Tricky finally gets to come home before he and Gus say goodbye for the summer; the boys come to a mutual decision regarding their relationship.

Early the Next Morning

At precisely 7:00 a.m., Justin knocked on the door to Dr. Thompson's practice, Gus jiggling impatiently beside him as he bounced lightly on one foot and then the other. He couldn't recall the last time he had voluntarily woke up at this early hour, but he knew when he and Gus had gone to bed last night that the little boy would be raring to go bright and early, so he wasn't surprised when he had felt a nudging on his upper arm at 6:30 this morning.

The fact that he had left his cellphone turned on but they hadn't received any calls was a good sign; that must mean that Tricky had continued to hold his own and hopefully improve through the night. He silently hoped that Brian hadn't had a disastrous night, but between his horrendous sleeping conditions and his poor sleeping accommodations something told him his partner probably hadn't slept at all last night. As he and Gus heard a deadbolt being slid back and the handle turning, he vowed to make sure Brian felt all warm and cozy later tonight when everyone was back home and things were back to normal; at least as normal as they could be with a rambunctious little boy and a barrelhouse of a dog staying with them.

Dr. Thompson appeared in the opened doorway, flashing a nod and a sheepish smile at them over his somewhat tousled appearance. "Sorry for looking like I just got up - but I DID just get up," he admitted as Justin smiled back at him over his homespun humor. "Come on in."

Justin nodded as he and Gus walked inside. "How's Tricky doing, Doc?"

The doctor slowly led them over to the door separating the waiting area from his examination room as he told them, "Well, I checked in on him about two hours ago and he and his 'guardian' were doing just fine; you'll see what I mean when you see them," he told Justin mysteriously with a smile as they walked toward the door. He turned around to place his index finger across his lips for the universal sign to be quiet as he slowly opened the door and they followed him inside to the examination room. It was in the shape of an "L" with the holding kennel off to the left where it was obscured from easy view. As they rounded the corner, however, Justin had to bite back a laugh as Gus giggled softly; Brian had somehow managed to unlock the kennel door sometime during the night and was now fast asleep on his back with his head lying on Tricky's side as a makeshift pillow; the aforementioned stinky blankets were tangled up all around his feet, and his left hand was curled around Tricky's injured paw, right above the wound. As was typical of Brian with his slightly deviated septum, his lips were slightly parted as he snored softly, oblivious to being a public spectacle. The stuffed cow that was Tricky's favorite was clutched in Brian's hand. As they approached closer, Tricky's eyes opened at the sound and he began to thump his tail excitedly.

Justin knew it was just a matter of seconds before Brian woke up, so he quickly reached inside his jacket pocket and retrieved his cellphone; hurrying to hold it up, he quickly snapped a couple of shots as Gus peered up at him gleefully, the two of them grinning at each other like two co-conspirators.

Tricky's tail pounded even more enthusiastically when the doctor bent down to unlatch the metal sliding pin holding the door closed as he struggled to rise from his position of lying on his side; he not only succeeded in doing so, but he managed to throw Brian's head off his body at the same time as it hit the concrete none too gently.

"Wha...?" Brian groused as he awakened and found himself staring up into a set of big, dark-brown eyes before he was promptly pelted with saliva raindrops from Tricky's open, panting mouth. "Shit," he muttered as he turned his head away from the source of the assault and wiped the moisture away with the back of his hand in disgust. "He's back to normal all right."

Justin laughed at him in amusement. "Care to explain how you wound up inside Tricky's kennel last night? You could have told me you needed your ID tag and I would have brought it with me along with your collar this morning."

Gus giggled as Brian glared back at Justin, the fuck you being broadcast to his partner loud and clear.

"Just give me a minute to get out of this prison first," he muttered as Tricky threatened to run him over. For just a second, he wished that the dog was still out of it, but he quickly quashed that down, knowing he didn't wish that at all. Despite the dog's over-the-top exuberance he had to deal with all the time, he would much rather endure the typical Tricky torment than witness the pain and sorrow his son had to go through yesterday after the dog had been injured.

A sudden mooing noise immediately erupted as he placed his hand down on the floor of the kennel to brace himself and he turned red with embarrassment as he realized he was holding Tricky's infamous stuffed cow in his hand.

Justin placed his hand over his mouth to keep from laughing, but Gus had no such reservations regarding his curiosity. "Daddy, what are you doing with Tricky's toy?" he asked in a tone of voice reminiscent of a teacher talking to a recalcitrant child. "Give that to him right now."

Justin DID snort in amusement then; even the doctor peered over at him with a smile on his face as he reached over to retrieve some white medical tape and a piece of white gauze bandage from a nearby stainless steel table. "Hold on just a minute and Tricky will be all set to go," he told Gus as he squatted down by the kennel's door. "If you come out for a second, Brian, I can unhook his IV."

"Gladly," Brian groused as he placed the cow down like it was a dead rat and wiped his drool-coated hand on his pant leg; for once he wasn't too concerned about getting his expensive pants dirty. They already smelled like a combination of antiseptic wipes, dog shit and piss anyway and would be on their way to the cleaners for a thorough dry cleaning before he ever even considered putting them on again.

Crawling the couple of steps over to the door, he turned around to Tricky to say in a commanding voice, "Stay!" before he reached up on the outside of the large metal cage and began to pull himself out; not before he managed to hit his head on the top of the cage door, however.

"Ow!" he yelled as he pulled himself all the way out and the doc took his place just inside the kennel to remove the IV. He stood up next to Justin and his son, who both looked remarkably refreshed and well-rested unlike him. "Sleep well?" he whispered loudly to Justin as he bent to speak in his ear.

Justin grinned as he watched the doctor pick up Tricky's injured paw and examine it; the wound was now bandaged and the foot looked like it wasn't nearly as swollen as it had been before. "Like a baby," he told Brian as he turned his head to peer up at him, his eyes twinkling. "Didn't even notice you were gone with Gus keeping me company on your side of the bed."

"I'll remind you of that tonight when we're alone," Brian huskily half threatened/half promised him as Justin licked his lips playfully at him. "How's it look, Doc?" Brian asked a little more loudly as the doctor backed up to emerge from the cage with his supplies.

The doctor nodded as Tricky slowly placed weight on the foot and took a couple tentative steps; he seemed to be favoring it slightly, but other than that he appeared to be in fairly good spirits. He wagged his tail furiously as Gus climbed into the cage without hesitation and threw his arms around his neck to bury his face in the soft, thick blond fur.

"I'm so happy you're okay, Buddy!" he cried out in relief as Tricky wagged his tail furiously at the attention. "You can go home now!" He glanced up at Brian worriedly. "He CAN go home, can't he, Daddy?"

Brian peered over the doctor nearby, who smiled and nodded. "Looks like we have the green light," he told him.

Gus frowned at his father's choice of words as Brian chuckled over his puzzled expression. He grinned over at Justin as he told his son, "I mean, yes, Sonny Boy, it's time to take Cujo home." This time the vet gave him a strange look as he shrugged. "Nickname; long story."

The vet nodded, still curious about the moniker but choosing to let it slide; after all, over all the years he had been in practice, he had pretty much heard it all when it came to pet names, from a horse named Pinky to an iguana named Lulu. As Tricky happily walked out of his metal cage, the doctor advised, "Make sure he takes it easy for the next few days - no strenuous activity. And he'll need at least one more antivenin shot in thirty days. He might need more than one; he's a hefty dog. If he develops any more swelling, becomes lethargic or seems to be in a great deal of pain, I need to see him back here ASAP. But I'm confident he's on the mend now."

Brian snorted. "Doc, no strenuous activity? Hefty? You should have been a comedian instead of a vet." He sighed. "We'll try - but Cujo here doesn't know the meaning of the word relax. You don't have any sedative-laced dog snacks lying around, do you?" he asked hopefully.

The vet grinned. "Sorry... Fresh out." He smiled as the dog walked up to Brian and nudged his right hand with his nose, trying to get him no doubt to stroke the top of his head and get some more attention; he somehow had managed to procure his cow again, which he held firmly in his jowls. "He seems to be as attached to you as you are to him; I've never had anyone spend the night with their pet in the animal's cage before."

Justin snickered as Brian elbowed him in the waist. "I just thought it would be easier to keep an eye on him that way, that's all," he grumbled a little self-consciously. He knew Justin wasn't buying that for a second, but he was trying to retain just a modicum of dignity anyhow; that was hard to do, though, when he smelled like one of the animal exhibits at the Pittsburgh zoo - one of the smellier ones. He sniffed his shirt and wrinkled his nose, suddenly feeling like he was lower than elephant dung. "Justin, you drive," he told his partner. "That way we can stop at a car wash on the way home and I can hose myself off."

Justin laughed as he clamped a hand on Brian's shoulder and gave it a squeeze. He leaned in to whisper in Brian's ear so no one else could hear, "Don't worry, I'll help wash it all off you when we get home and make sure you're squeaky clean." He nipped at his lower earlobe playfully.

Brian turned his head to whisper back, "Damn straight you will or I'll spend the night in that nice, big bed in your studio - alone and dirty."

"I like dirty... Sometimes," Justin responded with a sly smile.

"Well, you'll just adore me on the way home, then," Brian said dryly as he held his arm up to take a whiff of his underarm. He crinkled his nose in disgust; just as he thought. He smelled worse than shit - dog shit.

Justin wriggled his nose as well when he got a good whiff just then of Brian's 'adorableness.' "Yeah," he responded with a grimace. "I'm getting a good preview of it right now. I suggest driving home with all the windows open, too."

Brian grinned evilly as he wrapped his arm around Justin's waist to pull him even closer so his partner could get an even better smell. He grinned as Justin rewarded him with a long-suffering look and squirmed in his grasp before he finally let him go and reached over to tousle his son's head affectionately. "Ready to go, boys?" he asked all involved.

"Yeah!" Gus cried out in delight as he patted Tricky on the head. "We're busting out of here, Boy!" he told him gleefully, lightly jiggling up and down in excitement.

"Uh, uh, uh," Brian gently scolded him as he reached down to grasp Tricky by the collar. "He needs to take things slow, Sonny Boy," he told him. "Justin, did you bring his leash? Otherwise, I know that dog; as soon as we let go of him outside, he'll be gone faster than you can say frog on a hot rock."

Justin eyed him warily before he burst out laughing. "Where did you pick that up from?"

Brian shrugged. "Hey, we've been out here too long now; I'm being turned against my will into a hick. Now round up the young'n and the critter and let's hightail it out of here back to the palace; no offense, Doc," he assured the vet as Thompson smiled.

"Don't worry," the doctor assured him. "You'll get my bill in the mail soon."

Later that Evening...

"Ah," Brian sighed as, still slightly damp from the shower, he fell back onto his and Justin's bed, luxuriating in the soft feel of the sateen sheets and the memory foam mattress underneath him, his eyes closing in bliss. Except for the one time when he had spent the night in jail after being pulled over with Michael and Ted, last night had been the worst night of non-sleep he had ever experienced; the concrete floor of the kennel area had made him feel achy all over. After an obscenely-long time spent under the rainforest shower head and a sensuous fuck with his favorite - and only - partner, however, the entire sordid experience was slowly ebbing away now. That is, if only Justin could quit teasing him about it. No sooner had they come home than his partner had commandeered one of Tricky's play toys and had been using it to torment him over and over again. Finally, though, after coming close to fucking his brains out and with both Gus and Tricky firmly ensconced in Gus's racecar bed for the night, apparently Justin, too, was succumbing to the harrowing events of the past twenty-four hours as they both lay there quietly, relishing in some much-needed solitude.

His eyes flew open, however, a few seconds later as another squeak sounded from the other side of the bed. "Justin, I swear if you squeeze that damn pork chop one more time I'm going to rip the squeaker out of it and ram it down your throat!" he told him without turning his head to look at him; he could see the toy being waved teasingly in the air above his head out of the corner of his eye as he sighed. "For the last time, I am NOT a dog!" he growled as he heard a couple more squeaks and then lunged for the offensive instrument. Justin, however, was quicker than he was, having just enough time to stuff it under his body out of Brian's reach as he lay down on his back, eyes twinkling back at Brian with a goofy grin on his face as he held up both hands to show they were now empty.

"Aaargh!" Brian sputtered in frustration as he flopped down on his side of the bed, apparently in defeat. That was just long enough to deceive Justin into thinking he had once more given up before he attacked, twisting his body to flop on top of his partner's as he began to tickle him mercilessly, right at his waist where he knew he was the most vulnerable. Justin shrieked and laughed as his hands clawed at Brian's shoulders for purchase, trying to wrestle his partner's larger body away unsuccessfully.

"Stop it!" he choked out in between gales of giggles and laughter. The pork chop squeaked periodically under his back as he rocked from side to side in a vain attempt to push Brian off him, but it was no use. "Asshole! Mangy dog! Heel!"

Brian appeared horrified at the insult before he reached under Justin and managed to yank the obnoxious toy that looked like a marbled pork chop out from under his partner's body and fling it across the floor, well out of Justin's reach. Only when he knew he could no longer be tortured with its squeaking did he let up on his attack, capturing Justin's hands in his own and pinning them to either side of his partner's body as he draped himself over his smaller frame and his legs tangled firmly with his.

Their faces were inches apart as Justin's chest rose up and down from their exertion; as Brian gazed down into the impish, flushed face of his lover, his eyes sparkling back at him playfully, he couldn't help thinking how incredibly lucky he was to have such a beautiful man that was so deeply devoted to him and to his son. His previous expression of pretend aggravation and playful aggression quickly dissolved into something tenderer as he gazed into Justin's eyes for a few seconds before their lips came together for a gentle kiss that slowly changed into a passionate one. Of course, that wasn't so unusual where they were involved; even after all this time, Justin was his favorite aphrodisiac and always would be.

They finally parted for some much-needed air as Brian pulled his head back to look down into Justin's eyes; he broke off his clasp of his partner's right hand to brush back some hair from Justin's forehead, threading the soft locks through his fingers, another one of his favorite indulgences as he admitted, "Yesterday was pretty fucking scary - and not just because I had to sleep in my designer clothes."

Justin smiled as he reached up with his free hand to place his palm against Brian's cheek and slowly stroke the slightly-stubbled skin. "I know," he admitted, his face growing serious. He peered softly into Brian's eyes as he said, "But we came through it, just like we always do when we're together."

Brian caught Justin's hand in his as he brought it up to his lips to kiss the knuckles. "We always DO perform better together, Sunshine," he told him with an evil gleam in his eye. "In fact, we're the epitome of togetherness."

Justin grinned as Brian held their hands against his chest, both their hearts beating rapidly as one. "Oh, and how's that? It took us long enough just to figure out what togetherness was; well, at least one of us, anyway."

Brian squeezed his hand tightly. "Well, I know now," he told him softly. "And I don't plan on us being anything BUT together for the rest of our lives. Does that meet with your approval, Mr. Taylor?"

Justin found himself tearing up over the implied sentiment about committing to a lifetime together; he couldn't think of anything he'd rather do than wake up in Brian's arms and go to bed with him every night after being made love to by this incredible man. "Yes," he whispered back as Brian nuzzled his head with his cheek and began to rain butterfly kisses all over his neck, his ears, his eyes, everywhere; he could barely think straight when Brian did that. It always surprised him with how sexual Brian was that it always seemed like the unexpected gentle touches consistently affected him the most. "I, I wouldn't have it any other way," he managed to gasp out as their groins rubbed together and Brian's hands began to explore everywhere, signaling one more round of lovemaking. As Brian began to demonstrate how much he loved him with the best way he knew how, Justin couldn't help thinking that the rest of their lives nearly wouldn't be long enough.

Two-and-a-Half Weeks Later

Tricky let out a joyous bark as he waited impatiently next to Brian in the kitchen; he wasn't quite sure what he had done to deserve this special treatment all of a sudden, but this business of enjoying a daily run with his favorite human (well, second favorite behind his little master, anyway) traveling along the dirt trail of a horseback riding path each day, followed by a breakfast consisting of an expensive, kibble dog food and three real meat jerky strips, was becoming a much-anticipated ritual. And the most amazing part of all was that he didn't even have to do any tricks for them - other than sitting up, that is and begging, which he was a consummate pro at. He just sat there while Brian carefully placed a strip on the tip of his nose and gave him the order that on the count of three he could raise his head and catch them in his mouth to eat it. He was having such fun! And Brian even let him swim in the big pool now!

He let out another impatient yip as Brian shushed him. "Quiet, Cujo, or you'll blow my cover!" he whispered loudly to the dog as he undid the top zipper of the outrageously large treat bag and took out the three strips. He was glad that both Justin and Gus were fairly late sleepers; it was a lot easier than having to explain his actions to them.

"Okay, okay," he grumbled as he closed the treat bag back up and placed it on one of the barstool chairs before he turned to observe his companion. "All right, you know the drill, Cujo; sit!" he commanded softly but firmly. The dog's eyes sparkled in eagerness and his tail swished from side to side on the hardwood floor as he promptly sat down and looked expectantly at Brian. "Stay," Brian warned him as he reached over and placed the first jerky treat on the tip of Tricky's nose crossways. "Okay...Now on the count of three, you can have it." Brian grinned. "One...two...five! Four! Seven! Three!" Instantly on the count of three, Tricky threw his head up in the air and lofted the treat just high enough to catch it deftly in his mouth on the way down; two bites and the treat was promptly swallowed.

Brian snorted. "Looks like you and Justin have something in common," he muttered in amazement; it was hard to know which male ate the fastest. "Okay, here's the next one." The procedure was then repeated again for the third strip until Brian held up his hands to show they were empty. "That's it, Buster," he advised. "No more until tomorrow." He quickly turned and grabbed the bag to once more stuff it inside the box of sugarless wheat cereal; he knew that both Justin and Gus hated any breakfast cereal that was considered 'healthy,' so it would be the last place they would suspect he was hiding such a large bag of treats for Tricky. "No more now until tomorrow," he told the dog as he reached down and affectionately scratched behind Tricky's ears; the dog's tail began to wag even more furiously at the attention as Brian quickly washed his hands and then dried them on a dishtowel just like he always did after their morning run. "Off you go," he said softly as he made a shooing type motion with his hands; Tricky immediately turned and trotted over to the back door, promptly disappearing through the large dog door flap that had mysteriously appeared a few days ago seemingly out of nowhere.

Justin and Gus had discovered it after leaving Brian alone with the dog for a few hours that day to go visit his mother and Debbie; Brian had downplayed the significance of it when they had returned, simply telling Justin that the sliding glass door extension made better sense energy wise than having to constantly open and close their regular doors each time Tricky wanted to go out into the fenced-in part of the yard, but Justin, of course, wasn't buying that for a second. Still, he had merely nodded and remained silent, letting Brian think he had deceived him into actually believing that.

Now as Brian walked over to make himself some coffee, he heard some soft shuffling from behind him and turned to observe his pajama-clad son walking bleary-eyed into the kitchen. He couldn't help smiling tenderly at him as he greeted him with, "Hey, Sonny Boy! What are you doing up so early?"

Gus rubbed his eyes as he walked up to his father, who placed the glass carafe on the burner and started it up before reaching down to scoop Gus up into his arms.

"Where's Tricky?" Gus asked with some concern; ever since the episode with the snake, whenever Tricky was gone for any length of time, it worried him even though both Justin and his father had assured him that the incident with the snake was a fluke and would probably never, ever happen again. "Is he here? He wasn't in bed with me."

"He's fine," Brian hastened to reassure him. "He just went out the dog door to do his business. Want some breakfast?"

Gus nodded sleepily as Brian gently deposited him down onto one of the counter chairs, walking over to pull out the orange juice from the refrigerator and pour his son a squat glassful. "Oats and Honey?" he asked Gus as the little boy nodded.

Gus waited for his father to pour him a bowl of cereal and take a few bites before he eyed his father curiously from his place next to him at the counter. "Daddy?"

Brian took a quick bit of his wheat toast with marmalade before he responded, "Yeah, Buddy?"

"You love Poppa like I love Tricky." It wasn't a question exactly. More like a declaration, Brian told himself silently as he remembered a similar sentiment after he had seen Justin for the first time in his black tux at the custom tailor shop. God, his beauty had taken his breath away that day in his suit! How he rued never getting the opportunity to see him wearing it on their wedding day - or experiencing the pleasure of taking it off him on their wedding night. He swallowed the lump of regret that suddenly appeared in his throat as he refocused on the present to softly agree, "Yes, Gus, I love Justin very much, just like you love Tricky." He knew it really wasn't the same, but to Gus it probably seemed like it was, so there really wasn't much point in trying to explain the differences to him.

Gus nodded thoughtfully. "I would marry Tricky if I could," he said unexpectedly as Brian stifled a laugh at the absurd statement. "That's what people do when they love each other, isn't it?"

Uh, Oh. Brian had a feeling he knew where this conversation was heading, but he didn't know a way to avoid it so he simply stated, "Well, that is one way that people show that they love each other, I guess." Even though the vast majority only do it out of a jaded sense of responsibility, tradition, or delusion, he couldn't help thinking.

"So why don't you want to marry Poppa?" Gus asked as he held his milk-coated spoon up in mid-air over the bowl and blinked his big, brown eyes at his father curiously.

There it was - the proverbial elephant in the room. "Uh..." For once Brian found himself at a loss for words. To Gus it was all so simple and so black and white, when he knew it was far from it. Or was it? Was it really that outrageous and unrealistic to think that one day he and Justin would marry? Would it be so bad to show their friends and family that they were exclusively committed to each other now through participation in an admittedly hetero-like ceremony and the sharing of rings - rings that he still kept for some reason even after Justin had left for New York? After all, he DID propose to him once.

"You said you love him," Gus pointed out as the dog door flap came to life and Tricky came bounding eagerly into the room; he stopped for a few moments to visit the water bowl, the water splashing everywhere as he lapped it up enthusiastically before he trotted over to Gus and nudged him under the hand lying on the little boy's knee. Gus stroked the dog's head as he waited for his father to answer. "You don't want someone else to come along and ask him to get married, do you? Marissa told me that could happen."

Brian frowned. "Marissa?"

Gus nodded. "Yeah, she goes to school with me. She's real smart."

"Gus..." Brian warned his son as he noticed him slipping a few pieces of the sugar-coated cereal to Tricky under the breakfast counter. "No food scraps, remember?"

Gus pouted slightly, but to Brian's amusement the dog quickly reversed gears as Tricky snatched up a green tennis ball lying nearby and trotted over to Brian, who felt the ball before he saw it with his hand under the table. Almost without thinking about it, he grabbed it and quickly lobbed the ball over toward the other side of the kitchen, Tricky's toenails skidding on the hardwood floor as he ran excitedly after it.

"Well, Daddy?" he heard his son say with just a hint of impatience in his voice.

"Well, what?" Brian replied obtusely, knowing full well what Gus was asking.

"What if someone else asks Poppa to marry him? What would you do then?"

Brian sighed, clearly uncomfortable with this line of questioning. He knew he needed to reassure his son somehow, though. "Gus, your Poppa isn't going anywhere. He loves me AND you, and would never think about leaving us. You don't have to worry about that at all." And he really believed that; he was confident enough now in his and Justin's love to be sure of that fact, and they had long ago given up the need to be with others. Making love without any physical barriers between them now was the most wondrous, mind-blowing feeling in the world, and now that he knew what it was like he couldn't imagine being with anyone else, nor would he want to be. So what was he afraid of? If he really DID think that wearing a symbol of their love for each other was so unnecessary, then why did he still have the damn rings?

But Gus was still not completely satisfied, just like most inquisitive children his age. "I wouldn't want anyone else to be my Poppa, Daddy. I love him. If you won't marry him, maybe I should to make sure he doesn't leave."

From his place out in the hallway, Justin smiled wistfully at Gus's heartfelt words and simplistic answer to his concerns. These past few years with Brian had been the happiest of his life, and he loved Brian more deeply than ever; he couldn't imagine ever being apart from him now. And yes, despite what he had told Brian that day in the loft, they didn't NEED the rings and the vows but he still craved them, still longed for them. And he was constantly amazed by the ways that Brian strived to make him happy; after all, the man had bought him a fucking mansion and had built him a state-of-the-art studio. The attention to detail he had put into its design had been amazing and absolutely perfect for him, proving just how well his partner knew him and how much he loved him. So yes, he would love one day to proudly wear that band of gold on his left ring finger and to introduce Brian not only as his partner but his husband. For now, though, he would have to try and be content with simply basking in the love that Brian showed for him every day.

He held his breath now as he waited for Brian's response; he was stunned when he heard him say, "Well, now, Sonny Boy, I don't know if I can let you do that. I might just have to marry him myself and let you find someone else. Besides, don't you think Tricky might get jealous if there's another man in the household back home? I bet he's used to getting all your attention up there, and if you marry your Poppa, he might not like that. And if he goes back with you, I would have to stay here because of my business and I would get really lonely without both of you."

Justin's eyes widened; he was still trying to get over the 'I might just have to marry him myself' part as he waited for Gus's response. Did Brian really mean that or was he just saying that to appease Gus?

"I didn't think about that," Gus said as Tricky came running up with the lime-green ball in his mouth and sat up expectantly next to Brian under the counter bar; when Brian didn't act quickly enough, he reached up and laid his front paw on top of Brian's knee until he looked down at him and rolled his eyes. Taking a moment to throw the ball again - this time causing it to skitter down the hallway as Tricky rushed after it - he turned to look at his son as Gus bit his lip in thought.

"You would really miss Poppa if he wasn't around," Gus decided. "Just like I would miss Tricky."

Brian nodded, relieved that his son understood. "I sure would," he said softly with just the hint of a smile. Just as much as I miss YOU when YOU'RE gone, he thought just a little sadly. But at least with Gus he knew his little boy would be back frequently and he would get to see him during their Skype conversations. It wasn't quite the same as being together in the physical sense of the word, but it did lessen the pangs of separation just a bit. He recalled how badly he had missed Justin when his partner had been in New York last year; providing him with a brand-new, contemporary studio where the stables once stood in a blatant attempt to keep the man he loved happy and remaining here at Britin, then, was an extremely small price to pay to have his partner back home where he belonged.

"Okay, then," Gus decided with a nod of his own as his lower lip jutted out defiantly. "But don't take too long, Daddy."

Brian grinned fondly at his son. "I'll do my best, Sonny Boy." He reached over to affectionately ruffle his son's hair as he said, "Now you'd better eat your breakfast before it all turns to mush," he advised as he took a sip of his now-warm coffee. As Gus nodded and dug into his cereal, Brian gazed out the kitchen window, lost deep in thought. A sudden, sharp yelp - Brian knew by now it was a happy, excited yelp, though, so he wasn't worried - erupted from the hallway as he turned to observe Justin walking into the kitchen to join them with Tricky close on his heels, ball firmly in his mouth; Justin's hair was slightly mussed up from sleep and he was wearing only a pair of loose-fitting, navy-blue cotton pajama bottoms that hung precariously low on his slender hips; Brian's heart did a slight lurch just like it always did when Justin entered a room as his partner walked up and placed his hands on his shoulders to bend down and briefly kiss his lips before reaching over to tousle Gus's hair.

"Hey, you two. You're both up early," he told them with a smile, making sure to pretend he hadn't heard any of their previous conversation as he walked over to pour himself a cup of black coffee.

"No, think again, Picasso," Brian responded dryly. "It's almost ten o'clock." Justin sat down next to his partner as Brian placed a hand on his thigh and gave it a squeeze. "Did I wear you out last night, Sunshine?"

Justin smiled back at him sweetly. "You always do that," he pointed out. "Just like I do that to you."

Gus gazed at the two men curiously. "Were you doing a lot of ex'cising in your room last night, Daddy?" he asked as he slurped up another spoonful of cereal, not quite able to get the word out just right.

The two men exchanged a meaningful look before Brian replied with a grin, "Yeah, we did. A LOT of exercising."

"I like to ex'cise, Daddy. Can I come up to your room tonight and 'exacise' with you?"

Justin giggled softly. "Well, Daddy? Can he?"

Brian gave him a warning glance as he told Gus, "I don't think that'd be a good idea, Buddy. We don't 'exercise' until after you go to bed. Besides, you do a lot of swimming with Tricky, so you don't need as much exercise."

To his relief, Gus nodded in acceptance as he finished up the last of his cereal. "Can we go swimming right now, Daddy?"

Brian sighed; his son seemed to be turning into a fucking fish. He wondered what he would do once he returned to Toronto soon. He had a pool up there, though; perhaps this wasn't any more unusual than what he was already used to. "Not just yet; I need to check my email first and make a few calls. Why don't you go upstairs and get dressed first? It shouldn't take very long."

"Why don't I fix a couple pieces of toast and I'll go out with you, Gus?" Justin volunteered as he scooted back from his chair. He flushed as Brian fixed him with a grateful smile and reached to briefly squeeze his hand in gratitude before he stood up and grabbed his partner's mug and Gus's bowl and spoon to take them over to the sink. Brian watched Justin take his son's hand and lead him toward the hallway to go help him change, lost deep in thought.

Two Days Later

Brian shut the back gate of the rental SUV with a relieved sigh. "I think that's all of it," he announced as Lindsay came up to stand beside him. He wiped his hands on his denim-clad thighs as Lindsay placed her hand on his shoulder. "One more thing and we would have had to leave Mel in town," he said with an exaggerated shudder.

"I could swear that dog is going home with a lot more stuff than he brought with him," Lindsay observed with amusement. Somehow from the time Tricky had arrived, he had managed to obtain a new memory foam, monogrammed dog bed, a couple of new scarves - one that said 'dog hero' on it and another that simply said "Cujo" - along with several new toys, including a brand new clone of the infamous, obnoxious stuffed "Moo Moo," as Gus liked to call it, not to mention a couple 40-lb. bags of the most expensive kibble dog food only available at pet food specialty stores. It was a good thing, then, that she and Mel, who was presently visiting some of her former colleagues at her old law firm, were driving back home to Toronto rather than flying. "I can't thank you and Justin enough for taking care of him when he was bitten, Brian; if anything had happened to him, Gus would have been heartbroken. I hope he wasn't too much trouble."

Brian snorted as he watched Tricky come scampering out of the house with Gus running along after him; the dog had some sort of pearlescent-type object trailing out of his mouth that Brian didn't recognize at first. When he did, however, his eyes darkened in dismay. "That damn dog! He's found my favorite anal beads!"

"Tricky! Come back here!" Gus shouted as he ran after him, but the dog merely ran around excitedly in circles, his tail held high as he took great delight in playing keep away from his young master. Lindsay laughed as Brian took off at a run straight toward the dog and fell with a sort of headfirst-slide-into-first-base motion as he lunged for the sex toy and came up empty, finding himself stomach down on the grass as Tricky barked boisterously in canine glee. Finally, Justin emerged from the house with the dog's retractable leash and a big Busy Bone, which caused Tricky to trot up and promptly drop his treasure in place of the edible treat as Justin clamped the leash onto his 'Superdog' collar before he could run off again.

Gus walked over to scoop up the drool-drenched object as he turned to eye his father in puzzlement. "What's this, Daddy?" he asked innocently as he examined the shiny set of three beads of different sizes.

Justin had the common decency to blush, Lindsay noted, but Brian merely smirked as he told his son, "It's one of your Poppa's favorite exercise toys, Gus. It's to do massages with when he's been working hard," he explained as he winked over at Justin. Gus turned the object over a couple of times before he shrugged and handed it to his father as Justin turned an even darker shade of red.

"I'd rather go swimming," Gus decided as he turned to his mother. "Can we get in the pool when we get home, Mommy?"

Lindsay sighed softly, similar in reaction to Brian's the other day as she said in resignation, "We'll see how warm it is when we get home, okay? Now we'd better get going so we can pick up your Mama and say goodbye to Grandma Debbie and Grandma Jennifer, okay? Say goodbye to Justin and your father, Honey, and let's get Tricky in the car. We have a pretty long drive ahead of us and it's getting late."

Gus nodded as he walked up to his father and Justin who were now standing side by side next to the car's passenger side door, which was open. Justin still held firmly onto Tricky's leash, making sure the dog didn't leave them with one final escapade before he could be placed into the car. Like Brian, he was enormously relieved that Tricky was pretty much recovered from the snake bite, but he was not going to take any chances that the dog could get away from them and cause any more havoc.

He felt a lump form in his throat as Gus approached them and he watched Brian reach out and scoop the boy up into his arms; he thought he saw Brian tear up slightly as he heard his partner say in a choked-up voice, "You come back and see us again soon, Sonny Boy; okay?" He saw him hug Gus close to his chest as the little boy reached around with his arms to hug his father's neck tightly for several seconds before Brian pulled back to give his son a kiss on the cheek. His partner looked down at Tricky then, whose luminous eyes were staring up at him; his tail began to swish back and forth on the ground as Brian shook his head at him. He couldn't believe his ears when he heard Brian add more softly, "Both of you."

As Brian lowered his son gently to the ground, Gus walked over to Justin, who knelt down to hug the child at face level, Gus repeating the same action with him as he wound his little arms around Justin's neck and nuzzled his cheek with a kiss.

"Bye, Buddy," Justin whispered, his eyes glistening with tears of sadness over having to part with the child who had become a son to him. "We'll see you both again soon. And your father and I will call you tonight on the computer, okay? You have a safe trip back home."

Gus nodded as Justin guided Tricky over to the car's open door; just as Tricky was about to jump inside, Brian suddenly called out, "Wait a minute." Justin turned, Tricky sitting up by his side, as Brian walked over and knelt down in front of the dog. "How about a handshake for the road, partner?" he murmured as the dog obediently held out his paw and Brian shook it. "Take good care of our little man here, okay?" he asked as the dog suddenly gave him a long, slobbery lick on his face as Brian flinched in response.

Justin laughed at the annoyed look on Brian's face as he stood up and wiped the drool from his face with the back of his denim shirt. "Some things never change," he muttered as Justin unlocked his leash from the collar and the dog jumped inside. Gus followed directly behind him as he sat down in a booster seat.

Lindsay smiled at her two friends as she said her goodbyes as well and with a hug of gratitude to both of them, she settled in behind the driver's side and started the SUV. She noticed the slightly melancholy look on her oldest and dearest friend's face as she whispered through the open window, "They'll be back before you know it, Brian."

"That's what I'm afraid of," Brian muttered, but Lindsay wasn't fooled for one minute.

"I think your bark is worse than your bite, Mr. Kinney," she said as she grinned at Justin, who nodded. "I'll give your best to Mel," she added with a laugh. "See you."

Brian and Justin nodded as they waved to Gus in the backseat, Tricky's head sticking out the half-open window as they drove away. They heard the dog give out a couple of yips on the way out before they finally turned onto the main road and were soon out of sight.

"Well, I'm glad that's over, Sunshine," Brian commented, but his tone belied his statement; Justin thought he detected a distinctive sort of sorrow in his partner's voice.

"Now your life can finally get back to normal," Justin remarked, deciding to play along.

As they walked back into the house arm in arm, Brian snorted. "Sunshine, with both you and Cujo in my life, it will never, ever be normal." He stopped to turn Justin in his arms and place his hands on his shoulders to add softly, "And I wouldn't have it any other way."

One Week Later - Saturday Evening

Justin lay on his studio bed, deep in thought. Ever since he had heard Brian making that comment to Gus over the breakfast table about marrying him, he found that he couldn't get it out of his mind. Brian had nearly worn him out lately with the frequency and duration of their lovemaking, perhaps in an attempt to make up for lost time now that there were no interruptions. And the first place where Brian insisted on getting 'reacquainted' was on this new bed that he had made sure was installed in the far corner of his studio, complete with a large skylight overhead to allow more light into the room. It was just one more way in which Brian subtly showed how much he loved him.

He held his left hand up, envisioning what it would look like to see a special band of metal gleaming off the sunlight pouring in through the skylight. He curled his hand into a fist and dropped it to his side in frustration. Why did he keep torturing himself this way? What difference did it make if they had the official commitment of their love written down on a legal piece of paper or not or had the symbol of their love nestled snugly on his ring finger?

But somehow it did; oh, it didn't change his love for Brian at all, but it came down to pride. He was proud of how his and Brian's love had grown and evolved over the past few years; he was proud of his partner's accomplishments in the business world and how much of a great father he had become. He was proud of how Brian always stood up for his friends in so many ways without asking for any credit and how he held fast to his principles and didn't back down. And most of all, he was so fucking proud to be his partner, and he wanted everyone else to know how proud he was. And to him, the best and most visible sign to show that pride was with his wedding ring.

He turned on his side to pull open the nightstand drawer next to the bed, retrieving the object that he had discovered in Brian's top dresser drawer the other day when he was looking for some socks to borrow (once more he had used all of his own without taking the time to wash any, so he was rooting in his partner's drawers for some of his). He was stunned when he found the instantly recognizable box, opening it up to discover that both rings were still inside. He had swallowed the lump in his throat over the memories those rings evoked - both happiness as well as a certain degree of unfulfilled longing - as he had pulled the smaller band from its slot before placing the box and other ring back into Brian's sock drawer. Now, he held the ring up between his thumb and index finger so it hit the sunlight perfectly, causing a prism of color to bloom on the nearby crystal base of an impressionistic sculpture that he had purchased on a business trip to Boston a couple of months ago that he had currently displayed on a window ledge.

"Damn it, Brian!" he growled as he impetuously slipped it on his finger and held it up to admire it. "Why are you so stubborn?" Maybe I'll just have to take matters into my own hands and give you a little push, he thought as he reached over to retrieve his cell phone next to him on the mattress. He smiled with a mixture of anticipation as well as nervousness as he began to tap out his message...

Same Time - Brian's Attic Office

Brian was presently so absorbed in his review of his art department's newest campaign for the Thompson Electronics account that the pinging of his cell phone nearby in the silence startled him slightly. Since his son and Tricky had returned to Toronto, the house was almost too quiet; it was like going from a three-ring circus to a funeral visitation, and he found that in an odd way he missed some of the chaos that had constantly ensued around Gus and especially Tricky. But one thing he didn't miss were all the times he and Justin had tried to find some private time together, only to be interrupted time and time again by whatever the Crisis of the Day was. He had really missed being with him - in every sense of the word - and had practically been wearing him out lately trying to make up for lost time. Something told him, though, as he heard the familiar strains of the unique ringtone he had downloaded just for his partner's text messages as a joke - "Don't Let the Sun Go Down On Me - that Justin wasn't particularly complaining.

He smiled as he reached over to read the message: Too much work and not enough play makes Brian a dull boy; come and have dinner with me.

Brian punched in his reply: I am NEVER dull. But what's on the menu?

His cock twitched as he received the response he was hoping for: Me. Care to eat my ass?

Brian smirked as he tapped in: I'll be right there - don't start without me.

Hurry, was the prompt answer. It's getting really hot in here.

Brian grinned as he quickly shut his laptop down and scooted back from his seat. Patience was not one of Justin's strongest virtues, a fact for which he was profoundly grateful.

Five Minutes Later

Brian opened the door to the aroma of incense burning; Justin claimed that it helps him to focus on his painting, espousing some bullshit that using all of his senses heightened his creativity. All Brian knew was that whenever he lit some of it, it meant he was in for one hell of a fucking session with his beautiful, horny little spitfire which was just fine with him. A quick look around didn't find any obvious signs of his partner, but he could definitely tell he was there somewhere; over by the wall of windows that Justin always loved to paint by to take advantage of the sunlight that constantly washed the room with the perfect amount of natural light was a still-wet portrait he didn't even know Justin had been working on. He slowly walked over to admire it, instantly recognizing the subjects as his son and their own version of Lassie - aka Tricky the Super Dog. Gus and Tricky were kneeling on the front lawn, Britin in the background, as Gus hugged his dog close to him; the likenesses of both of them were astounding. What was even more incredible, though, was the detail Justin had put into the painting and the looks on their faces. As Brian studied the painting, as always he was amazed by his partner's talent; he could see every hair on Tricky's coat and the look of rapture on his son's face was caught so perfectly by Justin's mastery that his heart swelled with pride, almost as if HE had painted the portrait instead. I know the perfect spot for this, too, he thought to himself. Even if he had to force Justin to accept payment for it, this had to go in his office where he could gaze upon it at will. It was probably the best portrait Justin had ever painted of his son, and that was saying a lot because Gus was one of his partner's favorite subjects (after himself, of course). For now, though, there was another, more urgent matter he needed to attend to.

"Justin?" he called out softly, knowing he would receive an answer and also where it would come from.

"About fucking time," was the saucy reply as Brian grinned at the double entendre; as he walked toward the back of the studio to the white accordion partition separating Justin's workspace from the rest of the room, he began to unbutton his jeans in delicious anticipation as he quickly pulled his wife beater off his body, not wanting to waste any more time. If he knew his partner - and by now, he knew him as intimately as any man could - he knew he was definitely overdressed at the moment. Still, as he rounded the corner, his pulse began to race at the sight of Justin lying unclothed on his back, his hair tantalizingly splayed out on the navy-blue pillowcase and his knees bent, feet planted on the mattress as he stroked himself with his right hand in a slow, languid and oh-so-sexy motion.

Justin turned his head to peer over at his lover, knowing how much pleasuring himself turned Brian on; even still clothed in a faded pair of Diesel jeans, the intense stare Brian was giving him was making him hard as a rock and he knew Brian was feeling the same way. "Just in time," he whispered in a raspy sort of voice.

"I thought I told you not to start without me, young man," Brian told him as he opened his jeans and pushed them down his long legs, displaying nothing on underneath; a fact that did not escape Justin's attention as his gaze swept down past Brian's bronzed face to his flat chest and belly and then on down to his cock standing at attention just for him.

Justin flushed over the overt look of desire on his partner's face as their eyes locked on each other hungrily. He watched mesmerized as Brian's Adam's apple bobbed and he swallowed hard at the sight of his partner's tongue flicking out to wet his lips; he felt the old, familiar thrill as Brian climbed onto the bed and, lying on his side, stared into his eyes for a moment longer before his left hand came out to slowly trace a light, almost butterfly-type caress down the middle of his chest with his fingertips. The expression on Brian's face was a surprise - the easily-recognizable desire and love for him reflected there, certainly, but there seemed to be something else he couldn't quite identify, almost a vulnerability of some kind. "Brian?" he whispered, puzzled, as he reached up to place his hand on Brian's cheek and stroke it, feeling the slight stubble under his touch. "What is it?"

Brian gazed into the brilliant blue eyes, so wide and expressive in their concern for him, and his love bloomed anew for this man who knew him so well. He shook his head, however, with a soft, dismissive smile. "Nothing," he reassured him with a whisper. "Everything's fine," he added as he caught Justin's right hand in his own and grasped it firmly. He brought the hand up to his lips and softly kissed the knuckles before letting it go to gaze into his partner's eyes, finding his thoughts dwelling once more on his conversation earlier in the summer with his son. Gus was right - Justin loved him deeply, of that he had no doubt, as he loved him - but would there come a time when Justin attracted the attention of some other man who could give him maybe not what he said he needed but perhaps what he wanted? And if so, was he prepared for the enormous, intense pain he would feel when he saw someone else take him away from him?

Of course he already knew the answer to that question. No, he would never, could never be prepared for that time, nor was he willing to even risk the possibility of losing his soulmate. He had been giving it a lot of thought - had found himself thinking about it time and time again since Gus had first broached the subject - and had finally come to a decision on a plan of action, one he was about to spring on his unsuspecting partner.

He half-climbed, half-twisted his body so he was draped over his lover's as his partner instinctively opened his legs up wider to allow him access; keeping his elbows on the mattress to prevent most of his weight from bearing down on him, he gazed down into Justin's eyes, their lips so close he could feel Justin's ragged pants against his mouth.

"Justin..." he whispered before he slowly, almost painfully met his lips for a kiss that was languid, surprising unhurried, and oh-so-tender - and also totally uncharacteristic of their normal lovemaking. The kiss became deeper, more passionate, more heartfelt as Brian's tongue slowly swiped across Justin's lower lip almost reverently a few moments later before Justin's heart exploded with love and his mouth parted to allow him sweet access.

It would be a couple of minutes before they broke apart, both men's pupils darkened with desire and beads of sweat sprinkling their foreheads, even though they had done nothing yet that would qualify as extreme exertion. Justin frowned slightly at the atypical expression on Brian's face - still loving but now almost hesitant; once more his mind began to race with worry. As Brian began to pepper soft kisses on his neck and his shoulders he used his hands to brace themselves on both sides of Brian's head and make him look him in the eyes. "All right, Brian; what's going on?"

As usual, the Brian Kinney Operating Manual sprang to life as his partner answered flippantly, "It's called fucking, Sunshine; an activity that I believe you instigated by the way." He started to resume his kissing, but Justin once more forced his head back up to look him in the eyes as Brian sighed in resignation. He knew it was coming; he had just hoped he could delay it just a bit longer before he had to confront it.

"No, it's not just fucking, Brian," his partner told him, his lips pursed firmly together in determination. "Something's on your mind and I want to know what it is. Until you tell me, we can just forget the fucking."

Brian locked gazes with his stubborn partner until, the battle of wills broken, he nodded as he twisted off his partner's body just long enough to reach down and snag his jeans from the floor. Justin watched in puzzlement, afraid for just a moment that Brian was irritated enough that he would just get up and leave, until he noticed him rummaging around in one pocket and then the other until he pulled out what he was looking for - a small, maroon, velvet box.

Justin's eyes widened as Brian, lips curled under like a little boy, sat up in the bed and looked over at him like he was going to an execution, clearly nervous.

"What... What are you doing with that?" Justin whispered, his heart pounding.

"You know what it is," Brian told him softly. "Come over here. I want to talk to you."

Now it was Justin's turn to lick his lips anxiously as he scooted up to place his back against the contemporary metal headboard of the bed; he could feel the heat of Brian's thigh against his while he watched in rapt anticipation as Brian gave him a shy sort of smile before he slowly opened the top of the jewelry box. He could hear a soft gasp of stunned surprise before Brian turned to him to say, "It's gone. What the fuck?" Just then, his eyes flickered down to Justin's left hand resting on his thigh and there was his answer - the smaller of the two bands was currently wrapped firmly around his partner's left ring finger, just like it belonged there. And he had to admit - it looked pretty damn good and to his surprise made his heart leap with both pride and happiness. Putting the jewelry box down beside him, still open, he reached over to lightly run his fingers over the metal band before he looked into his partner's eyes, which were wide with an inexplicable emotion.

"What... When...?" He sputtered out in confusion. All of sudden, even though he was renowned for his prowess of speech in winning over advertising clients, he found himself almost mute as he struggled to formulate the right words. Fortunately for him, however, his partner didn't have that problem at the moment.

"What... It's called a wedding ring. When... a couple of days ago when I was looking for some clean socks." He saw Brian smirking knowingly at him over that last part; how many times had he done that before? "I guess you didn't hide it that well this time, did you?"

Brian shook his head in self-recrimination. "I was in a hurry the other day and I guess I didn't cover it back very well." He grinned. "Normally I stuff it inside that pair of hideous wool Tartan socks you bought me a couple of years ago as a gag gift for my birthday; I know you wouldn't be caught dead wearing those." He paused for a few seconds before explaining almost in embarrassment, "I had the box out the other day when I was doing some thinking and I guess I got careless when I was putting it back away. I think it was when Gus called and I was in a hurry to come to the phone."

Justin nodded. "Well, I'm glad you were 'careless,' then," he admitted softly. He squeezed Brian's hand as he asked, "Brian, why didn't you tell me you had kept the rings all this time?"

Brian averted his eyes, still uncomfortable with this sort of conversation, even with Justin. But for once, just this time, it was crucial that he laid it all out on the line. He turned to peer over at his beautiful partner as he admitted, "I just didn't have the heart to return them."

Justin frowned as he pressed further, "Why? We had called off the wedding; we had both agreed that we didn't need the rings or any other symbols of our love to prove the way that we felt about each other."

Brian relished in the warmth of his partner's hand as he replied, "Yeah, we did. But that didn't mean that I could just return them so cavalierly. They were our wedding rings, Justin. Our inscribed wedding rings. Even if I wanted to return them - and I couldn't since they were custom made - I wouldn't have."

Justin furrowed his brows. He had been so intent on admiring the band of metal and then placing it on his finger he had never bothered to even think about an engraved inscription; after all, that would not be like Brian at all. But then again, so wasn't buying him a wedding ring, proposing, and gifting him with this mansion of a house. Was it true, though? Was this all not something Brian would ever do? Or was it possible his partner had been evolving, just like he had been?

"Go on," Brian told him softly, almost awkwardly, feeling the momentous importance of this moment. "Read it."

Justin couldn't take his eyes off Brian as he slowly slid the ring from his finger, feeling an inordinate sense of loss even though he was wearing it almost under false pretenses. Holding up the ring so it reflected off the soft glow of a nearby bedside lamp, he finally shifted his gaze to the ring and turned it at one angle and then the other until he could finally read what it said inside: The Beginning of Forever.

His eyes misted over as he whispered, "I... I don't know what to say." He couldn't help staring at the words, so sentimental, so romantic.

"You can tell me why you were wearing that just now - and if you really meant what you said to me when we said goodbye," Brian told him softly. He felt the painful lump in his throat even now; that day they had had to part when Justin went to New York was one of the worst days of his life. If Justin hadn't left while he was still asleep, despite his words of encouragement to him he would have never let him go. It was all he could bear just to wake up that morning and not find his partner lying in his arms. It had felt so cold then - so fucking cold. Now, however, as he felt Justin's leg brushing against his and reaffirming that he was, indeed, back where he belonged, he knew he would never have to feel that way again. "Tell me, Justin," he urged him.

Justin glanced down at the ring in the palm of his hand, feeling the cold smoothness and heaviness of the metal against his skin. He bit his lower lip a little nervously as he raised his gaze to peer into Brian's eyes as he answered truthfully, "Yes, I meant what I said before when I told you we didn't need any rings or vows or any other signs of commitment from each other." To his surprise he thought he saw just a moment of disappointment on his partner's face before he added, "But I want that, Brian; I want everyone to know how proud I am to be your partner and how much I love you. And how special you are to me and to all our friends and family. I want everyone to look at this ring and feel so damn jealous that I was the one that captured your heart." He licked his lips nervously, knowing now was not the time to be deceptive but afraid of what his lover's reaction would be. "I... I heard what you said to Gus that day - in the kitchen."

"In the kitchen?"

Justin nodded. "Gus was asking you about why we weren't married if we loved each other like he did Tricky."

Brian sighed. "You heard that?"

Justin nodded again. "Yeah. Brian, did you mean what you said about marrying me that day?"

"Well, I have kind of gotten used to having you around all the time," was the flippant reply.

But Justin would have none of that as he eyes flashed in aggravation. "Don't be glib with me, Brian! Tell me what you really want! How you really feel! Were you just spouting that nonsense for Gus's sake to satisfy him? Or did you really mean it?"

Justin held his breath until he watched Brian reach over after a few, tense seconds and take the ring out of his palm, feeling a ticklish sensation as his partner's fingertips grazed his skin. He watched, wide-eyed, as Brian took his left hand in his, bringing the ring to his lips to kiss it, before he reached over and slowly but surely slid the metal band down his left ring finger and placed Justin's hand down gently on his stomach. He then reached over and retrieved the jewelry box lying next to him and plucked out the remaining ring, dropping the box back onto the mattress before handing the ring to Justin almost shyly.

Instantly understanding what he was being instructed to do and his heart soaring, Justin took the ring as he, too, brought it up to his lips to kiss it gently before he reached over and grasped Brian's left hand with his, using his spare hand to smoothly slide the larger band down Brian's ring finger in an exact duplication of his partner's action. Unlike Brian, however, he continued to clutch Brian's hand as his eyes lifted to meet his. "Are you sure?" he asked him, needing to know and realizing that Brian would be truthful with him just like he always had been.

To his joy, Brian smiled as he nodded. "When you do want forever to begin? Name the date."

But Justin surprised him slightly by shaking his head. He understood, however, when his partner twisted his body and moved to straddle his legs, his paler limbs contrasting dramatically with the navy-blue satin sheets as he placed his knees on either side of Brian's thighs as he sat and peered down at him. "That can wait... Until we celebrate."

Brian reached up to grasp Justin's upper arms to help brace him as his partner - now fiancé - leaned down to kiss him. Just before he could, however, Brian murmured against his lips, "Just promise me one thing, Sunshine."

"Anything," was the breathless reply as he purposely squirmed on Brian's legs. "But hurry - I'm horny as hell."

"No more mooing while we fuck."

Two Weeks Later - Epilogue

Brian was lying lazily on Justin's bed, his legs crossed at the ankles as he smoked a joint and watched the wispy tendrils of smoke rise into the air. Since he and Justin had become 'unofficially' engaged a few weeks ago, he found that nothing had really changed. He was still the same, Justin was still the same - in fact, his talented partner was busy at the moment after a round of fucking working on his newest commissioned work - a piece requested by the Pittsburgh Philharmonic Orchestra to go in the lobby of their newly remodeled cultural center; quite a prestigious commission, to Justin's credit and Brian's enormous pride. Yes, they were going to be married next spring - but for now, they carried on much as they had before. Brian did notice Justin stopping periodically when he didn't know he was watching to gaze down at the ring on his finger; and the only time he ever slipped it off was when he worked, not wanting to get it smeared with paint. The first time he had taken it off, Brian had noticed how torn he appeared over having to part with it as he carefully laid it down on his center island in the studio; the next day when Justin awoke, he found a delicate gold chain lying on his bed pillow when he returned from the shower, Brian long gone to work at Kinnetik. He knew instantly what it was for, though, and from then on whenever he had to remove it from his finger, it always found its way to the chain that he constantly wore around his neck near his heart.

"How much longer, Picasso?" Brian drawled from the bed. "My dick's about to fall off back here."

"Tell your dick that it will have to wait a few hours until I'm done painting."

"Cheeky twat," Brian retorted as he took another drag. He had already known the answer before he asked; nothing would pull Justin away from his work until he was done. Right up there with his passion for him was his dedication to his work. He wasn't the only one that was driven when it came to doing something right; while it could be frustrating at times, he also greatly admired that in Justin.

The ringing of the landline phone nearby brought him out of his reverie; to his consternation he had found out that when they moved out to Britin, they did not have a reliable cellphone signal at times, so they had been forced to keep a landline phone to ensure all business calls were received. The phone rang once, twice, three times before Brian dryly commented, "Oh, that's okay; I'll get the phone."

"Asshole," was the remark as Brian grinned and reached to pick up the receiver.


"Uh... Mr. Taylor?" A deep, female voice asked tentatively.

"No, it's Brian Kinney."

"Oh! Mr. Kinney! I didn't recognize your voice."

Brian rolled his eyes; that made two of them, because the voice was not familiar at all to him. He was about to ask who the fuck it was when the caller identified herself.

"This is Sandra Cranston, your next-door neighbor."

Brian could hear a clattering noise coming from the other side of the white partition and hoped Justin hadn't spilled a bunch of paint on the new hardwood floor as he replied, "Yeah, you're Sassy's owner."

"Sadie," Sandra told him.

"Yeah... Okay. The dog climber."

"Right," she said with a sort of snort. There was a brief hesitation before she continued, "Uh, Mr. Kinney, we have a slight problem."

"Oh? Did she get loose again? I haven't seen her around here, if that's what you're asking."

There was a short pause on the other end again before Sandra Cranston answered. "Uh, no, that's not why I'm calling."

Brian sighed. "Then how can I help you?" Were they going to have to play twenty questions or what? His neighbor's next words, however, made that unnecessary as her purpose became crystal clear.

"Mr. Kinney, how would you like an addition to the family?"


Chapter End Notes:

Thank you for reading Tricky's latest adventure! I do hope you enjoyed it. Something tells me he may be back at some point. And for those of you waiting for an update to "Heart's Desire," I apologize for the delay. I'll try to make up for it with a nice, long update next. Thanks again for all the support and the comments.:) And thank you, also, to Boriqua522 for being my beta on this story.