The C Word
"Michael somethingís wrong with Brian." Justin whispered in a hushed tone as he slid in the booth across from Michael.
"Have I. He nearly tore me a new one this morning for leaving the fucking cap off the toothpaste."
"Justin thatís not exactly weird for Brian."
"Then he apologized!"
"Okay, that is weird for Brian."
"Oh then he kissed me before he dropped me at school and the kiss it wasnít our ususal peck 'see ya later' he kissed me like he was saying Ďgoodbyeí! Justin added his voice suddenly cracking a bit. "What have you noticed?"
"He was acting kind of strange at Woody's last night too.
"Strange how? Justin moved in closer so Michael could keep his voice low as not to be picked up on Debís radar.
"Well he got kind of sappy..."
"Sentimental... you know." Justin nodded understanding the strangeness of using a word like sappy or sentimental to describe anything connected to Brian. "He told me he was glad I was in his life and that we would always be best friends....that he was glad Iíd found someone like Ben. At first I thought he was just drunk or high, which is when he usually says shit like that, but he wasn't he was totally sober and serious. Christ he didn't even drink last night. I should have known something was really wrong when Ted teased him about drinking water."
"He was like that when he got home."
"What'd he say to you?"
"He didn't say anything at least not in words." Justin's attention momentarily slipped off to the memory of the night before.
"Come on Justin what happened?"
"I was working on a drawing when he got home. He got ready for bed and asked me to join him and finish my work later. I barely got on the bed when he grabbed me and held me so tight in his arms I almost couldn't breath. Then he did the weirdest thing, well weird for Brian..." Justin was distracted by the memory again.
"What...what?" Michael shouted causing Deb to look there way.
"Michael...keep it down." Snapping back to reality Justin glanced up at Deb to see if she was looking their way..she was...so he waited to respond until she had returned her attention back to her customers.
"Nothing thatís what was so weird he just held me close we kissed a little and fell asleep. Then this morning he was an absolute bear."
"Isnít he always like that in the morning?"
"Sometimes when he's late or has a hangover and he wasn't running late."
"Did you ask him if something was bothering him?"
"Yeah, but as usual he said nothing just that he was tired."
"Maybe it has something to do with work? Michael took out his cell and dialed. "Hi Cynthia itís...yeah...uh what? Heís not? Vacation? No he didnít tell anyone. Did he mention where he was going? You noticed too? Yeah we have thatís why I called. Uh huh....hmmm. Okay. Yeah if I find out anything Iíll let you know." Michael ended the call his face conveyed to Justin that there was now tangible evidence that something was indeed off kilter where Brian was concerned.
"He didnít go to work today. Cynthia said he took the rest of the week off." Justin opened his mouth to ask the obvious question. Michael answered before he could ask. "No, he didnít tell her his plans only that he could be reached on his cell, but not today because heíd be out of reach."
"Michael he would have told me if he was going out of town."
"I know. Maybe he said something to Lindsey." Michael dialed her number on his cell. "Lindsey have heard from Brian today? He was. Did he say where he was going?"
Michael shook his head for Justinís benefit.
"Did he seem okay to you? Yeah Justin and I both noticed that too. Cynthia said he took the rest of the week off. That was our next move. Okay...yes we will. Bye."
"He was at Lindseyís?"
"She said he came by around 8am and took Gus to daycare for her."
"Did she think he was acting strange?"
"Uh huh she said he was kind of gooey?"
"Gooey? What the hell does that mean?"
"Itís a lesbian term for affection, I think?"
"Holly Shit Michael we need to find Brian!"
"You know it Boy Wonder." Michael grabbed his coat and slid from the booth. "Letís go check the loft."
"Deb I need to leave itís really important." Justin called out as he slid out of the booth
"Okay kiddo and youíll both let me know whatís going on with Brian when you find out."
Justin and Michael gave each other a shocked look and then stared back at Deb.
"Youíre surprised?" Deb gestured with her hands as if her super hearing should be of no surprise to them.
The two men looked at each other again shrugged their shoulders and exit the diner.
Michael and Justin enter the loft. Justin callís out for Brian and is not surprised when no one answers.
"He must have taken a taxi or got a ride." Michael said as they entered. "Letís look around see if anything is missing."
They both begin to search for clues starting in the bedroom.
Justin starts with the closets, Michael begins opening drawers.
"His suitcases are still here, all of his suits, shoes except a pair of sneakers and his gym bag." Justin reported.
"Doesnít look like anything is missing except a pair of sweats. Good thing heís so anal you can tell by the empty spots in the drawerís if anything is missing."
Just then they heard keys in the door, it slid open and Brian walked in gym bag in hand looking tired and a bit pale.
"Brian!" Justin rushed to him arms open. Brian held out his hand to stop Justinís rush.
"Brian are you okay?" Justin took in the whole picture and slipped the gym bag from Brianís hand while touching him gently on the arm.
"Where the hell have you been? Weíve been worried sick." Michael fired off folding his arms across his chest as if Brian had been late for some important event.
"No." Brian answered Justin then turned to Michael "Iím going to lie down. Iíll answer your questionís later." Brian walked gingerly to the bedroom his face grimacing in pain pressing his hand against the lower right side of his abdomen, as if something might fall out, as he ascended the bedrooms stairs. Justin followed close behind placing his hands lightly on Brianís hips just to let him know he was there if he needed him.
"Let me help you." Brian stopped fumbling with the buttons on his jacket and dropped them to his sides allowing Justin to gracefully remove it. Once the jacket was removed Justin pulled back the covers. Brian laid his hand on Justinís shoulder for support as he lowered himself to the bed. When he was comfortably seated Justin knelt down to take off Brianís sneakers.
"I can do that."
"Itís okay Brian. Let me help...okay?"
Brian placed his hands at his sides and let Justin remove his shoes. With a bit of effort Brian lifted his legs onto the bed and laid back. Justin pulled the covers over him.
"Do you have medication for pain?"
"In the right hand pocket. I could use it about now."
Justin fished the prescription bottle out of the jacket pocket quickly checking the label.
"It says every four hours when was...."
"I havenít taken any yet."
Opening the bottle he handed Brian two pills. "Iíll get you some water." Justin went to the kitchen passing Michael at the bottom of the stairs. "Donít stare Michael heíll tell us when heís ready. At least we know where he is now."
Michael nodded and looked at his watch. "Shit Iíve got to get back to the store thereís a new shipment coming in." Michael went up the stairs to the bedroom leaned down and kissed Brian on the forehead. "Iíll come by later. Donít keep us in the dark too long okay?" Brian nodded sleepily. Michael turned gave Justin a quick hug and left.
Justin sat lightly on the edge of the bed and handed Brian a bottle of water. Sitting up slowly Brian popped the pills into his mouth and drank the entire bottle. "Thirsty huh?" Brian nodded, gave Justin a weak smile, kissed him then laid back down. Justin was about to leave him to sleep when Brian called his name.
"What do you need?"
"Lie down with me." Justin took off his shoes and crawled under the covers easing himself next to Brian. When he was settled Brian reached for his hand and interlaced his fingers with Justinís and fell asleep.
Three hours later Justin was awoken by the sound of the loft door closing. It had gotten dark and with no lights on he had to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. Then a light was turned on from the outer room.
It was Michael. Justin looked next to him. Brian was not in bed. Then he heard the shower turn on and breathed easier.
Justin came out to the living room where Michael had been calling from.
"No he went to sleep after you left."
"He didnít say anything?"
"No he asked me to lie down with him and fell asleep."
"Iím getting a really bad feeling about this. Is he still asleep?"
"No heís in the shower."
"You better go in there and make sure he doesnít fall over. He looked pretty out of it."
Justin walked to the bathroom door.
"While your in there see if you can find out why heís walking so funny."
"I think I already know why. I peaked under his sweats when he was asleep. Thereís a bandage on his abdomen. He must have had a procedure done."
"Fuck!" Brianís voice carried from the bathroom.
Justin pulled at the bathroom door. "Itís locked! He never locks the door ever! Brian are you okay? Open the door." Justin yelled half in panic through the locked door.
"Iím fine...just...Iíll be out in a minute."
Michael and Justin stand by the door Brian finally emerges he's wearing his black silk robe and matching silk pajama bottoms scrubbing his damp hair with a towel. He walks between them to the couch supporting his weight on the arm to lower himself.
"Well...come and sit down."
Justin and Michael do as ordered. Justin sits close to him on the couch Michael sits on the coffee table in front of Brian.
Taking a deep breath and blowing it out slowly Brian began.
"Sunday I found a lump on my right testicle. Went to the doc yesterday and they did a CT scan and told me they were 95% sure it was cancer."
Michael and Justin gasped at the same exact moment and both tried to speak. Brian raised his hand to silence them.
"Let me finish. The idea is to get to it as quick as possible so today I had a procedure done called an Orchiectomy which is a fancy way of saying they removed the testicle and sent it to the lab. Dr. Connors thinks I caught it in the early stages because the lump was very small. I won't know the lab results until Friday so that's all I can tell you for now. And I would appreciate you two not telling the whole world about it."
"Brian how can you be so calm about it?" Justin's voice cracked. He and Michael were both close to tears.
"Calm down ladies save the tears for my funeral."
"Brian don't even kid like that." Michael yelled.
"There's no sense in overreacting. I won't know the results for three days so why spend my time worrying about it now?"
"What if..." Michael began to ask but Brian cut him off.
"Iím not into what ifís Michael. When the results are in then Iíll find out my options and make my decision based on the possible outcomes."
"Youíre not playing the stock market or planning your retirement for christs sake this is your life!" Michael reached out and grabbed Brianís knee shaking it causing him to wince in pain.
"Iím sorry Brian itís just... why didnít you tell us sooner you didnít have to go through this alone."
Brian leaned forward grabbing Michaelís hand.
"This is life Mikey and shit happens. You live with it everyday with Ben so stop adding to your stress level by overreacting."
Neither of them noticed that Justin had left Brianís side until they heard him bustling around the kitchen. They both looked up.
"You must be hungry Brian. I know they donít let you eat for 24 hrs before a procedure like that. Deb sent chicken and rice soup over. Iíll heat you up a bowl. Michael you hungry?" Justin was talking a mile a minute not waiting for an answer he flitted around the kitchen.
Brian looked at Michael he knew instinctively he had to leave so Brian could deal with Justin one on one.
Michael leaned over giving Brian a gentle hug and kiss. "Youíll tell me the results no matter what, right?"
"Yes Mikey." They kissed again and Michael left.
Brian went to the kitchen leaning on the bar he watched Justin getting out bowls, spoons and napkins. He jumped when the buzzer went off on the microwave causing him to knock the bowls and spoons to the floor in a loud crash.
"Fuck. Dammit!." Justin knelt down to pick up the bowls and silverware.
"Justin...Justin leave it. Come here." Brian held out his arms. Justin stepped over the mess and around the bar carefully wrapped his arms around Brianís waist resting his head on his lovers chest. Brian finished the circle and brought Justin into a as tight a hug as he dared.
"Nothing to cry about yet Sunshine. The doc said I caught it early so my chances are probably pretty good." Brian used the soothing tone he knew always helped Justin relax.
Justin pulled away a bit wiping his tears. Brian cupped the young mans face in his hands and wiped away the remaining tears with a gentle swipe of his thumbs then pulled him in for a long loving kiss.
"How did you know to check for something?"
"Hmmm, I feel a public service announcement on its way." He smiled at Justin and motioned toward the couch keeping his arm around Justin for a little support.
"I had a friend in college whose brother died at 28 of testicular cancer. He told me that if heíd just checked himself once a month he maybe could have found it early enough to possibly be cured. He showed me and I make sure to remember to check once a month. You should be doing it too."
"Show me how." Justin smirked.
"That could be fun and educational. First we eat. Iím starving."
"Oh yeah. You just stay put and Iíll bring it to you."
"Iím not an invalid."
"I know, but let me take care of you for a little while. Itíll make me feel better and you donít mind being pampered do you?"
"Okay if it makes Ďyouí feel better."
Justin got up kissed Brian quickly on the lips and went to the kitchen a little calmer this time.
Michael's store. Ben is there helping Michael unpack boxes.
"He's right Michael. Why put yourself through all the what if's now?"
"I can't help it. Cancer is such an ominous word. Like Grimm Reaper or ..."
"AIDS?" Ben added raising an eyebrow to emphasis the word.
"No, not really. When I think of AIDS I think of Uncle Vic and he's more of a survivor. I know its because of all the drugs..."
"Michael there are plenty of cancer drugs that are working wonders and a lot of people survive cancer."
"Yeah, maybe, but doesn't it always comeback?"
"No and like Brian said it was caught early. That's the most important thing to remember."
"But Brian and cancer....especially testicular cancer...it seems kind of, you know."
"Deserved? Like AIDS is punishment for being gay?"
"No...no thatís not what I mean at all. Sex to Brian is like the air he breathes. I can't imagine how devastating it must be for him to have something go wrong that could hinder or change that for him."
"Michael losing a testicle doesn't make him a eunuch. After he heals he'll be just like before."
"Ben his whole personality, who Brian is, is based on his sexuality. I know its hard for people to understand, but Brian bases his entire self-worth on his sensuality thatís why aging is such a scary thing for him."
"Brian's an intelligent man I'm sure he understands that his testicle's aren't what make him a man or a sexual being...now if he lost his dick...maybe..." Ben smirks then sees the concern Michael has for his best friend etched deep in the furrows of his forehead. He stops unpacking comics from a box and walks behind the counter to Michael and hugs him.
"Itís about time Mr. Kinney finds out heís worth more donít you think? Maybe this is fates way of giving him a chance to be the person he really wants to be."
"Think about it Michael. Brian has sold everyone on a 'persona' he created to shield himself from emotion, pain, reality. Everyone expects him to be that person to react as the character he's created. He simply canít be anything else for fear of losing Ďfaceí. This illness may literally push him into letting down his defenses and become human like everyone else."
"And if it doesnít?"
"That remains to be seen. Just be ready to accept his vulnerability and donít mock it, embrace it."
"Yes oígreat wise one. Letís go home Iíd like to show you some vulnerability."
"What about the shipment."
They kiss passionately grab their coats and exit the comic book store arm and arm.
Brian sets his lap tray on the coffee table and stretches out his long body on the couch propping himself up with pillows.
"No. Two bowls were plenty."
Justin took the tray to the kitchen.
"You want anything else. I bought ice cream."
"Thatís for tonsils not testicles."
Justin joined Brian on the couch lifting his long legs; he slid them on his lap.
"Does it hurt a lot?" Justin absentmindedly began massaging Brianís feet.
"Not bad. I may be taking a couple more pain pills soon though, but donít worry about it now Iím enjoying the massage."
Justin looked at his hands smiling that he had started touching Brian without even noticing.
"Hmmm yeah." Brian settled into the couch further and focused on how good Justinís hands felt. "I apologize for being such an asshole this morning."
"You already did, this morning. I understand."
They settled in for a nice silence which only lasted a few minutes before Justin had to know.
"Are you scared?"
"Would you even believe me if I said I wasnít?"
"Can I go with you when you get the results?"
"Iím a big boy Justin I..."
"Please Brian. You might need someone...if...you know and I need to be there for you."
"Let me think about it, Okay?"
Justin nodded he was massaging Brianís legs now absentmindedly rubbing and kneading. It was the closeness he needed right now to be there for Brian any way he could; even if Brian didnít think he needed anyone.
"Brian are you asleep?"
Brian shook his head and opened only his right eye. He knew more was coming and wasnít sure he could handle it.
"Promise me youíll fight."
Brian opened both eyes and stared at Justin his blue eyes clouding over with tears again.
"Promise me you wonít give up even if the doctors try to tell you its not worth the fight. Tell me that you..." Justin gulped back a sob trying to say the words he desperately needed to say. "Promise me you wonít hide behind all that bullshit Kinney bravado and fight for your fucking life because I love you. Because I love you too much to ever let you just not do anything."
Justin was weeping openly now. His sobs were loud and heart wrenching. That was all he could take. Brian always thought he was a strong man and could face anything, but not this, not watching someone he loved so desperately cry over him. Feeling once again totally helpless to stop the pain he saw in those blue eyes Brian pulled himself up uncaring about his own physical pain he pulled the sobbing young man into his arms and promised.
"You bet Iíll fucking fight sweetheart. When have either of us taken no for an answer? You have to promise me something too."
"I will. I promise." Justin pushed out between sobs.
"I didnít ask you yet."
"You donít have to. I promise Iíll be there that I wonít run away."
"Well thatís good and I guess I may ask that of you if, but all I really want right now is for you to promise me youíll stop this. We donít know anything for certain yet and its not doing either of us any good to get all upset now. Okay?"
Justin nodded pulled away a little. Brian wouldnít let him go completely. Grabbing a box of kleenex from the coffee table he handed it to Justin.
"Blow your nose."
Justin did as ordered.
"Time for your lesson. Letís take it to the bedroom itíll be more fun that way."
Ted, Emmett and Michael occupy their usual booth for breakfast. Michael is preoccupied not paying enough attention to the conversation to reply when asked for his opinion on Toby McGuireís sexual orientation.
"Yoo hoo Michael?" Emmett waved a hand in front of Michaelís face.
Michael looked up still in a daze.
"Sorry? What did you say?"
"Nothing important honey. You okay?"
"Yeah. Iím just a little distracted this morning."
"Probably another all night study session with the professor." Ted threw in a two cent explanation.
"You could say that." Michael made a half-hearted attempt at a smile.
"Oh sweetie Benís not sick again?"
"No Benís fine." Michaelís face was entirely too readable. Justin caught the look and tried to intercept knowing Mikey wouldnít be able to keep from erupting about Brian all over Ted and Emmett. Justin walked over and began pouring them the first cup of morning coffee while trying to give Michael a look that told him not to tell. He knew it was a lost cause when Michael looked up at him with that pathetic Mikey sad-eyed stare. "Howís he doing?"
"Heís Ďfineí Michael." Justin smiled brightly at Michael hoping he would get the hint! No such luck.
"Maybe I should go over and stay with him today?"
Justin closed his eyes and blew out a breath knowing dear Mikey just let the cat out of the bag.
"Michael, heís fine. Now drop it." Justin said through his now clenched jaw.
"Something wrong with Brian?" Emmett leaned forward reading Mikeyís face from years of knowing him. Ted caught on a few seconds later.
"Michael." Justin shook his head hoping to stop Michael from spilling. Again, no luck.
"Justin theyíre his friends too. Its only right. Brian can use all the support and understanding he can get right now."
"Michael you are such a twat!" Justin sat the coffee pot on the table and pushed Michael over and slid next to him. If anyone was going to spill at least he wanted to make sure they got the Ďrightí information and not an the overly dramatic presentation he knew would be coming from Brianís best friend. "Then let me tell them and you can tell Brian Ďyouí were the one who couldnít keep your mouth shut."
"I havenít said anything!"
"No, but you were just about to."
"Fine!" Michael glared at Justin. "You do know that Ted and Emmett were friends with Brian long before you came along?"
"Since when are we considered friends of the great Brian Kinney? I thought we were just mere acquaintances to the Liberty Avenue sex god." Ted smirked trying to sound sarcastic and funny at the same time. Justin gave him the evil eye.
"Funny Ted, now shut up and listen." Justin stepped out of character feeling very much the role of Brianís protector.
Ted and Emmett sat back mouths dropping open a gasp at the introduction of this Ďnewí Sunshine behavior.
"Since Michael canít seem to keep a fucking thing to himself at least if I tell you the information it will be accurate. First of all no one mention to Brian that you know. Iím going to let Michael do that." Justin glanced sidelong at Michael who looked both guilty and indignant at Justinís bravado.
Stopping for a few seconds Justin looked up to see Deb finishing an order at the next table.
"Deb would you please take a few minutes and join us."
"Sure sweetheart let me just put this manís order in."
Emmett and Ted looked at each other nervously while awaiting Debís arrival.
"Whatís up boys?" Debís smile faded as she looked at their faces.
"What happened and to who?"
"Whom Mom." Michael corrected.
Justin cleared his throat to get their full attention.
"Itís about Brian..."
"Isnít it always." Deb laughed then caught Justinís Ďless than pleasedí expression. "Sorry sweetheart itís kind of automatic where Brianís concerned."
"He has testicular cancer." Justin stopped with that sentence for a few seconds to get the gasps and shock out of the way so he could continue with their full attention.
"He had a procedure done yesterday to remove the testicle and he wonít know the lab results until tomorrow."
"Oh my god!" Emmett was the first one to find his voice.
"Brian said the lump was small which the doctor indicated was a good sign that it was caught early. Itís Ďnotí a death sentence and none of his friends should treat it that way so donít get all emotional on him. You all know he canít stand that and itís the last thing he needs right now."
"What should we do?" Ted was the next to come out of a state of shock.
"Nothing. Just be his friends and be there if he needs you."
Without saying a word Deb turned and walked into the kitchen. The boys all looked at each other then to Debís retreating form as the swinging kitchen doors closed behind her.
"Iíll talk to her." Justin offered.
"No Justin, I will." Michael patted Justinís shoulder gently. Justin slid out of the booth. As Michael disappeared into the kitchen Emmett reached up catching Justinís arm before he could go back to work.
"What about you honey? How are you doing?"
"Iím fine Emmett just worried. Thanks for asking."
"If you need anything you let us know, you hear baby?"
Justin nodded bending down he gave Emmett a peck on the cheek.
Michael entered the kitchen, but didnít see his mom. He looked to the cook who nodded his head toward the back door.
Deb was standing with her back to him staring down the alley.
"Mom?" Michael put his hand on her shoulder. She tried to wipe the tears before he could see. They stood in silence for a few moments.
"I always thought that fuckin kid was invincible."
"Mom I'm sure Brianís going to be okay. They caught it early."
Deb continued as if Michael hadnít said anything. "Iíve seen him fucked up so many times I canít even count, but he always managed to pull out of it. You know I never realized just how much I loved that kid until Justin said that word."
"Mom why are you doing this?"
"Doing what Michael? Admitting to myself that 15 years ago that little fucker crept into my heart? I know I havenít been the nicest person to him over the years, but its not because I didnít care. Itís because I cared too much and it didnít feel right because I wasnít his mother. Besides the fact the little shit has continually found ways to piss me off with his attitude, his bullshit, his coldness. But he always found someway to redeem himself and make me proud of him."
Michael put his arm around Deb shoulder. "He knows you care ma. Heís always known."
"But Iíve never said it. Just like I never said thank you for his helping you buy me that cat clock."
"You knew about that?"
"Of course I did. That day at the Big Q when I noticed it you were too busy reading your new comic book to pay attention to anything anyone said. The cost? Baby I knew you didnít have that kind of money. Not to mention the elaborate way the box was wrapped. Brian has always been about the presentation of things himself included. I love that clock because it was given to me on Motherís Day by my two boys."
"Is that why you still keep in on the wall even though it doesnít work anymore?"
"Damn right. I love that fuckin clock." Deb smiled through her tears.
"Mom, Iím sure Brian knows. Itís just his way. No words. No sentiment."
"I want everyone over at my house for dinner tomorrow night."
"Ma Iím not so sure Brian will be up for that."
"He will and Iíll make sure Justin gets him there. Weíre family and Brian needs to know that now more than ever." Deb dug for an old hankie she had stuffed in her apron pocket wiped her eyes and blew her nose.
"I love you ma." Michael put his arms around Deb pulling her into tight hug.
Getting out of the elevator Justin notices a note on the loft door that reads "On the roof." Heíd only been up to the roof once before and that was over a year ago just after heíd moved in with Brian the second time. Heíd come home from a therapy appointment to find the Jeep in its reserved parking space, but no Brian in the loft. Noticing the roof door ajar as heíd exited the elevator heíd went to investigate where he found Brian sitting on the ledge legs dangling over the side smoking a joint. When heíd asked if anything was wrong he got a negative answer and nothing further was said as they went back inside. That night had always bothered him. Brian looked so alone and vulnerable. Justin thought he would have given anything to know what Brian was thinking as he sat looking over the city from his rooftop perch.
"Smells great up here."
Brian was cooking steaks on what looked to be a brand new grill. He turned at hearing Justinís approach and grabbed a beer from a cooler handing it to him followed by a nice warm welcoming kiss.
"Wow. Did I just enter the Kinney twilight zone?"
"Do do do do." Brian tried to mimic the theme song...not too well. Justin laughed as Brian turned back to the steaks. "How you like your steak? These are pretty rare at the moment."
"Ahh medium rare thanks." Justin took in the entire rooftop scene. A few feet away from the grill was a patio table with umbrella and four incredibly comfortable looking chairs. "You get all this stuff today?"
"Yeah, I was bored and it was a nice day."
"Brian Kinney bored thatís got to be a first." Justin teased.
"Are you the only one who uses the roof?"
"Yeah. Paid extra on my contract for the loft for exclusive rights to it. Always thought Iíd eventually use it. I was thinking about building a small greenhouse up here and in good weather this would make a great place for you to paint, draw...create." Brian returned his focus to the grill.
Busying himself with the steaks, checking the potatoes Brian didnít hear Justin come up behind him and jumped a bit when he felt hands touch his arm.
"After we eat you wanna go to Babylon? We can have a few, dance, forget about reality for awhile."
"If you want to. We can do whatever you want."
Justin suddenly felt like he was standing next to and touching a person heíd never met before. He searched Brianís eyes for something an emotion, a twinge of the Brian he knew...no luck. His eyes were as unreadable as ever and so was his face. He couldnít shake the feeling that the real Brian, the one he thought he knew so well, was inside this clone somewhere hanging on by a thread.
He decided to let the conversation go for now and enjoy the efforts Brian was making at being a thoughtful boyfriend. Not that Brian hadnít made huge strides in that direction since their breakup and reunion, but this felt forced, unnatural. Hell Brian probably didnít even know he was trying so hard. Maybe he was just trying to cope with what could be thought of as impending doom.
The smell of the steak suddenly began to make Justinís stomach turn as if they were celebrating a last supper of sorts. All because of that fucking word! That goddamn fucking word with a capital C that came out of the blue and began eating away at the man he knew in his heart to be the love of his life. ĎOkay Taylor pull yourself together and stop the drama queen bullshit.'
The night sky was clear, the temperature hung around 70 degrees a perfect night to sit on a rooftop patio, enjoy a nice meal and gaze at the stars. If only tomorrow was now today and he knew where he stood where the cancer was concerned he could feel more in control. Not knowing was the hardest part. If he only knew the results he would have a plan of action instead of this feeling of being completely vulnerable with impending darkness waiting just off in the wings. ĎStop being so fucking maudlin... Kinney.í
"Justin would you mind if we just stayed here tonight?"
"No. I just thought maybe the music and..."
"I would like you to go with me tomorrow" There he said it. Heíd been thinking about it all day. Thinking that it was Justin he wanted with him tomorrow. For once in his life he didnít want to face something on his own.
Justin got up from his chair and went behind Brian encircling his neck he dropped his head next to Brianís ear kissed that Ďplaceí just behind it and whispered. "Thank you."
Emotion seized Brianís throat, he squeezed his eyes shut fighting against the tears. After taking a few deep breaths he was able to push the emotion away. He placed the palm of Justinís right and against his lips and kissed it gently. Finally finding his voice Brian looked up at the stars noticing how beautifully clear the night was he spoke. "Iíve got an idea. Lets take the dishes downstairs and bring up a couple sleeping bags. Mikey and I used to sleep under the stars in his backyard. I always loved it."
"Iíd love it! Wait you have sleeping bags?"
Back in the loft Justin cleaned up the dishes stashing them in the dishwasher while Brian dug in his storeroom for the sleeping bags. Just as Brian emerged the phone rang. Brian picked it up and checked the caller ID.
"Itís your mom." he said handing the phone to Justin. Then motioning to the roof Brian left Justin alone to talk with his mom.
"Hi sweetheart sorry to call so late, but I was wondering if you could pick Molly up from school for me tomorrow she has an early release day and I'm showing a house at 1:00."
"Uh, I can't. I mean I would if what I have to do tomorrow weren't so important, but it..."
"It's okay Justin. I just hate to call your father, but she is his daughter too."
"I'm really sorry mom. You could ask Vic Iím sure heíd be happy to."
"I don't want to impose on him."
"I'm sure it wouldn't be a problem. Vic loves to help you know that."
"Maybe I will give him a call. Justin is everything okay?"
"Why would are you asking because I can't pick up Molly?"
"No, no I'm your mother remember? I can hear it in your voice. Is it Brian again?"
"Mom that's not fair. Just because you think there is something wrong it doesn't always have something to do with Brian doing something."
"So tell me then."
Their's a momentary silence.
"Justin? Please tell me I promise not to judge or jump to conclusions."
"Brian has cancer." Justin's voice broke.
"Oh sweetie I'm so sorry. Is it bad?"
"Won't know until tomorrow that's why I can't pick up Molly."
"He's taking you to the doctor with him?"
"Yes. I think he's really scared. The doctor said that Brian caught it early. He found a lump on his testicle. I've been reading a lot about it on the internet and found out that if caught early its very curable, but it still scares me."
"Cancer is scary sweetheart, but you know it doesnít mean.."
"I know, I know.
"If you really love him you're going to have to be prepared to be the strong one at least for a while."
"I'm not sure Brian would even allow someone to take care of him."
"He will. Brian's a smart enough man to realize you're there for him."
"You think so?"
"I do and I don't hate him you know. He loves you and I know heís been there for you. Brianís a good man under all his bullshit."
"I can't believe you just said that."
"Me either, but its true. Now you go take care of Brian and don't worry about Molly."
"Thanks. I love you."
"I love you too Justin and you call me tomorrow after you find out the results okay?"
"I will, bye."
Justin returned to the roof his mom had made him feel a little better. Seeing Brian stretched out on the two adjoined sleeping bags his head cradled in his forearms looking up to the stars made him feel strangely warm and happy. It was as if he were getting a tiny glimpse of what Brian looked like as a teenager.
"Know any constellations?" Justin asked as he curled next to Brian throwing his arm over Brianís chest.
"A few." Brian began to point out the ones he knew. "Big dipper, little dipper, Orion, Pegasus, Cassiopeia, big bear...always loved the big bear." Turning his head he smiled at Justin then pulled him close for a long, deep kiss.
"This is nice. You know this is the first time Iíve slept outside without a tent."
"And I thought you had a rich childhood."
"I never got into outdoorsy kind of stuff. My dad made me go on a fishing trip with him and some friends when I was 12 and I hated every minute of it. The bugs, the dirt, the worms and the fish....yuck. Not my thing. My dad was embarrassed and told me to quit acting like such a sissy."
"Yeah well heís a jerk and you were just a kid. Howís your mom?"
"Oh good she asked me to pick up Molly from school tomorrow, but I told her I couldnít"
"Justin you donít have to go with me. Mollyís your sister..."
"And youíre my boyfriend. Iím going with you tomorrow no argument. Momís going to call Vic Iím sure he will be able to get her."
"Vic and a nine year old girl. Hmmm, yeah Molly should have a blast." he winked at Justin.
They rested quietly for a few moments gazing into the night sky. Justin broke the silence he had to confess.
"I know he has a hard time keeping things to himself."
"Howíd you know?"
"Deb called and asked us to dinner tomorrow night. Well she didnít ask exactly it was more of an order."
"But Deb always does that."
"Yeah, but she doesnít always do it while trying not to let on sheís crying."
"She loves you. They all love you in their own way you know."
"Yeah...did you see that?" Brian quickly pointed out something in the sky.
"A shooting star. You didnít see it? Well theyíre not stars actually..."
"Theyíre meteors. Huge chunks of rock flying into our atmosphere."
"Iíd rather think of them as falling stars."
"Me too." Justin snuggled in closer lying his head on Brianís chest. Brian pulled his arms around him burying his face in Justinís blond hair.
Friday, 1:00pm Dr. Connors office.
Brian and Justin sat in the doctorís office waiting for Dr. Connors to arrive. Justin observed Brianís nervousness by watching his inability to sit still. He was pacing slowly between his chair and the window his right hand nervously massaging the long fingers of his left.
"Christ as if three days isnít enough torment. How long have we been here?" The sudden outburst in the quiet of the office caused Justin to jump slightly.
"About 15 minutes. Iím sure he will be in soon." He wanted to tell Brian to sit down because just watching him caused Justinís nerves to crawl against his skin, but he knew better. This was Ďnotí the normally calm, cool bravado of Brian Kinney. Justin was witnessing a man who was tense, nervous and afraid all real live emotions that revealed his vulnerability. He could only imagine how it must feel waiting for a verdict that could literally be a death sentence. ĎNo he couldnít, wouldnít allow his thinking to go there, not ever even if the news wasnít good.í
Dr. Connors entered the room just as Brian was returning to his chair. They greeted each other with a hand shake. Justin stood to greet the doctor as well.
"Doc this is Justin Taylor."
"Oh yes nice to meet you Mr. Taylor. Iím glad to see Brian has some support."
They sat down Justin reached for Brianís hand and was surprised that he let him take it.
Connors opened Brianís medical file Brianís grip tightened.
"The pathology on your right testicle showed a Stage I Seminoma. The good news is it hasnít spread outside the testicle itself to any surrounding structures. The blood tests to look for tumor markers came back negative. The CT scans which we did the right after your surgery also showed no visible spread."
"And the bad news?"
"Yeah it usually follows the good news part."
"Oh, actually Brian you are quite a lucky man. You caught it early. Hell I couldnít even feel it when you first came in. You must know your body very well."
"He does." Justin laughed more out of relief then at his lame attempt at a joke.
"So is that it? Iím cured?"
"Not exactly Iím going to refer you to a radiation oncologist for follow up treatment."
"I donít understand if you got it all then..."
"Based on the pathology reports and the other tests we took, the probability that you are cured is about 85% with no further treatment. If you take the radiation treatment the probability of you being cured could be raised to virtually 100%. Radiation therapy damages the ability of all affected cells to regenerate themselves and reproduce. The normal healthy cells are more able to recover from radiation damage than the cancerous cells. Radiation treatments are given daily except for weekends and holidays. The weekend breaks give the body some time to recover a little."
"Radiation that mean Iíll lose all my hair?"
Justin smiled and shook his head. He was Brian Kinney after all.
"Only the hair in the effected area. Iím sure that wonít bother you too much."
"Hereís a pamphlet on the procedure. If you decide to follow up with the radiation therapy just let Nancy know and sheíll set it up for you. I do highly recommend you do this."
The doctor walked around his desk and laid a reassuring hand on Brianís shoulder.
"You two take a few minutes to let all this sink in. You are a very lucky young man Brian."
Brianís focus went to his right hand. Justin was still clutching it tightly.
"Justin?" Brian shook his hand a little to get his attention. "Justin it was good news didnít you hear the doc?" Justin nodded then pulled his hand from Brianís and covered his face with both hands and cried.
Brian knelt down in front of Justin placing his hands on his thighs.
"You cried when you thought I might be dying and now youíre crying because...."
Justin started laughing and crying at the same time and threw his arms around Brian kissing his face everywhere.
"Because youíre not. Youíre going to do the radiation right and make it 100%, right?"
"Just like I never take no for an answer Iím not taking less than 100% for a cure."
"Good, good and itíll be fine. Youíll be fine and if the radiation causes you to get sick or lose your hair or whatever it doesnít matter. Iíll take care of you and love you and..."
"Justin...Justin. Hold on." Brian chuckled at Justinís exuberance. "First of all I am not going to lose my hair at least not on my head. Second, Iíll talk with Nancy, then weíll go home and celebrate."
"Okay, but we have to tell everyone they all want to know about the results."
"Later, we can get to them later."
"No. Brian we canít...you canít. Everyone has been worried about you and theyíre all waiting to hear. You promised to try being better at..."
"I know you donít have to keep reminding me."
"Yes I do. You even gave me permission to nag you about it remember?"
"Okay Iíll call Linds and Michael. You call Deb, Emmett and Ted."
"First I have to call my mom."
"Yeah sheís worried too."
"You told your mom?"
"I was scared she helped make me feel better and as much as you donít believe it she cares about you."
"Your right I donít, but if you say so." Brian grabbed Justin around the waist and pulled him close kissing him lightly on the forehead then taking him by the hand they left the office.
The two bodies practically fall through the loft door. They hadnít pawed and rustled with each other this passionately since their reunion three months ago. Only then they ended up fucking in the elevator totally oblivious to the guy on the third floor where the lift had made its first stop.
By the time they vaulted through the loft door Justin was shirtless, pants undone, Brianís hand was thrust down the back of them massaging his ass through his underwear. Justin managed to rip open the front of Brian's shirt not caring as the buttons flew off bouncing on the hardwood floor. Now he was working on his belt as their tongues plunged into each others open, panting mouths. As Justin began working at Brianís belt he unconsciously pulled Justinís hands away. Finally making their way to the bed Brian was in the position to push the blond onto the bed. Crawling over him placing kisses starting at his navel, working his way up to Justinís waiting lips. Each time Justin made a move to unbutton Brianís jeans, he was out maneuvered and pulled in a different direction. After a few tries, Justin became aware of what was happening only he wasnít sure what he should do. Point it out? Keep trying, soothing Brian as he did so, making sure the man knew that his missing part in no way affected the way he felt or in anyway lessened his sexual attraction? This was totally unexplored territory for both of them. Deciding quickly that bringing it out in the open was the best solution gauging from the problems that had pulled them apart months ago. First he would try one more time to make sure this was indeed an issue. Justin was completely naked now. Brian still had on his black jeans. Justin took control and rolled Brian onto his back and began snaking kisses down his torso undoing the top button Brian stopped his hands ceasing both their actions.
"Are you still sore?"
"Do you want to stop?"
Brian remained silent.
"It doesnít matter to me, you know that, right?"
"Are you sure?" Brianís voice went up an octave and his eyes widened causing him to look much younger Justin thought.
"Absolutely. Does it matter to you?"
"A little." Justin gave him a skeptical look "Okay, more than a little."
"It shouldnít. It doesnít change who you are and it doesnít change how I feel about you."
"Pretty vain huh?"
"I wouldnít say that. More like very human." Justin unbuttoned Brianís fly and placed a kiss at the top of Brianís pubic hair line near the surgery scar.
"Canít say Iíve ever been accused of that before." Brian closed his eyes taking in the feeling of Justinís lips.
Justin straddled Brianís legs reaching to pull his pants down over his hips Brian grabbed Justinís hands stopping him once again. Justin found himself staring into Brianís huge hazel eyes now filled with the oddest emotion...it took him aback for a second trying to find a word that fit. ĎTrepidationí that was it. Justin knew that look would be forever burned into his memory. Brian wasnít only nervous, he was actually trembling. Justin couldnít imagine Brian ever being afraid of being naked or fucking, not with him especially, but there it was the emotion couldnít be any plainer if the word had been written on Brianís forehead. Again Justin found himself taking on a characteristic he didnít even know existed within him, he had to let Brian know he was safe. That his fear was unfounded and that he was, and would always be, the sexiest man Justin had ever known.
"I love you Brian." Justin followed up the words with warm breathy kisses across Brianís beautiful collarbone to the nape of his neck pressing light kisses on to his right ear he whispered. "Just relax sweetheart let me...touch you."
Brian closed his eyes and let his arms go limp at his sides and allowed Justin to remove his jeans. Now that he had Brian naked he made a trail of soft feathery kisses from Brianís right knee to the inside of his thigh. He placed kisses on the inside of each thigh and then turn his attention to Brianís groin. He felt Brianís body tense again. "Iíll be careful. Let me know if I hurt you."
Brian nodded and placed his right hand to the back of Justinís head, stroking the soft blond hair he relaxed and concentrated on the feeling of his loverís warm mouth as it engulfed his cock.
The gang is at Debís for dinner.
"How long do you have to do the radiation therapy?" Emmett, ever curious.
"Itíll take about a month. The radiologist said 20 daily visits should do it."
"Every day?" Ted asks.
"That should give you time to recoup." Lindsey said the words sounded forced, as if she felt she needed to say something. Especially, since Melanie seemed to not be paying any attention to the discussion.
"So they took...umm...took the whole thing?" Emmett had to ask.
"Depends on what you mean by the whole thing?" Brian smirked glancing sidelong at Justin.
"They just took the testicle Emmett." Justin jumped in.
"Wow, so Brian Kinney only has one..." Ted interjected
The group groaned.
"Still one more than you Teddy." Brian was laughing about it so Justin blew out the breath he was holding.
"I donít even notice it Brianís still as hot a fuck as ever." Justin sneered at Ted. Then leaned over and gave Brian a hot kiss causing more groans.
"Get a room." Deb laughed.
"You can use mine. That bed hasnít seen any action in years, the springs are hardly warn." Vic added.
"You know if youíd been a women, they probably would have told you it was nothing and sent you on your way, but being a man they made sure to check further."
"Mel. Donít do that." Lindsey admonished
"What? Itís the truth. His doctorís a man bet the radiation oncologist is too. Do you know how much research money is spent on male specific diseases as opposed to female specific diseases?"
"Mel honey we all know how the world works, but this is not the time or place to debate it. Brian is part of this family and the father of your son. Letís try giving him a little respect. He didnít have to tell us a fucking thing, but here he is telling us something that is pretty fucking scary." Deb suddenly decided it was time for her to finally defend Brian.
"And personal" Lindsey threw in.
"That too, and I would like to say that Iím extremely happy that youíre going to be okay because ....well because..." Deb goes around the table and hugs Brian from behind wrapping her arms around his neck her voice breaks as she talks. "Because I love you kiddo and Iím proud of the efforts your making to be more open with those of us who care about you."
"Thanks Deb." Brian tried unsuccessfully to keep his voice from cracking. Deb kissed Brian on the top of his head and then leaned over to give Justin a kiss there too. Released her hold on Brian and went for a kleenex.
"Speak for yourself Iím only here for the food." Ted teased trying to ease the tension.
"Brian do you mind if we leave? Iíve got a paper in art history due tomorrow and I havenít even started it yet."
Brian nodded. Not a another word was said as they got their coats. On their way out Ted, Emmett, Vic, Lindsey and Deb wished them well and that they were glad Brian was going to be alright. Melanie remained silent.
In the Jeep.
"You wrote that paper last weekend."
Justin gave Brian a weak smile and shrugged his shoulders.
"I know that stuff is hard for you, but Debís got a big heart."
"Yeah she does. She always lets you know where you stand with her too."
"Thatís what we all love about her. I know sometimes she says things without thinking, but you know she always means well. But Melanie god she can really be a bitch sometimes."
"Yeah, but thatís how sheís survived and she is always honest, no bullshit."
"Why are you defending her Brian? Sheís never been on your side."
"Because sheís always been honest and doesnít pull any punches. I respect that. Besides she is right about what she said."
"Well she made it sound like it was your fault."
"In her defense I do tend to reflect everything she hates about men, so I guess I make a great target."
"Stop freaking me out Brian."
"Your doing that pod person impression again."
"Okay...fuck her. Better?"
"Definitely." Justin laughed and laid his hand on Brianís thigh rubbing it gently. "You up for an all nighter?"
"Trying to get in as much of me as you can before I become radiation man?"
"Maybe." Justin moves his hand to the inside of Brianís thigh and moves closer to his groin.
They ride in silence for a few minutes.
"Brian you can tell me if youíre nervous about it."
"Say it." Justin slid his hand between Brianís legs rubbing his dick through his jeans.
Brian reached down and removed Justinís hand from his crotch and brought it to his lips. He kissed the palm and laid the hand on his chest.
"I love you."
Justin melted into the seat.
Mel and Lindseyís
Mel comes down stairs. Lindsey is sitting in an oversized chair reading material Justin gave her about testicular cancer and radiation therapy.
"Gus finally went to sleep. Only took six bedtime stories instead of his ususal 10. That kid is getting spoiled."
"Then you should have stopped at one." Lindseyís spoke tersely.
"Whatís wrong with you?"
Lindsey barely glanced at her over the reading material she was working through.
"Oh please. Iíve said worse shit to Brian and he just lets it roll off his back. Besides everyone fawning all over him Iím sure he loved it. Fuck its just a testicle itís not like he lost a lung. He said himself it was no big deal."
"Jesus Mel! How long do you have to know Brian before you actually see through all that shit? When he says Ďits no big dealí you can bet to him, it is."
"Then why in the fuck doesnít he just say what he means? What? Are we suppose to learn Kinney speak to understand him?"
Lindsey decided to take another tactic with her beloved. Softening her voice she asked. "What if it were me? If I had to lose a breast would you be so blasť about it?"
"Christ Lindsey thatís not fair! Brianís always been a fucking drama queen why is now such a big deal? He caught it early. Heís getting treatment heíll be okay."
"Because its still cancer Mel! Can you just for one second try to see this from Brianís perspective and not always be on the Ďfeminineí defense team? Not to mention how this has got to be affecting Justin."
"Well on Justinís behalf I can admit it must be hard. Like the world is against him with his dad and the bashing and the break-up and now just getting Brian back..."
"And you donít think Brian might feel the same? Life hasnít been easy for Brian no matter how he tries to show the world differently."
Mel slips down next to Lindsey in the chair and looks at some of the reading material. Her attitude is a little softer, trying to understand.
"So is the treatment going to make him sick?"
"Thatís one of the side effects. Along with hair loss..."
"Brianís going to be bald? No fucking way!"
"It says only in the treatment area."
"Oh well that shouldnít pose a problem. What else?"
"According to this...The body must work very hard during radiation therapy to repair the tissues injured by the treatment. Patients may feel unusually tired, and they should try and rest as much as possible. Other unpleasant effects of radiation therapy may include diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. These problems can usually be controlled with medication. Poor Justin, Brianís not an easy patient."
"And you know because?"
"In our Sophomore year he got a bad case of mono. He was in the hospital for two weeks and the nurses were ready to kill him." Mel took the pamphlet and read on.
"Radiation therapy does not change the ability to have sex. Well...he can still have sex heíll be fine."
"Iím just kidding, but itís probably one of the things he was most worried about."
"I donít think so Mel. I really watched him tonight. This has really affected him. And did you notice how protective Justin was being? This could change their entire relationship. Brian having to be the one being taken care of."
"I donít envy him, but one good thing could come of this."
Mel softened her tone even more and put her arms around Lindsey kissing her cheek. "It could prove whether or not their relationship is strong enough to survive a crisis."
"Donít you think everything theyíve survived in the last two and a half years is proof enough?"
"Itís different now. Itís Brian not Justin."
"One thingís for sure Deb said it tonight we are family and we need to be there for them."
"Okay, okay Iíll stay off my soapbox and show my support for the home team...happy?"
"Very." Lindsey and Mel embrace and kiss.
First day of therapy.
The loft door slid open, Brian stumbled through the doorway pale and sweaty his coat and tie draped over his arm. He dropped his briefcase and coat at the door. A look of panic in his eyes. He focused judging the distance to the bathroom, then the distance to the kitchen sink. He opted for the sink, it was closer. Justin is just removing a bowl of rinsed pasta as Brian rushed to the sink and vomited. Justin stepped back, looking at Brian in disgust, catching himself quickly. He jogged to the bathroom returning with a wet washcloth and laid it on the back of Brianís neck.
Brian took a few handfuls of water to rinse out his mouth. He took deep breaths trying to stop his stomach from convulsing. Justin rubbed his back gently. After a few minutes Brian is able to stand totally erect he takes the wet cloth from his neck and scrubbed his face with it.
"Can I get you anything?"
Brian shook his head. Then lumbered to the bedroom and sat on the bed. He covered his face with the washcloth leaning his elbows on his knees he rested his head in his hands. Justin knelt down in front of him and remove his socks and shoes. This time Brian didnít contest. He helped Brian out of his shirt as he did he noticed the man was shivering..
"Lie down." Brian lowered himself onto the bed Justin undid his belt buckle, removed Brianís trousers and covered him with the heavy duvet.
"Did they give you anything to take?"
Brian nodded and pointed to where he dropped his jacket.
"Prescription...right pocket." Brian croaked out.
Justin picked up the jacket, tie and briefcase and set them on the table. He reached in the coat pocket and retrieved a prescription form.
"Iíll go to the drug store and get this filled. Will you be okay? It shouldnít take me long."
Justin reached into the inside pocket of Brianís jacket and grabbed his wallet.
"Brian you donít have any cash? Do you have an account at the drug store?"
Brian waved for Justin to come to him then took the wallet from him. From the wallet Brian took a credit card and handed it to Justin.
"Brian I canít use youíre card unless you call them or write a note."
"The cardís in your name."
"Brian I canít afford..."
"Donít worry about that...please use it for what you need."
"Well it does make things a little easier for me to be able to get things for you...us I mean. You need anything else besides the prescription?"
Brian shook his head. The nausea hitting him once again he launched from the bed and ran into the bathroom just barely making the toilet. Justin retrieved the wet cloth, grabbed a bottle of water from the frig and joined Brian in the bathroom. Brian is leaning against the toilet breathing deeply trying to curb the convulsions. Justin rewet the cloth and knelt down next to him. "I'm right here Brian." Justin tried to sound soothing his voice came out a little shakier than he'd wanted it to. The fact was seeing Brian sick was a lot harder than he'd thought it would be. It made him feel helpless and he knew telling Brian he was there sounded lame, but he wanted him to know. He wanted to gather him in his arms, hold him tight and rock him like his mom used to do for him when he was sick. Just knowing she was there and he was loved had always made him feel so much better. That's what he was trying to give to Brian just let him know he wasn't alone and he was indeed loved.
The wave of nausea finally passing Brian sat up crossed his legs and leaned back against the shower stall, wiped his face with the cloth and drank a little of the water Justin offered.
"Thanks." Brianís voice was raspy.
"Maybe I should call Michael he can stay with you while I go to the drug store."
"No Justin Iíll be fine. I donít need a sitter just go."
"Justin." Brian took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Thereís no reason for you to be sorry." He reached over and cupped Justinís cheek. It was Brianís way of telling him he knew Justin was just concerned.
"Okay, I'll be right back." Justin got up and left
only to return a few moments later with a pair of sweats and one of his
sweatshirts. Before leaving to fill the prescription he gave Brian a quick kiss
on the top of his head. "Be back before you know it."
Brian waited to hear the loft door close before he gave into the next round of vomiting.
A week later at the diner.
"Hey this isnít what I ordered."
"Sorry. You had a...." Justinís brain was so foggy he would swear at this moment he couldnít remember his own fucking name much less what the customer had actually ordered.
"Chicken sandwich this is a grill cheese." The guy snipped looking at Justin as if he had committed a crime.
"Right, right Sorry. Iíll be right back with your Ďchickení sandwich."
Justin went to the grill pick up window returned the grilled cheese and grabbed the right order.
"Sunshine why donít you call it a day. Baby, you look exhausted." Deb came up behind him placing a loving hand on his shoulder.
"But that leaves you with only one other waiter Deb."
"Justin youíre practically asleep on your feet."
"Give that man his order and then I want you to take a break. We need to talk."
Justin nodded and took the customer the correct order.
Deb motioned Justin to a booth in the back she joined him pouring him a cup of coffee.
"Howís our boy doing?"
"Not well. Fuck, last night was the biggest puke fest Iíve ever seen. Almost every hour he was throwing up."
"Does his doctor know about this?"
"I called him and so far theyíve tried three different medications to help him with the nausea. I think his system has just seen so many drugs heís immune or something."
"Is he eating?"
"Not much, thatís another problem. Dr. Connors told me Brianís lost 10 pounds since the surgery and on his frame its not good. What he does eat he throws up."
Deb checks her watch.
"What time is he getting home today?"
"He said around five. Why?"
"Well that gives you at least four hours. Go home and get some rest before he gets home."
"Sure you can sweetie I can handle it here and if not Iíll make Robbie take some orders." Justin averted his eyes and gazed into his coffee cup. "Thereís something else...what?"
"He asked me to stay with you or my mom for a few days."
"That may not be a bad idea give you time to rest. Michael can look after him for a few days or I can."
"No! Thanks, but no. Iím staying with him."
"Sunshine I know how you feel. Trust me I know. But letting yourself get run down isnít going to help Brian and Iím sure he understands how hard this is for you too."
"Itís suppose to be hard Deb. He has cancer itís not suppose to be fucking easy, but thatís what loving someone is all about. Do you have any idea how many restless nightís I put him through after I was hurt? Iím not leaving him even if he pushes me out the fucking door."
"Thatís my sunshine." Deb smiled and pinched Justinís cheek. "Well I still say go get some rest so you can put up a good fight. You sure picked a hard one to love sweetheart."
"Maybe, but Iím no cakewalk either and heís worth it."
"Too bad heíll never understand that kiddo."
"Someday he will Deb." Justin leaned over and kissed Deb on the cheek before leaving the booth.
Deb enters the comic book store.
"Michael you need to help Sunshine."
"Why? Something happen to Brian?"
"Calm down honey. Itís the same thing thatís been going on for over a week now and poor Justin is warn to a frazzle."
"Iíve offered, but Justin just says he can handle it."
"Well weíve got to think of something. The kid hasnít had a good nights sleep in days. Good thing heís been on spring break this week. Next week between school, work and Brian heís going to be a basket case."
"Ma listen to yourself. How many times did I try to get you to take a break from taking care of Uncle Vic when he was sick? And you never did. Always with the speech about where your place was and how much Vic needed you."
"That was different. I wasnít a kid trying to work and go to school."
"No you were single woman working two jobs and taking care of Vic. Who by the way was a lot sicker than Brian is and for a lot longer. When Ben got sick I realized like you said this was part of loving someone whose HIV+. Loving someone means being there for them no matter what."
"Sweetheart that also applies to family. Brianís not eating and the radiation is taking its toll. What we need to do is find a way to help them both."
"Ben might have some answers that will help and maybe he can get through to Brian on a more clinical level."
"Good thinkin baby. Need to get back to work." Deb grabís Michaelís face and kisses his cheek.
Justin had taken Debís advice and gone home heíd been asleep about three hours when the phone rang. He read the caller ID before answering it was Brianís cell.
"Brian?" The line was silent. "Brian answer me."
"Justin...I" Brianís voice was weak and shaky.
"Brian whatís wrong? Where are you?"
"Parking lot. Third St...300 hundred block, I think. Had to pull over. Fuck...I canít.
"Hold on Brian Iím coming to get you. Can you hold on?"
Brian moaned and Justin knew he was throwing up then the phone went dead.
Justin dialed Michael.
"Michael, Brianís in trouble. Heís sitting in a parking lot on Third street come get me. No come and get me first. I can drive him home from there."
Later at the loft.
Brian is sitting in the bathroom leaned against the shower stall. He is totally wiped out, pale, drawn and miserable. Justin joins him he has a bowl of water. Setting it down on the floor next to Brian and took a washcloth, dropped it into the bowl. Brian is in sweats and black wife beater.
"Lean forward." Brian does and Justin crawled behind him resting his back against the shower stall he pulled Brian against him taking the cloth squeezing out excess water he wiped Brianís face, neck and chest with it.
"Some cure. Iíd be better off if someone just fucking shot me."
"Youíll make it Brian. Eight days down only twelve to go. Maybe this medication will work to stop the nausea."
"Well Iím not so hopeful. The last three didnít do shit."
"You know maybe if you took better care of yourself ..."
"Justin I donít want to hear it and I take fine care of my body. I drink plenty of fluids as you can see, I eat, I puke, I sleep, and puke some more; gee what more could my body ask for?"
"Iím glad you still have a sense of humor. Seriously, Ben gave me some good suggestions and he says he can tell you how to deal with this mentally and emotionally too."
"Yeah....ohmmmm sit in an uncomfortable position, burn incense, close your eyes and hum ohmmmm for hours. Not for me." Brian said the words in a mock meditation monotone.
"Have you ever tried it?"
"Nope, couldnít sit still that long."
"Youíve been sitting here for two hours."
"Iíve been praying to the porcelain god."
Justin ran his hand through Brianís hair.
"You know youíre even sexy when youíre sick."
"You up to it?í
"I can wait. Iím actually excited about it."
"Okay whatís the punchline?"
"No...no I keep thinking about it. Brian Kinney, no sex for a month. When youíre feeling up to it I may not be able to handle it!"
"No one ever mention that I couldnít have sex during my therapy. Whereíd you come up with that conclusion."
"Because of the way things have gone so far. Hell even if you felt up to it this weekend it would be something. Have you ever gone more than 24 hours without sex before?"
Brian closed his eyes thinking.
"There was that one time in my sophomore year of college it was almost two weeks."
"No shit. What happened? You break your dick?" Justin laughed.
"No shithead I got mono. Pretty bad case too because I didnít have time to slow down. One night I was at Lindseyís apartment and I passed out. She freaked and called an ambulance. My temp was 106 and my spleen was inflamed. I spent two weeks in the hospital with Lindsey visiting everyday and Michael on the weekends."
"Bet you made up for it when you got out."
"Oh yeah had a regular fuckfest."
"Thatís what Iím looking forward to." Justin whispered then kissed Brian's shoulder.
"Right now Iíd like to just not puke for a few hours."
"Why donít you try eating something. Deb brought over some broth and Ben gave me some samples of Ensure. He said it contains all the vitamins and stuff you need and the doctor recommended you try drinking some sports drinks instead of just water to help with the electrolytes."
"You talked to my doctor?"
"Yeah Iíve been worried. Youíve lost a lot of weight Brian and youíre not eating enough."
Brian got up from the bathroom floor and stalked to the bedroom.
"I thought I asked you to stay at your momís or Debís tonight? I think you need get out of here for awhile."
"I donít want to go anywhere. You need me here. Please Brian donít be mad about the doctor its only because Iíve been worried and you donít tell me anything or talk to me. Iíve been watching you slowly fall apart for days and then you call me to come and get you because youíre too fucking sick to drive the rest of the way home and now you want me to leave?"
"Thank you for coming to get me, but I can take care of myself..." Justinís face dropped. Brian knew heíd hurt him. "Justin you donít need to be cooped up here with me every night. This fucking loft wreaks of this....of me and you need to get out among the living. Go to Woodyís or Babylon find a hot young guy and fuck the shit out of him."
"God! Brian that is such bullshit! When will you ever get it through youíre head that there are a million things more important to me then sex. Yeah sex is great, but only with someone I really want to be with. Iíve done that and I donít want it now. I love you donít you get it? This didnít just happen to you it happened to me and everyone who cares about you. Itís okay to need us. Just like it was okay for you to call me today to help you. Stop pushing me away because Iím not going anywhere."
"I canít let you do that."
Justin watched Brian lower himself to the bed and lie back covering his face with his arm. He couldnít see them, but he knew the tears were there. At that moment Justin decided to do something bold and out of character he would force Brian to relinquish control if only for a little while. He crawled on the bed next to Brian, pushing his right arm under him and pulled. He was sure Brian would resist and he did, but only for a few seconds and then Brian let himself be pulled into Justinís arms. They were both exhausted and Brian needed to rest.
Brianís office next day itís Friday day 10 of treatment, 10 more to go.
"What was I suppose to say Brian? Heís the CEO of this fucking agency." Cynthia yelled back defending herself. "That I have an important appointment and, therefore, am not available to do a fucking Ďpitch!" Brian threw the pen in his hand across the room for emphasis. Cynthia tensed and started backing towards the door. "Iím a fucking partner and Iím still pitching every fucking presentation in this agency!" Brian began pacing, running his hand through his hair stopping quickly when he noticed Cynthiaís silent retreat. Sighing loudly he let go of his anger. It wasnít worth it. "Cynthia..Iím...I apologize." Cynthia stared in shock, dropping the appointment book in her hand. Brian picked it up, shut it and laid it on top of the huge mess that was his desk, touched her arm lightly and smiled.
"Itís not your fault. Itís just...the treatments they leave me so fatigued. Thereís no way I can do any justice pitching the clients product."
"Brian why donít you just tell him? Iím sure Vance will understand. He is a man...sort of." She giggled nervously and was delighted to see she had managed to make Brian laugh a little too.
"I canít. Deckerís been nipping at my heels since they hired him. The son-of-a-bitch wants my job and this could give him just enough leverage to put more doubt in Vanceís head. I know he hates the fact that Iím gay. Itís by the sheer volume of continuous cash flow I bring into this agency that he hasnít pushed me out on my ass yet."
"Brian thatís not true. Vanceís not stupid he knows youíre brilliant."
"Thatís pretty nice of you to finally admit." Brian teased.
"Yeah well hell just froze over the minute you apologized so I figured whatís one more icicle on olíSatanís balls." That got a full fledged laugh out of Brian. "Seriously Bri just tell Vance whatís going on with you. Iím sure heíll understand."
"First let me talk to my radiation oncologist and see what he says about missing todayís treatment. It may not have to be a problem at all."
"Iíll get him on the line for you."
"Thanks. And could you get me some bottled water?"
"Only if you bring back the Ďrealí Brian Kinney."
"Sorry heís at a behavior modification seminar and might never be back."
"Well, I guess youíll do then." Cynthia smiled brightly at her boss. Brianís smiled mirrored her own.
Going back to her desk an old memory flashed in her mind from 7th grade Biology when the class had watched several caterpillar cocoons burst forth with newly metamorphazised butterflies. She had been utterly mesmerized watching what had begun as tiny hairy little worms emerge as magnificent, colorful and beautiful creatures. Her boss had always been beautiful, but inside she knew that he always had so much more potential for emotional growth. Unfortunately, it had taken a dark and scary illness to bring out his inner beauty. Saying a silent prayer as she looked up the number that Brianís efforts to be a better person were not simply a temporary reaction to being coldly reminded he wasnít invincible.
Cynthia buzzed him letting him know the call was on line 1.
"Dr. Sparks" Brian always had to stifle a laugh when he said the manís name. How appropriate for someone who zapped people with radiation for a living. "Brian Kinney. Would it be a problem if I had to skip todayís session?"
"It wouldnít be a problem for me Mr. Kinney, but that would mean 80 hours between treatments. I donít recommend it gives any cancer cells that may be present too much time to recoup and could make them harder to kill."
"Realistically, doctor there was no sign that it spread you could be hitting me with 150 rads every day for no reason other than as a preventative measure."
"That is true Mr. Kinney, but oncology, as you know, is not an exact science by any means. If you are willing to take the chance, then that is your decision. As your doctor all Iím saying is that I donít recommend it."
Brianís mind was reeling trying to quickly make a mental list of the pros and cons of skipping the appointment. He ticked off several reasons for skipping the appointment, but only two reasons not to skip it. He made his decision.
"Uh...yeah, yes. I..." Brianís eyes had wandered to the pictureís of Justin and Gus he kept on the edge of his desk.
"Shall I cancel your appointment then?"
"No, no. Iíll be there." Brian shook his head as he hung up the phone. How the fuck was he going to pull this off?
Liberty diner-- 3:30pm.
"Deb I gotta go."
"You think this is a good idea Justin?"
"I know heíll be mad, but he wonít let on at work. Heíll just ream me in the Jeep, but at least Iíll be there to drive him home."
"Has he told anyone at work?"
"I think his assistant Cynthia knows, but he hasnít told his partner."
"Why the hell not?"
"To him this is a sign of weakness and he has it in his head that being a partner he canít slack off at all. I think heís a little paranoid about Vance wanting to push him out."
"Brian paranoid? How the hell did that happen?"
"Itís just since all this started. Once heís done with his treatments Iím sure heíll go back to feeling confident and invincible again."
"You know Justin this may sound cruel, but maybe just maybe his getting cancer was the best thing that could have happened to that kid."
"Deb, how can you say that!" Justinís voice jumped two octaves and stood ready to defend his lover.
"Sweetheart, I love Brian too and I wouldnít wish any harm to come to him, but we all knew something, sometime had to give. Sometimes fate finds the strangest ways to make us see things we should have been seeing all along. I speak from experience."
"I have to admit his illness has definitely stopped him in his tracks; not that he wasnít trying though. He has been so much better and trying to be more open since we got back together. I know he still tricks, but heís discreet about it and I donít think he does it nearly as often as he used to." Justin felt a deep seeded need to defend Brian even though he knew Deb was speaking from the heart and she was right.
"Weíve all seen that baby and its because he loves you so much. The problem is and always has been that Brian doesnít love Brian. I pray that going through this and seeing how much heís cared about heíll finally start to love himself."
"Ever think of going into psychotherapy Deb?" Justin teased and leaned giving Deb a quick peck on the cheek before grabbing his backpack and leaving the diner.
The Vanguard AgencyĖ4:00pm
Justin had never been inside Brianís agency before. He was a bit overwhelmed when he walked in the door. It was a huge open space, high ceiling, stark white walls and ultra minimalist. It seemed that everything had a purpose even the artwork reflected the Vangard name in some manner. The receptionistís desk was made of clean lines, chrome, glass with a touch of marble in the form if tiles across the desktop. As he approached the desk he suddenly got an attack of nerves as if he was invading some sacred space because he had never been formally invited by Brian to visit his workplace. He highly doubted anyone, with the exception of Cynthia, even knew of his existence.
"May I help you?" The receptionist was a young, beautiful and impeccably dressed woman with straight shiny black hair and black eyes.
"I..I." Justin lost his voice, cleared his throat and started over trying to sound confident. "Iím here to see Brian Kinney."
"Do you have an appointment?"
"No, no heís my. Uh weíre friends."
"Heís a very busy man Mr....?" Her voice was charged with a hint of condescension.
"Justin...Justin Taylor. Iím sure if you call his office and tell him Iím here heíll see me."
"Hold on." a bit of annoyance peaked through her ever present smile. "Cynthia, Nicki thereís a Justin Taylor here at the reception desk, says he is a friend of Mr. Kinneyís. Oh, yes, of course. Will you come down to get him or should I...Okay, Iíll tell him." Replacing the phone in its cradle, her smile got even brighter than Justin could possibly imagine. He was positive he saw a mischievous glint in her eyes as well. "Mr. Kinneyís assistant will be down to get you in a few minutes please have a seat over there." She motioned to a sitting area with couches that looked vaguely like they had come from Brianís loft.
Taking a seat he noticed Nicki was now on the phone and he could swear she was sending a heads up to the grapevine regarding his presence. ĎShit, Brianís going to kill me.í he thought. He then contemplated leaving as to not cause Brian any embarrassment by his unannounced visit.
"Justin Taylor?" Cynthia asked as she approached holding out her hand to greet him. Justin stood and took her hand.
"Thatís me. Iím not sure if Brianís ever mentioned me, but..."
"As a matter of fact he has. Iím Cynthia Morgan his assistant. He and I go way back and he is fairly open about his life to me, so relax Justin."
"Iíll try. He doesnít know I was coming today. I thought Iíd go with him to his appointment."
"I think that would be a great idea. Not sure what heíll think. Iíll take you to his office." She turned and walked towards the elevators as Justin followed. Once inside she pressed the button for the fourth floor. Thankfully, the car was empty allowing Justin a bit of time to adjust to the bustling environment.
"The poor manís been in meetings most of the morning. New clients out of New York. Vanceís been after their business for a year. Brian got them in for a meeting except theyíll only give us a few hours and Brianís rushing to put together a quick presentation for tonight."
"Tonight? He canít...I mean he.."
"I know Justin." Cynthia put her hand on Justinís forearm as the elevator door opened. He followed her down a long hallway to a small office on the left. On the opposite wall a door adjoining her office to Brianís. She opened the door and peaked in checking for Brian. Not seeing him she opened the door fully waving him inside. Justinís mouth dropped open at the shear size of the office. Decorated much like the rest of the building only he recognized all the art work. It was his. Several pieces on each wall. A few he remembered giving to Brian. The others were those that had sold at his first art show at school. He didn't know Brian had attended it. He hadnít told him about it because he didnít think at that time Brian was in the least bit interested in him or his work. ĎSo Brian Kinney.í Justin thought as a cold shiver ran down his spine. ĎOh god, Ethan was there too? Had he seen me with him? Heard what Iíd said? No...just forget that name. Brian said no going back. No rehashing our mistakes.í Thatís the pact they had made when they decided to give their relationship another try.
"Justin." Cynthiaís voice broke him away from his thoughts. "Iím glad youíre here to take Brian to his appointment. Iím really worried about him. Heís not looking well and damned if I can get him to stop and eat. The only way I get him to drink anything is to constantly keep handing him bottles of water." Justin nodded his understanding.
"You think heíll be angry that Iím here?"
"Probably, but you know his bite is worse than his bark." Cynthia smiled and winked. "Itís nice to finally meet you. Iíve only seen you in photographs. I keep trying to get him to bring his son in for a visit too, but he just says this is no place for Sonny Boy."
"Heís shown you pictures of me and Gus?" Justin was totally astonished.
"Yes and he even keeps two nicely framed photos of you two on his desk." Cynthia pointed to the frames sitting on the far corner of his desk.
Justin went around the desk and stared at the photos they were from the past Christmas at Mel and Lindseyís. "Cynthia you know the treatments really wipe him out. I donít think heís going to be up to taking a meeting after."
"I tried to talk him into telling Vance. He wonít."
"I wonít what?" Brian rushed into the office with a lackey close on his heals showing him a presentation placard. Brian is almost behind his desk before he noticed Justin. "What the hell are you doing here?"
"I came to..." Brian held up a hand stopping Justin before he could finish. Taking the placard he looked at it.
"Fuck! Marko I said RED, like blood red, not some glitzy feminine color with a hint of orange for christsake! It has to represent the Orient. Red and the Chinese symbols need to be bolder, centered over the name of the product. The product name should be in GOLD not black. Got it?"
"Yes Mr. Kinney." Marko took the placard sheepishly and headed out the door.
"I want it in one hour Marko or Iíll have..."
"My balls on a string." Marko finished then practically ran down out the door.
Brian looked at Cynthia and she retreated into her office closing the door behind her. Justin moved close to Brian challenging him to yell. He didnít have the energy. Brian dropped into his chair clamping his thumb and middle finger over the bridge of his nose. "You donít want a repeat of yesterday I take it?"
"I want you safe sweetheart." Justin whispered as he rubbed the back of Brianís neck.
"Good I need you today."
"You donít know the half of it. Anyway Iíd love to give you a tour, but my appointmentís at 5:00 and I need to make a quick stop at the loft. "Brian stood up.
"First this." Justin put his arms around his lover and pulled him in for a warm kiss and a quick nuzzle.
"Thanks. I needed that." Brian whispered against Justinís neck.
As they exited Brianís office Justin could feel and see several eyes on them. It made him feel self-conscious, but proud to be walking out of the Vanguard Agency hand in hand with his partner.
Brian is lying on a treatment table. His legs, genitals and chest are covered in lead blankets. A small portion of his lower abdomen is exposed. The radiation specialist is lining up the Linear Accelerator just above the purple Xís marked on Brianís skin.
"So what made you change your mind Mr. Kinney?" Dr. Sparks asked as he busied himself preparing Brian for treatment.
"You can drop the Mr. Kinney shit doc youíve seen me naked." Brianís voice was raspy and he was having a hard time keeping his eyes open and he hadnít even gotten his 10th treatment yet.
"Okay Brian. Why?"
"I live my life with no regrets and the thought that if I missed this one treatment and this...if it comes back, Iíll always wonder if it was because of that and probably regret it."
"I thought for sure youíd be a romantic and tell me it had something to do with that beautiful young man sitting nervously in the waiting room."
"Got me there doc. I was looking at he and my sonís pictures when I was talking to you."
"You made a good decision and you would probably always wonder." The doctor finished adjusting and stepped into the control booth speaking to Brian using the microphone. "Okay Brian this is the longer of the two, you know the drill. Keep your breathing steady and donít fidget."
Brian closed is eyes and tried to forget where he was and the slight burning sensation he felt on his skin as he counted down from 60.
In the JeepĖ After treatment 10 headed back to the Agency.
"Did you remember to take the Torecan an hour before?" Justin knew the answer by simple observation. Brian was pale and sweaty. "You should have someone remind you when youíre so busy. The medication canít help if you donít remember to take it."
"Justin please shut up and fucking drive!" The words came out a lot sharper than heíd expected, but he felt like shit. All he wanted to do was go home and crawl into bed. ĎFucking Vance.í Brian thought. Then reaching into his pocket Brian, pulled out a tiny vial of cocaine. Justin glanced over, then made a sharp pull over to the curb causing Brian to almost drop the vial. "What the fuck are you doing Justin?"
"Brian no! Donít fucking add to your problems. That shit will just make it worse and in your condition will probably kill you!" Justin pleaded and made a grab for the vial.
Brian easily evaded Justinís grab. "You donít know shit Justin! Iíll never make it through that goddamn presentation if I donít get a little help. Christ you think Iím some kind of amateur?" He didnít want to be angry at Justin. Shit he didnít even want to yell at him. The kid was only trying to look out for him.
"Please Brian donít do this just call Vance and tell him youíre sick. He can make the pitch for fucksake, you already did all the work." Justin was trying to control his anger and found himself gripping Brianís arm so tight heíd left marks.
"Let go Justin. Iíll be fine. This shit barely effects me anymore. Itís the only way I can hold out for an hour or so to make the pitch. Then Iím out of there. You can come in and drag me out. Okay?" Brian stared into Justinís eyes trying to convince himself as much as Justin.
"And what if you pass out, end up in the hospital and they find that shit in your blood? Then what Brian? Youíd be totally screwed? No job, no loft, no designer suits, no...no..."
"And no you? Was that next Justin?" Brian raised a questioning eyebrow.
"You asshole. You goddamn fucking asshole!" Justin got out of the Jeep slammed the door and paced in front of the vehicle shouting more obscenities directed at Brian.
He had no idea why watching his beautiful lover wildly pacing in front of him, throwing his hands in the air as he shouted made him laugh, he just looked so damn adorable. For a second he thought about Ďgiving iní and handing Justin the vial. Then his survival instincts kicked in and he removed the spoon taking one and then a second hit. "Justin if you donít get in the Jeep Iím leaving your ass here." Brian looked nervously at his watch.
Justin quieted down his face red. Breathing hard he jumped back behind the wheel. Brian handed him the vial.
"Dump it for me." Justin looked up an began to smile thinking his ranting had worked only to see an all to familiar glaze come over Brianís eyes.
"I swear Brian Kinney if you kill yourself with this shit Iíll never forgive you!" Justin spit out through a tightly clenched jaw. Then jerked the Jeep into gear and tore out into traffic.
"Fuck Justin it wonít matter if we both die in a fucking car accident." Brian threw back with more than enough venom in his voice to cause Justin to accelerate throwing him back against the seat.
"I fucking hate you sometimes." Justin grumbled keeping his eyes glued to the road.
"Yeah sweetheart love you too." Brian leaned back, closed his eyes and tried to focus his energy for the long hour that lay ahead.
Vanguard Agency Board RoomĖ6:30pm
Checking his watch yet again, Justin kept a close eye on Brian as he watched him perform in front of six people, three well-dressed oriental men (the clients) and Decker the dick as Brian nick named him. The asshole had the same look as that little puke Kip Thomas. Then there was Cynthia and himself. Vance had Ďsomething come upí leaving the entire presentation on Brianís shoulders.
Justin had to admit Brianís presence was mesmerizing; and he was without a doubt brilliant in his originality, research and marketing skills. Justin felt a twang of guilt that he had never given much thought to how incredibly artistic and creative Brian really was.
"The idea gentleman is to emphasis three key words in the campaign. Orient, Natural and Growth. The market is flooded with hair regrowth products. You need to make this product stand out."
"How do we do that against doctor prescribed treatments like Rogaine?" The eldest of the three clients asked.
"Packaging." Nathan Decker jumped in trying to upstage Brian. "As you can see weíve come up with two separate designs. The box which will break down the dosages in blister pack for a thirty-day supply for those who wish to try the product. And the ornate bottle which gives the customer an option of a 60 or 90 day supply; both of which will stand out on the shelves."
"Mr. Decker thank you for explaining the obvious." Years of experience had taught Brian how to contend with assholes like Decker even if he was on his deathbed. He wasnít going to allow this fucker to step in Ďhisí spotlight. "Besides the packaging of the product, you need to move it out of the health food section of the supermarket and into the competition; along side products such as Rogaine. Thatís where the packaging concept will work to its fullest potential. Besides emphasizing the three words." Brian referred to the presentation placard. Your product has a huge advantage over topical products and can be presented to the public as a Ďmagic pillí. No more having to go through a daily regimen of washing hair, drying carefully, putting on lotions. All the consumer has to do is take two pills a day for results. Inside the packaging we would add information about the product, the origins of the, all natural, ingredients and testimonials that it does indeed do what you say it will. The burden of proof is on your shoulders. If you say this product will regrow hair, it better work on at least on 20-40% of those who try it."
Suddenly light headed, Brian leaned against the table. Justin was about to stand when he caught Brianís look causing him to remain seated. Cynthia poured him a glass of water which he only took a few sips from before continuing. Sweat was beading on his forehead and his legs were starting to shake he knew he had to finish the presentation quickly and hand the reins over to Decker. As much as he hated the thought of that, it would be worse for him to pass out in front of the clients.
"Brian you okay?" Decker asked calling attention to Brianís physical status.
"Fine, should have eaten lunch today." He smiled at his clients. Then continued as if nothing had happened. "To summerize gentleman, the campaign we have planned out for ĎFungreekí will begin with full page ads in major menís health magazines" Brian pointed packaging prototypes in front of Decker. "Product packaging and a website with a nationwide sample mailing. Once your sales jump at least 35-40%, we can begin regional television commercials. Jumping to national, once your sales increase hits around the 60-70% mark." Brian could feel his focus slipping, but he held on to his confident tone not breaking eye contact with the elder of the three clients. "Mr. Decker has the contracts. All they need is your signatures."
"You are very confident that this marketing strategy will triple our sales?" The elder spoke stoically.
"I am and you could have gone to any ad agency in New York, yet you chose to bring your business to us. Smart move on your part. You'll be getting the same quality package as you would in New York at Pittsburgh prices."
"You are correct in your thinking Mr. Kinney." The man rose and bowed his acceptance of the contract. Brian returned the bow making sure he bent a little deeper at the waist to show his respect for the man's elder age "I look forward to working with you and your company Mr. Chang. Mr. Decker, Iíll hand the rest of the show over to you." Brian glanced at Justin then exited. Justin right behind him.
"Brian, you were great in there!"
"Thanks." Brian continued to walk quickly toward the executive wash room. Once inside he barely made it to the sink before throwing up. After a few moments of labored breathing Brian turned on the water rinsed his mouth and spit. Justin stood close. Brian pushed away from the sink trying to stand erect, his knees buckled. "Justin..." Was all he was able to say before everything went black.
Justin grabbed Brian around the waist from behind and pulled him close. Brian's dead weight was too much for Justin to control, but he managed to maneuver Brian's body so that it fell on top of his as they hit the floor. Rolling carefully out from under Brian, Justin yelled for help.
"Brian. Brian can you hear me?" Justin shook Brian's shoulder lightly, then reached up to the sink, he wet his hands and patted Brian's face. Nothing, he was out cold. Remembering a first-aid class he'd taken as an easy credit at St. James, he leaned in to make sure Brian was breathing and had a pulse. He found both, then removed his tie and unbuttoned the top buttons of his shirt.
Finally, Cynthia rushed in after hearing Justin scream for help once again.
"He passed out. What's it look like?" Justin was angry that minutes had actually passed before someone heard him yell.
"I can see that Justin. Did he hit his head when he fell?" She tried to keep her voice calm. Never could she imagine in her wildest dreams ever picture seeing her boss passed out cold from something other than drugs or alcohol.
"I don't think so. Shit! Fuck! I told him this would happen. We need to get him to the hospital."
"I'll go call. I'm sure he'll be okay." Cynthia ran out to make the call.
Justin sat down and cradled Brian's head in his lap. Now on the verge of tears he whispered close to Brian's face. "I told you, sweetheart, but you didn't think I knew shit did you? I'm just a fuckin kid who doesn't know shit." He couldn't stop the tears now.
"You wanna stop the waterfall before I fucking drown." Brian whispered into Justinís ear. Justin lifted his head. Brianís eyes were barely open and a smirk tugged at his lips. "Asshole. You fucking scared me. Justin wiped his face on his sleeve sniffing loudly.
"You didnít get snot on me did you? Iím not into that gross shit." Brian tried to laugh, but it turned into a cough.
"Oh youíre a fucking riot. You should see what you look like from here." Trying to keep his face stern to let Brian know he wasnít off the hook.
"I hope your clients donít have to take a piss. Theyíd run back to New York screaming."
"Oh now whoís being funny?" Brian tried to sit up only his body wasnít cooperating. "Help me up." Justin held him down.
"Lie still. Cynthia just called for an ambulance it should be here soon."
"I donít need an ambulance Justin. I need to go home and get my ass in bed. Iíll be fine."
"No. You are going to the hospital and let them check you out. Iíll call Dr. Connors if you want him there, but youíre going."
"Since when did you become my mother?" Brian tried to sit up again only to be held firmly in place. ĎWhen had the little shit gotten so strong.í Brian wondered.
"Since you decided to Ďnotí take care of yourself. You think I donít know how sick you are right now? Iíll make you a bet."
"Iím lying here practically dead and you wanna make a bet?"
"Iíll bet a weeks worth of my fabulous full body massages that youíll be diagnosed with extreme dehydration, anemia, malnutrition..."
"Malnutrition?!! Christ you make me sound like a fucking stray mutt."
"When was the last time you ate something Brian? I mean something real and a hand full of saltineís doesnít count. Youíve probably lost about 15 lbs now. Hell theyíll probably write you up as anorexic."
"Iím not betting." Brian suddenly became quiet and sullen.
"Thought I was losing you again. Itís going to be okay."
"You were right." Brian winced at having to admit he'd fucked up.
"They canít test you without reason and thereís no reason." Justin reached down and took Brian's hand squeezing it.
"Heís in here." Cynthia said as she opened the bathroom door for the paramedics. Quickly checking vitals Justin filled in the details of Brianís treatment as the paramedics did their job.
The team of paramedics consisted of one female and one very large male. Brian had slipped back into unconsciousness before witnessing the male paramedics disgusted look when Justin told him he was Brianís boyfriend. The female paramedic introduced herself as Pam and didnít react at all to Justinís pronouncement. Big Jim on the other hand took a superior attitude and simply pointed to his name tag. Jim Dickson, EMT Trainee. The name took him back to St. James, to the homophobic prick science teacher Richard Dickson or simply Dick Dick, for short. Justin wondered if the two pricks were related....probably just his fucking luck.
Justin was allowed to ride in the back of the ambulance with Brian. Jim took the role of monitoring Brianís vitals as Pam talked to the hospital via mobile phone on the ride to the hospital. Watching the paramedics, Justin got a sudden chill down his spine as a quick memory flashed threw his head. ĎBrian was covered in his blood. Holding his hand, his face blank as if he were in shock.í Brian began to thrash a bit bringing Justin back to the present. He knew what was coming. "You got a bucket?" He asked Big Jim.
"Heís going to throw up. Trust me I can tell. And you better hurry or its going to be all over you." One could only hope Justin thought.
Jim practically threw the cardboard bucket at Justin, in the nick of time.
"How long has he had it?" Big Jim asked after Brian had settled back and dropped off again.
Pam rolled her eyes, but let the asshole step right in it.
"Had what?" Justin could feel the anger build in his gut. He knew exactly what the jerk meant, but he wanted him to say it.
"It. HIV. AIDS." Big Jim enunciated the acronyms slowly as if Justin were deaf and dumb.
"Didnít you hear a fucking thing I told you about why heís sick? You ignorant asshole! Just because heís gay and ill your brain only hears acronyms? God Iím so sick of you homophobic jerks." His blue eyes narrowed to a slit and leered at the paramedic daring him to take his foot out of his mouth and say something even more idiotic.
'That oughta teach him a bit of humility. Way do go bright eyes.' Pam thought to herself as she smiled slyly at Big Jim.
Mercy Hospital, ER - 1 hour later
Dr. Conners entered the treatment room. Brian was on his second liter of saline and had just dozed off again. Justin stood and greeted the doctor.
"Dr. Conners, Iím glad you could come."
"Howís he doing?" He asked as he flipped open Brianís chart.
"Better. He hasnít thrown up since we got here and heís not quite as pale."
"This isnít unusual for a man like Brian, Justin. I could tell the first time I met him that he probably worked as hard as he played. Itís hard for someone like him to deal with the limitations radiation therapy puts on the body. Our job is to get him to understand those limitations and help him make the adjustments in his lifestyle."
"Iíve tried. His workload is really demanding right now. He just made partner six months ago. Heís afraid to back off and trust that the people that work for him can do their jobs. Plus when he gets busy he doesnít think to eat or even take the medication early enough. Then after the treatments heís to nauseated and tired, so he doesnít eat unless I practically force feed him something before he goes to work."
"And Iím guessing he hasnít told anyone at work."
"Only his assistant and he swore her to secrecy."
"Iím going to recommend he take medical leave. At least until his therapy is finished."
"You can recommend doc, but I canít do that." Brian said through a groggy haze.
"Brian your body needs rest, nourishment and fluids. If you keep this up, cancer is going to be the least of your worries. Youíve lost 19 lbs most of which has been muscle mass. Your heart is taking some major punishment from the bouts of vomiting. From what I read in your chart, its been going on for 12 straight days even on the days you havenít had a treatment. You were a very healthy young man three weeks ago, with the exception of the cancer. Now, you look more like a feeble man in his 60's." It was a blatant tactic and he knew it was unethical. He also knew that Brian was a hard-headed individual, pulling the vanity card was the only way to give him the verbal kick in the ass he needed to step back and look at the damage he was doing to himself.
It worked. Brian closed his eyes and sighed. "Fine. Iíll call my partner in the morning. On one condition." Opening his eyes he glared at Dr. Connors. "Iím going home tonight."
"Thatís fine Brian. After this liter of saline is finished you can go home. Rest now. Iím going to have a little chat with Justin and tell him what you need to do to get better."
"And why not just tell me Doc? I am the fucking patient." Brian was getting extremely cranky and his lucidity was fading fast.
"If I was convinced your brain was firing on all cylinders Mr. Kinney I would. Iíll bet..."
"Fuck another bet."
Connors gave Justin a questioning look. Justin shook his head and shrugged his shoulders as if he had no idea what Brian was referring to.
"Brian I want you to add a few numbers in your head. You can do that right?"
"Shit, now you think Iím a fucking moron? Whatís with you doc?"
"Just humor me. Add 32 and 16."
Brian opened his mouth to answer only he couldnít. He thought of the numbers, could almost see them, but his brain couldnít make the connection. "Christ doc what the fuck is wrong with me? Now I canít even remember how to add."
"What is wrong with you Brian is that your body is in a state of malnutrition. What ever fat reserves you do have are now being broken down trying to heal the damage done by the radiation and keep your body running, leaving virtually nothing for basic cognitive function."
"I must be a medical anomaly then doc, because earlier this evening I made a brilliant presentation and sold a multimillion dollar contract to a hard-nosed client from New York City." Brian smiled widely then promptly dropped off to sleep.
Justin followed the doctor to the er desk. "I can't believe you pulled that off Dr. Connors. You knew exactly what to say, a man of 60. God that probably scared the shit out of him. That cognitive trick was risky though; if he wasn't so out of it..."
"I know. Had to try it though. He's a stubborn man."
" Justin be honest with me. Does he have a problem with it?"
"With what?" Justin played dumb. He knew he wasn't fooling the doctor.
"I understand how it works Justin, been there myself. It won't go any further."
"Doctors honor." Connors crossed his heart and held his hand up to emphasis that he could be trusted.
"No...not recently anyway. He's been through a lot. It was one of his ways of dealing with stuff."
"Now he's working on the emotional parts of his life and this comes along."
"I trust your judgement. I think taking the stress of work away for a couple weeks will help him gain a better perspective on things. Is he talking to anyone?"
"Like a shrink?"
"Brian's more into self-psychoanalysis."
"Is it working?"
"Yeah, slowly." Justin smiled, the pride he felt for his lover showing in his baby blues. "I have to admit I'm enjoying the process."
"You two are quite a unique pair. Okay, let's sit down and make a plan for helping Brian get his physical strength back."
"He's going to hate this. Brian absolutely hates to be hovered over."
"I have some suggestions to help there too."
The two men sat. Dr. Connors began mapping out an eating schedule and diet for the next ten days.
Sunday afternoon on the roof. Another unseasonably warm day for Pittsburgh in April.
Justin was working on a painting. The easel was lowered to a height so Justin could sit cross legged on a chair and work. Brian joined him with a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. Setting the pitcher down on the new patio table he poured them each a glass, making sure to put a slice of lemon into Justin's glass.
"Aren't you the picture of domesticity." Justin laughed and reached for a glass which Brian promptly pulled away before he could reach it.
"Uh, uh. Take it back." Brian snarled, but in good humor.
"What? It's not a bad thing. It's called being thoughtful." Justin raised an eyebrow looking every bit the little smartass he could so easily be.
"You didn't say...'Oh Brian how thoughtful'' He said raising his voice to a high pitch. "You used a bad, bad word and hurt my feelings." Brian mocked a hurtful look.
Justin got up and went for the glass. Brian went to the edge of the roof and held the glass over. "Not until you apologize."
"Fine, forget it then." Justin turned back sat down and began to work. He knew his lover would give in. Brian walked over and stood behind Justin handing him the drink over his shoulder. "Nice work." Brian said softly reaching out with his empty hand to stroke the back of his young loverís neck.
"Itís for shit."
"Youíre right." Brian threw back while lightly slapping Justin upside his head.
"Ouch!" Justin rubbed his head as if the slap had actually hurt. "What the fuck was that for?"
"Itís a Debbie tactic. Highly effective if used with proper technique and timing." Justin stared and waited for more of an explanation. "When someone admires your work and then you turn around and say ĎItís for shití you are implying that their opinion is invalid."
"Thatís not how I meant it."
"How did you mean it?" Brian cocked an eyebrow.
"No, I donít. Explain it to me because every time I try to pay you a compliment about your art or even your writing skills, you always say something negative in response. Which makes me feel like my opinion doesnít count for shit." Brian turned away and walked over to the edge of the roof and surveyed the buildings around them.
Coming up behind him, Justin circled his arms around Brianís waist and laid his head against his back. "I used to be a lot more confident about my art." Brian twisted around without breaking the embrace, to face Justin. He continued gazing into Brianís eyes. "I used to blame it on taking a bat to the head." Brian winced as he often did at any mention of that night. "Now, after being in art school for almost two years I constantly compare myself to the other art students, and I always feel like...." Justin trailed off not finding the words to express himself.
"Like youíre not good enough in the scheme of things?" Brian finished for him. Justin nodded. "And because Iím not an artist I canít possibly know good art when I it see, right?"
"Of course not, I didnít think when I said it. Itís become an automatic response. Your opinion is valid and I promise Iíll try to stop knocking my work so much and take the compliments." They kissed, which led to deeper kissing. Leading into a mild frenzy of groping and necking. Suddenly, Justin tensed as he felt something ice cold and wet spill down his back.
"Oops." Brian laughed and helped Justin out of his wet shirt. They kissed again.
"You up for it?" Justin asked as he looked down at the growing bulges between them.
"Looks like it. Only..." Brian hesitated.
"Donít worry sweetheart Iíll be gentle." Justin rubbed his loverís stomach. "I know youíre sore." Brian took his young partner by the hand and headed for the roof door stopping only briefly to set down his now half-empty glass.
Brian was lying on his stomach with Justin on top of him, both naked, of course. Justin whispered against Brianís ear. "Breath deep and relax. Envision that youíre lying on a beautiful white sandy beach with the surf softly echoing in the background. Feel the sun on your back warming your muscles. You can feel the muscles in your legs and feet relax, let go of the tension. Move up to your thighs feel them relax." Just as he is about to move Brianís focus to the next part of his anatomy, he feels Brianís body start to shake. He panicked for a second until he realized Brian was giggling.
"What the fuck is so funny?"
Brianís giggling sounded more like a school girl than ĎBrian Kinney sex god.í His giggling infected Justin.
"Brian!" Justin pushed out through his giggles.
"Iím not laughing at you sweetheart. I was enjoying it. Then I started to wonder which one of Benís books you were getting this from.
"So. Why would that be funny?"
"Because youíre talking me through a visualization relaxation technique..." Brian was hit with another fit of giggles. Justin thought for a second then added. "With my dick in your ass. Maybe I should write my own book. ĎAnal Erotic Relaxation Techniquesí"
"And Iím your test subject?" Brian was still giggling. It was a good release for his pent up stress. "You know when you laugh my dick gets an extra special bonus." Justin added. That only caused Brian to laugh harder. Justin began pumping into Brian in long smooth strokes. The laughter soon subsided and turned in to moans of pleasure. It felt incredibly good to be intimate again after two weeks of hell.
Later in the shower they nuzzled close as the water fell over them, helping them relax under the pressure and warmth.
"Iím glad I finally was able to watch you work. You are amazing, but you know that."
Brian nodded while enjoying Justinís neck.
"Youíre incredibly creative and original. Have you ever created anything for the sake of art?"
"I created you." Brian teased swatting Justin lightly on the butt.
"You must have taken art courses in school. Lindsay said thatís how you met."
"Yeah we were in a sculpture class together. I offended her and the stone dyke instructor with my over use of phallic symbols in my work."
"So how did you get to be friends?"
"She boldly came up to me one day and told me how offensive my art work was to her and I agreed that I was obsessed with my dick."
"Oh it was the Brian Kinney charm that she fell for." Justin laughed swatting Brian on the rear this time. Suddenly he could feel Brian lean more of his weight on him and his breathing became erratic.
"Brian are you okay?" Brian shook his head and let his weight slowly lower to the floor of the shower stall. Justin kept his arms tight around him to guide his upper torso safely to a sitting position on the floor.
"Brian?" Justin squatted down to look in to his eyes.
"Just got a little light-headed. Iím okay." Brian pulled Justin in for a quick kiss to let him know everything was fine. Justin shut off the water.
"Let me know when youíre ready." Justin stood outside the stall with a towel in hand. When Brian nodded, Justin stepped in to give him a hand up. Brian sat down on the toilet seat lowering his head to keep from passing out. Justin quickly dried him off and helped him to bed.
"You need to eat again."
"Again? Feels like Iíve been eating all day."
"Doctors orders. Five small meals a day with plenty of carbs and protein."
"Iím not hungry."
"Well your body is or you wouldnít have almost passed out in the shower. Iíll make you a strawberry smoothie. Thatís more like a treat." Justin darted off into the kitchen.
"Justin, how old am I?"
"Is that a trick question?"
"No...what I mean is Iím not a five year old. Donít talk to me like one."
"Donít act like one." Justin shot back while preparing the fruit, yogurt and ice in the blender.
Brian made no comment only, repeated silently what Justin had just said, much in the manner of a five year old.
With a large shake glass in hand, Justin straddled Brianís legs. "I made enough for two so we can share."
"Nope. Donít need one." With that Justin took a large drink from the glass then leaned in for a kiss, transferring the liquid into Brianís mouth.
"Hmmmm. Now Iím a baby bird?" Brian whispered playfully after swallowing. Justin nodded and kissed him again. "I really love your playful side."
"Thank you. Just remember our pact."
"I know, I know. Iíll never tell. Not even under threat of torture." Justin continued transferring the strawberry concoction in the same manner. If only everyone else knew just how incredibly playful and sweet Brian could be. He thought, but then who would ever believe him.
The loft - next morning.
Justin awoke to see Brian dressed in his work clothes.
"Hey. Whatís with the suit?"
"Itís what I always wear to work."
"Justin I canít just call Vance and tell him Iím taking two weeks off. This is business and Iím his partner. I have to do this face to face." Brian finished tightening his tie and grabbed his suit coat.
"Did you eat breakfast?"
"Iíll get something on the way to the office."
"Brian, I know you. Just give me a few minutes and Iíll make you breakfast."
"Brian..." Justin jogged to the kitchen and began pulling out cooking utensils.
"I donít think I can stomach another bowl of oatmeal mixed with tree bark."
"Itís not tree bark itís called Ďwheat germí and you of all people should understand your body needs..."
"Please, not another fucking lecture. I got it, Justin." Brian dropped his suit coat over the back of the couch and slumped into a chair at the dining table. Justin brought him a glass of juice and placed two large multi-vitamins next to it. "Start with this."
"Are you sure these vitamins were meant for human consumption? I remember watching my grandfather give something this size to his horse when I was a kid." Brian picked up the large pills and looked at them closely.
"They are. Stop being such a pussy." Justin retreated back into the kitchen retrieving containers of oatmeal and wheat germ from the cupboard. "I got some dried cranberries yesterday. That should help make the oatmeal taste better."
"Nothing can make oatmeal taste better."
"I could jack off in it. Iím sure youíd love that."
"That just might do the trick for me." Brian winked then threw the vitamins into the back of his throat and emptied the glass of juice.
"Michaelís taking you to your appointment today. You need to let him know where to pick you up."
"He doesnít need to. I can drive myself." Brian said flatly.
Justin sighed loudly. "Brian..."
"Will you stop saying my name like that. You sound like a nagging housewife."
"Fine. You call Michael and tell him you donít need him to help you." Justin poured the oatmeal in the boiling water and stirred.
Brian ignored the extra noise Justin was making as he clanged utensils making his disagreement known. Finally, dropping the bowl of oatmeal and a spoon in front of Brian.
"Thank you dear." Brianís tone was all mocking.
Justin said nothing and stomped into the bedroom.
Brian finished his breakfast, set his bowl in the sink then grabbed his coat. "Sunshine, you want a ride to school?" He lightened his tone hoping Justin had gotten over his little hissy fit.
"No, I can get there Ďmyselfí. Justinís tone hadnít changed. He was still pissed. Brian shook his head and left.
Vanguard Agency - Gardner Vanceís office.
"Gardner I need to talk to you about something personal." Brian hadnít bothered to call in advance; he was a partner after all. Vance could make time for him without advanced notice.
"Yes, yes. Sit down Brian." Vance motioned Brian in and leaned back in his chair. "Is this about what happened on Friday?" Vance asked as Brian sat down.
"Iím sure Decker filled you in." Brian never covered his dislike of Decker. Vance had hired him without even giving his new partner the chance to interview the guy. He was hired as a favor of a relative who had invested in the agency.
"He said you passed out in the lavatory. Do you have a drug problem we need to deal with?" Vance was never one to prance around a point.
"No! What the fuck ever gave you that idea? Oh, forget it donít answer that."
"Decker only eluded to that Brian. Iím not blind you know. Iíve noticed the changes in your physical appearance. The Ďappointmentsí you have to leave for early everyday."
Brian was contemplating telling Vance to take the agency and his partnership and shove it. Breathing slowly, he let his anger dissipate before he spoke.
"Well, itís comforting to know you have so much faith in me Gardner. What you think is a drug problem is in reality effects from daily radiation treatments."
"Brian, god I..."
"Let me get this out. I had cancer. Now I donít. The treatments are a precaution and Iím sorry I didnít tell you earlier. I thought I could handle the job and the treatments."
"Wait. Wait. Please donít tell me that you are going to ask for time off?" Vance shook his head not wanting to hear what he already knew Brian was about to say.
"Are you going to tell me I canít take a medical leave?"
"No. Itís ...Brian do you realize how big this account is that Ďyouí signed on Friday? Itís got to be the biggest of your career because it sure as hell is the biggest of mine."
"I did my research."
"Then you know that Mr. Chang will only work with one person. He trusts you Brian."
"And he already signed the contracts. Heíll just not get me for a few weeks."
"He called me personally this morning. He expects you in New York in two days to start working with his R & D people."
"Send Decker. He practically had is nose up my ass while I worked on this campaign. He can at least get things started. Iíll send Cynthia along with him. Sheíll keep him from fucking up too much." Brian couldnít believe the words that just came out of his mouth. Damnit, he had no choice.
"You really want me to do that?"
"Well, itís obvious you donít know enough about whatís going on with the biggest client of your career for you to step in. Iím not an equal partner in this firm, so why am I the one who knows more about whatís going on?"
"Thatís why you are the only partner. Although, with sending Decker to New York, I may have to change that."
"You do that Vance and your fucking golden goose walks!" Brian jumped to his feet.
"Brian. Sit. Please. Look, if we do well with the fungreek account our name will spread. We could potentially pull in billion dollar clients from New York and Los Angeles. Isnít that what you want for Ďyourí agency as well?"
"And I thought I was a heartless son of a bitch." Standing Brian turned to leave Vanceís office only to stop before he opened the door. "Tell Chang Iíll be in New York on Wednesday." Brian took one step out the door and turned back changing his mind. "Forget it. Iíll call Mr. Chang myself." Looking straight into Vanceís eyes. "Iím going to handle this. You keep that little fucking charity case the fuck away from me." Vance nodded adding a satisfied smile. Brian slammed the door behind him.
Barely in control of his emotions, Brian returned to his office. He was intercepted by Cynthia before he could enter and lock the world outside.
"Michael called twice. Heís at the store. Justin's called three times." She stopped abruptly when she realized her boss was looking at her. She could tell nothing she had just said registered.
"Brian why don't you go home. I can handle things around here." She reached out and touched his arm. Her touch brought him to life.
"No you can't handle things around here. I'm the only one who can seem to manage that. Now, I'm going in my office and locking the fucking door to work on the biggest account of my career if it kills me. No phone calls. No interruptions. That means from anyone including Vance."
Cynthia let go of his arm and nodded. Brian walked into his office, slammed the door and turned the lock. For the first time in the six years she had worked for Brian as his assistant, he had brought her to tears. She could feel the rage radiate beneath his barely calm exterior. The butterfly was dying. That's what brought the tears.
Inside his office Brian sat down, leaned back in his chair took a few deep breaths and pushed down the outburst of emotion that threatened to overtake him. He was worn out both physically and mentally.
The Comic Book store - early afternoon
Justin enters looking depressed.
"Heís not returning your calls either?" Justin shook his head. Michael didnít really need to ask. Cynthia had told him that Brian had sequestered himself in his office and was, in her opinion, in a very dark mood. "Cynthia did manage to get him to eat, so thatís something at least. And Iím still going over there at 4:30 to take him to his treatment." Michael announced.
"Something must have happened with Vance this morning." Justin plopped down on a stool behind the counter. "I thought he was out of the woods after this weekend."
"I know he was in a great mood when Ben and I were there Saturday. Iím still trying to come to grips with seeing Brian cooking steaks on a rooftop grill."
"Yeah well donít tease him about it or heíll never do it again." Justin warned.
"So whereíd we last leave Rage?" Michael pulled out the last story boards they had been working on.
"Buried under a pile of rubble after Radiation Man zapped all of his strength!" Justin wiped the angry tears from his eyes quickly before Michael could see.
Michael put his arm around Justin and hugged him. They were practically brothers now and they both shared their love for Brian. "You have to be the strong one Justin. Brianís great in a crisis, but not when it's his crisis."
"I know. Iím trying. Heís just so damn frustrating."
"His job is really important to him."
"I realized that a long time ago Michael. He has to realize that itís not as important as his health."
"Remember those story boards I sketched just after you guys broke up last year?"
"The ones that you sketched to tell me something and I was stupid enough to actually draw them up and they accidentally got published? The ones that almost ruined your friendship with Brian and ultimately brought us together again." Justin spewed out without taking a breath.
"Uh...yeah those." Michael laughed nervously not sure if Justin was being sarcastic or not.
"How the fuck could I forget!"
"Alright itís over now. Anyway to get to my point. That is the exact reason why Brian works so hard. Everyone thinks it all comes so easy for him and I think a lot of it does, but he still feels he has to prove his father wasn't right about him."
"I thought you were getting to a point. Weíve already been through this."
"No you donít or you wouldnít be so angry at him right now."
"Iím not angry!" Justin yelled. Then stood up and grabbed his backpack. "Michael I am not in the mood to fight with you. I understand what Brian has been through."
"Fine. You understand. But next time you see Brian I want you to really look at him and think about what it mustíve been like growing up being told every day how worthless you are, how youíd never amount to anything, how you werenít even wanted in the first place!"
"Fuck off Michael! Iím so tired of your best friend routine. You act like youíre the only one who gets Brian."
"Then stop acting like the suffering loved one. Step back from yourself and really look at what Brian must be dealing with right now."
"I gotta get to class." Justin huffed and headed for the door.
"Justin. I didnít mean..."
Justin didnít turn to look at Michael as he spoke with his hand on the door knob."Forget it Michael. Just make sure he gets to his appointment and home. Okay? Iíll be home by 6:30." He couldnít let him see the guilt he felt. Mikey was right.
On the long bus ride back to the art school Justin decided to make a list of emotions and problems he felt Brian may be dealing with. Ben had suggested he do something similar months ago to help him figure out his feelings for Brian in comparison to his feelings for Ethan. Seeing them written on paper had helped him but things in perspective instead of being all jumbled and confused in his head.
Brianís Jeep - After Brianís treatment. Michael is driving. Brian is slouched down in the seat his eyes closed.
"Still donít want to talk?"
"It might help." Brian gives Michael a Ďshut the fuck upí look. "Okay, okay."
They drive in silence for a few moments.
"You wanna stop at the diner and get something to eat?"
"You sure? We could just get something to go."
"I said no Michael!" Brian yelled then pinched the bridge of his nose with his thumb and index finger. "Fuck. I just want to go home. Okay?" His voice softened.
Michael reached over and rubbed Brianís knee, but said nothing.
PIFA - Justin's working on the painting heíd started on the roof.
Itís an abstract painting. Heíd started experimenting with shapes, textures and color. Looking at the canvas Justin could hear the instructorís voice.
"Abstract art is more about feeling than image. Dig deep within yourselves and transfer your emotions to the canvas." Justin didnít think too much of Professor Biel. From the first day of class the man pranced around the room as if he were lavishing his students with immortal words of wisdom and insight of a great master. The guy was rather a joke in the art school circle. But was good at teaching technique. That was the extent of his creativeness. But maybe this one time he had actually said something worth listening to.
Staring at the drab clusters of circles, squares and other geometric shapes already on the canvas, Justin began to let his emotions rise from his gut. Art served him well not only as a creative outlet, but an emotional one. Heíd used it after his bashing as therapy. Letting his anger shape his work. Of all the motions that came flooding to the surface now, anger was the least of them. Frustration unveiled it self as sharp lines of yellow and black. Anxiety showed up in the form of jagged edged triangles of purple. Replacing his brush with a spatula he added layers of red, mixing in brown to give the center of each new layer dark streaks blending into deep orange near the edges, this was his representation of fear, anger and helplessness.
Justin continued at a feverish pace until he could feel droplets of sweat run down his face. He was winded and spent as if heíd run a marathon in place. Catching his breath he stepped back and stared at his creation. It was there, he had represented every emotion in bold colors and geometric shapes. Stepping back further to take in the piece at a distance he was shocked when his eyes were drawn to the one shape he didnít remember adding to the canvas. In the middle of the canvas a large black crescent.
The loft - 6:30
Justin enters. Michael is on the couch reading a book.
"Youíre reading a book?" Justin pushes the book up to see the front cover it reads ĎAn Introduction to Zen Buddhism.í "And itís not a comic book. Iím impressed Mikey." Justin smirks at him.
"Oh, haha. And stop channeling Brian itís creepy."
"Is he sleeping?"
"Yeah he was pretty beat."
"Did he say anything?"
"You mean besides Ďshut the fuck upí?"
"Did he get sick?"
Michael shook his head. "He went right to bed."
"Did you get a chance to talk to Cynthia?"
"Yeah. Apparently Brian did talk to Vance this morning."
"And? Jesus Michael...the whole story."
Michael let out a long sigh. "Thereís not much to tell. He came back from meeting with Vance and he was in a bad mood. Cynthia said he mentioned something about being the only one who could handle things and something about the biggest account of his career then he locked himself in his office all day. Telling her he didnít want any interruptions not even from Vance."
Justin removed his coat and went to the kitchen. "You can go now Michael."
"I thought Iíd stick around. In case Brian needs to talk."
"He wonít want to talk." Weariness tainted Justinís tone.
"I said if he needs to talk. Heís closing off again. I...uh...we canít let him do that."
"Michael Novotney always the fucking saint." Justinís lips curled into a sneer.
"Thatís not fair."
"Oh isnít it? Heís always got you doesnít he Michael? Always have always will, isnít that you and Brianís fucking motto? Iím just the asshole who broke his heart...right?" His emotions spurred now. Justin was on a role. He was tired, frustrated and scared.
"I didnít say that." Michael stepped closer to Justin. "And keep your voice down. Heís fucking exhausted." Michael pointed towards the bedroom.
"Like I donít know that? Iíve only been Ďhereí with him every night for the past three weeks. Taking care of him or trying to. Sitting up with him while heís puking his guts out. Making sure that he eats. Making sure he has his medication with him when he goes to work, not that he remembers to take it. Trying to understand how all of this is affecting him. Trying to make him understand that it changes nothing about the way I feel about him. Trying to make him see that no matter what the fuck happens Iím here! Iím here and I love him more than anything in this entire fucking world! And what do I get for it? Mr. Michael ĎSaintí Novotny to come to Brianís rescue!"
Just then both men heard the sound of a creaking floorboard. Both turned to look in the direction of the sound. Brian was standing at the top of the platform landing. He stared at the two most important people in his life. His eyes were filled with pain. Then he went into the bathroom slamming the door behind him.
Michael instinctively headed to the bathroom door only to have Justin catch his arm and stop him.
"No Michael. Iím his partner." Justinís voice softened in tone, the anger now gone. He silently hoped Michael could understand.
"But...Justin you donít understand." Michael pleaded.
"Yes I do. If this were reversed and I was Benís best friend of 15 years how would you feel?"
Michael closed his eyes and nodded then pulled Justin into a tight hug. "Iím sorry." He pulled away. "Call me if you need anything."
"I will. I promise." Justin relaxed his shoulders and took a deep breath as Michael left.
Brian returned to the bedroom and exchanged his sweats for jeans and a t-shirt. Grabbed his sneakers and sat on the end of the bed to put them on. Justin climbed the platform stairs.
"Where are you going?"
"Out." Brian says flatly. Then looked up at Justin. "Donít worry Sunshine Iím not looking to get my dick sucked. Thatís pretty much over for me now." He stared waiting for a reaction.
"Youíre exhausted and you need to eat something." Justin sat next to him. "Iím sorry about...that. I donít know...."
"Sorryís bullshit." Brian cut him off.
"Donít leave...please. Brian talk to me." Justin laid his hand on Brianís arm.
"Thereís nothing to talk about." Brian pulled away from Justinís arm and stood. "Itís over." Justin stood and tried to embrace him. Brian pulled away and grabbed a jacket from his closet.
"The treatments. Today was the last one. Iím due in New York on Wednesday." Brian turned to face Justin. He knew he was going to get a fight. He set his resolve to let Justin say his piece then he was gone.
"Why do you have to go to New York?"
"Mr. Chang expects me there. Wants me to start working with his R& D people. Heís anxious to get this campaign going."
"Thatís what happened in Vanceís office. Did you tell him you were taking a medical leave?"
"Yes. Then he informed me that this is the biggest account of 'his' career and how it could potentially be the best thing that ever happened to our agency."
"And youíre the Ďonlyí one who can handle it right?"
"Iím his prize winning thoroughbred." Brian slid into his jacket.
"What about your promise? Never take less then 100% for a cure."
"Because itís bullshit. There is no 100% cure for cancer itís just a statistic doctors throw out to give you hope and make you suffer their fucking killer cure!"
"Doctor Conners wouldnít just tell you that to give you hope."
"Fuck. Why not? Their getting my money. The radiation oncologist has yet another fucking Guinea pig. Wake up Justin. I finally did."
"So you're giving up like that? Your goddamn job is more important then your health, your life?"
"Itís all I am Justin. Itís all I know. Vance and I have the potential to make Vanguard Agency one of the most prestigious firms on the East coast. I canít fuck this up."
"And it doesnít bother you that your Ďbusiness partnerí could give a fuck less about you? Your health?"
"It doesnít matter. Now I can concentrate on my work and my health without it being fucked with everyday."
"Itís not over Brian. If the cancer comes back you will always wonder if it was because you chose work over your life."
"You're right. I might. And I could finish the treatments and in a few months or a few years it would come back anyway. Once you have it you have it and Iíll live the rest of my life waiting for that moment when the doctor inevitably tells me itís returned. So what the fuck does any of it matter. Iíll live my life. Go to New York do my fucking job and wait until it comes back to slowly eat me away to nothing. Only Iíll let you know now. When it comes back Iím not fighting. Iím ending it before it can...." Brian canít finish. Looking at Justin he can barely contain his emotions. He leaves.
Defeated, Justin picks up the phone.
"Mommy...I...I" Justin starts crying and canít say anything else.
"Iíll be right there sweetheart."
Church - Joan Kinney's Church.
Brian is sitting in a pew staring up at Jesus hanging from the cross. Rev Butterfield enters from behind the pulpit and walks to the front of the pews when he recognizes the familiar face.
"Brian? Brian Kinney?"
Brian continues to stare at the cross. "What do you think all good homo hating Christianís are gonna do when he comes back and comes out?"
"What are you doing here?"
Brian ignores the question and continues his musing. "Hell, theyíll probably nailíem right back on that fucking cross. Poor son-of-a...."
"Mr. Kinney please there are others here who are offended by such language."
"Sorry Rev got carried away in the glorious presence of the savior." Brian slurred and opened his arms in a wide gesture toward the statue looming over the pulpit.
"Youíre drunk. Let me call some one to take you home." Tom spoke in his usual reserved manner.
"Jokes on you Rev. Iím completely sober." Brian slouched down further letting the back of his head rest against the hard wooden pew. "I just came for the solace."
"Would you like to talk?" Moving closer Tom sat next to Brian.
"Why does everyone want me to talk? Christ..." Brian glanced up at Tom.
"Sorry Rev.....Like talking solves everything." He closed his eyes for a few moments.
"It can help."
"Can I ask a question?" The Reverend nodded. "Hypothetically speaking. A guy dies. Heís a faggot and has lived his life in the manner of which is considered heathenistic by religious standards. Thing is he doesnít repent before he dies because even to the end he thinks itís all bullshit. Hereís the question." Brian pushed him self upright his back now straight with perfect posture except for a slight forward slump in his shoulders. "What if after he dies he finds out itís all fucking true and heís standing there at the pearly gates. Would God take pity on the poor bastard if he then decides to say Iím sorry for not living his life better?"
"Iím sorry Brian I donít have an answer for that. If you donít want to talk to me why not go to your mother?"
"Thatís funny Rev." Brian snickered. "Talk to my mother? You donít talk to Joanie Kinney. You listen or pretend youíre listening. Which has always been my preference." Brian laughed again then ran a hand over his face.
"Brian are you physically ill?"
"Great observance Rev. What gave me away? The pasty gaunt look? Actually, I thought Iíd try modeling." Brian stood up.
Before he could move out of the pew Tom grabbed his wrist gently and held him in place. "You need to make peace with yourself before anything this church has to offer can help."
"Thanks for the words of infinite wisdom." Brian spat out and jerked his wrist away from the good Reverend. Just before reaching the doorway Tom bestowed a few more words of wisdom. "She loves you Brian. Give her a chance."
"Why? She never gave me one." Brian exits the church.
Ben's Apartment - Midnight.
Ben and Michael are cuddled in bed together.
"Want me to make you some warm milk?"
"Yuck. No. It won't help anyway. I'm not going to be able to sleep until I know Brian's safe at home."
"Michael give him a little credit. I'm sure he's fine. He's probably just sitting some place thinking."
"Brian doesn't contemplate his life Ben. He just lives it."
"That's the most unfair thing I have ever heard you say about your friend." Ben was surprised by the coldness of Michael's remark.
"It's true. In all the years I've known Brian he's never given me any sign that he thinks about the spiritual or metaphysical side of life. He thinks its all bullshit."
"Has he ever been faced with a life-threatening situation before?"
"Not like this. I know he's thought about killing himself."
"Is that why you're worried?"
Michael nodded and snuggled closer to Ben's side.
"Has he ever attempted it?"
"Once sort of on his 30th birthday I found him experimenting with scarfing. And he may have when we were kids. We were about 16 and he came over one day and had a bandage on his wrist said he slipped helping his mom cut vegetables. I always wondered about that."
"Isn't that the wrist he wears the bracelet on?"
"Yeah. He's always worn something on his wrist."
"I'm not a shrink, but I don't think you have to worry about that. I do think that overhearing you and Justin arguing may have prompted him to need time alone."
"I need to learn when to keep my big mouth shut and stay out of things."
"Just remember that he has Justin now and he'll come to you when he needs you."
There's a knock on Ben's door. When Ben opens the door, there stands Brian. Heís wobbly, but doesnít smell of alcohol. However, he looks totally exhausted.
"Come in." Ben takes him by the elbow and guides him to the couch. "Here sit, relax. I'll go get Michael.
Brian pulls Ben towards him and whispers. "I don't want Mikey. Can we talk?"
"Of course, but let me talk to Michael. He and Justin are worried about you."
Brian lets go of Ben's arm and relaxes back into the cushions of the couch closing his eyes. Ben goes to the bedroom. Michael is up putting on his sweats.
"Michael, he asked to talk to me."
"What? You? Why?"
"Most likely because I'm not you or Justin. Give him this Michael. I think I can help."
"I'll call Justin and let him know. How does he look?"
"Beat. Just stay in here, okay? I'll take care of him."
Michael puts his arms around Ben and kisses him. "Okay." Ben smiles.
Brian looks asleep. Ben sits on the coffee table facing Brian and taps his leg gently.
Brian opens his eyes slowly. They're dull, bloodshot and puffy. Ben makes a mental note that Brian might have been crying.
"You look like shit."
"Thank you professor and you look wonderful and healthy as always."
"When did you eat last?"
"Ben don't do that hovering shit okay. I just have a few questions and then I'm gone."
"I'll make you a sandwich. You eat and then we talk." Ben insisted. Brian acquiesced.
The loft 12:50am.
Justin is on the couch trying to draw. Several discarded pieces of drawing paper are scattered around him. He's startled when the phone rings the receiver is on his lap, checking the ID before answering.
"He's with you?"
"Yeah. He just got here."
"Is he okay?"
"Yeah. He's wants to talk to Ben."
"Ben? Why Ben?"
"Because he's an intelligent, loving, caring person who probably understands better than we do what Brian is feeling right now."
"And he's not us." Justin paused for a moment closing his eyes relieved to know Brian was okay. " Michael, I apologize for blowing up at you. I know what Brian means to you and its never bothered me, ever."
"It's okay boy wonder. I understand and I need to know when to butt out."
"So we're okay?"
"Don't let him drive home."
"I won't. Get some sleep. He's in good hands."
Ben's Apartment - later
Brian nodded as he finished the last of the peanut butter sandwich. "Thanks."
"Now finish this." Ben hands him a glass of vanilla flavored Ensure.
"How do you drink this shit everyday? It tastes like powdered milk with vanilla extract."
"My mom used to make it that way too. Never had the heart to tell her that no matter what she put in it, powdered milk still tasted like chalk."
"Why is it that parents don't think their kids have taste buds?" Brian laughed a little. Then emptied the glass.
"Fire away." Ben said sitting next to Brian.
Brian was thoughtful for a few moments.
"How do you deal with it? Being positive?"
"Can't say I didn't see that one coming." Ben took a moment to gather his thoughts. "I don't think of it in terms of dealing with being HIV positive. It's part of who I am now. Like if I had lost a limb or had become crippled. You have to face the world knowing that physically you are different then before."
"Does it make you feel less than what you were?"
"At first it did. The stigma of it makes you feel ashamed, stupid. In your case I'd guess you feel more inadequate than before."
"You're guess is correct. I'm a realist. I know it doesn't make me inadequate."
"Then you need to change the way you feel about it. Look around you Brian. Nothing has changed. Everyone in your life still feels the same way about you."
"Nothing may have changed for them, but it sure as hell did for me."
"Accept the change. Not all the changes in our lives are positive ones. No pun intended. Just like getting older we have to accept the changes and accept ourselves with the changes. It doesn't make us worth less."
"What about the fact that you have this...disease inside you?"
"Brian, the disease has a name. Trust me. Give it a name and it will make it a lot less scary."
Brian paused then cleared his throat. "It's hard to deal with the thought of having cancer inside me. When the CT scan confirmed what I felt all I could think about was getting it out of me. But even though they took the testicle it doesn't mean itís gone. One tiny single cell could have escaped. Even the radiation treatments can't guarantee that it will kill every cancerous cell. Sound's paranoid doesn't it?"
"That's not an abnormal line of thinking in your case Brian. What you need to do is take your focus away from that so you can concentrate on taking care of yourself."
"Easy to say..."
"I know not easy to do. If you don't youíre going to drive yourself into the ground physically and mentally trying to keep your mind occupied. There is a way to give yourself some measure of control in all this."
"Meditation?" Brian raised a skeptical eyebrow.
"That's one way. I know itís not for everyone. It wouldn't hurt to give it a try.
"Maybe. What else you got in your snake oil bag professor?"
"You do understand that control is merely an illusion. That we can control our decisions about what we want to do, where we want to go, who we choose to love, how we want to live our lives, but beyond that it's out of our hands."
"I'm not delusional."
"But we can control our minds. That's where meditation, spirituality or religion come into play for most of us."
"Didn't I mention I'm a realist."
"Brian I know your stand on religion, but spirituality doesn't have anything to do with religion or even God if you choose not to believe in one."
"Do I believe in God?"
"I don't believe in an all powerful omniscient being that resides somewhere called Heaven."
"What do you believe?"
"It's hard to put into words it's more of a feeling."
Brian throws out a sarcastic chuckle. "A feeling. That's a good one professor."
"I said it was hard to put into words smart ass. Look, I believe that somehow we are all connected. That's why we should learn to accept each other no matter our differences. And whether you want to accept it or not you are a part of a family. Not by blood or genetics, but by a spirituality that gives you a connection to each other. Each person in this little tribe that surrounds you give and take from each other openly. The only difference where you're concerned is that you always choose to deal with your problems alone. You never let them acknowledge the things you do for them or let them help you."
"What the fuck are you talking about?"
"I'm talking about Michael and Justin and Lindsay, Melanie, Gus, Deb and Vic and even Ted and Emmett. Maybe I can see this because I'm an outside observer at the moment. I haven't been fully accepted into the pack and may not ever be, but I watch and listen to how you all interact and it's nothing short of amazing."
"What? You studying this 'tribe' for your next book?"
"Never thought of that though it would make a great observational view of gay life."
"Fuck off!" Brian tried to stand. Ben placed his hand on Brianís thigh to keep in place.
"I'm kidding, but not about what I said. You play the role of Alpha male in this tribe. You never let anyone just sit back and complain about their lives. You push and prod them into standing up for themselves. Youíre silently there for them when they need help. Yet you never let them do anything for you. Right now they are all waiting for you to ask for help."
"You mean they don't all think I'm a self-centered, egotistical, narcissistic little fucking faggot? You really don't know me at all professor." Brian turned away from Ben. He felt raw and exposed and needed to retreat.
Ben grabbed Brianís shoulders and forced him to turn back. "Six months ago I witnessed you do one of the most self-less things I've ever seen anyone do. You pushed Justin away because you thought Ethan was what he wanted, what he needed to be happy even though it damn near killed you." Brian tried to break away from Benís hold. He was too weak and the professor too determined that Brian was going to hear him out. "I was there Brian. I could see how much it hurt you, but you did it because you love Justin too much to see him unhappy."
The emotion disappeared from Brianís face, replaced by his familiar mask. It didnít deter Ben from finishing. "You did the same thing for Michael. You're good person Brian and you are important to a lot of people. Just let your guard down and let them give back to you."
The mask dissolved. His shoulders began to shake. Tears fell. Ben pulled Brian into a tight embrace. "It's okay Brian." He let go and finally cried openly. Ben rocked him gently stroking his hair.
Michael stood in the doorway and watched. Brian needed what Ben was offering him now. He stayed put.
After Brianís sobs subsided he pulled away. Ben kissed him on the forehead and handed him a box of tissue.
"My old man died of cancer." Brian wiped his eyes with a tissue.
"It doesnít mean it will get you and even if it does come back you deal with it then. Now you live. You learn to live every single day like there may not be a tomorrow."
"A few months ago I didnít give a shit if there was a tomorrow."
"And now Iím thinking of all the shit Iíve let slip because Iíve been to much of a fucking coward."
"Itís not to late."
"Christ, why do I feel like Iím in a fucking Disney movie?" He started to laugh and was joined by Ben and Michael. After all the tears, the laughter cleansed his soul. He stood and embraced his best friend then kissed him.
"Michael will you drive me home? Sunshine is probably pretty worried."
"I already called. He knows youíre safe. Let me get a coat." Michael shuffled into the bedroom.
"Thanks Ben." Brian reached his hand out. Ben took it and pulled him into a hug. They kissed as friends.
"Hey I donít kiss Justin."
"As long as itís a friendly kiss Michael you have my permission." Brian threw his arm around Michaelís shoulders more for stability than affection. "But Iíll warn ya he can be addicting." Brian laughed as they went out the door.
Justin slides the door open. Michael is panting trying desperately to keep Brian on his feet. Justin throws Brianís other arm around his neck to help get him into the loft and up to bed.
"Heís a lot heavier than he looks when you have to hold up his whole frame."
Brianís head is lying on Michael shoulder. Heís barely awake.
"Brian lean on me a little more."
Brian complies shifting a little more to his left side and resting his head on top of Justinís.
"Fuck, Iím so tired." Brian drawls blinking his eyes quickly trying to wake up enough to help Michael and Justin get him up the platform stairs.
"Almost there sweetheart."
Finally they get him to the bed. Brian lets his weight go, falling face first onto the bed. Michael crawled next to him, turned him over and began unbuttoning his shirt.
"Michael itís okay I can take it from here. Thanks." Justin smiles letting Michael know heís done enough for his friend.
"Okay. See you tomorrow." Before Michael can back away Brian reached up and pulled him into a kiss.
"Thanks Mikey," Brian whispered then closed his eyes.
Michael climbed off the bed and faced Justin.
"I think Ben was able to help him put things in a better perspective."
"Iím glad. Thank Ben for me and thanks for bringing him home safe."
"Youíre welcome boy wonder." Michael punches Justin lightly on the arm and then leaned in and gave him a quick kiss on the mouth.
Justin stepped back a bit, surprised by the kiss.
"Itís okay sunshine I gave him permission." Brian slurred out then closed his eyes again.
Justin smiled then he and Michael laughed.
"Night, Michael see you tomorrow." Justin escorted Michael to the door. Locked it and sat the alarm before he returned to the bedroom.
Brian is now on his side curled into a fetal position. Suddenly, Justin is struck with a wave of emotion. Now he understood how his mother must have felt when she didnít know where he was or if he was safe. The pull on Justinís heart was enormous as he watched the love of his life curled into himself like a child. ĎWas loving someone so much worth the pain involved? Heíd asked himself that question a hundred times since the first night he met the amazing Brian Kinney and had fallen in love at first sight. His answer was always the same. Yes. Even when he had to force Brianís hand in order to make him finally realize how much he loved the twink that wouldnít go away.í
As Justin undressed Brian, he noticed was shivering.
"Are you cold?"
Justin pulled back the heavy duvet, climbed under then held it open for Brian to join him. As he crawled under the covers Brian instinctively curled his long body around Justinís for warmth. Lying his head on Justinís small chest, snaking his long arms around the tiny torso, Brian molded himself to his young lover. Justin nestled his face into Brianís soft hair and kissed him.
"Iím sorry about earlier."
"Sorryís bullshit, Brian."
"Not if you really mean it."
"Shhh...go to sleep."
"Iím trying, but my brain isnít cooperating."
"Want me to sing to you?"
"Donít tease Justin this is really hard."
"Iím not teasing. When I was little my mom used to sing to me when I couldnít sleep."
"But your mom Ďcaní sing." Brian laughed and squeezed Justin tighter.
"How do you know?"
"I just do. Donít ask. Anyway, Iím not going to New York. At least not until Iím finished with the treatments."
"Iím glad you decided youíre more important then a damn client."
Moments passed in silence. Justin closed his eyes finally thinking Brian had gone to sleep.
"Yes. Iím right here."
"Are we..." Brian stopped not sure if he could or should continue. He didnít know why, but he needed to know.
"Are we what, Brian?" Justinís heart started to pound against his rib cage.
"Are we....for always?"
"Iíd like to think so." It took every ounce of patience Justin had to remain a calm anchor. He understood what Brian was asking and knew he had to let it just be. No drama. No excited exuberance.
"Me too." Brian squeezed him impossibly closer, placed a soft kiss on Justinís chest and then drifted off to sleep.
Justin kissed the top of Brianís head, his eyes brimming with tears. Not how heíd pictured Brian admitting a commitment to him, but he was Brian Kinney after all. A man who chose his words carefully when it came to confessing his feelings. And if you were lucky enough to be a recipient you could bet they came straight from his soul.
Vanguard Agency - 1pm
Brian is in his office, but not in his usual attire. Heís dressed comfortably in jeans and a sweater. Cynthia buzzed him.
"Mr. Vance wants to know where the Ďfuckí you are."
"Please inform Mr. Vance that if he really needs to speak with me he can exercise his lazy ass and come to my office!" His voice was stern, but not harsh.
Cynthia couldnít stifle the laugh that spilled out when her boss labeled Gardner Vanceís ass as lazy, as she sat at her desk looking up at the man himself. She watched as his, less than controlled, anger crept up his neck engulfing the manís entire head, in the most crimson shade of red she had ever had the pleasure of witnessing. As Vance stormed into Brianís office, she was positive she could see steam rising from under his collar. Vance slammed Brianís office door shut behind him nearly breaking the glass in the door. The door blinds teetered in their brackets.
Looking out her door Cynthia noticed that the commotion had caused a great many heads to turn toward her office. In her best Bette Davis impression she rose from her chair, sashaying her hips in a wide purposeful motion, she addressed her audience in a deep throaty tone.
"Hang on to your desks, itís gonna be a Ďbumpyí afternoon." Cynthia threw her head back as she slammed her own office door shut. Cutting off any sounds that were imminently going to come from her bosses office. ĎGod how she loved being a partnerís assistant.í
Brian casually looked up as he heard his door open. Then cringed slightly as the door slammed. Vance stood in front of his desk seething.
"I take it you were..."
"Who in the hell do you think you are Kinney!" Vance cut him off before he could finish.
"Your partner, not your fucking lap dog." Brian looked up at Vance indignantly, raising an eyebrow.
"Being my partner means letting me know what is going on with our biggest account! Where in the bloody hell were you yesterday and why arenít you in New York?" Vance put his hands on Brianís desk and leaned close to him trying to inflect a bit of intimidation.
Brian leaned in closer imposing himself into Vanceís personal space. Thus causing Vanceís tactic to backfire.
"My assistant knew where I was yesterday. Iím sure she told you."
Vance backed off realizing his tactic wasnít going to work. "Yes, she informed me you were taking some personal time. It still was wrong of you to not keep me personally informed."
"Fuck you! Since when do you even care about anything besides making it into Fortune 500?"
"Since Iím the one who gave you a chance. Remember? I could have fired you with the lot ofíem." He moved away from Brianís desk and sat down on a chair.
Brian stood. "And Iím the one who brought in the Brown Athletic account. Remember? The elusive account youíd been busting your ass to sign for five years!" Brian sighed loudly biting back his anger. "I told you on Monday that I would handle the account. I didnít think it necessary to contact you with every fucking minute detail."
"I would like to know what is going on with the Fungreek account." Vance softened his voice when he realized yelling and demanding was not going to get him anywhere.
Brian sat down, leaned back in his chair and stared at his partner for a few moments.
"I called Mr. Chang yesterday afternoon and had a nice personal conversation with him. I told him the truth about my medical condition and he understood. Heís a very honorable man and respects honesty a great deal. Mr. Chang also sympathizes with my situation because his wife went through a bout with breast cancer a few years ago."
"What about the account?" Vance clearly had no sympathy for his partner and his only concern was the account.
"I told you itís handled. That is all you need to know." Brian was to the point and made it clear that he was in charge of the account.
Vance looked dumbfounded. He stood up and was about to say something when Brian cut him off this time.
"For the rest of this week and next week I will be in the office only a few hours a day. Which means I will primarily be working on the ĎFungreekí account and following up on small details of my other accounts. If someone fucks up when Iím not here, it will be up to you to fix. I will be unavailable by any means of communication when Iím not in the office. After I return full-time I will let you know the dates I will be in New York." Brian turned back to his work.
"Donít fuck it up Kinney." Vance opened the door and was about to leave when Brian stood up from his desk again.
"The next Ďbigí account that walks through these doors is yours. If you want it. You do the work and Iíll climb up your ass when you fuck it up. Deal?" Brian sneered.
Vance turned and sneered back. "Youíre on."
After Vance had left Cynthia took a chance and buzzed Brian.
"You okay boss?"
"Iím great. Thanks. Let me know when Mikey gets here."
"Roger and out." Cynthia smiled and looked up. Vance had left her door open and the curiosity seekers were still staring waiting for some sign from her that the company had not just imploded. Once again getting up to close her door Cynthia addressed her nervous audience with the poise of a diva. "Oh, donít lets ask for the moon. Weíve already got the stars!" She closed the door and turned back to her desk shaking her head. "Iíve got to stop channeling Bette Davis."
After Vance left, Brian kept his anger in check as he turned his thoughts back to the ĎFungreekí account. The alarm on his palm pilot went off startling him, causing him to swear under his breath. Stymied as to why his alarm had been set since it was a feature he'd rarely used. He opened to see a message flashing 'Time to eat sweetheart. Love J :)' At that moment every ounce of anger slipped from his body. Brian knew he would find his small office refrigerator completely stocked before he opened the door, yet it still made him smile when he opened it.
Taking out a canned protein shake Brian opened his cell phone and dialed. "Fragile Paradise, Al speaking. How may I help you?" The man answered with a flamboyant flair that would make even Emmett's sound manly in comparison.
"Hi Al. I need to have two of your best rose bouquets sent to two incredibly special people."
PIFA - 4:00pm Prof. Bielís Classic Arts class.
Justin put the finishing touches on his abstract as Prof. Biel wandered around the studio critiquing each student. Biel walked behind Justin.
"Good effort Mr. Taylor. A little overly chaotic. Your color choices are remarkable although the use of the spatula is not a common tool used for abstract style. It works well though Iíve rarely seen anyone layer the paint in quite such a manner. Itís very bold. What is the prominence of the large black crescent in the center?" The manís tone was entirely too condescending for Justinís mood.
"Itís a representation of a life-altering experience." Justin told him flatly.
"Interesting. And this life-altering experience was the cause of all this eruption of emotion we see represented around it?"
"Did painting it help you make clarity of your feelings towards the experience?"
"Yes. I guess so."
"Would you like to share with the class?"
"No. Itís private."
"Very well." The professor merely shrugged and went on to the next student.
There was a knock at the studio door. When the professor returned from answering it, he was carrying a long black box with a large gold satin bow. His old face was contorted in a barely contained expression of disgust. Walking straight to Justin, he handed him the box.
"I hope you understand Mr. Taylor this is Ďnotí your place of residence. Let whomever sent this know it is never to happen again." Turning up his nose he walked away to critique yet another of his protťgťs.
Justin didnít want to open the box in front his classmates. If the beautiful box contained what he had only fantasized about, he didnít want to embarrass himself. He left the studio.
The long walk down the hallway to his private school studio seemed longer than it had ever been before. Inside the little room assigned to him he sat down with the box across his lap. He slipped the card out of its tiny envelope. It read. "For always, Love B. With nervous fingers he undid the golden bow and opened the box. "Oh...God, Brian." His voice cracked and just as he had always imagined in his fantasy, he cried.
How many times had he cried for Brian in the last month. Today these tears were not cause by fear, frustration or anger. They were the kind you donít even know are streaming down your face because for one minute that will last an eternity you are incredibly fucking happy and everything in your world is impossibly more beautiful than before.
Brian's office 4:30pm.
Deep into his work, Brian nearly jumped when he heard the knock on his office door. Opening it he came face to face with his best friend Michael.
"Hey Mikey. Come in. Hold on a minute just let me save this stuff." Brian sat back down at his desk and began closing down his computer. Michael followed him in looking around the office. He peaked into the trash and was surprised to see several empty food containers.
"Playing detective Mikey?"
"No. Well Justin did ask me to check. Did you take your..."
"Yes 30 minutes ago." Brian cut him off. He finished closing down his computer and grabbed his coat and briefcase.
"Itís nice to see you in a good mood."
"No reason not to be." Brian gave him a huge smile and threw his arm around his friends shoulders.
On their way out Brian stopped for a few seconds to smell the bouquet of lavender roses that were sitting prominently on Cynthia's desk.. "Must of been a hell of a blow job." He winked at her before turning to follow Michael towards the elevator.
"Wait!" Cynthia called out to Brian before he could leave her office.
"Yes." Brian turned but he wasn't expecting what Cynthia did next. She walked up to him smiled and threw her arms around his neck giving him a tight hug. "Cynthia, do you know how much time I've invested in making everyone believe I'm a self-centered asshole?"
She pulled back wiping her eyes. "8 years, but I always knew different. How did you know I love butterflies?" Brian looked over noticing the vase the flowers came in was hand painted with beautiful multi-colored butterflies. "I plead the fifth." Brian replied sarcastically then reached down and gave her a quick peck on the cheek before turning to leave.
"That man is a fucking enigma." Cynthia whispered to herself before returning to her desk.
In the elevator Michael had to ask.
"So what was that all about?"
"How the fuck should I know."
Michael smiled broadly and nodded. His best friend wasnít fooling anyone.
The loft - 6:00pm
Brian enters the loft its dark except for dim candlelight coming from the bedroom. The louvered windows are closed. He dropped his briefcase on his desk. Shrugged out of his leather jacket. He took off his tennis shoes and socks before going to the stairs.
In the bedroom, the first thing he noticed was a large bouquet of red roses sitting on Justinís nightstand. They are in Ďtheí vase he painstakingly created, with Lindsayís help, in one of his first romantic gestures in his strategically planned war to win back the blondís heart. He mused to himself that he had never really lost Justinís heart, he simply had to prove his love.
On Brianís nightstand was a bowl of water in which Justinís famous homemade massage oil was obviously warming in. A few rose petals were strewn across the bed and pillows. ĎDamn if only he werenít so fucking tired he would make love to that kid all night long.í Brian thought to himself as Justin emerged from the bathroom wearing the sapphire blue silk robe Brian had given him on his 20th birthday. One he made sure he would remember after the fiasco he made of his 19th. ĎDonít go there Brian. Itís over.í Justinís voice brought him back from the past.
"I thought I heard the door. How do you feel?" Justin asked with as much concern as always.
"Tired. Maybe a little queasy." Brian absentmindedly rubbed his stomach.
Justin could barely keep the tears out of his eyes again. He promised himself he wouldnít get all sticky and gooey over the flowers. A promise he was finding all but impossible to keep while looking up into Brianís tired, but beautiful face.
Brian took Justin in his arms and they kissed. Then he grabbed his ass."You look beautiful and way too sexy in that robe. Iím gonna take a wild guess and say your ass is naked except for the robe."
"You guessed right sweetheart. I know youíre tired so Iím going to take your clothes off and treat you to a Justin Taylor extra-special full body massage." Justin used his best sultry voice as he pulled Brianís sweater over his head.
"Extra special?" Brian put his hands down to his sides leaned his forehead on Justinís as he let him begin his magic.
"Yes baby the Ďextra-specialí is one of my world famous blow jobs." Justin cooed as he undid the buttons on Brianís jeans then slid them to the floor.
"Baby?" Brian stepped out of his jeans.
"You donít like that endearment?"
"Love it." Even through his fatigue Brian was becoming incredibly aroused.
When Justin had Brian naked he pulled back the duvet spreading the rose petals everywhere. Then unfolded a protective sheet over a large portion of the bed and guided his lover onto it face down. Removing his robe Justin straddled Brianís hips and applied a liberal amount of the warm oil on Brianís back eliciting a deep moan.
Justin began working his hands slowly from the base of Brianís spine to just below his hairline. Leaning in close as he worked Brianís upper back Justin kissed him and sang. "I love the way you love me."
"I thought this was pleasure not torture?" Brian giggled.
With that Justin reached back and smacked him softly on the behind. "Canít have pleasure with out a little pain...baby."
Brian turned his head and lifted a bit to get a long-hard kiss from his personal masseuse.
By the time Justin finished caressing every inch of his body Brian felt like he was going to melt into the mattress and disappear. That was until Justin began the extra-special part of the massage. He felt his lovers warm mouth descend on his painfully engorged cock and thought he would completely lose his mind for the intensity of the pleasure he was feeling. ĎWorld-famous? Fuck, could he even gloat about teaching the kid his incredible technique? Even he knew he wasnít this good at cock worship.í Brianís mind was whirling in pleasure.
"Aaaaahhhh....Jesus Justin. That feels so fucking good." Brian pushed out breathlessly as his back arched and his eyes rolled back in his head. Just when he thought the pleasure couldnít get anymore intense Justin introduced two lubed fingers up his ass. Brianís body bucked under the sudden feeling of fullness. He couldnít take it. He wanted....he needed Justinís lips, to touch his body, hold him, caress him now.
"Justin." He pulled Justinís head off his dick. "Come here."
Justin crawled up Brianís torso and they kissed wildly. Brian pressed his forehead to Justinís and pleaded. "Fuck me. Please Justin. Fuck me hard! Now!"
Justin fumbled quickly for a condom. Brian took it from him and expertly slipped it on Justinís dick then opened his legs for Justin to enter. Now, it was Justinís mind that was whirling. He could barely believe it when Brian almost shouted out his plea. Spurred on by Brianís moans of wanting and needing he plunged inside him. Deep and hard as he had asked. Brian wrapped his long muscular legs around Justinís torso and pulled him even deeper. Drawing from his many lessons from Brian on the fine art of fucking, Justin drew out slowly until the head of his cock just peeked out of Brianís hole then slammed back in one quick fluid motion. Staying deep inside he pumped his hips drawing his cock over Brianís prostate heightening the sensation. Brianís legs began to shake from his tight embrace around Justin. Backing out slowly again Justin raised Brianís legs and brought them to rest on his shoulders. Then once again drove deep inside as he reached down and captured Brianís mouth in frenzied wet kisses. As he pumped his hips slowly Justin took hold of Brianís dick wetting his hand with the precum. He slid his fist up and down with the same rhythm his cock was pumping into Brianís hole.
"Christ! Fuck! Aaaaaah." Brianís voice echoed through the loft as his body convulsed as he came. As Brianís orgasm over took him his muscles squeezed around Justinís cock pulling him over with him. Exhausted Justin slumped on top of Brian whose body had now gone completely limp. Both were breathing as if theyíd just run the Boston Marathon. Brian was dripping with sweat much more than usual. Justin retrieved the washcloth he had prepared on the night stand. Brian took it from him and wiped his cum from between them.
"Very." Brian panted.
Justin wiped the sweat and hair from Brianís forehead with his hand and kissed him.
"That was..." Brian barely got out between breaths.
"It was wasnít it? Can I thank you for the flowers now?"
"I thought you already did."
"Guess I did." Justin smiled and kissed Brian softly on the lips.
"Iím thinking Alís going to be making a small fortune off of me."
Brian motioned towards the flowers.
"Oh. Iím thinking I really like Al."
Justin could feel himself going flaccid and slipping from Brian. If only they could remain connected like that forever. That brought a strange vision to his artistic brain. As much as he loved fucking Brian he loved being fucked by Brian even more. His body had been aching for that connection since the beginning of the treatments.
"Brian are you nervous about fucking me because of the radiation?" Justin asked timidly.
Brian remained quiet his eyes closed as Justin took the cloth from his hand folding the cum to the inside and wiped the sweat from Brianís forehead and chest.
"Brian? You awake?"
He nodded again.
"Thatís why you havenít let me completely suck you off?"
Again he nodded.
"Wow! You do love me." Justin received a sharp slap on the ass for the comment.
"Brian I donít think thereís any real danger. At least none that was in any of the literature the radiation oncologist gave you. And Iím not looking to get pregnant."
"Justin, I know it sounds silly."
"No. It doesnít. Sounds completely reasonable. A little over cautious...maybe, but still reasonable. I know it must be weird lying on that table and having radiation shot into you everyday." Justin laid his chin on Brianís chest for a moment thinking. "We could try an experiment."
Brian opened his eyes and caught the mischievous look on Justinís face being replaced quickly by a more serious one. He knew the kid was pulling something on him, but decided to go along for the ride. It might be fun.
"What kind of experiment?" Brian tried to look totally gullible.
Justin wasnít buying it.
"We could go into the bathroom. Shut all the lights off. Iíll jerk you off and when you cum weíll see if it glows."
"And if it glows?" Brian turned up a skeptical eyebrow.
"Then I get to fuck Ďyouí until it doesnít glow anymore."
"And if it doesnít?"
"Then you fuck the shit out of me for the next 24 hours straight!" They both burst into laughter. Brian started to tickle Justin mercilessly until they both fell off the end of the bed in a heap of arms and legs.
"Letís take a shower and find out." Brian got to his feet and pulled the blond into the bathroom.
The loft - in the shower.
The two lovers were wrapped together in their favorite place in the loft, other than the bed that is. The shower is the best place for sex. Warm, soapy, no mess. Everything feels sexier when hot water is added.
Being in the shower with Justin always reminded him of that first morning. If someone had told him then, that almost three years later the little sexy blond with incredible blue eyes, mesmerizing smile and great ass would still be in his life, he might have just accepted it instead of spending so much time and energy fighting the kidís persistence.
"Thought we were going to turn the lights off?" Justin tried out his sultry voice once again.
"Iíd rather be able to see you while Iím fucking you." Brian bent down and engulfed Justinís mouth with a deep wet kisses. Breaking the kiss, Justin grabbed a condom.
"Donít think about anything except how much I need you inside me. Okay?" He spoke against Brianís cheek as he unrolled the condom onto his loverís cock.
"You need me...inside you?" Brian repeated Justinís words back to him as he leaned down kissing his shoulder.
"Yes. Please Brian. Fuck me."
"Turn around...sweetheart and hold on. Iím gonna fuck you into sweet oblivion the way you did for me."
Justin turned around, Brianís hands never leaving his hips. Bending slightly at the waist he brought his hands behind him and grabbed onto Brianís hips pulling him against him.
"Not so fast Justin. Give me time to get in."
Justin relaxed his grip which allowed Brian just enough space to grab his dick and place it against the blondís sweet pink hole.
"You want it?" Brian pushed his dick against Justinís hole, but held back from pushing in.
"Yesssss...Brian donít tease." Justin begged.
"Iím not teasing. Tell me what you want Justin. I need to hear it." Brian spoke softly against Justinís ear.
"I want...I...ah...Brian I need your beautiful cock inside me." Justinís rolled his head back and rested it against Brianís chest. He hadnít realized how much heíd missed being fucked until that moment when Brian asked him what he wanted. Justin felt his entire body ache painfully wanting desperately to feel Brian inside him again. Brian placed his hand on the blondís shoulder and eased him forward. Then slid his dick into him until his hips met with Justinís ass. Once inside he wrapped his arms around Justin and held him tight.
"Uhhh Brian.." Justin moaned, leaning back against Brian again wrapping his arms around Brianís.
"Feel me inside you?"
"Justin, there are a million words I could pick from to try and explain how I feel about you."
"Shhhh. Close your eyes and let me show you."
Michaelís apartment - Saturday.
Michael and Justin were putting the finishing touches on the latest installment of ĎRage.í
"I didnít think you were serious about using Radiation Man. Did you talk to him about it?"
"Yeah and heís cool with it. Itís okay if ĎRageísí life loosely depicts Brianís real one. We talked all that out after the flashback sequences fiasco."
"Is he still mad about it?"
"He wasnít ever mad about it. He was hurt, deeply. When he finally let me tell him the whole story, he forgave us." Justin began to print out the final images for the end of next monthís issue.
"I guess. Iíve always thought he was really pissed when he came in the store that night and set those pages on fire."
"He did?" Justin looked up from his computer.
"Well? Details Michael. Youíre as bad as Brian to get information from sometimes."
"I am not."
"Are too. Iíve had to practically become a mind reader living with him. Iím Ďnotí going to do that with you so spill."
"Okay, geez. It was a few days after the issue came out. He walked in. Shut the door and locked it without saying a word. Then he came behind the counter picked up the trash can, emptied it on the floor and set it on the counter right in front of me. He took the issue out of his pocket, turned to the pages with the flashback of ĎRagesí father hitting him. Ripped them out and set them on fire. I thought he was going to set himself on fire because he didnít let go of the pages until the flames touched his fingers. I know he burnt his fingers, but he didnít show any reaction. Just opened his hand and let them drop into the wastebasket. Then he turned and left, all with out one word."
"Did he look mad?"
"No he just had a blank look on his face. I tried to apologize for days, but he wouldnít even acknowledge my presence."
"Michael, he did that before he ever let me apologize." Justin stood up and turned to face Michael.
"You said he came in a few days Ďafterí the issue came out. I didnít talk to him until two weeks later."
"Shit, then he must have been really pissed."
"Wait. That means that Brian let Ďmeí be the one to talk to him about it and explain instead of you."
"So?" Michaelís brow furrowed in confusion.
"So, Michael it was only a few weeks after that when Brian and I started talking and working things out." Justinís face lit up with a realization.
"I still donít see..."
"He came to Ďmeí. Not to his best friend in all the world to get an explanation for what he saw as our betrayal." Justin began pacing around the small living room as the details of Ďthatí night came into focus in his head.
"Okay. Iím going to play completely dumb here, because I donít have a clue to what youíre trying to say." Michael stepped in front of Justin to stop his pacing.
"Michael. Think about it. Who had Brian always gone to when he needed emotional support?"
"Me?" Michael still had a look of total confusion in his big brown eyes.
"Duh! Give the man a cookie. When Brian came to Ďmeí that night he wasnít just looking for an explanation. He needed someone." Justin walked around Michael and went to the window. He looked at his reflection and then to Michaelís smaller and fainter reflection behind him. In that moment, the significance of that night became crystal clear to him. "Christ he was an emotional wreck at that point. At least as much of a wreck as he had ever let me see. The point is...it was me that he needed. Not you."
"Boy wonder, are you Ďtryingí to make me feel like shit here? ĎCause youíre doing a bang up job of it."
"No, but before that he never let me be that for him. Thatís when I realized that it wasnít the fucking romance or flowers or picnics on the floor that I really needed or wanted. What I needed was to be wanted and needed. All that other bullshit didnít matter."
Justin turned away from the window and walked to the printer as the last of the images slid into sight.
"Okay, so if we hadnít both fucked up and hurt Brian you two wouldnít be back together now?" Michael folded his arms across his chest still not totally sure he understood where Justin was coming from or what the hell he was talking about.
"Maybe, maybe not. I think we would have eventually gotten together again, but it probably would have taken a lot longer. And I might still be on the outside like before."
"And heíd still be coming to me for emotional support?"
"Bingo! The man does have a brain after all." Justin shot back giving Michael a couple of light taps on his right cheek.
"Oh, haha. You kill me boy wonder."
The boys were silent for a few moments. Each working on their separate jobs for ĎRage.í
"You do know it wonít ever be smooth sailing with Brian." Michael stopped going over the printed images and looked over at Justin.
"I know. Actually Michael I wouldnít want it any other way. Lifeís never boring with Brian Kinney."
"Justin, can I ask you something and you have to tell me the truth."
"Depends." Justinís focus had again returned to his computer.
"Do you feel at all weird that our boyfriends are together right now meditating?"
The statement pulled Justin from the world of ĎGayopolisí to reality in an instant.
"You mean because they fucked each other or because its weird to think of Brian and Ben meditating together?"
"Both." Michael shrugged his shoulders.
"No. Not after what happened this past week. Iíll never doubt Brianís love for me again. Why? Are you jealous?"
"No. Thatís the weird part. I think itís great that Ben can help Brian. What happened this week?"
"Not sure I can share yet. It was pretty fucking special though."
"Oh come on Justin. I wonít say a word to anyone. I promise. Scouts honor...well fags honor anyway." Michael held up two fingers on his right hand.
"Thatís the peace sign Mikey."
"Awww come on Justin. I tell you lots of stuff."
"Donít whine....I hate that. Fine, you better keep your promise."
"And no giving it away with that face either."
"What face?" Michael looked absolutely stupefied at the accusation.
"Forget it. Anyway, after you brought him home the other night, he asked me if we were for always. Then the next day he sent me a dozen beautiful red roses and the card read ĎFor always, Love B."
"Oh my god! Itís over. Itís all over." Michael threw his hands up in the air and began to pace around his apartment mocking Justin from earlier.
"What? Whatís over Michael? What the fuck are you being so melodramatic about?" Justin took Michael by the shoulders and stopped him in his tracks.
"Itís the seventh sign of the apocalypse, it has to be. Brian Kinney asked for a commitment and sent you flowers. Holy shit!" Michael finally broke out into a huge smile.
"Fuck you Michael." Justin broke out laughing as well and pushed away from him.
Michael laughed along with him then turned serious. "Iím glad for both of you. Itís about fucking time!"
"Now itís my turn. And answer honestly." Justin went up to Michael and turned his shoulders so they were looking directly at each other.
"Do you still feel...uh...that way about him?" Justin blinked nervously. Heíd never felt threatened by Michael, but he knew Michael could always become a threat if he really wanted to.
"I love him Justin. Like we say Ďalways have, always will.í But itís not the kind of love you have to worry about. Iíll always wonder what it would be like to have sex with Brian. Only I know I could never have that without wanting it all. The thing is after watching the two of you struggling to make it work, I know I wouldnít have the strength to deal with what you have, and still come out loving him as much as you do. Iíve found a comfortable place in Brianís life. No matter what, Iíll always be his best friend and that means more to me then ever wanting to be his lover. Is that honest enough for you?"
"Whew. Yeah. Thanks Mikey." Justin leaned in and gave Michael a quick kiss on the lips.
"What was that for?"
"For being Brianís best friend and in a way mine too."
"Okay. Well enough of this deep emotional shit. What time are we supposed to meet our boyfriends at the diner?"
"Weíve still got an hour. Iím trying to picture Brian sitting still in a lotus position for an hour. Heís gonna be cranky." Justin added.
"Hey, Iíve got an idea. Letís sneak over there with my video camera. It would be classic."
"Classically stupid Michael. Brian would kill us and I donít think Ben would be too happy that weíre mocking his spiritualism."
"True. Damn, it would be great to document though."
"Iím for anything that helps Brian grow as a person, but youíre right Mikey it would be interesting to watch."
Brian and Ben are sitting in lotus positions facing each other. Each on opposite sides of a small rectangular table. Brian has a candle in front of him.
"Iíll do the breathing part, but no chanting. You can do that for both of us."
"Brian youíre missing the point. It has to come from you in order for you to focus your energy."
"Trust me Ben. I can focus my energies fine. If I chant anything itís going to be Ďfuck, fuck, fuck.í" Brian closed his eyes and leaned back a little for effect.
"If youíre not going to be serious about this then thereís no point in..." Ben made as if he were going to get up. Brian motioned for him to sit back down.
"Sorry Ben. Itís hard for me to be serious sometimes. Besides Iíve had more than my share of seriousness this year. But youíre absolutely right. I came to you. No pun intended. So, letís get started and Iíll stop being a wise ass, okay?"
"Cross my heart and hope to..." Brian made an X across his chest then hesitated before changing the cliched oath. "Live!"
"Good for you Brian. Ready?"
"No, but lets start anyway. My ass is starting to fall asleep."
"Want a pillow?"
"No...itís okay. Iím fine. What do I do first sensei."
Ben shook his head and smiled at Brianís rye sense of humor.
"The candle will help you control your breathing. Follow my lead. Inhale slowly breathing through your nose, then exhale in a slow controlled manner through your mouth. The object is to find a rhythm youíre comfortable with, without blowing out the candle. As you end the breath, inhale again slowly as the candle once again finds itís balance. Then exhale. Got it?"
"I think so. Do I get punished if I blow out the candle?" Looking up he noticed Benís non-amused expression and shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry. Okay so I donít close my eyes yet, right?"
"Not yet. I want you to get comfortable breathing first. Then we can take it a step further, but before we start." Ben got Brianís attention. Their eyes locked. "Once we begin no more sarcasm. Meditation wonít help if you donít go into it seriously." Brian nodded and became quiet and solemn, letting Ben guide him. If he admitted the truth to Ben heíd have to tell him this simple exercise was already scaring him. Brian Kinney calm and contemplating? What if he couldnít deal with what he found inside?
"Ben? Just one question. If...you know...if. How do I? Damn!"
Ben sat patiently waiting for Brian to articulate his fear.
"Have you ever....uh...and not been able to?" Brianís voice shook. His mask was off and apprehension colored his features.
"Itís okay Brian. Meditation isnít like hypnosis. You wonít be going to any deep dark scary places in your psyche. This is about freedom. Allowing your conscious mind to take a vacation from reality. Trust me. If your subconscious begins to take over Iíll see and help you. Okay?"
Brian exhaled slowly and nodded.
"I know how hard it is for you to give yourself over. To let someone help or be your safety net. Please be assured that you can trust me as much as you trust Justin."
"Okay professor letís do this. My psyche could really use a fucking vacation."
The Diner an hour later.
Justin and Michael sit across from each other. Deb comes over.
"You guys ready to order?"
"Not yet ma, weíre waiting for Ben and Brian."
"Theyíre coming together?"
"Yeah. Ben is teaching Brian how to meditate."
"Oh that should be a fucking riot. Poor Ben. At least he seems to have the patience, but I still bet he walks in here ready to pull his hair out." She laughed.
"Deb thatís not fair. Brianís been really....."
"Iím sorry sunshine. Only teasing. I know how hard this has been on Brian. Howís it going anyway. Since no one seems to ever fill me in on anything." Deb tapped Michael on the back of the head.
"Hey! If you wanna hit somebody, hit sunshine over there. You see him almost everyday and he lives with Brian."
"Heís doing great compared to the last couple weeks. Heís gained back five pounds and he has only five treatments left."
"Then he just goes for regular check-ups every six months at first then after two years heís considered cured. Then he goes back to seeing the doctor ever year like before."
"I have an idea." Deb pushes Michael over and sits down. "Why donít we have a little celebration next weekend for him?"
"I donít think thatís a good idea ma."
"Yeah Deb heís not into celebrations unless itís an accomplishment."
"Oh, but sweetheart it is an accomplishment. Heíll have gotten through that whole mess with the diagnosis, surgery and treatment. Donít you think he deserves to have the people that care about him make a big fuss in his honor? I know Brianís not much for all that bullshit, but weíre family. His family. Itís about time we show him how much we care about him."
"But ma itís his...you know...b-day next weekend."
"Oh shit! Thatís right Michael. Uh, no way Deb heíd kill us."
"No. Donít you see thatís perfect. Brianís never had a real birthday party. Letís give him a big one." Deb argued.
"Brianís never had a birthday party? Not even when he was a kid?" Justin leaned in closer to Deb, his curiosity peaked.
"Nope. His mom didnít believe in them. We gave him a little one with just me, ma and Vic when he turned 16 and he had a real hard time with that." Michael exposed a little more of Brianís fucked up childhood to Justin.
"Then letís do it. We can disguise it a family get together and surprise him with a real birthday party." Justin was bursting with barely controlled excitement. "Besides we owe it to him for that Ďdeath dayí party we gave him for his 30th when we all thought he was moving to New York. I still feel bad about that." Lowering his eyes a bit remembering the way Brian looked that day. How could they all have been so mean and thoughtless to him? Justin winced a little at the memory.
"You okay sweetie?" Deb noticed him wince.
Justin nodded. "He deserves a nice party for once in his life."
"Okay. Iíll go along, but I can guarantee heís not gonna like it." Michael was speaking from his many years of knowing Brian.
"One problem." Debbie asked.
"Whatís that ma?"
"What the hell do you get for someone with Brianís tastes? Nothin I can afford."
"Ma, Brian wonít expect gifts. He doesnít like people to buy him things."
"Iíve got an idea!" Justin is hit with a stroke of genius. "Itíll be perfect and if we all pitch in, not expensive either. And it will allow each of us to give him a more personal gift too."
"Well, spill it sunshine."
"First let me go find out all the details and costs. Deb, call everyone including my Mom and have a family meeting tonight at....Ummm."
"Where Justin?" Michael was getting excited right along with Justin.
"Some place Brian wouldnít suspect. Uh..."
"Just have them come to the house sweetheart."
"No, no Brian might drive by there and suspect or hell just drop in. Oh, I know my momís condo."
"Justin are you sure? Your mom has a lot going on in her life right now."
"Iím sure. Iíll call her. Donít look so skeptical you guys. My momís really started to like Brian and accept him. She even asked us over for dinner tomorrow night."
"No shit?" Deb couldnít believe her ears.
"No shit. I think sheís finally gotten used to the idea that Brian and I are for...for always." Justin smiled nervously. ĎShití he thought. ĎHeíd spilled the beans all by himself with no help from Mikey.í
"Justin honey." Deb placed her hand on his arm and patted it. "I know Brianís come a long way in the past six months, but you really shouldnít do that to yourself."
Justin looked up to Michael who had a sheepish grin on his face. Then Deb turned to see Michaelís expression.
"Okay you two, what the hell is going on?"
"Nothing ma. Nothing." Michael was still smiling. Justin narrowed his gaze at Michael hoping to get him to wipe the stupid grin off his face.
"Nothing my ass! Justin whatís happened? Something with Brian? What?" Her long nails dug into his arm.
"Deb promise to keep it to yourself?" Justin pleaded as he pulled his arm away and rubbed it.
"Fag hagís honor." She crossed her heart and held up three fingers on her right hand.
"Brian was the one that asked me if we were for always. Then the next day at school he sent me an incredibly gorgeous bouquet of red roses and the card read ĎFor always. Love B.í"
"Holy shit! Christ! Sunshine, from Brian thatís as good as a fucking proposal! Oh sweetheart Iím so happy for you." Deb slid out of the seat and grabbed Justinís hand and pulled him into a Deb crushing hug. She was crying like a mother at a wedding.
"Deb, Deb youíre crushing me. Michael! Help!" Justinís yelled his voice muffled by Debís large chest.
"Ma...ma let the child go." Michael grabbed his motherís arms and pulled them from around Justinís tiny torso. Deb finally, but reluctantly, let go. Justin gasped a little for air and then smiled broadly as he noticed the tears of happiness flowing down Debís mascara streaked cheeks. God he loved this woman almost as much as his own mother.
"Donít let on, okay. I donít think Brianís ready for the whole population of Liberty Avenue to know just yet." Justin kissed Debís wet cheek.
"Iíll try. God itís going to be hard to see him come in here and try to act like I didnít just find out he practically proposed to you!"
"Well you better dry up quick Ma Ďcause theyíre coming in the door."
Deb glanced at Ben and Brian walking through the door and headed right to the bathroom fix her make-up.
As the two boyfriends approached their lovers, Ben glanced at Deb making her hasty exit to the powder room. He could tell from behind that she was wiping her eyes. Then he slid into the booth next to Michael. Justin allowed Brian to slide into the booth first before joining him. Brian and Ben looked at each other both registering a heightened tenseness between Michael and Justin.
"Is Debbie okay?" Ben motioned toward the restroom then looked at Michael.
"Ah, uh no sheís just..." Michael stammered.
"She was helping the cook. Cutting onions." Justin jumped in. The explanation was lame, at best, and he could tell the boyfriends werenít buying it.
"Whatíd you do Mikey?" Brian asked sarcastically kicking Michael under the table.
"Ow!" Michael winced rubbing knee. "Nothing. Justin just told you."
"Brian do you get the distinct impression thereís something going on between these two?" Ben teased. Then he reached over and poked Michael lightly in the rib cage.
"Hey! How come Iím the only one that ever gets physically abused? No one ever lays a hand on wittle sunshine?" Michaelís words dripping with sarcasm.
"Oh I get plenty of physical abuse Mikey." Justin winked at Brian.
Brian reached over, put his arm around Justin and pulled him into a very long kiss which caused Michael to cover his eyes and groan.
"So howíd the meditation thing go?" Michael broke in causing the two Ďlove birdsí to break their tongue swapping kiss.
"It was okay, but my ass went numb about 15 minutes into it. Then my stomach started to growl, which kept me from really being able to experience the euphoria Ben tells me you can get from it.
"You did great for your first time Brian. Iím really proud of him for trying it."
"Brianís great at first times. Even better at second, third..." Brian put his hand gingerly over Justinís mouth and pulled him against him. Justin relaxed against Brianís shoulder and stopped talking. Brian slid his hand from the kids mouth draping it over his shoulder. Then turned his body so he could relax his back against the wall. A common position the couple had adopted since their reunion.
"You do look more relaxed. Maybe we could learn to do it together." Justin offered.
"You know that would be a great idea Brian. It would give you two something you can do together." Ben agreed with Justin.
"We already do plenty together." Brian was teasing, but he could tell Justin wasnít getting that from his tone. "It is a good idea though." Justin gave him one of his brightest smiles.
"Did I just disappear or something?" Michael whined.
"Sorry Michael I didnít mean to ignore you. Howíd it go getting the latest issue ready for the publisher?"
"Fine. It would have been faster if boy wonder here could quit talking for five seconds."
"Shut up Michael. You did a hell of a lot of babbling yourself." Justin looked up at Ben. "He was worried about our boyfriends meditating together." Justin was getting annoyed with him which always happened when they were together for too long.
"I was not! I just asked if it bothered you. I told you it didnít bother me after what you said about never doubting..." Justin stomped on Michaelís foot. "Ow! Whatíd you do that for? You little shit. Thatís it! Iím killing off J.T. in the next issue I swear!" Michael was getting really pissed now.
"Oh you so are not! You canít take the love of ĎRageísí life away from him like that. The readers will go ape shit!" Justin shot up from his relaxed position against Brian and yelled directly at Michael.
"You think! Zepher never really liked the stupid twink anyway!" Michael shot back.
"Hey, hey boys calm down." Ben stepped in since Brian was just going to sit back and laugh. Then he put his arm around Michaelís shoulder massaging it gently.
Brian leaned over and whispered something into Justinís ear and then began rubbing his back lightly. Itís affect was instantaneous as Justin melted into Brianís touch and calmed down. Yet he still stuck his tongue out at Michael as he eased back against Brian.
"Theyíre okay Ben. This always happens when theyíve spent too much time together over a span of a few days because they wait until two days before the publishing deadline to put everything together. Iíve tried to teach them how to set priorities and use their time wisely, but Iím just a partner at a large advertising firm. What the fuck do I know?" Brian laughed and shrugged his shoulders.
Justin and Michael were still having their little stare down contest when Deb practically bounced over to their table with a big smile until she noticed the two Ďkids.í
"ĎRageí deadline?" She looked to Brian.
"Do I have to use the ice water again?" Deb cracked her gum and looked from Michael to Justin.
Justin was the first to break the stare. Looking up at Deb with his best impression of innocence. Then pointed to Michael. "He started it."
"I did not!"
"Enough! That goes for both of you." She gave them each that mom look that tells you the argument is over no ifís andís or butís. She then turned her attention to Brian. "You look great sweetie. Howíd the meditation thing go?"
"Uh...thanks Deb. It went fine." Brian wasnít sure how to take the compliment. Heíd never really gotten one from her quite like that without an added sarcastic remark.
"You must be starving? Your usual hon?" Debís voice cracked and her eyes started to water as she looked at Brian.
"Deb are you all right?" Ben asked concerned.
"Of course sweetheart. Everything is fucking fantastic." Deb sniffed, took out her handkerchief and dabbed her eyes.
Brian flinched then sat up straight in the booth moving Justin off of him. He was getting uncomfortable with Debís all too Ďobviousí attention towards him. Justin knew Brian never handled mushy situations well, but couldnít think of a way to get Brian out of this other than to get up and leave.
"Cutting onions again Deb?" Brian asked throwing a glance at Justin.
Justin closed his eyes and silently willed her Ďnotí to breakdown and blurt out what he had told her earlier.
"Awww hell!" Deb threw her arms up. Then pulled Justin from the booth and slid next to an extremely surprised Brian. "Come here and give me a hug." She opened her arms and Brian knew there was no use in resisting. If he even looked hesitant sheíd simply suck him in and put the vice grip to him anyway, so he moved into her arms and let her hug him tight.
The hug quickly became the main attraction in the diner. Everyone knew Brian Kinney and by now with a little help from Emmett Honeycutt, Liberty avenueís answer to the ĎHollywood Insiderí, they also knew about his diagnosis. To the patrons of the diner it must have seemed like the Red Sea just parted and Moses was about to appear as they witnessed this anomalie within their own dimension. Brian Kinney allowing a woman, a hetro woman at that, to give him a hug in broad daylight, in the Liberty Diner, a.k.a. hub of Pittsburghís gay society.
"Ma, I think you should let Brian up for air now." Michael broke the ominous silence that had befallen the diner. Looking around he noticed every eye in the diner was focused on their booth. Ben was smiling as he sat relaxed into the booth his arm slung behind Michael. Justin stared, his mouth hanging open. And Brian was gently rubbing Debís back as she collected herself and moved away from him.
"Itís so wonderful to have you back among the living hon. Here, out with your friends looking well. Iíve actually missed seeing your face around here." Deb wiped her eyes with her handkerchief and laid the palm of her right hand on Brianís cheek. He was desperately trying to maintain his composure, blinking back tears that were involuntarily finding their way to the surface and swallowing the growing lump in his throat. He cast his eyes down and nodded his thanks.
Deb slid from the booth regained her composure, her ever present smile returned she took out her order pad and looked at Ben.
"Veggie burger and a glass of milk right?" Ben looked up and nodded as Justin slid back in the booth next to Brian, who hadnít yet look up when Deb turned her attention to him again to get his order.
"Turkey on whole wheat hold the mayo?" Debís smile faded when she noticed Brian still had his eyes averted downward then around the diner. All eyes were still on Brian.
"What?" Deb placed her fists on her ample hips and looked around the diner. "What? Like no oneís ever seen a hug in here before?"
Michael stood up and whispered in Debís ear. "Ma I think its more like theyíve never seen a straight woman give you know who a hug. Itís like witnessing a miracle."
Justin sat down and slid close to his quiet lover. "Brian are you okay?"
He nodded then looked up first at Justin then to Ben. Ben smiled and mouthed the word Ďfamily.í
Deb turned her attention to Brian once again. "Iím sorry hon. I didnít mean to embarrass ya."
Brian lifted his head high and smiled at the only Ďmomí heíd ever really had. "Itís okay Deb. Just threw me a little. One more thing I have to get used to. Being apart of a family is pretty new to me."
"You always have been sweetie, but I sure as hell am glad youíre finally acknowledging it. Now, we need to get you fattened up or at least put a little more meat on those bones."
"How about the...uh." Brian looked at the menu board behind Deb. Then gave her one of his famous shit eating grins. "The meat lovers special."
"Holy shit! You got it hon. Uh...how you want that? And no sexual remarks." Deb winked.
"Gee Deb you take the fun out of everything." Brian raised his voice an octave to sound like he did at 16. "Rare please." He finished in his normal voice. Then he sat back and relaxed.
The patrons of the diner went back to their own little realities, a bit in shock, but at least they had stopped staring.
Brian reached over kissed Justin on the neck and cupped his balls with his left hand. "Iím up for an all night fuck session. How about you sunshine." He spoke in a low raspy tone against Justinís neck.
"Like you have to ask." Justin answered then took Brianís chin in his right hand and pulled him into...yes...one of their special long wet kisses.
Not to be outdone. Michael reached over and did the same to Ben. Only it was to no oneís benefit because Brian and Justin were in a world of their own.
Comic book store - Closing time.
Brian enters. Michael is busy closing up. Flitting around straightening comic books, arranging racks, doing the general close up shop stuff.
"Hey. Thought you were working on an all night fuck session. Justin wear you out already?"
"Funny Mikey. Havenít even started yet. I wanted to talk to you."
"Wow. Talking. Thatís a first for us."
"Yeah. Iíve been having lots of firsts these days."
"So whatís up?"
"I thought you could tell me."
"Hey. No fair. I didnít say a word. No way it didnít come from me. Iím sure I didnít even make Ďthatí face. Whatever Ďthatí face is." Michael rambled on nervously as he looked everywhere, but at Brian.
Brian stepped in front of him. "Michael. What the fuck are you talking about?"
"What are you talking about?" Michael looked bewildered.
"Iím talking about that shit between you and Justin at the diner earlier. What are you talking about?"
"Nothing. I...I um..well I figured youíd be mad about that. Seems Justin can do no wrong these days."
"What the hell is that suppose to mean?"
"Nothing. Itís not nothing. I just feel like. Like..."
"Like you arenít important in my life anymore?"
"Sort of. Everyone is always defending him. Even when he cheated on you and hurt you they all took Ďhisí side. Even my mom said Justin had to do what he had to do. That you would never love him enough."
"And you were the only one who stuck up for me. I know that Michael. You were the only one who really knew how I felt about him. And I never thanked you for that."
"You donít need to thank me for anything Brian. Itís always been that way between us and it always will."
"Yes Mikey we will always be best friends. Thatís one thing I can count on as a constant in my life and believe me I wouldnít have made it this far with out it."
"Sure you would have."
"No Michael. I wouldnít have. We both know that. Thing is Iíve relied on you too much for too long. So long that even as much as you like Justin you still see him as a threat to our friendship."
"I do not."
"Michael Iím not getting into a sniping match with you. I know what Justin told you about us and as much as Iíd like to think that little exchange you two had at the diner was all because you were getting on each otherís nerves, I know it was about more than that."
"You need him more."
Michael turned from rearranging a comic book kiosk. "You always needed Ďmeí before. Whenever you needed emotional support it was always me. Like Lois Lane for Superman, Zepher for Rage only now itís JT who gets that privilege."
"Privilege? You think thatís a fucking privilege Mikey. Hell Iíd think it would be pure torture to put up with me."
"Stop it Brian! No one puts Ďupí with you. Iíve never thought of it that way. I canít exactly explain it, but itís always been something I was proud of. Like I have this special place in the universe because youíve always let me be the only one to see you without your mask on. Only now itís Justin."
Brian put his arms gently around his friend and hugged him close. "I donít deserve the pedestal youíve put me on Mikey. Iím human. Flesh and blood and all the disgusting and wondrous shit that comes with it. I love you Michael and Iím in love with Justin. I still need you in my life as much as always, but you have Ben to be there for."
"And you have Justin."
Brian nodded and pulled back and leaned his forehead against Michaelís.
"Yes. I have Justin. And you need to be nice to him Mikey because he has to put up with me." Brian laughed, cupped Michaelís face and kissed him on the cheek.
"No more lip kissing huh?"
"I think itís best if we donít for our boyfriends sake." Michael nodded his agreement. Though Brian could tell he was a bit disappointed in the decision. "But I think itís okay on very special occasions." Brian winked smiling slyly.
"Oh! Who told?" Michael got defensive. He knew someone would spoil the surprise. It was probably Ďthe kidí he thought his mind racing as to how to cover his disappointment.
"Told me what?" Brian was truly confused.
"Nothing. Nothing I...uh." He was relieved the surprise had not been spoiled. " Hey, at least you survived your first Debbie Novotny loovvvveee hug." Michael changed the subject playfully pushing Brian away from him.
"Yeah that was something. Iím surprised sheís never broken one of your ribs."
"Something? Shit I think everyone was waiting for a bright light to appear over your head." Michael couldnít help but smile at the vision he created in his mind.
"I love how people are finding such humor in my coming out." Brian brought his hand up to examine his fingernails as if he could hide the red flush that came over his face.
It was subtle, but Michael saw the embarrassment flash across Brianís features and the nervous gesture with his hands. Brian always stared at his hands or the floor when he suddenly felt out of control.
"Come out? Brian everyone already knows youíre gay." Michael played stupid for the benefit of teasing his best friend further.
"You are such a nerd Mikey."
"And you love me for it."
"Michael just one more thing. Are you really okay with me and Ben...you know. Because if you are Iíll back off."
"No. No Brian of course not. Ben has a real knack for seeing the big picture and all that Zen, Buddhist stuff. I know its helped me deal with stuff. I really am glad heís been able to help. I trust him."
"Do you trust me?"
"Yes Brian. I know you would never do anything to purposely hurt me. And Justin would kill you." Michael laughed to break the tension between them.
The loft one week later. Brianís finished his radiation therapy the day before. Itís early morning and Brian is up early lying on side propped up on his elbow staring at Justin sleeping. Justin stretches and yawns. He wakes to find Brian staring at him.
"Hey." Justin yawned again.
"Hey. Go back to sleep."
"Why? Iím awake now and I canít sleep knowing youíre staring at me."
"It bothers you?"
"You know when youíre sleeping you look sweet...angelic like Gus." Brian smirked.
"Oh Brian thatís one of the..." Justin rolled toward Brian, but didnít get a chance to finish because Brian started to tickle him relentlessly.
"Yeah itís hard to believe what a real brat you are when youíre awake!" He laughed and rolled on top of Justin.
What started out as play quickly turned into passionate wrestling. It ended when Justin allowed his lover to pin him to the bed and administer the first fuck of the day. All the while he reveled in the passion and physical power of Brian Kinney. Brian still felt a bit weak, but he could tell his physical strength was slowly coming back and he felt more alive then he ever remembered feeling.
Benís apartment. Saturday morning.
Michael is working on his birthday project for Brian with Benís help.
"Ben are you sure a tomato plants are such a good idea?" Michaelís asked while his hands were wrist high in potting soil. There six small clay pots lay on the table in front of him, along with six tiny plants in plastic containers.
"Of course Michael. He should have a balance of plants and Iím sure not everyone is buying him something that flowers." Ben replied as he added more ingredients to the large pail Michaelís hands were immersed in.
"What are you giving him?"
"A Bonsai kit."
"You donít think thatís a little beyond his horticulture skills at this point?" Michael beamed proudly at having seriously begun expanding his vocabulary with the coaching of his beloved professor.
"Thatís why itís called a Ďkití. Everything is provided to help the novice horticulturist..." Ben grinned then leaned over and placed a quick peck on his boyfriendís cheek. "be successful."
"This is kind of fun. I could get into this gardening stuff." Michael began kneading the soil faster rolled his eyes and head back as if he were getting ready to cum. Ben pulled Michaelís waistband away from his stomach and dumped the entire contents of his scoop down front of his pants.
Debís house - Kitchen- Saturday morning
The kitchen is a complete disaster area. Vic is in a half-state of panic trying to get his creation just perfect. Deb enters the kitchen as Vic furiously searches the pantry and cupboards swearing under his breath.
"What are you looking for?"
"The Chamboard. I bought a good bottle last week and now I canít find it." Vic was close to hyperventilating.
"Sit down before you have a stroke. Let me look." Deb starts to look in the same exact places Vic already had. "What the hell is Chamboard?"
"Itís a french liqueur. And I already looked there." He answered trying to catch his breath.
"Is it that important? I mean its just a chocolate cake."
"Just a chocolate cake! Just a...." Vic stood up. "Why do you always do that sis?" He took off his apron.
"Do what?" Deb looked at him innocently. She didnít have a clue.
"Act like what comes as naturally to me as Justinís art does to him, is...isnít anything special. You rant and rave in front of family and friends about my creations and then you say something like that!"
"Oh...Iím sorry sweetheart. Itís just...well you were getting all upset and that scares me. I know how important this is to you. Your gift to Brian. Heís going to love it, ya know. With or without the fancy liqueur."
"You donít understand. Brian has a sophisticated palate. I know youíd never be able to tell by what he eats at the diner, but Iíve always known he can taste the smallest distinctions in food, wine..."
"Cum." Deb threw in with a smile. It worked she got Vic to laugh and calm down.
"I remember when he and Michael were teenagers. When Iíd come home to visit Brian liked to hang out in the kitchen whenever I was baking or cooking. A lot like Justin did when he lived here. He always wanted to taste everything and he could tell almost the exact ingredients in anything I made just by tasting it."
"So does this Ďspecialí cake have a title?"
Vic pulled himself to his full height, stuck out his chest and proudly announced, "French Chocolate Chambourd."
"Well write down exactly what you need and Iíll run and get it. Brian deserves a perfect cake for what I hope will be a perfect day."
Mel and Lindsayís. Saturday morning.
Lindsay is digging in her rose garden. Mel is playing with Gus on the swing set.
"No. Mel this will be perfect. Brian has always admired these roses."
"Brianís never admired anything except himself." Mel blurted out. Then she quickly changed the subject. "Arenít they roses you started with cuttings you stole from your dear sweet motherís prize winning rose bushes?" Mel was in the midst of swinging Gus in his baby swing.
"Yes. And it wasnít exactly stealing. I mean she should be proud that her special hybrid is being passed around." Lindsay compacted soil into a beautiful hand made pot fresh from her, almost new, pottery wheel.
"Maybe we should reconsider getting a sitter for Gus." Mel stated as Gus giggled and kicked his legs enjoying the simple exhilaration provided by his swing.
"Mel. No. Brian would be disappointed if his son werenít there." Her tone admonishing and weary from the still constant cold war between Mel and Brian. "I thought you and Brian had come to a peace agreement after Gee?"
"That was until he started pushing for visitation."
"And thatís turned out to be a good thing. Heís learning to be a father and we get a few weekends a month to ourselves." Lindsay sat back and smiled happy with the way her present turned out. The clippings she gathered were leafy and contained one tiny rosebud. It was perfect. "What do you think?" She held the pot up in Melís direction.
"Itís beautiful, but Linds..." Mel gave Gus a with a little extra humph in the next push to ensure the swing would continue as she walked over to her wife and took her by the hands squeezing them lightly. "Promise me you wonít get all heart broken if he turns into an asshole and doesnít appreciate this party."
"My hands are dirty." Lindsay said looking down at their joined hands.
"Linds promise me?"
Lindsey looked up and smiled brightly. "I promise, but he wonít Mel. I know it. Heís different now and its not fair to be so cynical about how heíll react. So you promise me youíll keep an open mind about today. Okay?"
"Pus...momma pus." Gus yelled as his swing slowed down.
Mel tried to pull away. Lindsay held her fast.
"Heís gonna start screaming soon." She tried to pull away again.
"Okay, fine, fine. I promise." Mel spit out cynically before returning to the swing set.
Rooftop - Brianís building. Saturday morning.
Emmett is decorating what will become the cake table. He is looking over his sunglasses, momentarily distracted by the young buff workman as they bend in front of him assembling what will be the collaborative gift from the group.
"Emmett!" Ted yelled from the roof door he was struggling to get through his arms full of party supplies.
Looking up, Emmett rushed to his friends aid before he dropped the entire contents of his overloaded arms down the roof stairs.
"Teddy keep it down. You donít want Brian to hear you."
"At this point I donít care. How did we get stuck doing all the shit work." Ted labored his heavy box to the patio table. "You do know that Kinneyís going to hate all of this and probably throw Ďusí off the roof first."
"Oh Ted donít be so cynical. Justin believes Brian will love this and he knows the new and improved Mr. Kinney better than the rest of us, so lets get crackin. Timeís a wasting and we still have the buffet table to set up." Emmettís attention floated back to the workers. "The extra tables to bring up...and uhhh..." One of the buff, darkly tan young men specifically catches Emmettís attention as he removes his sweat drenched shirt. "Oh my. Those boys do looked parched. Teddy you did fill the cooler with ice and beer, right?"
"Emmett, that is for the party not the rooftop chain gang over there." Ted said exasperated by Emmettís constant roving eye.
"Chain gang? Hmmm..."
"Emmett! You wanna put your dick on the back burner. Weíve got at least two hours of work to do and the party is in three."
"Okay, okay. Geez Teddy donít get your jockstrap in a bunch. Besides weíre only being hospitable employers."
"Fine. Offer them each one beer and thatís all. Then get back to blowing up your balloons or adding frills to the decor of the roof. Weíre on a time clock too."
"God. I forgot how demanding you can be." Emmett opened the cooler. "You boys thirsty?"
The three men nodded. Mr. Shirtless gave Emmett and extra wide smile as he grabbed himself a beer.
Brian and Justin in the shower necking.
"Letís celebrate a little today." Justin spoke softly as he pulled away from Brianís mouth and began rubbing him down with soap.
"Whatís to celebrate?"
"The end of your treatments."
"Justin." Brian sighed.
"Come on Brian it is an accomplishment. I want to take you out for brunch."
"Why donít we just make a little brunch here and enjoy it on the roof?"
"No! I mean...I want to treat you. Thereís this new french bistro downtown. It has a beautiful garden with a fountain in the middle, surrounded by tables, just like in Italy. Come on. Itíll be fun...nice." Justin gave his lover the same puppy dog face that always worked on his mother.
Brian smiled. "It does sound...nice." Then he nuzzled against Justinís neck again.
ĎAh ha! It worked.í Justin mused to himself. ĎMental note: puppy dog face still works.
Justin stepped back from Brian rinsed off quickly and got out of the shower.
"Hey, finished already?" Brian groused a little having had his cuddly soft play toy taken away from him.
"Yeah. Take your time. Thereís a few things I have to take care of...uh I mean finish up before we go." Justin bit his lower lip. Brian looked skeptically at him through the glass. ĎFuck! Did I just blow it?í Justin mentally kicked himself.
Brian nodded. Nothing seemed amiss. Justin let out a silent sigh of relief as he headed out of the bathroom.
Justin dressed quickly. He needed to check the roof to see how things were proceeding and if any major complications were brewing. Just as he got to the bottom of the bedrooms stairs he heard clamoring outside the loft door.
"Shit! What the fuck?" He grabbed his sneakers off the floor and opened the loft door stepping outside with a quick backward glance toward the shower. He could hear the water was still running and Brian was singing ĎLet it be.í He had recently rediscovered the Beatles and surprisingly had a pretty good singing voice. Justin then turned his attention to who was making the noise. Ted was dragging tables out of the elevator and stacking them on the opposite wall.
"Ted! You canít make this much noise. Heíll hear you." Justin barked out in a harsh whisper. "Whereís Emmett? I thought he was helping you."
Ted stopped what he was doing. He wiped his forehead with his handkerchief and took a deep breath. "Mr. Hospitality is entertaining the chain gang. Uh...the workman. What is he still doing here?" Ted pointed toward the loft door.
"We got up late."
"Likely story Justin. You couldnít forgo your morning fuck Ďoneí morning?" Ted shot back.
"You think Iím passing up the first morning fuck Iíve had in weeks? Anyway, Iím getting him out of here in a few minutes so get these fucking tables to the roof and be quiet for 15 minutes. Iíll call you when weíre out of the building." Justin ordered.
"Yes sir! Captain Boy Wonder sir!" Ted clicked his heels together and saluted.
"Funny." Justin sneered. He turned and opened the loft door and heard the shower turn off. "Hurry up Ted; heís getting out of the shower."
Justin reentered the loft and went straight to the stereo and turned on the Beatles White Album to cover the noise from the hallway.
French Bistro ĎChez Gerardí
Brian and Justin are seated at a table near the fountain. They have finished their meal and are sitting back relaxing over good wine and good conversation.
"I hate to say it, but I kind of regret having to give Emmett back those tickets for Italy." Justin squinted as he faced into the sun.
"Giving up the Ďentireí Armani Fall line wasnít so easy either." Brian gave Justin a slight smile then removed his sunglasses placing them on Justinís face since the sun was behind him he didnít need them at the moment.
"Well you made up by getting the entire Spring line this year. That must have cost you a small fortune?" Justin leaned forward accepting the glasses then placed a quick kiss on the older manís lips.
"Nope. Not really. It was Vanceís way of keeping me from walking out the fucking door last January."
"He bribed you?" Justin was surprised by this bit of information.
"Not exactly. I felt the shit Iíve put up with since he took over was well worth it."
"Did that include the ĎInfinityí?" Justin leaned in. He was interested anytime Brian opened up about work.
"Yeah. That was the icing on the cake." Brian was nonchalant about the entire conversation.
"You never told me. Why were you going to walk?" Justin really didnít expect to get any kind of real answer.
Brian looked at Justin then to the fountain and began his story. "Last year Vance used some inside influence he had at Seabron Labortories to snag the marketing account for their new anti-depressant. I didnít think much about it until I met with their people. They wanted a campaign that catered to two specific demographics. That being teenagers and young woman of child-bearing age. I just felt it was ethically and morally wrong." As he finished he turned back to Justin as if waiting for the inevitable sarcastic remark. ĎBrian Kinney with scruples. Who would have ever thought?í When all he saw was that Justin was engrossed in the story he continued. "Vance pushed. I handed him my resignation. He gave me the old Hollywood bullshit line. ĎYouíll never work in this town again.í I went back to my office and started packing my shit."
"God, Brian you never told anyone?" Brian shook his head. "Cynthia must have freaked."
"Didnít have time to tell anyone. Ten minutes later Gardner walked in and practically begged me to stay. Not sure if it was because he didnít have the cash to buy me out of my share of the partnership or he really thought that by losing me the company would take a nose dive."
"He didnít want to lose you." Justin stated proudly. Heíd had the opportunity to watch Brian in action. He knew then why Vance spent a small fortune on clothes and a car to keep him.
"Yeah well heís only got me for maybe another year or so." Brian knew heíd dropped a bombshell. He leaned back in his chair to gauge Justinís reaction to it.
"What are you talking about? Did you find out something? Is there something you didnít tell me about the check-up?" Justin was almost out of his mind with panic.
"Calm down. Shit. I didnít mean it to sound like I was dying or something. Iím okay." Brian reached over and took Justinís hand not giving a shit who out in breederland might be looking. "What I meant is that another year or so as partner will earn me a fair amount of clout under my own name." Justin still looked nervous and confused. "Enough to start my own agency and hopefully not sink in the first six months."
"No shit? Youíre going to start your own agency?" Justin was still in shock.
"I think I said that already sweetheart." Brian smiled and brought Justinís hand to his lips and kissed it.
"Am I the only one youíve told?"
"And you donít want me to tell anyone else?"
Brian nodded again.
"Our secret for now okay Sunshine?"
Justin nodded then looked at his watch.
"Shit. Itís late. We...uh I need to get back.
"Whatís the rush?" Brian was growing suspicious.
"Iíve got a huge project due on Monday and I havenít even started it yet."
Brian wasnít buying it. "Itís not like you to leave a big project to last minute. Unless, itís the comic book." He smiled wryly into Justinís baby blues. There was something definitely going on in that blond head and it didnít have anything to do with homework. Brian thought.
"I know, but with everything thatís been going on I kind of forgot." He looked down at their united hands.
"Justin." Brian cupped Justinís chin and lifted it so he could see in his eyes again.
Brian leaned in until he was only an inch from his face. There was something about the way Brian looked at him that brought his heart to his throat.
"Thank you for everything." Brianís hazel eyes widened his facial expression told Justin his lover was being intensely sincere.
"You donít have to thank me. Itís all part of loving someone."
"That doesnít mean you donít deserve to hear it." Brian leaned and covered Justinís mouth with his own. They kissed for a few moments. Brian was the first to come up for air. "Donít make any plans for the summer." He whispered against Justinís lips.
"What?" Justin pulled back to get a full view of Brianís face.
"Weíre going to Italy." Brian announced with a huge grin.
"No fucking way! Italy? Oh my god!" Justin jumped out of his seat and jumped into Brianís lap, which got the attention of most of the patrons seated in the garden.
"Oh and Greece." Brian added. He wrapped his arms around the ecstatic young blond to keep him from falling off his lap.
Justin started kissing Brianís face everywhere with total abandon to how Ďpublicí the display was.
Justin stopped his attack on Brianís face and pulled back. "Thereís another and?"
Brian nodded. "And Spain."
"How? What about Vance? A trip like that would take weeks." Justin quizzed.
"Three weeks to be exact. Vance already knows. Iíve...weíve earned it."
"Did I tell you how much I love you today?" Justin said sweetly and began his attack again.
"Yes this morning while we fucked. I hate to end this little PDA, but donít you have a big important project you have to get to?" Brian was giggling despite his best efforts not to in such a public place.
Roof - Brianís building.
Everyone is there doing last minute scrambling to get things just right.
"Donít look so nervous Michael. Brian will be okay with this." Ben offered hoping to help his lover calm down and enjoy the exuberance in the air around him.
"Iíve got a bad feeling. Brian might play it off okay on the outside, but heís going to be boiling on the inside." Michael looked around the bustling rooftop.
"There you go underestimating him again. I thought you were going to try and be more open-minded about your best friend?"
"I know. Itís just. Iíve known him practically all my life and heís never really changed."
"Of course he has sweetheart." Deb stepped in when she heard Michaelís apprehension.
"It may look that way now, but now that heís done with the treatments heíll go back to the way he was before." Michael defended his statement.
"Michael Charles Novotny! Please tell me I didnít raise you to be so narrow minded." Deb yelled and then smacked her son on the back of the head.
"Ow!" Michael rubbed his head and glared at his mother.
"Think about it Michael." Ben said. "What was Brian doing this time last year?"
"Fucking everything in site. Drinking, doing enough drugs to kill a horse...fucking." Michael spit out.
"And what had happened in his life then?" Ben continued.
"Justin left him for that....school kid."
"Almost a year later and where is Brian now?"
"Back with Justin."
"Come on Michael give him more credit."
"Okay, heís changed a lot since last year. But he still hates celebrating his birthday." Michael folded his arms and would concede to no more then that.
"Sweetheart. Brianís happy. He has admitted to loving Justin and even offered his own kind of commitment to him. Thatís what weíre celebrating here. Finally, for once in that kidís life he may have finally realized heís loved, so donít you fuck it up for him with Ďthatí face!" Deb reached over and pinched Michaelís face with one hand and kissed him on the lips.
"What face?" Threw his hands up.
"The skeptical one. If you donít believe heís changed heíll start to doubt himself." Ben tried to explain. "Because of your history together I think Brian takes a lot of his clues about how people see him through you."
"Wait you have names for my faces?" Michael looked at him incredulously.
"Michael we all have faces. Yours are just easier to read." Emmett interjected.
"Everybody!" Ted yelled from his guard post at the roof door.
Everyone stopped and looked in his direction.
"Okay. Just testing to make sure you could all hear me." He smiled brightly. Which earned him a groan from the crowd.
Vic was checking on last minute details. Making sure everything was finished and ready for the honoreeís arrival.
"Looks like weíre ready." Vic told Lindsay who was busy trying to keep Gus out of trouble.
"Letís just hope Justin can get him here in good time. Gus isnít going to stay away from that cake for long." The little boy squirmed in her arms.
"Kak. Kak." Gus mimicked. Then he stretched his little arms toward the large three layer chocolate cake.
"It turned out beautifully Vic." Lindsay assured him.
"Thanks. Brianís been a secret chocolate lover for as long as I can remember. I hope that hasnít changed."
"Heíll love it."
Brian is all over Justin. Actually, they are all over each other. Justin canít help himself. Heís so excited about the trip forgetting there are ten people waiting for them on the roof.
As the elevator reached the top floor, Justin broke away remembering the party. He tucked his shirt in and buttoned Brianís back up.
"What are you doing?"
"Well...umm. I want you to go to the roof with me. Thereís something I want to show you." Justin said catching his breath.
Brian leaned against Justin and kissed his neck. "Canít it wait for later?"
"No. No itís really important. Please...now."
"Everybody!" Ted whispered loudly getting no ones attention. "Hey! People!" He tried a little louder finally getting their attention. "Take your places I can hear them in the elevator."
Everyone gathered in front of the rooftop door and waited silently.
Justin grabbed Brianís hand and led him up the stairs to the roof door. He stopped and turned to Brian.
"Just remember I love you. We all love you." Then he opened the door and pulled Brian through.
"Surprise!!!!!" Everyone yelled and clapped as Brian came through the door.
Brian stared at the small crowd in front of him as they yelled. The world began swirling around him and he held tight to Justinís hand. He couldnít speak. Didnít know what the fuck to say even if he could. What he wanted to do was turn and run. His tight grip on Justinís hand was the only thing keeping him on the roof.
"Brian are you okay?" Justin whispered in his ear.
Deb stepped forward. "Itís just us Brian. Family. Your family."
Lindsay handed Gus to Melanie then stepped next to Deb. "Brian. Youíve accomplished so much in the past year and with getting through those awful treatments we just wanted to celebrate with you and Justin." She walked up to him and placed a kiss on his cheek.
Brian smiled nervously. "So this Ďisnítí a deathday celebration?"
Lindsay shook her head and pulled him into a hug. "This is a life celebration. Weíre all glad youíre here with us." Lindsay pulled back and took Brianís other hand and led him toward the crowd. They parted and behind them stood a small, but beautiful rooftop greenhouse.
Brianís eyes widened at the sight. The plexiglass structure was filled with plants, gardening equipment and supplies.
"Remember the first night we used the roof? You mentioned putting a greenhouse up here." Justin broke the silence. Brian nodded. Justin led him inside the greenhouse.
The group watched quietly. Melanie waited for the old Brian to return and tell everyone to get the fuck out of here. Jennifer bit her lip hoping Justin had made the correct judgment about this little celebration.
"Instead of gifts we all got you something for the greenhouse. Each plant or flower is labeled with who gave it." Justin pointed to one of the plants. "The one with the huge orange flowers is a Hibiscus itís from Deb. Bet ya couldnít guess that huh?" Justin continued. "The herb garden over here is from Vic and Ben got this really beautiful Bonsai kit. That should be interesting. Michael found these great tomato plants. Ted brought a bleeding heart, go figure." Justin laughed nervously. "Umm, Emmett got you a rubber plant. You know Em. Oh and my mom brought these great pepper plants."
"Your mom?" Brianís voice was low and raspy.
"She is part of the family." Justin pointed to yet another plant. "Mel and Linds brought this rose bush. Itís a cutting from the roses in their back yard."
Brian turned to look at it. He smiled and reached out gently touching the tiny rose bud. Then he looked back to Justin. He had his hand on a plant with incredibly beautiful and sweet smelling flowers.
"I found this yesterday at a florist near campus. Itís called a Stargazer Lilly. It just seemed right for a rooftop greenhouse."
Brian pulled Justin close draping his right arm over the young manís shoulders. Then turned them both around and walked out of the green house. A small smile formed on his lips. "Itís beautiful. Incredibly beautiful. Thank you." The group closed around him each member gave him a hug and said a few words to wish him well. Even Jennifer hugged him lightly. "Youíre a good man Brian. Itís taken a while, but I finally am beginning to see why Justin loves you so much." She grazed his cheek with a light kiss. Then turned and joined the rest gathered in line at the buffet table.
On the outside Brian looked, for the most part, calm and collected. Inside his emotions were fighting for position. He was finding it increasingly difficult to breath without gasping for air. There was a burning in his chest that was quickly growing in intensity. ĎNo where to run. No where to hide. How the fuck was he going to get through this.í He was still clinging to Justin. "Justin."
"Right here." he whispered.
Brian leaned more of his weight on Justinís small shoulders. "I need to sit down...lightheaded...donít want anyone to."
"Iíve got you."
Justin casually walked with Brian to one of the patio chairs. No one noticed Brian was having any difficulty.
"Iíll be right back. Iím going to get you some water."
Brian nodded and closed his eyes. From behind him he could hear Benís voice. Ben had taken a chair behind him and spoke to him in a low tone.
"Close your eyes and breathe. In...out...in...out."
Brian picked up the pattern in his breathing and went to his special place of solitude for a few moments. He was brought back to reality by Justinís light touch on his arm. "Hereís some water."
Brian took the glass and drained it. He sat back and began to enjoy himself. Lindsay planted Gus and a plate of food on his lap. "Dada eat." Gus scooped up a piece of cut up hot dog in his tiny fingers and offered it to is father. Brian smiled and devoured it from Gusís hand which caused him to break into a fit of giggles. Which, of course, meant Gus would want him to do it again and again. Brian complied. He had discovered this method of getting Gus to eat on one of the first weekends he spent alone with him. Dada and Sonnyboy had shared a lot of meals in the six months since Brian had taken on regular biweekend visits.
Vic slipped unnoticed to the cake table and added words and candles to the top of his creation.
"Attention everyone." Vicís voice broke above the noise. "Iíd like to make a toast." He held up his glass. All eyes turned to Brian who was cradling his sleeping son. Justin left his mother to stand next to his partner. "To Brian. Youíve come a long way and we are all very proud of you. Youíve always been there when we needed you. Protected us when you could. Pushed us when no one else would and supported us in our decisions. Today marks your 32nd year. We are here to celebrate your life and to let you know how happy we are that you are apart of this strange and wonderful family. To Brian Kinney we love you." Vicís voice cracked on the last few words. Then he raised his glass higher and took a drink. The group followed suit and then applauded. Vic lit the candles.
"Time to blow out the candles and make a wish," Michael announced. Brian handed Gus off to Lindsay, gathered his courage, pushed his demons away and stood up to join his family in their celebration of his 32 years on the planet.
"Before I do this," He took in the site of too many glowing candles. Then to Michael and Justin who were on either side of him,"Which I think Iíll need at little help with. Again thank you for all of this and maybe, just maybe, Iíve been looking at this whole birthday thing in the wrong way." He closed his eyes made his wish, put his arms around Justin and Michael and with their help blew out the candles.
Vic handed Brian a knife and he cut the first piece. "Chambourd?" Brian smiled as he took chewed his first bite.
Vic nodded and smiled proudly.
"Vic you seriously need to consider opening your own bakery." Brian raised an eyebrow at Vic. "I would personally invest in a business I knew would be a sure thing." Brian winked at Vic.
Justin joined Brian placing himself on the arm of Brianís chair.
"What did you wish for?" Justin fed him a piece of his cake.
"If I tell it wonít come true?"
"Sure it will. I was going to let you fuck me for the rest of our lives anyway." Justin dug his finger in his frosting then smeared it across Brianís lips and watched his beautiful lover and partner seductively lick it off his lips.
Brianís wish? That heíd live to see many, many more years with his family.