New Beginnings


Brian opens Em's present like it might contain a bomb - or at least a dead rat. Emmett's taste and Brian's don't exactly match. Brian somehow gives the impression he's handling it with fingertips and would like to be using tongs, but Gus is right in there, "helping", and Brian winds up watching Gus more than looking at the present.

Until Gus finally gets the lid off the box and wrinkles his nose up, trying to work out what it is. Well, what they are, since there are six items in the box: two small carved animals and two sets of chopsticks made from some beautiful dark wood. The handles have a delicate inlay of what I think at first is mother-of-pearl. Brian knows better, though. He picks one up and caresses the light, slightly yellowed characters. "These must be old," he says.

That's when I realize that the inlay is ivory. And so are the two small tortoises with slightly flattened backs, intended to be used as rests, which are nestling between the chopsticks.

Brian looks up at Em who is trying to be cool, but is in fact buzzing with excitement. Brian gives him a tongue in cheek smirk, and says, "Doing it with some old Chinese guy, now?"

Em looks shocked and a little hurt. "I got them from a supplier I've been working with for my Asian-themed parties," he says with dignity. "They belonged to his great something or another. The tortoises are supposed to bring long life. Waga-san says they worked for his great-whatever, because he lived to be nearly a hundred. He says they're a very auspicious gift for a birthday."

Brian just sort of smiles and ducks his head.

"Not bad," he mumbles.

Which, as I hope Em knows, is Kinney-speak for "They're beautiful, Emmett, thank you."

Emmett gives a big smile, so it seems he's got the right interpretation. "Oh, good! I hoped you'd like them. When I saw them I thought they'd be just fabulous for dinner in the loft."

He's right. They will be. For once Emmett, the unqualified mistress of outré, has managed to restrain himself and find something that suits Brian's minimalist style.

Gus pounces on the next present then and everyone is distracted, so most of them don't see Brian's hand snake out to pat Em's orange leather-clad thigh. Em feels it, though, and pats Brian's shoulder in return before loudly demanding a drink.

He's saying something about how nerve-wracking it is buying presents for a true diva, and everyone laughs, and drinks circulate as Brian watches Gus tear the wrapping from the next gift.

It's obvious that everyone has put some thought into choosing the gifts, as if they want Brian to know that they do care about him, that he means something to them. Deb gives him a soft black silk scarf, and another smaller gift that I only catch a glimpse of. Later I find out that it's a pewter key ring, made like a Yin/Yang symbol, but the two halves of the symbol slide apart and inside it's a sort of locket with an old photo of Brian and I in there - one from that first art show at the GLC; but for now, Brian looks at it, and smiles, and then it disappears into his pocket). Vic gives him a CD by some Irish jazz and blues singer named Mary Coughlan which is apparently really hard to get and which Brian nods his head over in a way that tells me he really likes it. And Lindz and Mel present him with two gifts.

One is a framed photo of Brian and Gus. I haven't seen it before, but something about it makes Brian's eyes cloud over. Gus looks a little younger than he is now, and he's standing, holding onto his father's hands. Mel watches Brian closely as he looks at the photo, and seems satisfied, but maybe a little surprised, by his reaction.

"It was taken the afternoon Gus took his first steps," Lindz explains. "Brian was here when it happened. Gus tottered a few steps, and then sat down, looking really surprised, and then terribly pleased with himself. We were all so shocked, but Mel ran and got the camera and a few minutes later he took off again and toddled over to Brian. Then he just kept following Brian around."

Brian is nodding slightly and smiling at the photo. Gus taps it. "Gus," he says proudly to me.

"That's right," I answer.

"And Dadda," Gus says happily. "Look, Dadda. Dadda and Gus. Us"

He beams up at his father, and suddenly I can hardly see. Damned allergies! I look at Brian and see that he's not much better off. But he smiles back at Gus and runs his hand over his son's head and gently down his face. "That's right, Gus," he croaks out somehow. "That's us."

Gus gives him another happy smile, and picks up the second half of the present. It's a largish envelope, fairly thickly stuffed. It's too hard for Gus to open so he hands it to Brian, who opens it and pulls out a sheaf of cards - individual pieces, some slightly larger than others. And with them a stiff sheet of what looks like parchment, filled with flowing script.

Brian stares at them in puzzlement, and Gus is clamoring to know what they are, so I take the parchment and start to read it aloud, while Brian studies the pieces of card. The writing on the parchment seems to be in some kind of legalese, so it's my guess that Mel wrote it, and as I start to understand what the words mean, I wonder what Lindz had to do to persuade her. Then I look at Mel and she wrinkles her nose at me and shrugs, but she's kind of smiling too, so maybe Lindz didn't have to twist her arm all that hard.

Basically, the paper is a sort of contract, signed by both Mel and Lindz, saying that in recognition of Brian's role as Gus' father, they are granting him guaranteed access rights, to include, but not limited to, those covered by the accompanying redemption vouchers. Brian is looking at the "vouchers" which each have a small drawing. The ones I can see are of Gus playing at the loft and another of him and Brian in the park. But there are lots. There must be at least fifty.

I'm trying to read it calmly, but I can't get my voice to co-operate. I choke to a halt after the first couple of lines and Brian looks at me strangely for a minute, then twists his head to try to read it. I angle the paper so he can read it more easily and let my head slip onto his shoulder. I don't want to make a big thing of this, not in front of everyone. But I know, I know deep in my bones, how much this will mean to Brian.

I doubt it would stand up in a court of law if it had to; but what it's saying to him is that after all the shit Mel has heaped on him all this time, she is recognizing, not just his right to be in Gus' life, 'cause that would mean fuck all to Mel, but Gus' right to have Brian in his life. And that means that she's recognizing that having Brian in his life is good for Gus.

I can't think of any gift anyone could give him that would mean more to him.

I can only press as close as I can to him as I hear him take in deep shaky breaths, trying to let him know that I understand.




It's fucking stupid but I can hardly breathe. It's just a piece of fucking paper, for chrissakes. Doesn't mean a damned thing. Not really. But …


I can feel Justin next to me, and I swear that's the only thing that keeps me flying into a million pieces right there.

I guess they're all waiting for me to say something, but I don't fucking know what to say, even if I could be sure my voice would work.

But I'm not some fucking teary dyke, and I have to do something.

I look up. At Lindz first. That seems safest. She's going to know anyway what this means to me. She smiles at me, and I nod. That's all I have to do. She understands.

Fuck! Now the other one.

I gear myself and look at her. The one who's always hated me, always resented me. What the fuck did she want to do this for? It can't be just Lindz. Lindz has tried to get her … well, get us, to behave civilly to each other for years, and it's never worked. Why has she suddenly …?

I meet her eyes and she's almost glaring at me, and for a moment all I see is the bitch who's never had a good word for me in all the time I've known her. Not when I signed over my rights to my son to get her and Lindz back together, not when I saved the day with their fucking dyke wedding, not when I agreed to father a child with her, though God knows the last fucking thing I wanted was to be tied for life to someone who can barely say my name without spitting; and a shitload of thanks I got for that. All she did when I finally caved was to throw it back in my face and choose Mikey. Her mouth is tight now, and she's glaring at me just like usual.

But that's bullshit. Underneath that glare, she looks tired, and scared, and suddenly I don't see the bitch dyke from Hell, I just see a woman who hasn't had it easy, someone who's had to fight tooth and nail for every little crumb of respect, every little scrap of recognition, for everything she's wanted. And I see someone who loves my son, and who wants to do the right thing for him.

So that's when the fucking walls come crashing down and the ceiling caves in on me, because she's fucking telling me that spending time with his father, spending time with me, is the right thing for Gus; and I don't think I can deal with that here in front of the whole fucking family.

I can feel fucking tears swelling in my eyes, and I don't know how to stop them falling, but Justin's pulling me round to face him, and under guise of one of our patented public make-out sessions, he's kissing them away and I fall into his mouth, and, as the world rights itself, I hear Gus saying, "Look, Dadda! Look Jus! Me and Dadda and Jus eating icekweem!"

I look at him, and he's waving one of those damned cards, with a drawing of the three of us slurping at huge icecreams. Of course, that's the one he would pick out. I swear, if he looks like me, he somehow fucking takes after Justin in some things. Food, being one of them. Then, of course, Sonnyboy wants to know if there are icecreams on the horizon. Everyone chirps up that there'll be lunch soon and birthday cake, and then they decide that it really is time to make that happen, so they start fucking about and getting things out of the oven and all that, so that eases Sonnyboy's food anxieties for now and gives me a chance to get up and go over to Mel.

I'm not sure what to say to her, so I poke my tongue into my cheek and wait for inspiration, but then when it comes, what comes out of my mouth isn't what either of us expect.

"You do fucking realize," I hear myself saying, " that you're stuck with me now. I'm not going to let this slide." I wave the cards I'm holding, to make my point, and then find myself saying, "And I'll be claiming a share of the new one, too. Don't kid yourself that just because Mikey's taken off to fucking Boston, you won't have to deal with a father for this one. So be ready to duke it out."

"Bring it on," she says, but her voice chokes off, and she gives a gasp, and then she starts fucking crying and all I can do is to kind of put my arms around her and pat her on the back hard enough to encourage her to stop.

Dykes! It's fucking catching.


I'm so happy for Brian that I want to dance and shout and throw streamers, but, I also want to play this very cool so that Brian has some protection, some refuge from the exposure of the feelings he's always so fucking determined to keep hidden away from everyone. Something I'd have to say he hasn't been too successful with so far today. Which makes it even more important that I stay calm.

When everyone starts fussing over lunch, he gets up and goes over to Mel. I don't hear what he says to her, but all of a sudden she's crying on his shoulder and he's sort of holding her and patting her on the back. I've never seen him look so awkward. It strikes me as hilarious I have to fight really hard not to laugh.

I glance at Lindz and she gives me this look. I can guess some of what she's thinking. The last thing either one of us would ever expect is for Brian and Mel to suddenly be burying the hatchet, and sniveling in each other's arms like a pair of drunken drag queens, but there it is, right in front of our eyes.

And at the same moment we realize that it's in front of everyone else's eyes as well, and we both swoop in to rescue our partners.

Lindz draws Mel out of Brian's arms, and helps wipe her face and whispers to her. I hear something about "lay down", so maybe she's suggesting that all this is down to tiredness and Mel should rest. At the same time, I snake one arm round Brian's waist and run the other hand down his arm to clasp his hand.

He squeezes my fingers and then turns and pulls me full on into his arms. He rests his face in my hair for a moment and I just hold him.

Then I hear Mel's voice. It's doing a fair impersonation of her usual snarkiness, but you can hear something different there, all the same.

"Come on, Kinney. Are you going to eat this fucking lunch or not?"

We go to sit at the table, everyone being very careful not to refer in any way to what's just been happening in front of them. By the extent of their silence on the matter, you can tell how much they're going to be chattering about it later. But for now, thank God, they leave Brian and Mel to get themselves back together with some semblance of dignity.

We've just got Gus into his highchair, (which he fusses about a little; he thinks he's a big boy now and should be able to sit in an ordinary chair), and Brian is sitting down when I see Deb nudge Hunter. He sighs, but sidles over to Brian with a wrapped gift. He holds it out and then pulls it back when Brian reaches for it. "Do I get a kiss?" the little shit says.

Brian pulls his lips in and looks at him, then stands. Hunter's eyes light up and you can practically see him drooling all over Brian's new shirt. Then Brian cups his hands round the brat's face and the little shit clamps his hands on Brian's hips and tries to pull them towards him. Brian gives him a quick peck on the tip of his nose, and then pushes him back and sits down.

Hunter is not happy; he tries to seat himself next to Brian, in my seat, but Deb smacks him across the head and he sighs and moves to the other side of the table, tossing the present at Brian as he goes.

By the size and shape it's either another CD or a DVD, and I watch without much curiosity as Brian unwraps it. Then, just as Brian goes completely still beside me, Hunter pipes up with, "It's from all of us. Michael picked it. Ben thought it was okay, but I think it's fucking lame. I would have got something much hotter."

He leers at Brian as usual, but I hardly notice. I'm too intent on Brian's reaction.

He lets the DVD drop to the table, and reaches across to put some food onto Gus' plate. On the surface, he seems calm enough, but I can almost feel him vibrating, he's so wound up.

I move the wrapping aside and glance at the DVD. Dirty Dancing. I should have fucking known. Trust dear little Mikey. Even when he's hundreds of miles away, taken off without even a word on his "best friend's" birthday, he somehow finds a way to push all of Brian's buttons, finds a way to remind him of how much he "loves" him, remind him that they've been together forever, make him feel …

Well, not today. My eyes are stinging and I'm so angry I can hardly contain it. I want to scream and curse Michael. Curse all of them for not protecting Brian from that manipulative little shit.

I pick up the DVD, not sure what I'm going to do with it, but before I can do or say anything, it's snatched out of my hands.


I don't even have to look at him to know how mad he is. How upset he is.

Well, fuck that!

I grab the DVD and toss it to Lindz.

"Put that in the trash. Hunter's right. It's lame. It's a tired old movie that should have been left on the shelf years ago."

They're all staring at me, aware that they're missing something here, but not sure what. Stuff them. Let them stare. The only ones who fucking matter are sitting either side of me. Gus is saying something about wanting more gravy and Justin is … Justin is …

I leave Lindz to deal with Gus, and reach out and wrap my hand around the back of Justin's neck. He turns to me, and I see anger in his eyes, watery anger, but still anger. But it's anger for me, not at me.

I'm angry myself. For him. I swore I wasn't going to let Michael mess things up for him again.

So I let the anger go, and touch my forehead to his. He knows, I realize. He knows the messages Michael was trying to send me with that damned DVD. My mind flashes back to a much younger Justin saying something like "that movie's so old", and suddenly I find myself grinning.

It strikes me that if ever I think about "Dirty Dancing" again, it won't be about jerking off with Mikey, it'll be about a brash seventeen-year-old making me feel like a fucking old man.

And about my partner sitting right at my side, willing to take on the world for my sake.

Maybe I should rescue the movie. We could watch it together. See if Patrick Swayze still seems hot. But that's probably not a good idea. Things are hardly ever the way you remember them. Seems it's finally sank into my skull, at least, although apparently not Mikey's, that you have to grow up sometime. Have to let go of the past. Or at least, let it be the past.

Seems like I'm finally fucking ready to do that. Let it go, and move on with my life.

My son is trying to get my attention and my partner is now smiling at me. My family are sitting round the table sharing my fuck-the-thought birthday lunch; even my son's mother's husband is treating me like a worthwhile human being for once. And if my old best friend isn't around, well, my new one more than makes up for that loss.

"That movie's so old," I murmur to him, under my breath, so no one else will hear.

He looks puzzled for a moment, then he remembers. His eyes light with laughter. "How old *are* you?" he murmurs back provocatively, just like he did that night.

"Old enough to spank your ass," I mouth at him, as Lindz tries to catch his attention so she can pass him a plate of food.

He grins at me, and then the food button triggers and he's reaching for everything in sight, shoveling food onto his plate, and onto mine.

I make a protest, for form's sake at least, and he just pauses long enough to give me a quick kiss and goes back to serving us both, while I turn to answer my son's chatter; and right then I can feel it, I can feel my life shift and move off in a different direction.

What's fucking amazing is that for once I don't fight tooth and nail to keep it the same, I just let it happen, let the new things come. I'm not even scared. Not as long as my partner's there next to me, and my son is smiling at me like I'm someone absolutely fucking wonderful, instead of the piece of shit I thought I'd be as a father.

As long as new beginnings come in forms like these, bring them on.


I'd been ready to kill Mikey when I saw that damned DVD, but then … then Brian … he made it clear that it didn't matter anymore. That somehow Michael didn't matter any more. I felt like I'd been given the birthday present. And the best one I could have asked for. Not because it meant that the thorn in the side, the stone in the shoe, the fucking pain in the ass, and every other likely cliché, that is Mikey was out of my life; but because it meant he was out of Brian's. That Brian was finally free of him. Or, at least, as free as he can be of someone who's been such a big part of his life for so long, someone he's shared so many memories with.

But you can keep the best of those memories and still let go of trying to keep things the same between you. It's not easy. I had to do it with my Dad, so I know. But once you do you can move on. You don't have part of you held in place by their expectations of you; by what they want you to be. The moment when I faced my Dad and told him that it didn't matter what he wanted me to be, that I was proud of who I am, was one of the most liberating of my life. It was like having some huge growth torn out by the roots: it hurt like hell, but it left me feeling so much lighter, and it left me ready to heal. I have scars, but they're clean ones now, not the weeping sores they were before that.

I hope, I believe, that that's how it will be for Brian. I could see the pain in his face when he tossed that thing aside; but I could also see the look of relief. Once it was gone, it was like … he's been more relaxed, more openly happy than I've ever seen him - at least around other people. And everyone … it's as if they finally understand some things about Brian, because they seem openly happy to be here sharing his birthday with him too.

There was a moment when Brian first threw the DVD to Lindz that Deb looked like she was going to weigh in on her absent offspring's behalf, but I saw Vic grab her arm and shake his head and miraculously she kept her mouth shut. Now, as she watches Brian with Gus, sees him relaxed and laughing, it seems to dawn on her at last, that if she wants dear Mikey to be free to move on from Brian, she has to be ready for Brian to move on from Mikey too; she can't keep on demanding that he puts Mikey's feelings first. Which means she has to let go of that part of Brian as well. Eventually she starts smiling and giving us both her "proud Mom" look.

No one mentions Michael again, now wanting to upset Deb, or Mel, or Hunter, or Brian. But it's not awkward. His absence doesn't seem to be a big deal. It's as if he moved away months ago. Brian, Mel, Hunter, even Deb, they're all kicking back and having a good time.

So, after all my fears, now I can relax as well and enjoy the day. Enjoy seeing the look on Brian's face when they bring out the cake with the candles; enjoy seeing him have to suck it up because Gus is sitting there all excited and begging to help him blow them out. I'm still not sure that Brian isn't going to say something snarky so I lean in and whisper promises to blow something else entirely and he gives that tongue in cheek grin of his and the danger moment passes.

Most of all I can enjoy watching him with Gus, watching him know that, against all the odds, he's a good father; enjoy watching the knowledge sink in that even Mel thinks so. He looks kinda thunderstruck, but … happy. Just happy.


After eating way too much we all sit round in the yard for a while, just yakking. I help Gus onto the swing and then have to stand there pushing him for hours because he won't let anyone else do it, and whenever someone volunteers to take over it's "No! No! I wan' Dadda to puss me!" I notice Em and Justin are having some secret little pow wow and would love to know what that's about, but I'll pry it out of young Sunshine later. Em disappears for a while, but he's back by the time the herd have moved on to grazing on coffee and some fancy assed cake that Vic made which has got more carbs in a slice than I'd eat in a week. By then, I'm fucking bored, and my feet hurt and I'd just walk away but every time I suggest doing something else, my Sonnyboy says "Jus' one more, Dadda. Peese?" So of course I give in like the fucking pussy I've become. But that beats the hell out of being the evil shit that Jack was, so I guess I'm still ahead of the game, at least as far as Gus is concerned.

When Justin finally bribes Sonnyboy away from the swing with some milk and cookies, Lindz tells me that I spoil him, but I just shrug her off and she gets this look like she's going to get all dykey sentimental on me, so I figure it's time to get out of there. Gus fusses a little, but we promise to drop by soon and take him for another ride in the car.

Everyone gets all fucking huggy-huggy, but I guess that's a small price to pay for getting out of there in one piece. I stop long enough with Deb to tell her that if she needs anything she should just call, and Justin, fuck him, tells her we'll be by for dinner one night this week, and he'll call her and work out which night and she damn near smothers both of us, but we finally get out of there still breathing so I guess we did okay.

So we're on our way home, and I'm trying to summon up some enthusiasm for the idea of going out tonight and, if not celebrating, then fucking drowning my sorrows in style, when the little shit pulls over and reaches into the back, into the bag with my presents in and pulls out a fucking chauffeur's cap. He plops it on and grins at me from under the brim.

"Does Sir have any instructions about this afternoon's ride?" he says.

Well, Sir can think of one or two.


It was totally worth handing over the last of my birthday money for Em to get the cap to see the look on Brian's face when I put it on. I could tell he was about to slip into some idiotic fucking "oh, shit it's my birthday and I'm getting old" bullshit, but that all just goes away as soon as he realizes there's a game on. He's in full predator mode in two seconds flat.

He tells me to drive back to the parking lot where we'd "road-tested" the car. Then he orders me to strip … well, except for the cap of course. Then he tells me to put the seats right back and straddle him and give him a show.

So I do. I give him a lap dance he'll be a long time forgetting, then, while he watches, I stretch and lube myself, then I ride him till we both come so hard it seems like we forget how to breathe.

We lay there panting for a while, and he's giving me these lazy kisses, that to me have always been almost the best part 'cause I know that he so doesn't do this with anyone else. Finally he says, "You owe me a blow job."

I'm ready to start right then, if he's thinks he's up for it, but he shakes his head and tells me to get dressed. I have to straighten out the cap, 'cause he'd pulled it off while we were snuggling so he could get to my hair, and we'd rolled on it a little. But it's okay.

He has me drive him to our favorite alley, and, although it's broad daylight, we find a place behind a dumpster and I blow him right there. It's hot. He lets me keep my pants on this time, but he takes my sweater and shirt off. He likes me to rub my nipples on his thighs or across his hips when I blow him. For some reason it really gets him going.

After that, we drive to a Starbucks so I can usher him inside, and find a table for him, and take his order to the counter for him. He says he might as well make the most of having his own servant for the day. The cap doesn't really go with the rest of my clothes and people keep giving us these weird looks, so he says next time he'll hire a whole uniform. I tell him it's his turn next but he just laughs at me. Then he kisses me and tells me he plans to let me do some more driving once we get home. That he's looking forward to being taken for a ride.

Bastard! My dick had finally started to go down after the blow job I gave him in the alley when I hadn't got off, and now it's hard as a … well, it's damned hard!

And we're in the middle of Starbucks. He's so fucking lucky that it's his birthday or he would so not be getting any tonight. Well, not until he'd made this up to me anyway!


He's sitting there with a big fat woody and I can tell he's royally pissed and I can only laugh at him. I swear it's the damned caffeine, because I'm sitting here giggling like a fucking schoolgirl. Maybe I'm high; maybe I'm having some weird-assed flashback. Whatever it is though, it's all good, because suddenly he's laughing too. He punches me in the arm and mutters "asshole", but his eyes are all shiny bright and his smile is putting all the lighting in here to shame.


It really is catching, all this hetero-lesbo shit. But he's happy, and, I realize, so am I.

So fuck it!

We get home and I know he's going to want to claim on the promise I made in Starbucks. I'm tempted to tease him and make him wait, but I don't get much chance, because as soon as we get in the door he's on me. And if he's a bossy little bottom, he can be a very demanding top when he gets in the mood.

So I let him have his wicked way with me. Partly because it's easier. Partly because it feels so good sometimes to give up control to him, knowing I'm safe, and it's okay to do that. But a lot of it, although I'd never admit this for a minute, is that I know he'll hold me afterwards and nothing, nothing feels better than that. Nowhere is safer than that place. There is no better place to be than lying safe in Justin's arms after he's just shown me once again that I don't have to be super stud Kinney with him; that I don't have to be all powerful, all conquering; that just Brian is fine with him. There is no feeling better than that. Unless it's the feeling after I've fucked him into the mattress and he crawls into the hollow of my shoulder like it's home, and my arm folds round him and he's there and that's my home.

That's pretty fucking good too.


It's much later and we've gone through a few variants of the chauffeur and the boss scenario. We're laying together, quiet and comfortable. I somehow know that Brian doesn't really want to go out again tonight, but I also know that if I suggest staying in, he's likely to get all antsy and decide that he should be out partying on his birthday just to prove whatever the Hell he thinks it would prove.

I figure I could start small, with maybe a suggestion that we order in for dinner, but as soon as that thought crosses my mind, my stomach starts making the most amazing noises.

It cracks Brian up and, after laughing at me for about five minutes, he gets up and fetches all our menus. "Pick something, for God's sake," he orders.

I'd love pizza, but it's his birthday, so I pick up the Thai menu. He laughs again, and says, "Thai won't quiet that beast. Get some pizza. And garlic bread. And some of that muck you like."

That translates as it's his birthday and he figures he can indulge himself for once, and he wants tiramisu. So I order from our local and they promise delivery in 20-30. That usually means 15-20, 'cause the delivery guys know that they'll get a bigger tip if it gets here fast, and it's just around the corner.

Meanwhile, I go to the bathroom, and when I come out he's in the kitchen getting out a beer. He hands me one and goes to sit on the beat up old sofa Mom gave us. We really have to get around to finding some furniture, aside from the home entertainment system. I move to sit next to him, and he lifts something off the seat to make room for me, and I realize that it's his present box.

I swallow a little nervously and wonder if we should wait until after dinner. Or at least until after he's had a few more beers, but he's taking off the lid, and lifting out the book that's in the bottom of the box.

It's a strange shape for a book, I guess - almost square, about 30 cm high and around 28 wide and it's heavy. He sits looking at the cover for the longest time. It's soft dark green leather with a device embossed into it. Not colored or gilded, just done so that it's raised softly from the surface. He studies it for a long time, and runs his finger over it.

Then he looks at me and gives me a sort of suspicious smile. It's a very Brian expression. I know it means that he likes it, but he can't work out what it means that I'm giving it to him. I just smile. He's going to have to figure that out for himself.

The outside of the design is a large intricately woven circle of celtic knots. In the center is the design which the Irish call the Claddagh: two hands cupping a heart and on top a crown. He knows what the design means. He just can't figure out if he should be freaked by the symbolism of me giving it to him. But fuck it! It's not a ring. It's not even a damned bracelet. Nothing that he has to wear. And when he finally opens the book it will make more sense.

"It looks hand-crafted," he says. "I didn't know you were taking book-binding classes, Sunshine."

I sigh. "I'm not. But I know someone who is. She wanted a painting of her and her baby to give her boyfriend, and so we did a deal."

He nods.

Then, finally, he opens the book.

The pages are parchment-like. Thick and heavy.

The front page just says, "In celebration …" in elaborate mediaeval style lettering that took me hours to do with my gimp hand. He looks at it and gets a funny look on his face, and I know that he's remembering all the "only celebrate achievements" crap and the series of fiascos that led to, from the birthday hustler to meeting Ethan.

I move a little closer and he moves just enough to brush his nose against my hair, then he turns back to the book and turns the page.

The next page sets the pattern for all those that follow.

Each has a fine border of the celtic knots pattern, with the Claddagh woven into it somewhere, although it's in a different place on each page..

Then, down the left hand side in a strip about 10 cm wide are drawings or water color paintings. Sometimes one, sometimes two, sometimes three or more small ones. The rest of the page is blank with very faint lines. It's intended to be used as a journal. But he can use it for shopping lists if that's what he wants. Up to him, now.

The first drawing is of him and Gus, done from the photo Mikey took the night Gus was born. It's mainly a charcoal sketch, with just a hint of coloring through Brian's hair and in the red of his lips and Gus'. Although the photo was just of his torso, the drawing continues down the long line of his body. Tucked away in the bottom corner, small, and close to the edge of the border, so you almost have to be looking for it to find it, is a tiny drawing of a street lamp.

He sees it, I know, because I see his lip start to twitch. He gives me a look and then says, "So how come there's no annoying little twink standing under it?"

I grin at him and nudge him to turn the page.

When he does, he sees himself standing under the lamp. I've drawn it from my perspective, looking up into his face as he bends slightly towards me. The light from overhead spills down and makes his face a wonder of light and shadow, and I've tried to capture the moment when his tongue flicked out of his lips in invitation. It's a moment I still dream about sometimes.

He gives a soft huff of laughter and moves his leg so that it's pressing closer to mine.

He keeps turning the pages and there are many, many scenes there - from our life together, but also from other times. One of him and Mikey that I drew from the photo in Mikey's room. I debated about that one, but I didn't want to invalidate Michael's place in his life. I never have. Who knows, if he hadn't had Mikey through the really bad times when he was growing up, I might not have Brian now.

There are others, too. One of him and Vic from a photo taken at Brian's first Pride march when he was around seventeen; one of him and Lindz from a college photo; one of him and Mikey after their high school graduation with Deb; and another of him and Lindz in the caps and gowns from their college grad.

There's a drawing of him signing over his rights to Gus, which has tiny sad pictures of Mel and Lindz separately at the top, and then another of them together and happy at the bottom. There's a montage of their wedding, with Brian dressed as a ringmaster in the middle cracking a whip, and everyone else scurrying to make it happen. There's a page with Ted working at Ryder, and also Ted clutching a "Get Out of Jail Free" card while Brian hides in the background. One of my favorites is of Michael being pushed off a cliff, with the Captain Astro comic in the background; and another is a small painting of Brian and Emmett dancing together at Babylon. I don't know what Brian said to Emmett that night (although it was obviously about Ted), but whatever it was, I know it meant a lot to Emmett. And in a way, to Brian, too. He so rarely feels able to show his friends that he cares about them; show them openly, I mean. So, although he'd never fucking admit it, it's a big deal to him too when he finds a way to do that.

For his work, there's one of him making a client presentation (I made it Eyetronics just to tease him); one of him working at his computer with logos from some of his major clients in the background and one of him with a Clio award. I'd pestered everyone for photos, even Cynthia. I guess they thought I was putting an album together.

Then, of course, there are the drawings of us. Some are of us in the bed under the lights, blue or gold; some are of us with Gus; some are just Brian relaxing around the loft. There's one of him tossing me a ball, and another of him walking me down the street when I was too scared to go out by myself. There's one of Rage and one of him helping me put up the Stockwell posters.

I tried to put into the book as many of the things about Brian that I wanted to celebrate as I could. His successes as a man, as a friend, as a father and as a lover. Now I just have to hope that he doesn't hate having it all on display.

He takes a long long time going through the book, and I'm worried about it.


For once I'm completely fucking speechless. Not even one smart assed comment to get me past the moment. But he's sitting waiting for me to do something, say something, so I have to make some sort of fucking gesture to let him know …

I grope for his hand, and finally find it which somehow centers me, makes some sort of response possible. I turn my head so he can see my eyes and then I don't have to say anything because he sees there what I want to tell him; more than I've ever had the balls to come out and say, and he smiles.

He wraps his arm up round my neck and then we're kissing, hard and deep and thank the fucking lord, there's no need for words.

We don't hear the downstairs buzzer, but I guess someone must let the pizza guy into the building because suddenly he's banging on the door. We break apart and Justin goes to the door, while I put the book safely aside. Fucked if there are going to be any nasty fucking accidents with pizza sauce or greasy fingerprints. You treat a work of art with respect, dammit.

When I turn to look at him, he's put the pizza boxes on the floor, and is leaning out the door to pick something up. The thought that we really have to get our fucking act together and do some furniture shopping crosses my mind, but then it's banished by the sight of him carrying in a parcel that looks suspiciously like another damned birthday present, and yet another fucking cake. Where the fuck did this lot come from?


My mother! I am so going to get killed for this. My goddamned mother! He's coped with the whole birthday thing amazingly well, but I somehow think that a present from my mother might just push him over the edge … not to mention a fucking cake! I am going to have a sore jaw for weeks making this up to him.

And God alone knows what she's bought him. It could be anything. Oh, God, don't let it be underwear. Or kitchenware. Or … shit! I can't think of one thing she could buy him that might just be considered an acceptable gift from … oh, God, his mother in law. Or whatever he calls her. However he thinks of her, I'm willing to bet my ass that it isn't as someone who should be buying him birthday presents.

I am so dead.

I walk over and put the gift and the cake on the counter in the kitchen. I can feel his eyes boring into the back of my neck and I know the longer I put off telling him who it's from, the more time I'm giving him to build up the snarkiness level.

I take a deep breath and carry the present over to him.

It's in a box, so I have no idea what she's bought. I can only hope that it's not something totally lame and embarrassing. I wonder if there are words that I can use to tell him who it's from that will somehow head off the hissy fit I can feel looming, but there aren't any, so I don't say anything, I just hand him the box.

He looks at me for a minute, but I start opening the pizza boxes, and pretend not to see. I keep one eye on what he's doing, though, so I see him reveal the contents of my mother's gift. My heart drops. Socks! She's bought him fucking socks! I've told her how fussy he is about his socks, just so that nothing like this could ever happen.

I hope I get a chance to kill her before Brian finishes me off.


He knows who it's from, alright, I can tell. He looks as if he's going to have a cow. Or, at least, as if he thinks I'm going to. So my money is on mommy dearest. His. Not mine.

I take the box and give him a look. He pretends he doesn't see it and starts fussing with the pizza.

I open it slowly.

Socks! Fucking socks. No one has ever bought me socks. Not even Ted.

But at least they're not plastic. I cannot, and will not wear anything but pure cotton socks. And they have to be …

Well, I'll be damned! CK - soft and fine and pure cotton, and black, of course. Always plain black.

I shoot a look at him. He must have told her. There's no way his straight arrow mom would know unless she had a hint or two the size of an elephant.

He's still pretending that all he's interested in is the pizza, but he's only taken one bite and he looks as if that's going to choke him.

There's something else, under the socks, but I leave that for a moment, while I open the card. More to torment him with the delay than anything else. I can feel him squirming, and, perversely, I love it. I am going to get so much mileage out of this. I have to fight really hard to keep the grin off my face.

His mommy has bought me a birthday present. And a cake. I bet she made it. She's the type. So's he. I bet he always had home made cakes for his birthday when he was a kid.

And it's just when I'm thinking that, and my thoughts are straying where I don't, where I never, want them to go, that I pull the card out of the envelope.

I feel myself go hot and then cold and then hot again. I think for a moment I might be sick. I try to take a breath, but it sticks in my throat.

I knew he'd been watching me, and I was fucking right, because all of a sudden he's there. He's got his hands on my arms, my face and he's saying my name, calling me, calling me back to him. I manage to get my lungs to work, then; get my throat to open enough to let the air through. I'm panting and sweating and my hands are trembling. Fuck! Shit! I can't …

I don't want to think about this. Don't want to explain it. Don't ask me, Justin. Please don't ask me. Please.

I know I haven't said that out loud. I couldn't get the words out. But he touches my face once more and gets up and moves away. He's back in a moment with a glass in his hand and I take it and gulp it down and feel the burn of the liquor flow through me and soothe me and cool me down.

I put the glass down carefully on the floor and pick up the card.

His sister must have made it. Molly. On the front across the top and bottom it says "Happy Birthday". Between the two lots of lettering is the outline of a big red a heart, and inside that a drawing of a woman with yellow hair, who has to be Jenn, and a smaller one, a girl I guess, with sort of orangey yellow hair who must be Molly. When I open it, it says in rainbow colored letters "To Brian, we heart you". And they've both signed it.

I can feel the salt stinging my eyes and I don't want Justin to see. But, at the same time, I do. I want him to see. I want … I need … no, not need, don't need, can't afford to need, but I do … I need him to see. I need him to comfort me. I need from him the comfort that nobody gave me back then.

And with that thought I'm lost and I lose it, fucking lose it completely. I start shaking all over, and I can feel the tears seeping out from between my eyelids, no matter how tightly I squeeze them shut.


Fuck! Fuck! What is this? I don't know what this is. I don't know what's wrong.

He was fine with the socks. He never said a word, but he had this little sort of grin that he gets when he's secretly pleased but damned if he's going to admit it. And that gleam in his eye that said he was going to get all the mileage out of it that he could. Then he opened the card and started falling apart.

I don't know what to do.

Normally, I'd get him another drink or just let him get himself back together and pretend I hadn't noticed anything. But …


I sit next to him and start rubbing his back. He turns to me a little, and I know what to do then. Somehow I know.

I pull him into my arms and hold him and kiss his hair and tell him it's okay, and I love him, and I'm here and I think at one point I even say something like "there, there" and he doesn't fucking kill me he just presses closer, so I know this is something really bad.

This has to be about them. The ones we don't ever mention. The Kinneys.

This is about something they did to him.

He only ever really loses it like this when it's about them.

I hold him, and hold him and in the end I just find myself saying over and over again, "I love you, Brian. I love you."

That's when he finally stops shaking.

And then we just sit there for a while, holding onto each other, with me still telling him, still saying the words to him, for him, "I love you. I love you, Brian. I love you."


I don't know what to do now.

I don't know who I am. Who I will be after this minute. Who I will be to him.

I'm afraid to move, afraid to look at him, afraid I'll see something different in his eyes.

But at the same time …

I feel … free, in some way. Freed.

Freed from having to pretend.

This is who I am, Sonnyboy. This sorry assed faggot who is so fucking pathetic that he can't let go of how daddy hurt him so many fucking years ago that it shouldn't mean jack shit any more. But somehow it does. Somehow I'm still waiting to be hurt some more. Still trying to fend it off. Still trying to hide it from the world. Still afraid. Still ashamed.

Still such a fucking baby-assed pansy boy that I'm crying my eyes out, crying my heart out, over something that happened before you were born.

This is who I am. And now at least you know it. I don't have to be afraid any more of you finding out. I just have to deal with what happens now that you have. And although I've fought to prevent this ever happening, now that it's come, I know somehow that I can face it.

So I sit up and rub my hands over my eyes.

Then I look at him. Look straight into his eyes and let him see me. And watch him react.


When he pulls away and sits up, I expect him to pull all the walls into place around him again, and I'm sort of working out how to help him do that; how to help him protect himself, even from me, when he turns to face me.

His eyes are red and the lids are swollen. He has tear tracks down his face, and he really needs a tissue. Or maybe a whole damned box.

But he's looking straight into my eyes, into my heart.

More, he's letting me look straight into his. And, as I've always known, even with all the scars and the damaged places, he's even more beautiful inside than he is on the outside.

I feel my heart swell, and I want to reach for him, to kiss him, to smother him with kisses. But I don't want to break this spell; so I resist. I just sit there and try to let him see how I feel about him, about this moment that he's given me; to see all the love I have for him in my face, in my eyes.

He must see it, because his face loses that tense, waiting-to-be-hurt look that it gets whenever he's trying to let me in, but feeling totally vulnerable because of it. He relaxes a little, and gives me a small grin. Then he takes a deep breath, and after he's let it out in a whoosh, he gets up and goes into the bathroom.

When he comes back, he's mopped up and bullied his hair into the just-fucked look that makes me hard just looking at him, so I wonder if he's thinking about going out now after all. But he sits down next to me, real close, and reaches for Mom's gift again.

"You told your mother what fucking socks I like to wear?" he asks, as if it's the weirdest thing anybody ever did.

Maybe it is a little weird.

But at least it meant that if (when, with my Mom), she bought him socks, she got the right ones. So I just shrug.

He gives me one of those looks then. One of those lips sucked in tight, holding his mouth closed till he's worked out exactly what he wants to say looks. Then he huffs a laugh.

"Damned pizza'll be cold and greasy as shit," he says, but his knee is pressed against mine and he's wiggling his bares toes over my foot.

I grin at him and pick up a piece and take a big bite.

"Tastes okay to me," I say.

He snorts, as if to say that means absolutely nada because I have zero discrimination when it comes to food (that's only sometimes true), but he picks up a piece, and starts eating, holding it with one hand while with the other he carefully moves aside the socks.

That's the first time I realize there's something else in the box.


Melt down over. And, amazingly, I can still look him in the eye. More amazingly still, I can even let him look into mine.

I'm so grateful to him that I have no way to express it except by not behaving like a total asshole, and/or heading off into the night, the way the shit-headed idiot that I was not all that long ago would have done.

So I sit down next to him on that ratty couch and pretend that nothing has happened, and I didn't just make a complete idiot of myself. All the while trying to let him know how overwhelmingly grateful I am that he's here, and that he … that he's mine, by making sure that at least some part of us is touching at all times. Because I don't have the words, and I don't want to just fuck him right now. He deserves more than a fuck, more than what I'd usually do, even at my best, so I have to try something else. To be honest, I don't know if I'd even have the strength to fuck. I feel totally wiped out.

I can't fuck him; and I sure as hell can't talk about it. Not yet. Maybe later, but not right now. So the best thing I can do is just be there with him. Not pull away, not run away, not hide. And keep close, close beside him, so he knows … he knows that I'm not running, not hiding. That I'm trying my best to share. Even if my best is a totally pathetic effort.

Besides, I'm curious to know what else Jenn has put into the box. Part of me is afraid it might be another bomb that will explode in my face the way the card did, but I can't resist knowing what the very proper (but not quite as proper as I once thought she was) mother of my … partner …

Hell! she's near as fuck to being my mother in law. And what does a mother in law buy for the fabulous much-older-than-her-baby-son fag-who-has-everything?

A framed photo of him and her baby. That's what.

I pick it up and study it.

It was taken a few weeks back, at the restaurant we went to for Justin's birthday. I hadn't wanted to go, but it was in the post losing my job, pre Stockwell defeat era and we were going through a … thing. I was frustrated over what had happened with my job, and he felt guilty because he felt it was his fault I'd got fired. He was frustrated over how well Stockwell was doing in the polls and I felt guilty because there was no fucking way Jimbo would have been doing that well if I hadn't had to fucking prove what a genius I am by selling the world a piece of total shit and convincing them it was caviar.

So we were both a little antsy anyway; and then, of course, his birthday brought back all the memories of what a total fuckup his birthday last year had been, so when Jenn rang and asked me …

See, he'd been oh so fucking careful not to make any big deal of it, went out of his way to make it clear that this year he truly did not expect anything, that he'd learned that I really suck at all that shit, so it's better left alone. Which, of course, made me determined to show him that I'd learned something as well. And what better way to do that than to give him the one thing that he would least expect, never ask for, but really wanted, maybe even needed? So when Jenn invited me to dinner with them, I agreed to go.

It was just the four of us; and, to be honest, it was an okay evening, even if the serves were so skimpy that we all wound up at McDonald's later. Jenn is smart, and can cut through the bullshit with the best of them, so sometimes she says things that you'd never guess would come out of that proper Mom mouth. I like that. I like people who can be unpredictable in a good way. Make you look at them differently. Challenge your assumptions.

I guess that's one of the things that I've always seen in Justin.

Molly was bearable. She flirted with me a little, and when that didn't work, she flirted with the waiter. Could have told her she needed to develop both her taste buds, and her gaydar, but it kept her happy, and he scented a big tip, so he flirted back just enough to be acceptable with a young girl who had her mother sitting right there. And I only had to give him one death glare for him to get the message that if he wanted to keep his balls, let alone get a fucking tip, he'd better keep his eyes off my partner.

Justin, of course, apart from mourning the lack of food, was as happy as a clam in chowder, the little shit.

We all (well, except for the little menace) had quite a few glasses of wine; which is probably why I'd forgotten about the photo. Now that I'm seeing it, I remember the greasy photographer coming around. I would have sent him packing, but Jenn wanted some photos taken. One of all of us, one of the three of them, and this one, of Justin and I.

We look relaxed together. My arm is draped across his shoulders, my fingers curled around his arm a little, just enough to show that the embrace isn't just a buddies thing, enough to say 'he's mine, so go fuck yourselves if you don't like it'. He's beaming into the camera - that pure Sunshine smile that once I thought I'd never see again. But I'm not looking at the camera; I'm looking at him.

I swallow hard when I see the look on my face. Jenn has given me this as a gift. And I understand what the gift is.

It's not the photo. It's the look.

She's showing me, letting me see, how I feel about this man by my side. Because it's all there in my face. The love, the pride, the joy. The fear is there; and right along with the fear, the trust. Fear because I know what hell losing him would plunge me into; trust in him to somehow save me not only from that, but from my past, the small personal hell of my childhood. But what I mainly see there is belief: belief in Justin, belief, at last, in us. In the possibility of us lasting. In the possibility of happiness. That's what's in my face.

That's what Jenn has given me for my birthday.


He's silent for so long after he uncovers the photo that I wonder if he's been turned to stone. I mean, aside from whatever it was about the card that set him off (and he'll tell me about that sometime if he wants to, or not; but I won't ever ask), this whole 'present from the mother in law' thing must be traumatic for Mr. 'I-don't-do-relationships'. Let alone that she's seen fit to not only give him socks (I mean, it's such a Mom thing to do), but to give him a photo of us, and one taken on a night that he'd probably prefer not to remember he ever got cornered into. I mean, dinner with the in-laws on my birthday! It hardly fits the super stud loner image that he still likes to cling to.

I don't know whether to laugh hysterically, or just keep absolutely quiet and hope that he's not going to take this out of my hide.

I guess after his freak out earlier I should be worried, but he's got this look on his face that says that he's thinking about what he's holding in his hand, and that he's not hating it.

When he looks up at me at last, I can see him fighting a smile again. He's not going to let me off the hook, of course, his eyes have that gleam - the 'I am so going to give you hell over this' one. But that's okay. As long as he's not having hissy fits over the whole Mom thing, as long as he's okay.

He gives a little nod, finally, and seems to remember that he has a slice of pizza drooping dangerously from his fingers. He snags half of it in one bite, and then finishes off the rest. His eyebrows rise, as if he's surprised that it's all gone. He licks his fingers and I feel the phantom touch of his tongue on my own skin. I shift a little in my seat and immediately I get that grin, the one that lets me know he knows the effect he's having on me.

He says nothing, though, just reaches for another slice of pizza. This time he makes a big play of biting it, letting the cheese stretch from his teeth to the remaining crust, using his tongue to pull it all into his mouth.


To give myself a break, I get up and fetch us more beer. And, to punish him, I put the cake on a plate and bring that and a knife as well.


Little fucker. Like I'm going to eat some of Mommy's cake after all the damned pizza. Dream on, Sunshine. He doesn't say anything, just hands me the beer, and picks up another piece of the disgustingly cold pizza.

I'm not quite sure what to do next. There's still some of that muck that he likes so much. Or I could nuke some of the pizza. I put the photo down on the floor, then think better of it. There's nowhere out here to put it, except on the kitchen counter, and it will only get something spilled on it there, so I take it up into the bedroom and put it next to the bed. It's too private, anyway. I don't mind having some photos of us around the place later, when we get some furniture. But not this photo. This photo is too revealing.

I wonder if he sees in it what I see. I wonder if he knew that Mommy Taylor had this little surprise in store. But then I think back to the look on his face earlier, and know that he didn't. He was shitting himself. I grin, I can't help it. The thought of making him pay for this is irresistible.

I go back down the steps and he's clearing up the pizza and stuff. The cake he's put back on the counter. I finish my beer and go over to put the bottle in the waste bin. We brush past each other once, and then again as he opens the fridge. I wait till he's put the left over pizza and the other stuff away, then I snag fingers into the waistband of the sweats he pulled on when we had to break off other activities to quiet the ravening beast that lives in his stomach. Other people might think he has worms the way he eats and eats and never puts on any weight - little bastard. But I know that it's no worm, it's a full grown dragon; I've heard it growling often enough.

I tug, pulling him towards me. He resists for a second then comes into my arms with a rush, his hands going up to tangle in my hair and drag my head down so he can reach my mouth.

When the kiss finally ends, we rest for a while, leaning against each other, foreheads pressed together. It's quiet and peaceful, and I feel all the tensions leaving my body as I run my hands gratefully up and down his back, relishing the feel of him in my arms.

I kiss him again, and stroke my hands through his hair.

He pulls back a little and smiles at me.

"You want some of your birthday cake, now?" he asks sweetly.

Before I can even swat him on the ass, he's off, out of the kitchen area, over to the TV.

"It's your birthday," he says, "You get to choose the movie. But please, can we have something from this century at least?"

He stands there laughing at me, the little fucker. He is so going to pay for all this. And I know just how to make him. I turn to the kitchen drawers, to find what I need, but I've hardly got the first one open, when he's there again. He doesn't look so fucking cocky now. He looks downright nervous, as well he should.

"No, please, Brian. I'll be good," he promises in that soft husky voice that goes with this role - and goes straight to my dick. "See," he purrs, sliding to his knees in front of me, in front of my rapidly hardening cock, "I'm a good boy."

He pops open the single button that's holding my jeans together, and gently draws out my cock. Tongue lolling hungrily from his mouth, he looks up at me for a moment from eyes gone hazy with lust. I've no doubt mine are the same. As his talented mouth begins its work, I clasp my hands in his hair and lean back against the counter, pushing the drawer closed, the spatula I wanted to threaten him with entirely forgotten.

Given our earlier activities, it takes a while for me to come; but he doesn't seem to mind, even though he's kneeling on the hard floor. In fact, when one particularly delicious swipe of his tongue into my piss slit nearly makes me, he mumbles, "Not yet, not yet," and deep throats me, so that when I do, I must nearly choke him. But he doesn't seem to mind that either, because afterwards he goes on kneeling there while he licks up every drop that escaped onto his fingers and down his chin.

Then he tucks me away tenderly and tries to get up. That's when he finds out how long he's been down there, because his knees nearly give way on him. I haul him up, and hold him till he's steady. Then I kiss him, so I can maybe taste a little of me on his tongue.

"Thanks," I say, lamely, not knowing how else to even start to say what I'm feeling. But his eyes get that look they do when I make him really happy, so I guess that was enough. For now, at least.

So I go in to pick out a movie. We've been trying to find time to watch Latter Days for weeks, and I figure now is as good a time as any.

He insists on cutting some of the damned cake, and takes that in to sit next to the couch. I pour myself a glass of Beam and hold up the bottle towards him. He smiles at me, and nods, so I pour him one as well. It's not often that we drink Beam together in the loft. Normally when I reach for it here, it's because I'm in pain management mode, and not looking for company. But lately we've occasionally share a glass or two when we're feeling really good, really comfortable together, and that's been a whole new experience for me.

I thought I knew all there was to know about drinking. Angry, violent drinkers, like my old man, guzzling down as much as he could afford, and more, to try to get over the rough deal he'd got from life when he knocked my mother up and had to marry her. Bitter, secret drinkers like my sainted mother, sloshing the stuff down to anaesthetize herself from the pain and shame of being married to Jack Kinney. Party boys at college and later at clubs like Babylon, drinking and drugging their way to the ultimate orgasm … or something they could pretend fit the bill, anyway. And those like me, of course, pathetic little losers trying to stop themselves from feeling anything. Does it hurt? Drown it in a little Beam, and if that doesn't work, snort or swallow something to soak it up and try again.

But I'd never known the simple pleasure of kicking back in my own home, feeling good, and having a quiet drink or two to just add a tiny buzz. Of course, the secret ingredient to that recipe, doesn't come in the bottle. Instead, he's wriggling himself between my legs, as I lay stretched out along the couch, propped up against one end, with one leg pressed against the back of the couch, and the other draped now around his hips, with my foot hooked up onto his thigh.

He leans back against me and asks, as he always does, "Are you comfortable? Am I too heavy?"

I laugh and twine my arm around his neck, pulling him back so I can kiss him. He smiles and gives me another little peck, then turns to the telly and switches on the movie.


He laughs at me, of course, when I get all misty-eyed at the bit where Christian drove to Aaron's house and has that confrontation with Aaron's mom. It makes us both laugh, though, when Brian asks all of a sudden what it is about straight women and feeding queers, 'cause it makes some sort of weird-assed comparison between Jacqueline Whatsit, who might not be any sweet young thing, but still looks so cool and elegant, and our Deb. That's enough to make me giggle through about ten minutes of the movie, 'cause I keep imagining Deb in her role. And at the end, we just look at each other and crack up all over again. Not only does the whole Thanksgiving thing makes the Deb comparison even stronger, but we'd just finished our third shared slice of the cake my mother made.

I know he likes the end, though, because his arms come round me tighter, and he nuzzles into my hair and rocks me a little in his arms, the way he does when he's really happy.

I don't expect him to mention the whole freak out thing, but when we're going to bed, he picks up Molly's card, and takes it up with us and puts it in his drawer. Then he sits on the edge of the bed for a minute or two without saying anything.

I move around the loft, turning out the lights and stuff, then go into the bathroom, and when I come out, he says quietly, "Claire made me a card, once."

By the deadness of his voice, I know he doesn't really want to talk about it, but maybe he has to, maybe it's something that he needs to get out and face.

I crawl up on the bed behind him and start rubbing his shoulders, so if he needs me to hold him, all he has to do is lean back a little.

He lets his head fall back and rolls his neck around as I rub; then he sighs, and says, "It was my fifth birthday, sixth maybe. So she would have been around six or seven. She … she didn't mean …"

He breaks off, and I rub my face against his hair.

"She just drew me what she thought was something nice, that's all. But it was flowers. The front had a heart and a big bunch of flowers. Jack saw it and said it was a card for girls and was I a little girly?"

He breathes a deep sigh, and is silent for a moment, then he goes on. "Jack said that only little girly boys would ever want flowers. He snatched it out of my hands and tore it up, and Claire started to cry, so I did too, and Jack …" he gives a strangled sound, sort of like a horrible laugh, then, "Jack told me that I was a little cry baby, and I needed to toughen up, and it was time I started to learn to be a man."

His voice has absolutely no life, no emotion, as he says, "Then he took off his belt and taught me."

I let my arms slide round him then. I picture someone doing that to a little boy not much older than Gus, a little boy who probably looked just like Gus, and I don't understand it. I simply don't know how someone could do that. But I know that it happened. I've seen the scars - not on the outside, but the ones deep inside.

I tighten my arms around him and breathe into his ear again the mantra that seemed to help earlier. "I love you, Brian. I love you."

He says nothing at first, just puts his hands up over my arms. Then he says, so quietly I hardly hear him, "I know."

It should be funny, I guess. Like in Star Wars, when it happens between Han and Leia. But it's not funny, it's … it's amazing. It might be the most amazing thing he'll ever say to me. It's so brave, so courageous, that it takes my breath away.

All I can do is hold him in my arms and kiss his hair and his neck and finally, when he turns his face towards me, his cheek.

He pulls away then and goes into the bathroom, so I get into bed.

When he comes back, he climbs into bed beside me, and, for once, we're not all over each other. We just move together into the middle of the bed, and curl around each other, and kiss a little. Finally, while I lay with my head on his shoulder, and his arm heavy across me, I feel his face rub my hair, and he says softly, "It was almost okay, today. Having a birthday."

Which, of course, is Brian-speak for "I had a fabulous day" and "Aren't our friends great?" and "Thank you" and a whole lot of "I love you"s. So I turn into his arms to kiss him one more time, and that ends up with us making love slowly, strongly, and then, all wet and sticky, we curl around each other again and drift into sleep.



Journal, April 21st 2003

He's still asleep. But I woke up early, and for a while all I wanted to do was lay there and look at him. Treasure him.

Then I needed to take a piss, and getting up, I saw that photo from Jenn, and it got me thinking. So I thought I'd start putting down some things about this new life I have now that the Experiment is over.

Yesterday was …

It sounds so corny that I could only write it in here, but it was the best day of my life.

I spent the day with my family. My friends. And for the first time, I feel like they are my friends, not just Mikey's friends who put up with me for his sake.

I spent time with my son. That's a kicker still, to me. That I have a son. Not something I ever thought I'd have. Or want. But now …

Now my life is so much richer, because he's in it. And because, through Gus, I'm learning at last that I don't have to be Jack. I can make other choices, be another kind of man. Jack chose to hate me because he blamed me for his miserable life. But I love Gus, and I know that my life is so much happier because of him.

There was sadness, yesterday. Some pain. The thing with Mikey … well, that's come to an end. It was time. More than time, probably. I can let go now, and I hope he can too. For his sake, and for Ben's. I hope they make it.

But there was so much joy. I never knew what it was to have joy in my life. I'd lived nearly thirty years without even catching a glimpse of it.

And now …

Now it lives with me, shares my life, shares my bed, drives me crazy and keeps me sane.



There aren't words, even here, where it's safe; here between the pages of this beautiful thing that he made for me, this amazing "day in the love" that he's created for me, even here, I can't find words for Justin.

But I know that all the other things that have come about are somehow linked to what he's brought me, the gifts he's given me.

And speaking of gifts …

I woke up and saw that fucking photo on the stand next to the bed, and I had an epiphany of sorts.

It was about the gifts, my birthday gifts.

And what they said, about me, and how people see me, but even more about the people who gave them.

Emmett first.

He … see Emmett has always given me jokey gifts. He's never felt close enough to me, never been confident enough of our friendship to try to find something serious (mainly because I would probably have crucified him with my rapier wit, asshole that I am). But this year, he did. He put himself on the line and gave me something that he really thought I'd like. He was right, I did, and do. But what he really gave me is his friendship. And a future with that friendship in it.

Deb gave me something beautiful and practical, and something sentimental. But she was telling me something too. She whispered in my ear later that I should put my door key on the chain, and look at it every time I took to wondering whether or not there was any thing worth staying at home for. Guess I took it to heart, because I had no interest in going out to party last night. None. She'll love that, when she hears, because that's what she was trying to get me to see, what she was trying to do for me. She was doing what she could to give me a future with Justin.

Vic - he gave me something that … it was a tape that I'd had years ago. My father was always going on about his Irish heritage, and decent Irish music; he'd dragged me off to some bar to drink with him on St. Pat's Day, and they were playing this tape. I would have been twenty, maybe. By some kind of miracle we both fucking liked it. Well, he hated some of the songs, and I hated others, but there were some that we honestly both liked. We sat in the bar and got roaring drunk together and sang along with our songs, and kept asking them to play the tape again till we got thrown out.

It was one of the few good times I had with my father.

I tried to buy the tape after that, but it was an import and hard to get and Jack said we couldn't listen to it in our house, because The Warden would have a fucking fit. He was right too. There's a song on there about prostitutes, and one that mentioned gays. We would never have heard the end of it.

I sort of forgot about it for a while, but when Vic got back from New York, he had it and I was always after him to play it. We kept saying we should make a copy, but never got around to it. Vic used to joke that I wasn't old enough to truly appreciate it anyway, and when I was grown up and ready to really understand what some of the songs were about, he'd get me my own copy.

And now he has.

He was trying to show me, that he sees me as a grown up now, as a man. More, he was trying to help me see that a future which features me being grown up, being a man, is okay. Once, I wouldn't have believed him, once I would have hated what he said to me with that gift. But I have grown up, at least a little. And I'm ready to be a man, now. To leave my fucking Peter Pan years behind.

Lindz and Mel … I still can hardly believe what they have given me … it's so … generous that I can only hope I find the way to pay them back one day. I'll be there for them, at least, for both of them. I guess Mel and I are both finally growing up, and we might even stop snarling at each other long enough to learn to like each other. She's a strong woman, and she loves Lindsay, and my son. That means a lot to me now, and their gift means so much more.

What they gave me was to share their son with me; and to make sure that I know that they see me as his father. And an okay father, at that, or all Mel would be giving me is my balls on a platter. Instead, she and Lindz have given me … respect. Respect for my role in Gus' life. Respect for me as the father of their son, and a sign that they see that role continuing and growing. They've given me a future with Gus in it.

Jenn … ah, Jenn … Jenn has given me a sign that she sees me as the future in Justin's life. That she accepts that her baby boy and I are going to be together, and that, now, she maybe doesn't hate that. Now, maybe she sees me as part of their family.

She's trusting me with Justin, and Justin's future, and that's a gift I didn't expect, and once would have run a mile from. But I'm ready now.

See the theme here?

Everyone (and no, I haven't forgotten Justin, I'll get to him) everyone this year did their best to give me things that show that they think of me … differently, somehow. That they don't just see me as Asshole Kinney, the way they used to, but as Brian; as a lover, as a man, as a father, as a friend, even, God help us, as a son in law. Their gifts were all about how much I've grown up, about how I've changed, about the future.

The one glaring exception was the person who for so long has called himself my best friend. He gave me something that was intended to bind me to my past, to the persona I've carried like a fucking weight on my heart for all these years. His gift was all about trying to drag me back to my past, back to him, at whatever cost for my future.

Or his.

I think now that maybe that's why it was so easy to throw his gift aside.

I'm not going back.

Oh, I'll find new mistakes to make. New ways to be a complete and utter asshole. New ways to totally fuck up sometimes.

But that isn't going to fucking stop me from trying, from growing, from taking risks, and allowing myself to change.

And the freedom to do that, is what Justin gave me. Gives me. Every day.

I was ready to freak out when I saw the design on the front of that book and realized what it was. But when I looked at the images inside, it made sense to me. The circle, which is about present and future, as well as the past, on the front; and on each page, all the key people in my life held inside the circle. (Well, yeah, he put that damned love symbol in there as well, but … that's okay. I can live with that.)

See, he put all these images from my past, our past, into a book that's intended to record my future, our future. Justin isn't asking me to renounce my past, he's giving me the room to value it, and to take the best bits into the future with me.

That's how much faith he has in me.

In us.

And thanks to him, I'm starting to have a little myself.

He'll be waking up soon, and I'm going to make him the breakfast in bed I tried to make yesterday, before he woke up and seduced me.

Because today is the day to take the past and turn it on its head. Everyone else might have forgotten that it's the anniversary of the Prom, but I haven't, and neither has he.

So today, I'm going to give him a gift. I'm going to give him a glimpse of the future, not let either of us dwell on the fucking past.

I'm going to give him breakfast in bed, and the best blow job he's ever had, then I'm going to walk with him down to his new car, and let him drive me to work, and meet him after work at the hotel. My damned car's still there, so we might as well go back there tonight.

We are going to get that suite again (and this time I'm paying) and we are going to fuck each other's brains out. Then we're going to dine, and dance if we feel like it (Vic's CD will be good for that) in the privacy of our room, and then we're going to fuck some more.

And we're going to plan to do something like that every year. So that from now on, this anniversary won't be about pain and blood and loss of innocence, it will be about us; about being together, being happy, loving each other, and knowing, every year when this anniversary rolls around, that it's bringing us another year of all those things.

That's the gift I'm going to give him today - the gift of my belief in our future. He's fought for that all this time. Fought all the things that stood in the way. Me. Our ages. Me. His Dad, even his Mom. Me. Mikey. Me. Hobbs, Stockwell and all their fucking kind. Me. His own romantic fantasies. Me.

Did I mention how hard he's had to fight me? Dragging me kicking and screaming every step of the fucking way to this point?

But he said it himself the other night. This is where he, that other, more innocent, Justin, the one that fear and ignorance put paid to with a baseball bat, this is where he wanted to be, what he wanted us to have.

So today, we're going to enjoy each other, and tonight, we're going to drink a toast to him, to his courage and his perseverance, and we're going to fucking celebrate the fact that we're here, that we made it this far; and then we're going to plan on a future together. We're going to go further than anyone, even that annoying little twink ever dreamed we could.

Today's a new beginning, boys and girls, so I'd better start on his fucking breakfast, before the little shit wakes up.

Fuck! Too late. He's awake.

Oh, well, fuck it! There's always tomorrow.

The End

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