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It had all started with a moment of weakness. After the bombing, after finally uttering those three words to Justin in the heat of the moment, Brian realized that he had made a huge mistake. Now that he'd said it, how much more would Justin expect from him? Justin would undoubtedly say it to Brian often now and expect Brian to say it back. He'd want commitment and pretty words and all that other shit. Brian thought that if he gave Justin what he thought he wanted, the little shit would see how utterly ridiculous the hole marriage, romance, love thing was and forget all about it. And it had seemed to work. Justin had called off the wedding because Brian wasn't 'Brian Kinney'.
Then Brian had gone back to his old ways, spouting some shit about no locks on the doors and doing what was best for Justin and his career, shoving the twink towards another Kinney cliff. And Justin, the twat, had decided to go to New York, throwing himself headlong towards the edge. Now Brian realized that his whole plan had gone to hell. Justin may have realized that he didn't need the romantic shit, but he'd also realized he didn't need Brian. On the other hand, Brian had realized that he didn't really mind the romantic shit all that much and that he really did need Justin in his life.
On top of all that, Lindsey and the bitch were taking his kid up to Canada. He'd told Mikey to let them go, but only because he didn't think they actually would. That and the fact that Mikey simply couldn't afford the legal battle or the emotional strain. Brian, on the other hand, had always been an ass, and no one would be surprised when he decided to become one again.
There was no way in hell he was letting the two people who were his world leave him, and especially not at the same time.
He had exactly one month—only thirty days—to come up with a new plan to stop this travesty and he knew that if anyone could pull it off, it was Brian Kinney.
John McKinley listened to his client outline his concerns regarding his son. "So you signed over custody of the child when he was only a few months old, giving the mothers complete legal control?"
He could hear Brian sigh through the phone line, "I did. But things have changed since then. As part of that agreement, there was to be no obligation for child support."
"But they have asked you for support in the years since?" John asked. He was familiar with the agreement. He'd read it through after Brian had faxed it over that morning. "How much are we talking about?"
"I looked through my cancelled checks after we talked this morning," Brian said. "Total, I've given them more than $150,000 over the past five years. I've also played an active role in Gus' life. I have him for regular visits, as well as baby-sitting when the munchers need one. I'd say I have Gus overnight an average of three weekends a month."
John whistled. "That's a lot of financial and emotional support for someone who was supposed to have no obligations to his child. Why would you do that?"
"Because he's my son," Brian said as if that explained it all. "I wasn't going to let him go without because the dykes couldn't get their act together. And I wasn't going to give up seeing my son, just because they needed custody to be able to take him to the hospital." He had already explained his reasons for signing the agreement.
"Can you point to any specific instances where they consulted with you about a major decision concerning Gus?" John asked. "Because I think we might have a pretty good case here. At least enough to get an injunction to keep them in the country until the matter can be settled."
"Melanie wanted to circumcise Gus," Brian said, still seething at the memory. "I refused. And then I convinced them that it wasn't in Gus' best interests."
"We'll need to meet to go over all the particulars in the next few days, but I think I have enough to get started on the injunction and set up the custody hearing. With the amount of financial support alone, I think we would have a good case," John told his client.
"I've not exactly been a saint, John," Brian said. "When this goes to court, and I'm sure it will, their lawyer is going to point out the fact that I have a history of frequent casual sex partners and drug use."
"Neither of which you have done in the presence of your son," John said. "And from what I understand, that's pretty much the past, isn't it?"
"For the most part," Brian said. "I had to give up the drugs when I had cancer, and the tricking has reduced drastically in the last year or so. Justin keeps me too busy."
"And you've settled into a serious relationship," John said. "That will go a long way towards convincing a judge that you aren't the wild reckless youth you were before. And if worse comes to worst, we can bring up all the marital issues between Melanie and Lindsey."
"I'd rather it didn't come to that," Brian said.
"It may be necessary to keep your son in this country," John told him. "But I will avoid using that information if I can."
"Thanks John," Brian said.
"Will Justin support your petition?" John asked.
Brian sighed again. "He doesn't know about it yet. I'm still trying to come up with a way to keep him from going to New York. I can't take legal action to keep him here."
"Come up with something," John advised. "It will look better to the court if you are in a stable relationship and supported by your significant other."
"I'll do my best." With that Brian hung up and John looked at the phone. If he knew anything about Brian Kinney, it was that he found ways to get what he wanted, and if he wanted his partner to stay in Pittsburgh, he'd find a way to convince him.
"What is this?" Justin asked. He was standing over Brian who was lounging on the sofa reading the newspaper. Brian looked up and saw that he was holding a manila envelope.
"Since I don't have x-ray vision, I'd have to guess that those are some sort of legal documents." Brian said and calmly took a sip of his beer.
"It's the deed to the house," Justin said. "And it has my name on it."
"Yeah," Brian nodded. "I told you I bought it for you."
"Brian…" Justin sighed. "I can't just accept a house. Especially not a house like that."
"What's wrong with the house?" Brian asked. "I thought you liked it."
"I do," Justin huffed. "But it's huge. And expensive. And I'm leaving in a few weeks."
"So sell it," Brian said and turned back to his paper.
"What the fuck is this, asshole?" Melanie stormed into Brian's office waving legal documents in his face.
"If you stop shoving them at me, I might be able to read what they are," Brian said as Lindsey followed her partner into the office and closed the door.
"Melanie, Brian, please," Lindsey sighed. She was trying to keep the peace, but she was almost as angry as Melanie. "Could you just explain why we received an injunction preventing us from moving?"
"Contingent upon a custody hearing!" Melanie yelled. "You aren't taking our son!"
Brian's face was set into a mask of detachment. "Well isn't that interesting. Now you know how I feel."
"You don't want us to move?" Lindsey asked.
"I don't give a fuck what you and Melanie do," Brian said. "But I'm not giving up my son again."
"That's right, you gave up your son," Melanie pointed out. "You have no rights. You can't stop us."
"Obviously I can," Brian said. "Or else you wouldn't be here screaming at me like a banshee. My lawyer thinks I have a pretty good case for reinstating my legal rights to Gus based upon the support I've given to you over the past five years."
"Four and a half," Mel corrected. "What support? A couple checks to help pay for Gus' daycare?"
"More than $150,000 over the last five—excuse me, four and a half—years," Brian drawled. "That's more than $30,000 a year, more than $2,500 a month. After the custody agreement was signed."
"You're really trying to take Gus from us?" Lindsey asked, her voice filled with hurt and shock.
Brian sighed and leaned back in his chair. "No, I'm not. I'm trying to keep you from taking my son away from me. I'm happy with the arrangement we've had so far, but I can't let you take him away."
"You always have to control everything," Melanie shouted, completely disregarding Brian's reasons. "Well, you gave him up a long time ago. And you can't have him back."
Melanie stormed back out but Lindsey stayed. "You know that leaving is better for Gus, don't you? It's not safe here."
"It's not safe anywhere, Linds," Brian said. "If you don't believe that, you're fooling yourself. There are bigots in Canada, too. And no jobs. Did you know that the Canadian government has put restrictions on how soon an immigrant can work legally in order to discourage Americans from crossing the border? Or that Mel's law degree will be absolutely worthless up there? She won't be able to practice law. Did you know that Toronto has had more incidences of gay bashing since they passed the marriage act than Pittsburgh has had in the last decade? That more people have died there from hate crimes? And that's including those we lost in the bombing."
"And let's talk about the bombing, Lindsey," Brian said. "I almost lost Mikey. I almost lost Justin. I almost lost you. It was my fucking club that was destroyed, but I'm not running away. And do you know why? Because I'll be damned if I let some fucking homophobic breeders run me out!"
"I… Melanie is waiting for me," Lindsey said quietly as she turned to the door.
"They caught the bomber," Brian told her when she reached the door. She didn't turn around but she stopped. "Carl told me, though it hasn't been released to the press yet. They caught him. And do you want to know what? It wasn't one of the local bigots that were stirring up trouble. It was some nut case from Kentucky who has been in and out of mental hospitals his whole life. He heard about the shit going on here and decided to have some fun. He doesn't even care about the gay marriage bill. Lindsey, it could have happened anywhere, to anyone, at any time. Even in Canada."
Lindsey left without another word.
"Are you really suing Melanie and Lindsey for custody of Gus?" Justin asked Brian over dinner the next night.
"Yep," Brian said. "He's my son, and I don't want him going to Canada."
"So you're taking them to court?" Justin asked. Brian just nodded calmly. "Is it true that you've given them $150,000 in support?"
"That's on top of the life insurance policy they made me sign," Brian said. "And the gifts and other help I've given them as a family. It also doesn't include the college fund I started for Gus."
"Fuck," Justin muttered. "I knew you helped them out, but I didn't realize it was quite so much. I could live quite comfortably on $30,000 a year."
"And they've always just expected me to pay up," Brian sighed. "I didn't mind, because it was for my kid. But now they want to take him away, and I just can't let them do it."
"I know," Justin said. "I know how much you love Gus. So do they. I just don't think they are thinking clearly right now. They're running on emotions. They're scared."
"Well, I've looked up the statistics, Sunshine," Brian said. "And they are safer here than they would be in most metropolitan areas, including Toronto. And they're going to have serious money problems if they go through with this. Neither of them can work for six months, until their work visas are approved. And even then, Mel won't be able to practice law."
Justin grinned. "You're saving them from themselves, aren't you?"
"I'm saving my son from his idiotic mothers," Brian chuffed and went back to his dinner.
"You are fucking unbelievable."
Usually that phrase was uttered with shock and contempt. This time it was said with admiration. Brian looked up from his desk to see Cynthia standing in his doorway.
"What did I do now?" Brian asked smugly.
"I was just going through that list you put on my desk this morning," Cynthia said. "You're really going to try and keep him here, aren't you?"
"That's the plan," Brian said. "Have you started making the calls yet?"
Cynthia nodded. "I've spoken with five already and left messages for the other six. Of the five I spoke to, three were willing to make contact by email. And the one who lives locally, offered to stop in for a visit. I also contacted the agent you listed. He got your email and is actually eager to meet with you and Justin."
"What about the renovations?" Brian asked. "Have they started work yet?"
"Yes," Cynthia said. "Last week, apparently. You didn't tell me… Never mind; everything with you is need to know. Anyway, they think they should have the construction complete in the next week and the finishing touches a few days after that."
Brian nodded his head and Cynthia could see the wheels turning. "Make arrangements to have Justin's paintings and art supplies moved the day they finish. And put out word that we're looking for a manager. One with experience in the field. Research the average salary for the region and add ten percent. We want the best. And I want him or her available to set up Justin's work when the gallery is ready."
"You realize this little venture is likely to cost you more money than it makes, right?" Cynthia asked.
Brian waved a hand. "I'm sure Ted can use it as a tax write-off. Kinney Enterprises needs something like that. Between Kinnetik, the club and those new investment properties, we make too much money. Ted told me so himself just last week."
"When are you going to tell Justin?" Cynthia finally asked.
"I'm not," Brian said. "I'll show him when it's finished."
Brian watched Justin staring at the phone in his hand. He had watched earlier as Justin had opened and read several emails. With each one, Justin seemed to withdraw further into his own mind, as if the thoughts and ideas swirling there were too much for him to share.
"That was Gustav Freidrich," Justin said. "He's a very famous painter. He wants to have lunch with me next week."
"That's nice," Brian said and went back to reading, his paper hiding his smug grin.
The courtroom was nothing like Brian had imagined it would be. It was really just a small room with three tables: one for the judge, one for Brian and his lawyer, and one for Lindsey and Melanie and their lawyer. The court recorder sat in a chair beside the judge's table. Justin had come along and was sitting beside Brian as they waited for the judge. It was obvious that the women's lawyer had advised Mel not to say anything to Brian, because she just shot glares in his direction.
When the judge finally entered the courtroom, they all stood and waited for the judge to be seated. She was rather young, in Brian's mind.
"Okay, I don't hold to formalities much in my court, but I do expect that you will be respectful to me and to each other," she said. "This is family court, however, and I understand that emotions run high. I would appreciate it if you tried to maintain a sense of decorum. Now, let's start with you, Mr. Kinney. I've read your petition, but I'd like to hear in your own words what has brought you here today."
And so Brian took a deep breath, felt Justin squeeze his hand and began his story, starting with how he had never intended to be a real father to Gus, but how he had fallen hard for his son the minute he held him in his arms for the first time. He went on to tell about signing the life insurance policy, refusing to sign the custody papers, and why he eventually gave in. He talked about spending time with Gus and trying to make sure his son had a happy life and wanted for nothing.
"This is such bullshit," Melanie muttered.
"Ms. Marcus, I would ask that you keep your comments to yourself," the judge scolded. "You will have your turn to speak. Please continue Mr. Kinney."
"I admit that I have not been an ideal father," Brian said. "I grew up in an abusive home and don't really know how to be normal. I do things my own way, which sometimes rubs people the wrong way. I've been selfish and self-centered in the past. I've made mistakes. But I love my son, and I don't want to lose him."
Next it was Melanie and Lindsey's turn to speak. They talked about wanting to take their child some place where he would be safe. They talked about how difficult Brian had made things at times. As an example, Melanie told the court about Gus' almost circumcision.
"In the end, you acceded to Mr. Kinney's wishes?" the judge asked.
"What else could we do?" Melanie asked. "At that time he had no intention of giving up his parental rights."
The judge nodded and gestured for them to continue. Lindsey told of the time Brian left Gus with Justin so that he could go to the leather ball. They told about Brian's tricking. They talked about the time Brian had almost lost his job over a sexual harassment suit.
The judge looked at Brian and asked, "Is this true?"
Brian nodded. "It was several years ago, and I have sworn off any sort of entanglements in the work place. I have since opened my own agency and have been quite successful."
"You must be in able to afford giving so much for your son's care," the judge said. "What about your infidelities to Mr. Taylor?"
"They aren't infidelities," Justin interrupted, and then blushed, realizing he hadn't been addressed. The judge smiled and nodded for him to continue. "Um, well, it's just that's the way our relationship works. Sex is just sex. I'm the one Brian comes home to. As for the night of the leather ball, Gus was fine. When I couldn't reach Brian or Mel and Lindsey, I called my mother. And I've sat for Gus a thousand times since that night with no problems. I'm not sure why it was such a big deal that Brian used a baby-sitter to go out, when they do the same all the time."
"Because he agreed to keep Gus!" Mel shouted.
"Ms. Marcus, I will not warn you again. Hold your tongue," the judge reprimanded. "Now, Mr. Taylor, I understand that you were recently engaged to Mr. Kinney, but called off the wedding?"
Justin sighed. "Not because we broke up or anything. More so because Brian and I don't need the trappings of marriage to know how we feel about each other. We're together because we want to be together, not because some piece of paper tells us we have to be. I'm moving to New York in a couple weeks for my work, but even that won't change things between us. Not really."
"Thank you," The judge said. "Ms. Marcus, aside from the support that Mr. Kinney has given for Gus, I understand that he has also supported your relationship with Ms. Peterson?"
Mel sighed in defeat. "He paid for our wedding. And there were several instances where Lindsey and I were having relationship problems when he stepped in to fix things, with or without our consent."
"I see," the judge said. "Ms. Peterson, did Mr. Kinney give you any indication that he did not want you to take his son to Canada?"
Lindsey frowned. "I knew he wasn't happy about it, though he never outright said so. But the first actual sign was the injunction."
"Did you speak to Mr. Kinney after receiving the injunction? Ask him why he would do such a thing?"
Lindsey closed her eyes. "We want to keep Gus safe, and we don't feel safe here anymore. But Brian said that we wouldn't be any safer in Canada. In fact, he had done some research on crime statistics that indicated that Toronto was worse than Pittsburgh. He also said that getting work would be difficult because of immigration issues, and the fact that Mel couldn't practice law in Canada."
"Had you considered those factors when you decided to leave?" the judge asked.
"No," Lindsey whispered. "Mel has family up there, so we thought we could just go stay with them until we got settled in a new place. We knew they had passed the gay marriage law up there, so we assumed they would be more tolerant. But I looked up the statistics Brian told me about, and he's right. There is just as much bigotry in Toronto as there is in Pittsburgh."
"But you didn't consider changing your plans?"
Lindsey shook her head and looked at Mel, who was pointedly staring at the table in front of her. "No. We lost friends in the bombing. We were lucky, but…"
"Alright," the judge said. "I think I have all the information I need, unless there is something anyone wants to add?" They were all silent. "In that case, let me say that Gus is a lucky young man. He has four parents who love him very much. Don't look at me like that, Ms. Marcus. Mr. Taylor has been a part of that boy's life from his birth and very clearly loves him. I see a lot of families come through my courtroom, and it its very rare that I see a child with so much love.
"Having said that," the judge continued. "You people need to grow up. Mr. Taylor, at 22 may just be the most mature of the bunch. You, Mr. Kinney, rather than discussing your feelings with the mothers of your child, must make the grand gesture and take the matter to court before even trying to settle things amicably. And you two, holding grudges and against a man who has been supportive to both your son and your marriage, running away from your fears, and recklessly disregarding your family's well-being out of that same fear, is childish in the extreme.
"Despite the bad behavior on the part of both parties, I agree with Mr. Kinney," the judge said. "The waving of parental rights was signed under duress, and has since been nullified by the emotional and financial support he has given over the past five years. I am granting shared custody to Mr. Kinney, with living arrangements to be worked out between you. Legally, Gus now has three parents, which should shut up any pencil pushers who might try to keep one of you out should, god forbid, Gus ever need medical treatment again.
"Let me say one last thing," the judge said. "Gus is not the only lucky one. You four have supported each other, despite the sniping I have witnessed here today, and hope that you will continue to do so. Ms. Marcus, Ms. Peterson, I hope you reconsider your hasty decision to leave the country. Legally, you cannot take Gus with you without Brian's consent, but you could still go without him. Fear is a natural result of such a traumatic event, and the instinct to flee is natural as well. But as parents, you need to look closer at your motivations and do what is best for your children. Running to a place that is no safer and where you will have difficulty supporting your family is not what is best. Get yourselves into counseling before you make any more life changing decisions. And perhaps, when all is said and done, you will be grateful for the grand gesture Mr. Kinney made here today. Court is dismissed."
And then it was all over. Lindsey was crying and Mel looked ill. Brian was glad he had won, but he worried that it might have cost him his friends. Justin held his hand as they followed John from the courtroom.
"What do you mean it isn't finished?" Brian yelled. "Justin's packing already, for Christ sake!"
Cynthia sighed. She knew this wasn't going to be easy. "The contractor said that the water damage was worse than they anticipated. They've had to completely remove the wall near the sink as well as replace the plumbing. It will be ready in two days."
"Then they still have to paint," Brian sighed. "Can we get Gabby in there to start setting things up while they're still working?"
"The contractor said we can go in as soon as they finish the dry walling," Cynthia told him. "Any sooner and everything will be covered in dust."
"The moving company got all of Justin's things?" Brian asked.
"This morning," Cynthia said. "And Justin still believes they are going to New York."
Brian sighed and sat back in his chair. "Well, at the very least, he'll have to come back to see what the fuck happened to his shit when it doesn't arrive."
Brian was surprised to see Lindsey at his door. They hadn't spoken since the hearing. He had wanted to give them time to adjust to the decision before trying to settle the arrangements for Gus. Brian stepped to the side and let Lindsey in.
"Mel is still pretty pissed," Lindsey told him without preamble. "But I think she's coming around. We aren't going anywhere, in case you thought we might still move without Gus."
"It never even crossed my mind," Brian said truthfully.
Lindsey nodded and sat down on one of the stools by the kitchen counter. "We're both seeing a counselor, too; separately and together. I'm sorry, Brian. We weren't thinking. We were both just running on emotion."
"I know," Brian said. "You want some water?" Lindsey nodded and Brian grabbed two bottles from the fridge. "Are you two okay?"
"It hasn't been easy," Lindsey sighed. "Mel always wants to blame you for our problems, but both the judge and our counselor have told her that you aren't the problem, she and I are. I think that's difficult for her to hear."
"Mikey called the other day to thank me for keeping JR around," Brian said. "I didn't have the heart to tell him I didn't do it for him. At all."
"I'm glad you did, though," Lindsey said. "I've been thinking about it since we talked in your office. I just couldn't see any way to back out without losing Mel."
Brian nodded. "I never wanted to hurt you. And I probably should have discussed this with you before taking it to court."
"But we probably wouldn't have listened," Lindsey said. "We were blinded by our fears and guilt."
They were both quiet for a while, silently drinking their water.
"Anyway, I wanted to let you know we're ready to talk about making arrangements for Gus," Lindsey said. "If you want, we can do something similar to the arrangement we have with Michael."
"That's fine," Brian said. "Call me this week and we can work out dates. The judge was right about something else, too."
"Justin is as much Gus' father as I am," Brian said. "He's the one who reminds me of birthdays, and makes sure that there is food Gus likes in the house. Hell, I don't even know what Gus eats. He arranges trips to the zoo and practices writing with Gus. He loves our boy."
Lindsey smiled. "He does. And Gus is lucky to have him. Are you really going to let him just fly off to New York?"
"Hell no," Brian laughed. "I would think you knew me better than that by now. But I thought you were all for him leaving to pursue his career?"
"I think maybe I was projecting a bit," Lindsey said sheepishly. "I always wanted to go to New York and live the bohemian lifestyle while I went after my dream. But now that I'm thinking more clearly, I don't know if it would be the best thing for Justin. He's always been most inspired when he's with you."
"Well, he's going to stay with me if I have anything to say about it," Brian said.
"You arranged the lunch with Gustav Freidrich, didn't you?" Lindsey asked with amusement. "And all those emails offering Justin advice on finding success as an artist."
"I don't know what you mean," Brian hedged.
"It was so convenient that all those artists told him that he should work where he is inspired," Lindsey said. "And Freidrich told him to get a good agent and let him do the leg work. He told him that he could just fly to whatever gallery was showing his work, and then come home after the opening."
"I had nothing to do with that," Brian said. "Whatever those benevolent souls told Justin, I didn't have any influence."
"You may not have controlled what they said, but you arranged for them to contact him," Lindsey accused. "And you made sure that they were all artists who had found success in their home regions."
"Maybe," Brian said. "Maybe not."
Lindsey laughed because, despite his words, Brian's face was filled with haughty satisfaction.
"Where are we going? I have a ton of packing to do, and I don't really have time for these games." Justin complained. Brian had been acting mysterious all week, and this morning he had woken Justin and told him that they had an appointment. Brian refused to tell him what was going on. This was so typical of Brian that Justin had to smile. The days following the bombing, Justin had worried that Brian would never go back to his old self, but lately, with the custody hearing and everything, he was beginning to see the Brian he knew and loved again.
"You'll see when we get there," Brian said. They drove across the bridge towards the South Side, and Justin watched as Brian pulled up in front of a storefront on East Carson, in the heart of the trendy shopping district. "Well, come on, get out of the car."
"Yes sir," Justin smirked. The corner shop where Brian was headed had papers covering the large display windows so that you couldn't see inside from the street. It was obvious that the place had just been renovated. The entire building was freshly painted, inside and out. The windows gleamed. And there was a brand new sign above the shop that said "Taken Studio and Gallery". Justin knew every gallery in Pittsburgh, and this one was definitely new. "Brian?"
But Brian wasn't waiting for Justin. He knocked at the covered glass door and waited. Seconds later, a very pretty young redheaded woman answered the door and let them inside. Justin followed Brian through the door and gasped in shock. The walls were covered in his art. He didn't have many finished pieces right now, so there were still blank spaces, spaces that could be filled by other local artists.
"Justin, this is Gabby," Brian said. "She's the manager of Taken Gallery. She's spent the last four years running one of the top galleries in Los Angeles. She was looking to relocate, so I snatched her up."
"Nice to meet you," Justin said politely as he shook her hand. Then what Brian had said hit him. "Wait, you snatched her up?"
"Well, Kinney Enterprises did," Brian said. "Ted's been on my case to invest more in small businesses. Something about tax shelters or some bullshit."
"So you decided to open a gallery?" Justin asked. "And steal my art to put on the walls?"
"Hey, I didn't steal the paintings," Brian defended. "I just redirected the shipment."
Justin narrowed his eyes. "What about my art supplies. The ones that were shipped with these canvases?"
"Why don't I show you upstairs," Gabby said diplomatically. Justin glared at Brian but followed the redhead up a set of stairs in the hallway behind the office and storage room.
At the top of the stairs, Justin realized exactly what Brian had done and why. There was an artist's studio set up. The single room was huge, with a sitting area, a desk with a new computer and professional grade printing equipment, built in cabinets with a utility sink, canvas stretching supplies, two easels, and a cart with more brushes and paints on display than he'd seen anywhere except the art supply shop. The front and side of the room was taken up with huge windows that went almost from floor to ceiling, letting in more light than Justin had ever had in a work space. There was a bathroom near the entrance to the studio, and a closet.
"The artificial lighting was designed to mimic natural light," Brian said quietly. "And there's a refrigerator and microwave coming this week, so you don't have any excuse not to eat while you're working. There are three more small studios on the third floor that can be rented out to artists for a reasonable fee."
Justin looked around the huge room again and noticed that Gabby had left, closing the door behind her. "You want me to stay?" Justin asked, just to make sure he was reading this correctly.
"No, I did all this for some other twink artist," Brian drawled.
"Brian," Justin said patiently. "I need to hear you say it. Do you want me to stay?"
Brian glared at Justin. "Yes."
"Okay," Justin said with a nod.
"That's it?" Brian asked. "I asked, and you say okay?"
"Did you want me to argue?" Justin laughed. "Shit Brian, you've been doing your subtle and not so subtle manipulations for weeks now. I know you are the one who arranged for the emails and the lunch with Freidrich. I found the list of agents and I know you made some calls. And now this… Well, it worked. I'm staying."
Brian looked at him warily. "You aren't going to change your mind about this in a few days like you did with the wedding, are you?"
"Nope," Justin grinned. "The marriage proposal, the house, all of that… that wasn't you. This, on the other hand, is definitely classic Kinney: subtle manipulations accompanied by the grand gesture. I'm just glad you used it to keep me this time instead of push me away."
Brian smirked as he stepped up to Justin and pulled him into his arms. "You think you know me so well?"
"I'm on to you, Brian Kinney," Justin grinned and kissed Brian hard.
"So if I tell you that I don't want to sell the house, you would already know that?" Brian whispered in Justin's ear and felt his lover tense, and not from desire. "What?"
"Well, I had mom put it on the market," Justin said sheepishly.
Brian laughed. "I guess you don't know me as well as you thought," Brian teased. "Unless you've accepted an offer, you can just take the damn thing off the market. You can take yourself off the market as well."
Justin pulled back and studied Brian's face. "Maybe I don't know you as well as I thought. What the hell does that mean?"
Brian huffed. "It means, you twat, that I want the wedding. I want all those useless wedding gifts we can return so that we can buy better shit. I want our personal finances and possessions so legally entangled that we'll never be able to figure out whose is whose. I want all that fucking romantic bullshit. And you can't blame it on the bombing this time."
Justin shook his head to wake himself up, or dispel the illusion. No, this was definitely the Brian he knew and loved. Who else would propose quite like that. "You're serious?"
"I found I didn't mind all that shit before," Brian said with tongue in cheek. "And if it keeps us from ever doing this leaving me shit again, I'm all for it."
"Okay," Justin smiled. "I'll marry you. And we'll live in our castle and I'll paint my paintings while you build your empire."
"That's more like it," Brian said.
"You always get your way, don't you?" Justin laughed, his heart bubbling over with joy.
"When the rest of you twats stick to the plan I do," Brian said. "Now come on, bend your ass over that sofa. I want to celebrate. We have to hurry, though because we have to pick up Gus before lunch. He's going to the zoo with his two dads."