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.
Justin Taylor slammed the phone down and glared at it. Why had he ever thought it was a good idea to get involved with a doctor? The hours they kept were atrocious. And tonight, of all nights, for Mason to have an emergency head trauma case come in at the last minute was more frustrating than Justin could articulate to his partner's voicemail.
Justin sighed, the anger draining away as quickly as it had surfaced. It was always like that. How could he malign Mason's need to help people? Hell, it had been a doctor like Mason who had saved his life after the bashing. It was one of the things he loved most about the man and yet the demands of the job were also the cause of some serious contention in their relationship.
Justin had met Mason Hargrove about a year after moving to New York. If their meeting had taken place any earlier, Justin was sure that he would have blown Mason off just as he had the hundreds of other guys who had tried to pick him up in the days when he was still grieving his lost relationship with Brian. But they had met after Justin had had time to deal with his lingering feelings for Brian and had decided that, while he might always love Brian, he needed to move on.
So, when Mason came to one of Justin's first shows, bought two paintings and expressed an interest in getting to know Justin, Justin had taken the chance and accepted the neurosurgeon's invitation to dinner.
They had dated a year before Justin moved in and a year after that they had decided to have a child together. Or children, as it turned out. They had hired a surrogate through a well respected agency and had gone through the demanding process required to select a surrogate. They had also understood that invetro-fertilization often resulted in multiple births, but Justin had still been surprised to learn that Christy, their surrogate, was pregnant with twins.
Biologically Justin's, since Mason could not father children due to a childhood illness, the twins had been a blessing to Justin, bringing him a joy that nothing else in his life ever had, except Brian. He often felt guilty about that, though he never shared his thoughts with anyone. Justin loved Mason, and he loved their life together, but a part of him would always secretly belong to Brian. There were many days when he fantasized that it was Brian with whom he shared his life, Brian who was the twins' other Daddy. He didn't regret the choices he had made, but Justin knew that Brian was and always would be the love of his life.
So, when things didn't go the way Justin thought they should, or he became frustrated with Mason for some reason, Brian's face came back to haunt Justin.
And nights like tonight, their anniversary, when Mason had to drop everything to save some stranger's life, Justin missed Brian Kinney more than ever, which then made him feel guilty, and subsequently made him angry and frustrated. Those were the worst times, because, inevitably, he took his anger and frustration out on Mason, who then felt guilty and frustrated and angry.
Some days, Justin wondered if they would make it to their tenth anniversary.
Justin sighed and went to the kitchen of their expensive Manhattan apartment to throw away the meal he had spent all day preparing. It was ruined now. Mason had called a few hours ago to say he would be late and Justin had been angry, asking why another surgeon couldn't handle it. Mason's explanation that the on-call surgeon had to go home with the flu hadn't appeased Justin and he had hung up on his partner. Since then, Justin had called Mason's cell phone almost every hour, leaving a voicemail, asking when Mason would be home.
Justin cleaned up the kitchen and thought back over the last four years with Mason and knew that, overall, he was content with his life. He loved his children, now almost eighteen months old. His career was at an all-time high, and his work was being recognized nationally. He loved his partner, even if that love didn't seem like enough some days.
He also thought about Brian.
After he left Pittsburgh, Justin hadn't given up on Brian. He tried to keep up their relationship from a distance, but Brian had cut him off at every turn. From several hundred miles away, what could Justin do to break through the walls Brian kept around his heart? And so Justin had slowly let him go.
Justin had seen Brian in the years since. His mom and Molly still lived in Pittsburgh so Justin went home a couple times a year, and since the twins had been born they had all made the trip several times. Jennifer was a doting grandma, and she adored Mason. Each time Justin had run into Brian, with or without Mason, it had been very hard for the younger man. There was still that undeniable magnetism that drew Justin perpetually to Brian's side, but he had to deny himself if he wanted to keep the life had constructed so carefully. And it hadn't helped that Mason recognized the attraction for what it was.
Brian had changed a lot over the last five years. After Justin left, he had fallen back into his old ways for a time. Justin had heard all about it from his mom, from Debbie and from Emmett. That hadn't surprised Justin. What did surprise him was when they told him Brian was dating. That was a bout a year after Justin and Mason had gotten together. And while Brian hadn't settled down with anyone or allowed any of them to move in with him, he had had several relationships over the last three years. In fact, Keith, Brian's current lover, had been in the picture for almost six months. Emmett, Justin's main informant about Brian's love life, had told him that Brian had even given up tricking except when he was between lovers.
That news had almost broken Justin, though he never let on to anyone how it had affected him. Brian had changed, but it hadn't been for him. Justin hadn't been enough. He now understood how Michael must have felt all those years.
Justin tried Mason's cell phone one last time before checking on the twins and heading to bed. He lay in their wide bed and thought again of Brian and Mason. Such complete opposites. Mason had offered Justin had thought he wanted in a partner, but in the end, it wasn't enough. Justin sighed in the darkness and vowed that it in the future, it would be. It had to be. He loved Mason, and he would find a way to make that love be enough.
He was just about to drift off to sleep when his phone finally rang. He answered it with an apology on his lips, but never had a chance to voice it.
Brian was woken from his sleep by the ringing of the phone. A quick glance at the clock told him that it was after two in the morning. He had a sinking feeling; no one called him this late anymore. He looked at the caller id before picking up the receiver.
"Justin?" Brian said and he could hear Justin crying over the line. "Baby, what's the matter?"
Nothing could have prepared him for the answer Justin gave. "He's dead, Brian. Mason's dead. Oh god, he's dead."
Brian sat in the cab watching as the New York skyline came closer. Debbie and Emmett were beside him. He wasn't quite sure what he was doing there, but Debbie and Emmett had both insisted that Justin would need him at the funeral. In the days following that middle of the night, Brian had listened to Justin's grief and tried to be as supportive as possible from Pittsburgh. So he had bought tickets for the three of them and they were now on their way to bury Justin's partner.
It was a tragic and senseless death. Mason had been on his way home after an emergency surgery. He'd stopped at a store to buy Justin flowers and was on his way out when two armed gunmen had entered the small bodega. In the end, Mason had been killed along with the store clerk and another customer was wounded.
Now Justin was grieving and left to raise two children alone.
It was more than Brian could fully comprehend. Yes, a part of Brian had hated Dr. Mason Hargrove because he had Justin, but he had certainly never wished the man dead. In fact, despite his jealousy that the man had been able to offer Justin everything that Brian seemed incapable of giving him, Brian actually respected the man. According to everything he had heard about him and the few times Brian had met him in person, Mason was a generous, caring and loving partner and father. He was a man Brian could never hope to compete with, and so he had eventually given up the faint hope that Justin would someday come back to him.
Yes, he had sent Justin away, and had spurned his attempts to carry on their relationship from afar, but he had always believed that one day Justin would come back. He had grown up over the last five years, even more than he had in the years before. He had built his small agency into one of the country's top advertising firms, even if it was in based the Pitts. He had stopped boozing and getting high. He had even given up the tricks to give monogamy a try. And every step he had taken towards maturity was a step he had taken in the hopes that one day he would be able to offer Justin more than he had been able to in the past.
Even after Mason was in the picture, he hadn't given up that hope. Even though the idea of dating made him cringe, he had made a real attempt to grow up so that when Justin came back to him he would be ready. It wasn't until he found out about the surrogacy that he finally realized that Justin was gone for good. Justin would never give up his children and would do everything in his power to keep their family together. The result of that insight had been several months of tricking, drugs and alcohol the likes of which gave even him pause. In the end, he had realized that he couldn't live like that anymore; he didn't like that self-destructive person. And so Brian had attempted to move on.
And now, Mason was out of the picture, but Brian didn't feel relief. He felt guilty, as if he had somehow caused the man's death. And he felt scared. What if he got his hopes up again only to realize that Justin simply didn't love him anymore? No, he couldn't that. He couldn't allow himself to hope only to have those hopes dashed. He couldn't face that type of heartache again.
"Will we have time to change at the hotel before we need to leave for the funeral?" Debbie asked from the far side of the cab.
Brian nodded. "Yes. It doesn't start until seven. We can change, get something for dinner and then head for the church."
"I just feel so bad for Justin," Emmett said. "I remember how I felt after George died. I'm glad we could come and be here for him."
Brian looked back out the window as they approached the mid-town tunnel. Despite his own misgivings, he was glad that they were there for Justin too.
Justin looked down at Mason in the casket. The funeral home had done a good job with making him look natural. If Justin squinted his eyes, he could almost believe he was sleeping. He could almost believe that if he leaned over and gave him a kiss, he would wake with the same annoyingly cheerful smile that had greeted Justin every morning for four years. But Mason wouldn't wake up.
Justin adjust Mason's tie and smoothed his lapel, just as he had done each time they went out for an evening. Mason had been totally unaware of fashion or his appearance, though he did make the attempt for Justin. After they were together, Justin had automatically taken over picking out Mason's clothes and making sure he was presentable. Justin had learned from the master, after all.
"You okay, sweetheart?" Jennifer asked as she wrapped her arms around her son. Justin nodded and leaned against her for a few minutes, his eyes never leaving Mason. Justin's eyes were dry and Jennifer was worried about that. He hadn't cried or shown any real emotion since that first night. Any time she broached the subject, Justin deflected her by saying he needed to be strong for the twins, or that he had too much to do to arrange the funeral. She was afraid that if he didn't let his grief out soon, he might have a meltdown later.
"He looks so peaceful," Justin sighed. "Did you drop Sammy and Jack off at the sitter's?"
"Samantha and Jackson were happily playing with Rosie's little boy when I left them," Jennifer told him. For some reason that Justin couldn't fathom, Jennifer refused to call the twin's by anything other than their full names. "And she said they would be fine and you shouldn't worry about them."
Justin smiled ruefully. "I'm not sure I know how not to worry about them."
"Welcome to parenthood," Jennifer said. "That's one thing that never goes away, no matter how old your child gets."
"This is going to sound callous but, if Mason had to die, I'm glad it happened before the twins were old enough to really miss him too much," Justin said quietly. "They've asked about him a couple times, but he was always so busy that they don't really even realize he's gone yet. So they aren't really sad about it. I think they'd miss Rosie more."
Jennifer hugged Justin closer and could think of nothing to say to that. They just stood together like that until people began arriving and Justin had to greet them. Many of the people who came were Mason's colleagues from the hospital, a few were people he knew from the art world, a few were friends of theirs, and a couple were related to Mason, though he had no close family left. He had been raised by his mother and she had died a couple years before Justin and Mason had met.
When Justin turned from greeting another of Mason's fellow doctors and saw Debbie and Emmett, he almost cried with relief. Despite the fact that he had lived in New York for five years, he had never felt as close to anyone as he had to his friends from home.
"Oh, Sunshine, I'm so sorry," Debbie said as she engulfed Justin in a hug. "Anything you need, you just ask, you hear me?"
Justin nodded and said, "How long are you in town?"
"We fly back on Monday," Emmett said as he took his own hug. "Brian has us at the Ritz Carlton for the next five days."
Brian? Justin hadn't noticed the brunet, but when Emmett released him, there he was in all his god-like splendor, black Armani suit and all. He approached Justin guardedly, but Justin didn't care. He threw his arms around Brian and held on as if for dear life. Brian hugged Justin back and felt the younger man's body began to shake with sobs. Even after five years, Justin felt safest when he was in Brian's arms. It was as if a dam had been broken inside of Justin, one that he couldn't seem to shut off. He had done so well, being strong for everything up to now, but Brian was here and he knew instinctively that he could be weak now, because Brian would help no matter what.
They stood like that for long minutes, Justin crying and Brian comforting him as best he could. It wasn't until the rest of the crowd began to take their seats that Brian pulled away and offered Justin a tissue before leading him to the front pew where Jennifer was saving them seats. Brian felt a bit awkward sitting in the space reserved for family, but Justin needed him, and he would be there for him.
The days following the funeral were a blur for Justin, but he remembered one thing clearly. Brian had been his rock, the one thing he could cling to when everything else seemed to be falling apart. Debbie and Emmett had stayed through the weekend, but Brian and Jennifer had each stayed a week beyond that. While Jennifer had kept the twins, Brian had been the one who went with Justin to deal with the lawyers and insurance company. He had helped Justin deal with all the practical matters that Justin wouldn't have been able to face alone.
And when Justin fell apart, it was to Brian he turned for comfort.
Surprisingly, Brian wormed his way into Justin's life in a very short period of time; even the twins seemed to adore him. When Brian and Jennifer finally went home, Justin was left feeling lost and alone in a way that he hadn't since he had first come to New York. All the things he had once loved about the city had lost their sparkle and he spent weeks thinking about his life and the life he could offer his children if he stayed.
One thing he didn't have to worry about was money. Mason had made good money as a surgeon and had invested wisely. Despite the downturn in the economy, Justin knew that between Mason's investments and the large life insurance benefits he received that he would never have to really worry about making ends meet. The twins even had trusts set up in their names which would continue to grow until they were ready for college.
What he didn't have was the emotional support to raise two children alone. He also wasn't so keen on the idea of raising his children in New York. Despite the fact that he had faced danger in Pittsburgh more than once, Justin felt safer raising his children there than in the city where Mason had been shot. Maybe because he had survived while Mason had not.
And so in July, two months after he had buried Mason, Justin sold their condominium apartment and packed up his life and moved home.
Justin used part of the life insurance benefits to buy an empty building on East Carson Street on the South side, a very trendy district with a lot of foot traffic. The first floor, he set about turning into a gallery while saving the second floor for his studio. The remodel would take a couple months. Despite leaving New York, Justin had built enough of a reputation over the last five years that he knew he would be able to sell paintings wherever he was, and he knew that he could still have the occasional show in New York. The gallery would allow him to sell his own work and help other struggling artists to get a start. At the same time, he would be able to work on his own art.
Justin lived with his mother for the first few weeks after coming home, but eventually realized he needed a place. As much as he loved his mother and appreciated her help, he was a grown man and needed to raise his children in his own way. So the two of them went house hunting and Justin eventually found a nice modern house on Mount Washington that had charm and space, a view of downtown and the three rivers, and was close to his work. The sale from his New York apartment was more than enough to cover the purchase price so he didn't need to worry about mortgage payments.
Justin found a daycare for the twins so he could paint and run the gallery. Jenifer and Debbie both volunteered to keep them on nights when he couldn't find staff to man the gallery. All in all, it didn't take long for Justin to settle back into life in Pittsburgh.
Justin didn't hide the fact that he was back in town. Since the funeral, he and Brian had kept in touch by phone and email. Emmett and Debbie still called once a week. So when Justin moved home, they were all aware, but none of them rushed over to greet him on his way into town. That was at his request. He wanted time to adjust to being home before feeling the responsibility to be active in their unofficial family once again, because despite their supportiveness, there was always drama and tension of some sort as well.
Debbie lasted a week after Justin had moved into the new house before invading and Emmett came to the gallery the week after that. He was actually quite proud of them that they had lasted as long as they had, so he smiled and forgave them.
Brian, however, respected Justin's wishes and stayed away until Justin came to Kinnetik late in August to see him. Cynthia had long since been promoted to VP of Operations and so Brian had a new assistant that had never even heard of Justin Taylor.
"I'm sorry Mr. Taylor," Carol said with a falsely polite smile, "but as I have said before, Mr. Kinney is a very busy man. You will need an appointment. If you would like, I can set one for you now and you can come back when Mr. Kinney is available."
"And as I've told you before," Justin seethed, "Mr. Kinney will want to see me if you will just pick up the damned phone and ask him! Where the fuck is Cynthia?"
"I'm sorry, but our Vice President of Operations is in a meeting," she replied snidely.
"What about Ted?" Justin asked.
"He's in the same meeting," she smirked.
"Fucking hell," Justin muttered before taking a deep breath giving into his frustrations. "BRIAN!"
"Mr. Taylor! This is a place of business!"
"Justin?" Brian asked as he emerged from his office. "Why are you shouting?"
"Because your guard dog refused to tell you I was here," Justin said sweetly. He looked around and noticed that most of the office was now watching them. "Do you have a minute?"
Brian smirked, "For you? Always. Carol, hold my calls. And in the future, if Mr. Taylor calls or stops by, please inform me immediately."
The woman scowled at Justin as Brian led him into his office and Justin had to fight the urge to stick his tongue out at the woman. He'd behaved immaturely enough for one day already.
"So, what's up?" Brian asked as he sat on the leather sofa and motioned for Justin to join him.
"Well, the gallery is finally remodeled and almost ready to open" Justin told Brian. "And I was hoping you might consider helping me publicize the opening. I'll hire you, of course."
"Fuck that," Brian waved Justin's offer away. "Of course I'll help. What's the sense of having friends if you can't take advantage of them every once in a while? Besides, Teddy and Cynthia would both have my head if I tried to charge you for anything."
"I think that's because they like me better than they do you," Justin teased.
"True enough," Brian said with tongue in cheek. "Now, I think for your official opening night, we'll want to concentrate on attracting the elite of the art world, so we'll go outside of Pittsburgh. The more national press we get, the more local press we'll get and the easier it will be to attract customers over the long run. I know you've made a few connections in art world while you were in New York and we'll use the reputation you've built to draw them in here. If you give me a list of names, I'll get Cynthia to start putting the word out."
"I've got a list ready," Justin smiled as he pulled out a file and handed it to Brian. "I figured you'd want to start big. The first two pages are people I'm pretty sure will be willing to come out to Pittsburgh just to show their support. The other pages are the people who will be less willing to show up, but need to be included or else they'll feel slighted. I've also included a cd-rom with copies of my business logo and photos of a few of the pieces that will be on display."
Brian nodded and took a minute to look over the list. There were big names from the art world as well a few celebrities. "You've come prepared. If we can get even half of these names to come out, the locals will be clamoring for the opportunity to be there."
For the next hour, they went over ideas and plans for both the opening and for an advertising campaign. They discussed Justin's plans for online sales and ways to increase his exposure. When they were finally wrapping things up, Brian asked about the new house and how he was settling in.
"It's really great," Justin smiled. "You should come for dinner to let me thank you for your help and I can show off the view."
"I'd like that," Brian smiled as he rose and ushered Justin out. "How about this weekend?"
Justin frowned for a minute. "What about Keith? He's welcome to come too."
Brian looked flustered but said, "We um, broke up last month. We weren't looking for the same thing."
"Oh," Justin said. "I'm sorry."
"Nothing to be sorry about," Brian said. "Besides, sorry is bullshit. What is, is."
Justin chuckled and left with a promise to call to set a time. Brian watched him leave from his doorway before turning to a bemused Carol and asking her to have Cynthia and Ted meet him in his office.
Brian felt slightly guilty as he drove to Justin's on Friday evening. Yes, he and Keith had broken things off, and yes it was because they wanted different things. The difference, however, was that Keith wanted Brian while Brian wanted Justin. And while he wouldn't make a move on Justin as long as he was still grieving, Brian knew that he couldn't string Keith along when his heart belonged to another man.
And so, Brian was prepared for a long wait. He wasn't even sure if Justin still had any feelings for him other than friendship, but if friendship was all he could have, he would learn to make it be enough. But Justin had once promised that he would always love Brian, and in his heart Brian was counting on that.
Every change he had made in his life since Justin had left, consciously or subconsciously, had been so that he could be a better man, a better partner for Justin. He was counting on the fact that Justin, who had always been able to read him better than anyone, would eventually see that.
Brian pulled into Justin's driveway and parked beside the silver Acura MDX already there. Brian smiled as he noticed the two car seats and portable easel inside. Justin always had expensive taste in…everything. But to see his expensive taste expressed through a soccer-mom SUV was rather amusing. He took the stairs up to the front door and rang the bell.
Justin opened the door a few minutes later holding one of the twins who was crying rather loudly. "Sorry. Sammy shoved Jack and he fell; now he won't settle down." Brian smiled and followed Justin into the living room where Sammy was sitting on the sofa and pouting, already in her pajamas. "She's on time-out. I was actually hoping that they would be in bed by now, but…"
"It's fine," Brian assured Justin. "Why don't I help Sammy get ready for bed while you get Jack settled down?"
"She needs to brush her teeth," Justin said before turning to Sammy. "Show Brian where your tooth brush is. He'll help you put the tooth paste on."
Sammy took Brian's hand and gave him a smile he recognized from her father. It was the one Justin used to manipulate people into doing his bidding. "Story?"
"If you promise to be good, and go right to sleep after," Brian said as he let himself be dragged to the stairs.
Justin watched them go and smiled to himself. Brian had always been a much better father than he had let himself believe. Justin went to the kitchen and put the salmon in the oven and then walked around the first floor soothing Jack for a few minutes until he calmed down. He turned to Jack and saw his son looking at him with tired eyes. "You ready to go brush your teeth and listen to a story, too?" Jack nodded, though he still looked a bit fragile, so Justin carried him up the stairs. They joined Brian and Sammy in the nursery a few minutes later and listened to the story Brian was reading.
Once the twins were each settled into their own cribs, the two adults went back downstairs and Brian followed Justin into the kitchen. "Dinner's almost ready," Justin said. I just need to take the fish out of the oven, and open a bottle of wine."
"I'll get the wine," Brian offered as he went to the wine refrigerator and found a nice bottle of Pinot Grigio to go with the salmon and vegetables Justin was plating. They carried the food and drinks into the dining room which had floor to ceiling windows and a spectacular view of the city. "This is a great house."
Justin smiled. "Thanks. My mom really is good at what she does. I told her what I was looking for, and she found the perfect place for us. There's a great backyard for the twins to play in. It's terraced into three levels, one with for entertaining, one with a pool and hot tub, and one with a swing set for the twins. None of those things were on my list, but now that we have them, I'm glad."
"The architecture is quite modern," Brian said. "I like the open floor plan and clean lines of the place. Not to mention the view. And you've done an excellent job furnishing the place."
"Well, some of the furnishings I brought with us from New York," Justin admitted. "Our apartment was very modern there, as well."
"I remember," Brian said. "How are you doing?"
Justin gave Brian a sad smile. "I have good days and bad days. But the good days are starting to outnumber the bad. How is Gus doing? I've not heard from Lindsey or Melanie in over a year."
Brian frowned and took a sip of his wine. "You know things weren't all that great for them up in Canada?" Justin nodded so Brian continued. "Well, about six months ago, they split up again. This time, I think it's for good. Lindsey has Gus and Mel has JR. Gus tells me that his mom cries a lot when we talk on the phone. I'm actually pretty worried about Lindsey, but whenever I talk to her, she just blows off my concerns. I keep telling her she needs to come home, but she refuses."
"I'm sorry," Justin said and placed his hand over Brian's. They stayed that way in silence for long minutes before Justin pulled his hand away to pour them both more wine. "Gus should be almost ten, now right?"
Brian cleared his throat and agreed. "Next Friday. You know what that means?"
Justin smiled as he got up to clear the table. "It's been ten years since we met."
"We should do something to celebrate," Brian smirked and helped carry their dishes into the kitchen. "Do you still have that denim jacket? We could recreate the night."
"I don't think so," Justin laughed. "I will, however, consider going to Babylon for the evening."
Brian grinned and asked, "When was the last time you went to a club?"
Justin thought for a minute, "I'm not sure. Mason and I went to a few clubs when we first got together, but it's probably been three or four years."
Brian shook his head in mock disappointment. "You lived in New York, with some of the best gay clubs in the world and didn't go? You are not the queer I once knew."
Justin gave Brian a wry glance and said, "Yes, well that's what happens when you live with a doctor. Everything else comes second to his work."
Suddenly the air between them was tense and Justin poured more wine into his and Brian's glasses before heading into the living room. Once seated on the sofa, Justin took a large gulp of wine and waited for Brian to join him.
"He was always working, you know," Justin said quietly as he watched the blue flames flicker in the gas fireplace. "I knew before we ever got married that I would always come second to his work, but sometimes… That night, it was our anniversary. He called to tell me about an emergency and that he would be late. The dinner I had been preparing all day was ruined, and I was so fucking angry with him. I yelled at him. Then I called his voice mail every hour and yelled some more. The last fucking words we shared were words of anger."
Justin paused to take another drink and Brian took his hand to offer as much comfort as he could. "You want to know the worst thing? The thing that keeps me up at night? If I hadn't been such a prick to him, then maybe he wouldn't have even been in that store. He bought flowers, for me, to try to make it up to me."
Brian didn't even try to offer platitudes; he simply pulled Justin into his arms and let him cry, as he had done so often in the days following the funeral.
They went to Babylon the next week to commemorate their first meeting. It was completely cheesy and fun and all of the old gang had a great time. Brian and Justin had danced together the way they once had, but when they would have taken things to the backroom in the past, they decided to call it a night. It was odd and uncomfortable for a few minutes as Brian drove Justin home, but they soon forgot that discomfort as they talked about their friends and even a few acquaintances and how they had changed since Justin had been gone.
In the days and weeks that followed, Brian and Justin met often. At first it was with the excuse of planning the galley's opening, but after the opening was a success, they continued to see each other three or four times a week. It was a new and unique experience for both of them. Their former relationship, while intense and passionate, had always revolved around sex. This new friendship they were forming was based on more. They talked and spent time together. They took the twins on outings. They went to museums. They got to know each other again, but on a level they had never really known each other before.
Neither one wanted to push this new relationship for fear of destroying what they had. But deep down, they both were falling ever deeper in love with the other.
The holiday season was upon them, with the twins' birthdays just after Thanksgiving and Gus' visit just before Christmas. Lindsey always let him visit Brian for two weeks at Christmas and for a month in the summer. With the extra pressure of the holidays, Brian and Justin found less time to be together, but they still made a point to call every day and Brian spoke on the phone to the twins almost as often as he talked to Gus.
The twins' second birthday party had been a chaotic event, with most of their friends and family in attendance as well as almost a dozen toddlers and their parents from the twins' preschool. Justin had rented an indoor party place with a ball pit and other fun activities, and had hired Emmett to cater the event. With almost fifty people there in the end, Justin was glad he hadn't tried to have it at the house. Not to mention all the spilled juice and crushed cake that would have ended up in his rugs.
Brian had gone overboard with his gift for the twins, and had brought them little electric jeeps to drive around. Sammy's was pink and Jack's was black, and they were both individualized with hand painted designs and their names on the little license plates. He also bought them several outfits, all with expensive designer labels. Justin had shaken his head and grinned at Brian who was completely unrepentant.
"They have to learn sometime," Brian shrugged. "Gus has been influenced too much by the munchers, but these two have a chance to really embrace fashion."
"Become little label queens, you mean," Justin said dryly.
"But did you see the way Jack's face lit up when he opened the Dolce sweater?" Brian asked. "And Sammy squealed when she saw the Dior dress."
"Yes, I did, unfortunately," Justin sighed and admitted defeat. The toddlers truly had been excited by the clothes Brian had given them, even more excited than by the jeeps. "You've turned them already."
"Don't lay it all at my feet, Princess," Brian retorted. "I do believe that is a John Varvatos sweater you are wearing to a children's birthday party. I know for a fact that sweater costs about five hundred dollars. So don't tell me that I corrupted them."
Justin laughed, "Okay, maybe it was me. But you corrupted me, so ultimately it is your fault."
Brian grinned. "That I can accept."
"I have the black lambskin blazer, too," Justin said casually and watched Brian's eyes light up with interest. "I'll let you ogle it the next time you come over."
After the party, Brian was busy at work, getting everything caught up for the end of the year and for Gus' visit. He liked to spend as much time with his son as possible, so he always took vacation when Gus was in town. Justin, too, was busy with the holiday as Christmas shoppers tried to find the perfect gift for their loved ones.
It was three days before Christmas when Brian called Justin to ask if he would like to go with him to pick Gus up from the airport. Justin agreed and left the twins with his mother for the afternoon while the new manager he had hired kept the gallery running. Then he drove to Brian's loft to meet him.
They were waiting by the security gate when Gus, escorted by an airline employee, spotted them and ran to hug his dad. Brian scooped the boy up and held him tight while Justin watched with fond amusement. The flight attendant who had escorted Gus smiled at them and exchanged a few words with Brian before leaving them to their reunion.
"How was your trip, Sonny boy?" Brian finally asked as he set Gus back on his feet.
"It was great!" Gus enthused. "They let me meet the pilots and everything."
"Gus, do you remember Justin?" Brian asked and waved Justin over.
Gus stared at Justin with a look that was so Brian Kinney that Justin almost laughed. "You used to make cookies with me. And let me paint on your easel."
"I did," Justin agreed with a smile. "I used to baby sit for you and your sister a lot."
Gus nodded. "We talked on the phone sometimes too, before Mom and Mama split up."
"We did," Justin said. "I hope we can be friends again."
Gus thought this over before giving Justin the Kinney smile and said, "Sure."
Brian laughed before leading them to the luggage claim. Twenty minutes later they were back in Brian's car and headed back towards town. They went to Brian's loft and were soon settled around the sitting area eating take out Chinese.
"Mom gave me a letter for you," Gus told Brian between bites. He got up and went to his back pack and dug out the letter before handing it over and going back to his dinner.
Brian opened the sealed envelope and frowned as he read. There was a letter along with several legal documents. By the time he reached the end of the letter, his frown had become a scowl and he handed the letter to Justin. Justin read the letter with disbelief. He could hardly believe that Lindsey had written it.
Brian exchanged a worried glance with Justin before turning to Gus. "Sonny boy, did your mom tell you what she wrote?"
Gus nodded, but didn't look overly concerned. "She said I'm going to live with you now. She's moving to some art commune in New Mexico. She said she'll come see me this summer."
"You okay with that?" Brian asked carefully. If Gus wasn't upset, he didn't want to upset him.
Gus shrugged. "I guess. I like staying with you. And Aunt Debbie is here. Mama and JR aren't around anymore anyway. And Mom was really getting stressed. So if she needs to go away for a while, I guess it's okay. I think going to a new school might be strange."
Justin went to pick up the twins and headed home to put them to bed soon after that, but he wasn't surprised to hear his cell ring later that night.
"I can't believe she did this," Brian said. Gus was asleep on the sofa and he was lying in bed staring at the ceiling. "I've read and re-read the letter and all the documents a dozen times since Gus fell asleep. As part of the separation agreement, Melanie gave up all rights to Gus and Lindsey gave up rights to JR. So, now that Lindsey has decided to go find herself, she was able to sign over custody to me completely.
"It's not that I don't want Gus. I do, more than anything. But I can't believe the way those bitches have just tossed him aside. He's their child, for fuck's sake, not a possession they can fight over or give away when they are tired of him." Brian took a deep breath and Justin listened as he shifted in bed. "No matter how calm he seems about it now, this has got to have some effect on him."
"I'm sure it has," Justin agreed. "But he knows you love him. You've been the one constant in his life, even when Lindsey and Melanie have flitted in and out of their relationship and his life, you were always there. I can imagine that for him, the thought of living with you would be reassuring."
"Maybe," Brian said. "What am I going to do? Sleeping on the sofa for a couple weeks is one thing, but Gus will need his own room. And I'll have to get him into school somewhere. And probably an after school program, since I can't always drop everything to pick him up in the afternoons. Fuck, Justin."
"You are a good father," Justin said, reading correctly the insecurity Brian was feeling. "And you aren't alone. You've got friends and family here willing to help out. Why do you think I moved back? Being a single parent isn't easy, but it can be done."
"At least you were a parent before you were single," Brian said. "I've never been anything but a part-time father."
"You'll learn," Justin said. They were both quiet for a time and Brian thought Justin might have fallen asleep until the blond broke the silence. "I have an idea. You need space and you need help until you can figure out what you're going to do right?"
"Yeah," Brian said warily.
"Well, since the twins are still sharing a room, I've got two guest bedrooms," Justin said. "You could both move in here for a while. Until you decide where you want to live. And I can help out until you feel more sure of yourself."
"Seriously, Brian," Justin argued. "I had you and Mom to help me through the first days after Mason died. And then I had my Mom when I moved back. Sometimes we all need a little help, and I want to be able to help you out for a change. Please."
"You're sure about this?" Brian asked. He himself wasn't sure, but the temptation to sleep under the same roof as Justin was too much to pass up.
"I'll talk to Gus about it tomorrow," Brian finally said. "If he's okay with it, then yes, we'll move in with you. For now."
In his darkened bedroom, Justin grinned.
They moved in the next day. It wasn't a huge move. Gus only had a couple of suitcases and Brian only brought the essentials, though that included most of his wardrobe. Luckily, all the rooms in the house had ample closet space. Brian's room was next to the Master bedroom at the front of the house. The two rooms shared a balcony that ran the length of the house. Gus was across from Brian, with the bathroom between his room and the twins.
Gus seemed to like the twins well enough, the fact that they automatically idolized the boy helped. On Christmas Eve, they had a big breakfast together and Justin suggested that they all go out to buy a Christmas tree. The rest of the house was decorated for the season, but Justin always waited until Christmas Eve to buy and decorate the tree. It was part of the tradition. So they all climbed into Justin's SUV and headed out.
Once at the tree lot, everyone seemed to have an opinion about what tree they should get. Even the twins insisted on having a say, though Sammy's tree resembled the one from the Charlie Brown special she and Jack had watched the night before. Gus pointed out that the tree Brian liked was too short. Brian pointed out that Gus' tree had bare patches. Jack's tree was quite crooked. Through it all, Justin laughed and tried to remain neutral. Eventually, however, Brian turned to him and Gus and the twins followed his example.
"I think this Blue Spruce in the corner might be best," Justin said. It was, in his opinion, the best tree left on the lot. It was tall and full and had a straight trunk. There were no bare patches, and the coloring was still a healthy green. Brian and the three children looked the tree over very carefully. Again Justin had to hold back a laugh as he watched the toddlers examine the tree as seriously as Gus and Brian.
"It'll do," Gus finally pronounced. And Justin finally could hold back his laugh no more. Soon they were all laughing.
After tying the tree to the roof of the SUV, they headed back to the house to decorate it. While Brian was attempting to untangle the lights, Justin made hot chocolate and put together a tray of sugar cookies he and the twins had made a few days before. By the time he was finished, the lights were on the tree and everyone was ready for a break.
After their snack, Justin brought out the red and silver ornaments and they all helped hang them on the tree. The twins were excited to be able to do this part themselves, though they tended to put all their ornaments in the same area, no matter how many times Gus tried to show them different. Justin simply went behind them and spread the glass balls out when they weren't looking. And then Justin pulled out the special ornaments. There were twenty seven with Justin's name on them and he let the kids help hang them, though he held one back for himself. Then the twins hung their three ornaments apiece.
"This one is for you, Gus," Justin said as he held out a new ornament with Gus' name and the year on it. It was a Santa flying in an airplane. "And this one is for you, Brian." It was two polar bears, a father and son.
Brian quirked a brow. "For me?"
"Tradition," Justin smiled. "Everyone has their own ornament every year."
"And where is yours?" Brian asked. Justin held up the ornament his mother had picked out for him this year. It was a snowman with two little snowmen on either side of him. "Well, then, get up here and hang your ornament."
"The star!" Jack shouted as he rifled through the box Justin had abandoned. "The star!"
"The star!" Sammy joined in as the two of them carefully lifted the precious tree topper out of the box.
"Who gets to put the star up?" Brian asked.
"Well, the twins, as much they would love to do it, are still a bit young to get it on properly," Justin said quietly. "So why don't you and Gus do it?"
Brian asked Gus, who was more excited than Brian would have guessed. Justin gave the star to Gus and Brian held his son up so that he could reach the top of the tree. Minutes later, the star was plugged in and their tree was complete.
Justin couldn't help but feel like his family was complete as well.
Brian and Justin looked over information on local schools, public and private, and finally decided to contact the Lacombe Academy. It was a very liberal school and was actually the school Justin had decided on for the twins. It taught students from pre-kindergarten all the way through high school on a campus not far from downtown. The twins were signed up to start the following September. Brian was able to talk his way around the wait list, based upon Gus' unusual circumstances and his minority status as a child of gay parents. And so, when school started back up in January, Gus was dressed in the gray and green uniform of Lacombe Academy.
Once Gus started school, their lives seemed to settle down into a pattern. Brian would take Gus to school in the mornings and Justin would pick him up in the afternoons, sometimes taking him to the gallery to do his homework, sometimes going to pick up the twins and heading home. They would have dinner together after Brian came home, then baths and bed time were a group effort. Finally, Brian and Justin would settle in to talk or watch television.
Sometimes Brian brought work home, but Justin realized that it wasn't as often as when they had lived together five years ago. When Justin asked, Brian told him it was because he had started turning over more of the responsibilities to Ted and Cynthia. They tried to go out without the kids once or twice a week, though Justin did have to work on the occasional evening.
Winter started to recede and give way to spring, and neither man had brought up any alternate living arrangement. They did almost everything together, and neither one was willing to give that up yet, so they avoided speaking of the future. By the time Brian's fortieth birthday rolled around, they still had not made any plans.
Emmett came to the gallery to discuss the party Justin wanted to throw for Brian. Justin had a list of items they needed to go over and he was working his way down one by one. "Cynthia said that there are approximately 120 employees on payroll. She also said we could probably count on a third of them to skip, so that's 80. With the clients and potential clients we've already counted, that makes about two hundred. Add in friends and family and significant others, we're looking at 240 or 250 people."
"Justin, honey, that's an awful lot of people for a birthday party," Emmett said dubiously. "Are you sure Brian is okay with this?"
Justin laughed. "He hates it, actually. But he also sees the necessity. Part of being a successful business man is sharing your success. He's one of the youngest CEOs of a Fortune Five Hundred company and he's turning forty. It's a big deal, and it's expected."
Emmett snorted. "Since when does Brian do anything that is expected of him?"
Justin smiled, "He's always done what was necessary to succeed, whether in business or in life. He's still Brian, though. He'll do this thing his way."
"Then why are you the one here doing all the planning?" Emmett asked.
"What do you mean?" Justin asked. "Why wouldn't I?"
Emmett rolled his eyes. "Honey, it's usually the wife planning these sorts of events, not…"
"Whatever I am to Brian," Justin finished with a sigh. "I get it."
"When are the two of you going to talk about this?" Emmett asked. "You two are together in every way that counts. You live together. You are raising your children together. You pick up his dry cleaning and plan Brian's events. He stops at the store pick up milk for the twins. You two are so fucking domesticated it's almost sickening. But you are still sleeping in separate beds. I just want to know why?"
Justin looked away and was silent for a time. "I'm scared," he finally admitted with tears in his eyes. "I'm scared that if we try again and fail, that we won't be able to go back. I can't stand the thought of losing him. Even if that means we're only ever friends."
"Oh honey," Emmet said as he moved to hug his friend. "You two have been through so much. I understand why you would be scared, but don't you think maybe he's scared too? You didn't see him after you left. He was devastated, but he refused to admit it, or ask you to come back. And then, when he found out you and Mason had decided to have a child together, he practically fell apart completely."
"But he changed, Em," Justin said. "He started dating and stopped partying. He never did those things for me."
"Didn't he?" Emmett asked. "I have a theory about that. I think that he did change for you. I think he hoped that someday you would come back to him and this time he would be ready to make the commitment he never could before."
Justin frowned. "Then why hasn't he said something, done something? If he still had feelings for me, why wait all this time?"
"Two reasons come to mind," Emmett said. "When you first got home, you were still grieving. That alone is reason enough to hold off."
"And the second?"
"As far as he knows, Mason was the love of your life," Emmett said. He suspected that this was far from the truth, but Justin had never said so. "You had everything you told him you wanted from a lover. As far as he knows, you don't love him anymore."
"I've always loved him," Justin whispered before he could stop himself. He looked fearfully at Emmett. "I mean…"
"I know what you mean, baby," Emmett said. "You have room in your heart to love Mason and Brian." Justin nodded his head. Could Brian really think that he didn't love him anymore? "Think about it, and then talk to him," Emmett suggested. "Now, let's get back to this party. Have you lined up the venue? It will have to be rather large to accommodate this many people."
Justin thought over his conversation with Emmett for the next two weeks. He watched Brian and noticed the little things he did that gave him away: the long looks when he thought Justin wasn't watching, the way his hand lingered longer than necessary when passing the salt at dinner, the way he always sat with Justin on the sofa instead of in one of the armchairs. It all confirmed Emmett's theory, but it wasn't enough to make Justin speak up. Not yet. He was waiting for something, though he didn't know what that something was until it came.
"Night, Papa," Sammy said as she gave Justin a kiss before he moved to let Brian have his turn. "Night, Daddy."
Both men froze for a few seconds, but Justin eventually forced himself to move over to Jack while Brian tucked Sammy in. "Night Papa, Night Daddy." The process was repeated until both sleepy toddlers were tucked in and almost asleep.
Justin looked in on Gus, who was reading one of his comic books. "Lights out in half an hour," Justin reminded him.
"Okay, Papa," Gus said without looking up to see Justin's stunned face. When he turned around, Brian was right behind him and had obviously heard the exchange. They went down the stairs in silence.
Once in the living room, Brian went to the bar and poured two glasses of scotch and carried them over to the sofa where Justin was already sitting, looking bewildered. For a while they sat there in silence and sipped their drinks.
"I'd be willing to bet Gus put them up to it," Brian said at last.
"But why?" Justin asked.
"Because he wants us to be a family," Brian shrugged. They were both quiet again. "Why do they call you papa instead of daddy?"
"We flipped for it," Justin said with a chuckle. "Before the twins were born we had a discussion about how confusing it would be to have two daddies, so we decided on one daddy and one papa. We flipped a coin to see who would be papa."
"So Mason was daddy?" Brian asked, a tinge of jealousy coloring his voice.
Justin looked at Brian and quietly said, "No, Mason was never daddy. He wasn't home very often and they weren't talking much then. The most he ever got was the occasional da."
"So they've never called anyone daddy?" Brian asked.
"Not until tonight," Justin confirmed. "You don't have to compete with him, you know." Brian looked confused. "Mason. You don't have to compete with him for their affection…or for mine."
"No, I think you should hear this," Justin said. He put his glass on the coffee table, moved closer to Brian and took his hand. "I loved Mason, a lot, but I was never in love with him. He was the man I settled for because I couldn't have the one I really wanted."
"Justin," Brian tried again, but Justin put his finger over Brian's lips and he fell silent again.
"I swore to you before I left that I would always love you," Justin said. "And even though I was with Mason and making a life with him, I never broke that promise. I can't count the number of times I would think about my life and how perfect it was except for the fact that it was Mason and not you in my bed at night. I got everything I asked for, the home the kids, the stability… but they weren't enough because it wasn't you.
"I can't tell you how guilty that would make me feel," Justin admitted. "Mason loved me and I loved him, but you were always there in my heart, in the back of my mind. And, as long as I'm being honest, I never could see forever with Mason. Looking back, I'm surprised we lasted as long as we did. It was partly because of his work, but it was also because I could never give myself to him, to our relationship, completely. He never said so, but I think he knew that."
"And now," Brian asked.
"Now, I have you and I have the twins and Gus and the life I always wanted," Justin said. "And I've been afraid to push for more out of fear of losing what we have."
"And if I want more too?"
"Then I suggest you move out of the guest room and into the master," Justin said quietly.
"Good," Brian said with a smirk. "I was getting tired of squashing my Armani suits into that closet."
Justin laughed. "Oh, I see how it is. You just want me for my walk in closet."
"And your Varvatos leather blazer," Brian said. But he belied his words by leaning over and kissing Justin breathless.
As they curled up with each in bed later that night, basking in the afterglow, Brian asked, "So, you're okay with Sammy and Jack calling me daddy?"
"You've been their daddy for a while now," Justin told his lover. "I'm glad they are calling you that. What about you? You okay with Gus calling me papa?"
"Absolutely," Brian said. "That kid of mine is a bright boy. I'll have to take him for ice cream after school tomorrow."
"You might want to remind him that, while this turned out well, he really should discuss things like this with one of us in the future," Justin said wryly, knowing that Brian would do nothing of the sort.
"We'll see," Brian said.
Brian looked in the full length mirror and was pleased with what he saw. He was dressed in a black silk Prada suit with an eggplant and gray paisley silk shirt by Paul Smith and a purple tie. It was flashier than what Brian usually wore to work, but the slim lines of the suit and the bold colors were appropriate for a semi-formal party.
Justin, who was sitting on the bench in their closet to tie his shoes, was wearing Varvatos again. His suit was a shimmering seal gray with widely spaced pinstripes. Paired with a blue, yellow and purple striped shirt and purple tie from Hugo Boss, he looked sexy and hip and still classy.
"Carry, Molly's friend, got here just before I came up to shower," Justin said. "So we can get going whenever you're ready."
"Not before saying goodnight to the urchins," Brian reminded. "The last time we did that, neither of them spoke to us for a day." Justin laughed as he remembered. It was amazing how stubborn two-year-olds could be. "They get it from you, you know. I've never met a more stubborn person than you."
"Good thing I am, too," Justin teased. "Otherwise, where would you be?"
Brian put his tongue in his cheek before replying, "At Babylon, getting sucked off every night, probably."
They said their goodnights to the twins and Gus, gave last minute instructions to Molly, and were soon on their way in Brian's corvette to the riverboat where Brian's party was being held. They parked and boarded the boat, splitting up almost immediately. Justin went in search of Emmett, who was busy ordering the catering staff around while Brian headed towards the bar where Cynthia was already ordering him a scotch.
"You have everything set up?" Brian asked his former assistant.
"Like I would ever let you down," Cynthia grinned. "Justin has no idea?"
"None whatsoever," Brian smirked. "Though he knows I won't let the night pass without doing something unexpected. He just doesn't know that he's going to be at the center of my stunt this evening."
"Here's to hoping he says yes and doesn't jump overboard," Cynthia said with a smirk as she toasted Brian with her Champaign. Brian ruefully clinked his glass with hers before turning to greet several clients who were just arriving.
Everything was perfect, Justin thought as the ship departed from the dock. The food and flowers were exactly what he had asked for. The twinkling lights on the upper deck mimicked the stars overhead. The tables and dance floor below were arranged perfectly. All the most important people in Brian's life were present.
The two hundred and fifty guests mingled and ate the hors d'oeuvres, laughing and listening to the string quartet. Justin knew that Brian had also hired a dj for the dancing later, and wondered if that was going to be Brian's unexpected something. Would he turn the boat into a dance club, offering up the thumpa-thumpa to this staid crowd?
Brian found Justin a few minutes later talking to Sheila Springfield, one of Brian's many clients. "Sheila, I'm sorry but I need to steal Justin away for a few minutes. I hope you don't mind?"
"Not at all," Sheila smiled. "I know how you young things can be."
"Not so young anymore," Justin teased. "He's forty now, you know."
Sheila, who had to be seventy if she was a day, laughed. "Forty is young. Just wait until you hit sixty. That's when everything goes downhill."
Justin allowed himself to be led by Brian to the small dais in front of the tables and dance floor. When Brian asked the dj for a microphone and called for everyone's attention, Justin knew that something was up, but couldn't for the life of him figure out what. That's when he saw his mom and Molly with the twins and Gus. What were the kids doing here? They were dressed to the nines and waved when they noticed their papa watching them, but Jennifer kept them from running over with a whispered word in their ears.
"I'm so glad you could all come out tonight," Brian said into the microphone, though he was looking at Justin mostly. "It's not everyday that a man turns forty. I have to say that this milestone has been a lot easier than turning thirty was. As many of you may know, the difference between then and now can be attributed to one man. Justin changed my life, has given me a family and a future. So, tonight, in front of all of our friends, family and colleagues, I want to ask you something."
Justin was startled by the speech, but even more surprised when Brian got down on one knee and continued.
"Six years ago, I asked you to marry me," Brian said. "The time wasn't right then. I wasn't ready then. I'm ready now. Justin, will you marry me? Tonight, on this boat, in front of our friends and family?"
Justin was absolutely floored. Brian was asking him to marry him? Tonight? That would explain why the kids were there. And it certainly was more unexpected than club music.
"I… I… Yes." Justin was finally able to stammer out. "Yes, I will marry you."
Brian could see the tension slip out of Brian's shoulders and realized belatedly just how nervous he had been. Brian stood and gave Justin a kiss while those around them clapped.
"Good," Brian smirked as he pulled away. He turned back to the crowd and said, "If you'll all take your seats, and give us just a few minutes, we'll get this show on the road."
As Brian led Justin towards his mother and the twins, Justin noticed a photographer who was there to presumably capture everything. He wondered what the picture of Brian's proposal would look like. He didn't have time to dwell on that though, because Brian was leaning down to talk to the twins.
"You remember what we practiced?" Brian asked. They both nodded.
"I carry the pillow," Jack said proudly.
"I throw the flowers," Sammy said.
"I keep them from running all over the place," Gus said quietly so the other two couldn't hear.
"Good job," Brian smiled at them. Emmett had appeared along with Ted, Michael, Ben, Debbie and Carl. Brian looked at them and said, "You all know your jobs, or do we need to review them like the kids?" They smiled and laughed. A female minister in vestments signaled to Brian and he nodded.
Emmett had a boutonniere for Justin and helped him pin it to his lapel while Brian ushered the others into their positions. He looked at Justin unsurely. "He asked me to stand up for you, since Daphne couldn't make it home from Paris on such short notice. I hope you don't mind."
Justin smiled, "I can't think of anyone I would rather it be, Em. You've been a great friend to me."
Minutes later, Justin watched as Ted escorted his mother to a seat at the front table while the string quartet played. Then Ben escorted Debbie to her seat as Brian's honorary mother. Gus escorted the twins up the dance floor which was serving as the makeshift aisle with Sammy tossing rose petals as they went. Michael and Brian went to the dais and then it was his and Emmett's turn. They made their way to the dais and Justin stood across from Brian.
The ceremony itself was all a blur for Justin. He said the right things and repeated the words the minister told him to repeat, but the only solid thing to him was the look of love in Brian's eyes. Justin really hoped someone was video taping this, because he would like to know what he said. He knew when she said they could kiss because suddenly Brian's lips were on his and it was the best feeling in the world.
Brian ushered Justin back down the aisle and into a private room. Tony, Brian's lawyer was waiting there for them. He had a stack of documents for them to sign. As he explained each one to Justin, Brian realized that maybe he was rushing this part. Justin might need time to decide this. It was one thing to have a commitment ceremony, and another to merge all of their worldly goods.
"Justin," Brian said after Tony was finished explaining. "If you don't want to do this now, if you need time to think it over, we can wait. But since Pennsylvania still hasn't passed a law to allow us to get married legally, I thought this would be the next best thing."
"It's fine," Justin smiled. "You already have everything I value, my heart, my family, my love. What's mine is yours, and what's yours is mine. This is just a formality. Of course I'm going to sign."
Brian let out a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding and kissed Justin again.
There were pictures after that, and then dinner and cake. Finally, came the dancing. The dj announced that it was time for them to dance their first dance as a couple and Justin and Brian made their way to the dance floor. When Michael Buble's version of "Save the Last Dance for Me" began playing, Justin's eyes lit up. And then they danced.
And if life was like the movies, the credits would have rolled right then.
Life, however is not like the movies. The happy times are balanced by difficulties, making us appreciate the good things in our lives even more. In the years that followed, there were many more happy times, like the day the twins started school and Gus showed them off like a proud big brother, or the day Mel moved home, bringing Gus' other sister back into the family. Or there was the time Brian was featured on the cover of Forbes. And the time Justin was given a show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. There was the day Gus graduated from High School. The day Sammy won her first writing award. The day Jack brought home the captain of the football team. The day Sammy married her college sweetheart. The day Jack's clothing line made it to fashion week.
But for all the good days, there were bad ones to counter them. Like the day Justin threatened to pack his bags and go back to New York because Brian had broken his word and picked up some nameless twink on a business trip to Chicago. Or the day Gus had to be taken to the hospital because some bullies beat him up because his dads were fags. Like the day Lindsey wrote to say she was never returning. Or like the day they found out that Brian's cancer was back.
But Justin didn't leave in the end, and Gus had healed and become stronger for the experience. As for Lindsey, well she hurt a lot of people, especially Brian and Gus, but emotional wounds heal just like physical wounds when given the right care and attention. As for the cancer, there were a lot of bad days with that one, but they eventually beat it, just like they had the first time.
And so, even though life isn't like the movies, Brian and Justin did have their happy ending.