Trials and Tribulations
January 2026 Paris, France
“Do you think we should call Michael?” Justin asked as he leaned back onto Brian’s chest. Brian was draped in a large thick blanket; he opened his arms to envelope Justin, securing him close and keeping him warm. They were standing on the balcony attached to their hotel room looking out over the city and the nighttime sky.
It was a week after New Year’s 2026. John and the kids had flown back home in time for the beginning of school. Gus and Ray went with them; they planned on staying home in New York for a few months then traveling to Canada to check in with Kinnetik North. Lindsay went to London for a few days before returning to Pittsburgh. It appeared that Sam Auerbach was serious about putting on an exhibition much to the ire of one Charles Higgins. Brian and Justin decided to stay in Paris for a few more weeks when it became apparent that Ben was enjoying himself. Enjoying himself a bit too much in Justin’s estimation.
“Call Michael? And say what to him? Hi Michael, how are you? Oh, by the way, Ben has been going out practically every night to gay friendly establishments and has been seen in the company of an assortment of very attractive gentlemen. Stay out of it Justin. This is none of our business.”
“Stay out of it? Of course, it’s our business. If you wanted us to stay out of it, we’d have gone home with the kids. You think I don’t know why we’re still here? The exhibitions at the galleries went off without a hitch. Gus and Kinnetik Rose did a hell of a job. Bree was treated like a queen and all the kids had a great time. The only reason we’re still here is because YOU don’t want to leave without Ben,” Justin accused without looking behind him.
Brian rested his forehead against the back of Justin’s head for a moment then gently bumped him a couple of times. Justin heard the sigh. It was Brian-speak for “you’re right”.
“Should I talk to Ben?” Brian asked. Justin turned within Brian’s arms to look up into Brian’s eyes. “I’ll talk to Ben tomorrow,” said a resigned Brian as he gazed into the deep blue eyes. Justin gave Brian a small smile as he hugged Brian close.
“Let’s go back to bed,” Justin suggested with a waggle of his eyebrows.
Brian had no objections as they went back inside their room and to bed.
“Should I call him?” Michael asked his mother. Michael had driven to the lane when he learned that John and the kids had returned. What he didn’t know at the time was that Ben didn’t return with them. Michael didn’t want to stay in the cabin alone, so he decided to stay with his mother and sleep on Debbie’s sofa.
“I think it may be a little late over there,” Debbie warned.
“Oh,” Michael murmured. “He hasn’t returned any of my messages. I guess he’s still mad at me.”
“Sweetheart, I don’t think that Ben was ever angry with you, besides he doesn’t hold grudges.”
“But the last time I spoke to him was before Christmas.”
“Maybe he’s busy,” Debbie said gently with a shrug.
“Too busy to return my calls? We’re married! What’s he doing over there?” Michael gave his mother a look of desperation. Debbie’s eyes widened; she had all sorts of wild thoughts running through her head. None of them boded well for either her son or son-in-law. “You don’t think he’s…”
“Oh no, honey, Ben would never do that,” Debbie responded quickly.
“He’s thousands of miles away; he can do whatever he wants. I’ll never know about it,” Michael huffed as he crossed his arms across his chest.
“Ben’s an honorable man,” Debbie assured her son.
“If he’s so honorable, why doesn’t he come home?” Michael whined.
“Bonjour, Professor,” Brian greeted Ben the next morning when they met for breakfast. “And please don’t expect any more French out of me. At least not before coffee,” Brian growled as he waved at a passing waiter.
“Good morning,” Ben stated curtly unsure of where this conversation was going or what to expect. He was a little worried that Justin wasn’t with Brian. At least with Justin around, Ben stood a good chance of surviving the morning.
Coffee was delivered as well as fresh fruit and some light pastries. Brian took a few sips of coffee and nibbled on some fruit. As soon as he felt human, Brian proceeded with the conversation. He reached out one hand, gently placing it over Ben’s; concern was evident in Brian’s expressive eyes.
“Are you playing safe?” Brian asked.
“Not that it’s any of your business but I’m not playing at all. I take my vows as seriously as you take yours.”
“I had to ask.”
“I know you did,” Ben said with a sigh. “You’re not responsible for my behavior.”
“Yes, I am, I invited you along, that makes you my responsibility. Are you ready to go home?”
“Honestly?” Ben asked. Brian nodded. “No, I’m not. I haven’t been this relaxed in months. And I don’t remember the last time that I’ve slept so well.”
“You better be sleeping well.”
Brian grumbled something about staying at a five-star hotel.
“About that,” Ben began.
“No, no talking about money this morning. We’re having a lovely breakfast, Professor, no side orders of indigestion.”
“Understood, Brian.” They ate in companionable silence for a while until Ben’s curiosity got the better of him. “Where’s Justin?”
“Sleeping.” Ben looked at his watch. “What can I say, the kid had a hard night,” Brian said with a smirk.
Ben rolled his eyes. “You two must have portraits hiding somewhere. Don’t you ever get enough?” Brian arched a brow. Ben held up his hands in surrender. “Seriously, every night?”
“And twice on Sundays,” Brian teased. “No, not every night. We’re flexible, sometimes we like it in the afternoon or at sunrise, or when it rains. Snowstorms, yeah, I had the lad walking bowlegged after that one storm,” Brian proudly pronounced at the memory. “He’s exceptionally amorous after I’ve worked in my garden,” Brian grinned.
“I’m sorry I asked,” Ben groaned as he shook his head. “It amazes me that Justin can walk at all.”
“You do know he gives as good as he gets,” Brian stated with a poignant look. Ben smiled serenely. He was one of the privileged few who really knew the truth about that aspect of Brian’s life. “Enough about my sex life. I repeat, are you ready to go home?”
“No. I’m enjoying the culture. I’m enjoying the conversations, the food, the lack of tension. Brian, until I got here I had no clue how uptight I’ve been. For months I’ve been having headaches. I even went to a neurologist thinking I had a brain tumor. Within a day after we got off the plane, my headaches vanished, and I can feel my spine straightening. It’s like a huge weight has been removed from my shoulders. Brian, please take Justin home. I’m sure Bree is driving John and Bobby crazy. I’ll be fine, and I promise, if I do find myself in a possibly compromising situation, I’ll take a step back. I swear I will play safe if I play at all.”
Brian studied his friend for several minutes. Ben nearly caved under the scrutiny of those intense hazel eyes which were now a vivid green. “Before we go home, I’ll leave you an open return ticket. Just promise me you’ll call me or Alex if you feel like you’re losing yourself.”
“I promise,” Ben vowed.
“You’ll be all right alone?”
“I’m a big boy.”
“Don’t I know it,” Brian snarked, eliciting a glare from Ben. “Be that as it may,” Brian began, “I’ll consult the blond.”
“About what?” Justin said brightly as he breezed into the restaurant then sat at their table. A place setting soon appeared as did fresh coffee and tea. “I’m starving,” Justin said innocently as he found a gooey pastry and made it vanish. Brian leaned back in his chair with a satisfied grin as Ben snorted. “So, what’s the topic of the conversation?”
“We’ve been dismissed,” Brian snarked.
“Dismissed?” Justin asked as he sipped a cup of tea.
“Our dear professor strongly suggests we go home. Without him,” Brian growled as he gave Justin a look. Justin glanced at Ben.
“You don’t have to babysit me,” Ben said to Justin with a smile.
“Are you sure?” Justin asked.
“I’m very sure. Brian, Justin, can you honestly tell me that after all your hard work on the Paris opening that you’re not looking forward to some down time? To be back on the lane with your family? To be home with Bree?”
Justin’s eyes met Brian’s; they were a bright shining blue. Brian nodded. Justin quickly planted a sloppy kiss onto Brian’s lips then stood to go.
“I’m going to, uh, start packing. Why don’t you join me in about thirty minutes?” Justin gave Brian a poignant look, flashed Ben a pretty smile then swished his way out of the restaurant. Ben watched Justin leave then turned his gaze on Brian. The smirk on Brian’s face was all Ben needed to know.
“You’re kidding me, right?” asked Ben as he checked his watch.
“Of course not, I take my husbandly duties very seriously,” Brian stated as he casually sipped his coffee. “Do you have the time?”
“He’s been gone less than five minutes,” Ben said, rolling his eyes.
The boys sat quietly, not feeling the need to make small talk. Ben was amused by Brian straining to remain calm. About twenty minutes later Ben saw a strange look in Brian’s eyes.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m using my Rageian mind control to get you to tell me the time,” said Brian as he narrowed his eyes at Ben. Ben burst out laughing.
“Go, get out of here. You’re nuts, do you know that?” Ben stated.
“What can I say, Professor, the boy makes me crazy,” Brian said with a smile.
“You do know how lucky you are? Never take him for granted.”
“Never; I thank the gods for him every second of every day,” Brian said in all seriousness as he stood to leave. “We’ll see you before we leave.”
Brian quietly entered their suite. He looked around and noted an elegant service cart that held a chilling bottle of fine champagne, a carafe of orange juice, a bowl of succulent fruit, and two perfectly fluted glasses.
“What do you have in mind, Sunshine?” Brian murmured as he carefully opened the champagne with a gentle pop to pour out their mimosas.
“Hey,” said Justin as he entered the main room wrapped in a thick robe. In his hand was another robe. They exchanged a robe for a mimosa. “I have the spa going,” Justin casually stated with a twinkle in his eyes.
The boys clinked glasses before taking a sip.
“And you’re overdressed,” Justin observed.
“I can change that,” Brian quipped getting a brilliant smile in return.
“I’ll meet you inside,” Justin said as he loosened the ties of his belt.
Brian quickly divested himself of his clothes then threw on the robe. He downed his drink then made another before rolling the cart into their ensuite bathroom. Justin was already chest deep in warm bubbling water. The room smelled lightly of vanilla. Brian dropped his robe then got into the spa. Noting Justin’s empty glass, Brian poured Justin another drink before making himself comfortable.
“What’s the occasion?” Brian asked as he pecked Justin’s lips then sat back close to Justin allowing the bubbles to do their job.
“No occasion, I just wanted to celebrate our last hours in Paris with you. And to thank you again for making the whole show a complete success.”
“Justin, I had very little to do with this. Gus, Ray, Bree, Mel, Molly, Lindsay, they did all the hard work. Not to mention the new Kinnetik Rose and Isles.”
“Yes, but you inspired them; you inspired me. Plus, you and Liberty Air got us here. Brian, I just want to make sure you know how much I love you and how much I appreciate the work you do even if it’s in the background. The mere fact that you always find the right place to stand in all the galleries where we’ve exhibited helps me more than I can ever express. Bri, you’re my rock.”
“Brian, I’m not a kid anymore. I have the confidence to get through these shows on my own and I have for a very long time, but that doesn’t mean I want to. When I look across a gallery and see you standing there in your corner or niche that you’ve chosen, I feel ten feet tall. I don’t have to see you to feel your support. I know that no matter what happens there’s one person in the room that loves me unconditionally and always has my back. You have no clue how important that is to me.” Justin crawled onto Brian’s lap, facing him. He took Brian’s face into his hands. “I love you so much,” Justin said against Brian’s lips before kissing him.
Brian hugged Justin close, never letting go as they made love throughout the day.
It was close to dinner time when the boys found themselves in bed engaging in gentle frottage and teasing each other with nibbling kisses. They had made love in the spa for hours but then grew tired of the bubbles. Deciding to shower them away in their generously sized shower, the boys fucked themselves silly, Brian and Justin style, hard and fast. Afterwards, the boys had sex on every available flat and semi-flat surface in their suite. They finally fell into their king-sized bed, laughing and exhausted.
Two stomachs began growling.
“I think we have a decision to make,” Justin said from atop of Brian.
“And what decision is that, Sunshine?” He arched his brow as he smirked.
“Whether we eat in or go out.”
“I have no objections to staying in, however…”
“Too many wet spots?” Justin interjected getting a swat to his rear.
“Yes,” Brian agreed as he patted the bed in several areas. The boys broke out into giggles.
“I think the hotel may have to burn these sheets,” Justin commented.
“I’ll call housekeeping. They might as well change the sheets while we’re out,” said Brian.
They kissed again then got out of bed to shower and dress.
“Let’s go dancing,” Justin casually suggested as he was choosing his outfit for the evening. He didn’t want to look at Brian, expecting an objection.
“In that case then wear this shirt with these pants,” Brian said as he pawed through Justin’s wardrobe. Suddenly Brian had an armful of very happy Sunshine.
“Really?” Justin asked. His face lit up their room.
“Really,” Brian said with a peck to Justin’s nose.
The boys made their last night in Paris a memorable one.
"I hope John is waiting for us inside," Justin said as their plane touched down in Pittsburgh and began to taxi toward the terminal.
"Tired?" Brian asked.
"Immensely," Justin replied with a self-satisfied grin. "And our last day in Paris sure didn't do much to alleviate it."
"But it was worth it, wasn't it?" Brian said with a smirk.
Brian allowed the corners of his mouth to curl up in the beginnings of a smile. He glanced at Justin wondering once again what had brought the blond to stand beneath that streetlamp outside of Babylon at just the right moment. His whole life had changed from that moment on.
"What are you thinking about?" Justin asked quizzically. He was intrigued by the look on Brian's face.
"I was thinking how .... very lucky I am."
Brian shook his head. "I must be getting ... old. I'm starting to get nostalgic."
Justin squeezed Brian's hand where it rested on the armrest. "You'll never be old. You're Brian Kinney, and you'll always be young and beautiful."
Brian chuckled. "You're so full of shit. But ... it's nice of you to say that."
"It's true, especially to me," Justin declared.
"That's because love makes you blind."
"Exactly!" Justin said with a laugh.
"Ahh, the truth finally comes out."
"It is true," Justin replied. "It's true that you'll always be young and beautiful, and it's true that I'll always see you that way."
"Good recovery, Sunshine," Brian laughed. "Let's get going," he said standing up. He lifted their carry-ons from the overhead compartment.
As soon as the door opened Brian and Justin were the first off. They headed for customs and then their luggage.
As they left the secure area, a streak of strawberry blonde lightning hurtled towards them.
"Daddy! Dada!" she streaked as she threw herself into their arms one after another.
"Bree! How did you get here?" Brian asked once he'd had his hug. "Are you driving now?"
"Silly Dada," Bree giggled. Then her face sobered. "Can I start driving?" she asked, her eyes wide.
Brian groaned. "No you can't. You're not old enough."
Bree clenched her jaw and bit her lip.
"That will happen when it's supposed to," Justin cajoled, taking his daughter back into his embrace.
"How did you get here?" Brian asked with a frown as he looked around and didn't see any familiar faces.
"With me," John said as he came up behind his brother and gave him a hug.
"Thank the gods," Brian said with relief. "I was beginning to think she'd got herself here on her own."
"You know I wouldn't let that happen," John said.
"True, but I also know how resourceful our daughter can be."
"Can we go home now?" Justin asked as he hugged John.
"Let's head 'em up and move 'em out," John stated grabbing Justin's suitcase.
They made their way out to John's car and were soon on the road to the lane. Justin and Bree sat in the back seat with John and Brian up front.
"I thought Ben would be with you?" John quizzed as they headed out of Pittsburgh.
"I thought he would be too," Brian responded.
"So, where is he?"
"He wanted to stay in Paris." Brian didn't really want to elaborate. He wasn't sure how much Bree was hearing. Justin seemed to be distracting her.
John frowned. "How come?"
"He said he hadn't felt so relaxed in a long time. Paris can have that effect on you."
"Hm, I guess so."
"How has Michael been?" Brian dreaded the answer, but he knew the question had to be asked.
"Not good. He's been sleeping on Debbie's couch."
"What the fuck for?" Brian hissed. "I built him that monstrous log cabin and he won't even stay in it?"
"He didn't want to be there without Ben," John replied softly.
"I have a feeling he better get used to being there on his own,"
"Is it really that bad?" John asked.
Brian gave a nod and stared straight ahead.
"I think Debbie is just about at her wit's end with him. He's still blaming Ben and doesn't seem to realize his part in any of it."
Brian sighed. "That's Mikey for you."
"You should talk to him, Dada," Bree piped up.
Brian shook his head. "And what do you think I should tell him?" Brian had to ask. Sometimes Bree had answers that nobody else would think of. He knew he was at a loss of how to handle Michael.
Bree looked thoughtful. "I think Uncle Michael needs to be told the truth."
"Is that right?" Brian asked.
Bree nodded her head. "I know the truth can hurt, but he needs to face it. I don't want them to be apart. I want them to fix things," she stated.
"That's what we all want, sweetheart," Justin agreed.
"I want everybody to be happy," Bree said.
"Unfortunately life doesn't always work that way," John had to admit.
"But, Dada, you can talk to Uncle Michael like nobody else. You need to do it."
"I was afraid that was what you were going to say," Brian said with a groan.
"Don't be afraid. Uncle Michael isn't scary."
"Have you seen him when he crosses his arms on his chest and gets that defiant look on his face?" Brian asked his daughter.
"Yes, I have. But that's just him being stubborn. He's not really scary," Bree explained.
"Then maybe you should talk to him," Brian suggested.
"Me? Do you think he would listen to me?" Bree asked.
"We're listening to you right now," John added.
"I guess I could do it," Bree said uncertainly.
"I'm not going to ask you to do that, squirt," Brian said gently. "The grown-ups need to deal with this mess."
"Phew," Bree said in relief.
"Looks like I'm elected to carry out the deed," Brian opined.
"Lucky you," Justin threw in.
"Yeah, real lucky," Brian griped.
"Don't worry, Dada. I know you can do it," Bree stated.
"Thanks, squirt. I sincerely hope you're right." Brian leaned his head back against the headrest and closed his eyes. He wanted his own home and his own bed, and he didn't want to think about what he was being asked to do. That was for later. Much later, he hoped.
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