Gifts and Givers


I can't really get a grip on where Brian's head's at today. I'd expected him to be stressed and pissy all day and he's not. He's relaxed, smiling … dammit! he's happy. He's really happy.

I thought that when we took Gus it would just be for a quick drive around, or maybe to the park for a little, or even shopping to get him some clothes. (Brian hates the way Lindz dresses him.)

At a pinch I could imagine him going to the zoo. Maybe.

But the last thing I would have expected is that he'd want to ride up and down the Monongahela Incline. It's a good choice though, I realise, watching him old Gus up so that he can see out the windows as we rise slowly to the heights above the Golden Triangle. Gus loves it. He has his face pressed close to the glass and is telling us everything he can see … people and cars and water and boats. He's starting to talk fairly well now. You have to listen carefully, but you can usually work out what he's talking about.

I watch them, and it occurs to me for the first time how different Brian is with Gus. I don't mean that he's kinder or any of that. That's a given. I mean how tentative Brian is where Gus is concerned. Almost shy. It's as if he's not quite sure what to do, and very much afraid of making a mistake. When I think about it, I guess that's not all that strange. I mean, his own family were pretty much a dead loss … there's no way he would learn anything positive from them about how to treat a child. And I'm guessing he hasn't spent a lot of time hanging out with breeders or other couples with kids, so how would he learn?

It's really sad. It's as if he's always holding back a little. Not because he doesn't want to be with Gus, but because he doesn't quite know how to be, so he thinks maybe Gus is better off without him being around too much. He just doesn't believe in himself where Gus is concerned. It's sad for Gus, too, because Gus adores him. Sometimes he goes a bit shy when his father's around, but as soon as Brian pays him some attention, he's all over him. I'm not saying Brian's ever going want to be a full time dad. Maybe not even a part time dad in the 'carpool the kids to swim practice' sort of way. But he loves Gus, and loves to spend time with him, and they are good together. Gus is good for him, and Brian will always be there for Gus, no matter what; even if the thought of that level of responsibility scares the shit out of him.

That thought makes me smile and, just when I do, Brian turns his head a little to look at me. He knows me too well, because one eyebrow goes up in that 'what the fuck are you thinking about?' look of his, and I just grin at him. He runs his tongue over his lips, then gives his attention back to Gus who is demanding if we're there yet.

Of course, as soon as we exit the pod, Gus wants to get right back in. But Brian persuades him to walk with us, and we stroll along the path with Gus stomping along in the middle, his little hands safely clasped in ours. In a strange way, it's even more intimate, makes me feel more connected to this wilful, beautiful, maddening wonderful creature that I love than if Brian and I were holding hands. Every now and again we lift our hands and swing Gus between us, which brings on shouts of glee and "More! Again!"

Brian doesn't even flinch from all the noise his kid is making, just laughs and signals me to swing him again. We come to a seat and sit down. Gus is clearly thrilled to be out and about and is curious about everything, saying "What's that, Dadda?" over and over again.

Brian answers him every time with more patience than Mel or even Lindz would ever give him credit for.

While Gus learns the word for 'bridge' and 'worm' and 'ladybug', I reach into the pocket of my coat and pull out the small sketchpad I always keep there. I start sketching the two of them, my two Kinney men, and Gus sees me and then of course he wants to draw too. Brian distracts him by standing up and carrying him over to the railing so that Gus can look down on the shopping precinct and have a better view of the river.

We must be close, I realise suddenly, to the bench we were sitting on the other night. Was it really only three nights ago? Somehow we seem to have come a long way since then.

For the first time I let myself thing about what Brian promised me this morning. Not that he'll never trick again. That would be what my Gran used to call a "piecrust promise" - made to be broken. But that he won't be out looking for it. Won't be cruising Woody's or Babylon or the Baths for tricks.

The enormity of that promise suddenly hits me and I feel my heart squeeze. That he would promise me such a thing is so huge it's almost inconceivable. But he did it. And I don't think it's because I've pressured him about it. I've tried very hard not to. Tried to make sure that he knew it stopped being an issue for me that night I stood in Ethan's grimy apartment and said "I never forgave Brian. I never had to."

And remembered all the non-promises Brian had made and come through on. Realised that with all Brian's tricking, he'd been 'faithful' to me, to us, in a way that someone like Ethan, who scattered promises and vows around so freely, simply didn't have it in him to be. Saw that Brian offered an inner fidelity, a fidelity of heart and soul rather than of body, that was worth 'a million times' anything an Ethan had to offer. And understood at last how I'd let myself be cheated, not by Ethan's breaking his bullshit promises, but by my own need to have someone make such vows to me in the first place.

Of course I realise that even now Brian isn't promising eternal monogamy. I think I would have laughed in his face if he had.

Or cried.

He's promised, though, that he won't be looking for it. Which in one way isn't all that big a deal. I mean, it's not as if he's ever really had to go looking for it. Opportunities for sex find Brian almost everywhere. A guy walked past a few minutes back who was seriously cruising him - with him holding Gus and me sitting right here. So just because he isn't looking doesn't mean that his chances to have it find him are going to drop off all that much.

But in another way …

It somehow laid balm on a wound that I didn't know I had, until he said that and healed it.

I told Brian when I came back to him that I understood now what to expect. And I did. I was, and am, okay with his tricking. I would never have gone after him again, otherwise. Because I didn't, and don't, expect him to stop. Not completely. Not while his dick still works. For that matter, I'm not sure that I won't have the desire to occasionally stick my cock where it doesn't rightfully belong.

I know that. Understand it. Accept it. Am fine with it. And, which is the big difference, I guess, I'm fine with my acceptance of it. I no longer feel lessened, diminished by that acceptance as I think I did before.

Now, in a weird way, I feel empowered by it. The scared boy who had to cling to Brian so tightly, who was threatened by losing his attention for even as long as it took him to get blown in the back room is gone. I know now what we have. I know what I mean to him. And that knowledge empowers me. Now I am not less because I have to accept his tricking, I am more because I know how meaningless it is by comparison.

But somewhere inside I was still carrying the wounds dealt to that 17 year old boy who didn't understand why, when I was available, and ready, and the sex between us was so hot, that night after night, Brian would walk away from me to go after some trick. The boy who didn't understand why he wasn't enough.

I got over it. Came to understand Brian better. Came to understand some of the impulses that drove Brian in myself. But somehow, despite that, the hurt was still there.

And now suddenly, it's not. He has healed me.

Because what he told me this morning, back in that room where I'd lost both my virginity and my heart to him, was that now, I'm enough. Now I'm what he needs, all he needs.

Other men might happen, but he doesn't need them any more. Doesn't need the chase, the thrill, the conquest. Something in what we have together has taken away those needs, as his words took away that young boy's hurt.

And as that realisation floods through me I realise that I can't see him anymore, can hardly see the sketch book in my hands.

I fumble with the pencil, and then he's there, looking down at me, lips pulled in that way he has when he's figuring out just what to say.

But he doesn't get a chance to say anything, because Gus wriggles out of his arms, to stand beside me and I feel his little hand on my knee as he looks up at me with his father's eyes.

"Jus'n sad?"

And I gasp for breath and laugh and pick him up and hug him.

"No, Gus," I shake my head emphatically, realising just how far from sad I am. "Justin's not sad," I tell him. "Justin's happy."

My voice chokes and my eyes fill with tears again for no reason except that maybe Brian's right and all this emotional stuff does turn you into a lesbian. I must be past help though, because I hug Gus again, and hear my voice saying shakily, "Justin feels faaab-ulous"

His father sits down next to me and lays his arm lightly across my shoulders.

We should get you seen to. Those damned allergies are a bitch."

I elbow him, and he takes my chin in his fingers for a moment, looking deep into my eyes. Then he gives me a grin and touches his forehead lightly to mine. I smile and Gus pats my face. I hold the palm of his hand against my lips and blow a raspberry into it and he laughs. So do I. And I can feel Brian's silent chuckle vibrate through my shoulder.

He ruffles Gus's hair and kisses my forehead.

"C'mon, boys," he says. "It's time to face the music."

"What moosic?" Gus asks.

"We have to sing Happy Birthday to Dadda," I say.

He nods and starts piping something that might be Happy Birthday. Or not. It's kinda hard to tell. But he sounds happy. Brian stands, and helps us up, and we walk back along the path to the Incline. Gus is still singing, and the feel of him in my arms, the feel of Brian's arm round me, the feel of the three of us together is something so right that my whole being seems to relax into it.

There's still drama to face. Probably always will be. We're queers for God's sake. It comes with the territory. But right now, I feel like we can do anything, be anything, because we've found something up here that makes us whole, makes us one, in a way that no ceremony, no damned piece of paper could ever do.

I resolve to somehow get Brian up here again. This is a special place for me, now. After this morning, and our talk the other night, this is a place I know I will always want to come back to, together. So I just have to work it so he doesn't realise what I'm doing. Or why I'm doing it. If he knew I'd become that sentimental about it, I'd never get him back here.

Except, I think, as we climb into the pod, that it was him who wanted to come here this morning. I look at him as he makes a face at Gus, and wonder just why that was. It couldn't be something like romance, could it?

As his eyes meet mine with just a hint of a question in them, I smile at him. It doesn't really matter, I realise. Whether it just seemed a good place to take Gus, or whether he wanted to revisit the scene of our first real date, in bringing me here he gave me something I needed. Yet again. Something profound and indefinable. I suspect that whatever it is, maybe it's something we both needed. When I see him smile, see the happiness in those eyes that are often so sad, I realise that I'm right.

All I can do is smile back at him with all the happiness and love that's in me.


The little twat is smiling now. God knows what brought his "allergies" on. One minute he's fine. I take Gus over so he can see down to the shopping complex and get a better view of the river and when I turn back to Justin, my damned partner is sitting there with tears running down his face for no fucking reason that I can figure out. But he told Gus he was happy, and he's smiling up at me now like … like the Sunshine I call him.

I just wish he was wouldn't fucking scare me like that. I don't want him sad or scared or worried. He's been through enough. And try as I might to put it out of my head, I'm very much aware that tomorrow is the anniversary of the 'best night of his life'. Except that it turned into the worst. The worst night …

Even the ghost of a thought of that night makes me feel so damned protective of him.

He says that he's dealt with his anger, that he can let it go now, leave it behind. But maybe I haven't dealt with mine. Maybe that's partly what is fuelling my anger against Mikey.

Because, fuck it, Mikey knows. He was there outside Babylon the night that asshole who calls himself Justin's father told his teenaged son that if he wanted to come home he had to give up being Justin. He was there when I, like a total asshole, tore the poor kid to shreds and threw him out on the street for making a simple mistake. He was at the hospital when they came and told us that the beautiful young man who'd danced in my arms, who'd become part of all our lives, was in a coma with the probability of permanent brain damage. He's been there while Justin has fought to master the shakes in his hand enough to draw that damned comic. He's seen more than most of the horrors Justin has been through, and he still stole from him.

Stole not just money, but his independence. Put him in a position where he had to go to that asshole Craig and beg for money to continue his studies (silly little twat!). Put him in a position where he had to submerge his pride and let me help him. And then tried to steal even his right to complain by mixing Deb up into it.

And all of it not because Mikey really needed the money; but to punish him. Punish him for having what Mikey couldn't have; for being what Mikey was never going to be. With me.


Of course, the other thing that is fuelling the anger is guilt. Not over the Prom, although I guess to some extent that will always be there. But guilt over all the shit that I've let Mikey pull on Justin. All the snide remarks and spiteful little digs that I never did anything about. Well, never in Justin's hearing, anyway. And I could tell myself that was because Justin's a big boy and should stand up for himself; or tell myself that it was because it was all just a joke, and everyone knows that Mikey sometimes just doesn't know where to draw the line.

But all of that is bullshit. There's one simple reason that I never called him on his crap … I was too fucking scared to.

Not just scared of losing Mikey, and his friendship, although that was part of it. But scared of losing …everyone. I knew if it came down to it, if I made a scene and forced people like Em and even Lindz to choose between sticking to their nice cozy little images … Mikey, good; Brian bad … and actually opening their eyes to take a look at what was really going on, then I could only be the loser. All that would have happened is that I would have burned my bridges and wound up with nothing. Hell! probably even Justin wouldn't have thanked me for it. Cos I wouldn't have fucking known how to do it cleanly, or gently. It would have been some full blown fucking drama and they all would have taken sides … except there would only have been me on my side. And Justin. And I couldn't have let him do that. I couldn't have let him lose his new family, not after I'd already cost him his old one.

So I would have driven him away, too. I would have been alone.

And I just couldn't fucking do it.

So … like the scared little faggot that I am inside most of the time, I let Mikey get away with all his shit, let his spiteful little digs go on, let my partner bear the brunt of them. Because Justin wouldn't call him on it either … for my sake.

And I think of all this as we climb out of the pod and make our way back to the car, and I'm ashamed.

But no more.

Not today.

Not any day from now on.

No matter what it costs, it stops now.

In some ways, I hope Mikey does show his face today so that I can tell him that.


Brian's a bit quiet on the way back to the car, and I guess that he's starting to think about the party, but he lightens up once we get moving. Gus wants to sing and he wants Brian and I to join in, but neither of us knows what he's trying to sing, and he starts getting a bit cranky, so eventually I start singing "Old McDonald". Gus loves it. There is much squeaking and mooing and baaing and unbelievably Brian gets right into it. I have to try to keep from laughing too much, partly because I have to drive and partly because I don't want him to get pissed and stop.

But while they're singing I can think a bit about the party. Well, about what to do if Michael shows up. I wish I could help Brian more with that. I wish his "best friend" wasn't such a jealous spiteful little shit.

And I really wish I'd figured out a way to deal with his jealousy long before now. Maybe if I had …

I love Brian and it's killing me to know that however it goes, he's going to be hurt over this. I blame myself for at least some of it. And I want to kill Michael. I don't think I've ever felt such anger towards anyone; not even Hobbs.

The worse thing is, I can't even express my anger towards Michael without making everything worse for Brian. That's the most frustrating part of all.

We pull up outside the Munchers' and get Gus out of the car. He runs up the path and starts climbing the steps. Brian and I follow quickly and as we reach the steps, Brian touches the back of my neck. I look at him and he gives bumps his head against mine quickly. Then he swoops Gus up in his arms and we reach the door and ring the bell.

Lindsay opens the door with a big smile, and gives each of us a hug. The house is quiet. No one else is here yet and Lindz is taking Gus' coat off and motioning with her head towards the back yard. Shit! The Easter egg hunt. In all the excitement of taking Gus for his first ride in the new car, we forgot about it. Lindz carries Gus, who is trying to tell her about the car, and the ride, and what he saw from Mt Washington all in one breath, upstairs, and we go out the back. Mel is staggering around trying to hide the eggs. Not really an easy job in her condition cos they all have to be hidden near ground level where Gus can find them. So we help her do that.

Brian wanders off towards the very back of the garden and plays about there with something. Mel is doing an "I said/she said" about the … discussion … she and Lindz had about inviting Michael and I can't leave her to go to see what Brian's up to. But he joins us again just as we're about to go into the house.

Gus comes running out and Brian picks him up.

"Down, Dadda!" he demands. "Mommy said the Eater Bunny's been. And he maybe left EGGS! Choc'late ones."

The last is said in almost an awed voice. I remember playing this game … by myself and then later with Molly.

"I think Mommy's right," Brian says. "I was just gonna come and get you and see what you think of this …"

As he's been speaking, he's carried Gus down to the back of the garden. Curious, Mel, Lindz and I all follow him.

In the earth of the flower bed that runs along the fence, there's something that looks kind of like a paw print. A big rabbit-shaped paw print. Well, sort of. I could probably have done it better, but it's big, and it makes Gus' eyes go so wide they seem to take up his whole face.

"And look at this," Brian says, and points. On the wood of the fence there's a wisp of something white. Brian reaches over and picks it off the fence and together he and Gus study it. "I think the Easter Bunny might have left some of his tail behind, Gus. What do you think?"

Gus nods frantically and touches it with one finger.

"Mama!" he shrieks. "Mommy! Look!"

Brian hands him the scrap of what looks a lot like absorbent cotton, and puts him down and he runs to his mommies to show them.

I find myself staring at Brian. It was cotton. Must have been. And Brian so does not carry bits of cotton around in his pockets. And he hasn't had time to pick any up from the house. I realise that he must have planned this, must have prepared for it, and I walk over, wrap my arms around him and plant a long wet kiss on his beautiful mouth. Sometimes, little things that he does make me so damned proud of him that I have to express it or burst. And words … words can't always say what you want them to say. I have to be sure he hears me. People who don't know him, even most who do, would find it hard to believe, but Brian really has trouble accepting any sort of praise, but sometimes it's just a matter of finding the right way to say it.

I kiss him again just to be sure he's got the message, and he gives me a really sweet shy smile so I know he has.

Gus comes running back to hand his treasure back to Brian to look after for him, and Brian says, "I think you should start looking for those eggs, you know, sonny boy. Don't want them to disappear or get stolen."

So we spend a while watching Gus running back and forth, and with a few hints, and a bit of help from Dadda and Jus'n, he finds all the ones we've hidden and we all troop back into the house.

Lindz and Mel have been snapping away with the camera, and Lindz is promising to make sure we get copies when the front door bell rings. Showtime, I guess.


All through the morning I've been trying not to think about how all this was going to go down. How people would react. By now Deb will have found a way to blame me, I guess. She always does. But then, I've always let her.

I think back to how things have been with Michael and I, and I realise that Deb and I between us probably have been to blame for a lot of how Mikey has turned out. She, because it was easier for her to blame me for everything that ever went wrong in his life than see that her beloved son wasn't perfect and make him take responsibility for himself, for his own actions. And me because it was easier, safer at least, to let her blame me and then forgive me than risk permanently alienating the only mother I've ever really known by refusing to accept the blame and forcing her to realise some unpleasant truths about her son.

Between the two of us he never did have to learn how to take responsibility for himself. She was always pushing that responsibility onto me, and I always let her.

And I guess everyone else took their cues from us. Michael good. Brian bad.

Till Justin.

And even as I think his name, I realise that he's not by my side and then I see why. Of course he's not by my side. He's heading for the door. He's placing himself in front of me, and is determined to take on whoever's on the other side of it, single handed if he has to.

Little fucker! He never ceases to amaze me.

I hope for Michael's sake he has the sense to stay away today. Justin's in no mood to go easy on him. Not any more. He's always backed away from confrontations with Mikey because he didn't want to put me in the middle. But I think he's had enough. And I know he thinks I've had enough. Which is true.

I'm tired. So fucking tired.

But then Lindz appears and opens the door and it's not any of the Novotnys, it's Emmett. And he's all "Oh, Sweetie!" and hugging Justin for way too long, as usual, so I quietly move up beside him to make sure he gets his hands off my lover and then I'm suddenly being smothered in fucking orange feathers because the silly queen is all over me. And damned if I don't find myself hugging him back. Fuck!

I've warned Justin about all this talking shit and how it turns you into a damned lesbian.


I'm vaguely aware of a flash of light and hope to hell that Mel got a shot of the look on Brian's face when Emmett was hugging him.

And the look on Em's face when Brian hugged him back.

Emmett's talking nineteen to the dozen as usual. About how Vic will be here soon, but he had a small disaster with something for the party they're catering tonight. And how Deb is on her way. But he doesn't mention Michael.

Then Lindz is ushering us all inside and Mel is pouring drinks, and Brian, Brian! goes over to help her and Em pulls me aside and asks if we've heard from Michael. I shake my head and glance over towards Brian.

Em leans in close to whisper, "Well, I heard that …"

Then Brian is there, like he always is when he thinks Em is too close to me, and, interested though I was in what Emmett had to say, I have to laugh at him. So he grabs me and plants a kiss on me, and Em says, "Oh, my manners!"

He reaches into the huge bag he's got slung over his shoulder and pulls out a present wrapped in turquoise with a deep green ribbon. It's actually almost tasteful. Well, for Em. Brian takes it like he thinks it might explode or something and I nearly laugh again at the look on his face. Then Em is exclaiming over his shirt and Brian shrugs but I can tell he's glad someone noticed it. Lindz joins in and Em demands to know where he got it, and Brian gives a goofy sort of grin and waves towards me.

Mel is sitting down by now, but she chimes in with "Well, Justin always could get your eyes to turn green."

Brian sticks his tongue in his cheek and looks down at her like he's about to come out with one of his usual snarky comments, but then he just laughs and actually nods and I nearly fall over.

The doorbell rings again then, just as Brian, urged on by Gus, is about to open his present. I want to go check who it is, but I don't want to miss the look on Brian's face when he sees whatever it is that Em's bought him, so I stay where I am, just moving closer to Brian. He sits down on the couch, with Gus standing at his knee helping him open the present. As Gus is pulling at the ribbon, Brian's hand snakes out to grab mine and tug me down beside him. I sit close, leaning against him, and he turns his head for a moment to smile at me.

Then Gus gets the paper off the present and his face sort of freezes, prepared for anything, the Kinney mask in place.

That's how he looks when Deb walks in, saying loudly as she does, "Well, I hope you're happy, asshole, because you don't have to worry about Michael turning up. He's gone."


I hear the tone, more than the words, and know that I was right about how Deb has turned this all into my fault.

I feel Justin tense up next to me, and put my hand over his, trying to keep him silent.

I feel him shaking with the effort not to respond, and see Emmett open his mouth and Lindz looking shocked and Gus' little face crinkle up and that just about does it, but before I can open my mouth, Mel is there, in Deb's face.

"You shut your mouth. My son is here, and I'm not having him put through any more of this fucking nonsense. Do you hear me?"

Deb's eyes narrow and she looks like she's about to take a piece out of Mel when Gus pipes up.

"Who's gone, Dadda? Gone where?"


That stops Deb and she takes a gulp of air, and I realise, we all realise, that she's been crying. So Lindz gets up and takes her coat while Em gets her a drink and before she can say anything else, the doorbell rings again so I go to open it and it's Vic, with the little hustler in tow.

"Sis here yet?" Vic asks, straight away.

I nod and he sighs, and moves past me into the room where everyone is trying not to stare at Deb as the tears start to slip down her face again. She moves over to Brian and puts her hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, sweetheart," she says. "Just ignore me. It's just all a bit sudden is all."

Then she sinks into a chair and Vic sits on the arm and takes her hand as well all stare at them. Hunter is awfully subdued and just sinks down onto the floor near Deb's feet. Vic takes a deep breath.

"Michael and Ben left for Boston this morning," he says. "They won't be back for a while. Ben is taking the job there, and Michael is going to look around for a good location for a new comic store."

I feel the pain go through Brian. Feel it. Hate it. Can't do anything about it. But I slip my arm around his waist and fumble to take his hand with my free one and his fingers tangle with mine and grip so hard they hurt. He takes a deep breath and nods. Then he says harshly. "Did he fix up about Justin's money before he left?"

"Jesus, Brian!" Deb sputters. "Is that all you can think about? The money?"

He's turned a little away from me to face her and I'm glad that I can't see his face right then. Because I know how it must look, and I hate seeing that wooden look he gets when he's really hurt and too damned proud to let anyone see. I open my mouth to say something, anything, to direct her fire away from him and towards me. I mean, I'm the one that Mikey had a problem with. I'm the one he chose to steal from to punish me. It's not Brian she should be laying into over this. If anyone other than Michael is to blame, it's me.

But before I can make my voice work, Mel says quietly, "Justin, why don't you and Brian take Gus and make sure that you didn't miss any of those eggs?"

I look at her and go to shake my head, but then I see Gus' worried little face, and I smile at him and say, "That sounds like a very good idea, what do you think, Gus?"

"Yea!" he says. Then he looks at Deb and goes on, "The Eater Bunny camed to Gus house."

He holds out his hand to her and when she doesn't immediately answer, he says in an awestruck little voice, "He left his tail! My Dadda fouwnd it."

By now his eyes have gone wide and dark again and she looks into them and then up into that other pair of eyes, so much like Gus'. She takes a deep breath and then gets up.

"That I have to see." she says and walks over to where we sit together on the couch. She holds out her hand, but it's not to Gus. Brian stares blankly at it for a few seconds, and then takes it and clasps it tightly. She pulls him up and into her arms and for a long moment they just hold each other.

"It's the best thing, kiddo," she tells him softly. "It will give him and Ben a chance. It's the best thing."

I see Brian's shoulders shake, and she holds him even more tightly. Then he straightens and looks down at her.

"It was time," he says.

And she nods.

Then, each holding one of Gus' hands, they go outside together.

The rest of us stand looking at each other for a moment, then Mel shoves some more tiny eggs into my hands, and says, "Hide these, quick. While they're looking at that damned pawprint."

So I run outside and manage to scatter the eggs around quickly while the three of them stand at the back of the garden, staring at the "Eater Bunny's" pawprint.

I hear Gus' voice telling Deb excitedly all about how his Dadda had found the pawprint, and demanding that Brian show her the bit of tail. I have to sneak close then to see the look on his face as he fumbles in his pocket for the scrap of cotton . He is so damned embarrassed. I have to stifle the urge to laugh hysterically.


I can hear the little gasps he gives when he's trying not to laugh at something, so I know he's close. Then I feel his hand on my back as I finally find the fucking bit of "Eater Bunny" tail and hand it over to Sonnyboy to show to Deb. I slide my arm back and round his waist and pull him close and his arms come round me and my son is smiling up at me with his eyes glowing and somehow it's alright.

Mikey's gone, and I feel like I'm never going to see him again. Well, that we're never going to be the same with each other again. And somehow, although that still hurts, it's alright.

I feel …


I finally feel free of him. Of his wants and his needs and his fucking jealousy and all that went with it.

Free to be me.

And maybe other people will be free to see me. See me just as Brian, and not as the guy who was always such an asshole to poor little Michael. Because I wasn't that. Not all the time. And yes, I know I can be a selfish shit. Living alone with no one you can count on to really be there for you will do that to you.

Michael would say that he was always there for me. And he was. In a way. But it always came with a price tag. I always had to repay him for even the smallest kindness. Pay him with my love and my loyalty. Most of all I had to pay him by making myself unavailable to everyone else, except for him. By handing over my right to love anyone to him. By never letting anyone else as close to me as he was. By being alone. By staying alone. By always being lonely, only allowed to turn to him. Never to anyone else. On pain of losing the one love that I'd come to believe in.

He held me hostage for so many years.

Then Justin came along. And Gus. On the same night. And things were never really the same between us again.

Because Justin taught me about other kinds of love. He taught me about love that didn't try to hold me back from other people. Taught me about love that rejoiced in me loving Gus, loving Deb, even loving Michael. No matter what his problems were with Mikey, or with me, and my crippled heart, Justin never ever tried to pull me away from Michael. Never tried to make me choose. Would never have wanted to. All he ever asked of me was to love him. He never tried to limit my loving to just him, the way that Michael always has.

I cup my hand around his face and, pulling him even closer, find his lips with mine. His mouth opens and his tongue slides against mine and it's only when Deb grates out, "For fuck's sake, get a room!" that I remember where we are.

I look at her and she's shaking her head, realising what she's said in front of Gus, but neither of us has to worry, because he's caught sight of a glint of gold in the bushes and is off after the eggs that seem to have sprouted from the grass. Justin is grinning at me, and I resign myself to another hands and knees crawl through the garden making sure Gus doesn't miss any.

But this lot seem to have been not so much scattered as dumped, as if the "Eater Bunny" was in a big hurry this time round, so we find them all quickly and can head back inside. Where my son soon reminds me that I haven't opened my present yet. And is beside himself with excitement when he finds more waiting for us on the couch.

"Look, Dadda!" he says. "More!"

And hands Em's to me again, the wrapping starting to fall off as he does.

"Open it!" he demands.

Oh joy!

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