Protégé

By Julesmonster

Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.

A/N: Okay, I know I always pick and choose what I want to include in my stories from cannon, but like with This Ring, this one really takes liberties with both story lines and timelines. Also like WTR, I have totally disregarded the most fundamental premise of the story: Brian and Justin's first meeting outside of Babylon. As a result of all these changes, some characters may read as OoC. I have included some plots that I like—they are usually changed to fit my timeline—but most of the series is out the window. Also, I had a request to write an 'M' rated story . Though I don't write them often anymore, I thought this one really called for a little more spice. Hope you read and like it. Jules

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Justin Taylor had always known he was gay. At first, he hadn't had words to describe what he felt, but as he grew up into a teenager, he knew what he was. While other little boys were developing crushes on the prettiest girls in class and finding ways to gain their attention, Justin quietly wished the boys would look at him that way. No, there was never any doubt in his mind that he was gay.

It wasn't as obvious to his parents. Mostly because they didn't want to see it. They blamed his more feminine tendencies on his artistic nature. They ignored his lack of girlfriends. They made excuses to each other when they caught him ogling the neighbor's college age son who liked to sunbathe nude. Justin's love for fashion and hatred of sports, the fact that his only friend was a girl, the fact that he avoided all conversations about sex or relationships…they closed their eyes to all of these signs.

So, when Justin finally came out to them when he was sixteen years old, they were both shocked. Craig Taylor was more than shocked; he was disgusted. No son of his could be a faggot. Jennifer Taylor had needed a little time, but she had always been close to Justin and refused to lose that closeness over something that he had no control over. So when Craig would get drunk and violent, she ran interference and tried to keep the peace between father and son.

Unfortunately, Jennifer died a little over a year later, leaving Justin to suffer Craig's bigotry and rage alone. When his fists flew, there was no one willing or able to step in. Then Craig caught Justin sucking off the neighbor's now grown son, dragged Justin home and nearly beat him to death with a baseball bat. Poor Molly, only ten years old, was the one who called 911 when Craig had left him dying on the living room floor.

When Justin woke up in the rehab facility, he was informed that his father was in prison and Molly was living with his grandparents. Jennifer's parents had died years before in a plane crash, and Craig's family were just as homophobic as he was. And they blamed Justin for Craig being in prison. Justin was not welcome.

He'd been so badly injured that he had missed the trial. In fact, Justin had been in a coma for almost three months. The nurses who took care of him always gave him pitying glances. His only visitor in all that time had been his friend Daphne.

Technically, Justin was a ward of the state. In reality, he was a ward of the rehab facility where he was transferred after his last surgery, though the social worker came to check up on him once every couple of weeks. It took months for him to regain the use of his atrophied limbs. It took longer for him to gain enough strength to be able to take care of himself. However, by the time he was ready to leave the rehab facility he had studied for and passed his GED, applied to several universities in the area, and had finally turned eighteen.

Justin walked out of the rehab center, promising to keep in touch with the nurses and orderlies, and counting himself lucky. Yes he was alone in the world. Yes, he probably wouldn't be allowed to see or communicate with his sister until she was old enough to make that choice for herself—assuming his grandparents hadn't turned her against him. And yes, he had no home and only one friend, but he was alive and he was free to make his own choices in life at last.

Justin had a little money that his mother had left to him, and Jennifer's parents had set up a trust fund for his education, so he wasn't all that worried about his future. He went to a hotel first, but soon found a small apartment near the university. Come September, Justin would start at Pittsburgh Institute of Fine Art, but in the meantime, he needed a job. He didn't want to use up his nest egg being lazy. He might need it for emergencies later.

It was more difficult to find a job than he had expected. He had no experience, no references, and was still too weak to do most manual labor jobs. After a week of unproductive job hunting, Justin decided that he needed a night out, and he knew just where to go.

Tommy, the neighbor's son, had often told him about Babylon and Liberty Avenue, the heart of the gay scene in the Pitts, so that was where Justin went. And that was where Justin found a place he could truly be himself for the first time in his life. It was also where he found a job.

He'd been too nervous and excited to go to Babylon that first night, so Justin had wandered up and down the Avenue, taking in the freedom and the sights. He wound up at the Liberty Diner for a late night snack. He was surprised to see so many people had the same idea at midnight on a Thursday. He took a seat at the counter and watched for a while. Eventually, a lady with crazy red hair and a whole array of gay pride buttons pinned to her blue vest greeted him with a smile, though she was obviously overworked.

"Sorry to keep you waiting, hon, but Marco, the asshole of the century, didn't show up again, so I'm by my lonesome tonight." Debbie looked closely at Justin and gave him a big smile. "You're a new face. First time on the Avenue?"

"Yes," Justin said with a small wry smile. "Is it that obvious?"

"Not all," Debbie assured him. "I always remember the faces of my boys, and your face is definitely new."

"I just got out of rehab, so I haven't had much chance to explore," Justin explained.

Debbie shook her head and looked sympathetic. "Meth?"

"What?"

"Was it Crystal Meth?" Debbie asked and Justin still looked blankly back at her. "Okay, so I'm guessing it wasn't a drug rehab."

"Oh! No," Justin said with a faint smile, finally understanding. "No I was… I was attacked and then in a coma for three months. It took forever to get better. I just got out last week."

"Oh, honey!" Debbie said. Just then one of the customers at a booth yelled for Debbie. Debbie scowled at the guy and shouted, "Hold your fucking horses, asshole! I'll be with you in a goddamn minute!" She turned back to Justin, once again all smiles. "So what can I get for you, Sunshine?"

"Um, a job?" Justin said with a sweet smile.

And just like that, Debbie had him put on an apron and start clearing tables. By two, he was taking orders like an old pro, and by the time the next shift started, he was ready to fall over, he was so tired. But he had forty bucks in tips, a job, and a new friend.

Debbie offered him a ride home, and Justin gladly took her up on the offer. She had, for some reason, taken to calling him Sunshine. He wasn't sure if it was his smile or his hair or both, but Justin liked it. It made him feel warm and happy. Daphne couldn't be around much because of finals, and soon she would be off to Europe for the summer and college in the fall. He missed having someone care about him.

"So, Sunshine, I usually work days, either breakfast or dinner shift," Debbie told him as they walked to her car. "I was just working tonight as a favor. I'll keep you on with me for now, so you should plan to work from four to midnight tomorrow."

"Is it always so busy?" Justin asked as he climbed into the old sedan. They hadn't had much down time all night.

"Worse on the weekends," Debbie said and started the car. "Weekday mornings aren't bad, but the rest of the time, it stays pretty busy. So which way?" Justin gave her directions and they rode in silence for a bit. Then Debbie asked, "So, if you're just out of the hospital, why are you so hot to get a job? Won't your family let you take some time to recover?"

Justin chuffed a dark laugh. "My family is why I was in the hospital in the first place. My father knew I was gay. I told him and my mom when I was sixteen. At first mom stuck up for me, but then she died last year and he had no reason to hold back his anger. So when he caught me blowing a guy, he just lost it. Picked up a bat and started swinging. My little sister saw it all. When my father left me bleeding on the floor and walked out of the house, she called 911."

"Fuck, Sunshine, that sucks," Debbie said. "For you and your sister. How is she holding up?"

"I don't know," Justin said. "My dad's parents have her and won't let me even talk to her. When I woke up from the coma, three months had passed and my father was in prison, my sister in Ohio, and I was a ward of the state and alone. The only person who even came to visit was my friend Daphne." Justin shrugged off the gloomy thoughts. "But I'm alive and I got my GED and was accepted to PIFA for the fall. And now I have a job, and maybe a new friend. Life's pretty good."

"Now, I knew there was a reason I liked you, Sunshine," Debbie laughed. "Even after all that shit, you can count your blessings. Good for you." They pulled up outside Justin's apartment building and Debbie stopped the car. "You want me to pick you up tomorrow? It's only a block or two out of my way. And you can save the bus fare."

Justin gave her a wide smile. "Thank you. That would be great."

Debbie nodded and Justin got out of the car. "I'll be here at three thirty."

"Thanks again," Justin said and then watched as Debbie pulled away.

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Brian hated his birthday. He especially hated this one. Turning thirty was a nightmare. He had always believed he would be dead before he reached this stage of the game. Instead, he was at one of the lowest points in his life. And his so called friends hadn't helped with their horrid little party at the funeral home that morning.

A few months back, he had been accused of sexual harassment at work, which was such bullshit. Kip had wanted it more than Brian had. Now, Brian understood why. Melanie had come through for him and handled his defense as best she could given the fact that he had actually slept with a junior staff member. In the end, however, Ryder had settled out of court, slapped a gag order on all parties, and Brian was now out on his ass. The gag order protected him to some extent, since it meant that no one could tattle to any prospective employers why he had been let go. The official party line was that it was creative differences.

That didn't change the fact that Ryder had put out the word that Brian was a liability. Yes, he was a head-strong, smartass who played fast and loose with the rules. But he also got results. For a month now, he'd been sending out resumes to all the major agencies in the country and hadn't even had a callback. It was enough to make most men give up.

He was bitching that afternoon to Michael about it in the diner after the party from hell when some new twink Debbie had hired a few days before butted in. "If you're so good, why not just start your own agency?" Brian looked up at the blond behind the counter and gave him a smirk. Now that was something he could do. The twink seemed to feel every inch of Brian's gaze as he eyed him up and down and Brian was pleased to see him shiver.

"Thanks," Brian said with a predatory smile.

"Hey, you leave Sunshine alone, asshole!" Debbie said as she whacked Brian upside the head. "Don't think I don't know what that look is about, Brian Kinney. Sunshine's had enough shit to last him a life time, he doesn't need yours too."

Brian rubbed the back of his head. "Fuck, Deb! That hurt. I was just looking. There's no law against that is there? You're of age, aren't you Sunshine?"

Justin gave Brian an amused grin. "I am. But I've also heard about the Stud of Liberty Avenue. You can keep looking, but I'm not interested in anything else."

Brian eyed him again. "You sure about that Sunshine?"

Justin shivered. God, Brian Kinney was more than all the gossip he'd heard about him: more sexual, more predatory, and more irresistible. "I'm sure," Justin managed to choke out and then rushed off to clear table three.

"He had a point, though," Brian said once the twink was gone and Debbie had stopped glaring at him. "The agencies might not want to take a chance on me, but the clients love me because I get results. There are probably eight accounts I could steal from Ryder without any trouble, and a dozen more that wouldn't take much persuasion."

"Can you do that?" Michael asked. "I mean, isn't there some rule about stealing clients?"

Brian smirked. "In this business? No way. You wouldn't get a single ad exec in the country to agree to something like that. Most move from agency to agency and take their client list with them. The better your client list, the more agencies try to woo you. I have a damn impressive list of clients and I expected to bring most of them with me no matter where I ended up."

Debbie glared at Brian. "So does this mean you're going to stop growling like a bear with a thorn in his paw? Because you've been a real shit the last few weeks."

"It was a difficult time," Brian said with a mock glare. Then he stood up and leaned over the counter to give Debbie a kiss on the cheek. "I'll be back to my old self in no time. I promise."

"Nobody said they wanted that," Debbie grumped but was secretly pleased with both the kiss and the fact that Brian seemed to be back on track. He'd been worrying her. He was always so driven that to see him flounder even for a little while was hard to watch. "Get out of here, already. If you're going to steal all those clients, you better get to work."

"I'll have to steal my assistant first," Brian grinned. "Mikey, we'll get together tonight? Got to celebrate your last night in town before flying off to the wilds of Washington to make babies with the good doctor."

"Portland is a fucking city, and it's in Oregon," Michael grumped.

Brian ignored Michael and paid for his lunch. Before he left, he gave the blond twink another long look. He walked out with a smile on his face. He'd have that twink before long. He opened his phone and hit Cynthia's number. "Cynthia, I'm starting my own agency. Are you ready to come to work for me?"

"Thank god," Cynthia sighed. "I thought you were never going to pull your head out of your ass."

BJBJBJBJBJ

The summer on Liberty Avenue seemed to fly by. Justin worked more hours than he really needed because he found that he was bored and lonely when he wasn't at the diner. Brian and his friends were regulars at the diner, and most of them had eventually learned his name, but Brian still called him Sunshine in that half mocking, half sexy way he had. Justin wasn't really friends with any of them, but he liked to listen to their conversations and hear the interesting things going on in their lives. Living vicariously was better than nothing.

He'd been to Babylon a few times, and Woody's. He'd even picked up tricks and visited the back room, but he hadn't yet had intercourse. There were just some things he thought should be private, and his first time was one of them. Despite that, Justin's sexual education was progressing rather nicely. It was only now that he had seen and done things in the back room that he realized just how innocent he had been before.

When school started, Justin's time and energy shifted focus. He still worked several shifts a week at the diner and still tried to go to Babylon when he could, but most of his attention was on schoolwork. There was something about being alone and totally reliant upon himself that made his education seem tens times more important than it ever had before.

A few weeks into the new semester, he met a violin player at one of the school recitals. According to everyone who knew anything about classical music—which didn't include Justin—he was a genius. It was flattering when Ethan approached him after the recital and asked him on a date, so Justin had agreed.

Over the next two months, Justin and Ethan had gone on several dates, but there was something that held Justin back from giving himself completely to Ethan. The violinist spouted romance and poetry, took him on picnics in the park, and lived a bohemian lifestyle that seemed romantic in theory, but was just depressing in reality. Ethan also said he was okay with the fact that Justin wanted to wait before having intercourse, but he pressed him to go further each time they saw each other. Justin had almost had it with the pretentious jerk.

One night in early December, Justin was working at the diner after having spent all day working on his final projects for school. He was tired and he still had three hours before his shift ended. Brian and Ted were the only customers at the moment. They were eating dinner in one of the booths, working on some project for Kinnetik, while Justin cleaned off the empty tables still dirty from the dinner rush. It was that short lull between the time that the dinner crowd left and the club crowd started and Justin knew from experience that he had to get things cleaned and prepped for the next rush if he wanted to survive it.

That was when Ethan strolled through the door with his violin. Ethan played some music that was supposed to be romantic and Justin stopped and stared for a minute. What the hell? Justin shrugged and ignored Ethan. He had a job to do. A few minutes later, Ethan came over and handed Justin a slightly wilted daisy.

"Um, thanks," Justin muttered. "What are you doing here?"

"I thought since you've been so busy, I could keep you company," Ethan simpered. "I can play for your customers while you work."

"You can't do that," Justin sighed. "Our customers aren't exactly classical music fans, and the owner doesn't allow people to play in the diner. Others have tried."

"Oh," Ethan pouted. "Well, I could just keep you company."

Justin turned back to clearing tables and rolled his eyes where Ethan couldn't see. "You can't hang around all night, Ethan. I have to work."

Ethan looked around the empty diner and said, "You don't look all that busy to me."

Justin threw the cleaning rag down on the table and turned to face Ethan again. "This lull will last half an hour at best. In that time, I have to refill all the sugars, top off the ketchup bottles, reset the tables, wipe down the menus, and if I'm lucky take five minutes to smoke before the next rush starts. There's no busboy on tonight, so I have to bus all my own tables. I don't have time to talk to you. Go away Ethan."

"Justin!" Ethan said, hurt coloring his voice. "Please, why are you being like this? I thought we had something special."

Justin shook his head. "No, what we had was an illusion you tried very hard to create. I know about your fans, Ethan. You know the ones you fuck for fun after concerts? I also know that while you are living this bohemian life, panhandling for change on the sidewalks, that your parents are fucking loaded and have set you up with a nice little trust fund. And the fact that you refuse to come out for fear of how it will affect your marketability is bullshit. Nobody in the classical music world cares about your personal life. You're just a coward. I also know that you don't respect me, my feelings, or my art. You're a spoiled brat who pushes and pushes to get your way and to show how important you are. Well you know what? I think you are an asshole and your music sounds like fingernails on a chalkboard."

"Fuck you, Justin!" Ethan shouted. "You don't know anything. You've never had to suffer for your art!" Ethan cocked his arm to take a punch at Justin, but suddenly, Brian was there and easily escorting Ethan out the door, violin and all.

Justin sat down heavily on a stool, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. "That asshole doesn't know a thing about suffering. There's nothing glamorous about struggling to survive or being alone in the world."

Brian tentatively touched Justin's arm. "Go take a smoke break. Teddy and I will clear the rest of these tables. The sugar and ketchup are all on you, though."

Justin shook his head. "I can't…"

"Go," Brian ordered, and for some reason, Justin obeyed. The alley behind the diner was quiet, but he could hear people out on the avenue. It wouldn't be long before they started coming in. God he was tired. He should have cut back his shift during finals. He'd know for next semester.

Justin crushed out the cigarette and went back inside. Ted and Brian were laughing and throwing balled up napkins at each other while they raced to see who could clear a table faster. Justin laughed and started gathering the sugar bottles.

"So that was the Fiddler?" Brian asked as he carried the dish bucket back to the counter. "Debbie said she thought he was very refined when she met him, but I think you're right. He seemed like a poser to me."

"The funny thing is, he thought he was so smart," Justin laughed. "Like I would buy the shit he was selling. It was nice to have some attention, but I'm not that desperate."

"No reason you should be," Brian said with a leer.

"Where'd Ted go?" Justin asked, noticing that they were alone. Only the rattling of the pots and pans in the kitchen gave any clue that there was another soul in the world.

"Home," Brian sighed. "Teddy is old before his time. No stamina."

Justin laughed. "And now I'm supposed to compare your stamina to Ted's?"

"There is no comparison," Brian said confidently. "Even you, who swear you are immune to my charms, should be able to see that."

Justin traded the sugar bottles for the ketchup and paused long enough to catch Brian staring at his ass. He smiled. "I'm not totally immune to your charms, but I do have will power. Unlike some."

"I'm hurt!" Brian said with a hand over his wounded heart. "I have will power. I haven't shoved you against that counter and taken what we clearly both want yet."

Justin's smile faded and he moved to return the ketchup bottles to the tables. "Maybe this isn't such a good idea."

Brian grabbed Justin's arm as he passed. "I'm sorry. That was pushing things too far. I sometimes forget how new to this you really are."

Justin gently pulled away but nodded at Brian.

"Listen, I'm going to head to Woody's for a bit," Brian said. "If you want to go to Babylon after your shift is over, meet me there. I promise, no more pushing, okay? Nothing you don't ask for."

Justin nodded again and Brian walked towards the door. Justin called out to stop him. When Brian had turned to look at him, Justin said, "I'm not a complete innocent, you know."

Brian smirked. "I know. I've seen you in the back room once or twice. Find me later and we'll hang out."

Justin smiled. "Not too late. I have finals tomorrow."

Brian laughed and headed out the door.

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Justin downed lots of coffee during the rest of his shift and had his second wind by the time he stepped into Woody's afterwards. The place wasn't as crowded as the last few times he'd been there and it was easy to spot Brian at the pool table, flirting shamelessly with some muscle bound jock. Justin sighed. This was why it would never be a good idea to get involved with Brian. Justin wanted more than a one night stand, and Brian never took the same man home twice. No, he reminded himself, he would just settle for being friends with Brian, if Brian was willing.

"You came," Brian said when he spotted Justin walking over. "Ready to go dance?"

"I'm always ready for that," Justin grinned. It was the absolute truth. The only thing Justin loved as much as his art was dancing. He had at one time thought about pursuing it as a career, but his father had nixed the idea and refused to pay for any more dance lessons when Justin was twelve.

"Then let's go," Brian said. He put an arm around Justin's shoulder but turned to the jock and said, "Another night, Biff."

"That's Bill," the guy corrected, but Brian wasn't listening. Justin could tell that Brian was on something, but he didn't really care. Brian was old enough to make his own choices, though Justin didn't think he personally could afford to take a chance with his future like that. Weed was one thing, but he didn't really want to try anything harder.

They walked to Babylon together, Brian's arm around Justin the entire way, and Justin had to repeat his mantra—just friends, just friends—over and over again. There was no waiting in line to get in for the Stud of Liberty Avenue, and the bouncer didn't even ask for Justin's id. The music swelled around them as they stepped into the club and Justin could feel his body itching to move to the throbbing beat. Brian, however, led him to the bar first and ordered two shots of vodka for them. Justin followed Brian's lead and shot back the clear liquid and then allowed himself to be led to the dance floor.

The next hours were a blur of dancing and drinking as Brian bought him shot after shot. Justin offered to buy a couple of the rounds, but Brian continually refused, so he gave up trying after a while. He just enjoyed the music and the way that Brian's body moved in sync with his.

There were a couple times when Justin was sure that Brian was going to leave him to take some trick to the back room—and Justin couldn't have blamed him, since he'd made it clear that he wasn't going to sleep with Brian—but he had passed on all the advances made, and Justin felt warm inside that Brian wanted to spend time with him. By his sixth drink, Justin was almost ready to say fuck it and lead Brian to the back room himself. After all, he had no objections to blowing Brian, or getting blown. But he missed his window of opportunity.

The club was closing and Brian led him back out to the street towards a jeep parked on a side street. "Want a ride?"

"Um, yeah," Justin said and climbed into the passenger seat.

"You're a good dancer," Brian told him as he pulled the jeep out into the road. He lit up a joint and passed it to Justin. Justin took a hit and told him about his dreams of becoming a dancer and how his father had killed them. At the conclusion of his tale, Brian said, "Father's suck. Mine was an asshole, too. But he's dead now."

Justin found that utterly hilarious. "Mine's in prison," he gasped out between laughs.

"Yeah? What did he do? Rob a liquor store?" Brian asked kiddingly. Justin seemed like the kind of kid to have gone to private school his whole life. If the kid's dad was in prison, it was more likely for some white collar crime, like embezzling.

"He tried to kill me," Justin said, but he wasn't laughing anymore. "Put me in a coma for three months because I blew a boy."

"Fuck," Brian swore. "Debbie wasn't kidding when she said you'd been through shit."

"Yeah, well, I lived and he's the one getting fucked up the ass now," Justin said with a touch of vengeance.

Brian laughed. "Now that's what I call poetic justice."

Brian followed Justin's directions and soon pulled up outside Justin's building. "We'll have to hang out again, Sunshine. You're a lot of fun." He leaned over and gave Justin a kiss. It wasn't an entirely a platonic kiss like Justin was expecting, but it wasn't entirely sexual either. No, it was the same kind of kiss Justin had seen Brian give Michael a few times before Debbie's son had moved away.

Justin pulled away and murmured a quick goodnight and almost running for his door.

BJBJBJBJBJ

Brian was surprised by how much he had enjoyed dancing with Justin. Yes, had always loved losing himself to the music, but it had always acted more as an appetizer for his sexual appetite. With Justin, it was the entrée. There had been plenty of offers last night, and Brian knew that Justin had almost expected that he would take up at least one of them, but Brian had wanted to be with Justin. He had wanted to dance with Justin.

Since Mikey had left six months ago, Brian had spent some time with Ted and Emmett, but he had never connected to them the way that he had with Mikey. So, despite the nights out, despite the tricks, despite all the hours he spent trying to build his new agency into something great, he was lonely. Not that he would ever tell anyone that, especially Mikey.

It had been rough going for a while after Mikey got to Seattle. He didn't have a job or friends or anything but Dr. Dave. But Brian had convinced him to stick it out. He knew that Michael could be happy out there if he let himself. He and David would be back for a few days this Christmas, but Brian was sure that things were going better for Mikey now. He had sold the Captain Astro comic Brian had given him for his birthday last year and opened up a comic book shop. It wasn't a way to get rich, but it kept Mikey happy and let him feel like he was contributing to their home.

So Brian wasn't worried about Mikey. He was worried, however, about the fact that Justin seemed to fill some of the void that Michael's absence had left. Maybe it was a good thing that the twink refused to fuck. That kiss last night had felt a lot different than any kiss he'd shared with Mikey, though Brian had certainly tried to make it the same. And Brian would have taken some of those tricks up on their offers if he had been dancing with Mikey. No, Justin wasn't a replacement for Mikey. There was something else going on here and it scared the shit out of him.

And what about the kid's father? Brian had assumed that Justin came from a somewhat privileged background, the kind of life neither he nor Mikey had growing up. And he obviously had, since Justin talked about dance classes and art lessons like it was nothing. Food was sometimes scarce in his house, never mind having extra money for lessons of any sort. But despite the differences in their homes, they had some similarities. At least Jack had never put him in a coma.

Justin was sexy, funny, smart, brave, and he knew—instinctively, it seemed—how to draw the best out in Brian. That was a combination that could be deadly to Brian's protective walls. But he couldn't bring himself to stop thinking about the kid.

"Brian?" Cynthia's voice came through the speakerphone. "The Brown Athletic reps are on and ready for your conference call."

Brian sighed and thanked her before picking up his phone. For the next couple hours, he went over the contract details for their latest account. Ryder was in negotiations with an outside agency, Vanguard, and Brian wanted to show them both up. Vanguard had been hunting down Brown for a while now, and Brian wanted to send a message. His agency may be new, but they were not going to be ignored by the established firms. So Brian had hauled his ass to Chicago and kissed ass until he got the account.

As he hung up the phone, pleased with the outcome of the call, Brian looked around at his new domain. He'd taken over the bathhouse when it had been shut down by the cops and turned it into his offices. It was new and unexpected, just like his agency. He'd hired Ted when he'd been fired from his old job for watching porn at work, and he'd put together a team of some of the best ad execs, copy writers and graphic artists in town to come over to work for him. After only six months in business, Kinnetik was a force to be reckoned with, and that was just the way he wanted it.

Cynthia popped her head in his door. "Everything go as expected?"

"They'll finish going over the details with their boss tomorrow and expect the contract to be signed by Friday," Brian grinned. "Tanya is handling the follow-up, and Ted's got the numbers under control, so you and I are free to start hunting for our next big prize."

Cynthia smiled back, "I'm so glad I insisted on profit sharing as part of our deal. A title means shit all, but the money we're going to be making? That's worth taking a risk or two. And I was thinking about Emerald Valley. They've been big in women's bath and grooming products market for years, but they've recently brought out a line of men's grooming products that has been tanking from everything I've read. They are about ready to cut the entire line, but I think they could be convinced to let us try to sell it for them."

"And if we sell that, they'll give us the rest of their business," Brian finished for her. "Give me what research you have, I'll look over it tonight. And talk to Ted about how low we can pitch to them without taking a major hit. If we do this, we'll give them one-time reduced rates in exchange for the guarantee that if we increase their market share in this area that they will give the rest over to us. I want it all in writing. So you'll want to talk to legal as well."

"Most everyone else is gone for the day," Cynthia reminded him. "But I'll get that research and talk to Ted and Janine tomorrow, first thing."

Brian looked at his watch. "Shit, it's seven already? I'm supposed to be at Debbie's for dinner right now." He started gathering the paperwork he needed to go over that night and stuffed the files and his laptop into his worn leather messenger bag. When Cynthia brought the file she had compiled on Emerald Valley, he added that and was quickly on his way out the door with Cynthia right behind him.

Fifteen minutes later, Brian was walking into Debbie and Vic's house. Debbie, Vic, Ted and Emmett were already at the table and Brian joined them. Debbie scolded him for being late and Vic teased him about work. It was nice to have this. Family.

It wasn't until they were having dessert—or the others were having dessert and Brian was having coffee—that Emmett brought up the holidays. "So we're having Christmas here again?" Emmett didn't have any family to speak of left in Mississippi, Ted's family was Jewish and didn't get together for the holidays, and Brian's family was… Anyway, Debbie had long ago taken them all under her wing during the holidays and they celebrated together every year.

"Of course," Debbie said, as if there were no other option. "And I expect all of you to be here." She glared at Brian. He used to go away over the holidays, but he and Debbie had come to a compromise a few years ago. He could take vacation after Christmas, but she expected him there for Christmas day at least.

"I don't leave for Barbados until the 27th," Brian informed her. "I'll be back after New Years."

"Good," she nodded, satisfied that Brian was keeping up his end of the bargain. "I'm going to invite Sunshine this year. It's his first Christmas since… well, he was still in the coma last Christmas."

Ted and Emmet, who hadn't heard about the coma, perked up their ears for gossip. "He was in a coma?"

They were looking at Debbie for answers, but it was Brian who said darkly, "His father beat him with a baseball bat. And I'm sure he doesn't want to talk about it, so don't bring it up unless he does." They all raised their eyebrows at the protective tone in Brian's voice, but he ignored it and got up to put his dishes in the sink.

Soon everyone was getting ready to go, but Debbie held Brian back. "Since when do you get all protective over Sunshine?"

Brian shrugged. "Since now. He only told me last night."

Debbie frowned. "And what were you two doing last night?"

Brian rolled his eyes. "He broke up with the fiddler when Ted and I were at the diner last night, so I offered to take him to Babylon to celebrate. We danced and we talked a little bit. That's all. Justin is too smart to let me fuck him."

Debbie wasn't so sure about that. She'd seen the way Justin watched Brian. Every time the brunette was in the diner, Justin's eyes followed him as if they were drawn there against his will. But Debbie would let that go for now. She'd scold Brian for other sins, instead. "You kept him out on a school night? You know he had finals today, right?"

Brian laughed. "Jesus Deb! He's an adult. I didn't force him to go, I just offered. And he's a smart kid. I'm sure his finals went fine. Shit, Deb, the kid needs friends, so I'm trying to be his friend."

"You just be careful," Debbie warned. She didn't say so, but she was just as worried about Brian this time. There was something about Justin that seemed to draw Brian's attention as well, which could be good or bad.

Brian kissed Debbie's forehead and said, "Yes mother. Can I go now? I have homework to do."

"Little shit," Debbie muttered and swatted Brian's arm.

BJBJBJBJBJ

Justin was surprised when Brian offered him a lift to Debbie's house for Christmas, but was happy to accept. He was getting more comfortable with the bus system, but it was still a pain in the ass. And it would be easier to arrive with someone. He loved Debbie, and he and Brian had gone to both Babylon and Woody's together since that night, but he wasn't really friends with the others, and he'd only met Vic once.

Justin looked at himself in the mirror one last time. He was wearing nice black dress pants with a silk t-shirt and gray cashmere cardigan. He couldn't afford a lot of nice clothes anymore, but he tried to buy quality when he could, and Christmas was definitely a time to dress up. His blond hair was styled perfectly and his eyes were bright with happiness. Yes, he was ready to go. He grabbed his coat and bag of presents and headed down to the front stoop to meet Brian.

The jeep was just pulling up to the curb when Justin got there. "Hop in Sunshine."

Justin was unusually quiet on the way over to Debbie's and it must have been obvious to Brian that he was nervous about having dinner with everyone. When they parked on Debbie's street, Brian pulled Justin to a halt on the sidewalk and placed his hands on Justin's shoulders. He leaned in and gave Justin a kiss. Justin was getting used to these kisses, but that didn't change the fact that every single one made his heart flutter.

"You know all of these people," Brian said when he broke the kiss. "And they all like you. There is nothing to be nervous about."

Justin nodded. "It's just kind of like being the new kid in school, I guess. You all have been friends for a long time."

"Yeah, well, Debbie loves you, and that goes a long way with this bunch," Brian said. "And Vic's a soft hearted old queen. So is Emmett for that matter. Ted knows we're friends, and is afraid of me, so he'll be good. Lindsey and Mel and Gus have all raved about you at one time or another, so no worries there."

"That just leaves Michael and David," Justin sighed. In truth, Michael was the only person he was nervous about. He was Debbie's son and Brian's best friend. If he wanted to cause trouble for Justin, it wouldn't be hard.

"Don't worry about Mikey," Brian said. "Just leave him to me. By the way, you look really good. Don't think I've ever seen you wear anything but jeans. Certainly not John Varvatos. Don't think I don't know how much that sweater cost."

Justin blushed, but gave cheeky grin. "I haven't always been a poor working stiff, you know."

Brian sucked in his lips to keep from letting an innuendo fly. "Let's go, Sunshine, before we freeze our fucking balls off."

The house was decorated from top to bottom with tacky lights and light up Christmas characters. It made Justin smile, because it was so Debbie. Brian opened the front door, not even bothering to knock, and escorted Justin inside. The inside was as tacky as the outside, but Justin could tell that this house was a happy one. It was warm and love seemed to seep out of the very walls.

"You feel it too, don't you," Brian whispered in Justin's ear. "That feeling? It's the reason I used to come here all the time when I was a kid. I'd never felt anything like it before."

Justin nodded, but didn't have time to respond before being engulfed in Debbie's hug. Soon he was being greeted by all the assembled friends. Only Michael held back, and Justin noticed Brian whispering in his ear. In seconds, Michael was laughing and walked over to say hello and wish him a Merry Christmas.

As they all waited for dinner, Justin found it easier to play with Gus than to try to make conversation with the others in the room. Most of them saw him as a kid and talked down to him. Emmett was sweet, and went out of his way to chat with Justin, but was a bit flighty. Lindsey only wanted to talk about his art classes. Melanie watched him play with Gus but didn't really talk to him. Ted avoided even looking in his direction, possibly because Brian had threatened him. David ignored him after the initial round of greetings. And Michael was busy trying to monopolize Brian's attention.

Justin helped Vic and Debbie in the kitchen after dinner, feeling the need to do something, and then he slipped outside for a smoke. By the time they were all ready for presents he was feeling a little bit better and rejoined the group in the living room with a smile. That smile grew wider when he realized that Brian had saved a seat for him on the sofa. Justin took his seat and the gift exchange began.

Justin didn't know most of the group well enough to pick out personal gifts for them, so instead he had drawn portraits of each person from memory and framed them. David and Michael's was together, as was Mel and Lindsey's. He got a wooden puzzle for Gus. Debbie got a drawing, but Justin wanted to give her something special, too, so he'd found a nice silk shawl that she could wear in the spring or fall. She had gushed over both the drawing and the shawl.

Brian opened his gift from Justin last. He too, had received a piece of Justin's art, but his was different from the others. It was a large oil painting of Brian dancing at Babylon, but the lights and the people around him were muted and vague, giving the impression that he was alone in the crowd, set apart from the rest of the world while he lost himself to the music. Brian hardly recognized the man in the painting. The features were all right, but the expression on his face was one that Brian had never seen before: joy, pure unadulterated joy.

"Fuck, Sunshine," Brian said as he stared at the painting, his raw emotions on display for once. "Is that how I look?"

By this time, the others had all moved around Brian to look at the painting as well. It wasn't often that they got to see Brian shaken by anything.

"That is definitely how you look when you dance," Emmett said. "It the only time I've ever seen you look so carefree."

"He got it exactly right," Ted agreed.

Brian nodded his head once—Justin could almost see him putting his mask back in place—and set the painting aside. "Hey, I know my body is irresistible, but go back to your own seats. There are still gifts to open." Once everyone was banished, Brian took Justin's hand and leaned over to whisper in his ear, "Thank you, Justin."

Justin blushed. "You're welcome."

Justin received some nice gifts in return. David and Michael had bought a small honey pot that they had purchased from some arts fair in Portland. Emmett gave him a cute lap-desk so he could do his homework in bed. Ted gave him a gift card. Lindsey and Mel gave him art supplies. Vic gave him a tin of cookies and the promise of Justin's favorite cinnamon rolls whenever Justin wanted them. Debbie, who had been attempting to learn how to knit, gave him mittens, a hat, a scarf, and a throw blanket for his apartment, all done in the pride rainbow. They all had dropped stitches and tangled knots, but Justin loved them and gave her a hug in return.

Brian's gift, like Ted's, was a gift card. Unlike Ted's gift, it was for a lot of money. Justin frowned at the card and then frowned at Brian. "Brian…"

"Shut up," Brian scolded. "Accept the gift with grace and we can argue about it when I take you shopping tomorrow."

Justin laughed and let his exasperation go. "Thank you, Brian."

After everything was opened and they had all had their fill of the cookies and other desserts Vic had prepared, Michael started making a push for them to go. Every year, the friends went to Babylon's Christmas Ball on Christmas day. Melanie and Lindsey took Gus home and Debbie and Vic began shooing the boys out the door. Justin paused to thank Debbie one more time before leaving with Brian.

Once in the Jeep, Justin was surprised when Brian turned towards Liberty Avenue, instead of his apartment. "Aren't you taking me home?"

Brian glanced at Justin before turning his attention back to the road. "Do you want to go home?"

Justin shrugged, "Not really, but I thought this was some tradition, or something."

"No, it's just another excuse to get drunk and dance," Brian chuckled. "Dr. Dave is coming with us, so I don't see why you shouldn't."

Justin thought that Michael still might object. He wasn't partners with Brian like David was with Michael, after all. "Alright."

They were quiet for a few minutes before Brian spoke again. "You can't know how glad I am that you have some fashion sense, even if you rarely use it."

Justin was slightly offended, but knew what Brian meant. "I can't wear Roberto Cavalli to the diner or when I paint, you know."

"It wouldn't hurt to wear it to Babylon, though," Brian said. "Anyway, you'll have a few more labels in your closet after tomorrow. And I won't have to teach you the basics."

Justin eyed Brian warily. "The basics of what?"

Brian gave him an impish smile. "The basics of being the very best homosexual you can be."

Justin laughed, "The best according to Brian Kinney?"

"Of course," Brian agreed. "You'll like these lessons, I promise. Much better than schoolwork."

"I don't know about that," Justin said with a smirk. "I get to go to classes and draw naked guys. That's pretty hard to beat."

Brian laughed as he pulled the jeep into a parking space near the club. "In my class, you get to touch naked guys."

"How about I audit the course at first," Justin said as he waited for Brian on the sidewalk. They started the short walk to the club together. "That way, I can change my mind if I don't like the professor."

Brain gave Justin a glare, but slowly let his grin loose. "It's a deal. But I can guarantee you're going to like my class."

They joined the rest of the group who had already gathered at the bar. Justin chuckled at the costumes the go-go boys were wearing. They looked like trampy elves with green or red hot pants and matching hats with jingle bells. There were balls of mistletoe hanging from various strategic places around the club. The lights were all flashing red and green as well, and the music that was playing was a weird variation of Jingle Bell Rock, heavy on the base and remixed for clubs. Other than that, and the fact that most of the patrons were dressed more festively—meaning that they vamped up the red and green and hung a little mistletoe of their own—it was like any other night at Babylon.

"Welcome to the Christmas Ball," Brian smirked as he handed Justin a shot of tequila. Justin laughed and drank the shot, coughing several times before accepting the beer Emmett handed him to chase it back. Justin drank the beer and let the conversation around him wash over him. Once his beer was almost gone, Brian leaned over and said, "Wanna dance?"

"Lead the way," Justin said and allowed Brian to lead him into the mass of gyrating bodies. They moved together like they always did: totally in sync and vibrant with sexual energy. Justin knew they looked hot together; the gazes of the dancers around lingered on them too long to mean anything else. The music flowed from one song into the next and Justin let his body speak for him.

"They want us," Brian whispered in Justin's ear. "Because we are the best this town has to offer. Did you know that? Take your pick," Brian's voice was husky and sent shivers up his spine. "Any one of them would beg to suck you."

Justin looked at Brian and then looked at the men around them judging them like he was choosing the best peach at the market. "What about him?" Justin nodded towards a hot looking guy in a tight black tank top. He reminded Justin a little of Brian, though not nearly as hot.

Brian shook his head. "Not him. You don't want him."

Justin didn't ask why; if anyone could say which guy he should skip, Brian certainly was the one. Justin picked out another. Dark hair, olive skin, wide eyes, probably Justin's age or a little older, around Justin's height as well. Brian nodded. Justin smiled when Brian pushed Justin towards the petite Greek Adonis. As he approached, the Adonis looked at Justin with a bit of awe, but when Justin began to move with him, he settled back into the music. One song, and then Justin felt Brian's hand on his arm. It was time to go to the back room.

Justin smiled and followed, dragging Adonis with him. Brian had found a tall, dark haired man who might have been Indian or Middle Eastern. The four of them entered the shadows of the back room and Justin leaned against the wall beside Brian. Their dance partners knelt on the floor together and were soon giving them pleasure. It didn't really matter who was down there, Justin realized, because his whole body and mind was focused on Brian beside him. Justin groaned after one particularly deep thrust, and Brian leaned over to kiss him. This kiss wasn't like their normal kisses. This was hot and needy and everything a kiss could be. Justin came with Brian's tongue in his mouth. Seconds later, he felt Brian tense and groan as he came as well.

"I won," Brian whispered in Justin's ear.

Justin laughed. "I didn't know we were competing."

"You do now," Brian said and looked meaningfully at their partners.

Justin nodded. "Winner gets his partner to come first?" Brian agreed with a nod and another kiss.

"But it still has to be good," Brian said. "Not just fast."

Then they switched places with Adonis and the Indian. Brian pulled out two condoms and they were soon ready to start. With a nod from Brian, the race was on. Justin was good at giving head. He knew just what to do to make his partner crazy. He was also pretty good at deep-throating. Interspersing licks and sucks with deep thrusts, it didn't take long for Adonis to begin struggling to keep his hips still. Justin knew he had him then.

Justin looked up at Adonis and gave him the look that let him know it was okay, and soon he was thrusting in and out of Justin's throat. Justin sucked in on the out strokes and kept his lips tight. He used his tongue to tease the sensitive ridge on the in strokes. Almost before he knew it was happening, Adonis plunged deep one last time and shouted. Justin backed off his cock and stroked him through the aftershocks as he looked over at where Brian and his partner had stopped to watch them.

"Tick tock," Justin whispered to Brian with a smirk.

BJBJBJBJBJ

Back at the bar, Brian leaned in to whisper, "Maybe you don't need my lessons as much as I thought."

Justin laughed and whispered back, "Not in some areas."

Brian smirked at what Justin had left unsaid. Yes, he knew how to give head like a pro, but there were still things Justin had never done. Was he saying he would be willing to let Brian show him some of those other things? Brian had to fight off the mental image of taking Justin from behind, thrusting hard into his willing body. Justin didn't want that from him. He'd made that perfectly clear.

Michael was scowling at them, but Dr. Dave was talking to Ted and hadn't noticed. Justin and Emmett were now discussing the merits of Greek versus Italian, and he was relatively positive that they weren't talking about food. This left Brian to deal with Michael's snit.

"What's the matter, Mikey?" Brian drawled, though he could make an educated guess.

"Why'd you bring the twink?" Michael scowled. "It's one thing for my mother to adopt a stray, but it's not like you."

Brian frowned. "Justin isn't a stray. And he isn't a twink." Some part of Brian's brain reminded him that he called Justin a twink all the time, but it was different when Michael said it. "And I haven't adopted him. We're friends."

"You go to that back room with friends often?" Michael said snidely. "Because I've never seen you drag Emmett or Ted back there." Or Michael.

"It's different with Justin," Brian shrugged. "And it's none of your business. What is this really about, Mikey?"

Michael stared hard at Brian before he finally sighed and said, "I thought we'd get to hang out while I'm home. But you've spent all your time with Justin tonight, and you're taking him shopping tomorrow. Then you fly off to whatever tropical resort you've decided on this year. By the time you get back, I'll be back in Portland."

Brian resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Michael was so predictable. "We'll go out tomorrow night, just the two of us. No Justin, no Dr. Dave, no stooges, and no tricks. Okay?" Michael nodded, but wasn't totally appeased and his pout remained. "Fuck, Mikey! What else do you want from me?"

Michael looked hurt and then he got angry. "A little of your attention! Jesus, Brian, I've been home for two days and haven't seen you once. And then you expect me to be happy to be squeezed into your busy schedule?"

"I thought you wanted to spend time together!" Brian shouted, finally letting his frustration out.

"Not if it's just to appease me!" Michael shouted back. "I thought you'd be happy to see me after being gone for six months! Instead, I've been totally ousted from your life!"

"This is bullshit," Brian said with a shake of his head. "Let me know what you decide about tomorrow. Justin, you ready to go?"

Justin, along with the rest of their friends, had heard the argument. He nodded and tossed back the rest of his drink. "I'm ready. Merry Christmas everyone. It was nice seeing you again." Justin had to hurry to catch up with Brian, who had already walked away.

Back in the car, Justin let Brian sulk for a while, but eventually said, "I'm sorry if I caused problems between you and Michael."

Brian glanced at Justin with a rueful smile. "No, it wasn't you. Not really. Mikey's just a bit… possessive of me. That's his problem—and mine—not yours."

Justin nodded. He could understand that, but he still didn't like to see Brian upset. They rode in silence the rest of the way back to Justin's apartment. When Brian pulled up to the curb, Justin paused with his hand on the door latch. "If you want to cancel tomorrow so you can spend time with Michael, I'll understand."

Brian gave Justin a genuine smile. "No. I'm not going to just drop everything, including my new friend, just because Michael decides to throw a temper tantrum. I'll be here at ten, so be dressed and ready, Sunshine."

Justin gave Brian one of his sunny smiles and started to get out of the jeep. Brian stopped him and pulled him back inside for his goodnight kiss. Brian had never thought he could become addicted to a person's kiss, but he was addicted to Justin's. The slightly provocative kisses like now, or the passionately erotic kisses of the back room, it didn't seem to matter as longs as he got more. When Brian pulled away, he was pleased to see that Justin looked as dazed as Brian felt.

"Goodnight."

BJBJBJBJBJ

"In order to be a true gay god, you have to look the part at all times," Brian lectured the next morning while they browsed through designer jeans that cost more than he made in a week in tips. "That means, even when you are working, your ass…ets should be displayed at their best."

"And my best asset just happens to be my ass," Justin laughed. "You realize that even jeans get stained when ketchup spills on them. And if I'm painting, there's no hope."

"As long as you don't go out in your painting jeans, they don't matter," Brian said dismissively and then stared at Justin for a minute. "How much do you make in a month?"

Justin looked confused at where Brian was going, but he answered, "After taxes, and including tips, between forty and seventy a shift. And I usually work three or four shifts a week when I'm in school."

"So less than twelve hundred a month," Brian said. "Did you know that Kinnetik regularly hires freelance artists to do projects for us? Base salary for a simple project, something that might take five or six hours of work, is eight hundred. Two or three small projects a month and you'll be way ahead of the game, and you won't have to worry about ketchup stains. Unless you're a slob when you eat."

Justin laughed. "Brian, you can't just offer me a job to keep my jeans from staining!"

Brian chuffed. "I'm not. That's just an added bonus. I'm offering you freelance work because I've seen what you are capable of creating, and I think you can help my agency. I don't do charity when it comes to business. If you work for me, it's because I only hire the best. If you don't want to do it, you don't have to. But if you're interested, call Jim, the head of my art department. If it will make you feel better, I won't interfere at all, other than to tell him to expect the call. If he likes your portfolio, he'll offer you work."

Justin took the card Brian handed him, and wrote down Jim's name and extension. He pocketed the card and didn't say another word about it for the rest of the day. Brian didn't bring it up either, but he hoped Justin was considering the offer.

They took a break at one for lunch at one of the restaurants in the mall. Brian brought up another subject that had Justin uncomfortable, but this time for a whole different reason. "So, if I'm going to teach you the ways of a master, I'll need to know just what you've done, what you haven't done, and what you won't do. You suck cock like a pro, so no worries there. What about fucking? Getting fucked? Rimming? Frottage?"

Justin blushed. "No, no, once, and I'm not sure."

"No meaning you haven't or you won't," Brian asked.

"Meaning I haven't," Justin said. "I haven't fucked or been fucked."

"And you've rimmed once?" Brian asked. Justin nodded. "Ever been rimmed?" Justin shook his head. "Okay, as for frottage, that means rubbing off against each other."

"Oh, then yes, plenty of times on that one," Justin said with a small smile, still a bit uncomfortable with the conversation, but curious as to where Brian was going to take all this.

"So that covers what you have and haven't done," Brian said. "What are you willing to do?"

Justin had to think about that for a few minutes and Brian let him. "I'm not hanging onto my virginity out of some romantic notion of true love. At the same time, I don't want to give my ass to just anyone. I don't have any real hang ups about fucking someone, but I doubt my inexperience would be very pleasurable for a partner, and I don't want to be on display in the back room for that possible humiliation."

Brian laughed at that, "Okay. That is definitely a consideration."

Justin grinned in return, his embarrassment lifting slightly. "Why do you want to know all of this?"

"I told you, I'm going to make you into a gay god," Brian said. "Learning sexual technique is an important part of that. So is fashion, diet and exercise, grooming, and attitude. It's important to find your style and embrace it, because confidence is key when you are a god."

Justin thought about that as he took a bite of his sandwich. "Emmett has embraced his style, but I doubt you would call him a god."

Brian laughed. "No, he's a queen. Similar in some ways, but the attitude is different, as are the sexual expectations. The worshipers expect a high level of talent from a god."

Justin tilted his head and asked, "Doesn't it get lonely being worshiped?"

Brian raised an eyebrow, "Why do you think I decided to make you into a god, too? Even I need a friend."

"You already have friends," Justin pointed out.

Brian frowned as he considered his answer. "It's not the same. They are my friends, but… they worship me too. We aren't equals. Even Michael gets caught up in the worship. That's why he gets so possessive. And he has reason to be jealous of you. You are an equal... untrained yet, but still… He sees it too, and it scares him. But he doesn't really have a right to be possessive. He's the one who moved away. He chose his life with Dr. Dave. He got what he wanted."

"And now you'll get what you want," Justin said soberly. "Does that include me? Because I'll warn you, if we ever take things that far, it will be hard, if not impossible, for me to let go."

Brian shook his head, for once not feeling the panic that usually threatened when talk turned serious. "We'll keep things as they are. Friends."

"And now mentor and protégé," Justin smirked, lightening the mood. "I'm actually looking forward to seeing life through your eyes."

"Well, you're well on your way in the fashion department, though you have some deplorable eating habits," Brian teased. "That sandwich has mayonnaise on it."

"I'm young, I'll burn it off during the second leg of this marathon shopping spree," Justin teased.

"Hey, no old jokes if you want this to continue," Brian warned playfully. "And I wouldn't count on a youthful metabolism to last forever. You should get a membership at the gym. I could show you the subtle art of picking up tricks in the steam room."

Justin laughed, "I can't wait."

BJBJBJBJBJ

Justin didn't see Brian again before he left for vacation, but he spent the time he was away considering both the offer for work and the lessons Brian wanted to teach him. Justin was already halfway in love with Brian; how would he handle spending so much time with him? And yet, there was a part of him that thought that if he stuck it out, Brian might come to see him as more than a protégé. Then again, Michael had believed for years that Brian would eventually see him as something more than a friend. But Brian had said he saw Justin as an equal, something he could not say about Michael.

In the end, Justin decided to take Brian up on both offers. He would repeat his mantra of Just friends a thousand times a night if that was what it took. Because Justin couldn't walk away from whatever was happening between them. He would take the ride and see how it ended, and if he got hurt, so be it.

As for the job, Justin called Jim before Brian got back in the hopes that he might be able to get a meeting without Brian's influence. It worked. Jim heard that he was a PIFA student and agreed to take a look at his portfolio that afternoon. One meeting and Justin had a trial project, at half the rate Brian had quoted him, but it was a foot in the door and he'd done it without Brian's help.

BJBJBJBJBJ

Brian came back from vacation and threw himself into his work. He wasn't avoiding Justin, who had yet to give him an answer about the job, he was simply busy getting caught up after being away. They had texted back and forth several times while Brian was away, and had made plans for that Friday, when Justin's next lesson would begin.

This was why he was surprised when Jim met with him on Friday to catch up with project updates.

"You've got to see the work this kid brought in," Jim gushed. Brian was a little confused, because Jim never gushed. He was a very stolid heterosexual male. "I gave him that small project for the Atchison print spread that we've been dithering about as a trial. Half pay, of course. This is what he brought me."

The work was beautiful. It was a watercolor rendering of a garden that would go perfectly with the tag line they had put together. Brian studied the work and saw the familiar JT at the bottom right corner. It was the same JT that was on his portrait hanging up at the loft. Brian smiled. The little shit had gone behind his back to try on his own.

"His oil work is even better," Jim told Brian. "And he shows promise with graphic design as well."

"Asshole," Brian muttered and looked up to see Jim frowning at him. "Sorry, not you. Justin."

"You know this kid? He didn't say so."

"He wouldn't," Brian told him. "I saw some of his work before I left for vacation and offered to make an introduction. He was obviously afraid I was being nice so he decided to get the work without me."

"If he thinks you're nice, he obviously doesn't know you that well," Jim said, then flushed. "Sorry."

Brian laughed. "I can be nice when my profit margin isn't at stake."

"I'll take your word for it." Jim said. "I wanted to offer him the Emerald Valley print work. We need a great background for the shower guy. We can Photoshop the two pieces together afterward."

Brian nodded his approval. "No more half pay. Justin is a very talented artist and we should pay him for that."

"Absolutely," Jim agreed. "Emerald Valley is set at step three on the pay scale. And I thought a three week deadline should be reasonable and still fit into our timeline."

"Good," Brian said. "Since Justin wanted to keep me out of things, you should handle him just like any other freelance artist. Having said that, throw as much work his way as you think he can handle while keeping up with his classes."

Jim laughed, "Okay, you're just doing this to prove me wrong about the nice comment, aren't you?"

"Fuck no," Brian laughed. "I'm doing this because Justin is a friend and he's very proud about making his own way. He's been working long hours at a diner for shit money, when he's got talent like this."

BJBJBJBJBJ

It was Friday night and Justin was at Brian's loft for his next lesson. He wasn't sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn't the cute little brunette twink who opened the door wearing only a robe and having obviously just come from the shower.

"Hi, you must be Justin," the twink said with a smile. "I'm Tad. Brian's in the bathroom. He said you should help yourself to a drink and he'll be right out."

Justin looked the guy over and shrugged. He walked into the loft, looking around with interest. This was the first time he'd seen the place and he was impressed. The huge windows, the natural feel of the brick and wood beams, the cool modern lines and furnishings. It was sleek and contemporary without being cold. Justin loved it.

Justin went to the fridge and grabbed a bottle of water before joining Tad in the sitting area at the front of the loft. "I don't want to seem rude, but who are you?"

"Oh, sorry," Tad smiled, showing the dimples in his cheeks. "I'm your surprise, I guess. Brian said you haven't fucked someone before, so he hired me so he could teach you. You don't have to worry about impressing me."

"I see," Justin said faintly. He took a long drink of water and was grateful when Brian came down from what Justin assumed was the bedroom. There were movable partitions blocking the view at the moment. "You hired a hooker?" Justin asked Brian when he reached the sitting area.

Brian shrugged. "A very expensive escort. Seemed like the best possible solution. Tad here gets paid to be patient, and to keep his mouth shut. Both are necessary in this case. Can't have your reputation tarnished before you even have one."

Justin gave a nervous and disbelieving laugh. "Jesus, Brian. Okay, so how to we do this?"

Brian gave him a rakish grin and said, "Well, first we get naked."

Twenty minutes later, Justin had completely forgotten his nervousness. Brian was beside him, whispering instructions in Justin's ear with a voice husky from desire while Justin had his tongue up Tad's ass. It was strange and wonderful all at the same time.

"See how loose and open he is for you? He wants your cock," Brian whispered. You have to observe his body; do you feel the way his hole is twitching around your tongue? He's so turned on right now, you could just lube him up and slam home. But we aren't going to do that."

"We aren't?" both Justin and Tad said with frustration.

"No," Brian said patiently. "You are going to use your fingers to spread him open. This is about learning. And while Tad could certainly take a quick hard fuck, you are going to learn all the steps to do this properly with someone who isn't a pro."

Justin groaned, but knew Brian was right. That was what this night was about, after all. Learning. Brian handed Justin the lube and Justin noticed his hands were shaking as he squeezed a good dollop onto his fingers. Brian moved behind him and Justin could feel the length of Brian's naked body pressed against his back, his hard cock nestled into the crack of Justin's ass. Brian brought their hands together and smeared the lube over both of their hands. Then he lined up one finger with one of Justin's and they circled Tad's hole teasingly. Tad moaned and wriggled, trying to make them put their joined fingers inside, but Brian kept to his own pace.

After a few minutes of this teasing, Brian said, "See how the muscles move and contract? He wants to be filled up."

"Fuck yes," Tad agreed emphatically.

Brian finally pushed their fingers inside and Justin was surprised at how hot and tight the passage was. He could just imagine how good it would feel around his cock. "Feel that?" Brian asked. Justin felt a small bump inside and nodded, he was too aroused to get any coherent words out. "That's his prostate. See how he twitches every time we stroke over it? But we don't want to over-stimulate the gland. That can become painful. Just a light caress."

Tad moaned and wriggled some more and Brian pulled their fingers free. "Normally, I'd say use a minimum of two fingers to prepare a lover, with three being optimal, but I think we tortured Tad long enough."

Brian handed Justin a condom and watched as Justin rolled it on. Then he couldn't help himself and reached out to smooth it over Justin's flesh. God the kid was hot, and he had a really nice sized cock for someone of his stature. Justin brushed his hand away so he could position his cock.

"Take it nice and slow until you are sure your partner can handle it," Brian told him, his voice now hoarse from holding back his own moans. He watched as Justin tentatively pushed the head of his cock inside the outer ring and stopped. "A little more force or you won't get it inside. Good. Now a nice smooth long stroke until you bottom out. If it was his first time, you might have to take a few slow strokes before you could get that far, but our Tad's a trooper."

Justin gasped as the tight heat enveloped his cock. God this was good. How had he waited so long to feel this good? Brian continued to give him pointers, but Justin could feel him pull back slightly as he reached a hand to his own cock to stroke it. The very idea that he was turning Brian on by fucking another guy made the whole thing ten times hotter. He thrust in and out, slowly building up the rhythm, changing angles at Brian's command until he felt Tad shudder and knew he had found his prostate. Then Brian told him to put his hips into it and Justin complied.

At some point, Tad called out to Brian, and the older man shifted around so that he could suck Brian's cock while Justin fucked him. Tad was trembling and moaning around Brian's length as Justin watched Brian start to lose himself to the pleasure. Then, just like in the back room at Babylon, Brian leaned forward and captured Justin's mouth. Their tongues danced, mimicking the thrusting of their hips, and it seemed inevitable that they would come together.

Tad was the first to go. He balanced his body on one arm while he pulled at his cock until he came with a scream that might have been loud if his mouth hadn't been filled with Brian's cock at the time. Tad's ass contracted around Justin's cock at the same time his scream caused vibrations to further stimulate Brian's cock and they both came, still kissing and moaning into each other's mouth.

When Justin had finally caught his breath, he watched Brian tie off his condom and toss it into the trash, so Justin did the same. Then they all lay in Brian's bed staring up at the ceiling painted blue by the lights in Brian's room.

"Next round, I'll show you how to jerk off your partner while you fuck him," Brian told Justin. Tad and Justin both just groaned. Brian certainly had stamina.

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Brian was impressed. Justin was a natural, in and out of bed. Even Tad, the experienced whore, had been awed by Justin's natural talents and enthusiasm. The guy had even offered to come back for a second lesson, free of charge. Brian had smiled and declined. Justin had to learn the rules of tricking, and rule number one was no repeats.

There were a host of other rules that they had gone over in the weeks since that night, and some things that seemed to flow naturally from their weird arrangement. Like the fact that Brian and Justin never kissed their tricks. By some unspoken rule, they saved their kisses for each other. And since that was the only thing they allowed themselves in order to maintain that title of friendship, they made those kisses count.

Brian also knew that Justin didn't trick without him very often. The few times he had, he'd told Brian every detail over the phone and Brian had jerked off to the images. Justin was really good with his voice. In return, Brian had found himself less interested in going out without Justin. He preferred dancing with Justin. He preferred talking with Justin. He preferred fucking with Justin beside him.

Brian was standing at the bar at Babylon, watching Justin work the dance floor, drawing the worshippers to him like moths to a flame and subtly selecting the lucky devotee who would go home with them tonight. They had decided to share again, a first since that night with Tad. Brian watched as Justin seemed to single out a blond of average height with a runner's body. Justin gave Brian a glance and Brian nodded in return. He'd not had this one before, and he looked tasty.

Justin leaned in to whisper into the man's ear and then pointed to Brian. The blond looked surprised but glanced Brian's way. He nodded and soon Justin was leading him to the back room. Brian shot back the rest of his scotch and followed close behind.

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"I wish the baths were still open," Brian sighed over coffee at the diner one morning a few days later. "I would have loved to take you there. Just imagine, a non-stop orgy where the participants are constantly changing."

Justin laughed. "Too bad the cops raided the place one too many times. And too bad your offices have taken over. Although, I'm not sure it would have been my thing. It seems like half the fun of getting a trick is the hunt. The baths sound as close to hunting as getting meat from a supermarket."

Brian snorted. "That may be true, but hunting at Babylon is like shooting fish in a barrel. If you want a real challenge, we need to go outside the confines of Liberty Avenue."

Justin drank his coffee and paused before taking the last bite of his omelet. "What exactly did you have in mind?"

Brian hummed. "Let me think about this for a bit. I'll come up with the perfect challenge."

"Well, while you think, I have to get to class," Justin said. He tossed down a few dollars for his breakfast, ignored Brian's glare and avoided his attempts to stuff the money back in Justin's pocket. "I'll text you after my last class and you can let me know if we're going to Babylon tonight, or someplace else. I'll need to dress appropriately, after all." He leaned over and gave Brian a kiss before heading out the front door.

Brian was lost in thought, so he didn't notice Debbie come over to his booth until she hit him upside the head with a stack of menus. "Hey!"

"What the fuck have you done to my Sunshine?" Debbie growled. "I swear to god, Brian Kinney, if you hurt him…"

"Christ, Deb," Brian huffed. "I'm not going to hurt him. We're friends."

"You're turning him into you!" Debbie said accusingly. "Don't think I haven't heard the goddamn stories. You and he in the back room, trading tricks. Shopping together. Going to the gym together. And they all talk about the fucking sexual energy between you two. I might not have believed it until I saw that kiss. It certainly didn't look like a friendly kiss."

"We aren't fucking," Brian told her, figuring that would calm her down, and perhaps it did a little. "Yes we go tricking together. Yes we hang out together. Because we are friends. I know his boundaries and he knows mine. And he's still all sunshiny, so I haven't changed him. He's just more experienced. See? Nobody's going to get hurt."

Debbie shook her head. "That's what you think, asshole. Just be careful, Brian, because it seems to me that you are heading into uncharted territories with this friendship, or whatever you want to call it."

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Brian didn't mention new hunting grounds that night, and Justin let it go. He figured Brian would bring it up when he had someplace in mind. In the meantime, Justin was simply glad to be able to spend time with Brian. When the King of Babylon competition was announced, Brian got a smirk on his face that made Justin slightly wary, but not overly worried.

The night of the competition, they were standing at the bar with Ted and Emmett when Justin finally brought up the subject. "I know you have something planned for tonight. What is it?"

"Oh! Are you going to enter Justin into the competition?" Emmett asked with his usual exuberance.

Brian scowled. "Fuck no!"

"Don't you think he could win?" Ted asked. "Because I think he would have a great chance. He's not a muscleman like most of these guys, but he can dance and he has a great body."

Justin laughed and Brian rolled his eyes. "I know Justin could win if he competed. But where's the challenge in that?"

"So what is the challenge?" Justin asked.

"The winner," Brian said. "Our winner will be the one who can convince the king to go home with both of us AND bottom for both of us."

Justin raised his eyebrows at that. The guys lining up for the competition looked to be mostly alpha males. Not a nelly-bottom among them. Justin had convinced one or two tops to bottom for him, but they had always been more… flexible. These guys didn't look flexible at all, literally or figuratively.

Justin looked at Brian and saw the dare in his eyes. Justin shot back his vodka and smiled. "Okay, you're on. What's the winner get?"

"Besides bragging rights?" Brian asked. "Okay, how about this. Winner gets one favor of his choice to be called upon at some later date."

"Normal rules apply?" Justin asked. The others probably thought he was talking about rules for the competition, but Brian knew he was talking about their personal rules. No sex between them. He nodded. "Okay, you're on."

They all watched with interest as the contestants took their turns dancing for the crowd, showing off their assets. They made side bets on who would actually be crowned king. In the end, Justin's pick won, and he collected twenty dollars from each of the others, which he then used to buy them all a round of drinks.

Brian flipped a coin to see which of them would get to go first. They would each have twenty minutes to get close to the king and then make their case. Whoever went first had a chance of getting him before the other even had a turn, but if he failed, the second would have an easier time, since the first would have softened him up. If, after they had both had their turn, the king hadn't complied, they would work together and the bet would be called a tie.

Justin won the coin toss and Brian watched him make his way over to the crowd on the dance floor surrounding the king. Those that recognized him moved out of his way to let him through. Brian was right; there were advantages to being a god, even if Justin was still a minor deity in their eyes. Once Justin reached the king, the guy's eyes lit up. Brian chuckled; it was like the king had Christmas and his birthday all rolled into one night. He had won the competition and had Justin Taylor moving in on him.

They danced and Justin began whispering to the king. Brian knew just how hot Justin's voice could be, all breathy and low, his breath tickling the ear. The king grabbed Justin's hips and pulled him closer. Justin stroked the king's neck and shoulders and shook his head. No. Justin wouldn't bottom. Brian had seen this before. Justin had a way of getting what he wanted, even though his size and body shape seemed to attract confirmed tops wanting to take care of him. Justin leaned in again, whispering while their bodies still moved. The king glanced at Brian, and he knew that Justin had just mentioned the threesome. Brian smirked in return and nodded. The king looked uncertain, but time was up and it was Brian's turn.

Justin knew he was out of time even before Brian leaned in to whisper, "My turn." He gave the king one last smoldering look before going back to the bar to wait with Ted and Emmett.

"You looked like you almost had him," Emmett said encouragingly. "He just doesn't seem like the bottom type to me."

"I still think Brian will get him," Ted put in.

"Wanna up the stakes?" Emmett asked. "Two dinners?"

"You're on," Ted agreed.

Silently, Justin agreed with Ted. Brian had two things going for him that Justin didn't. One, he was bigger and built more like what people expected a top to look like. Second, he had years to develop his reputation, where as Justin had only had a few months. If anyone could convince a firm top to bottom for two men, it would be Brian. As Justin watched, he whispered to the guy and the king nodded back. Brian had a shit eating grin on his face as he led the king towards them. Justin looked at his watch. It hadn't even taken him ten minutes.

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After the King of Babylon competition, Justin had to take a short break from going out. Finals were coming up and he had projects for school and for Kinnetik that had to be done. Staying out half the night couldn't be part of the equation. When Brian realized that Justin was serious about not going out for three weeks, he insisted that they at least get together for breakfast at the diner. And so, Justin worked his ass off for three weeks, and Brian kept an eye on him at their daily breakfasts, making sure Justin was eating enough and getting enough rest.

Michael visited during that time, and though he heard the stories about Brian and Justin, he wasn't forced to see it. And since Justin wasn't around, Brian found more time to spend with Mikey this time. So the visit had gone well for everyone.

The morning after Justin's last final, he came into the diner with a huge smile on his face, "I'm finished and I think I aced all my written tests. Now I just have to wait for the grades to come in." He sat across from Brian and picked up the coffee Brian had already ordered for him.

"Good, so I'll be able to collect my favor now?" Brian said.

Justin grinned. "What did you have in mind?"

"I want to go away for my birthday, and I think you should go with me," Brian said.

Justin laughed as the waitress brought his usual egg white omelet. Brian had convinced him that egg yolks were from the devil—or, more likely, Justin got tired of hearing Brian complain about what he ate. "You want to take me away on a trip? How is this supposed to be me doing you a favor?"

"Because I know how fucking stubborn you can be about paying your own way," Brian sighed as he stole a piece of toast from Justin's plate. "This way, you aren't allowed to argue about money or anything like that for the entire week."

"The whole week?" Justin asked. That sounded more difficult than he had thought. He was used to losing to Brian most of the time when they argued about money, but he still needed to make his case. He appreciated that Brian wanted to do nice things for him, but Justin needed to feel like he was supporting himself. "I don't know…"

"You did agree to the bet," Brian pointed out. "I won, and this is the favor I'm claiming. School's done until September, and you don't have any projects due for Kinnetik right now. You have no excuse to keep you from saying yes."

"Nothing but my pride," Justin sighed. "Okay. Where are we going and when do we leave?"

Brian frowned. "Don't sound so fucking enthusiastic, Sunshine. We're taking a cruise to the Caribbean. And we leave tomorrow. We'll fly to New York for two days, long enough to make sure you are properly outfitted for the trip and then the ship leaves on Saturday."

Justin shook his head in fond exasperation. "Tomorrow? You certainly don't give a guy much time to prepare. And what do you mean, 'properly outfitted'?"

"There are dress codes for certain nights," Brian said. "You'll need at least two suits and some dress shirts. I need a few things myself. So we'll shop while we're in New York. And no arguments, Sunshine. You conveniently forgot to tell me that your birthday was two months ago."

Justin blushed. He hadn't wanted to make a big deal out of it. Daphne had taken him out to dinner, but he hadn't told any of his new friends. "Okay, fine. But no objections when I give you your birthday present, then."

Brian nodded. "You realize that the first time we met was on my birthday last year?"

Justin smiled and nodded. "And you were moaning about being fired from that other agency. I guess a lot has changed since then."

"Yes it has," Brian agreed. "Now, finish your breakfast. We have shopping and packing to do."

"What?" Justin asked. "I thought we were shopping in New York."

"Yes, but you need luggage," Brian smirked. "And we need to see what in your wardrobe is suitable for this trip."

"I do know how to pack, Brian," Justin pouted.

"Hey, this is my trip, my favor, so I get to decide what you bring and what you don't bring," Brian said with a smirk. "And I doubt you have much in the way of cruise-wear."

Justin had to admit that Brian was right about that. With a deep breath, Justin decided to just go with the flow and let Brian have his way once again.

BJBJBJBJBJ

Brian had gotten them a suite with two bedrooms, two baths, a comfortable sitting room and a large balcony. Justin wasn't sure how much the suite had cost Brian, but he was sure he wouldn't have been able to afford to pay even half. The cruise, as it turned out, was a gay singles cruise, which loosely translated into a giant floating meat market. In the first two days, Brian and Justin had each pulled six tricks and had shared a seventh. They spent the majority of the third day exploring Ocho Rios, Jamaica, and then had their first formal dinner that night.

Brian liked the casino, and Justin liked watching the competitive gleam in Brian's eye as he went head to head with the blackjack dealer. Justin preferred roulette, and had won a couple hundred dollars. Brian had lost a couple hundred, so it came out even in the end. And he convinced the dealer to come back to their suite after his shift ended.

The next day they were in Nassau, and Justin convinced Brian to do the snorkeling excursion. Justin had loved watching the brightly colored fish dart in and out of the coral reef, and Brian had loved watching Justin. They both hit on the snorkel instructor and had a quickie with him in the diving shed.

The fifth day, they went to Key West and just walked around the market that catered to tourists before heading back to the ship. The rest of that day, they spent by the pool, soaking up the sun and hunting for tricks. They had their second formal dinner that night and then went dancing at one of the ship's two night clubs.

The sixth day was spent at the cruise line's private island. They spent more time sunning themselves on the beach and cruising the other passengers who were doing the same. Once back on the ship, they showered and changed for their last night on board. It was Brian's birthday and Justin wanted it to be special. He had made reservations at the private restaurant and they would have cake. Brian seemed a bit grumpy about the whole affair, but Justin reminded him that he had agreed to let Justin celebrate in return for accepting the clothes Brian had bought for him.

Justin gave Brian a new leather messenger bag style attaché case that he had purchased with the funds form his last project at Kinnetik. Brian loved it, and it brought a smile to his face, despite the cake and other trappings that Justin had insisted upon. It was a great night, and the only thing that could have made it better was if they had gone back to their suite and made love. But that went against the rules.

BJBJBJBJBJ

Another year passed, and everyone was getting used to seeing Brian and Justin together. In fact, they were practically inseparable. Brian had almost totally given up tricking without Justin. And Justin, who had never been all that fond of tricking alone, found he didn't want to have sex with anyone unless Brian was with him. Justin knew that he was hopelessly in love with Brian, but he also knew that he couldn't change who and what he was. He had told Brian plainly from the very beginning what would happen if they ever took their friendship to the bedroom, and Brian hadn't made the attempt again. Brian wasn't the settling down type. And despite his recent lifestyle, Justin very much wanted to settle down.

All this added up to one thing. Justin was starting to get tired of all the nights out. Yes he still loved dancing, and yes, he liked the attention his new reputation afforded him, but he wanted more. It was funny, but he wasn't really looking for monogamy from Brain. He had been lured into the seductive life Brian enjoyed. He could understand his need for something new and different. He enjoyed the hunt as much as Brian did. But at the end of the night, he wanted to go to sleep with one man and wake up with that same man.

So, when he was offered the chance to do a summer semester in Italy, Justin jumped at the chance. He would study some of the greatest works of art and have a month get his head on straight. He could have time away from Pittsburgh, away from Brian, to decide what he really wanted. Did he want to give up what he had with Brian and try to settle for a more conventional relationship, or could he keep going with this relationship that wasn't a relationship?

"A month," Brian said with a blank face when Justin told him at Woody's a few days before he left. "Well, I can understand the desire to get out of the Pitts, but to waste a trip to Italy with museums seems sacrilegious. You should be shopping in Milan, buying tailored suits and handmade shoes."

Justin laughed at that. "I couldn't afford those things anyway. Even with the money Kinnetik pays me." Justin hesitated. "I'll be gone for your birthday, so I wanted to give you your gift early."

Brian had insisted on taking Justin to New York for his last birthday, and the small package that he handed Brian seemed pretty lame in comparison, but Justin thought that Brian would like it, and that was all that mattered. Brian raised an eyebrow at Justin when he saw what was inside the small box. It was a bar titanium pendant Justin had gotten from Tiffany's when they were in New York. It had a single diamond at the bottom of the front and three numbers etched on the back, Brian's birthday.

"The day we met," Brian said.

Justin nodded nervously. "And your birthday."

"It's great," Brian said and finally smiled. He pulled the long chain from the blue box and pulled it over his head. The bar settled on Brian's chest, between his pecs, and Justin wondered how it would look without the black t-shirt in the way.

"Um, have you decided where you're going for your birthday this year?" Justin asked. It had been a topic of conversation for weeks. Brian couldn't seem to decide where he wanted to go. Every suggestion Justin made, Brian shot down.

"I thought I had, but not now," Brian said ruefully.

"What do you mean?" Justin asked.

Brian looked at Justin with a self-deprecating shrug and said, "I thought I might be able to convince you to go to London with me. Bond and Oxford Streets have some of the best men's fashion in the world. But now you'll be in Italy."

"You could still go," Justin said. "You certainly don't need me to shop."

"Maybe," Brian said. "So when do you leave?"

"Eight days," Justin said. "It's not a lot of time to prepare, but the professor said there was a last minute cancelation and offered me the chance to go instead."

"Well, then we have time to go out and celebrate before you go," Brian said with a mischievous smile.

And they did. Almost every night for the next eight days, they went out drinking, dancing and fucking. They hadn't had a marathon like that since the cruise, and that had been tempered with lazy days in the sun. This time Brian had work and Justin was rushing to finish a project for Kinnetik and get ready for the trip. Justin knew that Brian felt like he was deserting him, but Justin really needed to go for a while, so he went out with Brian every night and dealt with the consequences.

By the time Justin left for Italy, he was grateful for the rest. The trip was everything Justin could have hoped. He was able to study great pieces of art and spend hours sketching and drawing the interesting people and places every where they went. They spent a lot of time in Rome, though they took small trips to Venice and Florence. One weekend, Justin took the train and then a ferry to Capri and spent a couple days exploring the island before returning.

More than anything else, Justin thought about Brian. They emailed a few times, and Brian kept him up to date on their various friends, but mainly Justin read and re-read Brian's emails for some indication that he missed him. No matter how hard he tried to see something, though, there was nothing there.

At the end of the month, Justin knew he had his answer. It was time to move on. He would need to make a break, as difficult as that might be considering how intertwined their lives had become. When he got home, he would sit down with Brian and tell him that he couldn't do this anymore.

BJBJBJBJBJ

Justin's grand plan, however, was shot to hell when Brian showed up at the university dorms where they were housed the day before their flight was scheduled to go back to Pittsburgh. Justin heard the knock at his door and expected it to be Tony, his roommate, who had forgotten his key for the twelfth time. Instead Brian stared at him with an uncharacteristically uncertain expression on his face.

"Well, aren't you going to invite me in?" Brian finally drawled after they had stared at each other for entirely too long.

Justin nodded and moved aside to let Brian step into the small room. "What are you doing here?"

Brian snorted and Justin knew it wasn't directed at him. "Since you couldn't come with me on my trip, I decided to come with you. Now that you've seen all the museums, you won't need to interrupt precious shopping time to see the sights. It's perfect."

"But…" Justin was thinking of all the reasons he shouldn't agree to this, number one being his resolve to make a break with Brian. But he never really could say no to Brian. "What about the projects Jim's been emailing me about? What about my apartment?"

"Debbie said she'll look in on it for another two weeks and let the landlord know you're going to be gone a little longer," Brian shrugged. "And Jim can shift the assignments around. Don't you want to stay a little longer?"

Justin shook his head, but he wasn't saying no; he simply needed to clear his head. "Yes. I do."

Brian smiled for the first time since he had arrived. "Good." And then he pulled Justin into his arms and kissed him.

BJBJBJBJBJ

They shopped in Rome first and then went to Milan. Brian had suits custom made for each of them at exclusive shops that could only be found in Italy and bought them handcrafted shoes. When they weren't shopping, they spent their time either going out to the clubs and fucking Italian tricks who barely spoke any English. And the entire time, Justin kept telling himself that it was only one last fling before he ended it.

But they got back to Pittsburgh two weeks later and Justin couldn't find the right time or opportunity to break things off. He worked on his projects for Kinnetik. He painted. He went out with Brian but claimed a headache and so Brian took him home early. After that, Justin began avoiding Brian altogether. He kept his phone turned off and only texted Brian when it was clear the older man was worried. He worked extra projects for Jim. He took summer courses at school. He stopped going to Woody's or Babylon and started to hang out at the GLC.

There was no avoiding Brian forever, though. A month after getting back from Milan, two weeks after Justin began his summer courses, Brian was waiting for Justin outside his classroom at PIFA after his last class of the day. Justin froze in the doorway for long seconds before warily approaching.

"Thought you might need a ride," Brian said with a frown. "Maybe clear some time out of your busy schedule for an old friend."

"Brian…"

"Save it for the jeep, Sunshine," Brian said as he turned away and walked towards the school's parking lot. Justin meekly followed. Once they were both in the jeep, Brian turned to Justin. "Why do I feel like I've been chasing you for months now? First you run off to Italy, now, you are avoiding me. You don't answer my calls. I get a text every few days to let me know you are alive, but nothing else. What the fuck is going on?"

Justin stared at the paint on his hands and rubbed at the splatters to have something to do besides look at Brian. He thought about lying, but found he couldn't really find the energy to come up with a satisfactory excuse for his behavior. "I thought I could do this. I thought we could be friends and share tricks and still be able to keep my heart out of it. But I can't. No matter how many men we fuck when we're together, all I can think about is wanting you. But you don't do relationships. So I decided to just bow out."

"You are such a twat," Brian muttered and started the jeep. He pulled out of the parking space and out of the lot, turning right towards the loft, rather than left, towards Justin's apartment. "You never thought to discuss any of this with me before just shutting me out?"

Justin shrugged miserably. Why was Brian torturing him like this? "What was the point? I broke the rules. I know how you feel about love and relationships, and you never gave any indication that you wanted anything more than what we already have."

Brian growled but said nothing. They drove the rest of the way to the loft in silence. Once Brian had parked the jeep, Justin followed him silently into the elevator. They were still silent as Brian opened the loft door and then closed it behind them. Justin simply stood in the entry area looking lost and wondering why Brian had brought him there.

He didn't have long to wonder, however, because as soon as Brian had tossed his keys onto the counter and shed his shoes, he wrapped Justin up in his arms and kissed him hard. His lips crushed Justin's, his tongue was an invading force. This kiss was not like any kiss they had shared before. This kiss was filled with anger and frustration and a hundred other emotions Justin was too dazed to interpret. Brian's arms were tight around him, almost painful, and their bodies were pressed hard against each other.

When Brian finally broke for air, Justin panted and tried to pull away, but Brian refused to let him go. "Brian? What…? Why did you bring me here?"

Brian looked into Justin's eyes, his gaze intent and as filled with emotion as that kiss had been. He leaned forward and nipped painfully at Justin's earlobe before whispering. "I brought you here to fuck you."

Justin tried to process that. Did that mean Brian was ready to accept something deeper? "We should probably talk about this," Justin said nervously.

Brian shook his head and began moving Justin towards the bedroom. "I don't think so Sunshine. I know what this means. You know what this means. And I'm sure we'll have to have some discussion at some point to go over the new rules, but right now, all I want to hear is you moaning as my cock breaches your tight virgin ass."

"Fuck," Justin moaned. They had made it to the bedroom and Brian stopped at the foot of the bed. Quickly, clothes were shed between biting kisses and soon, Brian was pressing Justin onto the mattress. Everything Justin thought he knew about pleasure suddenly dimmed under the onslaught of having Brian's incredible talent focused solely on him. Brian's hands wrung bliss from his every pore. Brian's mouth followed the trails his hands discovered, leaving a scalding path in his wake.

When Brian's mouth reached his cock, Justin's entire body arched with the sudden wave of ecstasy. Brian didn't linger there, however; he continued down Justin's body, exploring his sensitive inner thighs, his knees, his ankles. As he made the return journey, Brian mapped out the backs of Justin's legs.

Without ever realizing Brian's intent, Justin soon found himself grasping his own ankles as Brian introduced him to the delights of rimming. Some part of his brain recognized the technique Brian was using, even as his body relaxed into each stroke of Brian's tongue around his hole and his cock grew harder, leaping for attention. Justin had done this to Tad, and dozens of other men since, but experiencing it first hand was a torment of languid pleasure. And When Brian's tongue finally breached him, Justin moaned his delight, inarticulate words falling from his mouth unconsciously.

Brian's tongue was joined by his fingers as he opened Justin up with agonizing patience. Each step taken with deliberate and tender care until Justin was writhing, begging for Brian to just do it, to fuck him, to put his goddamn cock to work and get on with it already.

"Bossy bottom, aren't you," Brian smirked as he reached for a condom and more lube. With practiced ease, Brian rolled the condom on and slicked up the latex. He leaned over Justin and claimed his mouth in another kiss even as he claimed Justin's ass.

Justin was awash in sensations as he felt the blunt head of Brian's cock enter him for the first time. It hurt and he clutched at the sheets beneath him, then clutched at Brian's back as the air left his lungs.

"Breathe," Brian commanded into his ear. He didn't move for long minutes while Justin convinced his body to relax. Justin couldn't help but be amazed at the patience Brian was exhibiting. And then Brian gave a small gentle thrust and caressed Justin's prostate and thoughts of pain or patience disappeared. All that Justin's brain could focus on was the intensity of this moment. And When Brian captured his lips again the perfection of the moment slammed into him even as Brian slowly increased the tempo of his short thrusts. Alternating between quick little jabs, long slow strokes, and deep grinding movements, Brian reminded Justin exactly why the men of Pittsburgh were constantly clamoring to get into Brian's bed.

Justin clutched at Brian's back, his hips, and pulled the man deeper with everyt stroke. He didn't think he could ever get enough of this feeling, the feeling of being possessed, of being cherished, of being taken hard and yet with such tenderness. And then Brian took Justin's cock in hand and Justin's hand joined his, their fingers twined around Justin's flesh. Their lips met once again in a familiar kiss, the one they often shared when they were about to come, but this time Brian was inside of Justin and that made it so much better, hotter, and intense.

Sweat soaked and sated, they both collapsed to the bed once the final shocks of their powerful orgasms subsided. They lay there, still joined, for long minutes until Brian's softening cock demanded the removal of the spent condom. He gently pulled free and quickly disposed of the condom before rearranging them both on the bed so that Jusitn was cradled in his arms back to chest.

"Now we can talk," Brian finally said as he lit a joint and took a deep drag of the acrid smoke. He handed it to Justin who pulled a drag and closed his eyes to calm his heart.

"You mentioned something about rules," Justin said as he handed the joint back.

Brian sighed, "You know I can't promise you monogamy."

"I'm not asking for it," Justin retorted. "I'm a pretty good student, and I learned to trick from the best. Did you think I didn't enjoy my lessons?"

Justin could feel Brian shrug behind him. "I'm not sure what I thought. You never were much for tricking without me, and you stopped altogether this last month."

"It wasn't the tricks," Justin said. "But every time we went out, it got harder and harder to go home alone afterward. So I went to Italy to figure out what to do."

"A month in Italy and the best you could come up with was avoid me?" Brian snorted. "Why didn't you just talk to me. We've never had a problem communicating before."

"No," Justin admitted. "But I've always had a problem saying no to you. Hence the weeks in Milan."

"Alright, so the rules," Brian said. "Rule number one, if one of us is unhappy, we talk it over before doing anything rash."

"Agreed," Justin said sheepishly.

"Rule two, you'll move in here," Brian said.

"Um I don't think that's really a rule," Justin pointed out, but he had a happy grin on his face.

"Rule three," Brian said pointedly ignoring Justin. "Your ass is mine. Fuck as many tricks as you want, with or without me, but no one fucks you."

Justin nodded. "What about you?"

Brian shifted somewhat nervously. "I never let a trick fuck me."

"Will your ass ever be mine?" Justin asked bluntly.

Brian huffed and said gruffly, "Someday. I don't…"

"You prefer to be in control," Justin supplied. "I get that and its fine. I was just wondering."

"Back to the rules," Brian said. "No kissing tricks."

"We already have that rule," Justin reminded him. "Rule five, if we're living together, there should be a curfew so that if one of us is out without the other, the person at home doesn't stay up all night worrying."

Brian had to think about that one, but eventually nodded. "Agreed, with the condition that exceptions can be made if we call and discuss it."

"Can I ask you a question?" Justin asked.

"I'm not stopping you," Brian drawled.

Justin rolled his eyes. "Why did you really come to Italy?"

Brian was quiet for a long time and Just was sure that he wouldn't answer. Just when he was about to give up, Brian spoke very quietly. "I missed you. And if I travel, it's more fun to travel with you."

"Part of the reason I decided to…stop coming around was the fact that it didn't seem to matter to you if I was around or not," Justin admitted.

"It matters," Brian said. "You realize that Debbie's going to have my balls for this, don't you?"

"Why's that?' Justin asked with a chuckle.

"She's been warning me away from you for two years," Brian said. "She'svery protective of her Sunshine."

"Don't worry, I'll protect you," Justin teased. "I'm rather fond of your balls."

"Rule six," Brina said. "I'm going to tell you something now, and you won't ever ask me to repeat it. I'll let you know if it ever changes. Agreed?"

"Agreed," Justin said warily. He was too anxious to hear what Brina thought was so important that it required him to have a special rule.

"I love you," Brian said quietly.

Justin sat up and looked at Brian's face. It held all the emotion and vulnerability that Justin had dreamed of seeing, but never believed he would actually witness. "Rule seven, I'm going to say it enough for both of us and you aren't allowed to complain."

'Agreed," Brian whispered in a hoarse voice.

"I love you, Brian Kinney."

Brian kissed Justin hungrily. "Good. Now we have that settled, wanna fuck?"

"Already?" Justin laughed.

"Hey, I've been waiting two years to get my hands on your ass," Brian complained. "Now that I have sole proprietary rights, I want to take advantage of the fact."

Justin laughed even harder. "I'm all yours."

THE END

A/N: Okay, so I was thinking, what if Brian and Justin met some other way? How would that change their relationship? The details of the story followed from there. My thought was, if Brian and Justin became friends first, and was Justin was older and more experienced when they began their relationship, then maybe Justin might have a different view of Brian's lifestyle. Even though their rules are similar to the ones that the characters agree to in the show, I think in this scenario, they just might actually work for them. What do you think?