The Third Anniversary Challenge

A Pirate's Tale

"Sunshine, there is nothing on this earth that would make me go to the male-munchers' fucking Halloween party."


"Fuck all!"

"Not even if I whispered that the Great Pumpkin would be so grateful, he'd leave special Halloween goodies in your pumpkin patch?"

Brian stared at his clearly out-of-his mind partner.

"Fuck the Great Pumpkin!" he stated bluntly.

"Oh, I'm sure that could be arranged," Justin purred, grinning and wriggling his ass at him as he walked into the kitchen.

Brian felt his resolve weakening in direct proportion to the hardening of his cock. He tried to remind himself that he was the top in this relationship, but as he was the first to concede that his partner was more than his equal in most aspects of that relationship, that didn't work very well. He tried to remind himself that he was the out and proud super stud owner of the city's hottest gay club, which would be a far more appropriate venue for any Halloween celebrations, but as he knew that the club would be packed all night with cases even more tragic than Ted and Emmett, that didn't work either. Especially as he knew that he'd still have plenty of time once Ben and Michael's party ground to a halt to make an appearance at the club.

Although not yet willing to actually admit defeat, Brian resigned himself to putting in at least a couple of hours at Mikey's suburban villa. He gave a non-committal grunt and turned on the TV. With one thing and another, he and Justin hadn't seen a lot of each other in the last week or so, and they'd decided to hand over the reins of Babylon to Ted for the night, and relax with a dvd. So Brian wanted to make sure that he got to choose which one. Last time he'd been stuck with some dumb hetero romance shit because Justin fancied that Kutcher guy.

Justin, meanwhile, reading the grunt perfectly, set about organizing their provisions. He needed to get some snacks together; plus beer, and he thought there was still something in Brian's stash. While he microwaved popcorn, and put some carrots, celery and apples on a plate so that Brian could at least kid himself that he'd been eating healthy snacks (while all the time making major inroads into the popcorn), while he fetched the ashtray and lighter and made sure everything was in easy reach of the couch, Justin prepared himself for the next stage of the battle.

Getting Brian to agree to go to the party was easy - Brian knew perfectly well that he'd have Mikey whining at him right up to the party, and Deb nagging him afterwards if he didn't at least put in an appearance. Getting him into costume, however, that was going to take some thought.

Surprisingly, it turned out to be far easier than Justin could have imagined. That was largely due to Brian's choice of movie.

A debate over whether Will or Jack was the likely top, a few comments on how hot Justin thought it would be to dress as foppishly as Jack, an engendered curiosity as to what his fair-haired lover would look like in Jack's black braids, and Brian didn't pass a single sarcastic comment on Justin's idea to dress as Jack for Halloween.

A couple of delicately placed comments about how, no matter how hot Orlando was, if the producers had wanted Will to come across as the manly hero, they should have cast someone taller, someone more commanding, someone more like … And somehow, miraculously, Brian was sold on the idea of demonstrating to all and sundry just how Will should have been cast. Of course, by that time, the beer had been drunk, and the dope smoked, and they both had the giggles contemplating Justin out-swishing Johnny Depp, but still …


Next morning, Brian waited for Justin to raise the subject so that he could shoot it down. Justin said nothing.

Brian hoped he'd forgotten, or that he'd realized that it was just the beer and dope talking, and would just allow the whole idea to fade away without it becoming a big deal.

That hope lasted until he got home to find a stranger in his bedroom, their bedroom.

The stranger had long black braids; he was wearing soft black leather pants that hugged his ass, and a while silk shirt with deep lace at the cuffs, that slipped enticingly from his pale shoulder when he turned from studying his reflection in the mirror to meet Brian's eyes.

"What do you think?"

Only the voice and the eyes were Justin's. And the mouth. The rest …

Brian stared at him and felt his pants become suddenly tighter.

As Justin pulled on a black velvet jacket and picked up the hat, Brian glanced down at the bed and saw the other costume laid out there.

He took another look at his lover, then glanced once more at the clothing on the bed.

Slowly he took off his suit jacket and hung it up.

As Justin preened in front of the mirror, trying not to show how tensely he was waiting to see what Brian would do, he watched his lover's reflection. When Brian stripped off his shirt and then his pants, Justin felt his heart pounding in his throat. When Brian picked up the brown kid leather pants from the bed and sat to pull them on, Justin felt his heart lurch, and then start pounding harder than ever.

Brian stood and pulled up the pants. He drew on the full, creamy shirt and tucked it in, leaving it unbuttoned almost to his waist. Then he slowly did up the pants and hooked the sword belt round his slim hips. Sitting again, he drew on the darker leather thigh-high boots. Finally he stood once more and stretched languidly.

Justin ran his tongue over his lips, which suddenly felt dry. Unlike his cock, which was fully erect now and weeping copiously. Brian came to stand behind him, and they stood for a moment, eyes joined in the depths of the mirror.

Brian had to admit that the image of the two of them was truly breath-taking. Justin's natural pallor was emphasized and enhanced by the black hair, giving him a strangely exotic air. While Brian looked … hot, Brian decided with satisfaction. Definitely hot. He decided that it was his duty to queerdom to let the little master manipulator in front of him have his way about wearing these costumes on Halloween. They'd give the tragedies who would spill out of the woodwork in a whole range of horror couture a glimpse of how it should be done.

"So have we got these till the big day?" he asked, one hand sliding inside Justin's shirt to find his nipple, the other pushing down into the pants to find his cock.

Justin moaned, and somehow found enough lucidity to shake his head and gasp a response. "I've booked them. But I wanted to try them on."

"They're hot," Brian breathed, stroking him skillfully. "Guys are gonna cum just looking at us."

If Justin had been capable of coherent thought by then, he would have been ecstatic at his success; as things were, however …


Three days later, Justin walked into the diner to hear Mikey in full mosquito flight whine.

"Brian probably won't even show, Ma, and if he does, well he's just going to have to behave himself."

Deb shrugged, "Well, you know Brian," she said. "He'll behave the way he wants, like he always does. Why is that a surprise to you?"

Justin's lips tightened. But Michael's next words made him almost laugh out loud.

"Well, he'd just better behave himself this time, that's all."

Sniggering, Justin came up to sit at his table. "Why, Michael, what are you going to do about it if he doesn't? Whine him to death?"

Michael scowled at him. "Why can't you just get your boyfriend or whatever he is this week, to behave?"

"Why can't you just get that stick out of your ass?"

Deb smacked both of them across the ears. "You two, at least, can start behaving yourselves right now."

They both bent their heads to study the menu they knew by heart to give her time to go away. She gave them one more stern look and wandered off, saying over her shoulder, "Burger, fries and a coke for both of you - and mind you behave yourselves!"

Sighing dramatically, Michael said, "Look, Justin, I just want everyone to have a good time. I won't have Brian spoiling it for …"

"You know, Mikey," Just cut in, "Seems like everyone you know has been having a good time with Brian around for years. Well, everyone except these wonderful new friends of yours. They're the only ones you're worried about."

"Well, they're our neighbors now, and Brian needs …"

"Oh, no," Justin cut him off again. his voice rising, "Don't you start telling me what Brian needs. What Brian needs most is for his "best friend" to start acting like it."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, you tell me, Michael, why are you more worried about impressing these new neighbors of yours, than you are about anyone else having a good time - Brian especially. He is supposed to be your best friend after all?"

"Everyone has a great time at our parties."

"Oh, puh-leeze!" Justin exclaimed. "We all nearly died of boredom at your housekeeping party. You and Ben playing happy families with JR, and making nice with the neighbors. The food was okay, because Emmett did it, but aside from that it was a total snooze. The music was boring, what you could hear of it, and no one even dared to crack a joke, because between the fact that those twats are so fake-PC it's sickening, and that they admit to voting Republican, not to mention that they looked down their noses every time anyone mentioned sex, there was nothing left we could tell jokes about. It was worse than that damned fundraiser of Dr Dave's."

"So, what? You're saying I should turn my house into Babylon so you guys can whore your way around my neighborhood, where I have to live every day?"

Justin stared at him. "No, I'm not saying that. I'm saying that you should maybe give some thought to your friends enjoying themselves, instead of just showing off your sadly retarded social skills to these wonderful neighbors of yours. Or else just don't bother to invite us."

"Just because Brian is going to head straight to the backroom of Babylon and wouldn't dream of coming to our boring little party …"

"Well, at least Brian can get laid in the backroom, which is more than …"

Before he could get any further, they both felt Deb's hands round their ears again.

"What's wrong with you two? You stop that." she ordered.

They both fell silent.

Justin felt guilty for saying anything. He knew it would just stir up more trouble between Brian and Michael.

He looked down at his burger for a moment, and then pushed it away. "Sorry, Deb," he said, "I can't eat this."

He pulled out money to pay for it, but she waved it away.

"I expect to see you and his highness at the party," she said as he moved towards the door. He turned and gave her a sad little smile.

She sat down opposite Michael. "Now what was that all about?" she demanded.

"That little shit was just stirring up trouble again," Michael whined.

"What did he say?" she asked, determined to get to the bottom of it. She knew that Justin normally did his best to stay right out of the Brian-Michael dynamic.

Michael shrugged. Deb's eyes narrowed. "Well?" she insisted.

"He's just a kid," Michael pouted. "Just because Ben and I have adult parties where it's not all dancing and drugs and drag queens screaming their tits off, he thinks that they're boring. He probably just doesn't have any excuse for Brian not coming," he finished with something of a smirk.

Deb looked at him in silence for a moment. "Well, honey," she said slowly, "You know that I think it's wonderful that you and Ben have the house and all."

Michael's face lit up. "Did I tell you what we've decided to do with the walls in JR's room?" he asked, excitedly. "Ben saw this show on TV where they used stencils to create a frieze around the walls, and …"

Deb sighed, fighting off the urge to yawn. "Michael, Justin was not yelling just because he thinks your parties are boring. What else did he say?"

Michael shrugged irritably. "Who knows? You don't think I listen to him, do you?"

He was too late to dodge as Deb's hand once more snaked out.

"Sweetheart, that boy's as smart as you're likely to meet. If he was saying something about Brian, if I were you I'd listen."

Michael scoffed. "Like he knows anything about Brian."

Debbie stared at him. Then she sighed. "I keep thinking you've got over all that nonsense," she said sadly. "Then you say something like that and I wonder if you ever will."

"Well, honestly, he's just a kid … he hasn't known Brian for …"

"He's known Brian longer than you've known Ben," she pointed out firmly. "Now what did he say?"

"He was just bitching about our friends. Just because they live like grown ups, instead of like overgrown teenagers, Justin thinks that they're boring."

Deb stifled a grin.

"And just because they don't just meekly sit there when Brian is behaving like a total prick, Justin thinks they're pretentious or something. Of course, he would stick up for Brian."

Deb gave him a look. Coming from Michael that was actually funny, but she didn't think he'd get the joke.

"But of course Justin thinks that I should be planning the party just to please Brian. Well, he's not getting go-go boys and naked twinks at my house, so he can just stay away and have fun at Babylon."

Deb sighed. She tried to figure out how to tell him that Ted and Emmett were also planning to make no more than a short appearance at Ben and Michael's before heading out for a more amusing evening. She'd heard them talking about it just this morning.

But it wasn't just the party that bothered her. She'd seen Michael behaving like this before when he was with David, and she was afraid that he was risking more than just his friendship with Brian in bending over backwards to please and fit in with these new neighbors of his. It seemed to her that his desire to be like them had led to the custody battle that had damaged his relationship with the girls, and that nowadays he barely saw Ted or Emmett. She knew that sometimes these things happened. But she wasn't at all convinced that these new friends of his would be anything like as staunch and loyal as the old ones had always been. Even Brian. Especially Brian.

She was thrilled for Michael that his life was playing out the way it was. He had Ben, he had JR, and Hunter, they had the house. It was more than she'd ever hoped for - especially back in the days when all he'd seemed to want was to be Brian's "best friend". But it seemed wrong to her that now that his life was so full, he was so spiteful about Brian's. Maybe what Brian and Justin had wasn't like him and Ben. Who said it had to be? They loved each other. They made each other happy, and God knows Brian deserved some happiness in his life. But Michael seemed determined to sneer at the man who'd been his best friend and protector for so long, just because Brian wasn't making the same choices that he had.

True, Brian did his own share of sneering. But not at Michael. At the pompous and intolerant who dared to criticize him and his lifestyle, yes. That was part of what made him Brian, that he wouldn't put up with anyone else thinking they had a right to judge him for being who he was. But, in fairness to Brian, although he made no secret of his disdain for anything that compromised his idea of what it was to be a gay man, when it came down to it, he'd stood up for Michael as his best man, had organized a wedding celebration for them, and had kept his sarky remarks about their wedded state to a minimum. Whereas Michael seemed to take every opportunity to make really hurtful comments about his best friend, and his best friend's lifestyle - the lifestyle he'd shared until very recently. Which, when you thought about it, was also just how he'd behaved when he wanted to impress David's friends. Deb loved her son, but this side of him she didn't like very much at all.

Plus, just as his criticism of single mothers had hurt her when he was in the custody battle for JR, now Michael's criticism of any gay man who didn't decide to live the way he and Ben had chosen seemed to her to be criticism of Vic. Her brother had never, even when fighting his illness, become what he would have seen as domesticated. Tamed and trammeled by his physical weakness, perhaps, but never less than wild and free on the inside. She resented the Hell out of anyone, even Michael, who tried to tell her that because Vic had lived his life the way he'd wanted to live it, her beloved brother was less adult, less worthy, less of a man than people like the pretentious assholes she'd met at Michael's housewarming.

She found herself grinning. Justin was so right about those two.

She sighed as she settled down to what she knew was a doomed attempt to try to explain at least some of this to Michael.


Halloween dawned bright and sunny. Cold, but crisp and dry. That lasted till lunch time. Then it clouded over and began to rain half-heartedly. That lasted till mid afternoon when the rain stopped and the wind got up.

A little after three , Brian got a half-hysterical call from Lindsay. Mel, it seemed, was in the hospital. One of the shutters had come loose in the wind and in trying to fix it she'd somehow fallen off the ladder and broken her leg. Lindsay was at the hospital with JR, but she needed someone to pick Gus up from his play group.

Sighing, Brian promised to make sure that someone did. He was tempted to call Justin. Or to palm the task off on Cynthia, but suddenly the thought of a little alone time with Gus seemed quite appealing. The fact that his afternoon schedule included his regular Monday meeting with Ted to discuss finances might have had something to do with that.

Giving Cynthia a brief explanation, that was in no way flattering to either of the munchers, but which made Cyn laugh, he headed out to the car. On the way he called Justin and gave him a heads up. Justin was downtown and volunteered to meet him at Lindsay's apartment. They could collect her car with the child seat and then one of them could drive that to pick up Gus and the other could drive home in the 'vette. Brian didn't like that plan all that much, but he couldn't think of anything even vaguely more practical, so he headed off.

Gus was delighted to find his father and Justin waiting for him, although he got a little teary-eyed when Brian haltingly explained why. It turned out that it wasn't so much that Gus was upset about Mel being hurt, as he was about missing his first chance to go trick or treating.

Justin looked nervously at Brian. He didn't dare suggest that they could take him instead. But to his amazement, and deep pleasure, he heard Brian offering to do just that. Gus peered out from soggy eyelashes and said dolefully, "I'm a ghost. Momma was gonna be witch … good witch," he added to make things clear.

Brian bit back annoyance as he realized that they'd have to drive back to Lindsay's to get Gus' costume. But at least he wasn't going to be put in the shade by Momma.

"Justin and I are going to be pirates," he said a little proudly.

Gus' eyes lit up. "You take me," he demanded. "You take me now."

"Please," Justin put in, his WASP training coming to the fore.

"Please, Dadda," Gus whispered soulfully, his eyes looking adoringly up at his father.

Justin turned away to hide a smile at watching the elder Kinney being wrapped so skillfully round such a small thumb. But his eyes were a little misty, too.

Brian swallowed. And then smiled shyly at his son. "Of course, I will, Sonnyboy. Dadda will take you."

"Dadda and Justin have to get dressed first though, Gus," Justin said. "And then we'll go to your place and you can get your costume. Okay?"

"Okay, Dus," Gus responded happily. Then looked at his father. "Gus help?"

Brian swooped him up. "Of course you can help, Sonnyboy. You can hold Dadda's sword till he's ready for it. Okay?"

"Yea!" Gus cheered, then threw his arms around his father's neck and kissed him soppily. "Thank you, Dadda," he said sweetly.

They got dressed quickly. While they were dressing Lindsay called again to confirm that Gus was okay. She said that she'd been trying to call Michael, but could only get his voicemail. She'd left messages, but as she had to keep her cell turned off in the hospital, they couldn't call her back. Justin took over the call while Brian had Gus help him on with his sword. Lindsay confirmed that she'd be at the hospital for a while yet, and Justin told her about the change of plans. She was disappointed that she'd miss going with Gus, but Justin promised to take photos of him in his costume. He ignored Brian pulling faces at him, and mentally promised himself some photos of Sonnyboy and Dadda together. Lindsay also broke the news that though she'd picked out a costume for Gus, and paid a deposit to reserve it, she hadn't picked it up yet. So they had to go by the costume place first.

After a little more discussion, it was agreed that after the trick or treating, they would take Gus on to Mikey's and Lindsay could meet them there. She planned to ask Ben and Michael if they wanted to look after JR for a few days till Mel was at least able to hobble around. They drove by Babylon first and left the 'vette there. That way, they'd only have to cab it to the club from Mikey's if they couldn't get a lift with Ted.

When they arrived at the costume hire store, it was packed. Brian told Justin to wait with Gus in the car and charged in himself. Justin wasn't really surprised when he was back quite quickly, but he thought that the box looked kinda large for just one little ghost costume. He peered at Brian. Because the plan was for Gus to go out in his old neighborhood where people knew him, they drove to the house and helped Gus wash up. When Justin led him out of the bathroom, however, there were two costumes on the bed. One was the ghost costume his mother had ordered. The other was a tiny pirate costume, complete with a hat adorned with a skull and crossbones.

Gus shrieked with delight when he saw the pirate costume. They got him dressed in it, and found that his gumboots made excellent pirate boots. Which was just as well, Justin thought as they headed out to do their trick or treating, because the sky was darkening rapidly - and not just because it was twilight. Dark clouds were building up and the wind was getting up again.

However, nothing happened to spoil Gus' first Halloween experience. They didn't let him go to very many houses, and one of them stayed close to him as he clambered up each set of steps. They also kept a keen eye on his sweet consumption, although Gus was far more interested in the collecting of the candy than he was in eating it. They managed to stash most of it aside for Momma to dole out later in small amounts without him even noticing.

After the fifth house, Dadda told Sonnyboy that it was time for them to get moving, they had to go to the big boys' party at Uncle Michael's. Gus pouted a little at that. He didn't really like going there. Michael always ignored him, and Ben patted him on the head and didn't seem to know how to talk to him, and they ate funny food. But once reassured that Dadda and Justin would be there, Gus was quite happy to go with them.

Knowing that the food at Mikey's would be grown up food - and probably pretentious shit like eggplant and goats' cheese pizza at that - they made a stop at McDonald's on the way so that Gus could get something he might enjoy more.

Justin sat opposite his two Kinney men and to Brian's disgust, made good use of their camera. While many of the patrons were also clearly in Halloween mode, the sight of this tall and stunningly attractive man, clad in pirate garb, helping his equally attractive little pirate eat a happy meal stopped more than one person in their tracks, almost staring in admiration. Justin wasn't sure that he'd ever seen Brian look more beautiful. The shirt fell softly open, exposing Brian's elegant neck and his upper chest, while the likeness between him and Gus emphasized the beauty of their eyes; but it was the obvious love between father and son that seemed to make them both glow. The fact that Justin was getting his own fair share of admiring glances was totally lost on him, so absorbed was he in his two companions.

Once they'd stocked up on food, however, and paid a visit to the rest room, Justin found himself wondering how their various friends would react to this very unexpected Halloween arrival. He'd been looking forward to walking into the party with Brian anyway. He knew that none of them expected Brian to be in any sort of costume. The most anyone would have guessed that Brian might do was put on his sluttiest clothes and announce that he was in costume as the King Stud of Liberty Avenue, or the like. Brian in full pirate gear, including a sword that for some reason drew even more attention to the package displayed so prominently by the skin tight soft leather pants was something that was going to blow their little minds. Brian so attired accompanied by his adorable (and so much like his father) pirate garbed son … that was something he was sure any of them would have bet their balls against. If they had any. Where some of them were concerned, Justin wondered.

They stopped again at Lindsay's apartment to get some pajamas for Gus to change into later, and his little sleeping bag, and then, eventually, drove across town in increasingly heavy rain to what Brian insisted on calling the domain of the male munchers. Justin briefly debated admonishing Brian to behave, but then mentally shrugged it off. Brian was Brian. If some people couldn't cope with that, that was their problem. Besides, he didn't think that Brian would deliberately start anything with Gus on the premises. All in all, Justin found himself really looking forward to seeing everyone's reactions.

He wasn't disappointed. They knocked on the door, Justin standing slightly in front so that he could do the knocking, because Brian had his arms full of a suddenly shy Gus. Michael opened the door and peered at him vaguely, as if he didn't recognize him. (Justin failed to make allowances for how strongly the black wig changed his appearance.) Then Mikey's eyes drifted past him to Gus, and then on to Brian. Only then did he seem to take in what he was seeing.

His eyes widened in shock.

"Well, can we come in? In case you haven't noticed it's p…pouring down out here," Brian said, sweeping Justin before him as he strode through the door.

"Hi, Michael," Justin said sweetly, deeply relishing the astonishment and … let me see … was that lust? … in Michael's eyes as they took in the details of Brian's costume.

Ben came to meet them. "Hi, guys!" he said, reaching out to pat Gus on the head, stopped only by Gus' jerk away and Brian's reminder not to damage the pirate hat.

"I didn't know Gus was coming," Michael pouted. "It is a grown ups party, you know."

Brian frowned. "Justin, why don't you take Gus to get some juice while I talk to Michael," he said.

"Sure! C'mon, Gus," Justin responded immediately, as anxious as Brian to get Gus away from whatever hissy fit Michael was working himself up to.

But before they could move away, Deb was on them.

"Hello, gorgeous, Gus!" she said cheerfully. Then, a little more tightly, "Where is that grand daughter of mine? Mel was supposed to be here an hour ago."

Brian and Justin looked at each other, but before either could say anything, Gus piped up, "Mama fell over. She bwoke."

The adults all looked startled; even to Brian and Justin it seemed a drastic description.

"Didn't Lindsay call?" Justin asked hesitantly.

"No! she f… didn't!" Michael exclaimed, one eye on Gus. "What the hell has happened? Where's JR?"

"She's with Lindsay," Brian said, firmly handing Gus over to Justin and waving them towards the kitchen. "Mel's fine, by the way," he added sarcastically. "Aside from the broken leg, that is."

He regarded Michael dispassionately, while Michael glared back at him, furious that it was Brian Lindsay had turned to, rather than to JR's father. The fact that Lindsay had JR with her, and had asked Brian to look after his own son, apparently lost on him.

Deb took his arm. "Now, no bullshit, you two," she warned. "What happened?"

Brian shrugged, "Mel was doing her handyman impersonation and fell off the fucking ladder. She broke her leg. Fortunately, she had her cell phone in her pocket and called Linds. Linds rushed over to the house to find Mel about to be loaded into an ambulance. She took JR to the hospital with her, and asked me to look after Gus for a few hours. All clear now?" he finished, snarkily.

Michael by now was becoming quite red in the face. "Why the hell didn't she call me?" he demanded. "I could have looked after JR for her. It would be much better than having her hanging around the hospital. She just wanted to take the chance to spend more time with JR. She didn't …"

Debbie cut him off: "That's enough! You've got guests. You should be entertaining them, not bitching about that poor baby again."

Justin arrived back with Gus, then and said under his breath to Brian, "I don't know, they all look pretty entertained to me."

Brian glanced around to find the guests all clearly eavesdropping eagerly on the conversation. He grinned.

"C'mon, Sonnyboy," he said. "Let's go get Daddy a drink now."

He took Gus from Justin, and setting him on the floor, took his hand and walked him across to the bar where Emmett received him eagerly. "So … is Mel alright?" he asked.

Brian nodded. "Madder than a hornet from what I can gather, at the weather, the ladder and the ambulance driver, but other than that she'll be fine."

He took the glass of Beam from Emmett and downed half gratefully. As Halloweens went, this one was trying his patience more than usual.

Gus tugged at his boot.

"Wassup, Sonnyboy?" he asked, hoisting Gus once more to his shoulder, when his son held up his arms to him.

"Oh, my goodness!" Emmett gushed. "Isn't he just the cutest thing?"

Gus peered at him through his eyelashes. Emmett smiled at him and twiddled his fingers in a little wave. Gus smiled back, then laughed. He liked this man. This man was funny. Not like Meanie Michael. Emmett, completely charmed, smiled back at him warmly. Gus, suddenly shy, hid his face in his father's neck, then he peeked at Emmett again, still smiling.

Emmett was smiling back at him, captivated, when his glance strayed from Gus' face to his father's. He almost gasped. He'd never seen Brian look like that. Never known that his friend's face could look so tender. Softie that he was, Emmett's eyes swam suddenly. He was about to say something to Brian when they were interrupted.

"What a beautiful picture you two make."

Brian turned to look at the new arrival. It was a guy he didn't know. Judging by the fairly dreary costume and the general homespun air, another of the male munchers. But whoever the guy was, at least he had taste.

"What's your name?" the man asked Gus.

After a long look at him through his eyelashes, the boy whispered his name shyly.

"Hi, Gus, I'm Roger."

Of course you are, thought Brian.

But the guy was holding out his hand for Gus to shake, which Gus did, shyly and sweetly. The guy looked up at Gus' father expectantly.

"Brian," he said, and reluctantly shook Roger's hand.

Justin joined them then, in search of his own drink, and introduced himself. It turned out that Roger was actually a friend of Lindsay and Mel's - someone Linds had met through the gallery. As his appearance had suggested to Brian, he was in a long term relationship, and had two children. But he was also an artist and, they were to find out, had a wicked sense of humor and no time at all for Michael's favorite neighbors.

"I'd call them pretentious pricks," he said of them dismissively, "but I doubt they've got any."

Brian gave a bark of laughter and Justin giggled, although both breathed a sigh of relief when Gus' attempts to imitate the words that had made his Dadda laugh came out as "Tentus ticks."

They were reasonably confident that no one would be able to translate.

"Sh … ucks, I'm sorry," Roger groaned. "I am always getting into trouble with that at home. It was okay until the older one started school, but then he insisted on a swear box. I da…shed near paid for our holiday last year in fines."

Justin giggled again, but their amusement was cut short by the sound of Michael's raised voice, and Ben's strained response.

Brian raised an eyebrow and Justin, high on the happiness of being here with his favorite men, and knowing himself to be the envy of every fag in the room as a result, laughed.

"Oh-oh," Roger said. "More trouble in paradise."

"More?" Justin asked.

"Oh, honey," Emmett said, joining them again and being greeted by a coy smile from Gus, "this is about the third little blow up since I got here. Seems like the stress of trying to be hostess of the year is beginning to tell on our little Michael."

Justin wondered at the unusual snarkiness in Em's tone, but Brian, being Brian, asked outright, "What … don't tell me the hostess has clashed with the party planner?"

To his surprise, Em didn't flounce back at him, instead he regarded Brian seriously for a moment, then said, "It's not important. Let's just say I'm a little tired of being told how "grown up" this party is and that I should try to tone it down a little."

He did give a toss of his head then, and said, "My flame burns bright. If it's too dazzling, Michael should have found someone more beige to cater his little do."

Brian's face tightened, and looking at him, Justin wondered what he was thinking. In the normal course of events, Brian would never put Emmett's feelings before Michael's, but Justin knew that Brian and Emmett had a strong mutual respect based on their shared belief that being true to yourself was the only honest way of being in the world. And now Michael was confronting both of them with requirements that they be less than themselves. Justin moved a little closer to Brian, and put his hand on Emmett's arm.

Brian glanced down at his partner and shifted Gus in his arms. "Can we find a f… seat?" he asked. "Someone ate too much for dinner," he added, tickling his son.

Gus giggled. "D'not", he protested. "You ate too much."

"Me?" Brian demanded in mock-affront. "You wouldn't even let your old man have one little bite, Sonnyboy. Not a bite. Maybe I should eat you up instead."

He mouthed at Gus' hand and Gus shrieked in delighted laughter, while Justin worked wonders with his Jack-like charm, sweeping a bow to the two people currently occupying the couch, and clearing a seat where his grateful partner could collapse with a still giggling Gus on his knee.

Once he and Justin were established on the couch, however, Gus started to get restless. Sure that his Dadda wasn't going anywhere, Gus slid down from his knee and started wandering around the room, soaking up the admiration showered on him by nearly everyone at the party, and telling them all about he and his Dadda and "Dus" had gone ticker teeting Which raised more than a few surprised eyebrows.. Every few minutes he would run back to his Dadda to make sure that he was still there, and Brian kept him in sight at all times. There were people in this room he didn't know, after all.

Justin alternated between sitting quietly next to Brian, reveling in the admiration thrown at his two boys, and jumping up every now and again to go after Gus if he wandered anywhere out of their line of sight. That became a game for Gus, and he would deliberately move round a corner so that "Dus" would come after him. Then he would shriek with laughter and run as fast as he could back to the haven of his Dadda's arms while "Dus" chased him. The adults were all charmed at his antics, and at the sight of Brian, exchanging whispers, hugs and sloppy kisses with the small boy so much like him.

Michael, of course, was the exception. He pouted to anyone who would listen to his whine, that kids weren't invited, and Gus really shouldn't be there. As Justin got up once again to "rescue" Gus, he moved in close to Brian and said, "He shouldn't be here, Brian. He's spoiling it for everyone."

Brian looked around the room at all the smiling faces watching as his two pirates swashbuckled their way back to him. This time, Justin was doing a Jack type swagger, and Gus was doing his best to imitate it. They were laughing together, and no one in the room seemed anything but enchanted with the sight - and rightly so.

Brian looked into the petulant face of his erstwhile friend and sighed, "What do you want me to do, Mikey? I can take him back to the loft, if that's what you want."

That wasn't what Michael wanted at all, so he pouted more and the whine became even more pronounced, "He just shouldn't be here."

"No, he shouldn't. He was supposed to be with Lindsay, and she wasn't coming. Because you made it plain to her that he wasn't invited, so she was going to miss the party rather than miss Halloween with her son. But Lindsay is at the hospital looking after your daughter, so …"

Michael glowered at him, "She could have brought JR here. Ben and I would have …"

"Yes. She could, but that would have meant leaving Mel alone. Of course, if she'd been able to get through to you, you could have gone and picked up JR, but as you were too busy to be bothered with phone calls …"

Michael flushed dark red. Brian must have overheard his argument with Ben. He'd been driven nearly frantic earlier when he was trying to get organized and everyone kept phoning wanting stupid things, like asking if they should bring food, or wanting to know if there was anything he needed. The only thing he'd needed was to be left alone, so he'd switched off all the phones - including Ben's cell. That's what had made Ben so mad, because it turned out he was expecting a call from one of his students about a grade and hadn't known Michael had switched off the phone.

"You and Justin can't talk, you switch off the phones all the time," he snapped.

Brian regarded him cynically, then smiled as he felt his partner sit down next to him, a weary little pirate sagging against his shoulder. Justin with a glance at Gus said mischievously, "Only when we're doing something really important."

Then he gave Brian a long slow look that made it very clear what they considered important.

"And Lindsay has the beeper number for emergencies," he finished. "We never turn that off."

Michael looked ready to bite him. "Well, excuse me if we can't afford all the gadgets!" he snapped.

Brian didn't say anything, but Justin could almost see the automatic shift in his thinking to 'Mikey needs …' and he wasn't going to have it. Not this time. He gave a long deliberate look around the room, and then said, "And just how much have all these pretty renovations cost so far, Michael?"

Brian's head turned to look at him and Justin met his eyes with a tilt to his head, that Brian knew all too well. Justin wasn't going to back down on this one. He found himself smiling at his partner. Then at his son, who was snuggled against Justin, sucking his thumb, his energy finally giving out.

"Looks like you've got your wish anyway, Mikey," he said. "I think our little pirate is about done."

He stood. "C'mon, Sonnyboy, time for bed."

Gus' face crinkled, "No, Dadda," he murmured.

Brian lifted him into his arms and smiled at him. He whispered something into Gus' ear that made his son giggle, and then turned to Justin. "Sonnyboy and I are going to take a walk off the plank," he said.

Justin nodded. "I put his things in the guest room. Ben said that was the quietest."

"Dus come too," Gus demanded sleepily.

"I'll be up in a minute," Justin said.


"I promise."

"Say goodnight to Uncle Mikey, Gus," Brian said with some mischief.

"No!" Gus said, turning his face away. "He mean to Gus."

Justin stifled a laugh, and Brian's lips twitched. "He can't help that, Gus. He's just silly sometimes. Now say goodnight."

"Night," Gus said, reluctant, but obedient.

Michael looked as if he wanted to argue about the enormous imposition of having his daughter's brother put to bed for a few hours in his spare room, but Brian didn't give him the chance. He moved quickly to the stairs, waylaid only by Debbie on the way, wanting a goodnight kiss, which Gus gave her sweetly. Then Gus saw Emmett, and demanded to kiss him goodnight as well. Brian graciously allowed this, but called a halt when Gus, with a look across at Michael, also pointedly gave a goodnight kiss to Ted, whom he hardly knew.

With no more ado a smug Gus was carted upstairs by his father, his young voice echoing down to those below wanting to know why the mean man was so silly.

Justin had intended to take a piece out of Michael for his fucking hypocrisy, but he decided that Gus had made the point far more effectively than anything he could say. So, with a deliberate swish of his hips to taunt Michael with the horrid possibility of what else might happen upstairs after they'd gotten Gus to sleep, he made his way up to join his partner and the little boy they both adored, leaving Michael to suffer through the gushing comments that he heard behind him about how cute Gus was, how hot Brian was, how sweet they were together. The unkindest cut of all, the clincher, came from Roger who'd watched Brian's back view admiringly as he'd carried Gus away, and watched Justin's no less admiringly and then was heard to say loudly, "Fuck! There just isn't anything hotter than a stud who's great with his kid."

Justin heard some sort of protest from one of the twats, he couldn't tell which, and paused, out of sight around the bend of the stair, to see if there was any response. He nearly laughed out loud when Roger said, if anything even more loudly, "Why on earth you think a man has to give up his balls when he becomes a father is beyond me. But maybe it's just that you never had much to give up …"

Giggling to himself, and storing the words up to share with Brian later, he went into the guest room, where Brian was struggling to get Gus, who was already nearly asleep, into his pajamas. He gave his partner a hand with that, and then they snuggled the little one into his sleeping bag, so that Lindsay could take him home later without waking him up.

Of course, Justin didn't resist very much when Brian led him into the bathroom and suggested another way he could give him a hand.

They restricted themselves to a quick, mutual hand job, cleaned up, and then wandered down the stairs, hand in hand to find that Lindsay had arrived with a very cranky JR who was flatly refusing to do anything but scream every time that Michael tried to take her from Lindsay.

"They're keeping Mel overnight," Lindsay was saying, as she desperately tried to get JR to settle down. "So I wondered if you could keep JR here …"

Michael, put on the spot, because the intrusion of this red faced screaming bundle into his party just when he'd got Gus out of the way certainly dimmed his chances of the party going smoothly, hesitated.

Brian came up behind them intent now that Gus was safely upstairs, on mischief and payback. He reached past Michael and took JR right out of his hands. "Of course, he wants his little bundle of joy to stay the night, doesn't he sweetheart?" he said looking down at JR with a wicked smile.

To everyone's astonishment, including Brian's, the screams cut off as if someone had removed the batteries, and JR, giving a forlorn gulp, reached up her hand to this beautiful man who wasn't all wired and frazzled and yelling. Her fingers wrapped around one of his and she gave a soft gurgle and what was definitely a rather flirtatious smile.

Brian chuckled and rocked her a little, "That's better, isn't it? Did Daddy scare you?" he asked.

JR gurgled at him delightedly.

Both Justin and Michael felt as if the little scene put the seal on the evening.

For Michael, from the moment of Brian's most unexpected arrival, the evening had been one of pure annoyance. He was supposed to be the ideal father, who had everyone chattering about how beautiful his kid was and how sweet they were together. Not Brian. Him. But it was Brian's kid they'd all thought was so adorable while his had behaved like a total little monster. Until Brian came along, of course. Then, just because he'd arrived at the point where she needed to refill her lungs, she'd gone all cute at him as well. Stupid kid should have more sense. So now, instead of her looking like a monster, she just made her father look stupid. As if he was the monster, screaming like that when he'd held her. Just at the moment he would like to throw her in the river. Or at least not see her again for a few days; but it looked like he was stuck with her while he tried to deal with the party and everything else, just because Mel had been stupid enough to fall off some damned ladder. He felt himself getting more and more angry. But he knew that he couldn't afford to lose it. His mother would kill him.

For Justin, watching as everyone now gushed over how good Brian was with the baby, it had been an evening of pure unadulterated satisfaction. That would show all these dickless fags that you didn't have to be a total eunuch to be a good father. Brian had been there when Gus need him, had made his son's needs his first priority, and had made sure that Gus felt safe and loved and happy during what could have been a scary and upsetting time for such a little one.

Now, it was about time Brian dumped Mikey's kid, and they headed on to Babylon. He wanted to show off his sexy pirate partner in a rather more adventurous manner than anyone at this party was ready for.

He looked at Brian, who met his eyes and read him perfectly.

"Sorry, Mikey, but we have to go. Big night for business you know. Owner has some responsibilities."

He handed JR, who immediately started screaming again, back to her father, kissed Lindsay and told her Gus was safely upstairs asleep, and strode to the door.

"Theodore, you coming?" he tossed over his shoulder.

Ted and Emmett, both relieved to escape what had been, except for the unexpected vision of Brian in Dadda mode, an extremely tedious party, scurried to join them.

As the door closed behind them, they heard over JR's screams, Michael's voice whining loudly, "Briiiian!"

They were all laughing as they ran through the rain and piled into Ted's car to head for the lights and glitter of the magical kingdom of Babylon.

Later, when they heard about the string of disasters that took place just after Lindsay left with Gus, starting with a fuse going out (which Ben and Michael blamed on the thunderstorm that was crackling overhead so they didn't make any attempt to fix it) and including Mikey burning his thumb while trying to light a candle, and the fact that they couldn't heat any of the food Emmett had prepared, they laughed even louder.

And in the wee small hours, long after midnight, two very sexy pirates plundered each other mercilessly.

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