"Ma, you have to be reasonable," Michael urged down the phone, three days before Christmas.

"I'm fine!" Debbie said hoarsely. "I don't care what Carl told you, it takes more than a dose of flu to stop me celebrating Christmas. Now did you do like I told you and get that special stuffing from the deli?"

"Yes, Ma," Michael sighed, still trying to work out how he was going to stop his determined mother from working herself into a state of such exhaustion that she wound up with pneumonia or something. He couldn't even go and look after her because he couldn't take the risk of picking up the flu bug and bringing it home to Ben. His partner's health had been great, all things considered, but the simplest infections were a major risk when your immune system was so badly compromised.

After fielding a string of instructions (interrupted sporadically by both coughs and sneezes) about what Deb needed from the supermarket, he finally got off the phone.

Then he had an idea. Maybe Emmett could help.



"I'd love to, honey. You know I'd do just about anything for Deb. But I'm just run off my feet at the moment with everyone having their little Christmas do's and planning three seriously, Michael, three New Year's extravaganzas. I just can't afford to get sick. This is the time when I make a huge chunk of my income for the year."

Michael sighed. He did understand. He knew that Emmett would help if he could, but it's not as if he had an army of minions who could carry on if he got sick. He had Darren and some dyke handling the food side, but everything else Em ran himself.

However, he did know someone who had an army of minions.



"Mikey, whatever you want, tell me quickly. I'm kinda busy here."

Long accustomed to Brian's charming phone manner, Michael wasn't put off, but explained the situation.

He could almost hear Brian shaking his head even before he said, "Sorry, Mikey, would love to help but I'm kind of tied up here playing Florence Nightingale to little Sunshine who is, apparently, dying."

Michael heard in the background a bout of coughing and then a rumble of protest that sounded like, "You just wait till you catch it, asshole."

Michael sighed. "I understand. Just try not to get sick yourself."

"I won't. If I did, I'd probably have to deal with Ma Taylor nursing both of us. I don't even want to fucking think about that."

Jennifer Taylor! Maybe, just maybe.



Michael looked up the number and called, crossing his fingers.

Almost before she'd answered the phone, he realized he was wasting his time. Her voice sounded hoarse and in the background he could hear someone coughing.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Michael," she said when he explained how worried he was about his mother. "I could drop by and see how she is, but I'm just getting over the flu myself and now Molly has caught it. I don't think I can help out about Christmas at all."

"No," he sighed. "I understand. I guess with everyone sick, there's not much point in trying to do much for Christmas anyway."

"What about Lindsay and Melanie?" she asked.

"Oh, they're due to fly in on Christmas Eve with the kids, but at the moment maybe I should tell them not to come."

He sounded so mournful Jenn had to stifle an urge to laugh.

"Don't do that. The bug only lasts a few days, by Christmas most people will be feeling at least a little better and by New Year's I'm sure everyone will be fine."

"Yeah, I guess," Michael sighed. "Thanks anyway, Jennifer. I hope you and Molly feel better soon."

He hung up thinking 'if only Christmas was a few days later'.



"Brian, you have to help me."

"Mikey, I've told you, I'm kinda stuck here. I'm even thinking of booking the girls into a hotel."

"Jennifer says it only lasts a few days. By the time they arrive Justin will probably be over it."

"Maybe. I'll see how he's doing."

"Anyway, I don't need you to go anywhere; I just need you to help me organize Christmas to be three days later."

There was silence.

Then "Mikey, I think it's generally recognized that Christmas is on December 25th."

"Yes, but the adults won't mind if it's a few days later if it means we can celebrate it properly, and the kids are too young to know the date. We just have to make sure they don't see or hear anything that says it's Christmas Day or anything."

Again, silence.

Michael could almost hear the wheels turning.

"Okay," Brian said at last, "Here's what we need to do."



Brian planned the "delay Christmas" campaign with the meticulous attention he gave to his most demanding client.

First of all, the girls were informed, and warned to keep the kids away from the TV and the radio. Gus was smart enough to pick up on the "three more shopping days" advertising and know that something was up.

To help keep them otherwise amused, Brian arranged for a stack of seasonal DVDs everything from Mickey's Christmas to the Muppets Christmas Carol - to be delivered to the house in Toronto. He also organized a hire car and driver to bring them down by road to Pittsburgh not wanting to take the risk that they'd see something at the airport or on the plane. The car was a limo fitted with DVD screens and an iPod dock so they wouldn't need to go near the radio in the car.

Then he set up his system to tape every kids' show on TV for the next four days up to and including Christmas Day, and organized Ted, Cynthia and his art director to do the same. That should mean that they had plenty of "live" TV for the kids to watch once they arrived it would just be on a three day delay.

Decorators were hired (at considerable expense, given the late notice) to turn Britin into a Winter Wonderland and a catering company to provide food for both " delayed Christmas Eve" (DCE - now to be celebrated on December 27th) and "delayed Christmas Day" (DCD - 28th). (Brian considered using Emmett, but knew it wasn't fair to add extra stress to what was already an incredibly busy time for the party planner.)

He guessed that the kids were going to want to visit Santa at the Mall, so he called in a number of favors and arranged for the Santa's Grotto at their nearest Mall to open for one hour on 25th complete with Santa and Elf, so the kids could have their own exclusive chat with the big guy.

He bull-dozed through all Deb's objections and had a car service bring her and Carl out to the house on 24th. He organized for Jennifer and Molly to join them. Then he hired a nurse - so that everyone who was still on the sick list could get professional care; and a waiter to ferry food, and whatever else they needed to their rooms so that no one (him) was run off their feet looking after them.

He wrote long emails to everyone in the family filling them in on what they could and couldn't say especially in front of the kids. And threatened to spill every dirty little secret he knew about them if they didn't obey his instructions.

He followed up the emails with personal phone calls threatening intimate parts of their anatomy if they messed things up.

And he resorted to even more dire threats (up to and including withholding sex) to Justin if he found him out of his bed tweaking the decorations just one more time. But he graciously allowed him to express his artistic nature by designing elaborate and unique place cards for everyone for "Christmas Dinner".



Of course, he ran into opposition.

Most of the people involved were convinced that if Christmas were delayed it wouldn't feel anything like Christmas. Brian dealt with that by pointing out that if Christmas weren't delayed, no one would really enjoy it because everyone would be sick and with Ben and Hunter to consider they wouldn't even be able to be all together. Then he played the big "think of the kids" card and everyone shut up about their own fear of missing out and focused on making the delayed celebration as good as they could for the children.

"It's just another fucking day," Brian summed it up. "Who gives a fuck if it all happens on the 25th or the 28th? It's not when it fucking happens that's important, it's what happens and who you're with. You can still eat yourself into oblivion and get revoltingly lesbionic and sentimental. You'll just be doing it a few days later."

Aside from that though, there were other objections to overcome. Debbie, for a start, was convinced that with the three day delay, there was no need to hire caterers or, for that matter, to have the celebrations at Britin. She was sure she'd be fine to cook for them all as she'd always done. Brian dealt with that one by ignoring her, and going ahead with his plans, leaving Carl and Michael to soothe Deb's wounded feelings.

Jennifer objected on the grounds that it was "too much" for Brian to take on looking after her in her post-flu invalidish state, and a sick Molly. Brian dealt with Jennifer by telling her he needed her to help him manage Justin so that he wouldn't try to do too much before he was really over his dose of flu. That worked like a charm, as he had known it would, although he wound up owing Justin apparently unlimited blow jobs from having foisted his mother upon him when he was sick.

Cynthia, who had been nominated as the "media co-coordinator" complained about the trips to and from Britin every day that the role required, but he solved that with a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes that he knew she'd been lusting after and a spa day voucher.

Ted, who he'd made responsible for finding some carol singers who were willing to make a late appearance at Britin on NCE (New Christmas Eve), or in other words, the 27th, was worried that one of them would say something untoward and give the game away, so Brian told him to offer them triple or nothing they got paid three times their normal rate if they didn't fuck it up, nothing at all if they did. Ted explained that they didn't do it for money, they were fund-raising for charity. That got him what he knew, even down the phone, was one of Brian's raised eyebrows. So he went off to wheel and deal with the group who did carol singing at the GLC.

Melanie objected on principle because it was Brian's plan, but he sicced Mikey onto her to 'fess up that it had been his idea.

Which just left the big one.

The one he couldn't bullshit or bulldoze.

The little blond twat who could always see right through him.

The initial "Brian, it's crazy!" response had, over the two days before the girls arrived with the kids, developed into "I can do something. I'm not that sick."

In fact, Brian considered that his biggest challenge in the whole "delay Christmas" campaign had pretty much been keeping his partner occupied and amused and feeling part of the whole campaign; while at the same time getting him to rest enough to allow him to get over the flu in time to enjoy the rescheduled activities.

Fortunately, as it turned out he'd been over the worst of it before Michael's original call. By the time the girls arrived he was no longer contagious and, although he was feeling lethargic and headachy, the horrible coughing fits had stopped. At least to the point where he could enjoy a decent blow job without Brian having to stop in the middle to let him get over the latest hack-up-a-lung episode.

Which was just as well, because even Brian's inventiveness was starting to wear thin.

He'd had Justin do a preliminary design for the decorators. (He'd fallen asleep on it twice, so it was kind of crumpled when they got it, but the end result was near enough to his "vision" not to provoke major hissy-fits, although the little twat apparently couldn't resist the urge to tweak bits every time he escaped from his room.)

He'd had Justin draw up a schedule and work out which DVD players they needed to set up with the pre-recorded "live" TV.

He'd put his kazillion count bed linens at risk by allowing him to set himself up to paint individual place cards for everyone while propped up against a mountain of pillows.

And finally, when the little blond idiot was really starting to feel better and the nurse who'd just arrived said he'd be fine to get out of bed for a few hours, Brian had put him in charge of managing both the nurse and the waiter and ensuring that everyone who was still on the sick list was properly looked after by the professionals.

That last one was a stroke of genius, because it made the little twat feel like he was finally taking charge like he always wanted to do and kept him from driving Brian crazy by challenging his own status as control freak extraordinaire.

By the time the girls arrived, around mid-afternoon on OCE (Old Christmas Eve), everything was set.

The TV was already on in the den, showing the 8 hours of pre-recorded shows from 21st that had been Brian's first recording effort.

The tree was installed, and ready to be decorated the next day.

A suitably non-Christmas Eve meal of pizza had been ordered from the local pizzeria who were under strict instructions to have the delivery boy say absolutely nothing at all while he was doing the delivery. (He'd been promised a fifty if he could keep his mouth shut, so Brian was reasonably confident.)

Brian had set up a Mail Box and arranged to have any mail re-directed there so that there would be no risk of encounters with post office staff. The landline phones had been re-directed to his cell phone, which was never out of his pocket. The huge gates to the driveway were locked, so no casual callers could burst their little DC (delayed Christmas) bubble. (Not for the first time Brian gave thanks to someone for the fact that Britin was so isolated that there was no risk of stray kids kicking a ball over the fence or any of that shit.

The only unexpected visitors that were likely to make it past his security measures were the deer who came to drink at the stream that went through the property, and the squirrels who lived in the big trees behind the house. Brian figured they wouldn't talk enough to give the game away.



As usual, once all his machinations were in place, Brian was content to take a back seat as soon as their visitors arrived. Of course, his "back seat" wasn't exactly lonely as Gus followed him pretty much everywhere, and Justin was more than happy to join them, In fact, Justin, feeling better (and therefore hornier) by the hour, was happy to join Brian wherever they could find a few moments of privacy. Those were few and far between until the kids were in bed, but they made the most of the moments they could get and the rest of the time just enjoyed having Gus around.

He was a great kid, bright and intelligent and full of joy and laughter excited to be spending the time with his father and Justin, and loving the freedom afforded by the spaciousness of their home. The three of them built snowmen and made snow angels and took the small toboggan that somehow turned up in one of the out-buildings out for runs down the gentle slope that lay beyond the tennis courts. (This had been intended as a Christmas present, but Brian figured it was dumb to waste the chance to use it to keep the kids occupied before Christmas. It wasn't as if it would actually be missed among the mounds of gifts that were still stashed away, waiting to be put out under the tree on DCE.)

Sometimes JR joined them, but she was still a little young to be outside for long in the cold, and she was happy to hold court indoors among her adoring family.

Of course, they spent time with Gus indoors as well helping bake and decorate Christmas cookies, watching a little "TV" and playing endless rounds of Snap and Happy Families.

Looking back on it later, Justin felt that those "extra" days before DCE were among the happiest he'd ever spent at Christmas time.

There were no visitors, no interruptions, no last minute things that Brian had to deal with at Kinnetik (since all the last minute things had been dealt with before the real Christmas Eve); not even any last minute shopping. There was just time - time to spend with his extended family and most of all with the little boy who looked so much like his father that sometimes it took Justin's breath away. His sketchbook rapidly became filled with images of Brian and his son.

But there were other images, too. Melanie laughing at something Michael was saying to JR; Debbie sitting in one of the huge recliners in the main room sipping hot chocolate, still feeling lethargic enough to relax and enjoy allowing them all to spoil her a little for a change; Ted lying sprawled on one of the couches, his head in Blake's lap looking like the happy man he was meant to be; Emmett in full flight telling the girls about one of his "do's", embroidering the story in his own inimitable style; Lindsay trying to help Carl erect the dolls' house that was one of JR's presents and being more hindrance than help especially as she seemed to have the directions upside down or backwards or something with both of them laughing so much that less and less work was getting done; Michael and Ben making soup and sandwiches together in the kitchen, the ease between them speaking volumes about the depth of their relationship; Jenn and Molly helping to make one of the snowmen and being subjected to a sneak snowball attack by Brian when he found them wrapping one of his Gucci scarves around its neck; even one of Hunter giving an ecstatic JR a piggy back from her bath to her bedroom.

Those images would join the ones captured by Brian on his phone and also his sophisticated digital camera. As Justin's sketches included many of Brian, so Brian's photos included many of his young partner, even a number of them together thanks to the camera's timer function and the tendency of their friends to snatch it up and start snapping every time Brian laid it down.

All in all, the whole "delay Christmas" campaign went amazingly smoothly. The trip to the Mall might have raised awkward questions about why all the shops were closed, and where all the other kids were, but thanks to a suggestion Justin had made, that situation was avoided. The kids were woken early in the morning of OCD, so early that dawn wasn't even yet a smudge on the horizon, and told that their Mommies had received a special letter from one of Santa's elves. The letter was displayed, and read aloud. It said that as they were special visitors to Pittsburgh, Santa had made arrangements to have a secret meeting with them early in the morning before the Mall was open. Two very excited youngsters were bundled into clothes and ushered out to the cars where a convoy of adoring family escorted them to the side door of the Mall. This was opened to them by the manager (an old "acquaintance" of both Brian and Justin) who in turn escorted the group to Santa's grotto where Santa sat waiting for them. If both Santa and his elven assistant looked a little on the sleepy side, that was easily explained by how hard they had to work at this time of the year, and by the time the two kids left they were both bursting with the need to tell everyone they knew about how they'd had a special meeting with Santa, just for them.

They even had Daddy Brian's pictures to prove it.

By the time DCE (delayed Christmas Eve) arrived eggnog and punch, The Night Before Christmas and lighting the tree, all seemed to flow naturally. For most of the evening, everyone simply forgot that it wasn't really Christmas Eve and just enjoyed the celebration as they did every year; perhaps even a little more so, since they had all spent most of the day hanging out at Britin (even Emmett allowed himself a day off between the Christmas events and those on New Year's), so they were all relaxed and mellow instead of still wondering if they'd done/ bought/ made everything that needed to be done.

Brian had arranged a car service for Emmett, Ted and Blake who weren't staying the night so that they didn't have to worry about driving home and could enjoy the eggnog or the mulled wine that Jenn made to an old family recipe, and when everyone finally parted that night it was with a sense of happy anticipation of the day to come.

DCD also didn't disappoint.

The kids woke them at an ungodly hour, and they exchanged their own gifts then sat in the pleasant torpor induced by excellent coffee and a plate of Christmas cookies while the kids dismantled their mound of gifts.

Everyone got dressed and had a light breakfast and then went tobogganing for an hour or so while the caterers set up lunch.

The meal was suitably extravagant and extremely palatable. Even Deb enjoyed the turkey, (especially as Brian had persuaded the caterers to use her favorite stuffing "or we'll never hear the fucking end of it") and admitted later - to Carl at least - that she was maybe a little relieved that she didn't have to try to cook for so many people "just this one time".

There were no glitches, no unexpected problems to ruin the illusion, and if New Year came a little earlier than usual so they didn't feel quite ready for it, well, that was a small price to pay for what had been a very happy Christmas. In fact, as they lazed around nibbling after lunch while the kids, exhausted, napped upstairs, the adults all agreed that "it was really just like Christmas" after all.

Ironically, the super-cynic among them had been right: it didn't matter when it happened; it was about the celebration and who you shared it with.

The girls headed back to Toronto right after New Year's and everyone went back to their normal day to day working existence.

Well, everyone except Brian.

Turns out he'd finally caught "Justin's fucking flu".

And if Justin's expression as he sternly lectured his lover on "not trying to sneak out of bed to get your fucking laptop because you're off the clock and you're leaving Ted and Cynthia to deal with all the Kinnetik shit till you're properly over this" was just a trifle smug, that's probably understandable.

He's always really liked being the one in control in their relationship.

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