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."