'd make Michael fill in if she couldn't get anyone else. I think she's still pissed at him for quitting his job."
"Yes, but he does have his own store now," Jennifer defended the man. "I'm sure he can't take that much time away."
"He doesn't open until eleven, Mom," Justin said. "He can work the breakfast shift before then, just like I do. But I think Debbie already has a few people in mind to fill in."
"Well, it sounds like you have everything under control," Jennifer commented.
"Well," Justin said hesitantly. "I do need one or two things still."
"I'll need my passport for one," Justin said. "And I was hoping you might loan me some luggage?"
Jennifer laughed. "And perhaps buy a few things to put in that luggage?"
"Well, maybe," Justin admitted. "I know that Brian would take me shopping, but I hate taking so much from him. Oh! And I need a new suit Mom."
Jennifer laughed again at her son's agitation. "A suit? For what?"
"Brian's taking me to LeMont tonight," Justin explained. "He made partner at his firm and we're celebrating. But I don't have anything to wear. None of my old dress clothes fit anymore."
"So I guess this is going to be a shopping lunch," Jennifer said dryly.
Justin paused to gauge his mother's reaction. "Not if it's a problem. I'll figure something out. I suppose I could borrow something from someone."
Jennifer laughed. "It's fine honey. We'll just head downtown and get you fitted up for tonight. And this weekend, you and I will worry about clothes for your trip, alright?"
"Thanks Mom," Justin smiled with relief.
"So, we had the mediation hearing yesterday," Jennifer told her son. "Your father's lawyer is as big a homophobic prick as your father. Luckily, the mediator wasn't."
"What did he say?" Justin asked.
Jennifer smiled. "He said that the stipulations in your grandfather's will were very clear. The trust was to be used for your education and living expenses while in school with the remainder to be given to you in whole on your twenty-fifth birthday, there were no conditions put on it about having to go to a specific school or major in business. Your father broke faith by restricting your access to the trust and has therefore waived his right to oversee the trust. In that case, the entire trust is turned over to you, since you are over eighteen."
"So that means...?"
"That means, honey, that you will have access to your entire trust within the week." Jennifer explained with a wide smile. "Now, you still need to be prudent how you spend your money. I'll make an appointment with my accountant and we can set up a budget and allowance for you that won't dip into your principal, but still give you enough for school and living expenses without two jobs."
"Mom, that's great! I can concentrate on school, and not have to worry about..." Justin looked at his mother, wanting to word his next words carefully. "Brian has been pushing me to move in with him lately, and he wanted to pay for my school. He thinks I've been working too hard."
Jennifer nodded. She had felt the same way, but she had decided that she needed to let Justin forge his own path in life. She wasn't sure how she felt about her son moving back in with Brian, though. "Well, I'm glad you won't have to work so hard now. And now, if you do decide to live with Brian, you'll know that the decision was made for the right reasons."
"Yeah," Justin smiled.
"Wow, Sunshine, you clean up nice," Brian told Justin later that night. "Your mom sure has good taste. It's not Armani, but it will do."
"Label snob," Justin scolded, but he was pleased with the suit his mother had picked out for him. "Do you want a drink before we go?"
"No, I just want to drink in the sight of you," Brian told him with a leer. "Is that silk?"
"Yes," Justin said as he backed away from a stalking Brian. "And we don't have time for you to drink me in if we're going to make our reservation."
Brian paused and nodded. "I guess that will just have to wait. But make no mistake; I will enjoy taking that suit off of you tonight."
Minutes later, they were on their way in the limo Brian had rented for the evening. "This is nice," Justin commented. "We won't have to worry about drinking too much."
"And I can have my wicked way with you in privacy on the way home tonight." Brian leered.
Justin looked at the heat in Brian's eyes and thought it might be a good idea to change the subject. "So, I have some good news."
Justin nodded. "The mediator found that my father was in breach and turned the trust over to me. There are still a few things I'll need to sign, and then go over with my mother's attorney and accountant, but by this time next week, I'll be able to support myself completely."
Brian raised an eyebrow. "And the asshole's just supposed to accept all this?"
Justin smiled, "That was part of the deal going in. Technically, he could still take it before a judge, but even if he did, the mediator was pretty clear that the law was on our side on this one. He broke faith by refusing to pay for my education, and Grandfather's will was very clear about how the trust was to be handled and what would happen if it wasn't. Short of having my grandfather declared mentally unfit-which would open up a whole Pandora's box of trouble for the rest of the will-there isn't anything he can do."
"So you'll be a wealthy young man," Brian smirked. "And won't be my little rent boy any longer. Well, I suppose I can live with that. How much is in that trust, anyway?"
"Enough to pay for undergraduate, graduate and post graduate degrees at an Ivy League and still have enough left over to buy a house and start a business, if I wanted," Justin said. "Grandfather was a very smart business man, and knew how to invest. And he wanted to be sure Molly and I had a head start in life. We were his only grandchildren."
"I think I would have liked to have met the man," Brian said. "So, we have two things to celebrate tonight."
And they did celebrate. Brian ordered the Chateaubriand for two and they watched the meal as it was prepared tableside. Brian ordered the best wines with dinner, and they had a bottle of Veuve Clicquot with their dessert. Justin was entranced by view and by the company. And by the time they had returned to the limousine, all he wanted was to go home with Brian and fuck until they couldn't stand.
The next two weeks were hectic for Justin. He put in notice at each of his jobs, agreeing to stay on until he left for vacation, but not after. He had the meeting with his mother's lawyer and accountant, then another with just the accountant. He went shopping with his mother for his trip, where, for the first time, he was able to actually purchase his own clothing, though his mother insisted on buying him luggage. He had dinner with Debbie one night, and spent the night at Brian's three times. And every spare minute was spent working to finish his midterm projects for his various courses. By the time he turned in his Life Drawing midterm project on the Thursday they were scheduled to leave, Justin was absolutely exhausted.
He was fighting a headache and finishing packing when Brian showed up at his door that afternoon. Almost immediately, he knew that Justin wasn't feeling great.
"You okay?" Brian asked as he gave Justin a hug. "We can delay until tomorrow if you're not up to this."
Justin shook his head without moving it from Brian's chest. "No, I'll be fine. I'll sleep on the plane, and I can rest tomorrow while you work if I need to. It's just been a long two weeks."
Brian smiled. "I know. I feel like I've barely seen you since our celebration."
"You haven't," Justin said. "Three nights in two weeks."
"Yeah, remind me not to do that ever again," Brian said as he finally let Justin go. "So you all packed? The car is waiting downstairs."
Justin nodded. "If you want to take that suitcase down, I'll grab my carryon and laptop and lock up."
Brian looked at the large suitcase with skepticism. Had Justin stuffed the thing? If so, it would weigh a ton. As Brian lifted the case, however, he found it was lighter than he had anticipated. Justin must want the extra room to bring back souvenirs and such. Brian's case was oversized for the same reason. He planned on bringing back a few things from Bond Street.
Justin was as good as his word. He dozed on the way to the airport and as soon as they had boarded their flight on Liberty Air, he was asleep-even before the plane had left the ground. Brian leaned back in his seat and smiled to himself. Justin thought he could simply spend the day sleeping tomorrow while Brian was at work, but Brian had other plans. He had several surprises for his sleeping lover.
Justin slouched onto the bed at their hotel room as soon as they walked through the door. He was more tired than he had realized. Brian had needed to shake him awake when they landed, and he had felt like a sleepwalker as they made their way through the airport to the rental car agency. It hadn't taken long to get checked into the hotel, but it had seemed like forever to Justin.
"We'll order room service and have an early night," Brian promised as he sat beside Justin and pulled him into his arms. "That way you'll be up and ready to go with me in the morning."
Justin pulled back a little and looked up at Brian. "You want me to go with you?"
Brian nodded. "There's just a short meeting in the morning, and then the rest of the day is ours. We'll have to leave by five, though, to make our nine o'clock flight out of Boston."
Justin nodded. "Okay. At least the headache is gone. Now that everything is finished and I know I can just relax for the next week, the tension has disappeared. Now I'm just tired."
"Me too," Brian agreed. "I've had a lot to do these past two weeks as well. Between getting everything set up with the new partnership and making sure everything was clear for our trip, I've been almost as busy as you."
"So we'll eat dinner, and go to bed?"
"We'll eat dinner, have a bath in that enormous tub I spied in the bathroom, and then go to bed," Brian said.
"Sounds like a plan," Justin yawned.
An hour later the two were settled into the tub with Justin leaning his back against Brian's chest. They had ordered soup and salad from the hotel's room service menu and a dry chardonnay, which they continued to sip as they relaxed in the tub.
"You know," Brian said, "for months I've listened to you over the phone every night as you lazed in your tub across town from me, and all I could think of was, 'Why the fuck isn't he here with me?' We could be in that oversized tub that the architect insisted I needed for resale when I renovated the place five years ago. I certainly never use it, but every night I heard you splashing around, I thought maybe we should use it together."
Justin smiled, "Sounds heavenly. Maybe we should. Though your method for getting me relaxed in the evening is a lot more fun."
Brian pinched Justin's hip in retaliation, "I'm being serious here, brat."
"My apologies; please continue," Justin said with mock dignity.
"As I was saying," Brian huffed. "I...God this is too fucking difficult."
"What is?" Justin asked. He leaned forward and turned his body so he could see Brian's face. Brian glared at him and pulled him back against his chest.
"I know we've argued and debated the issue for months, but you have to realize that the circumstances have changed. I've changed. You've changed." Brian paused as if gathering his resolve to complete a distasteful task. "I want you to reconsider moving in with me. I want us to be together. I want...I want...Shit! I swore I would never..."
"Brian?" Justin asked in confusion.
Brian seemed to steel himself and continued on as if Justin hadn't spoken. "I want to make a...commitment."
This time when Justin turned around, Brian didn't stop him. Justin knelt on the bottom of the tub and stared into Brian's eyes. Despite the distaste obvious on his face, his eyes told how he truly felt.
"Are you sure about this?" Justin asked.
"How positive?" Justin asked, needing to be sure of Brian's feelings before he made a decision.
Brian huffed and looked away. "Positive enough to have my lawyer draw up papers that will join all of our financial holdings and give us medical proxy. Enough to put your name on the deed to the loft. Enough set up this little trip to Vermont. Enough to set an appointment with a Justice of the Peace."
Justin's eyes widened in shock. Brian was asking him to marry him, not just move in.
"Enough to buy the apartment below my loft so that you would have studio space nearby." Brian continued as he looked at Justin and tried to gauge his reaction. "Enough to have the contractors bust a hole in the loft floor to install a spiral staircase between the two spaces."
"Fuck," Justin whispered. "That's pretty fucking serious. Why? Why now?"
"Because I hate sleeping without you," Brian said. "I hate not waking up with you every morning, not knowing if you are okay or if you had a nightmare. Because I've changed and you've changed and everything has changed. Because I don't ever want this to end."
"You're serious?" Justin asked again.
"I thought we had already established that," Brian smirked, feeling a little surer of himself now.
"You don't have to marry me to get me to stay," Justin told him.
"Good to know, since this isn't a marriage," Brian told him. "It's a civil union. And a legally binding partnership."
"What's mine is yours and what's yours is mine?" Justin asked. Brian nodded. "Will there be rings involved?"
"I don't think so, Princess," Brian scoffed. "I might consent to...a bracelet or pendant. But no matching jewelry! We are not the munchers."
Justin nodded. "Yes."
Brian looked at him. "Yes?"
"Yes, I'll enter into a civil union and a legally binding partnership with you, Brian Kinney." Justin smiled. "I'll wear your bracelet or pendant and live in your... our loft. I'll share my bath time with you and in return I want-"
"Don't ask me for monogamy," Brian warned. "I've slowed down a bit, but I'm not sure I can promise that."
Justin smiled. "When was the last time you picked up a trick?"
"You should know," Brian huffed. "I always tell you about them."
"Almost two months Brian," Justin told him. "And you never bring them home anymore. I can live with that. That wasn't what I was going to say."
"Oh," Brian deflated a bit. "What did you want in return, then?"
"You," Justin smiled. "Just you. And if you stay out some night, I want to know that I'm the one you are coming home to. I want you: the good and the bad, the exciting and the mundane."
Brian smiled, "I think I can give you that."
"So we're going to do it?" Justin grinned.
"We're going to do it," Brian agreed.
"Kind of convenient that we're going on vacation right after," Justin said with a small smirk. "One might almost call it a hon-"
"Don't you even fucking think it you little twink," Brian growled. "This is not the H word."
"Right," Justin laughed and kissed his soon to be partner.
Brian sighed as he waited for Justin to finish fixing his hair in the city hall men's room. It was almost time for their appointment and he didn't want to be late. They had looked over the legal documents Brian's lawyer had prepared for them and had agreed to sign them after the ceremony. The Justice could serve as witness and notarize them. Brian would then ship them to his lawyer to be filed at the Allegheny County courthouse while they were away.
Justin finally exited the men's room, and Brian looked him over once again. He looked gorgeous in his gray slacks and black sports coat with a silk tee underneath. Brian was wearing black trousers with black cashmere v-neck sweater and a black leather sport coat. They made a striking couple, if Brian did say so himself.
"Come on Princess," Brian scolded, though his tone held more tenderness than censure. "We don't want to be late to our own... shit... ceremony."
"I know what you almost said," Justin teased. "And we still have five minutes before our appointment."
"I just want to get this over with," Brian told his young lover as he dragged him down the hall to the Justice of the Peace's office.
"Sure," Justin said with a grin.
Ten minutes later, they were standing in front of the Justice and reciting vows. In the background, the woman's administrative assistant was snapping pictures with Justin's digital camera. Brian almost cringed when he realized that there would be photographic evidence of his downfall, but quickly put it out of his mind as he listened to the Justice and repeated his vows. Somehow, he hadn't realized that they would mean quite so much. He had thought that this part was just a formality. But standing there, looking into Justin's eyes as he used words like love and forever, it suddenly meant everything.
Justin smiled as he repeated his vows, the light in his eyes a promise. Then they kissed and Brian was vaguely aware of the camera's flash, but didn't care since he was holding Justin. They signed the documents and forms to make it all legal, the Justice notarized everything, and then it was over.
Brian had made reservations at a very nice restaurant and had arranged for a small cake and champagne. Justin grinned at him the entire time he was cutting pieces from the small cake for them. "Are we going to feed each other?"
Brian snorted. "I think not."
"The assistant took some great pictures," Justin told him. He had already looked through them all on the camera's tiny screen.
"That's great," Brian frowned. "I might just have to lose that memory card."
Brian sighed. "We didn't really talk about this last night, but, Justin, I'm not sure I'm ready to discuss this with the world."
Justin nodded. He had almost expected that. "I'll have to tell my mother, you know. We sent copies of the contracts to my lawyer, who is also her lawyer. And the accountant handling my trust will be notified as well. It's bound to get back to her."
"Your mother," Brian agreed. "But make sure she knows to keep this quiet. It's not that I'm ashamed of what we have, but I just don't think it's anyone else's business."
Justin smiled. "I know. It's fine."
Brian smiled back. That was why he had done this...Justin always seemed to understand; even if he didn't agree with something Brian said or did, he always understood.
"So, we have a couple of hours before we need to leave for Boston," Brian said by way of concession. "We could look for those trinkets you wanted. Or we could wait and look for them in London. It's up to you."
Justin's smile grew wider. "I think London for the trinkets, but we could look around a few shops here. Maybe there really are some up and coming company's that could benefit from Brian Kinney's expert advertising."
Brian looked at Justin with cynicism. "You just want to buy some cheese and maple syrup to ship home."
Justin laughed. "You caught me. Please?"
Brian gave a mock glare. "Fine, but no flannel."
Several hours later, Brian relaxed in his business class seat on the airplane and recalled that brief shopping trip. It had been interrupted more than once by trips to the men's room. And they had stopped twice on the drive to Boston. Then a quick fuck in the private restroom of the first-class lounge. Despite their lack of hotel since the ceremony, he thought that their... trip, damn it... was off to a good start.
Justin had ordered enough cheese and syrup to keep them in the shit for a year or more. Brian had adamantly refused to allow him to buy any for their friends. If they knew the two were in Vermont, they might put two and two together. And Brian was not ready for that yet. Instead, Justin had limited his gift giving to his mother, with strict instructions that nothing should be sent until after they were back from their trip and Justin had time to explain.
Brian rather liked Jennifer Taylor. She reminded him of Justin in some ways. She wasn't afraid to speak her mind and she let you know just where you stood. A lot like Brian. Of course she tended to be a bit more circumspect in the way she handled things.
She was going to have a fit when Justin told her what they had done.
Brian smirked. He already had plans to be far away from those two when they had that conversation.
Brian felt a little bad that they hadn't had any of their friends and family there. Not for his sake, or even for Justin's, but because he knew how much it would have meant to Jennifer and Debbie. And maybe even Mikey. But there was always the chance that they would have tried to talk them out of it. Mikey still didn't see Justin as anything but a threat, and Debbie and Jennifer would want to protect Justin from the big bad Brian.
Brian had actually tried to talk to Mikey about Justin last week, but Mikey wouldn't hear anything Brian had to say. Brian thought back on that conversation and realized that every time he had brought up change or commitment or Justin, Mikey had cracked a joke and changed the subject. He'd even made a comment about how glad he was that Brian had finally dumped the twink.
Brian had to walk away or punch his best friend after that comment. He took deep breaths as he walked to the bar to order a new round. It wasn't really Mikey's fault that he mistakenly believed that Brian and Justin had broken up. Justin wasn't around the places the crowd frequented because of his residual issues from the attack. The only time he was around was when he was at the diner, and he obviously didn't talk much about anything while he was there. Probably because of Mikey's often open hostility. He would have to ask Justin.
"You're thinking too loudly," Justin complained from the seat beside him. Justin shifted his seat so that it was no longer reclining and looked at Brian. "What's on your mind?"
"Mikey," Brian admitted. "And why he's so blinded to the possibility that I could change."
Justin shook his head. "Is that what's keeping you awake?" Brian just nodded. "Well the answer to that is both very simple and very complex, I think. Maybe you should call the flight attendant and order a couple of drinks for us."
Brian nodded again and pressed the call button on the console beside his seat. A few minutes later, Brian had a scotch and Justin a ginger ale.
"So? What's your theory?" Brian asked once they were alone again in the relative privacy of the business class cabin. Most of the people around them on their overnight flight were already sleeping.
Justin looked at Brian for a long minute before answering. "I think that Mikey fell in love with the irreverent and recklessly wild boy that he once knew. And I think it's very hard for him to give up the dream of being with that boy."
"But that boy no longer exists," Brian said softly. "He hasn't existed in quite some time."
"I know," Justin said. "Even before we met, I think you were beginning to change, to grow up a bit. But Michael can't see that. He can't or won't because if he does, it will destroy his dream."
"So what do I do about it?" Brian asked. "I can't let him keep holding me back. I can't let him keep running you down, like he does. But I don't want to lose his friendship."
Justin paused, unsure how to say what Brian needed to hear. "He's got to let go of the dream Brian, for both of your sakes. Even without me in the equation, this would have had to happen sooner or later. It may take some hard truths to make him see that you've changed. And even then, he may not want to give up the dream."
"But I can't let him continue on this way," Brian argued. "So what do I do?"
"Tell him the truth," Justin suggested. When Brian frowned at him he chuckled. "Not ALL of the truth, but give him enough that he knows that you are serious. Give him the facts, lay down the ground rules and let him make his choice. I'm afraid it may be too late for him to accept me. Or the new and improved Brian Kinney, but he might just surprise me."
"And if he refuses?"
Justin gave him a sad smile. "Then you have a choice to make. And it has to be your choice. I won't make it for you, or try to influence you. He's been your best friend since you were fourteen. I won't ask you to choose between us."
Brian nodded. He knew what he needed to do, but he was reluctant to do it.
"Finish your drink and lay down with me. Tomorrow's going to be a long day," Justin urged. Brian threw back the rest of his scotch, turned off the overhead light and reclined his seat. In the darkness of the plane's cabin, he reached out for Justin's hand and gave it a squeeze.
London was everything Justin had dreamed of. They played tourist on some days, shopped on others. Brian went through every store on Bond street, ordering custom tailored Armani and Zegna suits to be shipped home, buying small gifts for family and friends. Justin's favorite shopping excursion had been the search for their trinkets, as Brian liked to call them.
They had tried Cartier, but found nothing that they really liked. Or rather, Brian had found a very nice attaché case, but they hadn't found their trinkets. So they had moved on to Tiffany's. There Brian had found a bracelet that he insisted was perfect for Justin. It was made of midnight titanium and consisted of five curved bars of the two toned metal, with silver titanium links holding it together. On the center bar was the Tiffany signature. Brian had demanded that they buy it and have it engraved with their initials and the date of their ceremony.
Justin had just smiled and nodded. He was quite pleased with Brian's selection. He was even more pleased when Brian chose a bar pendant for himself. It too was midnight titanium with the Tiffany signature on the front and hung from a long titanium chain. He told the clerk to have the same inscription engraved into the back of the pendant. What Justin didn't point out was that the two items matched, despite Brian's insistence that there be no matching.
Brian did not refrain from pointing out that their initials were BJ, so if anyone ever saw the inscription they would assume that the jewelry was the commemoration of a really great blow job. Justin hated to disillusion his lover, so he kept his opinion about that to himself as well.
They had spent hours at Fortnum & Mason. When Justin had asked why there and not Harrods, Brian's reply was a snort of derision. "The riffraff shop at Harrods. The queen shops at Fortnum & Mason." That was the end of that discussion.
Justin had talked a very reluctant Brian into spending one evening at a show. In return, Justin agreed to try a nightclub in SoHo. Both nights were trying. The first because Brian was not a musical theater fan and made comments about the actors and storyline throughout the show. The second because Justin was nervous and tense even before they had arrived at the club. Both had survived their ordeals, and Justin had even realized that the club hadn't been all that bad. They had danced together and had a few drinks and by the time they were ready to leave, he knew that he could make a stab at going back to Babylon when they got home. He might never feel as comfortable there as he once had, but he could go and have a good time.
Their only real argument had been over Justin's desire to visit Windsor Castle. Brian had no desire to go there, and Justin really wanted to see the place the Queen of England called home. In the end, they had split up for the morning. Justin went to the Castle and Brian went shopping. By the time they each returned to the hotel, they were apologetic and fucked for hours before finally ordering room service and fucking all night.
Justin had called his mother twice while they were in London, once when they arrived, and once the night before they were scheduled to fly home. The first call had been relatively easy, but the second was not.
"Mom," Justin said after working up the courage while his mother had been telling him the latest news from home. "I... I need to talk to you about something important when we get home. Brian and I have made a few decisions and I want to share them with you, but you have to promise to keep what I tell you to yourself. We're not ready to talk to everyone else about them. That goes especially for Debbie. If you tell her, the whole of Liberty Avenue will know within an hour."
"Justin, what's going on?" Jennifer asked, a tinge of worry in her voice. "What's wrong?"
Justin laughed nervously. "I'm sorry Mom. Nothing's wrong. Everything is fine. It's great actually. But I need to see you when we get home. I'll explain everything then, I promise."
"Alright honey, if you're sure."
"You won't say anything to Debbie or the others will you?" Justin pressed.
Jennifer laughed. "Since I don't really speak to anyone but Debbie, and since I don't really know anything to tell her yet, I'm sure I can keep my silence."
"Thanks mom." Justin sighed. "Um, does Debbie know that Brian and I are over here together?"
Jennifer was quiet for a minute. "Honey, I know you think that Debbie blabs everything she knows to the world, but she really doesn't. From what I gather, most of Liberty Avenue believes that you and Brian broke up last summer, since they never see you together. But Debbie knows that isn't true. She's known all along and hasn't said anything to anyone, including you. And yes, she knows you are on vacation together. You told her you were taking a vacation for Spring break, and then Brian mentioned leaving town for the week. She put two and two together. But I know for a fact that she hasn't even told Vic about it."
Justin sighed. "I should have talked to her about it. But I just hate getting into it with Michael. And I don't want to put her in the middle of everything. As long as Michael believed that Brian and I were apart, he could just ignore my presence the few times he came into the Diner when I was there."
"I'm sure she understands, but I think you might want to have a talk with her when you get home, as well."
"I will," Justin promised. "Listen I have to go finish packing. Brian bought so much shi... crap that he's trying to sneak some of his stuff into my suitcase, which is already too full. Our flight gets in at two, and we'll head straight to the loft from the airport. Brian's shaking his head emphatically, but you could come by tomorrow afternoon so we could talk."
Jennifer laughed. "Tell Brian that I'll be by around six. That way he has plenty of time to unpack and come up with an excuse to be gone when I get there."
"Thanks Mom," Justin smiled. "I'll see you tomorrow."
"You are so going to pay for that Princess," Brian growled.
"Oh, cool your jets," Justin laughed. "She doesn't expect you to be there. In fact, she said she would wait until six so you could make up an excuse to be gone when she got there. Besides, you said that you wanted to meet up with Michael to break the news to him gently. It's perfect."
Brian sighed thinking about the discussion coming between him and Mikey. "He's not going to be happy."
"No, he's not," Justin conceded. "Especially once he learns that Debbie has known we've been together this whole time. Mom even said she figured out that we were on vacation together."
Brian raised an eyebrow at that as he refolded a shirt to try to make it fit into his suitcase. "She did?"
"Well I told her I was going on vacation for spring break and then you told her you were going to be out of town at the same time." Justin shrugged. "Not hard to figure out."
"And how does she know we're still together?" Brian asked.
"My guess is it has something to do with the fact that I didn't come crying to her for advice," Justin said. "That and the fact that you have spent less and less time with the old gang."
Brian smirked. "Who'd want to waste all of their time with those losers?"
"You, until you met me and learned what quality is," Justin teased.
Brian glared, but Justin just laughed. Brian shook his head and turned back to his packing. "I think I'm going to have to buy an extra suitcase."
The flight home was uneventful, if long. Their layover in New York was blessedly brief and they made it back to Pittsburgh on time the next day. When they were close to the loft, Justin noticed that Brian had been unusually quiet the entire ride from the airport.
"I'm sure I'll love it," Justin said, correctly guessing that Brian was nervous about showing him the other apartment. Brian glared at him and grunted. Justin smiled, knowing he was right.
A few minutes later, they had pulled up in front of the loft and Justin got out to remove the luggage from the trunk while Brian paid the driver. They went in and took the elevator up to the loft together. Once inside, Brian dropped the luggage by the door and walked over to the back corner of the loft. Justin followed him and noticed that there was now a wrought iron spiral staircase leading down to the floor below.
"Can we go look?" Justin asked. "Or do you want to wait?"
Brian shrugged. "Why wait? Let's get this over with."
Justin followed Brian down the stairs and waited for him to flip the newly installed light switch at the base of the stairs. The apartment lit up and Justin looked around happily. It was laid out similarly to the upstairs loft, though the ceilings were only about ten feet and the kitchen wasn't quite as nice. But the big spacious and open feeling remained the same. Justin noticed that the area where Brian's bedroom should be was completely closed off with three doors along the wall.
Brian followed his gaze and commented. "Two bedrooms and a small bath in the middle. We could tear the walls down if you want, but I thought it might be good to have the extra bedrooms in case Gus stays over when he's older, or you want Daphne to visit when she's home from school."
"No, this is great. Perfect." Justin grinned as he wandered around the space, already picturing in his mind where he would put his easel and painting supplies. The front window faced south, so it would have the most light. And he could set up his computer and near the staircase and maybe a seating area in the middle near the kitchen. "This is wonderful, Brian. Thank you."
"Well, if you want to renovate, we'll have to wait a couple of years until we can pay the principal down on the mortgage," Brian told him. "By then we should have a good idea what works in the space and what doesn't."
Justin nodded and said, "I wish I had my paints and canvases here now. I feel so inspired in this space."
"I think you should take that inspiration and channel it into something more worthwhile," Brian told him as he wrapped his arms around Justin. "Like thanking me properly."
Justin grinned. "Take me to bed you sex fiend. I'll show you gratitude."
Brian left the loft just as Jennifer was arriving. "Good evening, Jennifer."
"Good evening Brian," Jennifer said, barely holding in her amusement. "I take it you found that excuse?"
"I happen to have plans with Michael," Brian smirked, "which Justin knew about before inviting you over. He was just being a little shit."
"Of course," Jennifer agreed. "I'll show myself up?"
"Justin's still unpacking, but he's expecting you," Brian told her as he held open the door.
"I'm sure I'll see you again soon," Jennifer said.
"Sooner than you might think," Brian said and walked towards his jeep.
It was a short ride over to Woody's where Michael was waiting for him, but Brian felt like it took forever. He was nervous. He knew that this conversation could change his life. If things went badly, he might even lose his best friend. And even if he didn't things would probably never be the same again. In a way, that was good. Brian was happy with where his life with Justin was taking him. On the other hand, he'd relied on Michael as his touchstone for so long he wasn't sure what he would do without him.
Michael was waiting like an eager puppy in a booth near the back. He had ordered Brian a beer, so Brian went directly to the table. "Mikey."
"Brian!" Michael grinned and got up to hug his friend. "How was your trip? Pick up many hot guys? I want details."
Brian shook his head. Mikey just didn't get it. "There weren't any hot tricks, Mikey. It wasn't that kind of trip."
Michael deflated. "Oh, so it was work related?"
Brian took a long swig of his beer and shook his head. "No."
Michael looked really confused now. "So what kind of trip was it?"
"The best kind, Mikey," Brian grinned, remembering.
Brian's grin faded. "Mikey, there's something I need to explain to you. Something I should have cleared up a long time ago, but... well, I was afraid of how you might take it."
Michael looked worried now. "What is it? Did I do something?"
"No, it's more... complicated than that." Brian shrugged. "Mikey, I went to London with Justin."
"Justin? But I thought that twink was gone for good?" Mikey pouted.
Brian frowned. "And that's why I haven't talked to you about him. He was never gone. At least not from my life. He had trouble with large crowds after the attack, so he avoided a lot of our usual haunts, including Babylon. But he and I never broke up. In fact, I've been trying to talk him into moving back into the loft for a while now."
"What? Why?" Michael still didn't get it, and Brian wasn't sure he could explain it to him.
"Because that's where he belongs, with me."
"But, you can't... You haven't..." Michael looked like he was going to throw up.
"I can and I have, Mikey," Brian contradicted. "You just didn't want to see it. You have got to let me go, Michael. Peter Pan has grown up, whether you wanted him to or not. And I've found someone special... Justin means the world to me Mikey and I almost threw that away. I almost lost him because I had to keep pretending to be the boy who never grows up. I won't let that happen again."
"This is entirely his fault," Michael ranted. "Everything was fine until he showed up!"
"No it wasn't fine, Mikey," Brian said. "I was self-destructive and reckless. You should know that better than anyone. I had nothing to live for but physical pleasure-whether that came from sex or drugs or both. That's not happiness, Mikey. And you know it. Otherwise you would be out there living that life instead of playing it safe and looking for the right man."
"I never said..." Michael frowned. "Justin's filled your mind with all kinds of negative shit, hasn't he? He's been running me down, or else you would never talk to me this way."
Brian smiled sadly. "Justin has never said a negative word about you, Michael. He knows how I feel about you and would never ask me to give up my friendship with you. But Mikey, you've asked me to give up Justin in a thousand ways, some direct, some not so direct. Every time you insult him, every time you asked why he was along, every time you tried to break us up, you asked me to choose between him and you. I've avoided this conversation for more than a year because I didn't want to have it, Mikey. I don't WANT to choose. But I will if you don't give me any other option. And I don't think you'll like the outcome."
"You'd choose that little shit that you've only known for a year over me?" Michael asked, hurt and anger lacing his tone.
"Don't make me choose," was Brian's response. "Mikey, I don't want to lose you. But I won't give up Justin for you or anyone. I won't go back to the way things used to be to make you happy. And I won't let you hurt Justin anymore."
"When did I ever hurt that fucking twink?" Michael ground out.
"Every time you open your god damn fucking mouth around him!" Brian shouted, losing his temper. "You do nothing but insult and belittle him. He may shrug it off, but I can see the way it hurts him. And I won't allow it. I won't allow anyone to hurt him again, do you understand me?"
Michael looked at the rage in his best friend's eyes and backed down. "Yeah, I understand."
It took a minute for Brian to regain his composure. "Mikey, Justin will be living with me from now on. We've made a promise to each other to make a go of this-and we will make it work-which leaves you with two choices. Accept him and me-the way I am today, not the boy you want me to be-or..."
"Or?" Michael still wasn't getting it.
"Or it's over." Brian said flatly. There was no other way to explain it to him. "Figure out if you can live with the way things are, Mikey. And let me know."
Brian got up and left the bar. He ran into Emmett on his way in.
"Brian! Good to see you home," Emmett said. "Coming to Babylon later?"
"I can't," Brian said shortly, but then stopped and looked at Emmet. "Hey Em, Mikey could really use a friend right now."
Emmett gave Brian a long searching look and nodded. "I'll take care of him."
Jennifer Taylor found the loft door ajar when she stepped off the elevator, so she just let herself in. "Justin?"
Justin walked out from the bedroom still holding a shirt she recognized from their shopping trip two weeks ago. He stepped down the steps and gave his mother a hug. "Hey Mom."
"Hey yourself," Jennifer smiled at her son. "You look tired."
"I am," Justin sighed as he noticed he was still carrying his shirt in his hands. "It's midnight in London right now. Come on, you can keep me company while I finish unpacking. Brian threatened my life if my things weren't put away before he got back. And I can tell already that I'm going to crash soon."
Jennifer nodded and followed Justin back into the bedroom area. The frosted glass doors that surrounded the raised portion of the loft were mostly closed, so she hadn't noticed the mess Justin had made before, but she noticed now.
"Oh honey, who taught you to fold your clothes like that?" Jennifer moaned. "They'll be all wrinkled when you try to put them on. Here let me help. I'll fold and you put away."
Justin gave a tired smile. "Thanks Mom."
Jennifer worked silently for a few minutes, making headway on the large pile of clothes Justin had stacked on the bed. "I take it that whatever you have to tell me has something to do with the reason we're unpacking your things here instead of at your apartment?" Jennifer finally asked.
Justin hesitated before picking up a stack of neatly folded t-shirts. "Yeah, it's part of it."
"So you finally decided to move in?" Jenifer asked, not allowing her concern to show, but Justin knew her well enough to read it anyway.
"I am," Justin said. "And it's more than just that."
Jennifer paused in her folding and Justin sat on the bed so he could tell her everything. "We didn't go directly to London, Mom. Brian told me he had business in Vermont he needed to take care of before we could leave, but that wasn't true. He...We...Fuck, I don't know how to say this."
Jennifer cupped Justin's cheek the way she had done so many times when he was younger and upset. "Just say it, honey."
"He asked me to marry him," Justin blurted out. "Only, it's not marriage really. That's still not legal, even in Vermont. It's what they call a civil union, and most states don't recognize it as legal, including Pennsylvania, but Brian also worked things out with his lawyer, and there are partnership agreements and medical proxies..."
Jennifer smiled softly, "So you want to marry him? Is that what this is about?"
"I already did," Justin admitted and showed his bracelet to his mother. "He's got a pendant that matches, but don't say that to him. He's got something against matching jewelry. He calls them our trinkets, but they cost a pretty penny."
Jennifer was shocked. "You got married? Without me?"
Justin nodded warily.
Jennifer sat back and looked at her son. "And you signed these partnership documents?"
"They were notarized by the Justice of the Peace that conducted our ceremony."
"I don't know what to say," Jennifer said as she stood up from the bed and began to pace. "I always dreamed you'd get married someday. Even with the political road blocks some states are putting up, things are turning around. But I never thought you'd run off and... elope."
Justin smiled. "It was perfect Mom. Not perfect in everyone else's eyes, but just right for us. You know how Brian hates all that fuss. And he made it really romantic. He even made sure we had a cake."
"Married." Jennifer said. "My baby's married."
"Well as married as I can be under the current law," Justin agreed. "Are you okay with this?
"I'm not sure," Jennifer admitted. "On the one hand, I'm so happy for you. On the other, I'm pissed off at you for not allowing me to be a part of it. I'm your mother, Justin. I should have been there."
"I know," Justin sighed. "But you know Brian. He didn't even tell me about it until we were already in Vermont."
Jennifer nodded. "Sounds typical. Although I never thought the day would come when Brian Kinney decided to settle down. Only you could turn a man so completely upside-down, sweetheart."
Justin smiled at his mother. "We should finish this. And I'll tell you all about it while we work. When we're finished, I can show you the pictures."
"Brian let you take pictures?" Jennifer laughed. "Now I know the man is crazy about you."
"He is mom," Justin grinned. For the next half hour, Justin talked, and Jennifer listened to every detail of their time in Vermont. Then she listened as Justin told her about buying their trinkets and their trip to London.
"So this trip was like a honeymoon, then," Jennifer concluded as they hung the last of Justin's clothes in the closet.
"Ooh, you said the H word," Justin laughed. "Don't let Brian hear you say that. He still gets very defensive over that. And don't use the M word either. As far as Brian's concerned, it's a partnership. And technically, he's right."
Jennifer shook her head in bemusement. Her son was married, but not really. "And I guess this is the thing Brian doesn't want to share with the world?"
Justin paused. "Not just Brian. I'm not sure that I'm ready for the reactions of certain people, either. For now, we think it's best just to keep this quiet. It's not really anyone else's business, and we'll catch enough crap about moving in together again."
Jennifer nodded. Even if Justin had wanted to announce their union, he was right to support his husband if he wasn't ready yet. And she was sure that what Justin said did have a bearing on their decision. "Okay, for now, it's just between us. But Justin, I want to do something to celebrate."
Justin got a wicked gleam in his eyes. "You can help me decorate my new studio."
"What?" Jennifer asked. Instead of answering, Justin led her over to the back corner of the loft and she noticed the spiral stairs for the first time. "These weren't here before, were they?"
"No, Brian had a crew put them in while we were gone," Justin told her. "It was all part of the surprise."
By that time they had reached the bottom of the steps and Justin flicked on the lights. "Oh Justin."
Jennifer took a few minutes to look around before coming back to where Justin stood by the kitchen counter. "That window will be perfect to paint by. And the extra rooms will be great if Daphne comes to visit."
"That's what Brian said," Justin said. "And when Gus gets a bit older, he can have his own room, too."
"Brian made a very smart investment," Jennifer said admiringly. "I don't know what he paid for this apartment, but by connecting the two, he's done more than doubled his square footage. The combined space will be worth more than the two separate spaces in this market. And if you rework some of space..."
Justin laughed. "For now, we're going to leave it as is. Brian said we could look at renovating in a few years, once we have paid off a chunk of the principal loan. Besides, I like it like this, all open and airy, with light coming in from both ends. So, are you interested in helping me furnish the space? Brian told me it's mine to do with as I please. Though I wouldn't want to deviate too far from the style we have upstairs. Otherwise it would feel completely disconnected."
Jennifer nodded. "So what did you have in mind? And what sort of budget are we on?"
When Brian got home, Justin and Jennifer were just coming back upstairs. They didn't notice his arrival as they chatted excitedly about the possibilities for the studio space downstairs. They went directly from the stairs to the computer where Justin began showing his mother the photos of their ceremony. While Jennifer was effusive in her excitement, Brian watched the interaction. He had just risked his relationship with his oldest friend in the world. Was it really worth it?
Then Justin noticed him standing in the shadows and his face lit up. Yes, it was worth it. Justin was worth everything.
"Miss me while I was gone?" Brian smirked.
"Not at all," Justin teased. "I was just bragging to my mother about how wonderful our ceremony was."
"And showing her those damn pictures," Brian grimaced.
Justin walked over to Brian and gave him a kiss on the cheek. "You look wonderful in those damn pictures. And even if we never tell another soul about that day, I want to have some way to remember it."
"I'll never forget it," Brian said as he wrapped his arms around Justin.
"Enough of that and come apologize to your new mother-in-law for stealing her baby boy away," Jennifer demanded with a smile.
"Mother-in-law?" Brian asked, aghast, as Justin shoved him towards his mother.
"Yes," Jennifer said adamantly. "It may not be the M word, but it's close enough for me."
"Ah fuck," Brian muttered as he allowed himself to be tugged into a hug by Jennifer.
"And you will be paying for years for running off to elope with my baby boy," Jennifer whispered as she released Brian. "Now, let's see. Easter is coming up, isn't it? I think maybe Brian should come over to meet your grandmother."
Later that evening, as Brian and Justin were just about to fall asleep, Justin said, "Mom agreed to keep it to herself. And she's going to help me get the studio ready."
"But she's also making me come for Easter dinner with your grandmother."
Justin laughed. "It could be worse. She might not have agreed and told Debbie."
Brian sighed. "Dinner doesn't sound too bad. At least it's only your granny. You don't have any other aunts and uncles or cousins I don't know about, do you?"
"Not on Mom's side," Justin laughed. "But I'll warn you now, Granny can be a handful."
"At least we know you get it honestly," Brian sighed and pulled Justin closer into his arms. "Now go to sleep. I stopped by Debbie's to tell her about my conversation with Mikey, and she insisted on coming over here tomorrow. Knowing her, she'll be here at some ungodly hour."
"You didn't tell me how that went," Justin reminded him.
"It went shitty," Brian admitted. "But I'm alright. I have you. And I'll tell you all about it in the morning. Now go to sleep."
"Okay, goodnight," Justin yawned, barely keeping his eyes open. "I love you."
"Yeah, me too, Sunshine," Brian whispered.
Justin awoke to the sound of the loft's intercom system buzzing incessantly. Despite going to bed relatively early, he was still tired and could barely stand to stumble to the door. He leaned against the wall and depressed the speaker.
"Sunshine? Is that you? You sound like shit!"
"It's me Deb. Come on up," Justin yawned and stumbled back over to the bedroom. "Brian, wake up. Brian!"
Justin pulled on his sweat pants and shook Brian's leg. The older man just groaned and rolled over on his other side.
"Fuck," Justin moaned shuffled back to the door to open it for Debbie. She was waiting with a smile on her face when the heavy steel door slid back.
"Sunshine!" Debbie yelled and grabbed him in a tight hug. "I'm so glad you're home! How was the trip? You'll have to tell me all about it! That asshole wouldn't tell me anything last night!" Debbie maneuvered around Justin and walked into the kitchen. "Forgive me for saying so, but you look like shit, baby!"
"Still getting used to the time change," Justin yawned and sat at the counter to watch Debbie putter around their kitchen. Without waiting for permission, she began hunting down the coffee and had soon set a pot to brew. Justin was glad that Brian's cleaning lady had restocked the cupboards before they got back.
"I remember how that was when Vic and I got back from our trip," Debbie said sympathetically. "Speaking of Vic, he sent over a batch of cinnamon rolls for you and the asshole. Where is he, by the way?"
"I'm here," Brian yawned, still stretching and scratching his bare belly. Justin was just grateful Brian had thought to pull on his sweats. "Who could sleep through your dulcet tones?"
"Asshole," Debbie said fondly. "You both need to get up and get moving so that you can get back on track with the time difference."
"And you're here to torture us until we do?" Brian asked, but he accepted the mug of coffee Debbie handed him.
"I am," Debbie replied, undeterred. "Now Sunshine, have you called your mother yet? She was worried the entire time you were gone. Now I know she wouldn't say anything, but you need to call her if you haven't yet."
"Mom came by last night," Justin told her. He took a grateful sip of the strong coffee that Debbie handed him with just the right cream and sugar in it. "Thanks."
"So, tell me, how was it?"
"It was great," Justin smiled, finally beginning to come back to life. "I saw Windsor Castle, where the queen lives. And we saw the Crown Jewels."
"And we shopped," Brian put in helpfully.
"Of course you shopped," Debbie said and eyed Brian. "What's that you're wearing Brian? Is that new?" She had spied Brian's pendant, which was quite noticeable on his bare chest.
Brian looked down and smiled a fond smile. "Just a trinket."
Debbie looked at him again, and then at Justin. "And it matches that little trinket Sunshine is wearing."
Brian finally opened his eyes wide, like he had just woken up. "They don't match!"
Debbie looked skeptical. "They certainly look like they match to me. Did you get them in London?"
Justin tried to diffuse the situation and divert Debbie's attention. "Yeah, we did. And we went to see that new musical, the one about the witches in Oz?"
"Don't change the subject," Debbie scolded. "I want to know why you are wearing matching jewelry!"
Brian looked like he wanted to bolt for a minute, but Justin just sat calmly, waiting to see how Brian would answer. Brian looked at Justin, but the younger man just shrugged. This was Brian's decision. Finally, Brian seemed to deflate and he sighed. "We should probably get comfortable for this."
Brian walked over to the sitting area and sat on the sofa. Justin followed, carrying his coffee with him. Debbie nodded to herself and brought the plate cinnamon rolls and some napkins and set them on the coffee table. Justin grabbed a roll and napkin before sitting down beside Brian. Brian put his arm around Justin and buried his face in Justin's hair. He took a deep breath to calm himself.
"We're all comfortable, so spill it," Debbie said.
"Before we went to London, we went to Vermont and had a civil ceremony," Brian told her. "We also signed a few legal papers that guarantee that even if Pennsylvania law doesn't recognize our civil union, we will still have basic rights. A legal and private partnership."
"You got married?" Debbie exclaimed, her joy written all over her face. Seconds later, the news seemed to sink in and her face fell. "Without me?" She turned disapproving eyes on Justin. "Without your mother? Does she know?"
"I told her last night," Justin confirmed. "She said she was happy for me, but was disappointed that she couldn't be there."
Debbie nodded. "That's sounds about right. You little shits! I would pay just about anything to have been there, to see that!"
"You aren't the only one. That's why we did it the way we did," Brian told her. "Our choice to make a commitment to each other should not be a spectacle, or up for public debate. That's also why we aren't telling anyone about it. As far as the world is concerned, we have simply chosen to live together."
"And we aren't married," Brian insisted. "It was a civil union. Gays can't get married," he smirked.
"Certainly sounds like marriage to me," Debbie huffed. "And a honeymoon in London."
"See this is why I didn't want to tell her," Brian groaned.
"You asshole. Fine, I won't call it a wedding or a marriage..."
"Or a honeymoon," Justin put in.
"Or a honeymoon," Debbie conceded. "But I am glad you decided to tell me. I still can't believe it. So why not rings?"
"We aren't munchers," Justin said with a straight face and then he and Debbie shared a laugh at Brian's expense.
"Of course not, Sunshine," Debbie smiled. "Let me see that little trinket there." Justin obligingly held out his left wrist for Debbie to see. "It's beautiful. And just different enough from his trinket that you can get away with telling people you were being sentimental, despite Brian's objections."
"Shit, I could have lied about it?" Brian groaned.
"Not to me, asshole," Debbie said. "I can always see right through your bullshit."
Brian smiled. "Yeah, you always could."
"Wanna see the pictures?" Justin asked and Brian groaned before burying his head in the arm of the sofa.
"Are you sure she won't say anything," Brian asked after Debbie had left the loft.
Justin just shrugged. "No. But she didn't say anything about us still being together even though she knew."
Brian nodded and walked to the kitchen. He pulled out a bottle of water and drank about half of it down. "I need to go to the gym. Why don't you come with me?"
Justin gave Brian a long look. "Because that's the place you meet up with your friends."
"Justin," Brian growled.
"Brian, we live together now," Justin explained patiently. "You are going to see me all the time. You don't go out nearly as often as you used to, and you don't see your friends that often. If they come here, I'll be here, too. You and they need some place you can talk and be friends without me around."
Brian shook his head and walked over to hug Justin. "There is no place I want to be that I can't be with you."
"I know that," Justin smiled up at his partner. "And I want to keep it that way. Besides, what's the point in paying for a gym membership for me when I can work out on campus for free?"
"You are such a tight wad at times," Brian laughed. "Okay, so what will you do while I work out?"
"You could drop me off at my apartment and I can start to pack," Justin said. "I'll need to give the landlord notice and make arrangements to move my stuff."
"Justin, the only furniture you own is that fucking futon and it's not coming into our home," Brian told him. "The rest we can box up and move in my jeep. We have two weeks before the end of the month. I doubt it will take more than three trips."
Justin nodded. "Okay. But I want to get my art supplies together and moved today, if we can. There are two or three ideas I've been mulling over since our trip that I want to work on this afternoon if I can."
"That we can do," Brian agreed. "And if I run into any of the guys, I'll make them come and help carry boxes."
"Sounds like a plan," Justin smiled. "Now tell me about Michael."
"Brian, welcome back," Ted said as Brian walked up to the bench press where Emmett was making a feeble attempt to lift forty pounds. "Emmett said he saw you last night. How was your trip?"
Brian gave Ted a glare that made the shorter man uneasy and amused Brian. Finally smiling, he said, "It was good."
"Em also said that Mikey told him that Justin went with you?" Ted asked warily as Emmett stood up from the weight bench.
Brian ignored the question for a minute while he placed more weight on the bar and lay down on the bench. "You girls sure know how to get the rumor mill grinding. And yes, Justin was with me."
Brian hefted the weights from their resting place and slowly lowered it to his chest before smoothly pushing it back up into the air. Eight times he did this before settling the weights back in the resting place. He looked up and caught Ted and Emmett locked in a silent battle of mouthed words and shaking heads.
"Go ahead and ask," Brian sighed and sat up. "You caught me at a good time, since I'm going to demand a favor of you later."
Ted glanced warily at Emmett who just crossed his arms and waved for Ted to go ahead. Obviously Emmett knew enough not to push the subject. Ted cleared his throat and asked, "So, um, are you back together, then?"
"We were never broken up," Brian told them. "Justin was busy and has an aversion to large crowds since the attack, so he hasn't been around our usual haunts, but that doesn't mean we didn't find other places to go and meet."
"Oh," Ted said. "I never realized...and you never really mentioned..."
"No I didn't," Brian said as he leaned back on the bench to start another set. "Does it surprise you that I wouldn't discuss my personal affairs?"
"Well you never hid your tricks," Emmett muttered.
"Justin isn't a trick," Brian huffed as he hefted the weights again. "He's...well, he's moving in."
"Again?" Ted asked. "That didn't go so well last time, did it?"
Brian finished his second set before sitting up to answer. "Mostly because I wasn't ready for that kind of commitment. Things are different now."
"I can see that," Emmett said thoughtfully.
"Well, congratulations, I guess," Ted shrugged still looking wary and confused.
"Yes," Emmet agreed. "We're happy for both of you."
"Glad to hear it, because I need you two to help me move some of Justin's shit when we finish up here," Brian smirked and began his third set.
Ted groaned. "I knew there was going to be some form of punishment."
Brian ignored the two bickering fags while he finished his third and fourth sets. Then he walked over to the leg press and adjusted the weights and did four sets of eight repetitions there. An hour later, he had done the full circuit along with a couple miles on the treadmill and went to search out the other two in the locker rooms. He found them in the sauna and told them they had fifteen minutes to shower and get dressed if they wanted him to buy them lunch for helping out Justin. Both men jumped up, not even considering refusing to help.
Thirty minutes later, the three men were on their way up to Justin's apartment with takeout Chinese, beer, and packing boxes. Brian didn't bother to knock. When they walked in, Justin was bent over a box by the window placing his art supplies carefully into the box. Brian had a nice view of the ass he adored. When he heard Ted sigh, he realized that his friends also had a perfect view.
"Eyes to yourself, Theodore," Brian growled.
All at once Ted jumped, Emmett chuckled, and Justin stood up and turned to face them with a smile. "Hi."
"Hey baby!" Emmett crooned and swished his way over to give Justin a hug. "How are you? It feels like ages since we caught up. And naughty you! Keeping secrets from me!"
Justin blushed and said, "I never lied."
"No, you just let me feel sorry for my poor baby," Emmett sighed and, with his arm still around Justin, turned toward Ted and Brian. "I would ask if he was seeing anyone and would say no one new. I would tell him he should find a new man and he would say there's only one man for him. I'd hang up the phone and practically cry my eyes out, I felt so bad for the poor twink. Now I find out he's had his man all along. Naughty, naughty Justin."
"Justin, I packed your toiletries, but I'll need another box..." Jennifer stopped as she realized that there were other people in the apartment. "Oh! Hello Ted, Emmett, Brian. I didn't realize everyone was coming."
Brian smirked. "You didn't actually think I wanted to haul all of Justin's shit alone, did you? I brought lunch."
"Great, I'm starved," Justin said and headed for the counter where Brian was setting out the cartons of food.
"And we brought extra boxes," Ted offered.
As they all ate, Brian took the opportunity to look around the apartment. Jennifer and Justin had accomplished a lot in the short time they were there. The entire kitchen was packed already, except for the few things in the refrigerator. There was a stack of boxes by the dresser that Brian assumed were Justin's clothes. The book shelf was empty of all of Justin's textbooks. And Jennifer had obviously made headway in the bathroom. It looked like all that was left were Justin's art supplies and canvases, and his computer.
"I thought it might take a few trips, but between the jeep, Ted's car and your SUV, Jennifer, I think we'll be able to get it all today," Brian remarked.
"I let the landlord know that I'm moving out," Justin said. "And we negotiated for the furniture. I won't pay a fee for breaking the lease and he keeps the furniture so he can rent the place out as furnished."
"You are such a con artist," Brian laughed and kissed Justin on the forehead. "This furniture is not worth a month's rent."
"No, but he can charge more for a furnished place," Justin shrugged. "It all works out. Besides, he's always got college students clamoring to get into the building, since it's so convenient to school, so it won't sit empty."
Emmett finished his lunch and wiped his mouth. "So, what's left to pack?"
And with that, they all went to work. Within an hour, they had carried the boxes down to the vehicles. While Justin dropped the keys off with the landlord, Brian took one last look around to make sure they hadn't missed anything. The only personal item left was the empty laundry basket in the bathroom.
"You have a much better hamper system at the loft, so I thought I'd just leave it," Justin told him when Brian asked about it.
"So you packed your dirty clothes?" Brian asked aghast.
Justin laughed. "No, my mother decided to collect my laundry while we were away. She had it laundered and delivered it back before we got home."
"Good thing," Brian nodded. "I'll lay odds on the fact that you tossed a damp towel into the hamper before leaving for a week."
Justin blushed. "Well, we were in a hurry."
"So that's everything?" Brian asked.
"That's everything," Justin sighed as he looked around the apartment with a faraway look.
Brian wrapped his arms around his partner from behind and whispered, "Ready to start new?"
Justin nodded and turned in Brian's arms. "With you." And then they kissed.
When they got to the loft, everyone started picking up boxes to bring upstairs. Once they had the elevator filled, Justin hit the button for the third floor instead of the fourth. Ted and Emmet both looked surprised, but said nothing.
"Everything but the boxes marked clothes and toiletries should come in here," Justin directed as he stepped off the elevator and opened the studio door.
"What's this?" Ted asked as they all wandered in.
"This is Justin's studio," Brian informed them. "Art supplies up here, books and computer in the back area, kitchen supplies in the kitchen."
"You bought this?" Emmett asked.
"I had to," Brian smirked. "Otherwise I wouldn't have been able to rip a hole in the floor and put those in." Brian indicated the spiral stairs in the corner.
Ted set their loads down in the appropriate areas and took a minute to look around before going back out to get another load. This continued for the next half hour. Then the three old friends collapsed in the sitting area while Jennifer helped Justin unpack his clothes and toiletries in the other room.
"Thanks," Brian said. "We could have done all this ourselves, but it would have taken a lot longer. And I want Justin to feel settled here as quickly as possible."
"That studio space downstairs ought to go a long way towards making that happen," Ted commented. "By the way, why didn't I know about that? I thought I was your accountant?"
Brian looked away. There were several reasons that he had decided to change accountants-privacy and setting up joint accounts with Justin being primary-but there was only one he could share with Ted. "Things are a bit tense with Michael right now. I decided that if things go south, it would be better to eliminate possible points of contention."
"In other words," Emmett explained to a confused Ted. "Brian thinks if he and Michael aren't friends anymore, you will side with Michael and it will make things complicated."
"I'm not saying that will happen," Brian continued. "But if it does, I think it would be better for all of us to keep business separate from our friendships. So, I've found another accountant."
"Who?" Ted asked.
"James Manning," Brian said. "Of Manning, Walker, and Goldman."
Ted whistled. "He's good."
"He better be for what he charges," Brian groused. "He's also Jennifer and Justin's accountant. With our new living arrangements, it seemed easier to have one accountant familiar with both of our situations."
Ted nodded. "I understand. I'll miss the extra income, but I understand."
"Yeah, well, I've given your name to a couple colleagues," Brian said. "It was the least I could do. Just remember, I work with these people. So don't fuck it up."
"Thanks," Ted said brightly.
Emmett went to the kitchen to get beers for each of them and when he returned, Brian asked him, "How was Mikey last night?"
Emmett shrugged. "He's coping. I'm not sure if he's ready to face the cold hard truth yet, and he's hurt. He went to cry on Debbie shoulder today."
"I'm not sure how sympathetic she'll be," Brian said. "I talked to her last night and she came by this morning to see Justin. She knows what I said, and she agrees with me."
"What did you say?" Ted asked. Brian didn't answer; he just played with the label on his beer bottle.
Emmett looked at Brian for a minute before answering for him. "He told Michael that he needed to stop putting Justin down and trying to interfere in their relationship. And if Michael couldn't find a way to accept that things had changed, then they had little choice but to part company."
"Wow," Ted said.
"Yeah," Emmett agreed. "Michael blames Justin. For things changing, for Brian changing, for... for everything."
"But things change; that's just life," Ted said.
"Yes well, it's all very complicated," Emmett said.
"Aren't things with me and Mikey always complicated?" Brian asked humorlessly.
"No more so than with you and...anyone," Emmett teased. "You are a very complicated man, Brian Kinney."
"I'll say," Ted groused.
"You'll look out for Mikey for me, though, won't you?" Brian asked.
"We'll look out for him," Emmett agreed. "And we'll look out for you too."
"But I'm not alone," Brian said. "I've got Justin."
"So he knows what's going on with Michael?" Ted asked.
Brian nodded. Just then Justin and Jennifer came back out carrying empty boxes and laughing.
"I have to go pick up Molly," Jennifer said. "I'll see you later Brian. And thank you Ted and Emmett for your help." She left almost immediately.
"I should make dinner for you guys to say thank you," Justin mused.
"Not tonight," Brian forestalled. "I thought you wanted to get your easel and stuff set up so you could paint?"
"Oh, yeah," Justin smiled. "Can we do it another night? Any night but Thursday. I baby-sit for Gus then."
"How about Friday," Brian suggested. "Then we can go to Woody's and see how you do with that crowd?"
Justin thought about it for a minute then nodded. "I'll make French onion soup with homemade croutons and panini."
"Since when do we have a panini grill?" Brian asked.
"Since Mom said she'd get us one for a housewarming gift," Justin smiled. Justin turned to Emmett. "You should tell Michael he's welcome to come, if he feels up to it."
Brian wasn't sure that was the right thing to do. If Mikey was still feeling hurt and angry, Friday night could be a disaster. But Emmett nodded.
"I'll only ask him if he seems like he can handle it," Emmett said.
"We should get going," Ted said. "I promised Michael that I'd meet him for drinks tonight, and I am in dire need of a shower and a nap."
Emmett nodded and gave Justin a hug. "You'll call me soon? If you don't want to call the apartment, call my cell, okay?"
"I'll call," Justin laughed as he promised.
The other men left and Brian grabbed Justin's hand. "Come on, I'll help you set up the studio."
"And will you pose for me when we're done?" Justin asked slyly.
"Only if you want to paint porn," Brian said. "I plan to be naked and hard very soon."
"Sounds inspiring," Justin said and followed Brian down the stairs.
Brian woke Monday morning with a smile on his face and Justin's mouth on his cock. With a moan of pleasure he laid there for long minutes enjoying Justin's talented tongue and hot wet mouth before pulling the blonde away.
"I think there's something better we could be doing," Brian informed his lover.
"Like what?" Justin asked impudently.
"Well, I could be fucking you into the mattress," Brian suggested.
"That does sound better," Justin agreed. Brian just smirked as he rolled over and grabbed a condom and the lube. Justin positioned himself on his hands and knees and felt Brian move behind him. "But you better make it hard and fast, because I have class and you have work today."
"I can do hard and fast," Brian told him. "And tonight, I'll make sure it's slow and long and torture you for hours without relief."
Justin groaned as he felt Brian slide into his body from behind. "Sounds, unh, sounds good."
Brian was as good as his word and soon both men were satisfied. They grabbed a quick shower and dressed for the day, then stopped to grab a quick bite before leaving the loft. Brian dropped Justin off at school before going to the office. Even though Justin's first class wasn't until ten, he told Brian that he had a meeting with his advisor and needed to be there early.
As Brian pulled up to the curb he put the jeep into park and sighed. "We need to get you a car."
Justin frowned. "Not that I don't want one or anything, but why? I'm fine with the bus, and you and Mom give me rides when you can."
"Because there are times when I can't be around and when you end up studying late," Brian said. "I hate thinking of you alone at a bus stop late at night. Anything could happen."
"This is a safe neighborhood," Justin pointed out.
"But the loft isn't in the best area," Brian reminded him. "And you have to walk through a worse neighborhood to get home from the bus stop. Listen, we'll talk about this later, but I want you to consider it. I can talk to Manning today and see what sort of budget he would suggest, but...well, just think about it."
Justin nodded. "I will."
"You going home after class?"
"No, Mom is picking me up." Justin said. "She has a showing in the area and then she's free for the afternoon, so we're going to go look for furniture for the studio and bedrooms."
"Just stick to the budget and keep it simple," Brian advised.
"It is a rather generous budget, so I doubt that will be a problem," Justin grinned. "And I think I know what you like by now."
"I like you," Brian rejoined before kissing Justin goodbye. "Now get out. I have to get to work. I'll be home for dinner around six. Do you want to cook, or should I pick something up?"
Justin shook his head as he grabbed his backpack. "I'll cook. There's a ton of food in the refrigerator."
Brian smiled, "Later."
Jennifer and Justin headed to her favorite furniture store and went inside to look around. "I still can't believe Brian is leaving this all up to you."
"Well, he landed a big client right before we left and he has a lot to do to keep the campaign on track," Justin explained. "I think he might have another big client in his sights as well. Now that he's a partner in the firm, he doesn't just get a bonus, he gets a percentage of the overall profits, and a bonus percentage of the clients he brings in. If you thought he was motivated before, just wait until you see him now. While we were away, he kept emailing Cynthia about ideas he wanted to pursue and clients he thought they could get."
"Well, we'll just have to take care of this project for him, then," Jennifer concluded. "Oh Justin, what about this?" Jennifer had found a red leather chaise with modern lines and stainless steel supports.
"It's great," Justin nodded. "It will be perfect in the studio area." He could already picture Brian posing naked on it for him. "I think Brian will love it too."
Over the next two hours, they hunted and debated the pros and cons of each piece of furniture. In the end, they ordered everything but what would go in Gus' room. Justin wanted to talk to Brian about that before making any decisions, but he had something in mind already and he didn't think they would find what he wanted at that particular store. All of their children's furniture was very traditional and wouldn't fit with the rest of the loft.
When Jennifer dropped Justin off, she made him promise to call when the furniture arrived on Thursday so they could arrange it together. Justin agreed and went up to his studio to work on a few drawings for Gus' room. He might have worked until after Brian got home, he was so caught up in what he was doing, but his grumbling stomach forced him upstairs to fix dinner.
He was just setting the grilled salmon and roasted vegetables onto their plates when Brian came home. "Hi honey, I'm home," Brian said with a smirk as he came up behind Justin and wrapped his arms around him. "That looks wonderful. Did you have a nice time shopping with your mother?"
Justin scowled and pulled away. "I am not the little woman. But yes, I did have a nice time."
"And how close to budget are we?" Brian asked as he pulled out a bottle of white wine and poured two glasses.
"Actually, we're well under budget so far," Justin told him as he set down their plates and then sat down. "But we haven't touched Gus' room yet. I wanted to ask your opinion on that before I bought anything. Then I'll look online to see if I can find what I want."
Brian sat down across from Justin and noticed for the first time that there was a sketch pad beside his place setting. "What's this?"
"Just some ideas I had for the room," Justin shrugged. "Go ahead and look."
Brian flipped open the pad to the first page and was amazed by what he saw. There were murals on each wall of a forest scene including deer and other woodland creatures. The furniture Justin drew had clean lines, but had a rustic feel that fit well in the room he was proposing.
"This is really good," Brian said as he set the pad down to break of a forkful of the salmon. He continued to eat as turned the page and found another angle of the same room. The details and colors were vibrant and Brian could see his little boy in that room.
"The next one is my favorite," Justin said. "I think it fits the style and feel of the loft better and will work better as Gus gets older. He won't outgrow it the way he will the other two ideas."
Brian took another bite before turning the page. This time the room was had sleek modern furniture and the murals on the walls reflected the Pittsburgh skyline. There were airplanes and trucks and clouds in the sky to keep a young boy interested, but there was nothing childish about the mural itself. It was something even a teenage boy could like. The second page of that design showed the room at night. The lights in the buildings were illuminated and stars seemed to twinkle off the page.
"I have a few ideas about lighting for that one," Justin told him. "I think I can actually make the sky look dark at night and light in the day. And the windows and stars would just be glow paint."
Brian nodded and turned the page again. This time the room had a train theme. It was nice, but nothing like the first two. Brian shut the sketch pad and concentrated on eating his dinner while he thought about the designs. It wasn't until he had finished that he spoke again.
"Is it possible to make the mural three dimensional?" Brian asked.
Justin shrugged. "A little more time consuming and expensive, but yeah. Why? What were you thinking?"
"Well, if we made some of the buildings and maybe the airplane come out of the wall, we could rig a lighting system into the mural, so the plane's lights actually flash at night and the building lights were real. He wouldn't need a nightlight then."
Justin grinned. "So we're going with the cityscape?"
"Yes," Brian nodded. "I really liked the woods, but I think the city fits our home better."
"Me too," Justin agreed. "It may take me a while to get it all put together. And I'll need to talk with a lighting designer."
"Sounds expensive," Brian commented.
"Actually, I left about half the budget just for Gus' room," Justin admitted. "I was hoping we could make it really special. And If I do the murals myself, that will keep costs down. And I have a friend at school that is amazing with wood sculpture and carpentry. He might be willing to help out for student wages."
"Price it," Brian urged. "And don't forget to take into account how much time you can put into the project and keep up with your painting and school. If we need to hire help, we can do that."
"Nothing's too good for Gus, huh?" Justin smiled.
"Or for you," Brian smiled back. "Now, I think I promised you a long slow fuck this morning. If we want to take our time, we should clean up and get to it."
"Yes, sir," Justin salute and scooted away to avoid the swat Brian aimed for his ass.
The week flew by for Justin. He was so busy between school and putting together estimates and detailed designs for Gus' room that he didn't have time to worry about Brian's reaction to his decorating choices. He did think about getting a car, however, since all the running around he needed to do would have been much easier if he had had his own transportation. The furniture came on Thursday and Jennifer had come by to help him set it up as planned. Unfortunately, Brian had to work late Thursday and Justin was already sleeping when he got in, so he never got to show him the new rooms.
It wasn't until Justin was cooking dinner for their friends Friday evening that he stopped to think about it. And when he thought about it, he got nervous. What if Brian hated everything? Emmett knew that the new furniture was being delivered and would expect to see the rooms. This meant that if Brian did hate it, Justin would be embarrassed in front of their friends. He groaned.
He didn't have any more time to consider it, though, because Brian got home just then. "I'm sorry I'm late. The guys will be here any minute and I need a shower. Then I'll be right out to help with anything you need."
Justin didn't even have time for a hello before Brian was shutting the bathroom door. Shaking his head, Justin resigned himself to his fate. What would be would be. He went back to preparing dinner for their friends. The soup was already in small crocks with the croutons in the soup and a small round of provolone cheese on the top. They would go under the broiler right before it was time to serve. He had already roasted several red and green peppers and shallots with olive oil to put on the sandwiches. He was in the process of slicing the thick Italian bread and layering them with slices of marinated grilled chicken, the vegetables and asiago cheese when the buzzer sounded.
Brian had just returned from the bedroom, his hair still damp, and went to buzz Ted and Emmett in. "I see your mom dropped off the panini grill."
"Yesterday," Justin told him. "She wanted to wait until you were around to open it, but I convinced her to spare you the pain of seeing the wrapping paper she used."
"Not..." Brian groaned.
"Silver with bells and doves."
"Fuck, that woman's as bad as Debbie," Brian said. "Just wait until I tell you what she had delivered to work."
Justin's curiosity was piqued, but he wouldn't get an answer then, because Brian was opening the door and in walked Emmett, Ted, and Michael.
There was silence for long minutes, but Michael eventually said, "Emmett said that you had changed the loft a lot, but wouldn't tell me how. Nothing looks different to me."
Justin laughed nervously. "Well the tours will have to wait until after dinner. Emmett, could you help me finish up while Ted plays bartender?"
"Sure," Emmett smiled. Ted nodded and followed Emmett into the kitchen.
"There are a couple bottles of white wine in the fridge Ted, could you open one and pour five glasses," Justin directed. "And Emmett, that tray of crocks needs to go under the broiler for five minutes. Keep a close eye on it so the cheese doesn't burn. I'll just get these sandwiches on the grill."
"And we'll give Mikey and Brian a few minutes alone," Emmett said quietly to Ted, just in case he had missed Justin's intentions.
"Sure," Ted shrugged. He poured the wine and set a glass by each of the five place settings. "What would you have done if Michael didn't show up?"
Justin shrugged, "Put the extras in the fridge and had it for lunch tomorrow. I was pretty sure he would, though."
"Why's that, hon?" Emmett asked.
"Because Michael won't give up Brian by choice," Justin said. "The question is will he force Brian to push him away."
"You okay with this?" Emmett asked.
"I'm secure in my relationship with Brian," Justin said. "I know how he feels about me, and about Michael. Whatever happens, Brian won't allow Michael to come between us."
"He won't talk to me about what he's thinking," Emmett told them. "Since that first night, he's been avoiding me."
"He probably thinks you'll side with Justin," Ted commented.
Justin and Emmett eyed Ted. "Has he been talking to you?"
Ted nodded. "But I'm not going to tell you what we talked about. I won't break his confidence like that."
"It's fine, Ted," Justin sighed. "He needs someone to confide in. I'm just sorry he thinks I'm taking his other friends away, too. It doesn't bode well."
"I think the soup's done," Emmett said as he grabbed a couple potholders and opened the oven door. "Help me set these out Ted."
"There's a trivet by each plate for the crocks," Justin told them. "I'm just about done with the sandwiches."
Just then, Brian and Michael walked over to join them. Brian went to Justin and kissed his neck. "The soup smells amazing. Can I help you cut these?"
Justin smiled up at him and whispered, "Everything alright?"
Brian nodded. "As alright as it can be. I don't think it's over, though."
"I don't think so either," Justin sighed, and then straightened. When he spoke again it was in a regular voice. "Why don't you take these to the table, and I'll get the salad and vinaigrette from the refrigerator."
Everyone was seated around the round table when Justin finally brought the last of their dinner to the table and took his seat beside Brian. As soon as he sat, everyone began to dig in. The food helped ease the tension in the group and soon everyone was smiling and laughing. But Justin knew that Michael was watching him, and it made him nervous and tense.
After dinner, everyone helped clean up-on Brian's orders. He threatened that there would be no tour as long as there was a mess in the kitchen. Soon it was all clean and the moment of truth had arrived.
"No more putting it off," Emmet griped. "I want to see what you did with the space!"
"All right, but I go first and then Brian," Justin said. "I haven't had a chance to show him yet."
"You've been making changes to his loft and he hasn't seen them?" Michael asked, horrified.
"Justin has been making changes to OUR HOME," Brian said in a warning tone. Michael backed down, but didn't look apologetic.
Justin sighed and said, "Well, follow me then."
When they reached the stairs, Michael said, "Where did these come from?"
"Just wait, Mikey," Ted said. "It gets better."
Justin flicked on the light at the bottom of the stairs. While he had kept with the modern designs and clean lines of the floor above, he had chosen a warmer palette to furnish this part of their home. Everything was in shades of Brown, tan, orange and red, with both wood and stainless steel accents. Justin thought it was nice, and Jennifer agreed, but Brian's opinion was the one that mattered in Justin's mind.
"What's with the red and orange?" Michael piped up. "And since when does the loft have two floors?"
"Since Justin and I decided to expand," Brian said. "And I like the colors."
Justin smiled. Even if Brian hated it, he should have known that he would defend Justin's choices. He wouldn't embarrass him, especially in front of Michael.
"It gorgeous, honey," Emmett gushed. "And that lounge by the window? I could lie down and never get up!"
Ted, who had peeked his head into the guest room came out and said, "Your guest room is nicer than my bedroom at home."
Soon they were all walking around, looking at the details and Brian came up to Justin and held him in a tight embrace. "You were worried I wouldn't like it, weren't you?"
"A little," Justin admitted.
"Well, I think you did a great job," Brian said. "And if you ever decide to give up painting, I think you could make a fortune doing interior design."
"Let's wait and see if I can pull off Gus' room before making any grand pronouncements," Justin laughed, but he was relieved, and the tension he had felt earlier drained away.
Michael came out of Gus' room and said, "Hey, did you spend everything out here? You left a room unfinished."
Justin sighed and closed his eyes as the tension in his neck and shoulders returned.
"That's Gus' room," Emmett explained, doing his part to keep the peace. "Justin has some wonderful designs for in there, but they'll take a bit more time to execute."
"Speaking of," Brian said, attempting to take Justin's attention away from Mikey's idiocy. "Did you get the bid from the lighting designer I suggested?"
"He said that everything was doable, but wants to meet with me and Tim to go over the plans before we start constructing the cityscape," Justin said. "And the bid was actually less than we anticipated."
"He did the lighting in our bedroom," Brian said. "If there's some wiggle room in the budget, maybe you should see about adding better lighting to the studio area. And maybe a couple of spots on the wall where you can display your art."
"I'll ask when Tim and I meet with him next week," Justin said. Despite Brian's attempt to distract him, Justin was well aware that Michael was standing close by, listening to every word they said. "I think you were right about the car. I've had to run around all week and getting from place to place was a nightmare."
"I talked to Manning about it and he gave me a few suggestions about how much to put down and how much to finance. He thinks we shouldn't look at anything over twenty five grand," Brian said. "We can go this weekend and pick something out."
"I was thinking about a small SUV," Justin admitted. "It would make lugging canvases around a lot easier. Maybe a Honda CR-V? Or a Toyota 4 Runner?"
"Not a jeep, but either will do," Brian teased. "Now, come show me what you've done with the place."
By then Emmet and Ted were relaxing in the sitting area and Michael had reluctantly joined them. Justin took Brian over to see his favorite piece: the chaise.
"I thought you might actually pose for me on this," Justin admitted.
"I might," Brian teased. His next words came out in a rush. "The storage cabinets for your art supplies that you incorporated fit so well with the rest of the design you wouldn't think they were a totally functional addition. And I like the portable screen. It works in the room, but I know you want a clean backdrop for any portraits. And the desk area is divine. Now, show me the guest room."
Justin followed behind Brian in bemusement, wondering what had brought about the need to rush. Once inside the room, Brian shut the door and pressed Justin against it with his body, already thrusting.
"Michael is pissing me off," Brian whispered. "Every time he opens his mouth or glares at you I want to just throw you down and show him that I really...but I can't do that. And I can't punch him. So this is the only option left."
"Whatever you need," Justin gasped out, his body responding to the hard thrusts of Brian's cock against his own. "Fuck. Pants."
Brian growled and leaned up enough so they could each undo their pants and shove them down. Now, with naked flesh on flesh, their frenzied thrusting increased until the inevitable moment of release. They stood there holding each other up and getting their breaths back for a couple minutes before Brian swore.
"Shit, we need something wipe the come off."
"There are guest towels in the wardrobe," Justin told him.
Brian kept his shirt out of the mess as he hobbled over to the wardrobe to find the towels. Justin had to stifle a giggle at the sight. Brian must have heard him, though, since he threw the towel at Justin with a small glare.
"We need to start keeping condoms and lube in handy places down here," Brian commented. "It seems we already have towels."
Justin did laugh this time. Moments later they were presentable again, but Brian stopped Justin before opening the door.
"You know I love it, don't you?' Brian asked. Justin nodded. "Good. And don't let Mikey get to you."
"I'll try," Justin said, and he diplomatically refrained from pointing out that Brian had been the one worked up just minutes before.
There was a knock at the door and Michael's whiney voice came though. "Come on, guys. Are we still going to Woody's or not?"
Brian raised an eyebrow in question to Justin. Justin nodded in response. "Fuck off Mikey! We'll be out in a minute!" Then he leaned over and kissed Justin breathless. "Just for a couple hours, then we can come back here, take a bath and make love all night." Justin nodded again and Brian kissed him again.
Woody's wasn't as bad as Justin had feared. They arrived late enough that most of the rowdy crowd had moved on to Babylon already and so they could actually find a table and play pool. Emmett wanted to know every detail about Justin's decorating choices. Ted and Michael were both eyeing different men they wanted to approach, but were too cowardly to actually do it. And Brian happily flitted from group to group, like a hostess at a cocktail party.
"He's been watching you all night," Emmett said. "Even while he's flirting with every man in Pittsburgh."
"He's worried about me," Justin chuckled. "I still don't do well in big crowds. This is only the second time I've been out to a bar since the attack."
"What happened with the first one," Emmett asked.
"The first one was in London," Justin smiled remembering. "We made a deal, he went to see Wicked with me, and I went to the club. It was a small place, not unlike Woody's, but it was smokier and there were more people. I was fine as long as we were together, but at one point he left to get drinks and I started to panic. By the time he got back to me, I was almost hyperventilating. I calmed down almost as soon as he came back, but he wanted to leave right then. The thing was, I didn't want to leave. I wanted to dance. It had been so long. So I convinced him to stay a while longer. After that, he wouldn't leave my side, but it was good. That I could stay at all means I'm starting to get better. Maybe someday soon, I'll be able to go back to Babylon."
"But not tonight," Emmett said.
"No, not tonight," Justin agreed. "There has been too much tension and stress today for me to try tonight. It would be a complete disaster."
"No, Justin's going home with me to take a bath," Brian told Emmett. "He's got all these essential oils and comes out smelling like lavender and roses." Brian made a face at that, but Justin just laughed. He knew Brian didn't mind the smell or he wouldn't join him as often as he did.
"It's lavender and bergamot. You'd love them Em," Justin said. "And they really do help take away stress and tension."
"Next time you restock, give me a jingle and I'll go with you," Emmett said.
"This place is dead," Michael complained as he and Ted joined them. "Why don't we head over to Babylon? It's got to be hopping by now."
"You guys go on," Brian said without looking at Justin. "I've had a tough week at work and I want to go home early."
"But Brian," Michael whined. "You've been gone and haven't been out with us in ages."
"I'm out with you now," Brian said with false joviality. "We've had a good time, but now I want to go home. Is there a problem with that?"
Michael must have heard Brian's underlying warning because he backed off. "No, it's fine. Are we on for breakfast at the diner tomorrow?"
"Actually, Justin and I have plans for tomorrow," Brian said. "We're going car shopping."
"You're buying the twink a car?" Michael shouted, no longer able to hold back his true feelings. "You just bought him an apartment and let him spend a fortune on decorating it!"
Brian glared. "Our finances are none of your business, Michael."
"For your information," Justin put in hotly, "I received control of my trust fund recently, so no, Brian is not paying for my car. I am. And the studio is something we did together."
"I think we should go," Brian told Justin before turning to Michael. "And you better get your act together, or this will be the last night we hang out together. If this is your best behavior, it's seriously lacking."
Justin was too pissed off to argue with Brian about leaving, though he did hate that the evening ended so badly. And he felt bad for poor Emmett and Ted who would be stuck listening to the great whiner.
"Call me, Emmett," Justin said as he gathered his jacket. "We'll set up a time to go look for those bath oils."
"Will do," Emmett said cheerfully, willfully ignoring the tension in the air.
"See ya, Ted," Brian said and then they were leaving.
Brian waited until they were in the parking lot before exploding. "Mother fucking asshole! He stood in our home, going on and on about how he could see how wrong he'd been, and then he pulls this shit! Well, it will be a cold day in hell before he's welcome in our home again!"
"Brian. Brian!" It took two tries before Brian calmed down enough to look at Justin. "Give it time. Maybe it was just too soon."
"You're defending him?" Brian asked, outraged. "He all but called you a whore, in case you didn't notice."
Justin laughed darkly. "I noticed all right. And so did half the bar. That is the only reason I said anything about the trust. But Brian, he's had less than a week to come to terms with everything, and we keep throwing more at him. He didn't know about the apartment until he got there. And he certainly didn't know about the car, since we just decided on that. It was a lot for him to take in, especially considering he's still trying to work through his issues with us."
Brian had visibly calmed as Justin spoke. "It still doesn't give him the right to talk about you like that."
"No it doesn't," Justin said. "But it doesn't make him a monster because he jumped to the wrong conclusions."
Brian took a deep breath and sighed. "Alright, I'll give us both time to cool off and think before I talk to him."
"Good," Justin said. "Now take me home so we can take that bath. I think we both need it tonight."
Justin picked Emmett up on Sunday morning in his new CR-V. It was black, fully loaded, top of the line, and Brian had haggled the price down to fit under their budget. It was a warm spring day, so Justin put the windows down and opened the moon roof and let the fresh air wake him up.
Justin called Emmett when he reached the apartment the older man shared with Michael. He didn't want to have a run in with Michael so soon after Friday night's disaster. So he sipped his latte and waited for Emmett to come downstairs. When Emmett arrived, he stopped to look over Justin's new ride before getting in.
"Wow, Mr. Trust Fund," Emmett teased. "Nice wheels."
Justin handed Emmett the latte he had picked up for him and snorted. "You should have seen Brian dealing with the salesman. I don't think the man knew what hit him. He got this thing fully loaded, with the navigation system and extended warranty, at about five grand below sticker price."
"Leather seats, wood grain finish on the interior, six CD changer, and satellite radio too?" Emmett asked. "The salesman must have been gay and gagging for a go."
"Surprisingly, no," Justin laughed as he pulled away from the curb. "Had a picture of the wife and kids on his desk and kept glancing at us and looking nervous when we would touch each other. Of course, that made Brian act out more. He kept using pet names and holding my hand. He even kissed my cheek a few times. It was nauseating. I think the poor breeder was just happy to give us a deal to finally get us out of the showroom."
Emmett laughed. "Not your typical negotiation tactic, but when was Brian ever typical?" Emmett sipped his latte and sighed, "This is heavenly. Just what I needed to wake up, thank you. So, where are we headed?"
"Out to Ross Park Mall," Justin told him. "Brian refuses to set foot in the place, but that's where the homeopathic store is where I get my essential oils. It's actually not far from my mom's house."
"How is she doing since the divorce?" Emmett asked. "I saw her last weekend when we were moving you, but didn't really get the chance to talk."
"She's doing better than my father, apparently," Justin snorted at the irony of that. His father had always needed to be in control of everything, but now that he was on his own, he couldn't even seem to manage his own dry cleaning. "You know she got her real estate license, right?" Emmett nodded. "Well, she's been doing really great. She's sold at least three houses every month since she started. With those commissions, the interest from her inheritance from my grandfather, and child support my father is required to pay for Molly, she's better off financially now than she was living with my father."
"What about emotionally?" Emmett asked.
"She still has bad days," Justin admitted. "But she's started dating again."
"Really? Is he dreamy?" Emmett asked with excitement, ready for the juicy details.
Justin laughed. "He's okay for a man in his fifties, I guess."
"A little old for Jennifer, isn't he?"
"That's what I said, but she pointed out the age difference between me and Brian and I couldn't argue," Justin shrugged. "He's nice enough. I've known him for years. He was my grandfather's lawyer and always seemed to be around after grandfather died. Anyway, they reconnected when my mother fought my father over my trust. Jeff was the one who set up the trust and he was happy to work with my mom and her lawyer to make sure it was executed properly. His wife died a few years ago from cancer. He's got two kids, but they're both older than me."
"Sounds like true romance," Emmett sighed. "Love that was denied by time and circumstance can finally be given the chance to blossom and grow."
Justin laughed again. "Emmett this is my mother we're talking about, not some tragic heroine from one of your novels. They are old friends who decided to give dating a try."
Emmett sighed dramatically. "If you say so."
"How was Michael after we left the other night?" Justin asked in an attempt to change the subject.
"He was..." Emmett sighed again. "He was ugly, honey. We went to Babylon and he drank way too much. He picked up some loser and spent some time in the back room. It was like he was trying to channel the old Brian but was just too pathetic to pull it off."
"He doesn't have the looks or the personality to be Brian," Justin said.
"You could do it," Emmett said thoughtfully. "You've got the same kind of draw that Brian has, even though you express it in a different way."
Justin shrugged. "Maybe. But I don't see the point in it all. Even Brian has mostly given that up."
"He gave up the casual sex," Emmett clarified, "But he hasn't given up the need for the hunt. Just look at how he got this car. He was ruthless in his tactics. And I'm sure it's the same at work. I doubt that it's a coincidence that he got the partnership after he stopped putting all his energy into getting laid. He's channeling that energy elsewhere and you are both reaping the dividends."
"I've told him I don't expect monogamy," Justin said. "I know that there is still a part of him that needs to prove to himself and the world that he can still get any man he sets his eyes on. It's all part of his insecurities resulting from a shitty childhood. But the more secure he is in our relationship, the less he feels the need to prove himself."
"So you just have to make sure our boy feels all manly and secure," Emmett smiled and patted Justin's leg. "And not be disappointed when he falls off the wagon."
Justin laughed and pulled into a parking spot near the mall doors. "Let's go put a dent in my new platinum card."
While Justin was off with Emmett, Brian spent two hours at the gym, fending off four offers to fuck in the sauna, and then went in to work for a few hours. In the past, Sunday afternoons had meant dinner at Debbie and Vic's but now... Well, Brian was not ready to deal with Michael yet. Besides, he had a new company in his sights and had some research to do.
Living Well health food markets were a growing company, quietly making inroads into urban and suburban markets all over the northeast. They had made great strides through grassroots marketing, but Brian knew he could make them a household name all over the country. They were still small enough to consider a local advertising agency, but they had the potential to become a national chain. If he could get them now, before they struck gold, and had his percentage set in stone, he would make a killing when he took them national.
All he needed was the right campaign.
Spring seemed to melt away into summer. Brian was busy with his latest campaign and was making real headway with the Living Well people. Justin was caught up in finishing Gus' room and his finals. Nothing had changed with Michael in the weeks since the blowup at Woody's, though Ted hinted to Emmett, who promptly told Justin, that he might be coming around.
Brian wasn't sure he wanted Michael to come around. He was happy with his life right now, despite the difficulties with Mikey. Debbie and Vic had started coming over to the loft for dinner once a week, so he still had them thanks to Justin's interference. He didn't see Ted as much as before, but that wasn't a great loss. Emmett was around quite often these days, he had even posed for Justin's final project for one of his classes. Lindsey and Gus came by regularly, and Brian often accompanied Justin on his Thursday night baby-sitting duties to spend more time with his Sonny Boy.
Work was really rolling. Since Green Hill, he had created and signed three other new campaigns. Ryder was slowly backing out of the daily operations, as they had agreed when Brian had signed on as partner. And if things kept up the way they had been, Brian would be able to buy out Ryder much earlier than they had originally planned. Within a year, the agency could be his outright.
That was the real reason he and Justin were on a budget, and why he had put off any renovations to the loft. If he wasn't financially preparing for the transfer, he never would have agreed to accept Justin's trust payments, and when they were on stable footing again, he would insist that those funds should stay in the trust, where they were secure and could continue to grow. Justin might not like it, but Brian was sure he could convince him that it was in both of their best interests in the long run. For now, they were living off their joint account, each contributing monthly to cover their living costs, mortgage and car payments.
"Brian?" Brian's assistant stuck her head in his doorway. "Justin's on your private line and I'm going home. You should too. It's after seven already."
"Thanks, Cynthia. Have a goodnight," Brian said.
"You too," Cynthia replied before disappearing.
"Hey," Brian said into the phone.
"Hey yourself," Justin laughed. "Are you coming home soon?"
Brian looked at the stack of paperwork and mock-ups awaiting his approval. "I'll probably be another hour or so, why?"
"I thought I might come pick you up and take you to dinner," Justin told him. "I've been too busy finishing my projects for the year end show to think about eating, but I just dropped the last canvases at the school gallery and realized I'm starving."
"Sounds good to me," Brian sighed. "But I really need to get through this shit before tomorrow."
"Don't worry about it," Justin said. "I told Debbie I might swing by the diner to say hi for a minute. And she's sure to feed me something to tide me over. Then I'll come by and pick you up, okay?"
"Yeah," Brian agreed. "If you'll drop me off in the morning, I can just leave the jeep in the garage here tonight."
"It's a plan," Justin said. "I'll be by, when? Eight thirty?"
"Yeah," Brian said. "Call me if I'm not down there when you get here."
"I know," Justin laughed. "Want me to pass anything on to Debbie?"
"Nothing that can't wait until dinner tomorrow night," Brian said. "Later?"
Brian had just reached the sidewalk when Justin pulled up to the curb, and he could tell right away that something had upset him. If his distracted and nervous manner weren't enough of a give away, the fact that Justin gave Brian the keys to his CR-V and asked him to drive would have been.
"What's up?" Brian asked, once they were on their way to Roxanne's. He'd called for reservations after hanging up with Justin earlier.
"Michael came into the diner while I was there," Justin said. "He said he wanted to apologize. And he wants to talk to me about some business venture."
"What sort of business venture?" Brian asked. "He sank every penny he had into that comic book shop, so I can't imagine he has a lot of capital to be investing right now."
"I don't know," Justin said. "The whole conversation gave me the creeps. He kept smiling at me and looking at me. If I didn't know he had spent the afternoon with his mother, I would have sworn he was on something."
"So what did you tell him?" Brian asked with a frown.
"I told him that I would need to discuss any possible business ventures with you," Justin sighed. "I think that was what he wanted. He lit up and invited us both over for coffee tomorrow."
"But Deb and Vic are over tomorrow," Brian objected.
"I know," Justin sighed. "And I think he knew it too, because when I said we had plans, he said he could come to the loft if it was more convenient."
Brian sighed. "So Mikey's going to show up for dinner tomorrow?"
"No," Justin laughed a little. "Debbie walked up right then and caught on to what was going on. She called him on being rude enough to invite himself to our house. And then she looked at me and said maybe neutral ground would be best. So we're supposed to go to Debbie's for brunch on Saturday."
"Do you think he's... trying to do something?" Brian asked, feeling bad being wary of his best friend's motives.
"I don't know," Justin said. "But nothing about him rang sincere to me, Brian. Maybe he thinks if he can just pretend to like me he can fix things with you. I don't know."
Brian pulled into the restaurant parking lot and parked the SUV. He took Justin's hand and said, "I guess we'll just have to wait and see how it all plays out."
Saturday morning, Brian and Justin arrived at Debbie's house right on time. They were both apprehensive about the coming meeting, and both men had been unusually quiet the entire trip over. Brian parked the jeep and met Justin on the sidewalk. They walked to the house together, unconsciously putting up a united front from the very beginning.
"Hey Sunshine!" Debbie smiled as she opened the door for them. "And Brian. I'm glad you decided to come."
"I wouldn't let Justin face this alone," Brian told her quietly. "Has Michael told you what this is all about?"
She shook her head. "He hasn't said a word about it, the little shit. He's been here for two hours making sure everything is perfect. Driving Vic nuts, if you want to know the truth. Well come in; don't stand on the porch all day."
Justin gave her a nervous smile but followed her into the small living room. "Something smells great."
"Uncle Vic made quiche," Michael chirped as he entered the room. "And spinach salad. I'm glad you both decided to come. We have so much to talk about!"
"Well, before you boys get down to it, I think we should sit down and eat," Debbie commanded. "Things are always easier with a full stomach."
"I'm not so sure about that," Justin whispered to Brian. He was feeling distinctly queasy.
They all sat around the small kitchen table and Debbie and Vic made an effort to keep the conversation light, but Brian remained silent throughout and Justin only answered questions directed to him. It was a relatively brief meal, but it felt like it took forever before Debbie and Vic shooed the younger men into the living room so she and Vic could clean up.
"So what is this about?" Brian asked as soon as they sat down. It was the first time he had spoken to Michael since they had arrived.
Michael looked at his oldest friend and seemed to get serious. "Well, I wanted to apologize to Justin-well, to both of you-for the way I behaved before. It was wrong."
"Yes it was," Brian said, coolly.
Michael seemed disconcerted that Brian didn't just jump at his apology. "Um, well, yeah. I wanted to let you both know that I'm going to make a better effort to accept your relationship in the future. To that end, I wanted to make a proposition. I've been thinking about it since they killed off Captain Astro and I think the world is ready for a gay superhero. I've got loads of story ideas, but I need an artist to make them come to life. What do you say, Justin?"
Justin raised his eyebrows in surprise and sat back in his chair. What did he think? He thought this was a monumentally bad idea, that's what he thought.
"Well, I..."Justin hesitated, but then gathered his wits about him. "It sounds like a good concept."
"I knew you'd do it," Michael smirked.
"I didn't say that," Justin denied. "I think it's a good concept, but there are some rather large problems with having me draw the panels for you, not the least of which is the fact that I'm not a graphic artist, I'm a painter. I might be able to do an okay job of it, but if you want this to sell, you need someone who specializes in that type of drawing."
"You won't do it?" Michael asked, disappointment and anger flaring in his eyes.
"I can connect you with a friend from school who does graphic art almost exclusively," Justin went on. "Considering how complicated everything is right now, I think it would be a better option for all involved."
Michael scowled, but nodded. "Who is this guy?"
"Her name is Claudia," Justin said. "And she is an amazing artist. She was just complaining to me the other day that she had nothing to keep her occupied over the summer. She loves comic book art. I'll give her a call for you, if you want."
Michael looked away and nodded. "Thanks."
Brian finally spoke up, "Listen Mikey. If this is your dream, then go for it. Justin's right. You should have the best. In this case, that appears to be this Claudia girl. And if you need start up money, or you want help marketing the comic book when it's finished, Justin and I will help. Alright?"
Justin raised his eyes at that, but didn't contradict Brian.
"Yeah," Michael sighed. "Sorry I'm being such a twit. I just thought this would be a good way for Justin and me to get past our differences."
"The only thing that will work for that is time and effort," Brian said.
"Why don't you come to the school's year end show tonight and you can see some of Claudia's work. If you like it I can introduce you to her and you can make your case," Justin suggested.
"I'll do that," Michael smiled, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Ma and Uncle Vic already said they were going, so I can just go with them."
"Sounds like a plan," Brian said.
"Are you sure you want him there tonight?" Brian asked after they had said their goodbyes and were back in the jeep.
"Sure? No." Justin sighed. "But it does seem the easiest way to introduce him to Claudia."
"It's just that you worked so hard all year for this," Brian said. "I would hate to have anything spoil it for you."
Justin smiled. "He won't spoil it. Debbie will kill him if he fucks up my night. She said as much when you were in the kitchen with Vic."
"Good." Brian said. "She'll keep him in line, then."
"Um Brian," Justin said hesitantly. "Are you sure we can afford to back this little project?"
Brian sighed. "Yes and no. I was going to wait to tell you all of this when I was more sure of the timeline. When I became partner, part of the agreement was that I would buy Ryder out when I could. He wants to retire, and I want the company. That's why I've been working so hard and why we've been budgeting so closely. As things stand now, with all the new business I've been bringing in, and my percentages in their contracts, I was hoping I could pull it off by the end of the year. But..."
"But if we invest in Michael's dream, yours may have to be put off for a little while," Justin concluded. "Brian, are you sure you want to do that?"
"No," Brian said, echoing Justin's earlier answer. "But if this is real...if he really is attempting to work this out...then I have to be willing to make a conciliatory gesture too."
"Delaying your dream is more than just a gesture," Justin told him. "But I'll back you whatever you decide. Whatever happens, we're in this together."
Brian grabbed Justin's hand and glanced at his partner. "Thanks."
Justin was pacing a hole in the loft's floor as he waited for Brian to finish getting ready. "Come on Brian. We're going to be late."
"We aren't going to be late," Brian said as he came up behind Justin and pulled him into his arms. "We've got half an hour before the show begins and it only takes fifteen minutes to get to the gallery."
"But what if there's traffic?" Justin muttered as he buried his face in Brian's cashmere sweater. "What if we can't find parking?"
"Traffic on a Saturday evening?" Brian said. "I doubt it. And if there's no parking, I'll drop you off and meet you inside."
"Can we go?" Justin asked, lifting his head to look at his partner.
Brian chuckled. "Yes, we can go. We're taking the CR-V, right?"
Justin grabbed the keys and handed them to Brian. "Yeah, we have to clear out the gallery tonight."
A few minutes later, they were on their way. "What has you so keyed up about this?" Brian asked.
Justin sighed, "PIFA is one of the best art schools in the country, and only the best students are selected to present their work at the final show. Every year, critics and gallery reps from around the world come to the final show to see if they can spot the next big thing. This isn't an open house, where parents come to exclaim over how great their child is-though I'm sure there will be plenty of that-this is an opportunity to gain national recognition as an artist."
"Well, you just point out the critics, and I'll sell Justin Taylor to him," Brian smirked.
Justin laughed. "I'd rather you just stick with me and make sure I don't make an ass of myself."
"So only the best make it to the show?" Brian asked. "Why didn't you tell me? I thought it was just like you said, a parents night."
Justin shrugged. "I was hoping if I didn't think about it, I wouldn't get my hopes up."
"Well, you've done your best, and now all you can do is hope the critics recognize genius when they see it," Brian said. "How many freshmen made the cut this year?"
Justin grinned. "Just one."
"See, your professors recognize genius," Brian told him. "Now quit worrying."
They arrived with time to spare, and Brian ushered Justin past the waiting crowd of parents and friends so that he could do a last minute check on his display. Brain noticed other students doing the same thing, but he didn't see anyone with work as vibrant and filled with emotion as Justin's. He hadn't been blowing smoke up his lover's ass to make him feel better. Justin's art was truly unique and special.
Each student had a large cubicle of space to display his work, enough space to hang two or three good sized paintings on each of the three walls. Some had chosen to overfill their display with a number of smaller paintings crowding the space. Some had spaces that looked almost barren, with only three or four paintings total. Some displayed sculpture or multimedia pieces. Justin's space was full without being too busy. He had used each wall to display a different series of paintings. On the left wall was the impressionistic portrait of Emmet he had done as well as an impressionistic portrait of his mother and his sister Molly and one of Debbie and Vic. To the right, he had displayed three landscapes that Brian recognized from their trip to London. And in the center, he had hung three paintings of Brian on the red chaise. Despite Brian's teasing, they weren't pornographic in the least. They were, however, rather explicit.
"You are still my favorite subject," Justin teased, and Brian was reminded of Justin's first showing at the GLC.
"Pretty good likeness," Brian smirked. "It's a good thing I don't mind lying around naked."
"Good for me," Justin agreed. "Now, can you help me with this light? It's casting a glare on Emmet's face."
Brian laughed and went over to help.
For the next two hours, Justin's display area was crowded with spectators, and Justin was inundated with people wanting to talk to him and give him their cards. Brian was proud of his partner, but he was getting just a little annoyed with the sycophants. He whispered to Justin that he was going to get them something to drink and took a minute to slip away from the madness.
He made it to the bar and grabbed a glass of champagne. That was where he was found by Debbie, Vic and Michael. Jennifer and Molly had already been by to see Justin's work, but Molly had to be taken to her father's right after. Emmett had dragged Ted along to see how his portrait had turned out, but they had realized that Justin wouldn't have much time to chat with them and had disappeared to look at the other students' displays. Now that Debbie and Vic were here, everyone of importance to Justin had made it.
"Where is he?" Debbie asked when she made to Brian's side, Michael and Vic following behind.
"See that crowd over there?" Brian asked. "He's in the center of it."
"Oh! I knew he would be a hit," Debbie said. "Didn't I say so, Vic?"
"A thousand times, Sis," Vic agreed with a devilish smile.
"So why aren't you over there with him?" Debbie asked and smacked Brian on the arm.
"OW! That fucking hurt," Brian muttered. "I just left to get us some champagne. I was on my way back. Jesus!"
"That's better!" Debbie huffed. "Well? What are you waiting around for? Get Sunshine his champagne and get back there. You know how he is with crowds! Tell him we're here, but we'll wait until the crowd thins before we bother him."
Brian grabbed two fresh glasses of champagne and followed orders. When he reached Justin's side, the blonde looked relieved to see him and almost immediately grabbed his arm. Suddenly, Brian felt horrible. He'd only been gone a few minutes, but it had been too long.
When there was a break in the conversation, Brian told Justin that Debbie, Vic and Michael had arrived but were waiting for things to calm down a bit before coming over. Justin nodded and drank his champagne gratefully before turning to greet the next sycophant with a card.
The show was scheduled to last four hours, and Justin's display space stayed crowded until almost the very end. With only twenty minutes left, Debbie, Vic and Michael finally came over bearing fresh drinks for both Brian and Justin.
"Sunshine!" Debbie exclaimed. "You are the belle of the ball, aren't you?"
"A few people seemed to like my work," Justin smiled.
"A few?" Vic said. "You have a gift for understatement, Princess."
"So, Michael, did you get a chance to look at Claudia's work?" Justin asked, trying to take the attention away from himself. After an entire night of gushing, it had gotten old, even though he appreciated his friends' support.
Michael jumped on the subject and spent the next five minutes praising the unseen graphic artist while Vic and Debbie looked at Justin's work.
"He's very talented," Vic said.
"He's a fucking genius," Debbie corrected.
"He even made me look good," Emmett said. The others hadn't noticed him and Ted return. "And Brian looks like some Roman god. Bacchanalia, perhaps"
"I am a god," Brian smirked. He looked for Justin and Michael, but they had disappeared.
"He said he was going to introduce Michael to Claudia, whoever that is," Ted told him. "He's not trying to set Michael up with a woman, is he? He does know Michael's gay, right?"
Everyone but Ted laughed. It was Emmett who finally explained. "No Claudia is a girl that Justin thinks might help Mikey with his comic book idea."
"Oh, is she the one with all the superhero paintings?" Ted asked. "Because her men were certainly well endowed."
"Almost pornographic," Emmett said. "She'll be perfect for Mikey's project."
"How many business cards did you get tonight?" Brian asked after the others had helped them pack up Justin's canvases and they were finally on their way home.
"I'm not sure," Justin replied, still dazed at the reception his work had received. "Close to thirty, I think. About half of them from gallery reps."
"Looks like we'll need to find you a good agent," Brian smirked.
"Brian, I don't know anything about the business end of things," Justin said, getting a little panicked. "I've only ever thought about painting and having people like what I create. What the hell do I know about finding a good agent? Or negotiating with galleries?"
Brian laughed. "I already made a few inquiries with colleagues and got a couple names," Brian told him. "I've always believed you would be big someday, I just didn't think it would be this soon. I talked to Lindsey, too. She said both agents are really good and known for their honest dealings with artists. Why don't we set up meetings this week and then choose one."
"But will they want to take me on?" Justin asked, looking down at the cards still clutched in his hand.
"With as many offers as you got tonight?" Brian asked. "Not to mention the number of critics who are in their hotels as we speak emailing your praises to their various publications."
Justin nodded. "Okay. We can set up meetings. Will you be able to go with me?"
"I'll make time," Brian promised. "And we won't sign anything without going over it with our lawyer first, okay?"
"I think they liked all of my work, but the pictures of you were the ones people commented on the most," Justin told him.
"Yeah, you wouldn't believe how many people asked if I was the model," Brian admitted.
"Are you alright with me putting them on display if I get a show?" Justin asked.
"I'm not ashamed," Brian said. "I kind of like the idea that my cock will be out in the world somewhere, captured in paint for posterity."
Justin laughed. "I could always do a portrait of just your cock. I'll need to work a lot this summer. I promised Emmett, Debbie and my mom that they could have the portraits, so if I do get a show, I'll need something to fill in the empty spots."
"My cock can fill your empty spot any day," Brian leered.
Brian set up the meetings for Wednesday and took the afternoon off to go with Justin. The agents had been very impressed with the reviews Justin had received for the show. Brian hadn't realized it, but one of the cards Justin received that night was from the New York Times critic and another from the Washington Post. The reviews, which Brian had looked up online and printed out, were fantastic. And Justin had underestimated the number of gallery reps he had spoken to, as well. There were twenty-seven cards from gallery reps from across the country, one from England, and one from France.
The two men brought a list of the gallery representatives who had approached Justin and brought photographs of several of his paintings with them. If the agent was interested, they could invite him to the studio at a later date to see more in person.
"Are you sure this guy is interested in me?" Justin asked as they waited in the posh reception area of the first agent.
"What happened to my over-confident lover?" Brian teased. "The one who could take on the world, and change the unchangeable Brian Kinney?"
"That's different," Justin said. "This is my art. It's like putting a piece of my soul on display for strangers and hoping they approve."
"Fuck them if they can't see what a beautiful soul you have," Brian whispered. "I see it."
Justin looked up at Brian and smiled for the first time since Brian had picked him up. He sat a little taller and Brian could see some of his self-confidence return.
"You're right," Justin said. "I don't paint for them. I paint for me. Fuck 'em if they don't like what they see."
Just then they were called into the agent's office. The meeting went well, and the agent expressed an interest in having Justin sign with them, but they were a large firm and Brian was afraid that Justin might get lost in the shuffle. He held his tongue, but was glad when Justin told the man that they were meeting with another agent before they made any decisions.
The second agency only had three rooms, and apparently only two people who worked there. Angela, the assistant who greeted them, led them into the conference room and told them that Sally was running a little late, but that she would be there momentarily. Brian sat down at the table and poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher there. Justin walked around the room and looked at the various paintings on display. There were only six paintings, each by different artists, and all were nationally or internationally known except one.
"I think I like her already," Justin smiled.
"She is late," Brian pointed out.
Whatever Justin might have said to that was lost, however, as the door opened and a harried looking woman came in. She looked more like a gypsy-or possibly a kindergarten teacher-than a successful business woman. But she was smiling and apologetic and Brian knew that Justin liked her right away.
"I was so pleased to receive Mr. Kinney's call," Sally said once they had all settled down. "I had already set Angela to track you down, so I could contact you Mr. Taylor."
"Please, call me Justin, and he's Brian," Justin smiled. "I have to admit that I never thought so much could happen just from the school show, but there were so many people there it was all quite overwhelming."
"You brought a list?" Sally asked in a no nonsense way. Brian handed her a copy of the list they had made. She looked it over and whistled. "Not bad for your first time out kid. I've been trying to get a couple of these galleries to take my clients for years."
"How many clients do you have?" Brian asked.
"Six," Sally said. "Justin will be number seven if he joins us. I know we look like a fly-by-night operation, but I'm very good at what I do, Brian. I keep my client list small so I can give them the attention they deserve. And I have been successful in getting most of my artists national recognition."
"I recognize all but one of the artists," Justin said, indicating the paintings around the room.
"That would be Cary Doyle," Sally nodded. "His work hasn't been as well received as I had hoped."
"He's a genius," Justin said. "He's so far ahead of the trends that they can't recognize him for what he is, but that painting...the colors and emotions...I feel like I know him, like he knows me."
"That's why he's on my wall," Sally agreed. "And that's why he'll stay there. It may take ten years before the rest of the world catches up to Cary, but they will eventually. Until then, I'll keep slogging through the shit to get his name out there. But we aren't here to talk about Cary."
"We brought some photographs," Justin said, "But after meeting you, I'd rather you saw my work in person. Would that be alright?"
"I have time," Sally smiled.
That is how they ended up back at the studio. Justin talked non-stop about Sally the entire way from the agency to the loft and Brian knew that, unless their lawyer found something seriously wrong with her contract, this woman would be in their lives for the foreseeable future.
"This is a marvelous space!" Sally exclaimed. "The lighting is perfect! And do you live here also?"
"Actually, we live upstairs," Justin explained. "This space is mostly for my studio, though we do have a guest room and a room for Brian's son down here."
"Justin decorated the place," Brian put in.
"He has a good eye for form and color," Sally said. "Now show me your work."
For the next hour, Brian sat in the sitting area and watched Sally and Justin look through the stacks of paintings and drawings. They were like two peas when they were discussing art. Brian thought he could live with the gypsy woman being around even if she was only half as good as she claimed. The fact that she understood the art as well as the business made Justin happy and comfortable. And that was what mattered.
"I have to say, your work has really matured over the last year and half since the GLC show," Sally said when they were finally finished.
"You saw my work there?" Justin asked.
She nodded, "I thought about approaching you then, but decided you needed a little time to grow into your talent. You grew faster than I expected though."
"A bat to the head tends to put life into perspective," Justin said ruefully.
"I suppose so," Sally nodded sadly. "Angela and I count ourselves lucky that we work in such a relatively tolerant industry, but the world is a fucking cesspool overall. Well, enough of this depressing shit. I have a copy of our standard contract that I'll leave with you. I'm sure Brian will want to go over it with his lawyer before he lets you sign anything."
"That's true," Justin smiled. "And just one of the reasons I love him."
"Well, try to get back to me this week if you can," Sally said. "I want to get a jump on this list as quickly as I can, while you are still fresh in their minds."
"I'll fax it to our lawyer this afternoon," Brian said.
"Good, well, I hope to see you both soon," Sally said. "Justin, if you do decide to go with another firm, I'd still like to keep in touch. Maybe have lunch and talk shop sometime."
"I'd like that," Justin smiled.
While Justin showed her out, Brian began reading through the contract. "It looks pretty straightforward to me," Brian said when Justin returned. "You retain creative control and final say on all sales and shows. She gets ten percent of each sale. I'll call Peter and see if he has time to look at it today, but I'm pretty sure it will be okay."
"Good," Justin said and hugged Brian. "Because I really liked her. That other agent was so impersonal and standoffish. I can imagine that he would make good deals, but I doubt he would give a damn about my best interests. Sally on the other hand..."
"Is like a cross between Debbie and your mother," Brian filled in. "Yeah, I can see why you take to her. And I don't doubt that she is very good at what she does."
"So we agree?" Justin asked.
"As long as the contract checks out," Brian said. "But yes, we agree."
The contract was signed the next afternoon and Sally had three shows lined up by the following Thursday. The first was at Pittsburgh's most exclusive gallery in August. The second was in New York in October, and the third was in Paris in December. And she was sure she would have at least three or four set up for the next year by the end of July. Unlike the first agent they had met, Sally strongly encouraged Justin to finish his degree at PIFA, no matter how well his work was being received now. Like Jennifer and Brian, she felt it was always a good idea to have a degree to fall back on, since the art world could be a fickle place.
Justin spent most of the summer painting and working with Sally on selecting which pieces to show in Pittsburgh and which to hold back for New York and Paris. Brian spent his summer landing the Living Well Markets account, along with three other major accounts. He was working madly to try to make up for the money he had promised to invest in Mikey's comic book. The two hardly saw each other through the entire month of June, though Brian knew that Justin still had Debbie and Vic over once a week, and Emmett stopped by at least twice a week.
Brian and Justin both grew more and more frustrated with everything until one night Brian got fed up with the arrangement and demanded that they each make time for the other. After that, they made sure that they set aside at least two nights a week to be alone together, and blocked out Sundays completely.
It was on one such Sunday as the men were lying on the sofa together and watching a cheesy movie that Mikey showed up uninvited to discuss the comic book. Justin tried to excuse himself and go to the studio but Brian stopped him.
"It's Sunday, Justin," Brian reminded him. "No work or painting on Sundays."
"But you're going to talk business," Justin pointed out.
"Business that concerns both of us," Brian argued. "Now come back here." Justin sighed and sat back on the sofa with Brian.
"We've almost got the first two issues complete," Mikey said. "And I found a printer willing to run the first issue for us in August."
"How much are they charging you," Brian asked.
Mikey pulled out the paperwork with the printer's quote on it. Justin scanned it while Brian was examining all the details. It was a lot more expensive than he had imagined. Brian flipped the page to see Michael's budget on a spread sheet print out. Brian shook his head.
"You've left out half of your expenses and inflated your returns, Michael," Brian sighed. He got up and grabbed his laptop before returning to the sofa. For the next hour, Michael and Justin read off quotes and estimates to Brian while he input the figures into a cost analysis spreadsheet. When it was done, there were several things that were clear. At best, the comic would make a small profit. "You need to increase your price per copy and increase the number of copies you are printing,"
"But that's what comics cost," Michael said.
"And would you have paid more for a comic with a gay hero when you were a kid? Would you now?" Brian asked, already knowing the answer. "We're marketing to a select target population, most of whom have plenty of disposable income, since they have no kids. They will be willing to pay a bit more to read about a superhero just like them. And do you have so little faith in my marketing abilities to think that I wouldn't have done my research and found our market niche? I have comic book stores in every urban gay neighborhood clamoring to get the first issue. Increase the print order. Triple...no quadruple it. And have a little faith."
Brian reworked the numbers again with the changes he proposed and the bottom line was much more satisfying for all involved.
Gus' room was finally finished in July, and it turned out even better than Justin had imagined. Brian's idea to make the mural a relief with the lights imbedded into the structure had made it so much better. Lindsey and Melanie had agreed to let Gus spend the night in celebration. Brian and Justin had agreed to sleep in the guest room to be close in case the young boy woke up and needed them.
Gus' reaction made all the effort and expense worthwhile for Justin.
"Jussin!" Gus said with awe in his little voice. "For me?"
"It's all for you," Justin told him. "And look, the city lights turn on when the room gets dark." Justin turned the main lights off and the walls glowed with stars and the skyline lit up.
"Iss bootiful," Gus exclaimed.
"It is," Lindsey agreed. She had brought Gus over and had stayed to see the finished room. "You do good work, Justin Taylor."
August came and with it came Justin's first show and the first issue of Rage. Everyone came out to the gallery for the show and Justin was pleased to sell several pieces at rates that shocked all of their friends. He made enough from those three paintings to almost make up for the money they were investing into Rage. Brian and Justin argued about whether they should put the money back into his trust or use it to invest in Brian's dream. In the end, Justin won, and Brian was able to relax his work schedule a bit.
Rage was a surprise to most of them, though Ted seemed to have known who the characters were based upon before they saw the first issue. Michael had turned Brian Kinney into a superhero. Michael was his trusty sidekick, and Justin, or JT, was Rage's love interest. The first issue told the story of how Rage had save JT from a homophobic gang with baseball bats. As Brian predicted, the copies flew off the shelves and they went back to the printer to fill the demand for more.
Something about the way Michael had written the story bothered Justin. JT was too perfect...too secretive...too something. He was Rage's Achilles heel because he cared so much for the younger man, but there was almost something sinister about the whole thing.
When Justin talked to Brian about it, he just shrugged it off as Justin's imagination.
Once school was back in session, Justin found himself to be a bit of a local hero to his fellow students. His professors, on the other hand were not impressed with his success. They worked him just as hard and he soon found that he had little time to worry about Rage or Michael. He had enough to deal with keeping up with school and getting ready for the New York and Paris shows.
Brian was back on track for buying out Ryder before the end of the year, and was busy with getting the legal transfer underway and with reorganizing the company the way he wanted it.
The second issue of Rage came out in October, and again Justin had misgivings about it, but this time he kept them to himself. Brian and Michael seemed to be getting back their friendship, though they only saw each other once or twice a week, and Justin didn't want to come between them.
The opening of Justin's New York show was in October also. Sally had arranged for it to be on a long weekend, so Justin wouldn't have to miss school. Brian and Justin Flew to New York, attended the first two nights of the show and then went home, but not before Brian hit the shopping district. The show lasted for three weeks, and by the end, Justin had sold eight more paintings and had made more than enough to pay off his car if he hadn't been so set on making sure Brian had the funds to buy out Ryder.
The day before Thanksgiving, Justin was baby-sitting Gus while his mommies went to their weekly committee meeting, which had been moved up due to the holiday. When Melanie and Lindsey arrived to pick up the toddler, Brian let them in because Justin was busy with Gus at the dining table. The two were elbow deep in orange colored icing, decorating turkey shaped cookies. The kitchen counter was covered in food items in various states of preparation.
"What is all this?" Lindsey asked.
"Mommy!" Gus shouted and ran to his mother. "We make turkeys!"
Brian caught Gus just before he could smear orange icing all over Lindsey's cream skirt. "Let's get you cleaned up before you ruin anyone else's clothes, Sonny Boy."
Justin wiped his own hands off on a towel and started cleaning up. "We're having my mother, sister and grandmother over tomorrow. My granny wants to see where we live, so I volunteered to cook for the holiday. I think I may have bitten off a bit more than I anticipated, though. This refrigerator is crammed full, and I've had to move some things downstairs. I'm just glad we have two ovens so I can cook the turkey downstairs."
"It's the eternal problem, having enough oven space," Lindsey agreed. "I'm surprised that Brian agreed to host a holiday for your family, though."
Justin finished wiping up the table and grinned. "He'll deny it if you ask, but he likes my grandmother." Justin paused and looked at Melanie and Lindsey for a minute before speaking again. "Um, we wanted to ask something while you were here. We were hoping that Gus could maybe spend some time with us tomorrow. Granny really wants to meet him."
"Justin, I'm not sure that will be possible," Lindsey said. "We have Mel's family..."
"I know," Justin sighed. "We were just hoping he could come for an hour or two."
"'We'?" Mel asked with disbelief.
"Yes, 'we'," Brian agreed as he brought Gus back all clean and tidy. "Justin, why don't you take Gus down to get his things? His mommies and I have a few things to discuss."
Justin nodded and put on a bright face. "Come on, Gussie. You don't want to forget the pictures you painted for Mommy and Mama. Let's go get them."
Gus babbled to Justin all the way down the stairs. No one spoke until their voices had faded completely.
"Now what is this shit?" Melanie asked. "Since when is everything 'we'?"
Brian glared at Mel. "Since Justin and I decided to make a commitment to each other, we decide most things together. Or are you telling me that you and Lindsey don't discuss things? And I don't think it's asking too much to let his family meet Gus. Justin's grandmother lives in Arizona and is only out here twice a year. Both of your families see Gus all the time."
"Why is this such a big deal?" Melanie asked. "It's not like Gus is Justin's child."
"Isn't he?" Brian asked. "Justin is my partner. He's been there for Gus since the day he was born. He even fucking helped name him. He takes care of Gus and he loves Gus. And if he couldn't be a part of Gus' life, he would mourn as deeply as any one of us. Who taught Gus his numbers and alphabet? He always has time for Gus, even when he's really busy."
"And Gus' second word was 'Jus'" Lindsey admitted.
"Justin is only a kid," Melanie argued, but Brian could see that she wasn't fighting as hard as he had expected.
"Justin is more mature than most of the people we know," Lindsey said, taking up the argument for Brian. "Including Brian."
"Well that is true," Mel laughed, and then sighed. "Alright. I suppose we can drop Gus off for a few hours. My family always gets him so wired up that a reprieve will do us all good, I'm sure."
Justin and Gus had come up the stairs in time to hear Melanie's last statement. "Really?" Lindsey and Mel both nodded and Brian smiled. "Hear that Gussie, you get to meet my granny tomorrow!"
"Granny like turkeys?" Gus asked, his mind on all the cookies they had made but hadn't been allowed to eat.
"Yep," Justin agreed. "Granny loves turkey cookies. She taught me to make them when I was your age." Justin carried the toddler over to Mel and said, "Thank you. Oh! And we have a tin of cookies for you to take home. I told him he would have to wait to have one until after you all had dinner."
"Thanks," Lindsey smiled. "I'm sure we'll all enjoy the turkeys."
"One of us will drop Gus off around two," Mel told them as she gathered up Gus' bag and paintings. "Will that be alright?"
"It's great," Justin smiled. "And thanks again."
Justin's grandmother loved the loft, and she adored Gus. There were a few hitches in the holiday proceedings, however. Brian was not amused to be woken up early so they could get the turkey in the oven, but he was pulled out of his sulk when Justin made it up to him by going back to bed for an hour afterward. Not that they got much sleep.
Jennifer, Molly and Granny arrived at noon and the women promptly shooed Justin out of the kitchen, though he hovered by the counter and gave directions. Brian looked at the kitchen wars and decided he and Molly should go find an open store to buy wine. Not that they needed any more wine. The eight-year-old worshiped Brian and was excited by the invitation. By the time they returned with wine and beer, Justin was back in the kitchen along with his mother, and Granny was watching football. Brian brought her a beer and joined her.
Gus showed up soon after that and his rambunctious antics kept them all laughing until it was time to eat.
"I'm glad to see that you are taking good care of my grandson," Granny told Brian. Everyone was getting ready to leave, but she had pulled the younger man aside. "You keep it up and you just might become the man he's seen in you all along."
"I'm getting there," Brian conceded.
"Just keep it up," Granny told him. "You're stuck with him now, you know?"
"I do know," Brian laughed. "And I have the legal documents to prove it."
"Civil union, marriage, that's all well and good," Granny said dismissively. "But partnerships are dissolved and divorces happen everyday. Just look at my Jennifer. Twenty years down the toilet over that miserable excuse for a man. No, papers won't keep Justin with you."
"Then what will," Brian asked seriously.
"Love," Granny said. "That and pure hard-headed stubbornness. Justin's got both where you're concerned. He's got his hands on you now and it will take an act of God to get him to let go. So make sure you're worth the effort, will you? Unlike Craig."
"I'll do my best," Brian vowed.
The Paris show was scheduled for Justin's holiday break, which meant that Brian and Justin would be away for Christmas. While Brian didn't mind, Justin was rather disappointed. He would miss their friends and family, especially Molly and Gus. To that end, Brian decided that he would take Granny's advice and try to be worthy of his young partner. He organized a surprise Christmas party for December 21, the day before they were to leave for Paris. The show would open the day after Christmas and they had to be there early to set everything up.
Jennifer and Daphne had taken Justin out last minute shopping to get him out of the loft, and Brian brought in the caterers and decorators to turn their home into a Christmas wonderland. Justin had wanted to decorate the loft, but Brian had argued that they would be away for the holiday and it seemed like a waste of time and effort. Justin had given in, though he did sneak in a few small decorations, like the wreath on the wall by the front door. Now, Justin would have his tree and all the decorations he could want. All of their friends and family would be there to exchange gifts and celebrate a few days early.
Brian was mixing rum into the eggnog when Debbie and Vic arrived, followed soon after by Emmett, Michael and Ted. Molly came with Lindsey, Mel and Gus and completed their little gathering. Jennifer called under the pretext of checking on Molly, and let Brian know they were almost to the loft. Brian called everyone to gather around so that they were all by the door when Justin opened it.
"Surprise!" everyone yelled. "Merry Christmas!"
Justin's face lit up when he saw their friends and the decorations. He smiled at everyone and dropped the bags he was holding. He walked over to Brian and gave him a tight hug. "Thank you," he whispered. Brian squeezed him for a minute before letting him go.
"Okay, now that Justin, Daphne and Jennifer are here, the vultures can descend on the food," Brian announced. "Justin, you would not believe how difficult it was trying to keep these moochers away from the buffet."
"Not as difficult as it was to keep Justin from coming home early," Daphne said. "He was mopey and depressed all day."
Justin pouted, "Well I thought I was missing out on Christmas!"
"I'll make sure you never have to miss out on anything if I can help it," Brian promised. Justin smiled up at him and kissed him.
They ate and laughed together for a while, but Gus and Molly were eager to open presents, so the adults all gathered around the Christmas tree and the gift exchange began. Molly passed out the gifts and everyone was enjoying themselves. It was a perfect Christmas.
Or it was perfect until Brian noticed Emmett and Ted arguing in the corner alone. Brian made sure everyone was occupied with the gift exchange before making his way over to them. As soon as Ted noticed Brian, he tried to hide something behind his back.
"What have ya got there Theodore?" Brian asked.
"It's um, nothing," Ted lied. "Just, um something personal. Isn't that right Em?"
"Don't drag me into your bed of lies," Emmett said coolly.
"Hand it over Teddy," Brian said.
Ted looked like he wanted to run, but eventually sighed and held out his hand. In it was the latest issue of Rage.
"Why are you hiding Mikey's comic book?" Brian asked, confused and slightly wary now.
"Don't read it now," Ted advised. "There's nothing there that can't wait until tomorrow. Or until you get back from Paris."
"Ted, you are just making it worse," Emmett sighed. "Come on, let's go back to the party and leave Brian alone."
Brian nodded and walked to the bedroom, the comic clasped tightly in his hand. He sat on the bed and began reading. The previous issue had ended with Rage and JT in bed together after another close call with Rage's nemesis, Vigilante. This one opened in Vigilante's lair with the naked villain ranting about Rage and his plan to bring the hero down to some unseen figure in his bed. At the end of the scene, Vigilante turned to the shadow in his bed and said "Rage will join me or die." Then the unseen character was shown. Brian scowled and flipped the pages as he skimmed the story to the end.
Brian crushed the comic in his hand and walked back to the other room with purpose in his stride. "Jennifer, could you take Molly and Gus downstairs for a while?" Brian asked, barely containing his own rage. Jennifer looked questioningly at Brian. "I'll explain later." She nodded.
"Come on, Molly," Jennifer said. "Why don't we let Gus show us his room, and then maybe we can all paint for a bit?"
"Gus will show you where his paints are," Justin said, looking as confused as Jennifer.
Once Jennifer had gone with the children, Brian turned to Michael, "I want you to explain this." He tossed the crumpled comic book to the floor at Michael's feet.
"What? Rage?" Michael asked, trying to play innocent, but Brian could see the guilt in his eyes.
"Yes," Brian said. "I want you to sit here in my home, in front of our friends and family, and explain why you used my money, Justin's money, to call my husband a whore!"
Whispers could be heard around the room. "Husband?"
"It's just a story!" Michael shouted defensively, rising to his feet. "And people are buying it!"
"It's shit, and you know it!" Brian yelled back. "You used that fucking rag to spew your hatred towards my husband. And after the sacrifices we both made to help you!"
"Sacrifice?" Michael scoffed. "What, poor Justin couldn't have a new Rolex?"
"Fuck you Michael," Justin growled. "Brian set aside his own dream to make yours happen."
"And Justin used the funds from his paintings to help," Brian added. "But you don't care about that, do you? Poor little Mikey. He doesn't get his way and he throws a tantrum. Well I've had it! This is the last time I will allow you into my home to hurt me and my husband. Get the fuck out!"
"Wait!" Michael shouted. "Why the fuck do you keep calling him that?"
"Because that's what he is," Brian growled. "What's his is mine, and what's mine is his. He is my husband and you used to be my best friend. Now that we have that clear, get the fuck out of our home!" Michael got up to angrily grab his coat and Ted followed him, but Brian wasn't finished. "Ted! You knew about this?" Ted reluctantly nodded. "Then you can fuck off too. Mikey, consider our financial support of Rage terminated. And I'll expect you to repay every fucking penny we gave you."
Michael paused. "You can't do that! There won't be enough to fund the next issue without you!"
"Good!" Brian snarled. "This shit doesn't deserve to see the light of day. I'd go burn every fucking copy if I could!"
Ted tried to pull Michael away, but he tugged his arm free and stormed over towards Justin threateningly. "This is all your fault, you fucking little whore! That basher should have hit you harder!"
Whatever he had planned to do to Justin, Michael never got the chance because Brian was there and punched him. Hard. Michael fell back to the floor for a minute and looked up at the people around him. No one would look at him, not even Debbie. Ted had to help him up and out the door.
Once they were gone, Brian turned to Debbie and Vic and said, "I'm sorry." Without another word, Brian walked back to the bedroom, with Justin close on his heels. Justin sat down on the bed beside Brian and held him in silence for long minutes while he got his emotions under control. "I'm sorry," he said again. "I should have listened to you."
"No one could have seen this coming," Justin said. "None of us wanted to see it. I'm sorry that it had to happen. But maybe now he'll have to grow up. What exactly was in that issue?"
"He made JT Vigilante's lover, whoring himself to take down Rage," Brian sighed. "And in the end, when Rage discovered the treachery, he ended up in bed with Zephyr."
Justin snorted, "Only in his dreams."
"Yeah," Brian sighed.
"Do you want to stay here, or go face our friends?" Justin asked. "Because I'm not sure if you realize it or not, but you called me your husband out there. I'd be willing to bet that not one of them has left. They'll all be waiting to know what is going on."
"Fuck!" Brian groaned. "I used the H word?"
"Four times," Justin nodded.
"Ah hell, Lindsey and Melanie will never let me hear the end of this," Brian moaned. "Do you think we could just move to Paris and never come home?"
"They'd find us there," Justin said. "And we'd miss Gus."
Brian closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "Well, I guess we have to face the music, then."
"Together." Justin assured.
They walked out to the other room where, just as predicted, everyone sat looking expectantly up at the couple. Jennifer, Molly and Gus had returned and the two kids were playing with their new toys in front of the tree. Brian wondered if one of the others had called Jennifer back up to witness the show.
"So?" Emmet asked, breaking the tense silence.
Justin looked at his mom and Debbie. They were both grinning from ear to ear. This was definitely payback for eloping.
"I need a drink," Brian declared and went to pour himself a large scotch. When he got back, everyone was still waiting for them to answer. Brian sighed and told them, "When Justin and I were away last spring we went to Vermont and had a civil ceremony."
"We also signed a number of legal documents making us partners legally," Justin added.
"And Justin insisted we get these trinkets," Brian said, holding up his pendant and Justin's bracelet. "So technically we aren't married, but..."
"We're as close to married as two men can be under the current laws," Justin finished helpfully.
There was complete silence as those who hadn't known before tried to process this information.
Lindsey was the first to break the silence with a breathy, "Brian Fucking Kinney got married."
"It's a civil union," Justin corrected slyly. "Brian doesn't like the M word. Or the W word. Or the H word. Oh wait, there's two H words he doesn't like."
"Fuck what he wants," Emmett said as he got up to hug Justin. "My baby got married! And didn't tell me!"
"That's what we said," Debbie and Jennifer said together.
"Sis, you knew and didn't tell me?" Vic complained. "I'm hurt."
"It wasn't my place to tell," Debbie huffed.
"I can't fucking believe it," Mel said in a daze. "I just don't believe it."
"I've seen just about everything now," Vic sighed.
"Yes, well, enough of this shit, go eat the rest of that food before I throw it away and toss you all out on your asses," Brian grumped.
The atmosphere lightened again after that, and Justin showed off the damned pictures of the ceremony for all to see. Even Gus got caught up in the festive atmosphere, bouncing from person to person. Eventually, Brian gave in and opened a bottle of champagne so that their friends and family could toast to their happiness and future.
"To Brian and Justin," Melanie said. "You deserve each other."
Justin laughed as the others sipped their champagne. "Should I be insulted?"
"Perhaps," Mel grinned.
"To Brian and Justin," Jennifer said after the laughter died down. "May they always be as happy as they are now."
"Here, here," the group chorused.
"And to Brian Kinney," Justin smiled. "Sole owner of Kinnetik Advertising, formerly known as Ryder Advertising."
Of course this led to a chorus of "What?" "When?" "How?" and of course, "Congratulations!"
Late that night, they were lying in bed and replaying everything that had happened that day. Brian held Justin close to him and smelled his familiar scent as he buried his nose in Justin's hair.
"The worst thing isn't what he wrote," Brian said. "The worst thing is that he had to have had this planned all along. Thinking back on the first issues, it's obvious that this is where the story was leading. So he took our money, used your connections, and lied to our faces for months about wanting to change."
"I'm sorry," Justin said. It was the only thing he could say.
"After all these years, that he would betray me like this..."
"I know it hurts, but we'll get through it," Justin said. "We can get through anything together. And with the new company, and my art, we'll be so busy that we won't have time to dwell on all this shit."
"I hate that this happened," Brian sighed, "but at least I know once and for all where we stand."
"It may take a few years," Justin said, "but I do think he will eventually come around. Debbie told me that she's going to insist that Michael start seeing a counselor. Maybe it will help. But I have to tell you, that even if you and he can work through your problems, I'll never trust him again. And I'll do my damnedest to keep him from hurting you again."
"Thank you," Brian said. "Now go to sleep. We have a long day ahead of us tomorrow."
"I love you."
"I love you too."
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters and settings are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. No money is being made from this work. No copyright infringement is intended.