Brian prepares his son and Daphne to help with his surprise for Justin's early graduation.

February 12 - Four years later, Britin - Thursday, 7:30 a.m.

"Well, if it isn't the esteemed, soon-to-be Dr. Chanders," Brian dryly commented as Daphne - clad in a lavender-colored terry bathrobe cinched at the waist, with her feet stuffed into white-and-pink bunny slippers - let out a massive yawn as she approached from the hallway. "That's what you get for staying out partying all night. By the way, that's a lovely ensemble you're wearing this morning," he couldn't help adding as she rolled her eyes at him, shuffling her feet toward the coffeemaker.

If only, she thought, as she poured herself some of the strong brew into a mug already filled with milk and sugar, the way she always drinks it. She hid her smile, knowing precisely who had prepared it. "I wish," she mumbled as she blew on the coffee to cool it off somewhat before taking an appreciative sip. She knew Pre-Med would entail dedicating long hours for her schoolwork and practicums, but nothing had prepared her for this schedule. It was...insane. That was the only word she could think to describe it. And if she wasn't so intent on pursuing something in the medical field, and wasn't so passionate about pediatrics in particular, she would have quit a long time ago. But she wouldn't let it defeat her; she was in it for the long haul, sanity or not.

Gus looked up curiously from his place at the kitchen table, watching as Daphne went in search of the cream cheese out of the refrigerator, and his father automatically reached for the blueberry bagels to drop the two halves into the toaster. The young boy was chowing down on one of his favorite breakfast cereals - Cheerio's, since the train conductor several years ago at Dollywood had told him that he always ate them for his morning meal - and Gus was intent on following in his footsteps; at least, until something else came along. So far, however, his interest in trains hadn't waned, and his dream job when he 'growed' up, as he put it, was to 'steer' the big trains. He was already practicing by using the scale-built, miniature train out in the backyard that his father had found for him at an amusement park that went out of business.

Except for rain, snow, or bitter cold, the spitting image of Brian was out there every day possible playing conductor, even if his only passengers at times were some of his stuffed animals. Brian couldn't begin to count the number of days that he and Justin had stood by the back patio, watching as Gus chirped animatedly at the silent passengers as he asked for their tickets - using a hole punch as his tool for verification - and instructing them not to stand up before he took his place in the conductor's seat as a silent signal that he was ready. His father or Justin would then obediently come out and start it up before he took off on the track, making sure to pull the rope to toot the horn exactly three times at every 'vehicle crossing' he came to during his route. Thank God they lived far enough away that the neighbors weren't bothered by it; in fact, a lot of the kids nearby found excuses to pop in on a frequent basis, just to have another ride on the "Gus Express," as Brian's son had chosen to call it. It was a variation of the "Polar Express," which had quickly become an obsession with him, as soon as it had come out. It was so bad by now that everyone - not only Gus - could recite each line of the movie word-for-word, but the little boy never grew tired of it.

"Hi, Aunt Daphne," he greeted her brightly, wiping some errant milk off his mouth with the sleeve of his pajama shirt, evoking a resigned sigh from his father. No matter how polite his son was - and how much he coached him on proper dining etiquette - he always chose to forego his napkin and use his sleeve instead for that task.

"Hi, Sweetie," she greeted him with a smile before turning to face his father. Very funny," she retorted as she placed her coffee mug down and reached up in an overhead cabinet to retrieve a small plate, just as the bagel shot up from the toaster. Leaning against the cabinets near her, Brian unfolded his arms to pull open the silverware drawer to hand Daphne a knife as she slathered a generous amount of cream cheese onto her bagel. "You know I got a grand total of three hours' sleep last night?" she groused.

Brian grinned at her as she munched, standing up beside him, on one half of the bagel, resembling a horse who slept as she stood up. "Ah, the glamorous life of a pre-med student." He chuckled as she scowled at him. "By the looks of your hair - which could currently be holding a bird's nest in it - and your elegant dress, I would say you're getting a bit of a reprieve this morning," he observed as he got a 'ha, ha' response from her. "Good...because there's something I need to talk to both you and Gus about while Justin's not here." Justin's classes at PIFA began very early on Wednesdays, even before Brian headed into work, so today was the perfect day to talk freely between the three of them without the chance of being overheard from a certain, inquisitive blond. A man who seemed to have abnormally excellent hearing, especially in light of the fact that he used to work at a noisy, crowded, family restaurant. If he didn't know that Justin was just an ordinary man, he would swear that Michael had created him as a new superhero - Justin, the Owl Man. He would have named him Bat Man, since technically bats supposedly had better hearing than owls, but since that name had already been taken, he had decided that Justin was Owl Man. He even called him that sometimes when his lover answered a question that Brian never in his wildest dreams thought he could possibly overhear. But today was too important to take any chances. There was too much at stake.

Daphne's eyes sparkled with curiosity, despite her drowsy state. "Why does Justin have to be gone?" she asked as Gus, too, turned to stare up at his father, dying to know the same thing.

"Duh. So he won't hear what I'm about to say," he snickered.

Daphne groaned as Gus chimed in, "But why, Daddy? You told me it's not nice to keep secrets from people."

"That's right, Sonny Boy. But this is also a surprise, too. A nice surprise, so if we don't keep it a secret from Justin, it won't BE a surprise then, right?" Gus vigorously nodded his head before he picked up his bowl, and quickly brought the lip of the container up to his mouth to 'chug-a-lug' the remaining milk down before placing it back down onto the table top.

"Gus..." But it was too late as his son took a swipe this time with his other sleeve before sliding off his chair and dutifully taking his bowl and spoon over to the sink to set it down. "What's the surprise, Daddy?" he asked eagerly, his face so open and innocent that Brian didn't have the heart to gently remind him (again) about the proper use of a napkin. He supposed that would come in time - for the most part, Gus was a very polite and tidy child, at least before playtime - and besides, that was what washers and dryers were for. He shook his head in amusement as he reached down and lifted Gus to sit on top of the counter to face him, smiling as the boy giggled in reaction.

"Yeah, Daddy. What's the surprise about?" Daphne teased him, idly twirling her robe belt in her hand. It seemed that ever since she and Justin had both waited on tables at the Sit-A-Spell, she could never really be still; Brian had decided long ago that she was even more of a fidgeter than his own child.

"Kinky," Brian remarked as Daphne grinned. "Before I tell you, you both have to swear to not breathe a word of this to him." It was hard enough to keep secrets from his lover - the man managed normally to wrangle information out of him quite easily, in fact, normally after a particularly rigorous bout of lovemaking, when Justin persistently chattered on afterward. At first, it had seemed annoying to him - why talk after having mind-blowing sex? Now, though, it was expected, and had oddly become endearing. But this was too important to reveal inadvertently, not if he wanted it to work properly. The first part of his plan had already been set in motion earlier in the week. Now it was time for the next part; the culmination which hopefully would be tonight. "Swear," he repeated firmly.

Daphne and Gus promptly both held up their hand and pressed their pointer and middle fingers together; it was the way that Gus's teacher at school made her students vow to keep their promises, and once Gus had mimicked the gesture at home, he had made everyone promise to abide by the same action.

"Say it."

Daphne huffed but replied at the same time as Gus, "I swear." Her eyes sparkled as she added, "I bet it's about his graduation, isn't it? You want us to help you pick out a gift that's totally impractical and romantic - the exact opposite of what YOU would select." Justin had been such a quick study at PIFA that he had completed his graduation requirements early; he would have to wait until May to 'officially' graduate with his schoolmates, but for now he had finished up all his academic studies, and as of Monday, he would be starting work at a local art gallery downtown. It was just a job as the personal assistant to the owner, but it had ample studio space, and it would give him a chance to hopefully display some of his own works in the near future. At either rate, Justin was unofficially done at PIFA, and was very excited about his new job.

Brian huffed. "Wrong, Medicine Woman! Actually, I already have that handled, thank you very much."

Daphne shook her head. "Oh, no," she replied, as Gus peered up at her with a frown, wondering what THAT meant. She sighed melodramatically. "Well, I hope you do something that isn't totally useful, at least." She said the word as if it were a bad thing.

"Will you just listen to what I have to say? You might find out that it will actually answer your question." He paused as his companions remained silent - fortunately. "Okay. Then listen up. Daphne, first of all, you'll need to call in tomorrow night for your rounds."

Daphne looked at Brian as if he had just grown tentacles. "Do you know how hard that is going to be, Brian?" she told him with a glare. "Nothing short of death is considered a legitimate excuse for missing our clinicals, at least to Dr. Ayers." The man was highly respected in his field, but his bedside manner, in her opinion and those of her classmates, left a lot to be desired Those that can, do. Those that can't, teach. It certainly fit where he was concerned.

"Well, then, you're about to come down with a highly contagious disease; something like meningitis."

Daphne snorted. "Oh, he'll really believe that! Besides, that would keep me away from patients for days! Do you know how contagious that can be?"

"Okay. Well, then, your father unexpectedly passed away."

"Brian! I want my parents there at my graduation! Even if they can be a pain in the a...uh, a pain," she finished, knowing that Gus was soaking everything in that she said, like he always did. "Don't you think he'll wonder how my father suddenly arose from the dead?"

"I know, Aunt Daphne!" Gus chimed in. "You can say your pet turtle died! I know I would be upset if anything ever happened to Greenie."

Daphne smiled fondly at the young boy. "That's very creative of you, Gus. And I'm sure that would definitely be a very sad occasion. But I'm going to need something even better than that." She lifted one eyebrow as she peered over at Brian. "Maybe if I knew exactly why I was in effect risking my entire grade by doing this, I might get inspired."

A few minutes later - after Brian had fully explained the reason why - she knew she would find a way.

The Next Morning...Britin

Perched high atop his shoulders, Gus squealed as Justin walked down the upstairs hallway toward the staircase with a bounce in his step, causing the boy to jiggle up and down like he was riding a horse. It was often a morning ritual with them, and while both loved it, Brian always held his breath whenever they did. It wasn't so much the carrying part; he knew Justin was holding onto Gus securely, and that Justin would never knowingly hurt him. But he had discovered to his consternation that once his lover had come to live with them that he could be a bit of a daredevil, just like his son. He watched from the bottom of the staircase as, sure enough, Justin carefully lowered him down and turned him around so Gus had his back to his father.

"Catch me, Daddy!" Gus yelled as he straddled the smooth, polished wood of the staircase banister and grasped the sides with his hands, sliding expertly down the railing with his backpack until he got to the end, screaming in delight the entire way. Brian heaved a sigh of relief as he caught him just as Gus reached the bottom, swinging him around as his son squealed again.

Brian sighed, giving his son a kiss on the cheek before lowering him to the ground as Justin caught up with them. "You two are going to be the death of more ways than one," he replied, eying Justin meaningfully as his lover merely met his gaze with a shrug. "Your cereal's ready, Sonny Boy. We'll be right there, okay? Your Aunt Daphne's already gone to school." They would be meeting up with her later this evening, unbeknownst to Justin, who had been told by Daphne earlier not to expect her until very late tonight due to an extended round of clinicals. She had finally settled on telling her clinical instructor that she had conjunctivitis, which was a shorter-term contagious period than meningitis (and far less deadly), and figured she would probably not get any sleep for days to make up for it. But she also knew she wouldn't miss this for the world, and she would do anything for Justin, just as he would do anything for her. How far they had come since they had shared that apartment and beat-up car of hers in Tennessee!

"It's fun, Daddy!" Gus declared as he peered up at his father. "You should try it. Right, Justin?"

Justin grinned. "Well, your father did tell me that he played sports in school..."

"Well, we play with balls at recess," Gus told them. "Did you ever do that in school?"

Brian affectionately ruffled his son's hair as he tightened the straps a little on his son's backpack, which, of course, had various types of trains drawn all over it. "Of course I did. Doesn't every little boy like to play with them? And I still do," he added with a smirk, making Justin blush at the thought of just what sort of 'balls' he was referring to. Damn man. He could feel his body responding as he thought back to last night. It wasn't that their time in bed had been all that different from all their other times. Sometimes Brian liked it fast and rough - which was fine with him, because he knew Brian would never hurt him, and it turned into one hell of a ride every time. And sometimes he liked it more slow and easy. But there had been something that he couldn't quite put a finger on that was different about their time last night. It was...more intense. More eye contact. More pauses in between bringing him to the brink of orgasm. Tenderer, even. He knew that Brian, even though he had admitted out loud before that he did love him, was better at showing him than telling him. So who knows? Maybe it was his weird way of celebrating Valentine's Day early, without actually coming out and telling him that, because he wouldn't be caught dead commemorating such an outward symbol of love and romanticism. He had enough trouble getting his lover to celebrate Christmas, and that was only because of Gus for the most part. So he wasn't sure of the reason why. But last night had definitely been lovemaking, and it had been sweet and intensely satisfying, even though his partner had frustrated the hell out of him until at last he had been allowed to climax. To be several years older than he, Brian Kinney could more than keep up with him in the stamina department. He turned his attention back to the present when he heard Brian call out his name, realizing he had temporarily zoned out. "What? Sorry, my mind was preoccupied."

Brian smiled. That helped to steer him away from thinking about anything else, hopefully. Like why he wasn't at work yet, which was practically unheard of. "You mean, with visions of little paintbrushes and acrylics in your pretty, little head?"

Justin rolled his eyes as Brian tucked his tongue firmly in his cheek. "No, not quite," he answered saucily. He sighed as he glanced up at the clock. "I've got to get going." He paused with a frown as he realized how late it was. "Why aren't you at Kinnetik? Normally, you'd be long gone by now."

Well, so much for overlooking it, Brian ruminated. "Cynthia texted me earlier, and told me the electricity is out in the building for some reason, so I figured there wasn't much point in trying to get any work done. You know how dark that building can be if there're no lights on."

Again, Justin's face grew warm. Yeah, a former bathhouse wouldn't be concerned with letting in copious amounts of natural sunlight; not for the purpose it was used for. So Brian was correct; when the lights were off, it was extremely dark; just perfect for some tomfoolery when the employees were still there, unknowing of the two of them in Brian's private shower in his bathroom, fucking their brains out. There was something about having your sense of touch and sound heightened when you couldn't see anything that was very erotic, they had discovered; so much so that sometimes they deliberately flicked the lights off when they fucked. It was yet another way they had found to keep their sex life from ever getting boring, not that Justin thought that would ever happen anyway. He cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah, I know." Brian grinned at him, the two of them sharing the same type of thought, no doubt, before he let out a deep breath. "You all set?" he asked Gus. "I'd better get going."

Gus nodded as Justin squatted down enough to grasp the young child by the shoulders and give him a kiss on the cheek, also. "Have a good day at school, Gus."

"You, too, Justin," Gus replied as Justin smiled. With a brief, soft kiss on the lips to Brian, he bid his two favorite men goodbye as he scooped up what he needed for school and headed toward the door to leave.