Snapping his fingers and doing nothing to hide the grin in his word, Michael called out. "Waiter."
"I bet it's unflattering to wear your comic-ology surgery gloves with missing fingers." Hunter countered pulling his father's snapping digits from the air.
"Don't worry honey soon you'll be off to college and you won't have to serve these bossy old queens." Debbie's bracelets made a cheery clank as she hugged her grandson and gave Michael's head a light whack. "Your motherly love could win awards." Michael said rubbing his temple dramatically.
Shifting her gaze toward Ben who was quietly sipping his coffee, Deb smiled brightly. "What about you son-in-law? I hear your new books going to be a big enough success for you to finally leave these two. Marry up."
Ben let out a light chuckle and ignored Michael's eye roll. "I'm still waiting on the publisher to contact me. I'm supposed to hear something by the end of the week."
"I think that's great Sweetie! Our own Dr. Phil. Professor Benjamin, teaching you how to be better!" Emmett's praise was too perky for just about everyone so early in the morning.
However, he had cause to be excited. Ben had finished a phenomenal book, aptly titled 'Stay Positive'. In which he discusses the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of living in and raising an HIV positive family. Several publishers had already expressed extreme interest, and he was quickly on his way to the best seller list.
"So Hunter, we hear you did great on your SATs. I guess it helps to have a professor in the family. Maybe you can help Blake study for his Lsats." Ted said playfully tugging at his partner's collar.
"Lsats? Sounds like something you boys need a pill for." Deb said without humor.
There were small scattered laughs. "It's for law school Deb. I am finally in a place in my life where I'm ready to go for it."
"That's great!" Ben and Emmett said together.
Kissing Blake's cheek Debbie continued, "With this bunch we can't have too many lawyers! Especially with Mel gone and Sunshine no longer around to keep Brian on his best behavior."
At the mention of Brian, a cloud of quiet seemed to hover over the diner. The clank of dishes and bustle of morning became muted as well. It was Michael who broke the silence.
Intending to talk about Brian's current antics, (Staying out all hours of the night, Ted announcing he's barely in the office, parading around as though he is perfectly fine, and he was never in love with or to his knowledge had ever met anyone named Justin) he thought better of it and switched his focus to what he knew even better than Brian, comics.
"So many people have come into the store wanting to know about series two of RAGE. I have some really great story ideas, but…" he let his voice trail off as the infamous gay crusader himself entered the diner.
"Jesus, what the hell happened to you?" Deb inquired as she poured his usual orange juice and coffee.
"What, or shall I say Who…hasn't?" Brian said through a sideways grin staring hard into his juice as if it were magically going to turn into whiskey.
Somewhere beneath the disheveled designer clothes, unkempt hair, and broken exterior of what used to be a man, Brian Kinney still lingered.
Michael approached the counter, "Do you really think you need to be out all night with random guys, doing things I can only imagine would blush the face of Satan…" Brian's finger stopped his words.
"Relax, Mother Mikey. Listen. Are you listening?" Michael did not respond.
"Clearly I'm a big boy," he motioned to himself with his hand. "and I'd say that that allows me to fucking do…or fuck and do anything and anyone I desire."
Michael knew better than to try and argue with him. Michael also knew with equal certainty, that Brian was not happy. He could always see beneath the mask Brian wore whenever he performed the acts of 'Life'.
Finishing his juice in a single gulp, and leaving his coffee untouched Brian stood from the stool. "Come Theodore, let us slave away to corrupt the minds of middle America with our visions of sex." With a wave to no one in particular, Brian left.
"I guess that's my cue." Ted kissed Blake and gave a timid wave to everyone.
"I guess I better get going too, the walls won't decorate themselves!" Emmett began pulling on his newest brightly colored coat.
"I'll be by after lunch Em to go over the rest of the final papers. Then she's all yours."
"I still can't believe it Teddy; Brian giving me Babylon for my very own Event Venue. I keep getting dizzy from all the ideas I got swirling around in my pretty little head."
Tapping Emmett on the shoulder, Michael smiled. "I can't wait to see the place up and running. I'm so happy for you."
"Aunt Lula always said don't go countin' your chickens; but honey, those babies are hatched, counted, and soon to be served up into to die for hors d'oeuvres."
Michael had been sad to see Brian close Babylon for good. However, he was proud of the ways in which Brian had grown. Proud of how he himself had grown. Sometimes change was the next logical step toward happiness. He was completely comfortable in his life right now and was continually finding better things awaiting him.
It mattered not that the fire in the heart of Babylon had been extinguished. There would always be younger, hotter flames burning brightly within 'Popperz' and similar sanctuaries of cheap illusion. No matter what happened, no matter who was President, new generations of Twinks, Studs and Bears would continue to survive.
Turning back towards his mother, Michael's smile fell. "Has he called you lately?"
"I talked to him yesterday afternoon. He's talking art, culture, and matinees. Damn it I miss him and I know that asshole does too. He needs to call him. Justin sounds like he's having the time of his life. But, I'm betting dollars to dildos that he's just as lost as Brian is."
"I don't know."
"Sweetheart I don't know much about the world; but I know those two boys and I know a little something about love. It doesn't just go away. I don't care how hard you try to twist it, beat it, and paint it up pretty like something else. It's still love and it stays put."
Unsure of how to respond, he kissed her cheek "I love you Ma."
"Of course you do. Now go tell that son of yours to clear table three before he leaves for school."
Michael let out an empty sigh. All he could think about was Brian. Only, unlike many years thinking about Brian this did not bring him Joy. He only wished he could help his best friend. Though he had no plan, or a single idea where to begin. Actually, he knew this was untrue. There was only one place to start, New York.
In hurrying to get out the door with Ben and Hunter, Michael couldn't remember if he'd even said goodbye to them.
A single question stole his focus.
Continually pulsating in his mind like the thumpa thumpa of Babylon days gone by, 'How do you fix someone who refuses to believe he's broken?'
He'd lost count of the steps he'd taken, the number of times he'd passed this same Chinese restaurant. If he had to guess he'd place his time pacing these streets nearing the millionth hour. Six months of aimless wandering had nearly worn holes in the soles of his shoes. Though he'd gladly embrace them as opposed to acknowledging the vast hole slowly replacing his soul.
He gazed up at a skyscraper and squinted from the sun's glare dominating the building's mirrored finish. It beckoned to him. Mocked him. His mind was screaming 'This is your light! This is how bright you're supposed to be shining sunshine!' He smirked at the intrusive beams, and shook his head.
Though he knew he would never be able to shake away his thoughts, he tried often. The sun was right; he was supposed to be shining, embracing the world, finding himself. Only, he didn't need found.
He wasn't lost and his world was currently residing in a loft in Pittsburgh.
It was almost his world too. Forever and almost always.
Everything he had wanted since the first moment his eyes met Brian's was within his grasp, and somehow he still managed to fall short of the taking.
Save for several phone calls, (all of which were initiated by Justin himself) his first few weeks in town he hadn't talked to Brian. The calls became exceedingly scarce until eventually, Brian quit answering altogether. He'd expected as much.
Brian was keeping his distance so that he could explore the world on his own. To become equal partners in life experience and self definition. Apparently Justin forgot to send the memo that his love for Brian Kinney was the core definition of his being.
There had been countless times since, he had sat with the phone for hours. Rehearsing endlessly what he would say. Wondering if he'd be able to say anything at all when he heard his voice. He desperately wanted to hear that voice once again. So much time spent staring at the phone, intending to break down and call him. He never did.
Glancing upwards he caught a glimpse of a familiar face. As big as life, Ethan Gold stared down at him. The poster advertising the orchestra show was large to the point of obscenity. He felt a genuine kindness in knowing that Ethan had made it. Made it in New York. Made it in New York like he himself was supposedly here to do.
In a city full of people Justin had never felt more alone.
He continued his trek back to his apartment; in a hurry now more than ever to close himself off from life. He didn't mind being alone, in truth he preferred it. His memories his only companion.
It took him a moment to realize he'd really heard it. Focusing, he picked up the pace to reach them quickly.
"What are you doing here?" He nearly squealed.
"Well, the curator at the gallery I work at in Toronto had to come to New York to get a painting authenticated, so naturally I volunteered." Lindsay said.
"More like you told him you were coming and there would be no discussion." Mel added, kissing Justin's cheek.
"Gus!" Justin said in what he considered his best kid approved character voice. Gus detached himself from his sister's stroller and hugged Justin's leg tightly.
"How are you honey? We can't believe how great you look. New York suits you well." Lindsay noted.
"So, do we need to ask you for your autograph?" Mel inquired.
What could he say? Certainly not the truth.
'I'm just horrid. I Have a tiny shit apartment. I don't go out. I'm not entirely sure I'd recognize my own roommate if she ever actually came home. I have only been to one gallery since my arrival, and unbelievably I can not find a single fucking spark of inspiration in one of the most inspirational cities in the world?'
No. Certainly not the truth.
"Do you have a pen?" he asked in jest through the best plastered smile he could manage.
"We're settled in at the hotel already so we thought we'd take you out to dinner Van Gogh."
"Sure, let me just run up and change real quick."
"Oh, well we'll come with you. I'd like to say I stood in the space that inspired him before he was famous."
With a slight roll of his eyes that displayed his modesty whenever Lindsay praised his art, he held the door open for the only four people he was glad to be around in six months.
Apart from his occasional calls to Debbie, his mom, and texts with Daphne, Justin had not remained connected with his old life in Pittsburgh. Or as he often referred to it himself, the life before the fire in his heart began to dwindle.
Tossing his keys and bag haphazardly onto the floor, Justin announced he was going to freshen up.
Gus immediately gravitated towards a sketch pad and an open case of charcoals. After deeming it harmless, Lindsay left Gus to his doodles and let her gaze fall over the room.
It was everything she had expected. Cramped, damp and drastically under furnished. Comfortable with cliché's the apartment seemed to scream 'Starving artist' from every crack in the drywall.
Her eyes caught Mel's for a brief moment then followed Mel's gaze with her own. Unable to help herself she let out a gasp. It echoed in the room louder than she had anticipated.
Wordlessly Lindsay and Melanie stepped amazingly in synch with one another toward the far wall of the small room.
The immense array of artwork that cluttered the wall was nothing short of breathtaking. Everything a great up and coming artist would be expected to produce. Various styles, materials, and impressions. Each Pencil sketch as beautiful as the watercolor, oil painting or mixed media piece it neighbored.
However, the mere talent the works exuded was not what left the women speechless. Nor was it the clear and direct emotion each piece poured into the room making it feel larger than it was. It was the subject.
Each and every canvas featured the same object of inspiration, Brian Kinney.
One particular piece had brought both of them nearly to tears. The largest of the group and the most vividly depicted. Swirling in color and oozing remembrance was Brian and Justin dancing. Donned in tuxes with Brian's white scarf lovingly draping Justin's shoulders.
Touching the portrait, Lindsay talked aloud as much to herself as anyone. "He remembers the Prom."
"I wasn't thinking when I let you up here. I forgot for a moment those were out." At the sound of Justin's voice, Lindsay pulled her hand from the painting.
"Justin." Mel said barely above a whisper.
"Don't." He pleaded, matching her hushed tone.
Lindsay went to his side and embraced him. He intended to pull away but found himself unable to move. Expecting the fact that his heart had been busted wide open for them to see, he conceded and pulled her tight.
"I can't draw anything else." He bent his head toward the floor, not really ashamed but somehow feeling he should be.
"My hand trembles badly when I try to paint anything. Anything that is, except him. With him I trace every line, every feature without the slightest tremor."
Silence filled the room for several moments. Justin did not look up to see Melanie and Lindsay exchange a glance, in which clearly stated they were both overwhelmed and feeling the wretched twinge of guilt.
"Oh, Honey." Lindsay lifted Justin's chin softly with her fingers. Enforcing eye contact, she stared considerately into the deep blue pools threatening to spill.
"I think maybe you were right all along. New York isn't your opportunity of a lifetime. He is."
"I'm starved, let's go." was his only reply.
Ted had never seen so many flower arrangements. There were roses in tall vases, calla lilies in short vases, potted topiaries, floral garlands draped about, even a few portraits of flowers hung proudly on the walls of the foyer.
"Well, Babylon certainly smells better. Try as I might, I can't detect a single hint of glitter, sex, or drunken desperation."
"Don't think that was easy to achieve either. It took a lot more than old fashioned elbow grease to remove hot and horny from these halls honey!" Emmett was generously applying Windex to the largest mirrored wall.
"So, only a few more papers for you to sign your jolly hand cock, and it's a done deal."
"Brian should come see what I've done. But I suspect it may turn his little whore heart to dust seeing Babylon officially Queer guyed."
"He won't be stopping by for at least two days. He's already left. Has an out of town meeting with a new 'Client'." Ted never could resist an opportunity for the use of air quotes.
"My my, Baby J's gone but months and he's having no trouble keeping himself occupied."
"He prepared for the trip by packing a plethora of P's."
Together they Whimsically began to alternatly list the essentials.
"Poppers." "Panties." "Playthings." "Porn." "Pot." "Plastic Peckers."
Their laughter died as suddenly as it was born as they both thought about their friend. Sure Brian could carry on, living life the 'Kinney way'. No apologies. No regrets. But everyone knew he was hurting. Everyone knew he was heartbroken. Even if Brian did not yet know it himself.
"Do you know if he's called him?" Emmett asked, as he disposed of the wet paper towels he was holding.
"I do. He hasn't. I'd say it's safe to bet he never will. He's Brian. He's proud."
"That too. He doesn't want to think Justin settled for him instead of following his dream. If it were up to me I'd go to New York, get him and drop him in the Boss' mailbox. But I like my job and I'm kind of partial to breathing."
Emmett chuckled awkwardly, "I hate it. All of it. I should be planning that great big ol' wedding with those silly flowers from the other side of the world. Two sexy grooms in suits that cost higher than I can count."
Before Ted could respond, Emmett's phone rang. It played an upbeat chime of a Streisand number Ted couldn't quite identify.
"Shickle Venue, The only place you need to be! Oh, well hello stranger!" Noticing Ted trying to get his attention he mouthed 'Lindsay.'
"How would you feel about hosting a show for one of New York's hottest young artists?"
"How hot and how young?" Emmett inquired seductively.
"Mel and I just returned from visiting Justin. He's miserable Em." Lindsay began to tell Emmett about Justin's paintings and lack of inspiration in the big apple.
In twenty minutes time, they had decided to host a show for Justin right here in Pittsburgh. Lindsay had already made several calls to galleries, artists, press, designers and buyers who had agreed to come and see what Justin Taylor had to offer the world.
They made plans to talk again to discuss specifics, most importantly the date. Just as soon as either one of them figured out the best way to get Justin to return to Liberty Avenue.
Lindsay was certain she could help him become successful and remain where he belongs. In the only place in which he is able to create, Brian Kinney's arms.
With well wishes and air kisses, Emmett closed the phone. He smiled, knowing he did not have to repeat the conversation to Ted, then sighed.
In unison they said "You tell Brian."
"Poppers." Brian said aloud as he pulled them from his bag. "Pot." he did the same. Placing the items on the counter, he let out a breathy sigh.
'What was he doing here?' Lying to everyone about his business trips was beginning to take too much energy. Though he suspected they all already knew he was never really on business, he couldn't tell them the truth. He was unsure if he'd receive a lecture or a motivational life speech, but he wasn't in the mood for either.
His mind wandered briefly to the willing blond twink who had tried desperately to pick him up at the gas station this morning. He remembered the look in his eyes inviting Brian to do as he wished. He knew that look. He had invented it.
A year ago he would have rushed to the restroom and found instant release, simple satisfaction. Now, that look revolted him. Something stirred inside him, but he could not identify the emotion.
The guy had kissed him, and Brian tried to find excitement in kissing him back. The boy's hands eagerly explored his shoulders, back, and eventually found their way to his chest. He paused when he felt the metal under his shirt. When he went to pull it from Brian's collar, he grabbed his wrist with a sudden jerk, then turned wordlessly back towards his car.
Now, standing in the kitchen of 'Britin' Manor, his hands held the smooth silver chain, and both rings it displayed. Like so many times before, he slipped one ring off of the chain and placed it on his finger. The other he returned to his neck.
He felt pathetic. He was 'I don't believe in love. I believe in fucking' Brian Kinney. It was bullshit. Justin Taylor had murdered and buried Brian Kinney. May he rest in peace.
Save for several phone calls his first few weeks in town, he hadn't talked to Justin. The calls became exceedingly scarce until eventually, Brian quit answering altogether. Once he'd known that Justin was set up and safe, he did not want to intrude into his new life.
Each time his number would appear on the ID Brian would silence it; whilst simultaneously trying to silence his heart. He was gone. Justin was out in the world becoming the man he was truly meant to be. He was painfully coming to terms with the fact that that man was not the domesticated husband of Brian Kinney.
There have been countless times since, he had sat with the phone for hours. Rehearsing endlessly what he would say. Wondering if he'd be able to say anything at all when he heard his voice. He desperately wanted to hear that voice once again. So much time spent staring at the phone, intending to break down and call him. He never did.
He removed his clothes, grabbed a towel and headed through the ridiculously over designed archway towards the arrogantly prominent glass doors, that lead to the pool fit for a king, and his prince.
Being in charge of his finances, Ted was the only one who knew Brian still owned the house. However, being the self proclaimed 'Dr. Spin' Brian had convinced him he was only holding onto it for property value reasons, and intended to sell it when the market improved. Being a numbers man, Ted had taken that at face value.
Brian had asked Ted not to tell anyone he still owned it. He said he didn't want anyone reading too much into it (namely Michael) and giving him grief. He knew he wouldn't. Not only because he had threatened his life, but because Theodore was his friend and he trusted him. He was certain he didn't know he still frequented the place. No one did. No one would.
The cold water shocked his body but did nothing to clear his head. For years all he'd ever wanted was to be alone. No one to tie him down. No one to change the rules. No one to make him feel. Now, it was all he could do not to shut down completely from the overwhelming need to have him here.
'Fucking Christ. Brian Kinney needing someone?' He searched his mind of his mother's religious rants but was unable to verify this as a sign of the apocalypse.
Positioning himself on the steps of the shallow end, he watched the sun reflect on the ripples in the water. Without warning, his mind betrayed him with a vision he didn't want.
The way the blue lights above his bed would reflect across his smooth body; the faint glow cascading down on the creamy perfection of his skin.
He remembered the nights when the moonlight would cast a shadow on the silhouette of his face as he slept. The hours he'd spent just watching him (unbeknownst to Justin), listening to him breathe. Barley able to resist tracing his finger along his beautiful lips in fear of waking him.
These nights began after the bashing when Brian had an intense, fear birthed need to hear his breaths, hear his heart beat. However, it's something he continued to do for years full of nights afterward. Always wondering if Justin's dreams ever included him.
Brian felt himself stiffen. A contradictory surge of lust and contempt coursed through him. Involuntarily, every muscle in his body quivered then tensed. He groaned. He ached.
"Stop it." he whispered aloud to himself.
He had to get over him. He had to stop wanting him. Almost impossibly, Brian resisted the urge for self gratification and climbed the steps exiting the pool.
He was hard to the point of unbearable desire and pain. Foolishly pretending he wasn't (In authentic Kinney fashion. One of self torture with the belief he deserved it for something he'd done along the way), he wrapped the towel around his waist and headed for the kitchen.
He took a moment to observe the structure. Every time he came to this place he contemplated staying forever. The tyrant old king locked away in his haunted palace; cohabitating with the ghost of his 'Almost ever after'.
As if on cue, upon entering the house the over the top doorbell chimed. It sent an echo of 'pseudo happy home' throughout the walls. They were late. They always were.
Bypassing a trip to the refrigerator, Brian answered the door.
The man blushed slightly at the sight of a dripping wet Brian in a towel, but tried to hide it with his quickness to make eye contact.
"Sorry we're late Mr. Kinney, We..." Brian silenced him with a quick nod and a somewhat mumbled version of "Don't worry about it." Motioning with his arms he invited the man inside.
"Well we've been over the numbers and I must say it's a hell of big job."
"Yes. Your Job. Do it."
Slightly taken aback by Brian's bluntness the contractor softened his own tone and tried to explain himself.
"Yes sir. I simply meant a sky light in nearly every room, it's just a big request, but don't worry we'll do a fine job. Yes. I'm certain my boys can do it two days." The man was unsure if Brian was still listening. Feeling himself begin to ramble he stopped and allowed his client to speak.
Brian, who had been quietly amused listening to the man babble, smiled genuinely.
"Your whole life brightens when you let sunshine in."
He left the man in the foyer and walked to the fridge. Removing a bottle of water and a green apple, he glanced back at the overly nervous worker.
"I'll be in the stables. Try your best not to need me." With that, Old King Kinney turned and left. Off to spend some quality time with his ghost.
"Why the fuck are we up before noon?" Hunter asked as he fumbled his way into the kitchen.
"Sorry if we woke you." Ben apologized. "We have some business goings-on this morning."
"It's Saturday." Hunter stated as he poured milk onto his Captain Crunch.
"Yes it is. No wonder UCLA wants him. Our son's a genius." Michael teased as he set a glass of juice in front of Hunter, then took the chair beside him.
"I got a text this morning from a colleague of mine. He told me to check my email." Ben smiled brightly at Hunter over the screen of his laptop "You're looking at an official published author."
"Again." Michael added.
"Awesome! So they're printing 'Stay Positive'." Hunter stated, then added "That's positively positive." in a voice an octave higher than his normal tone.
Both men laughed, then Ben spoke again. "Michael has some pretty positively positive news himself."
They turned their attention to Michael who couldn't suppress his exaggerated grin.
"Brett Keller called at the crack of dawn 'seriously stoked' to quote him. They found a new backer for 'RAGE'. Looks like it's really going to become a movie."
"Well I send an 'Awesome!' to you too. That's so great, does Justin know?"
Michael and Ben made immediate eye contact.
"He'll be 'seriously stoked' as well." Ben said using his best surfer impression "When are you going to call him?"
Michael groaned. "I don't know. I guess I should talk to Brian first. If I don't return, start looking for freshly dug dirt where my body could be."
"Will you just relax. Brian will be happy for him, and for you. You know he will." Ben assured his husband, while simultaneously sending the finished email he just typed to Justin's computer.
"Ugh! You fucking thing! Work!" Justin shouted a little too loudly as he smacked the defenseless coffee maker. Though it was just an appliance, Justin couldn't help but see it as a cruel mockery of his life. Nothing works the way it's supposed to.
"Easy there Naomi Campbell." Morgan teased as she entered the apartment wearing a blinding smile and carrying two foam cups. She looked too beautiful for it to be so early. Justin suddenly felt significantly under groomed. Then he reminded himself that she was a model, and returned her smile.
"Sorry, I broke it this morning. So I went out to save the day!" she handed her roommate one of the cups of coffee.
The warmth on his hands immediately lifted his spirits, and the inviting aroma only strengthened the feeling. Removing the lid to mix in his cream and sugar, he took a longer sniff of the lovely liquid.
"I may live after all." He mused.
He carried his cup with him to the computer desk. He had to send in his latest photos to the small local magazine in which he was currently employed. Empty of passion or even joy, but it paid the bills.
"So I talked to Daphne last night, and she made me promise not to let you become one of those brooding recluse artists."
Justin chuckled at her then felt a jolt of excitement when he saw he had an email from Ben. He opened it.
"You two stop worrying. I promise we'll go to lunch today, and I'm running low on brood." He finished reading the message and couldn't contain his exhilaration.
"Make that we're going out right now. To celebrate!" He practically leapt into Morgan's arms and twirled her around happily.
"Really?" She laughed loudly "And what prey tell are we celebrating?"
"That sometimes things work out the way they're supposed to."
Almost as animated as a comic book, Michael continued his story "...and so it's really going to happen. 'RAGE' the movie is a go, and Volume two, issue one will officially begin production when Justin comes back in..."
"Three days!" Several of his audience members said exasperatedly together.
"Baby, you've told them all of this before." Ben said placing his calming hand on his husband's anxiously flailing one.
Michael felt the blood rush to his cheeks. With a shy smile to accessorize his blush he apologized.
"I know. Sorry you guys. I just still can't believe it."
"And why not? I always believed my son would be a success." Debbie bragged placing their meals in front of them.
"I for one am ecstatic that Justin's coming home for this. If not selfishly for any other reason than it keeps me from finding a way to get him back here on my own." Emmett announced before cutting another piece off of his doughnut.
"Lindsay pretty much left that part entirely up to him." Ted added noticing that Emmett was chewing. "She and Mel are coming with the kids this weekend too."
"Well then, you boys better get to some serious planning!" Debbie encouraged. "Today Sunshine's show, tomorrow big shot Hollywood premiers!"
"Which one of you Drama Queens has finally made it to Hollywood?" Brian asked, only halfway through the doorway.
"They've found new funding for 'RAGE'. Its getting made." Hunter answered as he felt a hard kick under the table. He shot Michael a look full of teenage angst, then discreetly rubbed his throbbing shin.
Brian slid into the empty booth behind them and gently flicked the back of Hunter's head.
"I'm happy for you Mikey. What did Justin say?"
Saying his name aloud caused an intense ache in Brian's heart. He welcomed it, for it was assurance that his heart still worked.
"Oh. Um…" Michael tried fervently to grab words from his jumbled thoughts and failed. With avoidance trumping truth he decided to gauge Brian's reaction before telling him everything.
"I just found out about it myself really. I didn't want to tell him until it was certain."
Michael quickly met the gaze of everyone around him, hoping his eyes were sending his message. Both pleading with and challenging them not to call him out. They complied.
"Well, you definitely should tell him soon. 'RAGE' is his baby too. You have to share custody."
Michael was a little thrown by Brian's nonchalant demeanor. Deciding not to push the issue he changed the subject.
"Hunter got accepted into UCLA!" he beamed.
Scattered exclaims and congratulations bounced throughout the diner. Michael sighed with relief.
Brian sat in a booth with his thoughts and felt they were not giving him enough elbow room.
'RAGE was going to happen. Justin would undoubtedly return to The Pitts. When?'
He suddenly felt a wave of nausea. 'What was that? Nerves? Maybe. No. Fear.' He concluded.
At the thought of Justin Taylor returning to Liberty Avenue, Brian Kinney was scared shitless.
"So he'll be here next Wednesday!" Emmett beamed.
"That's awesome. As soon as he gets here, be sure to bring him by the store." Micheal replied.
"Absolutely. You two can talk plot lines, whilst I stare at pretty men in tight tights."
After a very successful six month long distance relationship, Calvin Culpepper was moving to Pittsburgh to be with Emmett.
"Now, don't you two worry." Emmett addressed Carl and Deb who were snapping green beans at her table. "I'm trying to find a place as quick as Jack is nimble."
"No need." she replied, carrying her beans to be rinsed in the sink. Her jewelry clanked as she walked and Emmett couldn't help but smile at her latest T-shirt, which read 'Quit ignoring that knocking! Let your fag out of the closet'.
"Honey, you're welcome here always."
"Yeah." Carl added "I don't mind if you boys have your slumber parties here."
Michael let out a chuckle then turned toward Emmett. "It really is great. It couldn't be better timing for me at the store. I really need an extra set of hands now that I'm spending so much time on the phone with Brett."
"Calvin's just as excited."
Emmett's new man was a self proclaimed Comic-Con nerd. He had jumped at the chance when Emmett offered The Red Cape as a possible employment option.
He was in Love. Wholeheartedly he believed this was the last relationship he'd ever be in. He had already envisioned Culpepper and Honeycutt monogrammed housewares.
Emmett smiled then excused himself to his room for a moment.
Pacing impatiently, Michael glanced out the front door for the tenth time. He looked at his watch. Brian was late. He was supposed to pick him up twenty minutes ago. They had agreed to pick up Mel and Lindsay at the airport this afternoon.
Michael couldn't wait to see Jenny Rebecca. Though they had sent him several pictures over the passing months, each one made him sadder than the last. She was growing so fast, and he was missing it.
Determined to 'Stay Positive', as homage to Ben's new mantra, he shook the thought away. 'Where the fuck was Brian?'
He took out his cell to call just as it began to ring, great minds.
After spending only seconds talking to Brian, he returned to the kitchen.
"Hey Carl, would you mind if I took your car to the airport?" Michael hated to ask.
"Sure kid." he said digging the keys from his pocket.
"Where the hell's Kinney?" Debbie asked.
"I'm not exactly sure. He said he'd tell me tomorrow."
Carl tossed him the keys, and he was off to reunite with his daughter.
Toting his floral arrangement down the halls of the ICU, he generated his fair share of whispers and turned heads. Brian was feeling pleased with himself as he approached his mother's room. With a vivid array of colorful dildos immersed in elegant baby's breath, Brian stepped inside.
"So, now you know praying isn't the only thing Reverend Tom gets on his knees for." He said, placing the bouquet gingerly on the window sill. Making sure it was in her direct eye line and still far enough away that she'd be unable to reach it to move it.
His mother's eyes widened, but she remained silent. Her harsh exterior was gone. In the bed, attached to more tubes than Brian would bother counting, lay only a weak and broken woman.
He was unsure of the emotion currently racing through him. Though he felt he should probably be feeling worry, he somehow found vindication in it's place.
The irony of the situation was not lost on him. "After we visit, I'll stop in the chapel and say a prayer for you."
He recalled his sister's phone call and found himself unable to repress one last dry laugh.
This morning their mother had stopped by church for confession. During her session she heard the Reverend become increasingly short of breath. Concerned for his health, she asked him if he was alright. When he only replied with a painful moan, Mrs. Kinney went to his side of the booth and pulled back the curtain.
Three things happened.
First, Tom Butterfield and Bob, the choir director who was blowing him, scrambled out of the confessional.
Secondly, Joan's self righteous, fanatical, devout life went up in fiery flames; not unlike the depths of hell.
Lastly, she'd had a heart attack.
Brian pulled the nearest chair up to his mother's bedside. "All those years you were preaching the word of God. Now, if you'd have only told me that the word was 'cock' I'd have gone to church more often."
"Get out." was all she said.
Ignoring her demand he continued. "So much for your fag free after life Mommy Dearest. Look forward to a place were angels suck and fuck for eternity." He sighed and smacked his lips together. "Hell, now that's what I'd call Heaven."
Without allowing her to respond, Brian stood and leaned in to kiss her forehead.
Dramatically waving his arms he preached loudly "Hallelujah! The world's gone to sin!" as he neared the door.
Before leaving, he turned once more toward the woman in the bed. He lowered his voice and attempted to infuse sincerity into it. "Call on the Homos to carry you home. Embrace the light Mom. "
"Oh no!" Emmett said through tears of laughter. "Now she knows it's always been Adam & Adam."
"Well, the serpent in that story just took on a whole new meaning for me." Ted joked.
It pleased Brian to amuse his friends. He had just finished telling them of yesterdays' debacle with his mother. Their laughter was a great distraction from the somberness that brewed within him.
Ever present on his mind was the knowledge that Justin would be home today.
Michael said his flight comes in at noon. Glancing at his watch, he noted he had plenty of time to pull himself together.
Brian wondered how he could feel both terrified and elated at the same time.
Having him here was all that Brian wanted.
Having him here was the last thing Brian wanted.
Leaving a tip on the table, he turned to leave just as Justin walked into the Diner.
Brian felt his heart drop. He instinctively glanced down to be certain it did not, in fact lie there beating and bleeding on the floor.
"Surprise! I got an early flight!" His voice was like music that played through Brian's veins.
"Sunshine!" Debbie was hugging him before Brian had even realized she had moved. He noticed with a start that he had not been aware of anyone else. He was all he could see.
The nausea returned. What was he going to do? While Justin was surrounded by the Liberty Diner welcome committee, Brian slipped out the door.
'Fucking coward.' He hated himself.
For the first time in six months Justin felt whole. He was home. Pulling away from the crowd, he glanced anxiously over the room. He was gone.
Justin wondered how he could feel both relieved and disappointed at the same time.
Having him here was all that Justin wanted.
Having him here was the last thing Justin wanted.
"I can't believe that asshole left!" Deb scowled, then kissed Justin's cheek.
"It's not OK Sunshine." she stated firmly.
"Fuck him. We're all here and we couldn't be happier to have you with us! Now sit down and let me feed you. You're skin and bones. Don't they eat anything besides coffee and ice cubes in New York?"
Justin smiled and took a seat at the counter; though his nausea was not looking forward to the inevitable force feeding.
Once inside his car, Brian finally let out the breath he was unaware he had been holding.
'Why did he do that? Why didn't he just go to him, hold him, kiss him?' His mind had been screaming for him to rush to him, but his feet were lead. He was unable to move even an inch. 'Christ. Once again he'd ruined everything.'
His insides quivered. 'Was he going to cry? No. He needed to talk to her.' She and Mel were staying with Michael and Ben. Destination decided, he pulled the corvette onto the street.
"I'm the biggest asshole in Pittsburgh." Brian sighed, not bothering to mask his surrender with struggle.
"Oh now, don't sell yourself short. It's a big world." Lindsay attempted to lighten the mood. Brian remained silent. 'OK, this was serious.' She would have to approach this from a kinder angle.
"Maybe he didn't even see you." Brian answered her with a stare that blatantly stated, 'Really? That's what your helping with? Of course he saw me.'
"I just froze Lindz. I don't even know why. So badly I wanted to tell him how much I've missed him. Instead I stood there like an arrogant son of a bitch and avoided the entire situation."
"It was just a shock. You weren't expecting him so early. I wish he'd have called, I would have picked him up from the airport."
Brian looked curtly at her, and she knew it wise to turn her focus back to the man sitting in Michael's living room floor.
She silently noted that her friendship skills had apparently rusted over the last six months.
"Look, he's Justin. He knows you better than anybody, including yourself. He'll be fine. He'll understand."
"How? I don't even understand. I don't understand anything anymore. I'm officially the dumbest fucking queer on Liberty Avenue. Sign me up for that special school that'll help me dress myself."
In spite of his obvious pain, Lindsay giggled. This was a Brian she very rarely saw. His emotional walls were completely down. She knew it was best to just listen. He would talk everything through himself.
"Once I got to my car, I almost went back in. I didn't. I couldn't." Lindsay got up from the couch and sat in the floor across from him. She picked up his hands from his lap and clasped them with her own. He didn't look up or resist her efforts.
"I think maybe you're afraid to let him back in, because it will hurt that much more when he leaves again."
Brian looked at her. He stared for a long while.
Then realization crashed down on him with the crushing force of a tidal wave. She was right. Undeniably, positively, absolutely fucking right.
Searching his eyes, Lindsay received confirmation that she had hit the nail on the head.
She wanted to take away his pain. She smiled lightly to herself as she decided there was a way she could. Even if only to relieve a portion, she could offer him a small dosage of hope.
"My best guess? He's here for good."
Brian let go of her hands and sighed deeply. "What do you mean?" he asked in the softest voice she had ever heard him use.
"Well it just so happens that a certain 'Cwazy Wesbian' and her band of trusty fags have arranged a Justin Taylor Rising Star Art Exhibition. Tomorrow. Right in here at our very own 'George Shickle Venue'."
"When did you guys do all that? Why didn't you tell me?" He attempted to sound insulted but failed. He was grateful.
"I've got a lot of people showing up who are more than willing to work with him from right here. In his home. With you."
She paused for a moment, noticing Gus up from his nap, coming down the stairs then added "and then there's the 'RAGE' movie. He and Michael are going to be producing more issues than ever."
Brian felt slightly dizzy. 'Was he hearing her correctly? His Sunshine was returning for good?' He felt his blood begin to burn, quite literally he believed a fire had come alive in his veins. 'Shit. What if he didn't even want him anymore?' How was he supposed to tell him he loves him, when he couldn't even bring himself to stay in the same room with him?
"Brian, Mel and I went to visit him last week. There's something I really think you'd like to know."
"Hey Sonny Boy!" Brian reached his arms outward and his son rushed toward him, knocking him back a bit as he positioned himself in his Daddy's lap.
Gus yawned then pulled his blanket and a sandwich bag full of body parts (Brian could only assume were the remains of animal crackers) into his own lap, leaving his empty juice box on the floor.
Kissing Brian's neck, Gus rested his head on his chest. Clearly he had awakened prematurely from his slumber. Brian recalled talking with Gus a few weeks previously. His son had told him he was 'Never taking a baby nap again, now that he was a big boy'. Yesterday's flight had apparently thrown him off schedule.
Brian felt good. Really good for the first time in six months. He could see a glimpse of his former life just on the horizon. Everything he wanted was once again within reach. Now all he had to do was grab it, and hold onto it with all that he had.
He brushed his lips softly on the top of Gus' hair "What is it?" he asked Lindsay.
Lindsay told him about all of the art hanging in his Justin's apartment. When she told him about the prom portrait, Brian trembled. So long he had wished Justin was able to share all of those moments with him. Remember his love, that though unspoken was so clearly there.
Now he did.
Brian remained silent through her entire retelling, but she knew it was having an effect on him. Seemingly before her eyes, she watched everything about him change. A hidden smile, and slight tremble. Several things that could go easily unnoticed to one who did not know Brian Kinney, were incredibly clear to her. Repairs had begun on this broken man.
Lindsay found herself suddenly envious of her friend. He had let go. Let the love of his life leave thinking everything would change for the better. New opportunities, new beliefs. He'd been wrong. She was realizing now, that she too was wrong. Running away was pointless, if you were leaving behind the only place you truly belonged.
She would talk to Mel when she returned from the store. She wanted to come home.
"I guess it's inevitable Wendy." Brian said not looking at her "Peter has to grow up." he said the words with an exaggerated shudder.
"Michael and Ben are having their announcement dinner here tonight. You're coming."
It was not a question.
Brian simply nodded, as he lightly stroked the face of his sleeping child.
Watching Gus with Brian made Lindsay's breath catch in her throat. So much love there. 'How could she have taken that away from him? From both of them?'
"He's cooking tonight." She added before carrying Gus' empty juice box into the kitchen.
Looking at his son, Brian remembered the night he was born. 'Two Sons.' The two men that now meant more to him than anything had charged (not so quietly) into his life on the same night. He's not been the same since.
"I'm going to miss you like crazy Mikey." Brian said while holding his best friend in his arms. "If you love something set if free…" he said with a theatrical arm gesture.
Michael laughed and felt a sudden ache in his heart. He always pushed away his thoughts about leaving Brian. He would be back. "I love you Brian."
In place of a response, Brian quickly unwound himself from Michael.
"I made you something!" he said in much the manner of an excited child showing off his finger painting. He anxiously searched his pockets. "For when you're gone and missing me." he added.
"Be my valentine?" He asked in a silly voice, as he handed Michael something wrapped in a brown paper bag.
Holding the bag up, Michael reluctantly asked "Is this something I can open in the presence of others?"
Brian laughed "Only if you want to get arrested. Go on open it." His tone suddenly serious.
'This is why Brian Kinney was his best friend. No matter how far apart they may get, they always find their way back to where it all began.'
"Aw, a mixed tape. Yes I will be your valentine!" Michael exclaimed.
"Good." Brian laughed and then pressed his lips hard against Michael's.
Michael turned the tape over in his hands. Scrawled on one side in Brian's writing, were the words 'Brian and Mikey's Excellent Adventure'. On the other it read 'Our Song'.
"Did I tell you I love you already?"
"Me too Mikey. Me too. Always have, Always will."
"Well I guess we'd better get in there. Justin's got the table set. It's time to tell everyone else the news."
Brian slipped his arm through Michael's and escorted his best friend into the Novotny-Bruckner Home.
"A year?" Debbie repeated for what seemed to be nearing the seven hundredth time over the course of a two hour dinner party.
"At most Ma." Michael assured her again. "It's most likely only going to be for a few months."
Shaking her head she looked over at Justin and repeated "A year?" as if challenging him to believe it.
"Christ. We just get you back Sunshine, now these three are leaving us. Why can't you boys just stay in one Goddamn place?"
"Relax now Deb." Carl said, rescuing Justin from having to come up with something to say to her.
"Who the fucks' not relaxed?" She said in an agitated tone.
Ben brought out another pot of coffee from the kitchen. As he poured some into in Jennifer and Lindsay's waiting cups, he spoke.
"We don't have to leave for a month or two, and we'll call all of the time."
"You're damn right you will." Debbie interrupted him
He smiled then continued, "Emmett and Calvin are going to stay here and take care of the house for us. Calvin's also agreed to run The Red Cape. Nothing is closing. We're coming back." He reassured her for the Seven hundredth and one time.
"And don't you worry about a thing either. We'll take care of it all. I can't tell you how touched I am that you guys trust me with so much." Emmett said with genuine emotion.
"Are you kidding? We're grateful you're willing to help us." Michael told him.
"Just don't throw any wild parties while Daddy and Daddy are away." Hunter chimed in.
Hunter was sitting on the floor next to Justin looking at storyboard sketches for 'RAGE'. He was going to miss these people. His family. At least he took comfort in knowing that his fathers were going to be on the West Coast with him for his first semester at UCLA.
"So when does your book tour start?" Mel asked Ben, as she handed JR to her father.
The baby girl looked up at her daddy with his plagiarized brown eyes and cooed in response to the silly faces he was making at her.
"I'm not exactly sure yet. First Editions print next week, I figure once we're out there it will probably be immediate." Ben replied.
Ben had persuaded his publishing agent to arrange his book tour to start in L.A. It was perfect timing for Michael's work on 'RAGE' and Hunter starting school for the winter semester.
Everything had fallen so smoothly into place that Ben couldn't help but feel it was all meant to be.
"Well, I for one expect daily letters home young men." Brian declared from the stairs where he was, at Gus' request coloring a picture of a Bunny.
"Of course Dear." Michael replied and blew him a kiss.
"Did everyone get enough to eat?" Ben inquired before he began clearing the table.
Scattered groans and declarations of fullness confirmed that everyone had indeed had enough.
"Ben and Justin, Vic would be so proud of the way you cooked those dishes. He kept those recipes a secret for years. I can't think of a better day to try them out." Debbie said lovingly, whilst wishing her brother would have had a place at the table tonight.
Rodney sent her a warm smile of agreement.
"Here, let us help you with that." Blake said taking a bowl from Ben and handing it to Ted.
Suddenly everyone was up and helping to clear away the evidence of such a large meal.
Over lapping conversations filled the air, accompanied by a symphony of clanking flatware and Debbie's repetitious chant of 'A year'. The house was alive with the bustle of life.
Justin barley heard any of it. He was too busy looking at Brian, who was in return staring at him.
Throughout the entire evening Brian and Justin had caught and held each other's gaze numerous times. Though not a word was exchanged between them.
Brian stood. Aware of his every movement, Justin watched.
Approaching the foyer, Brian glanced back and caught Justin's sight once more. He shifted his eyes towards the door.
Brian lit a cigarette and inhaled deeply. He closed his eyes and allowed his head to fall back. Though he made no sound in his approach, Brian knew instinctively that Justin was now beside him. Every nerve in his body tingled with electricity.
Without opening his eyes he said "I'm sorry I've ignored you." He curled his lips under tightly. He didn't know what else to say.
'Oh God. That Voice.' Brian shivered though he wasn't cold.
This was Justin. Why was he afraid? He realized that was exactly why he was afraid. No one else could ever make him feel anything he didn't want to.
Justin studied the man beside him. Visually, he traced every line of the body he had drawn hundreds of times. He cursed his memory for he was even more perfect than he had remembered.
Reading his body language, Justin deduced that Brian was scared. 'Of him? He wasn't sure.' Gently, he eased himself in front of the man he loved more than anyone would believe plausible.
Sensing him in front of him now, Brian's eyelids refused to open.
"Look at me." Justin pleaded softly. "Please?"
'Fuck that fucking word.' Whenever Justin said 'please' Brian couldn't resist the need to give him whatever the hell he wanted.
Reluctantly Brian exhaled, dropped his cigarette to the ground and opened his eyes.
'He was so beautiful.'
"How's New York?" Brian asked, his voice cracking almost unnoticeably. Justin noticed.
He moved his face within an inch of Brian's, leaving him feeling completely exposed. 'Christ those eyes.' Those not forgotten blue eyes were looking straight into him from underneath those equally memorable lashes.
Brian gasped. They both shuddered.
"It's no Pittsburgh." Justin whispered, so close that his lips brushed the brunet's.
Brian gulped. He felt Justin's hands lightly caress the back of his neck. Fuck. He wanted him.
Free of strategy or thought, they were suddenly completely tangled within one another.
Their hands aching to pull the other completely into himself. Their mouths greedily searching, desperately craving their taste.
Brian forced his tongue as deep as it would go into Justin's mouth. The blond groaned and matched his eagerness with his own deepened kisses. They felt they could completely devour one another, and still not find satisfaction.
Brian tugged his hands through Justin's hair, then pulled him even closer roughly by the back of his neck.
The insatiable hunger made Brian's jaw tense. He felt Justin's lips quiver underneath his own. Every collective breath was dripping with mouth watering familiarity. It felt as though they were reunited with an amputated part of their soul. The phantom pain no longer lingered. They fell into a rhythmic dance of which neither had forgotten the steps during their time apart.
Both men were panting with passionate fervor, but neither was willing to pause for a second for a needed gasp of air. They did not want to separate for a mere instant. Their bodies were overwhelmed with the desire to merge into one.
Justin let out a moan from somewhere deep in his throat, that vibrated within Brian's own. This in turn vibrated his thoughts, his cock, and his fucking bones.
Ecstasy rained down on them with merciless intensity.
Kissing was no longer enough.
'Fucking hell.' Unable to ignore the pain in their lungs, they resisted desire and grudgingly pulled apart.
Brian felt dizzy, he was panting heavily. In an attempt to quiet his screaming lungs he placed his hands on his knees. He mused to himself the presence of the stale cliché', he makes me weak in the knees.
He glanced at Justin who was equally as breathless. With their air supply slowly returning to normal, they leaned against the nearby fence.
"I've missed the hell out of you Sunshine." Brian quietly admitted, then pressed his tongue against the inside of his cheek.
'God.' Justin loved it when he did that. He smiled and pulled the other man into an embrace.
"I don't know if I can let go this time." Brian spoke into blond hair.
"Me either." He replied.
Before Brian could ask his (hopefully still) partner to go the loft with him, Jennifer appeared to demolish his plans and his libido.
He groaned though was not exactly certain which of the million emotions stirring within him had warranted it.
"Hey guys." she smiled awkwardly as though certain she was interrupting something.
Both men smiled sincerely at her. She felt less intrusive.
Focusing her gaze on her son she asked, "You ready? Ben wrapped up some cake for Molly. Now she gets late night sugar and you. She'll think it's Christmas."
Justin turned to Bria, " I'm sorry. I already told my sister I'd spend the night. I don't have to…"
Brian cut him off "Go." he said "I'll see you later, it's only time." he kissed him sweetly and waved goodbye to Jen.
Justin smiled. That smile that Brian was certain would eventually be the death of him.
Though Justin felt slightly foolish he played along for the sake of his friends.
"No peeking." Emmett instructed as he checked the security of his makeshift scarf blindfold for the fifth time.
"I'm not." Justin laughed. 'What was going on?' He searched his brain but was pretty sure it was not a special occasion he had forgotten.
"OK, we're here!" Lindsay exclaimed. "Ready?"
"As I'll ever be." Justin replied with a newfound genuine enthusiasm. 'Christ, these two were contagious.'
Released from his blinding prison Justin focused his eyes. "Holy shit." was all that came to his mind and his mouth.
He was at Babylon, well at least the building. He felt a wave of fresh emotions come over him as he took in the scene around him. Lights, music, an oversized banner announcing his very own art showcase, and people. So many People. Some he recognized, some he didn't.
"What is all this?" he was surprised he was able to ask through his shock.
"Read the sign Baby. It's your time to shine!" Emmett exclaimed.
Lindsay explained to him how they had secretly arranged this after she returned home from New York. Justin couldn't believe it. The more he had listened to her talk, the more he began to realize she was right. He could remain in Pittsburgh. He could be with Brian.
Justin felt an instant euphoric high, no poppers required.
Over the next hour and a half Justin had rubbed elbows with some of the art world's most elite. He still couldn't fathom Lindsay's connections or her powers of persuasion.
He owed her the world, for she had delivered him back to his own. He would now have the chance to get it for her, now that she and Mel would be returning to Pittsburgh themselves.
He felt his heart flutter when he remembered Brian's face when he'd found out. Gus had been glued to his Daddy's side since their arrival back to Liberty Avenue. He was glad. Anything that made Brian smile made Justin smile even brighter.
"Oh, sweetheart! I'm so proud of you." Jennifer hugged her only son. "Tuck said he wished he could have made it."
Justin smiled. His mother was still with Tucker and he was okay with that. Though he had been gone for six moths he still noticed the change in her. Even talking to her on the phone in New York he could detect a tone of joy he never heard in all of the years she had spent married to his father.
"I wished he could have too," He replied "but now that I'm back for good, he can make it up to both of us!" He flashed his mother an enormous smile, which she returned with one of her own. "Oh Justin! Welcome home. Oh I just love you so much!" She began hugging him to the point of embarrassment. He didn't stop her. Most of the guests had already gone anyway.
"Well, I'd say not bad for a days work there Warhol." Ted said walking over towards them carrying a notebook. "Here's your sales ledger. Take a look and be amazed." he said with some variation of jazz hands.
Amazed he was. He couldn't believe so many of his works sold. He made a mental note to thank Daphne and Morgan for getting all of his pieces together. 'Those sneaky bitches.'
He laughed lightly at himself.
His laughter died abruptly in his throat as he made his way down the list. The piece that went for the most money was purchased by a name he was not prepared to read. Craig Taylor.
He showed his mother. "Was he here?" Justin questioned. She appeared to be just as confused as he was.
"I didn't see him. But," she stammered "there were a lot of people here tonight." She looked worriedly at her son trying desperately to read his emotions.
It was impossible because Justin himself had not yet settled on one.
He didn't know how he felt. 'Glad? Surprised? Pissed?' He pushed it aside. He'd think about it later. All he wanted to think about right now was finding Brian.
He had only seen him briefly when Lindsay and Mel were making their announcement, though he wasn't able to get close enough to talk to him.
Now that the event was over he wanted nothing more.
"I just met your boyfriend." Brian said as he approached Daphne. He surprised himself a little at how genuinely happy he was to see her. 'Another piece of his old life. His life with him.'
"Over me so easily? I'm hurt." he motioned a knife in his heart and pouted his lips as he inched close to her face.
Daphne swooned. With Brian, she always did.
"I'm just waiting on you to ditch Justin and realize we're meant to be." she stated matter-of-factly.
Brian kissed her cheek. He'd always liked Daphne.
"This is the happiest he's been in months you know. He wasn't the same in New York. He wasn't the same without you."
Brian smiled. He loved Daphne's love for Justin and her ability to always say what she felt.
Before Brian could respond to her, Justin approached. "OK, I'm here you two can stop missing me now."
"Who's missing you?" Daphne said lightheartedly as Brian wrapped his arm around her and spun her away from her best friend.
"I'm trying to convince her to leave her new beau. He's rebound. She still loves me."
Daphne felt her cheeks redden.
"She's not the only one." Justin declared.
Brian swooned. With Justin, he always did.
They hadn't talked since last night. His body tingled remembering their kiss. Now he had just said he still loved him. Though he already knew that, it did strange things to his heart hearing him say it aloud once again.
"Sorry boys, I must bid you adieu." Daphne gave an over dramatized curtsy and blew the men a kiss.
Justin has missed her. He was happy to be near her again. To be home again. To be with him.
"So how'd you like it?" Justin keenly awaited Brian's critique.
Brian never could understand why Justin cared so much what he thought of his work. He knew shit about art.
"I'm really proud of you. It was a great night." Brian praised.
He really was exceedingly proud of Justin. He felt a small quiver from somewhere in his body he couldn't quite locate.
He felt himself harden. 'Ah, mystery solved.'
Watching Justin work with his art had always turned Brian on. Painting, drawing; it didn't matter which.
Seeing him become fully immersed in a world without him, made Brian desperately want to become a part of it.
He had always admired Justin's ability to see beauty and love in the most flawed of things. Especially in Brian himself.
"Lindsay and everyone are just so amazing. I can't believe they did all this."
"They believe in you. They love you. They missed you."
"They do? Do they?" Justin inquired, intentionally letting Brian know he's still capable of reading between his lines.
"It's true." Brian said through a smile, "I also hear that they desperately want to kiss you right now."
"Wow. I guess Emmett and Ted missed me more than I thought." he said mischievously before bringing himself to Brian's lips.
"Let me go say goodbye to whoever's left, and let Emmett know I'll help with clean up tomorrow. Then I'm all yours." Justin announced "Don't go anywhere."
Brian sat down on one of the Italian silk upholstered lounge squares.
He still couldn't believe this used to be the backroom.
'Hey Todd, how's it going?' He mused to himself for posterity's sake.
He was proud of Emmett and was happy he was the one that made it happen. Babylon would always be a significant part of his past. Though his future relied on change, acceptance, and growth.
He was looking at his future right now.
"I'll be here." he said to it.
He stretched his arms behind his head and crossed his feet.
Though he knew he'd return in mere moments, watching Justin walk away was almost too much for Brian to bear.
Brian had never intended to tell Justin that he hadn't had sex since he'd left. However, his words betrayed him as he spoke them without giving himself the proper heads up.
Hell, it's possible he wouldn't even believe him. Brian Kinney, Poster boy for abstinence and monogamy? He didn't believe it himself.
"I tried," He began
Patiently, Justin waited for more.
"I tried being with other men. 'A lot' (he emphasized) of other men." Astonishingly Brian felt no shame. In fact, he'd found himself needing to let Justin know this.
"Uh huh…" Justin provoked a continuance.
"I couldn't. No. I wouldn't." he confessed "I remembered so vividly what it felt like to be inside you. Having you so close, surrounding me. The feeling was etched into my memory." he paused, then "I couldn't bring myself to erase you."
Justin checked himself for whiplash from the intense blow of brutal vulnerability Brian was expressing now.
"I wanted to keep only you there. In case, until…"
"…we saw each other again." the younger man finished his sentence.
With a small nod Brian neared the blond and wrapped his arms loosely around him. He demanded Justin's eye contact with the intensity of his stare.
They stood motionless.
Justin knew this look. Brian was silently pleading with him to not think he was being weak. To tread ever so lightly on his wide open heart.
'Was he crazy?' He had never found him weak. Hadn't he learned yet, that the strongest thing Brian Kinney can do is feel?
Justin went to speak but Brian spoke first. "I bet you fucked lots of prestigious city boys." He regretted it as soon as he'd spoken. He hoped Justin wouldn't answer him.
Justin smiled internally. 'Typical Brian.'
"Oh yes. Tons." Justin stated simply.
Brian's heart sank.
"I got lucky with me, oh, I don't know. Three, four times a day."
Brian's heart soared.
Justin had not been with anyone since him either. His insides screamed.
He knew now more than ever, that the infamous Brian Kinney was indeed dead and buried.
He recalled all of the wasted time in which he could have had Justin entirely to himself. 'What the hell had he been searching for? How was he unable to see then, what was so ridiculously obvious to him now?' He had already had the only thing he'd ever needed.
"Mmm" Brian breathed, "I'm jealous."
"Understandable. I'm a fantastic lay." Justin let out a playful growl, nipped his chin with his teeth, then rested his head on Brian's chest.
Feeling something hard beneath his shirt, he pulled back.
Brian reflexively tensed, then allowed himself to relax. 'Why stop now?' There was no part of his soul that had not already been stripped bare tonight. He let Justin remove the rings from the confines of his collar. Watching him fixedly as he did so.
When Justin saw the rings he was overwhelmed but not surprised.
Softly grazing Brian's neck with his fingers, Justin's mind transported him back in time.
With full force he arrived on the night when he had discovered Brian wearing his scarf.
Covered in his blood, unspoken emotion, and Brian's misplaced guilt.
That night Brian had treated him with such tenderness. Such care. His fear of breaking Justin was evident in every fragile touch.
Though now, tonight it was Brian on the brink of shattering momentarily.
Justin as always would indeed tread ever so lightly on his wide open heart.
He tried only briefly to find the right words. There were none. He Knew Brian was terrified to hear his thoughts spoken aloud anyway.
Wordlessly, he unclasped the delicate chain from his equally delicate world.
Justin held Brian's gaze and the rings.
Silently he removed the rings from the chain.
Without pause he took Brian's hand and slid one of the rings onto his finger. He did the same with his own.
Brian could not contain his smile.
Looking pleased with himself, Justin repositioned his head back on Brian's chest. He intently listened to his heart beat.
"I love you." He heard Brian's words through the vibrations in his chest.
Brian could not believe the incredible ease with which he was able to say that. Lesbionic or not, he felt content.
'He was such a bastard.' All of those years he'd spent denying himself and Justin the pleasure in both hearing and saying those words.
A single phrase that could have prevented so much unnecessary anguish and granted so much deserved bliss to this man.
The phrase had become his new found mantra. Undeniably replacing his prior, he noted without disdain.
'No Excuses' Countless excuses he had spouted to himself in a battle with his heart he knew he'd never win.
'No Apologies' No one could ever know how sorry he truly felt. For too many things to count. 'Sorrys Bullshit' he had often said, was just another one of those fucking excuses.
'No Regrets' Watching Justin walk away to another's arms was the first. Watching Justin walk away because he was unwilling to grow up was the second. Watching Justin walk towards a future without him was the worst. 'Never again.'
"Do you still have a drawer for my drawers?" was the only thing Justin said.
"Let's go home." Brian affirmed.
After only ten minutes in the car, an exhausted Justin dozed off. Brian glanced at him and felt complete. He was really here.
He turned off the radio and listened. The remainder of the ride was filled with his favorite sound in the world, Justin breathing.
He parked in front of the house, but did not immediately wake him. He allowed himself several moments to take him in, all the while wondering if his dreams included him.
"Honey we're home." Brian whispered playfully.
Justin stirred, groaned faintly then stretched.
"Home?" he asked through a yawn. He turned in his seat to get a better look out of the window. "Home." He stated in agreement.
Brian was glad to hear it. He got out of the car quickly and rushed to open the door for Justin.
"I couldn't sell it. Call me pathetic."
Standing, Justin stretched again. His partner looked intently at him. He was a goddamn mess. He had a slight amount of drool on the corner of his dry lips, his clothes were wrinkled and his hair (having been crushed against the window as he slept) stuck out in sporadic directions. Brian enjoyed the view. The man was fucking adorable.
"I call you," he paused and moved closer to Brian "Sexy." He touched his finger to Brian's lips and continued "I call you, Romantic." He tapped his lips again. "Nope. No Pathetic".
If Brian hadn't known himself better, he's swear he'd actually felt himself blush.
Facing the house in it's entirety, Justin stood in awe. 'Ah, here we are. The palace. Perfectly placed in this newly revised fairy tale.'
"I come here a lot." Brian admitted shyly. Justin reached out and took his hand. He squeezed it gently. Brian returned the pressure.
"Risky. Keeping this. Coming here. Not just for your finances, but for your heart."
Justin allowed time for Brian to speak, he didn't.
"Why did you torture yourself?" he whispered.
Brian released Justin's hand and moved behind him. He draped his arms around him, resting his chin on his shoulder.
"Some Asshole once told me that if you believe in something strongly enough you have to be willing to sacrifice everything." Brian said "I believed in us."
"Some Asshole once told me not to sacrifice life and call it love to be with him." Justin countered.
"He sounds like an idiot."
Justin turned to face him. "I'm no longer willing to sacrifice you for anything Mr. Kinney."
"Can I offer a compromise? Sacrifice my pride and call you the only guy I fuck?"
"Sounds incredibly cheesy." the blond joked with a scrunching of his nose, then added "It also sounds incredibly doable."
"As do you." Brian said seductively and lead his prince to the door of his kingdom.
Turning on the lights only further illuminated the dream in which Brian currently found himself walking in.
His voice echoed through the vast space as he spoke. "Any drawer in the place is yours." He gestured with outstretched arms as he spun in place.
Justin just yawned and fell back onto the brand new lavish sofa. He briefly imagined Brian shopping for their home and smiled.
Brian walked over and sat beside him. He lifted the blond up, but encouraged him continue to stretch out and rest his head in his lap. He ran his hands gently through his favorite hair in the world.
Justin closed his eyes, but remained awake. He couldn't remember a time he ever felt more relaxed in his life.
"Do you remember the first time we were together?" Brian asked as he stopped twirling the hair between his fingers and started lightly tracing his fingers along Justin's jaw line instead.
"Hmm. Vividly. Unlike you I'm sure."
Justin had no idea just how well Brian remembered.
"I was your first."
"Thanks for reminding me. I was trying like hell to remember who that guy was." Justin teased, though noting the seriousness in his partners' voice he let him continue.
"In a way, you were my first too."
"When I climaxed that night, I said 'I love you'. I expected you to bring it up again. You never did. I'm surprised."
"I assumed you said it to all of your tricks."
"Never assume young Taylor." Brian said accentuating every syllable.
"That was most certainly a first for me. Looking back on it, I think I always meant it. Even from that very first night."
Justin ran his fingers along his own stomach. Absentmindedly trying to calm the incessant fluttering of those damn butterflies.
Brian sighed softly and traced Justin' s lusciously full lips with his finger.
"You were always the secret I kept from myself."
Justin's entire body trembled and he felt his partner harden underneath him. He mirrored the action.
Brian leaned down until his lips were touching Justin's face.
Brian recalled upon a memory he had had many times before; Justin topping his stolen conquest when he'd been crowned King of Babylon.
The startled, stirring feeling he'd first felt then, returned. He let himself admit now what he hadn't then. Of course he'd been impressed, but also…something else.
That had been before their first role reversal. Back when Brian didn't let himself wonder for too long what it might be like to be taken by Justin Taylor. To experience the man in all of the ways that let them belong to one another.
Then he'd had exactly that and still never contemplated what it meant for them.
Then, Ian happened and he never, even now, let himself wonder who was where in that debacle.
Now grown up and all, Brian Kinney didn't like the thought of mandatory top and bottom.
Strong and weak.
There need only be equal.
Side by side.
The best reunification since Germany.
"I want you inside me." Brian whispered.
To the best of their knowledge Justin and Brian had spent an eternity making love. Continually surprising themselves at the number of times they were willing and able to fuck throughout a single night. Hours spent providing immense pleasure to one another in every room of the fortunately large house.
Though no fire burned in the colossal fireplace they lain in front of, they were both over heated and out of breath.
"Well, we've officially christened every room in the house!" Justin declared proudly.
"Now," Brian panted breathlessly "onto the rest of the grounds!" He gestured with a grand sweep of his arm.
"It seems I do remember a certain dream I had once." Justin beamed.
Brian's smile widened "So...Shall I plow you in the Garden? Pound you on the tennis courts or what was it?" Brian raised his eyebrow in the way that always made Justin melt.
"Ah yes. Ride you in the stables?" Brian finished.
Justin pretended to be lost in difficult thought. "Actually, I think we should just cuddle."
Brian laughed louder than he had intended and enjoyed the sound of his own happiness amplified. 'Happy. He truly was.'
He let out a faux scoff at Justin's words, then reached over and started to tickle him.
"Oh no!" Justin yelled as he forced himself atop his partner's toned stomach. He pinned him down and started tickling him back with intense vigor. Soon they were rolling viciously across the living room floor. Eventually calling a truce, they let their laughter fade as they struggled to catch their breath.
"This was the best night of my life." Justin confirmed.
"Even if it was ridiculously romantic?" Brian replied in a silly voice. Justin giggled.
Two hearts skipped in unison.
Glancing up at the skylight, Sunshine noticed sunshine. Dawn had broken. "Wow. It's morning already."
"I have something to show you." Brian whispered into his ear. The heat of his breath so close made the blond shiver. He wanted him all over again.
"I've seen it. Impressive, I agree." he smiled.
Brian chuckled so softly it was almost inaudible.
"Come on." He said offering Justin his hands. He grabbed one but used the other to grab the blanket from the floor before he stood.
Brian wrapped the blanket around them both and proceeded towards the terrace door.
"Here we are."
"I've seen a lot of doors in my day but this..." Justin made an impressed whistling sound riddled with sarcasm. He smirked.
Brian shook his head, sweetly kissed the tip of his partner's nose and opened the door.
Stepping out into the garden Justin gasped. A shiver of satisfaction made it's way through the brunet's body.
"Brian," Justin began but was cut short by his lover's lips pressed aggressively against his own.
Nothing short of ecstasy could describe the feeling that burned within them.
Nothing short of perfect could describe the love that burned between them.
The newly awakened sun shined warmly on the couple below. As if in agreement with the love it was witnessing.
It danced among the petals of the one thousand Golden Gardenias that surrounded them.
Your whole life brightens when you let sunshine in.