Miracle on Tremont St.
Justin sighed; looked like he was going to have to work late. Again. He really needed to come up with a new take on this idea, or he was likely to lose his job.
It had all seemed so simple at the beginning. He'd been hired to work on Kauffman's Christmas Theme for the year. Last year's Christmas sales figures hadn't been as good as expected, so this year they really needed to hit the target. The store had interviewed various people for the job of marketing Kauffman's as the place to shop for Christmas and had been impressed by the fair young man whose enthusiasm had captivated even the most cynical of the board members.
Justin's idea had been simplicity itself - put the fun back into Christmas. He'd argued that not only was Christmas over commercialized, it just wasn't fun anymore. Even for kids. Through over-exposure on TV and DVD and in the cinema, they just didn't believe any longer; they'd lost their belief not just in the real reason for Christmas, but even in Santa himself. Get the kids to believe again, Justin had argued; set up a Santa's Snowland in Kauffman's and persuade the kids of Pittsburgh that it was real, and they would drag their parents to the store. The store believed in Justin's idea because he did; though while they were thinking of the cash registers, he was thinking of the looks on the faces of the kids, the expression of joy and wonder that seemed all too often lacking at Christmas in recent times.
He'd presented his sketched ideas for the Snowland, and although it meant giving up a fair bit of floor space in one half of the basement, and wasn't going to come cheap, the board had decided that his idea had merit. Snowland had gone into construction, Justin had watched his ideas come to life, and for a while it seemed that it was going to be successful. Until other stores cottoned on and started their own promotions focusing on their Santas. Now the situation was fast developing into a "Who's got the real Santa?" war.
So far, though, he'd managed to fend off competitors. Nickolai, the Santa he'd found, was wonderful with the kids, and actually came with his own long white beard which gave him a lot more credibility with the kids than most. He was from Europe somewhere, and was multi-lingual, speaking not only French and Spanish, but also Italian and Dutch and at least one Eastern European language. Justin was also fairly sure he'd heard him talking in Chinese, or maybe Korean at one point as well.
Justin and his team had worked out a system where they surreptitiously obtained the name of each child from the parent and provided it to Santa via a very small earpiece - hardly visible under the hair and the hat; so it seemed to the kids that Santa really did know the name of every boy and girl. Nickolai had been scornful of that at first, but they'd persuaded him to go along with it, and it certainly did lend credence to his reputation. They also conveyed info caught by Nickolai's tiny radio mike about what special present a child wanted to the parent, and advised them where they could purchase it. On Nickolai's suggestion, backed by Justin, and eventually confirmed by the board, the staff would even advise parents of other stores that might stock the items they didn't carry. All of which was a hit with kids and parents alike.
Sometimes though during his frequent visits to Santa's house, Justin, was a little puzzled at how Santa often seemed to know other things about the child, like how many brothers and sisters they had, but he put that down to educated guesses and gave it no more thought.
Goodness knows he had enough else to think about.
This job was very important to him. Since graduating, he'd found it hard to get work; everyone was looking for someone with experience, but no-one seemed willing to give him the chance to get any. But if he could organize this and make it a success, then maybe it would be just what his CV needed. It wasn't only his personal success, though, that drove him, it was a genuine belief that he was contributing to a more joyous Christmas for a whole host of kids. And if he could make this successful this year, then maybe it would set the pattern for Christmases to come.
Except that today he'd learned that a major chain of stores were about to unveil their Winter Wonderland, with Santa traveling by sled from store to store, a prospect that was bound to garner a lot of media coverage - free publicity that he just couldn't match. He had no idea how to combat that, but store management had made it clear that it was his job to make a miracle happen, and get every child in Pittsburgh to believe that Kauffman's Santa was the one true Santa. He felt ill and exhausted at the thought.
Sighing, and rubbing his hands over his face, trying to brush away a growing headache, he realized that a lot of his exhaustion might just be that he hadn't eaten all day. He decided to go and get something to eat, and then come back to work, hopefully refreshed and full of ideas.
He walked to the elevator, and, on impulse, decided to go down to the basement and see how the Snowland was going. Part of reason for the success of his idea was that he was ready to take on other people's input; especially the staff who were there all day and knew exactly what was working with the kids and what was not.
His mind going over once again any possible ideas for how to ensure the success of his plan, he was hardly aware of the elevator moving, but as the doors opened at ground level and people began moving in and out, he had to smile when heard an eager young voice saying, "But, Dadda, it's the real Santa!"
"Gus," a man's voice responded, and something in the voice stroked across Justin's senses like the most delicate feather, "We've talked about this. Santa isn't real. None of the Santas are real. You know that."
The voice might have been made to attract him, but the words made him angry as hell. As the crowds cleared, Justin found himself looking at a very unhappy small boy, and he wanted to pick the child up and cart him down to Santa himself just to spite his asshole father. He felt so sorry for the child who had to listen to such destructive drivel.
But the little boy had his own weapons.
"Alwight, Dadda," he said with a valiant, but clearly heartbroken little catch in his voice.
Justin had glanced at the man to see what sort of prick talked that way to his toddler about Santa, and then found himself mesmerized by the beauty of the man - not just his face, but the lean sweep of his body, impeccably clad in some Italian designer suit, his elegant hands and the flash of green and gold in the eyes he turned to his son. Even the somewhat harsh expression couldn't hide the fact that this was a truly beautiful man. Then the man's face changed and Justin was stunned to see the way in which the features softened, and to observe the aching tenderness in his gentle caress of his son's hair.
"Well, I guess we can check out this Snowland, if that's what you want," the father said.
The little boy's face lit up and he hugged his father's leg. Smiling down at him, a little sadly, Justin thought, the man snatched the toddler up into his arms and strode into the elevator just as the doors were about to close.
There were many people in the elevator but the only ones Justin was aware of were the tall man and his son.
The little boy threw his arms around his father's neck, and Justin heard the soft whisper, "I love you, Dadda."
He watched as a dark flush spread over the side of the man's face (all he could see from where he stood just behind them) and heard the man's voice stumble as he whispered back, "Dadda loves you, too, Gus."
The small arms hugged tighter for a moment, and then the elevator doors were opening, and all the occupants spilled out into magic.
Santa's Snowland was a world of color against a background of clear white. Small streets lined with real trees led to tiny houses for the elves, caves for the snow men and polar bears, and stables for the reindeer (real ones, used two and three at a time, turn about for a couple of hours, and then spelled in a specially built stable constructed in a nearby parking lot - something that had taken more planning permits than Justin ever wanted to see again in his lifetime). In the middle, at the back, lay Santa's workshop, and behind that, his house. The kids didn't need to know that the elves and bears coming to and fro from the door to the house were actually coming or going from their breaks via the small service elevator that was hidden by the Santa's House façade.
The main lighting was slightly dim, so that the reflections from the strings of colored lights, strung overhead and between all the trees, sparkled from the fake snow that lay over everything in deep drifts. This was cold to the touch, thanks to specially installed under-floor cooling units, and felt very much like real snow, except that it wasn't damp and wouldn't melt. It even squunched satisfyingly underfoot.
A small train ran on an intricately laid track all around Snowland, and through the windows of houses and scattered through the workshop, children could see enticing glimpses of colorful toys of all kinds.
Mrs. Santa and her helpers had a cookie stall; large ice crystal snowmen dispensed snowballs (large marshmallows covered in chocolate and rolled in coconut); and an even larger ice crystal fountain served three different kinds of pop.
But the heart of Santa's Snowland was the big chair in the Workshop, where Santa sat listening solemnly as children of all ages, and many nationalities, told him their hopes and dreams for Christmas. Something in Nickolai seemed to encourage all children to trust him, and there were no awkward moments of little voices murmuring reluctantly "I don't wanna" when it was time to sit close to him and talk to Santa face to face about the things on that long Christmas list, and, less enthusiastically perhaps, have a little chat with him about "naughty" and "nice". Nickolai himself had made the suggestion that turning one broad arm of the chair into a suitable seat would be much better than expecting every child to sit happily on a stranger's knee. It worked very well with the shyer children, and the older ones, although most of the little ones clambered onto his lap as if by right, seat or no seat.
Justin spent some time checking that everything was running as it should and that all the little faces around him were happy ones. He was overwhelmed yet again by the glow he saw shining from child after child. This was what Christmas should be, a time of love and joy and wonder. He walked back towards Santa's workshop, hoping to snatch a quick word with Nickolai and saw that the tall man from the elevator had been inveigled into standing in line with his son to see Santa. They were close to the head of the queue, so Justin lingered a little longer, telling himself it was part of his job to make sure that not even the most cynical left Snowland untouched by its magic.
When Gus' turn came, Justin saw with a smile, that he was one of those who bypassed the offer of an attendant elf to help him into the seat, and climbed right up onto Santa's lap. Nickolai smiled down at him, and then something strange happened. Later, Justin would tell himself that he imagined it, but just as Gus settled onto his lap, Nickolai, who normally ignored the parents completely, looked up at the boy's father and held his eyes for a long long time. A look of great sadness, and what Justin could only interpret later as compassion, crossed Nickolai's face, and for a moment his hand reached out toward the father of the child who sat in his lap. Then Gus' little voice chirped at him and he turned his head to listen with all his attention, as he always did, to the child on his knee.
Whatever request Gus had made to Santa seemed to require some discussion, because Santa was asking several questions and nodding gravely at the responses. Gus' face was alight with animation, and Justin, glancing at the father once more (while a small part of his mind said sternly, 'he's straight, you idiot, or at least in the closet, there's nothing for you there') saw that the man was watching his son with a look of almost ferocious tenderness. Justin knew suddenly, without knowing quite how, that this man's childhood had not been a happy one, and he was determined that his son's would be, whatever the cost to himself, or anyone else.
Justin was lost in thought, studying the planes of the man's face and the way his clothes draped his slender body and longing for sketch pad and pencil. He didn't realize he was staring till he met the man's eyes. One eyebrow immediately lifted and across the crowded "workshop", Justin felt the force of the invitation in that gaze. He stepped back, startled, and the man's lips twisted into a knowing grin.
Then his attention was claimed by his son, and Justin heard a loud proclamation of "I'm hungwy, Dadda". He turned away, ashamed of having been caught in such blatant admiration of another man's body in front of the man's own child.
The words also reminded him that he hadn't yet eaten. Seeing Nickolai's attention once more fixed on his latest visitor's conversation, Justin decided to speak with him later, and instead slipped out the nearest exit, up the stairs and into the street. It was late in the day for lunch, but there was a small café nearby which served great soup all day, so he headed there, trying to push thoughts of the tall man and his son from his mind and concentrate on his problem.
Sitting at the table, with his soup, a sandwich, a slice of chocolate cheesecake and some fruit he was overwhelmed for a moment with fear that he'd fail, that his dreams were just that dreams, airy nothings that he didn't have the talent or the persistence or the courage to achieve. The sense of worthlessness nearly overcame him, but this was a familiar battle, and one which he was used to fighting. Besides, he didn't really matter, what was important here was what he was trying to do for the kids - giving them back their belief - in Christmas, in Santa, in goodness and generosity of spirit. He wasn't going to fail them, not if he could help it.
He gripped the handle of the spoon firmly and was raising it to his mouth when he heard a familiar voice say, "But we can sit here, Dadda. There's a chair for us."
"There are chairs for us, Gus," the man's voice corrected, apparently automatically. "We need two chairs, one each. See, count us, one, two."
Justin looked up to see Gus giggling as his father pointed first at Gus and then at himself.
"There's chairs for us here," Gus insisted, smiling beguilingly at Justin. "See, Dadda," he said proudly, showing off a little in front of this nice man with the yellow hair, " one two."
"But, Gus," his father sighed, "the man at this table might not like "
"Oh, please," Justin interrupted, "sit down. I've nearly finished anyway."
Then he flushed as the man's eyes flickered over his hardly touched meal and the eyebrow lifted in that disconcerting way once again.
But Gus was already pulling at a chair, and with a slight sigh the man pulled the chair out for him so that he could sit down.
He turned to Justin with a shrug. "Sorry about this, but if I don't feed him, he'll start tearing the place apart."
Justin smiled at them both. "Well, I get the same way when I'm hungry, so I know how he feels."
Gus beamed back at him, and said unexpectedly, "You're the Chwissmas Man."
Justin blinked at him. He didn't like to ask Gus what he meant, and was kind of hoping that Gus' father would, but then he saw the guy was looking around for a waitress and hadn't heard.
"It's serve yourself," he told the man a little apologetically.
The guy gave an exaggerated sigh, and dragged himself to his feet. "Come on, Sonnyboy, and let's see what you can get to eat."
"I wan' what he's having," Gus said firmly, pointing at the array of plates on the table, much to Justin's embarrassment.
Once more that eyebrow rose. "Gus, you'll never eat all that."
"But I'm Hungwy!" Gus insisted. Justin, hiding a grin, was sure you could actually hear the capital H of the "hungry" bit.
His father sighed. "Okay. We'll share," he said.
"Okay," Gus said happily, settling more firmly into his seat.
The man stood there, clearly unwilling to leave his son with a stranger.
"I can watch him if you like," Justin offered.
This time there was no lazy amusement or enticement in the eyes that raked over him. Justin felt stripped bare, right down to his most buried secrets, as those amazingly beautiful hazel eyes drilled into him. Finally the guy nodded. "Thanks," he said.
"I'm Gus," the boy piped up, and offered his small hand.
"Hi, Gus. I'm Justin," Justin returned, shaking it.
"Dadda!" the infant said insistently as his father was about to leave them.
The man's tongue once more wandered into his cheek. "Brian," he said dryly.
Before Justin could respond, he'd walked off towards the counter. Justin was left with his young companion. They smiled, each immensely attracted to the other.
Justin saw a small version of his father with slightly darker eyes and a much more open expression.
Gus saw a slight, blond young man with beautiful blue eyes and a lovely warm smile. Just the sort of smile that he paused in his thoughts and smiled even wider, turning on all his charm.
"You're the Chwissmas Man," he repeated.
Justin stared at him. "What .. what do you mean, Gus?"
"At Santa's. You're the Chwissmas Man."
That seemed to Gus to explain everything. Justin was left to conclude that Gus had seen him at Snowland talking to the staff and had thought he was somehow in charge. He felt quite flattered at being called the Christmas Man, it was a great way to be described.
Brian came back to the table then carrying Gus' food and a cup of coffee, and sat down. He brushed against Justin as he did and Justin felt his heart lurch and his breathing speed up.
This was not good. He needed to get his food finished and get out of there. But Gus didn't make that easy.
He chattered away happily to Justin, telling him about his adventures with Santa and what he'd thought of the reindeer and asking Justin which reindeer he liked best and which house in Snowland he'd like to live in. Finally, Brian managed to get a word in edgeways.
"So, are you a Santa groupie or do you have a reason for hanging around there?"
Justin frowned at him. "I work in the store," he said shortly.
Brian's eyebrow climbed once again at the tone in his voice.
"What do you do? Clean up after the reindeer?"
"I'm an artist. I'm in promotions," Justin replied. "And I need to get back to work."
He stood and began to pull on his coat, his arm tangling in the sleeve.
"No-o-o-o!" Gus wailed.
Justin sighed and squatted down next to him. "It was very nice to meet you, Gus," he said gently.
Brian put a soothing hand over his son's, and the boy looked at him pathetically. "Justin has to go to work, Gus," he said.
"Yes, Sonnyboy, like Dadda."
Gus sighed, but he was used to being told his father couldn't play with him because he had to work.
"O-kay. Bye, Dustin."
For some reason Justin felt quite choked up over leaving him, and to make it worse he couldn't seem to untangle the sleeve of his coat. To his surprise, Brian stood and helped him with it. Once it was on, Brian tugged it close around him, and tucked in his scarf, while Justin tried to subdue his sudden shakes. The hazel eyes looked deep into his, with mischief and a definite invitation in their depths.
"Bye, Justin," the man said demurely.
Justin left feeling shaken and angry, unable to believe that the guy, Brian, had been flirting with him right in front of his son. What if Gus noticed something? What if he told his mother? Where did Brian get off doing that!?
Why on earth did the first guy he'd been interested in all year have to be an asshole closet case with a kid?
Justin went back to work and tried to concentrate. But his mind kept drifting to Brian and his son and whenever it did, his emotions would flutter between an unaccountable anger and sadness. He tried to push all those thoughts and feelings away and come up with some brilliant creative way to ensure that his Santa won the escalating battle, but nothing would come, and his headache, which had vanished during the time he spent with Brian and Gus, came back worse than ever.
Eventually, a little after nine, he gave up and left. But when he got home he was still restless, and, he had to admit, horny. So he decided to get dressed and go to a club. It wasn't something he did often, anonymous sex didn't have a great deal of appeal for him; but he didn't have any qualms about getting his needs met when necessary.
After catching a bus down to Liberty, he decided to check out a bar first, and then move on to one of the clubs. He chose the bar called Woody's. He'd been there before, and it had a fairly comfortable atmosphere, unlike some of the other places on the strip. He'd get hit on here, he always did, but nothing heavy - not like some places where saying 'no' could cause big problems.
He'd lined up a beer and allowed the first mouthful to slide down his throat, when he heard an all too familiar voice: "Well, well, well. If it isn't Santa's little helper."
He looked up into Brian's eyes, as the man draped himself over the next stool.
"Justin," he responded quietly. "My name is Justin."
Brian's tongue peeked out and slid across his lips as he looked Justin up and down. "Right."
His eyes conveyed blatant invitation, and Justin felt himself becoming angry again.
"What the fuck do you think you're playing at?" he hissed.
"Ex-cuse me?" Both Brian's eyebrows were raised to the ceiling this time.
"Where's Gus?" Justin demanded viciously, determined to make this asshole recognize what a total shit he was being.
He was disconcerted, however, when Brian's mouth twisted into his lopsided grin and he settled himself down onto the barstool comfortably.
"If it's any of your business, Sunshine, Gus is at home with his mommies."
As Justin struggled to take in both the nickname and the implication of the plural, Brian, still grinning, went on, "I jerked off in a cup, because my friend Lindsay's dyke husband, although she's got more balls than most, still doesn't have that one essential. So they took my jizz and squirted it up her and Voila! I'm a dad."
Justin felt himself blushing furiously. He didn't quite know what to say, so he took another deep swig of his beer. Which would have been okay, except that his throat was so closed up, he choked on it.
When he'd finished spluttering, he found Brian still there, laughing at him.
"Sorry," he said stiffly. "You're right, it's none of my business."
He moved to go, but Brian put out a hand to stop him. The man's touch burned Justin's arm and he stared into those hazel eyes.
"What's your hurry, Sunshine? Got a little friend to go home to?"
Justin's chin came up. "No," he said bluntly.
"Well, then," Brian purred. "Sit down and finish your drink." Then his voice changed a little, became something other than pure seduction. "You look like you needed one," he said quietly.
For some reason, the sincerity in the voice struck home to Justin, and he nodded. "You could say that."
Brian huffed a half laugh, as Justin sat down again. He was amazed at himself, and a little pissed. He had no idea why he'd stopped the blond from leaving. Sure he was hot, but there were plenty of hot guys on offer. Although, Brian had to admit, he'd been tempted by the blond ever since he'd noticed him in that damned store. Not at all Brian's usual type, but that bubble butt was definitely worth consideration, and watching him with the kids, Brian had found himself fascinated by the bright blue eyes and the smile that had seemed to light up the whole of Snowland all on its own. But even so, it wasn't like him to waste time talking to any of his tricks.
Maybe it was the memory of how comfortable Justin had been with Gus that afternoon. Gus was a bright kid, but he didn't always take to strangers. With this Justin, though, he'd been all over him. And they'd looked so damn!
Brian snapped his mind away from any thought of how right it had seemed to come back to the table and find his son and this stranger sitting together waiting for him.
That's what having kids did for you, it turned you into a fucking lesbian. Which is why he was sitting here inviting this guy to spill his guts about why he looked so damned sad, instead of dragging him into the bathroom and getting him on his knees in front of Brian's dick. Well, later, Brian promised himself. Definitely later.
"So?" he found himself asking.
Justin sighed. "You don't want to hear this," he said. "Just go and pick up some guy and get on with it. You're not here for conversation."
Perversely, Brian found that Justin's dismissal made him more determined to get him to talk. He picked up Justin's beer as well as his own and stood, jerking his head in invitation and making his way to a table.
Justin followed him, trying to work out what was going on. He knew guys like Brian. He'd been fending them off ever since his first lover had made it clear to him that there was love and there was fucking, and for guys like this, the first wasn't an option they were interested in. He decided he'd finish his beer and then clear out, leaving Brian a clear field that didn't include him.
But when they sat down, Brian disarmed him by saying softly, "Come on, Sunshine, spill. Can't have Gus' favorite elf looking like his dick just dropped off."
The words were teasing, but the man's voice was unexpectedly gentle, and the hazel eyes regarded him with warmth, not the cold seduction of the predator Justin sensed him to be.
Sighing, he shrugged. "It's just work stuff," he said.
"What, Santa getting too frisky with the elves?" Brian couldn't resist.
Justin tossed back the rest of his beer. "Fuck you!" he said quietly. "I told you you didn't want to hear it."
He went to stand, but again the hand shot out to stop him.
"Sit down," Brian said. "I'll get you another drink. Maybe something a bit stronger than a beer. Then I'll listen."
Justin shrugged. He had no idea why he was staying. Or why Brian wanted him to. All he knew was that there was something about the tall hazel-eyed man that drew Justin towards him. Just the sound of Brian's voice seemed to fill an emptiness deep inside him.
'And', Justin thought, watching Brian weaving his way back to him with their drinks, 'he's hot. I could definitely fuck him.'
His heart raced at the thought. He wondered if Brian wanted him, but remembering the look he'd seen in Brian's eyes earlier he knew that they could fuck if he wanted to. And he did, he decided. He wanted to forget this talking shit, and just get out of there to somewhere where Brian could fuck his brains out and make him forget everything for a little while at least.
For his part, Brian, while confident that he would later be luring this beautiful morsel into his bed, or at least to the bathroom or alleyway, found himself wanting to see if he could rekindle the sparkle that had been in those baby blues when he'd been chattering to Gus about that fucking Snowland.
He put the glass of Chivas in front of Justin and sat down, careful to brush his knee against Justin's as he did. No harm in keeping things bubbling.
He stifled a grin at the instant response in the way Justin's breath caught. Okay, he was definitely in here. Now let's get this talking shit out of the way and get down to business.
"So, Sunshine, what's the deal at work?"
Justin leant back a little in his chair and looked at him. He considered. Here he was sitting with the hottest guy he'd seen in a long, long while. But the guy was a total predator and was likely to be out of the door as soon as they'd fucked. What was the point in any damned conversation with him? It was just going to slow things up. Making a decision, he abruptly tossed back his drink and stood.
"Let's go," he said.
Brian, not often caught by surprise, blinked at him. Justin stared down at him.
"Look, I came here to find a hot guy to fuck. If you're not interested, I'll find someone else." He angled his hips to make his groin more prominent and looked down at Brian through lowered lids. "But I had the impression you were interested."
Brian's eyes gleamed. A man after his own heart. One who went for what he wanted with no bullshit. He stood.
"Let's go then. Your place or mine?"
"Mine." Justin said nothing more. At least this way, when they'd finished, he wouldn't have to find his way home.
"Where are you parked?"
Justin shook his head. "Don't have a car."
Brian nodded and they walked out together, brushing against each other in the doorway, which stoked the arousal in both of them. As they walked down the street, Brian had to fight back the urge to drape his arm around the blond and pull him close. He fought against it all the way to his car, but when they got there, he decided he was due a taste. Taking Justin's shoulder, he spun him round and backed him up against the wall nearby. He saw Justin's head come up, and liked the way the blond refused to be intimidated. For a moment he looked down into the blue eyes, and then, sliding his tongue once over his own lips, he lowered his head and touched his mouth to Justin's.
At the spark which jolted through him when their lips met, he jerked back a little, only to have Justin's hand clamp round the back of his head and drag him back within reach again. He found his own mouth opening unresistingly as Justin's insistent tongue demanded entrance, completely overwhelmed by the taste and feel of the blond.
By the time the kiss ended, it was certain that neither of them felt much like talking.
In silence, they got into the car, and the only words exchanged during the drive were Justin's quiet directions.
By the time they'd climbed the stairway to Justin's apartment, Brian was regretting that he hadn't just done what he'd normally do, and take it for granted that they'd play on his turf. The building wasn't exactly in the best part of town, and wasn't exactly clean. But he was pleasantly surprised by the apartment itself. Not that he had much time to take notice, because as soon as Justin had locked the door behind them, he was pushing Brian up against it, and once more attacking his mouth.
This time, though, Justin's hands were also busy, fumbling at the buttons on the taller man's jeans. He was surprising himself by how eager he was to get his first touch of Brian's cock, but when he finally slid his hand inside and wrapped his fingers round it, he decided with a throaty laugh that it had been worth the wait. It thickened in his fist as he stroked it skillfully, and he gave a little moan of pleasure at the thought of what was to come.
The moan did it for Brian. He'd been a little taken aback by Justin's eagerness, having pegged him as more of the passive sort who needed coaxing. The laugh, and the feel of the man's hand on his cock had escalated his arousal and the moan galvanized him to take control. His own hands forced their way down the back of Justin's pants and he cupped them round the satisfyingly full buttocks, both squeezing and parting them and at the same time lifting the smaller man slightly off his feet.
Again Justin moaned and it drove Brian half crazy.
He tore his hands out of Justin's pants and, undid them, pulling them down roughly. Then, fumbling one handed in his pockets for lube and a condom, he used the other to spin Justin round and push him against the door. To his pleased surprise, Justin responded, arching his back, pushing his buttocks eagerly towards Brian and impaling himself on Brian's searching fingers. The deep grunt he gave when they brushed his prostate urged Brian on even faster, and he pulled them out roughly and replaced them quickly with his cock.
Justin gave a gutteral groan and then a half scream of pleasure as Brian began ramming into him. Brian felt the blond thrusting back against him and reached round to clasp Justin's cock, determined as a matter of pride, to get Justin off before he came himself. He was surprised by the thickness and weight of what he found in his hand and bit hard at the back of Justin's neck to show his appreciation.
Once more Justin moaned and Brian felt that lovely thick cock jerk in his hand just as his own orgasm spilled him over the edge.
Justin leant his forehead against the door, conscious of his own breathing and the heavy weight of Brian, panting against his back. He fought to get himself together. He'd been right about one thing at least, the man was a fantastic fuck. He couldn't remember the last time he'd shot so hard. It was just a pity that it had to be with someone who was a total asshole and also the man of his dreams. Fucking figured!
Taking a deep breath, Justin raised his arms and pushed himself, and Brian, upright.
He expected the man to pull out, pull away, get dressed and leave. He wasn't prepared for those perfect lips nuzzling at his neck, and those long arms wrapping themselves more firmly round him.
He had to get control of this. One quick fuck was one thing, but the longer Brian stayed around the harder it was going to be to see him leave. And Justin knew he'd be leaving, gone by morning at the latest. He turned in Brian's arms to find the man looking down at him with a slightly bemused grin. As he stood summoning up the strength to move out of the arms that he just wanted to hold him, Brian gave a soft laugh and, cupping Justin's face in one hand, began mouthing gently at his lips.
This was nothing like the kisses they'd shared earlier. This was soft and sensuous and altogether enticing. Justin could no more pull away than he could have flown to the moon. He surrendered himself to the pleasure, resigning himself to the pain he knew would follow.
Brian felt the younger man become pliant in his arms and his body responded instantly. He deepened the kiss and began stroking in feather light touched over Justin's belly, down towards his cock, his own hardening again at the pleasure that touching Justin, kissing Justin, was bringing.
Eventually, when they were both once more panting with need, he pulled back a little. "Where's the fucking bedroom?" he growled.
Justin knew this was where he should draw back, but he couldn't, he wouldn't. He was going to have this one night of fantastic sex with the most beautiful man he'd ever seen and damned if he was going to regret it in the morning.
With a sudden smile, that almost dazzled Brian, he stepped away, kicked off his pants, and, with one saucy look over his shoulder, led Brian down the small hallway to a warm inviting room furnished in deep greens and blues and crimsons, against which dark colors Justin glowed like the jewel Brian felt him to be.
Justin pulled off his shirt and lay back on the bed. He propped himself up on his elbows and raised one knee; then as Brian watched, allowed it to fall sideways invitingly. Brian took a deep breath at the sheer sexuality of the man, and took off his own shirt slowly, his eyes never leaving Justin's body.
Justin licked his lips in appreciation as Brian, naked now, stalked towards him.
This time the sex was deep and slow. They took their time, exploring each others' bodies thoroughly with hands and mouths and tongues before joining once more, rocking together in a rhythm that speeded up and slowed again, driven by some internal tide that they both understood without thought. The end, though, was frantic and urgent and even more earth-shattering than the first time.
Justin lay, afterwards, fighting the urge to pillow his head on Brian's surprisingly broad chest, and knowing that no other man was ever going to satisfy him the way this one could.
Strangely, he felt at peace with that knowledge.
It had happened. He'd met the man he wanted, the one he would always want, and he'd given himself to the moment. If the man didn't want him back after this one night together, there wasn't anything he could do about that. All he could do was be himself, and be true to how he felt. He turned towards Brian, ready to offer the use of his shower, and found to his shock that Brian had already fallen asleep.
With a slight laugh, Justin turned onto his side away from Brian and made himself comfortable. Within minutes he also was asleep.
He woke early and lay for a few precious minutes watching Brian sleep. Even tousled and sleep washed, Brian was beautiful. Justin wished that he could get to his sketch book without waking him, but doubted he could do it. No matter. Brian's face, his body, his touch, were engraved on his memory. He wasn't likely to forget. With a little sigh, he leant over and shook the man's shoulder.
"Brian! Brian!" he called softly.
Brian woke with a start, realizing immediately that he wasn't in his own bed, and instantly on the defensive.
"What the fuck? Who the fuck are you?"
Justin regarded him steadily, refusing to let the man's bullshit get to him.
"It's nearly six. I wasn't sure what time you needed to be at work."
Brian sat up and shrugged. "When I get there. But I should get going."
"Sure," Justin responded getting out of bed. "The bathroom's through there if you want to take a shower first."
He got up and went in himself to take a piss. He washed his hands and splashed water on his face, then came out, wrapped now in a wine colored robe, and went down to the kitchen. If he was going to deal with this day, he needed coffee. He tried to force his mind away from Brian and onto the problems that faced him at work.
Once more sheer perversity made Brian decide that if the blond was so ready to be rid of him, he might as well at least stay around for coffee. A shower sounded like a good idea, though. But not on his own.
He wandered out in the direction Justin had taken, naked and semi-erect, and found him in the kitchen, turning on the coffee maker.
"You got a clean towel?" Brian asked, scratching his hip, and drawing Justin's attention to the swell of his cock.
Justin pursed his lips and stared at him for a moment, working out what was going on and what to do about it. Then he shrugged. "Sure," he responded, and brushed past Brian to walk back to the bathroom. He dragged a thick towel out of the linen closet and handed it to Brian, who made sure their fingers brushed as he took it.
"Want to share?" he invited.
"I've got my own towel," Justin said calmly.
Brian just grinned, and Justin gave in to Brian's desires and his own and moved to turn on the shower. By the time he'd got the temperature right and taken off his robe, Brian had taken a quick piss and was ready to join him.
They spent some time soaping each other's bodies and making out in quick little nips and licks and sucks at each other's lips. Then, suddenly, slightly to Justin's surprise, Brian dropped to his knees and, in one smooth swallow, deep-throated him.
Justin found himself almost instantly rock hard and the blow job that followed left him stunned and drained. He'd never felt anything like the feel of Brian's mouth on his cock. He'd been with men who had seemed to know what they were doing, but he'd experienced nothing like this.
His hands tangled in the wet silk of Brian's hair and he gave himself over to sheer pleasure.
When Brian at last stood, and, dragging Justin into his arms, thrust his tongue deep into Justin's mouth and let him taste himself on Brian's tongue, Justin felt that his legs might never hold him up again. He let them collapse under him and allowed himself to slide down Brian's body to the floor. Then he licked his lips, contemplated the long, thick, beautiful column of Brian's cock and set about returning the favor, trying out some of the things Brian had just taught him.
He heard Brian chuckle, and then heard him moan softly, and smiled as he gave himself over to the immensity of Brian's taste and smell and the bumpy-silk feel of his cock on Justin's tongue.
After Brian had come, Justin stood, and, washing himself quickly once more, stepped out of the shower and shrugged himself into his robe. Brian followed wordlessly, wrapping the towel around his waist.
"You should get dressed," Justin commented. "It's cold in here. The heating's never right."
Brian grinned. "It's fine, Sunshine. I've got you to keep me warm."
He tried to tug Justin into his arms, but the other man avoided him and walked out to the kitchen. Brian followed, a little pissed.
He was about to say something when Justin smiled at him. "Coffee?"
"Yeah, sure," Brian responded, a little wrong-footed. "Ah, I think you're right. I'll just pull on some clothes."
"Okay. It'll be waiting."
Brian went back to the bedroom and dressed quickly. He should just fucking leave. Well, he was going to leave anyway. House rules. Never did anyone twice. But
He glanced around to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything and became aware for the first time of the artwork on the walls.
Fuck! This kid had talent. What the hell was he doing working for Kauffman's? Brian wondered if he'd considered a career in advertising. He'd certainly be welcome in Brian's team any day, if he could produce to order.
Maybe he couldn't though. Maybe he was one of those arty types who put their soul into their fucking work and wouldn't soil it with actually using it to make money selling something. Well, if he had that attitude, fuck him!
Brian caught himself on that thought. What the fuck was going on in his head? The last thing he needed was some discarded trick working for him. Especially now, when he was trying to get his agency off the ground; a slow and painful process. He sighed and went into the kitchen, intending to shrug off the coffee and just leave.
He found Justin sitting head in hands at the table, staring down at the open page of a newspaper.
From the expression on his face, Brian guessed he wasn't liking what he saw.
Intrigued, despite himself, he took a peek over Justin's shoulder and saw a full page ad for something called "Winter Wonderland". Suppressing a shudder, and the hope that his son wouldn't see it, he took another look at Justin. Damned if the kid didn't look as if he was about to cry.
Brian picked up the cup of coffee from the counter and sat down. "That's the work stuff, I gather," he said, taking a sip of coffee then nodding at the paper. Justin nodded, pulling a face and standing up.
"Sorry," he said, "but I've got to motor. The shit is really going to hit the air rotation device over this."
"Bit of competition, huh?"
"You could say that."
Brian scratched his head and read the ad as Justin rinsed his mug. While not actually saying it in so many words, the copy implied in every syllable that the Winter Wonderland Santa was the only real, true Santa and all others were fakes.
For some reason, that rubbed Brian the wrong way.
He remembered how animated, how happy Gus had been talking to the Snowland Santa, and was pissed off to think that if Gus could read, this ad would be trying to make him feel that he'd been conned and cheated.
"Fucking assholes!" he muttered.
"Tell me about it," Justin sighed. "And somehow I've got to come up with a way to counter that with practically no budget and no fucking idea how to do it even if I had."
"You've got to come up with a way?" Brian asked.
Justin surrendered to the need for coffee and the need to talk to someone, anyone, about this. Maybe by just verbalizing the problem, he might suddenly see a solution. Either way, if he couldn't come up with any brilliant ideas, then just getting to work early wasn't going to save the situation. He poured himself another cup of coffee and sat back down.
"It's my project," he explained. "Kauffman's were looking for something to give them the edge in Christmas sales, and they liked my ideas so they hired me. And it's all been going great. But these last few days before Christmas are when the really big bucks come in and " he waved a hand helplessly at the paper.
Brian took another long swig of coffee, and leant back, deep in thought.
"So you've got no advertising budget?"
Justin shook his head. Brian finished his coffee and stood up to get another.
"And no brilliant strategy?"
Sadly, Justin shook his head again, and was horrified to feel his eyes filling with tears. Far from helping him, talking about the problem, seeing the immensity of it and realizing how unlikely it was that there was a way to fix things, made him feel simply overwhelmed.
Brian sat down, still thinking. Then he nodded slowly.
"I think you've been coming at it from the wrong angle," he said.
"Look, I work in advertising. I run my own agency."
Justin's eyes widened.
"The first thing you have to do is to create a demand. Then you convince people that you're the one who can satisfy it."
"Well, we tried to do that. We tried to create a place where "
"Yeah, you got a start, but you didn't go all the way." He pointed at the paper. "And these pricks have gone totally off on a tangent. Lucky for you."
Justin stared at him. Brian shook his head as if what he were saying should be obvious.
"Look the demand it's not for Snowland or Wonderland or even for fucking Santa the demand is for the belief, the faith, the capacity to feel the belief that you felt as a kid, and to have your kid feel it. That's what the demand is for."
Justin nodded. That fitted with what he'd instinctively been trying to do with Snowland.
"So what you have to do is to put the emphasis on the belief," Brian insisted. "Not this shit. This is just self-destructive cos the kids wind up not believing in Santa at all. And that's for shit. Little kids have a right to believe in something; they're going to wise up eventually, but for a little while "
His voice trailed off and he looked sad for a moment. Justin stared at him, picturing the man who just the day before had told his son that none of the Santas were real. Where had that guy gone? Who was this one? He felt totally confused by Brian, and completely captivated by him at the same time. He wanted to stroke his hair and kiss away that look of sadness, and keep right on kissing him till it gave up and fled forever.
Brian's hand hitting the table brought him back to the present.
"Hello?" Brian sniped. "Are you with us? Just trying to save your ass here?"
Justin flushed. "Sorry," he gulped, and took a deep centering breath. "So, what you're telling me is that we need to create a belief in Santa in general, not in our Santa in particular."
"You need to create a demand for a belief in Santa in general," Brian re-stated.
Justin scratched his head. "So how do I do that?"
"You make people know they're missing something. You hint at what it is. Then you let them in on what it is. Then you leave it to them to figure out where to go to get it. Ninety nine times out of a hundred they'll go to the place that let them see what it was they were missing in the first place."
Justin nodded slowly. It was getting close to seven.
"The windows," he said.
Brian frowned in concentration. "You can get the windows?"
Justin nodded. "But I don't have time to get any ," his voice broke off.
"Sheets," he said. "White sheets. That's all for today. Just white sheets with 'Do you believe?' on them. In red. Scarlet."
Brian grinned at him appreciatively, delighting in the quick mind that leapt on his idea and immediately started to work out ways to use it.
"And tomorrow?" he asked.
Justin grinned and half-threw his coffee cup into the sink.
"I'll worry about that when I've got the sheets up," he said. "I've only got an hour."
Brian nodded. "You need a lift?"
Justin breathed a thankful sigh. "That'd be great," he answered, heading for the bedroom. It took him only a couple of minutes to pull on some clothes and then they were on their way.
As Brian drove through the empty streets, Justin turned to him. "Brian, I can't tell you how much " he stopped and took a breath. "If I had any advertising budget at all, I'd be knocking on your doorstep with the whole of it. You know that, right?"
Brian's mouth twisted into the now-familiar sardonic grin. "Tell you what, Sunshine. I'll make you a bargain."
Justin eyed him skeptically. Brian's grin twisted even more.
"You and I work on this little project together, and if it pays off, and we don't wind up killing each other, then when Christmas is over, you consider bailing on Kauffman's and coming to work for me."
Justin gasped. That was so not what he'd been expecting.
"Wh .. what do you mean?"
"Work, you know. That thing you do twelve hours a day and get paid for eight."
"Doing what?" To his horror, Justin heard his voice squeak.
"Putting out for all my clients," Brian snarked. "Fuck what do you think? I saw that damned stuff on the walls you know. You've obviously got talent and some sort of brain, which is more than anyone I've managed to find so far to do my fucking artwork. Are you interested or not?"
Justin stared out the window, unable even to look at Brian. "Fuck, yes," he breathed.
And 'fuck no!' some part of his brain was saying. 'Dream job. Dream guy. Not a good combination, Taylor,' it was trying to lecture him. Justin refused to listen. He'd deal with his feelings for Brian as and when he had to. It's not as if he had any illusions that Brian was even interested in another fuck now that he'd had him. This was a purely professional offer and one that was simply too good to turn down.
"Alright, then," Brian said, pulling into the parking lot. "Let's get busy!"
The next hour was chaos. Justin had to have the screens pulled down on all the windows, which took some time - partly because everyone questioned his authority to do it. Once that was done, he had to commandeer all the king-sized white sheets he could find and get a team of the window dressers tacking them together so that they would cover each and every window completely.
Then he sat and sketched out how he wanted the wording to look, taking some time to get just the right style of lettering. Then he had to work out how big the lettering needed to be for each of the different sized windows.
Brian was around while all this was going on, talking animatedly on the phone. He seemed to make at least a dozen calls.
In the middle of it all, Justin's boss arrived, and he had to be sold on the idea. It took a while to warm him up to it, but the combination of Justin's enthusiasm and Brian's selling skills got him onside and he promised to take it up to the board and sell it to them.
Suddenly Justin became aware that there were a whole batch of people he'd never seen working on the sheets. He was on his way over to question them, when Brian called him off. "They're signwriters," he said simply, as if that explained everything. "They'll do it a hell of a lot faster than you will."
He drew Justin aside. "Now look, I've lined up a friend from the local TV station to come down and take a look at the windows. If she thinks it's intriguing enough, they'll give it some time on the lunch time news, and maybe repeat it tonight."
Justin's eyes went wide. "Brian that's "
Brian shook his head. "It's just a start, Sunshine. We need to get this happening. I'm getting a few people to call the local radio stations and say they've been by Kauffman's and ask 'what do the signs in the window mean?'. We'll see if we can get something going on the talkback shows."
Justin nodded. "What about the internet? Maybe we could get some questions on the 'what's on in Pitts?' sites."
Brian beamed at him. "Not just " he said grinning. "I'll get someone onto it."
"I've got some internet geek friends from college," Justin said. "They'll know how to stir up some discussion."
Brian nodded approval. "You got any sisters?"
Justin nodded, a little sadly. "One," he said.
"Well, get her talking to her friends. If you want gossip spread, you go for the girls and you go for the queens. Speaking of which " He tugged out his phone again and made yet another call.
Justin got called away then to supervise the hanging of the first completed signs, and only heard, "Emmett, do you think I'd be fucking calling you if it wasn't important :" before he scampered off.
They didn't make the eight o'clock deadline, but by eight-thirty, just as all the office workers were making their way past the store, all the signs were in place and at Justin's signal, the screening blinds were all drawn up all at once and the signs were revealed.
"DO YOU BELIEVE?" the people of Pittsburgh were asked from every one of Kauffman's windows.
Justin, feeling like he'd run a marathon, came back to his office to find Brian in conference with an attractive blond woman. He waited for a moment, and when Brian didn't introduce him, said firmly, "I'm Justin," and held out his hand.
"Cynthia," she smiled, shaking it.
"Yeah, yeah," said Brian. "Talk in your coffee break. We've got six weeks of work to do in the next three days. If we get it right, that will leave two clear days for the sales figures to go through the roof."
"We get a coffee break?" Cynthia asked in a tone of astonishment.
Brian grinned at her. "Just coffee," he said. "No food. Not till we've finished."
"See what sort of a slavedriver he is," she said to Justin. "You've been warned."
"Okay," Brian said. "Warning given. Now if you can get on with that stuff, Justin and I will work on what needs to be done here."
She nodded, and, picking up her purse, smiled at Justin. "Nice to meet you, Justin," she said. "I hope I'll be seeing a lot more of you."
"Well just at the moment I'd like to see a lot less of you," Brian snarked. She tossed her hair and walked past him, pulling an expressive face as she passed Justin in the doorway.
"I saw that!" Brian commented to her retreating back.
When she'd gone he grinned at Justin. "My assistant," he said. "The best there is, but if you tell her that "
" she wouldn't believe you'd said it," Justin finished for him, laughing.
Brian chuckled. "Probably not," he agreed.
He stood up. "Now that the windows are unveiled and before things take off, we need to get something to eat."
"I thought you said 'no food'", Justin grinned.
Brian stuck his tongue in his cheek and looked at him for a moment. "Sunshine, sat at the table with you, remember? Saw what you demolished. I'm guessing that a couple of cups of coffee aren't going to do it for you. Besides, we can plan while you eat. Let's go."
Justin flushed, but followed him happily out the door, wondering as he went how they'd gone from strangers who'd fucked to well, to this, whatever this was, so quickly.
He had no opportunity to even think about it for the rest of the day.
Aside from planning out what to put in the windows tomorrow, drawing it up, and organizing a team to make it happen, Justin found himself briefing the Kauffman's board and the PR people on the idea and what to say to the press. Because, as the day went on, interest seemed to spiral.
The first few calls to the radio stations might have been carefully seeded by Brian's friends or contacts, but they certainly weren't responsible for the deluge of calls that came in. The calls were heavy in the morning, but after the exposure on the midday TV news bulletin, they simply swamped switchboards at both TV and radio stations. Seemed like everyone wanted to have their say on the absence of belief in today's society and how negatively it impacted, especially at Christmas time.
Store management's comments on this first day were simple, and basically along the lines of "watch this space". Meanwhile Brian and the PR people were working on what would be said tomorrow and were wording those announcements very carefully. The theme of the announcements would be that, while acknowledging Christmas as primarily a Christian festival, they would point out that the messages of hope and loving kindness that were at the heart of the Christian rejoicing, appealed to everyone. Then they'd go on to say that those things had been embodied in the secular figure of Santa Claus, who was thus a figure that all children could view with delight and take into their hearts, and that it was part of their birthright as American children to do that, and that the gross commercialization of Christmas which threatened these little ones' ability to believe had to be challenged. Etc.
The cynic in Brian loved it that the instruments of commercialization were being used to decry it, while still benefiting from it. But hey! if it got the job done, and bought Gus even one more year of the happiness and joy Brian had seen in his face while he talked to Santa, then Brian had no qualms at all about doing whatever it took. He acknowledged to himself that this was a complete turnabout from his original stance that it was better for Gus to know the truth from the beginning than to be disillusioned later, but he simply hadn't been able to resist the longing, and then the wonder, in Gus' eyes. Whatever disillusionment occurred later, at least Gus would have this Christmas. And when that darker time came, well, Brian would be there for Gus in the way that Brian had longed for his father to be there for him. Jack never had. Whenever sadness and disappointment had come along, good old Jack could always be relied upon to make the pain even worse. Well, it wasn't going to be that way for Gus. Not if he had anything to fucking do with it. He threw himself wholeheartedly into the campaign on his son's behalf.
By the end of the day, both he and Justin were wrung out and completely exhausted. Brian was about to head to his car when he remembered that Justin didn't have that option. He guessed that getting a cab wouldn't even occur to the blond brat and figured he'd better drive him home or Justin would probably fall asleep on the bus and wind up God knew where.
Brian rationalized that he would need Justin on his game again next day. They had tomorrow all planned out and prepared for now, and at midnight the window screens would go back in place and a well-grilled team would set the windows up for tomorrow morning's unveiling. He figured that he and Justin would need to get in around 7 to make sure they were right. Then they'd spend the day working on what had to happen on Day 3. Tomorrow, in fact, was likely to make today look like a picnic. That being the case, he told himself, it made sense to drive Justin home and make sure he got fed. Then he'd go home himself and get to bed.
His plans clear in mind, Brian was pissed as hell when he found Justin all rugged up ready to leave to catch the bus.
"Sorry, Bri," he blurted as soon as he saw Brian. "I've got to go. If I miss this bus there isn't another for nearly forty minutes. I'll see you tomorrow, or if there's any ideas you want to talk about tonight, I'm in the book."
That said, he ran out of the office and dived into the elevator. Brian just missed it, and by the time he collected his coat and got down to his car he was fuming.
'Little shit! Well, he can fucking take the fucking bus! What the fuck do I care? It's not like I was looking forward to spending any more fucking time with him than I already have! Fuck'
Exasperated he started the car, and headed for the exit that would take him back to his loft. Just as he was about to turn out of the lot, though, he changed his mind and, reversing, took off back to the other exit and headed towards the bus station. The bus had long gone, but sure enough there was a dejected looking bundle with blond hair standing slumped against the post. Brian pulled up alongside and wordlessly opened the door.
Justin stepped over to the car and looked in. "Did you want something? Is there something else you need me to do tonight?" he asked anxiously.
"For fuck's sake, get in," Brian bitched. "I'm trying to get this ice bucket to warm up!"
Stunned, Justin got into the car. He'd never in his wildest dreams expected Brian to drive him home. He'd been amazed at how Brian had come through for him today, but he was smart enough to recognize that Brian was responding to a professional challenge. Brian wanted to show that he could do this, that he could take on this campaign and win it. Justin understood that, and respected it. He realized also, from bits and pieces that Brian and others let drop during the day, that Brian's agency was very new, and just finding its feet, and that if this worked, the publicity associated with it could really help build his reputation.
Brian had discussed as much with the head of the PR department, who had been nervous about his possible fees. They'd reached a deal that Brian would throw his smarts, and his resources into the project for a very very small percentage of any increase in gross sales over the next few days. And would receive due public acknowledgement of his involvement. Everyone felt they could live with that arrangement, and honor had been satisfied all round. Brian had also told him later that, after paying wages and salaries for the people he was pulling in (like the signwriters), he didn't expect to make anything. But that it was good exposure.
All of this Justin understood.
He also thought he understood where they stood on more personal matters. To whit, he was falling more and more in love with Brian every minute, and Brian was now not interested in him as anything more than a possible addition to his tiny art department. That was one of the reasons Justin had taken off in such a hurry. He wanted to make it clear to Brian that he knew that whatever had happened between them last night was over now, and outside of work, they wouldn't be in contact. And he wanted to make himself understand that. Most of all, he'd wanted to avoid any awkwardness.
Now here he was sitting in Brian's car, not at all sure that he understood anything anymore. And too tired, really, to worry about it. He was being driven home in a warm car by the man he loved instead of waiting another half hour in the cold and then traveling home alone on the bus. It all seemed good to Justin.
Brian, on the other hand, was totally exasperated both with himself and with Justin. Well, mainly with himself, but he was projecting it onto Justin in a big way. The fact that Justin wasn't even taking the trouble to make conversation, or at least thank him, made him even more annoyed.
He pulled the car up at a red light and, glancing across at Justin, went to say something cutting. But the words dried up before they could spill out of his mouth. Justin, head resting against the passenger door, had fallen asleep. Brian sat and stared at him, drinking in the softness of the full red lips, the dark sweep of his eyelashes and the soft blond hair that fell across half his face. He longed to reach out and brush it back, and was actually reaching to do so when loud honking from the car behind drew his attention to the fact that the lights had changed.
He realized that they must have been green for a while because by the time he'd put the car in gear and started to cross they'd already switched to amber and the guy behind was left sitting staring at a red light and probably, and justifiably, pretty pissed off about it.
Impulsively, Brian pulled a left at the next corner, and then took a right. He didn't want any hassles with some road rage loony. Besides, coming this way he could stop at his favorite Thai restaurant and get them both something to eat. He pulled his phone out of his pocket, keyed in a number and gave his order. By the time he reached the restaurant all he had to do was race in and pick it up. He was back in the car before Justin even knew he'd been gone. In fact, Justin didn't wake up until they had pulled up outside his building and Brian shook him awake.
"C'mon, Sunshine, time to get out in the cold!" he said cheerfully.
Justin blinked at him and said the first thing that came to his sleep clouded mind, the thing he'd been wondering about ever since last night but had had sense enough not to ask. Now, half asleep still, the words tumbled out before he could stop them. "Why do you call me that?"
Brian stiffened, then said, very casually, "I dunno. Yellow hair like the sun, I guess."
That wasn't it at all. Not at all. He'd thought of Justin as Sunshine ever since he'd watched him in Snowland yesterday afternoon, brightening up the gray day and Brian's even grayer mood just by being there. The first time he'd used the name, it had slipped out unconsciously, because the thought that Justin had mistaken him for a wanna-be-straight closet case had seemed hilarious to him and he was too busy trying not to laugh out loud to take his usual care in what he was saying.
It hadn't drawn a response from Justin, so Brian had figured he'd got away with it. He'd tried using it again later, just to see if Justin reacted, which he didn't and then it had very quickly grown into a habit. A habit he was going to have to break himself of fast, though, before Justin thought that it meant anything that Brian had given him some sort of pet name. Except that if he stopped now, it would look like it did mean something and that's why he'd stopped when Justin had called him on it. Fuck it! It was just a nickname. Didn't mean shit.
Deciding that the food was rapidly getting cold he, he said deliberately, "C'mon, Sunshine. Move it."
Justin sighed and forced himself to climb out of the very warm car into the very cold street. He turned to say goodbye to Brian before he closed the door and realized to his astonishment, that Brian was also getting out the car.
Justin frowned a little. This was becoming ridiculous. If all the guy wanted was a one night stand, and Justin knew damned well that was all Brian's type were ever interested in, then he had to put some damned effort into keeping it a one night stand, not just leave it all to Justin.
He strode to the door in some irritation. Thinking about his empty fridge and wondering how long the nearest pizza place would take to deliver and how much it would cost, made him even more irritated. He was ashamed to admit to himself that he was on the verge of tears. He was tired, hungry and heart sore. He needed some time to himself to figure out how he was going to deal with seeing Brian every day; to figure out if he could deal with it, or if he was going to have to turn down the job offer. Always supposing that after the next few days the offer was still on the table, of course.
Justin sighed deeply, and found himself wishing that Brian would just go away. He didn't think he had the strength tonight to go on pretending that he felt nothing more for Brian than Brian did for him. He was turning to say something to that effect, when Brian disarmed him completely, by slipping an arm round his shoulders, giving him a slight hug and waving the food in his face.
"You like Thai?"
Justin realized that he must be more tired than he'd thought not to have smelled it. Now that he had, there was no way he was letting Brian go anywhere; not with the food, anyway. Just the thought of it gave him the energy to get up the stairs, leaving a laughing Brian in his wake.
They walked in and Justin turned on the TV so that they could check out any possible news coverage. He was in the kitchen area fetching a couple of beers (the only thing he did have in the fridge), when he heard Brian gasp out "Holy fuck! Justin, get in here!"
Justin scurried out to join him and saw his TV screen filled with the image of the scarlet lettering on the white sheets. "Do you believe?" it asked.
He was studying the lettering and deciding that the hand painted effect actually worked really well to convey more of a human touch than neatly printed signs would have done, when Brian said again in an awed voice, "Holy fuck!"
It was then that Justin realized that they weren't watching their local station. They were watching CNN. The story had been picked up by national cable.
He and Brian settled onto his tiny couch, spreading the food around them and grazing from the boxes without taking their eyes and ears from the TV. It seemed it was a light news day, and at a time of year when all the news channels were looking for a different slant on Christmas stories, their little venture had come like manna from Heaven.
When the CNN piece was finished they flicked across all the stations. It was on Fox as well, and there was a much longer piece than they'd expected on the local news, showing the windows, and going over the discussions on belief that had been on the talkback shows all day. At the end the anchor announced that tomorrow they'd be on site, keeping an eye on Kauffman's windows for developments. In fact, they were setting up an outside broadcast booth right across the street from the main entrance and would be there all day if people wanted to wander by and maybe have their say. They planned to have several comments books where anyone who wanted to could write their feelings on this important matter - "have we cheated our children of the ability to believe?"
As that broadcast drew to an end, Brian turned off the TV and they sat and stared at each other for a moment in awe.
Then Justin suddenly started to panic. He jumped up. "I should get back there! I need to "
Brian stood also and grabbed his shoulders. "Slow down, Sunshine."
"But I need to "
"You need to get some sleep. So do I."
"Justin!" Brian said his name sharply to get his attention. Justin gulped and looked up at him. Brian squeezed his shoulders and said gently, "You've got a good team working on things tonight, and they've been given full instructions. Now you need to get out of the way and let them do their jobs."
Justin sighed. "But "
"But nothing," Brian said firmly, allaying the firmness with a gentle sweep of his hand across Justin's brow. "You're exhausted, and you need to be in top form tomorrow. Get some sleep. I'll see you in the morning."
With an unpleasant sense of shock, Brian found himself on the verge of giving the blond brat a fucking kiss on the forehead and realized that he didn't want to leave. That he wanted to tuck Justin into bed, and climb in beside him and sleep as soundly as he had last night. But that definitely wasn't an option. What the fuck was the matter with him?
He stepped back and hardened his heart when he saw some of the light die out of Justin's eyes! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! This had to stop right now.
"Goodnight, Sunshine," he said, forcing his usual snarky tone into his voice. "Get to bed now and get plenty of shuteye. I need my art director at his best tomorrow."
He grabbed his coat and strode out the door, forcing himself not to slam it behind him. "Where the fuck did that come from?" he asked himself. But he knew; watching Justin all day, enthralled not just by his creativity, but by the way he dealt with people, got the best out of everyone around him, he'd known that he'd found the key player he was looking for in his team. But for fuck's sake! Why did it have to be a blond brat who seemed to have the ability to just melt away all his carefully set barriers and protections.
Except Justin didn't seem to do anything. Justin had made it clear all day that he understood the fucking rules. That he knew that it was a one off, no possibility of repeats, no apologies, no regrets. He was the one who'd been pushing things. He was the one who'd insisted Justin talk to him, he was the one who'd decided to help him. Later, he'd realized there was an opportunity there for him as well, but at first it had all been about helping Justin. For fuck's sake, he'd been the one who'd gone trailing off to the bus stop, hoping to see Justin there so he could drive him home.
What the fuck was wrong with him? What was he doing to himself?
"Do you believe?"
The words floated through his head and seemed to mock him.
He believed in fucking.
He didn't believe in love, and happily ever after and all that shit.
Couldn't afford to. Could not go through that again. finding out that love was something that maybe other people had, but wasn't for him. Not ever for him.
Well, maybe Mikey kind of love. But even Mikey wouldn't want him for real. He thought that he did, Brian knew that. But that was just Mikey's fantasy; he wouldn't be able to deal with Brian in the real world, wouldn't even want the real Brian. No one could. No one ever had.
Suddenly he had to stop the car as the memories swirled over him. He remembered the Christmas that he'd figured it out. He'd been what, five? Going on six. He'd started school that year, and his horizons had expanded. He had other families now to compare his to, and he realized that things in his family were very different to how they were for most other kids. His first day at school, he'd heard mother after mother say to their kids as they left them for the first time, "goodbye, have a good day, Mummy loves you."
That had been a revelation to him. He had no memory of his mother ever saying such a thing to him. Or his father. Only his granny had ever said it to him and he didn't see her very often. So she probably just didn't know any better.
He was a bright kid, it hadn't taken him long to realize that if all these other kids had people who loved them, and he didn't, then there must be something wrong with him. He just had to figure out what it was and, more importantly, how to fix it.
Then, just before Christmas, there'd been a school outing which had included a visit with Santa. He nearly didn't get to go. His father hadn't wanted him to. But his mother had insisted, not because of how much Brian wanted to, but because of what everyone at the school would have thought if he was the only child who hadn't gone.
So he'd seen his chance and taken it. He'd sat on Santa's knee and when asked, had whispered into his ear that what he wanted for Christmas was for Santa to fix whatever it was that was wrong with him that stopped people loving him.
Brian, remembering, gave a harsh laugh at how fucking stupid that poor bloody kid had been. Because, of course, there was no real Santa with magic that could fix his problem and Jack had proved it Christmas night by breaking two of his ribs.
And his heart right along with them, although Brian had spent a long long time denying that even to himself.
So it was fucking ironic that here he was, the champion of his kid's right to believe in Santa.
'Well', he shrugged, starting the car, 'at least I'm getting something out of it.'
But that wasn't the whole story. He did want Gus to have a chance to believe in something good. He sure as hell wanted Gus to grow up knowing that he was loved, by his Dadda as well as his mommies. So this was going to damned well work, and if that meant that he had to make nice with Taylor, then
Except, of course, that fucking Sunshine had shown absolutely no indication that he expected, or even wanted, Brian to make nice.
Which, as he pulled into his parking spot, brought Brian right back to the place he'd started. He was the one who was doing all this. It was all his idea. He just didn't have a clue what the real fucking idea was.
He'd showered and was ready to fall into bed, before midnight for once, when the phone rang. He let it go to voice mail, but picked up when he heard Lindsay's voice. She was saying something about Gus.
"What?" he barked, alarm edging his voice.
"Hello to you, too, Brian," her cool voice came back at him.
He smiled into the phone, knowing from her tone that whatever she'd called about, there was nothing wrong with Gus.
"Hi, Lindz," he said mock-meekly, and heard her snort. "So, what's up?"
"Brian, who is the Christmas Man?"
"What? How the fuck should I know?"
"Well, ever since he went out with you yesterday, Gus has been insisting that there has to be a present under the tree for the Christmas Man. He seems to think he'll be coming to the house on Christmas morning."
Brian scratched his head. "Fucked if I know," he said. "Maybe he thinks Santa's coming for a visit, and it would be polite to have a present for him for a change."
"Well, that's another thing. How did Mr. "I don't want my kid growing up believing in that shit" wind up taking his son to Snowland to see Santa?"
Brian pinched the bridge of his nose. He could fool some of the people but not Lindz. Not very often, anyway.
"Well, I guess you could say that I had a change of heart," he offered, hoping she'd let it drop.
"You?" she said in astonishment. "I thought you didn't have a heart?"
Brian sighed. He really was not up to this right now.
"Listen, Lindz, I'd love to stay and trade barbs with you but I've been up since dawn and I've got another long day tomorrow."
"Have you got some work?" she asked, pleased for him.
"You could say that. Now if you don't mind "
"Okay, Grouch. Or should it be, Grinch?" she laughed. "If you're sure you don't know who the Christmas Man is, I guess you can go."
"Gee thanks," he said, about to put the phone down. Then suddenly he added, "Give Gus my love."
"Of course I will," she answered warmly. "And he'd want to send his to you, too. Goodnight, Dadda."
She didn't wait for him to answer, just rang off, and he put the phone down smiling. Suddenly the painful memories seemed a long way away and he felt like he could sleep.
Justin had been left stunned when Brian had gone.
Art Director? They'd talked about him working the art department, not as any Art Director. For a moment his heart fluttered, surely this meant that Brian saw him at least as something other than a sort-of talented ex trick.
But then he forced himself to calm down. Probably Brian was just high on all the excitement. This being picked up nationally was huge for him. His name was going to be all over it. His agency were going to get all the credit for the idea. Justin had been very clear with everyone about that. It was huge exposure for him. No wonder he was a bit over-excited.
Sighing, Justin sloughed off his clothes and dragged himself into bed. He didn't really expect to sleep, but he must have, because he was woken up by the phone. He groaned, and fumbled with it, dragging it onto the bed, and then losing it in the bedclothes. Finally he managed to find the answer button.
"Mmmph?" he grunted.
"And good morning to you, too, Sunshine."
Suddenly he was awake and in far too good a mood. He had to get over reacting like this just to the sound of Brian's voice. But until he figured out how to do that, he couldn't help feeling better just from hearing it.
"Morning," he mumbled, not really sure of why Brian was calling.
"How hungry are you?"
"Um well, you know "
"Yeah, I'm starting to. Listen, get up, have a shower, wake up and I'll pick you up in half an hour. We need to get you fueled up for the day."
Justin frowned. He'd been looking out for himself for quite a while now and did not need Brian Kinney to feed him, as if he was a child.
"Besides, I've had an idea."
He sounded slightly smug, but excited too, and Justin found himself grinning at the note in his voice.
"Okay. I'll be ready."
"Later." As quickly as that, he disconnected.
"Later," Justin said softly.
Justin rushed through his shower and Brian was a little longer than he'd expected so Justin put on some coffee to try to wake up fully. While it brewed he started going through the sketch pad he'd been using yesterday.
During one meeting with the PR people, while Brian had been blowing them out of the water with his energy and expertise, Justin had found himself doodling. He'd seen the logo for Brian's company, and hadn't been particularly impressed. Brian had said it was a draft version, and that he didn't like it himself. Nor had he been able to come up with the company name that he wanted. They'd talked a little about how weird it was to have to come up with a promotion just based on your own company, your own baby, and that it was much easier to do for a client.
Since then, something had been niggling at Justin's mind, and looking now at his doodles, he realized what it was. Smiling, he reached for a pencil and began to draw.
When Brian called to let him know that he was nearly there, Justin pulled on his coat and, grabbing the sketch book, dashed downstairs, excited now about his own idea.
Diplomatically, he let his future boss go over his ideas for the Day 3 windows first. Justin listened as Brian outlined what he had in mind, and by the time they reached the restaurant Brian had chosen, he was already pulling out his pencil. As Brian talked, Justin started to sketch out the ideas.
Brian wasn't surprised to see that the sketches taking shape in front of him exactly mirrored what he'd been trying to get across. The same thing had happened yesterday with today's window designs. Speaking of which, it was time they got to the store.
It wasn't till they were back in the car and Brian was about to start it, that Justin pulled out the small sketch he'd done earlier.
"What do you think of this?" he asked.
Brian glanced at it, then took it from him and studied it more closely. Justin was happy to see a smile creep over the older man's face.
"Kin-net-ik. I like it. It's clever."
"It's genius," Justin boasted, laughing.
Brian took them both by surprise, reaching out and wrapping his arm round Justin's neck in an awkward hug.
For a moment their faces were close enough to kiss. Then Justin drew back, leaning against the passenger door.
"We'd better get moving," he said quietly.
Brian's good mood seemed to evaporate entirely. He was scowling as he started the car. Justin tried to ignore him and stared out the window. If Brian kept this up he was either going to have to talk to him about it and ask him to stop, or else he was just going to have to turn down the job. The thought of doing that made his heart sink. Aside from anything else, he needed this chance desperately.
His father had made it very clear that Justin could expect no help at all from him. And he'd stipulated that if he found out that Justin's mother was giving him any financial assistance, he'd cut back on the support payments for Molly, Justin's sister, on the grounds that his mother was using that money to help support Justin. He'd also said that if Justin spent more than a couple of hours a week at his mother's condo, his father would sue for custody of Molly.
Justin bit his lip hard, trying not to think about the trouble that he'd caused his mother.
First, when he'd come out, it had triggered terrible rows between his parents and they'd wound up divorcing.
Then he'd been bashed in the head with a baseball bat at his senior prom, and, since he was no longer on his father's medical insurance, and since his mother had only just started her job and had only limited coverage, it had cost her thousands of dollars in medical bills.
Then his father had insisted that as soon as Justin was well enough, he leave home or his mother risked losing her daughter. His dad had the money to pay for armies of lawyers, while his mother was struggling to pay the day to day bills. Justin had known he couldn't put her through any more. He just couldn't.
He had to be able to take care of himself. But the Kauffman's job came to an end on Friday, and after that
Well, he could go back to waiting tables, he supposed.
Or he could work for Brian.
He sighed again.
Brian heard the sigh, and wondered what the hell his little Sunshine was thinking. No, what Justin was thinking. Justin. Not Sunshine. And certainly not his. He'd been just a fuck, that's all. That's all any of them were, and Sunsh Justin, was no different from the rest.
'Yeah, right', his mind mocked him. 'Sure he's not. That's why he's got you running in circles, Kinney.'
He shrugged off the voice resolutely, but, glancing across at Justin, he felt unusually remorseful. Justin was doing everything he could to keep things strictly professional between them. It was Brian who was constantly stuffing that up. Well, it had to stop.
He looked across at Justin as they got out from the car. "Sorry, Justin," he said quietly. "It won't happen again."
Justin felt tears stinging his eyes but he forced himself to nod an acknowledgement and then to keep his head up.
Well, okay. So there it was. Now if Brian could just keep to that, then maybe Justin could learn to well, to find some way to deal with the fact that his heart was hurting so much he could hardly breathe.
But work called, and thankfully, it was another frantically busy day.
As promised, the local station had set up a broadcast booth across the road, with cameras pointing straight at the windows.
Again, at 8.30 on the dot, Justin gave the signal, all the window screens shot up and Pittsburgh got its first look at the Day Two windows.
In the top left hand corner of each window, a placard with delicate lettering said: "Ask yourself "
Down at the bottom, a card with slightly larger lettering said: " do you believe?"
In between was another flat screen, but this time instead of just lettering, there were scenes. Each window was slightly different, the backgrounds showing a range of night scenes across Pittsburgh, from simple houses to the Igloo, and including the Kauffman's clock. The views were romanticized, softened; in each scene buildings, trees and sidewalks were covered in deep snow, and snow was still falling. The effect was a little like looking at a snow globe. Some of the snowflakes, hugely enlarged, actually formed the foreground of the pictures. They glowed sharply golden and white against the misty backgrounds. In each picture, somewhere in the sky, a single star shone brightly. And also in each, very hard to see right now, but designed to become ever larger as the day wore on, was a tiny speck that would gradually develop into Santa's sleigh. The sleighs were projected onto the screens, so that in each window the image could be enlarged very slowly.
The overall effect was one of quiet mystery and at the same time, sparkling anticipation as Santa seemed every minute to draw a little nearer..
Justin, from his vantage point above the crowds that had congregated to see the windows unveiled, couldn't hear the oohs and aahs of appreciation for his designs, but he could see the expressions on the faces, especially on the faces of the children, and that was enough for him. No matter what happened with the job, no matter what happened after this between Brian and him, and no matter how much it was going to hurt going through life knowing exactly who his soul mate was, and knowing that his soul mate didn't want him, he would never regret meeting Brian, because Brian and he together had done this.
He saw the exact moment that someone first spotted one of the tiny sleighs, because a little girl started jumping up and down and pointing and then everyone was looking, looking at her window, and then at the others, trying to find the sleigh in each of them.
Justin had deliberately designed them so that, especially this early in the day, they wouldn't all be easy to find. That was part of building the anticipation, not giving everything away too easily.
When Brian had seen the first of those designs, with the tiny sleigh almost hidden by a cloud, he'd smiled proudly at Justin and ruffled his hair. "You've got it," he'd said. Justin had felt
He pulled himself up. It didn't matter. It didn't matter how Brian behaved or what he said, or what Justin felt. All that mattered was getting those designs done for tomorrow and then making sure the team that had worked all night getting today's up, were fully briefed to work all night tonight on tomorrow's.
He sighed, and made sure to go round to all of them, congratulating them on their work, and encouraging them to take a look at the crowds standing so absorbed by it.
Then he settled down to his work.
By tomorrow it would all be done, and maybe that would be the end of it, and he'd never see Brian again. Or maybe they'd wind up finding a way to work together. But whichever way it went, Justin was determined that this project, the first they'd worked on together, would be perfect.
As it turned out, he didn't see much of Brian during the day. While Justin worked on the designs, Brian spent most of the day with the PR people. At around 4 he came to Justin and, apologizing, said he had to leave. "Some damned thing at Gus' pre-school, but Lindz will have my balls if I don't show up."
Justin had no trouble at all in interpreting this correctly. In Brian-speak it meant, I'd die rather than miss it, but I'm damned if I'm going to go around blabbering that out to the world."
"Have a good time," he said. "Say 'hello' to Gus for me, if you think he'd remember me."
"I will," Brian said, shuffling about a bit. Truth was, he didn't want to go. Well, he did, but he didn't want to leave Justin. It seemed somehow wrong to be going off to do this without Justin. He wished that well, he wished that it was on any other day, when Justin wasn't so buried in work, and could come with him. And how fucked was that?
With a snort, he turned on his heel and headed to the door. 'That sort of crap thinking has to stop', he told himself.
When he got to the pre-school, Gus came running up excitedly to greet him. It was pretty obvious that he was on a major sugar high, and Brian didn't envy Mel and Lindz getting him settled down when they got home.
Noticing that Gus seemed to be looking round for someone, Brian asked who he was looking for.
"No one," Gus said sadly. Then he brightened up. "Not till Chwissmas," he finished happily.
It seemed like this might be a reference to Lindsay's mysterious Christmas Man, and Brian was about to ask his son some more about it, when the festivities started in earnest. By the time they'd finished, Brian was very glad to hand his son back to his mommies and head out.
He fought the urge to call Justin, telling himself that if there was anything going on Justin had his cell number. Restless, he headed to Woodies, but found nothing or no one of interest, including his best friend, who wound up more than a little pissed with him because Brian had been unavailable for two days, and wasn't interested in hanging out with him now.
Brian thought of heading to the Baths, or to Babylon, but couldn't really be bothered.
Instead he went home and tried to sleep.
The thought that tomorrow was the final day of their little project kept him awake though. And the thought that after the way he'd been fucking behaving Justin might not want anything more to do with him, let alone want to work with him, made something in his stomach hurt.
He had to face it, Justin had shown no sign at all of being interested in him as anything more than a fuck, until he'd come up with the big idea. And since then, although they obviously worked really well together, Justin had shown no sign of being the slightest bit interested even in fucking him again. Just the opposite, really.
Brian rolled over, trying not to let himself think about it.
It was just fucking typical of his fucked up life that when for the first time he'd met someone that he'd maybe think about trying something new with, the fucking guy couldn't be less interested. And to add the final touch of soap opera drama to the whole thing, he'd offered the guy a job, and would have to work with him day in day out, knowing he could never have him again, never even touch him again.
Brian lay struggling against the ache in his chest caused by that thought until eventually, early in the morning, he finally got to sleep.
This third morning, crowds were gathered outside the store when Justin arrived, by bus, at seven fifteen.
They all seemed to be in a great mood, sharing flasks of coffee, cracking jokes and sometimes singing. "Santa Claus is Coming To Town" seemed to be the favorite.
Justin wondered how they'd react to the new windows, and when, or if, Brian would show.
He arrived just after eight clutching two large coffees. He offered one to Justin, along with a mumbled, "I overslept."
Then he said, "We need to talk."
Justin's heart sank.
O-kay. So that looked like his dream job out the window. Well, it would have to wait.
"The windows," he said.
"Oh, yeah. Right," Brian stuttered, embarrassed to have forgotten, even for that one moment. But when he'd walked in and seen Justin he'd known that they had to get some things sorted out between them or working with him was going to be a nightmare for them both.
Justin looked at him strangely, but he had to get up to his vantage point to signal the unveiling of today's windows.
Brian decided to slip back outside, mingle with the crowds, and get a feel himself for how they were really reacting.
So, unlike Justin, he heard the gasps and sighs of appreciation as the screens came down.
Today's designs showed the same buildings that had been in yesterday's windows, but this time the scenes were set inside the buildings. In every one, there was some sort of Christmas festivity taking place; in the houses, there were scenes of trees being decorated and stockings being hung; even inside the Igloo there was a Christmas party on skates happening on the ice, hosted by Iceburg, the Penguins mascot, courtesy of a hastily reached agreement with Pens' management; and on the Kauffman's clock, the solemn figures that made up the pillars had been replaced by brightly garbed elves.
In one corner of each window was a monitor which showed a short film they'd made yesterday with Nickolai and some of the elves. It had been cleverly edited to re-use the same footage in different order so that it seemed longer than it was, and gave the feel of "live coverage". Justin hadn't been sure how Nickolai was going to take to all this razzamatazz, but he hadn't turned a hair. He'd listened carefully as Justin explained what they were going to do, his eyes moving between Justin and Brian who'd stood near by in case his persuasive powers were needed. At the end, he'd looked into Brian's eyes for what seemed like a long time. Then he'd smiled. "Of course," he'd said in his gentle rumble of a voice. "Whatever you ask of me."
They'd shot the film clip in Santa's workshop, showing Santa and his elves working hard at getting the last of the presents finished and packed. You couldn't really see the details of what they were doing, but the general "hive of activity" feeling was quite clear. More importantly for both Justin and Brian's plan, the camera was always far enough away and the monitor small enough, that you got the general feeling of what was going on, without being able to see enough detail to identify the particular Santa that was on screen. Since it would be clear to any adult that they could, if they'd wished, have shown close ups of Nickolai and thus brandished him as the "real" Santa, it was also clear that wasn't the intention of the tape. It simply showed how busy Santa was getting everything ready for Christmas Eve.
Each window therefore had a double theme - there were the preparations taking place all across town, and there were also Santa's preparations for his big night. Together the two images leant a delicious sense of urgency to each tableau.
And in every scene, tucked away somewhere, there was a card that said, "We believe!"
Justin, watching from above, saw Brian in the crowd, and for a moment was distracted, but then someone found the first card, and all of a sudden people were pointing and shouting - cheering, in fact. Justin could hear them even from where he was three stories above.
To Brian, on the street, it was deafening, and almost a little scary.
Someone saw one of the cards, and pointed it out.
"What does it say?" someone at the back asked.
"We believe!" the girl in front shouted back.
"Yes!" someone else shouted. And then everyone seemed to be shouting. Over and over Brian heard people yelling "We believe! We believe!"
He made his way inside the store somewhat shaken. They'd done this, he and Justin.
Sure, other people's work had made it possible, but it was their ideas that had created this. He went upstairs to see Justin and found him coming towards him, also looking shaken. Without thinking, he held out his arms, and without thinking, Justin walked into them. They clung together for a long moment, then Brian felt Justin pulling back, and immediately let go.
"Sorry!" they said together, then looked at each other shyly and grinned.
Brian found himself reaching for Justin's hand, and could only grin even wider in relief, when Justin's fingers tangled around his.
"We need to talk," Brian said again, still holding tightly to those fingers.
Justin looked down at their hands and then up again at Brian in some bemusement. "I guess so," he said.
But there was no time for private talking for quite a while. As the day went on things became madder and madder.
By nine, cars and buses passing the building were honking, and people were leaning out of the windows of the vehicles to shout "I believe!"
By ten, the Pens' website had been updated with a photo of the Igloo window scene and a big "We believe" graphic.
By eleven, Justin and Brian had been thrust in front of the news cameras from the local TV station as the originators of this phenomenon.
By twelve, they'd gone national.
By two, hawkers on street corners were selling "I believe" buttons.
And by the time they got back to Justin's to watch the evening news, "We believe" banners were appearing everywhere - hanging from building sites and bridges and the windows of high rise apartments.
The two felt completely stunned by what had happened.
By mutual, though silent, agreement, they put off any serious discussion about what was going on between them till things were a little less crazy. But that night, Brian slept wrapped around his blond bit of Sunshine, and both of them slept very soundly.
The next morning they were woken at six thirty by a call from a New York radio station, who'd simply looked Justin up in the phone directory, and the day went on from there.
If anything, despite the fact that it had been said over and over again that there would be no more changes to the windows, the crowds outside the store all day were almost bigger than the crowds inside. They started needing crowd marshals to manage entry to Snowland, and it occasionally got a little ugly, but Nickolai always intervened, and somehow just his presence and his deep calm voice always seemed to restore everyone's good humor.
To help, they installed seating for tired Moms and Dads - long comfortable logs that didn't look out of place, but were much better than standing in line for an hour at a time, and gave out free cups of coffee and herbal tea. The logs became the queue in fact, so instead of standing on aching feet, you sat down and just moved along the log.
And they'd organized extra elves - trained clowns to entertain the kids while they waited. All in all, despite the crowds, somehow in Snowland at least, everyone was still happy and having a good time.
Elsewhere in the store, things were a little more fraught. Management had hoped for extra sales in these last couple of days, but no one had expected this. The usually serene environs were filled with hustling crowds, all searching for the perfect gift, the best bargain. And only a few extra staff to cater for the influx.
Fortunately for Justin and Brian, none of that was their problem. They'd been hired to get people into the store and get them spending money. They'd done that. More importantly, they'd somehow touched into a nerve, so that people were making an effort to ensure that their kids could experience some of the real wonder of Christmas.
By the end of the day, they knew beyond doubt that they'd been successful at the first, and had reason to believe that they'd helped with the second as well. They were past exhaustion, but very happy with what they'd achieved.
And very happy with other things as well, Brian admitted to himself reluctantly, as he let Justin into his loft for the first time.
They still hadn't really talked, but it was pretty obvious to both of them that, despite their best - or worst - intentions, they were going to try to see how this relationship thing worked out. Justin had the feeling that it was a good thing he was so tired or he might just float away with happiness. Brian figured if he had to try out the whole love thing, it might as well be with someone who at least knew what he was talking about when he said something was too rococo for his taste.
Tonight, though, he figured he was going to take advantage of some of Justin's other assets. Dammit! he'd been in this relationship for four days now, and they'd only fucked one night.
But when he returned to the bed after his last visit to the bathroom, and found Justin asleep, he didn't have the heart to wake him. That's what he told himself, anyway, but the truth was he was asleep himself as soon as his head hit the pillow.
The next day was quieter for them both. The media frenzy was dying down, other stories already replacing theirs. Justin's time at Kauffman's was finishing that day, and although they made an attempt to keep him, they understood that he'd had a better offer. One thing Brian had done was to formalize his job offer, including the salary, and Justin had accepted it happily.
He would have been worried about the amount, knowing that Brian was just starting out, but with the number of calls Brian had been fielding, and the appointments he'd been setting up for the New Year with some very, very big names, Justin figured that Kinnetik was definitely on its way.
Justin wandered around during the day saying farewells to everyone. Then, towards the end of the day he sadly went down to say goodbye to Nickolai. The store was closing at five, being Christmas Eve, and the last of the children was leaving when Justin made his way towards the man who he felt had somehow helped it all happen. Nickolai saw him coming and stood to embrace him. Justin found his eyes wet, and Nickolai drew back and said, "Oh, no, no, no, Sunshine. What will your Brian say?"
Justin stared at him. How could he know about him and Brian? They'd been very careful, aside from that one embrace when no one had been around, to keep things very professional at work. And how the hell could Nickolai know that Brian called him Sunshine?
Nickolai smiled again, and then seemed a little sad. "Will you give your Brian a message from me?" he asked.
"Sure," Justin said, puzzled by the request, but very willing to do anything that Nickolai asked.
"Tell him: 'There was never anything that needed fixing. It just took meeting the right person for you to see that.' Can you tell him that? Those words exactly?"
Thinking that Nickolai was maybe more than a little strange, really, Justin nodded, and, suddenly uncomfortable, made his escape.
In the bustle of cleaning out the last of his stuff, and saying his final goodbyes he forgot about Nickolai's request.
Brian had been stewing about something all afternoon, while Justin resolutely left him to it, figuring that whatever it was he'd deal with it when Brian was finally ready to either spill or let it go.
Justin sort of figured he knew what it was. This was the part where Brian made it clear that, while he wanted Justin around, he had no intention of stopping his visits to the backrooms and the Baths. Justin wasn't sure how he felt about that. He figured he'd agree to go along with it on the proviso that if he found it too tough, they'd have to deal with that later.
But later that evening when they'd made it back to Justin's clutching yet more take out, all Brian said was, "I suppose you're hanging out with your family tomorrow?"
Justin was a more than a little taken aback. He hadn't really wanted to get into this. He'd planned to spend the day at home, since his father insisted every Christmas that both Molly and his mother have lunch at his place, and Justin obviously wasn't invited. "Um, no," he stammered. "They ah ..they "
To his horror, he felt himself falling apart. Tears choked his voice and ran down his face, and while he swore at himself, and did his best to stop them, they just wouldn't dry up.
Brian, after one astonished look, got up and fetched some tissues, then sat down next to Justin and pulled him into his arms. Cradled in the arms of the man who he was beginning to suspect might actually love him, Justin was free at last to weep out much of the bitterness and loneliness of the last few years. Under Brian's quiet, but pointed, questions, he found the whole sad story spilling out.
At the end, Brian said softly, "What an asshole!" Justin nodded in heartfelt agreement. "We should let Mel loose on him." Justin raised an eyebrow, and Brian grinned at him. "Lindsay's dyke husband. She's a lawyer. She'd love taking on an asshole like that."
Justin sighed, "Mom can't afford "
"Hey! This is all in the family, Sunshine. We'll figure something out." Justin relaxed against him. "Anyway," said Brian casually, "You can meet her yourself tomorrow and see what you think."
"Tomorrow?" Justin said. "Brian, tomorrow's Christmas."
"Yeah, and I've promised I'll go over first thing so I can be there when Gus opens his presents." He did his best to sound bored to death by the prospect, but Justin wasn't fooled. "And then I have to stay for lunch, so I need someone to keep me occupied and Mel off my back or we might kill each other."
Justin twisted and sat up. O-kay. Now this was big. Maybe. Or not. He was confused and not sure at all where this was going, what Brian was up to. Brian popped another piece of sushi into his mouth, and smiled at him beguilingly. Suddenly the likeness between him and his son was very strong. "So gonna come along and keep me entertained?"
Justin regarded him a little sternly. "It depends on what you mean by 'entertained'."
Brian's wolf-grin flashed. "Well, little boy "
He reached for Justin who yelped and dodged. "Brian! Let me clean this stuff up first."
Brian pouted. "But I don't want clean. I want dirty. Very, very dirty."
The sensual lust in the man's voice made Justin want to drop everything and ravish him on the spot. But he was determined to remain firm. If Brian got it into his head that he could simply seduce him anytime he wanted to, Justin was lost.
On the other hand, he didn't want Brian to think that he was totally anal about cleaning and that he felt so little passion for him that
Dammit! He'd been with the hottest man in town for days without even a blow job. Tonight he was getting laid.
He dropped the carton he'd been holding and stepped in front of Brian. "Bring it on," he purred.
With a gratified huff of laughter, Brian tackled him down to the couch, and began making up for lost time.
Two rounds on the couch, one in the shower and another in the bed later, they lay, finally sated, for the time being at least, in each other's arms.
"So, you gonna come with me tomorrow?"
"Mmm," Justin hummed, nuzzling him lazily. "Tomorrow and the next day and "
He felt Brian's chest move in a short laugh.
"Are you sure, Bri?" Justin asked, suddenly serious. "I mean "
"Kind of like meeting the inlaws?"
Justin squirmed. "Well, sort of I mean "
Brian shrugged, not wanting to face the implications of taking someone to a family lunch. And dinner. Fuck! If they went to lunch at Mel and Lindz', they'd have to go to dinner at Deb's as well. Deb would skin him alive otherwise, as soon as she found out. And that meant dealing with Mikey, who Brian feared was not going to take this well. Shit!
"Well," he said, shrugging a little. "I'll just tell them you're my new art director, and you had nowhere else to go."
Justin felt his throat close up. 'Fuck you!', he wanted to say. But the truth was, he'd expected it. There wasn't much point in getting upset about it. That Brian was prepared, even in their current silent fashion, to consider have some sort of relationship with him was a huge step. And they'd only known each other a few days. Justin knew he had to give Brian time and space.
But knowing that, and not feeling somehow lessened and rejected when Brian was prepared to be so dismissive of what was happening between them were two different things.
Justin took a deep breath and tried not to let the hurt he was feeling spoil their evening, spoil their Christmas Eve.
He could feel the tension in Brian's body, and once more nuzzled his chest. "Okay. That sounds like a plan," he said.
He felt Brian relax against him and then once again Brian's mouth was seeking his. God! they couldn't go again. Could they?
Brian's cell woke them next morning. Brian fumbled it to his ear, but even with his head under the pillow, Justin could hear the voice.
"I don't care where you are or who you're with, put your dick away and get your fucking ass over here, Kinney!"
Brian glanced at the clock.
He leapt out of bed and dragged the bedclothes off Justin.
"Get A.I.G., Sunshine. We're late!"
Sleepily, Justin looked at the clock. Fuck! It was after nine. Gus was waiting to open his presents.
He jumped up and headed into the bathroom. A quick piss and he joined Brian in the shower. No time this morning for delicious, mind-shattering blow jobs, he thought. It seemed like Brian read his mind.
"Later, Sunshine," he breathed, his voice full of promise, as he stepped out of the shower.
They moved easily around each other in Justin's small bathroom, drying, shaving, cleaning teeth. Then moved into the bedroom to dress.
"Fuck!" Brian swore irritably. "I'm going to have to go home. I need clothes. Shit! Mel is going to have my balls."
"No, she won't," Justin assured him, giving him a quick kiss. "I won't let her."
A little shyly, he pulled a package from his closet. "Ah, you could "
He broke off, and stood there, holding out the package.
Brian stared at it, and then at him. Surely the little fucker hadn't when would he have had the fucking time?
For some reason, Brian found his hands shaking a little as he sat down on the bed and took the gift. He opened the card first. 'Bri, Merry Christmas, love Sunshine' was all it said. Just a standard greeting card. So why did it touch some wellspring deep within him so that he had to read it twice before he could be sure what it said. Then he opened the box. Inside was a soft, chocolate cashmere sweater. It would go perfectly with the pants from the caramel suit he'd worn yesterday.
Brian sat fighting back unaccustomed emotion. He had to get this under control But then he looked at Justin and saw the love shining back at him from those blue eyes and for the first time he could remember, he felt safe. Safe enough, even, not to have to keep up the front. For the first time in forever, he could stop struggling to keep all his safeguards in place. He could put them down and just be Brian.
He felt them fall, crashing around him, and for a moment he was scared, but then he was simply overwhelmed by the feeling of relief. He felt the tears running down his face and did nothing to stop them. They felt so good.
Justin stared at him in consternation, and then sat next to him on the bed and put his arms around him.
"It's okay, Bri," he soothed softly. "It's okay. I'm here now."
Brian leant against him for a moment, and then kissed his neck wetly.
"Damn!" he said, reaching for the tissues. "Don't know if I can wear this, Sunshine. Must be allergic."
Justin took Brian's chin in his fingers and looked into his eyes. They glinted back at him with something like Brian's normal mischief, and Justin felt very relieved. He'd been afraid Brian was having a total melt down. He leant forward and kissed Brian's lips gently. Then sat up, suddenly remembering something.
"I forgot! I have a message for you. From Nickolai."
Brian looked at him. "Old Santa, himself, eh? What did he have to say?"
Even as he asked, he could feel his heart beating uncomfortably. He wasn't sure that he wanted to hear this. There was nothing some fucking department store Santa could say that could make up for how betrayed that little boy he remembered had felt.
"Well, it was weird. He asked me if I could give you a message. He said it had to be the exact words. He said to tell you that 'there was never anything that needed fixing. It just took meeting the right person for you to see that'." Justin looked at Brian and shrugged. "See? Weird."
But Brian was sitting staring at him, his eyes wide and blank with shock.
"Brian, Brian are you alright?"
The anxiety in Justin's voice got through to him, and he reached out and pulled the younger man closer. For a long minute, he looked down into those warm blue eyes and then he smiled. "Yes, Sunshine," he said softly. "I'm just fine. Nothing wrong with me. Nothing at all."
Justin was still a little worried, but then Brian smiled at him and he forgot everything, putting his hands behind Brian's head to pull him close for a kiss.
They were interrupted by Brian's cell ringing once more. Sighing Brian answered it. "Yes Lindz, I'm on my way. I "
He broke off then and listened to what Lindz was telling him. She and Mel had finally got it out of Gus what he meant by the "Christmas Man'"
"Apparently," Lindsay told the father of her son nervously, "that's what Gus asked Santa for. A nice man for you for Christmas." She gulped, guessing how Brian was going to react, but needing to prepare him, because he was going to have to help them deal with Gus' disappointment. "A man to love you," she added.
When Brian didn't swear at her, she continued bravely, "It gets worse. He says that he knows who it is. He says it's that guy Justin you've been working with. He's expecting Justin to come with you this morning."
She sounded half frantic now, and Brian couldn't resist flipping her out even more. "We're on our way." he said.
"Wha ?" she stammered.
"Tell Gus," Brian said slowly, "that Justin and I are on our way."
Lindsay sat stunned. Then she said hesitantly, "Does that mean that you're " She broke off. The last thing she wanted to do was to spook Brian.
Brian found himself smiling. He put his arm around Justin and pulled him close. "Together? Yeah, I guess it does. In a non-defined, non-conventional way. Yeah."
As his words sunk in, Justin stiffened in his arms, and then smiled at him blindingly, slipping his arms round Brian's waist and hugging him hard.
"Bye, Lindz," Brian said as he pressed the off button and kissed his lover.
"I thought you were going to tell them "
"A load of bullshit?" Brian cut in. "On Christmas Day? Whatever would Santa say?" Justin laughed, and Brian pulled on his new sweater. "He might even take back my Christmas present."
"I don't think so. You look too good in it."
Brian's tongue poked into his cheek. "Ah, but that's not the present I'm afraid to lose," he said, obscurely.
Justin's eyes quizzed him.
Brian grinned at him, with a disarming touch of shyness in the look. "Seems Gus asked Santa to send me a hot guy to keep me warm in the long winter's nights."
Justin snorted. "I doubt that's how Gus put it."
"Well, you know, someone to worship me, pamper me, pander to my lightest whim."
Justin, his throat suddenly a little tight, used his fast growing mastery of Brian-ese to translate: Gus had asked Santa to send someone for his father; someone to love him and take care of him.
Brian saw the shimmer in Justin's eyes and knew he'd been heard and understood.
He moved to the full length mirror to check out his look for the day. "Seems like he saw you and thought you'd be just perfect," he said casually. "He seems to be expecting me to bring you with me today, so we'd better get moving."
He straightened the neckline on Justin's navy cowl-necked sweater. "Looks like I'm stuck with you."
"Well, you know that Santa expects all good boys to take good care of their gifts," Justin teased him. "Look after them carefully, not break them or lose them."
"Oh, I don't plan on breaking you," Brian grinned. "Bending you a little, maybe."
Justin laughed and grabbed his coat and they headed towards the door, neither of them wanting to think too much about the weird things that had happened in the last day or so.
Just as they were about to get in the car, Brian's cell rang again. He checked caller ID and answered it with a grin.
"Hey, Mikey, how's it going? Yeah, yeah, happy fucking merriness, all that shit. Yeah, I'm on my way to see Gus now and I'll be at Deb's sometime after lunch. Well, how the fuck do I know what time the Munchers'll be serving the feast? Yeah. Yeah. I'll see you then. Oh! And Mikey," he paused, grinning at Justin, tongue in cheek, " you won't believe what I got for Christmas!"
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