(written for the Queer as Christmas Challenge on LJ)
"What do you mean, you're not coming to Toronto?" Michael squawked. "It's all arranged."
Brian shrugged. "I've unarranged it," he said simply.
"But, Brian … we all agreed we'd have a family Christmas together in Toronto," Michael continued to protest, ignoring his friend's clear disinclination to discuss the matter.
Brian shrugged once more, picking up and putting down again one of the many knick-knacks that crowded the surface of the bookshelf. Mikey's place was beginning to look just like his mother's.
"But Brian, you can't just not go," Michael whined. "What about Gus?"
Brian sucked his lips in for a moment and then said, "Gus will survive."
Michael scowled at him.
"Just because you had shitty Christmases when you were a kid is no reason to make it that way for Gus."
Ben, who had been silently observing Michael's growing annoyance wondering whether to intervene, realized that he'd missed his chance. Michael yet again had gone too far, and said something that anyone but Brian would find hard to forgive. Ben wondered if he himself would find it in him to forgive Michael if he lashed out at him with the cruelties he heaped on his so-called best friend.
Sure enough, Brian gave a soft harsh laugh and headed for the door.
"If you don't come, I'm not lying for you," Michael shouted after him. "I'll tell him the truth, that you're more interested in getting your dick sucked than you are in being with your son."
The soft click of the closing door was the only response.
Ben debated whether to just bury himself again in the essays he was marking, or to make some comment.
"And he wonders why Mel doesn't want to give him any visitation rights," Michael snapped.
Ben frowned. He found Mel's attitude to Brian both harsh and hypocritical. On the one hand she gladly pocketed the money he was more than prepared to shell out to ensure his son's well-being, but she did nothing but berate and belittle the man who continued to pay so generously to help support her lifestyle even now, when she'd removed his son to another country.
"He'd forget Gus was even coming and leave him wandering the airport while he was fucking some pilot in the bathrooms."
With a sigh, Ben put down the current essay and removed his glasses. "I don't think that's entirely fair," he said.
"Well, you heard him," Michael said self-righteously. "He just can't be bothered going up to Toronto in case he misses the Naked Christmas Elf competition at Babylon or something."
"I didn't hear him mention Babylon," Ben said quietly.
"Well, why else would he decide not to go … we've been planning it for months."
Ben reflected that Michael might have been planning a trip to Toronto, but Brian's plans, as always, were his own.
"He might be going to New York," Ben suggested, suspecting that he was about to unleash a storm.
For a moment Michael just stared at him in outrage. Then he shook his head. "He wouldn't do that. Why would he do that?"
Ben didn't say anything, not wanting to open the can of worms that constituted Michael's attitude to Justin.
"That's just fucked," Michael said sullenly. "Justin doesn't need him. Gus is his son. A son needs his father at Christmas."
Ben refrained from pointing out that perhaps Brian needed Justin, instead he said pacifically, "Gus has his mothers, and as they keep pointing out to Brian, they are Gus' parents. He'll have his sister, and he'll have us. Justin is all alone in New York."
Michael pouted. "He could come to Toronto."
"Michael, you know he's just found a new job, he probably can't get much time off."
"Well, there's still no reason why Brian should go to New York. For fuck's sake, Ben, Justin left him. Just walked away. Called off the wedding and took off to New York. Why would Brian go after him? Why would he miss Christmas with his son, just to run after a kid who left him? Again."
Ben sighed. The answer to that one was so obvious. Even Michael knew the answer; when he could bring himself to admit it.
"Michael, Brian has made a difficult choice. And I think his friends should try and support him."
"Well, it's the wrong choice."
"Perhaps. But it's not as if he'd be all that welcome in Toronto anyway."
"Don't be stupid. Lindsay loves Brian."
Ben considered that for a moment. Perhaps she did, but not enough to prevent Melanie from savaging Brian every chance she got. In fact, Ben suspected that Lindsay got some perverse sort of pleasure from having the two of them go at it; it was, after all, almost as if they were fighting over her; maybe her ego enjoyed knowing she had that degree of power over them both. Ben wondered, as he had before, what had made Lindsay insist on Brian fathering her child. While he could understand that in terms of pure genetics, Brian - tall, good looking, brilliant, was an obvious choice, Ben would never really understand how Lindsay could have imagined that foisting a man Mel hated and resented on her as the only possible choice for father could ever caused anything but pain to someone.
He thought that she'd been lucky. If Brian had been as determined to remain his child's legal parent as Michael, there would have been even bigger problems.
Brian's plans were indeed his own.
He hadn't discussed them with anyone. Well, except the one person whose opinion he truly valued. And even then, it hadn't been so much a discussion as a series of apparently unconnected statements scattered through a number of phone conversations and emails. He wanted to find a decent hotel in New York where he could book a suite for Christmas; he had to remember to contact the employment agency; would Justin have time to come with him to FAO Schwarz?; a typical self-mocking Brian remark about how the family thought he was an asshole and he was probably going to prove them right; and, most tellingly, an out of the blue comment about how he'd had to reschedule a client meeting because his asshole lawyer only had one window open in the whole of the next week.
Justin pondered these cryptic messages. He thought he knew what they might mean. He hoped he did. But he was cautious in his responses. Even if he'd read them right, God knew Brian was as skittish as a pre-op transexual on hormones and the least thing might freak him out and impel him to do who knows what. So Justin made no overt response. Just dropped a mention of Gus into one phone conversation, and trailed a hint of regret through an email that his new job meant that he wouldn't be able to take enough time off to make a trip to Toronto really feasible; while the query about FAO Schwarz was answered with an enthusiastic affirmative, coupled with a hint that he was sure there were already a couple of toys destined for Brian's Christmas stocking, but that he didn't think they were the kind they stocked in the Schwarz emporium (thrown in to reassure his image-conscious lover, just in case the idea of more conventional toy shopping suddenly struck Brian as altogether too domesticated).
In other words, without ever daring to assume that he knew what his partner might be up to, he did his best to express his love and support, without ever being so presumptuous as to put those into words.
Brian, reading the unspoken messages accurately and assured of that support, planned and quietly went about putting his plans into action; all the while bracing himself for the fallout.
That started, predictably, with a phone call from Melanie. She was almost incoherent with rage. In between expletives and her freely expressed opinion of his intelligence, his parentage and most of all, his morals, she informed him that he would rot in Hell before he ever saw his son again.
Brian had been prepared for that.
He'd been prepared, too, for Lindsay's tearful call; and for Deb's, telling him that he should think about his son first, "for once" and not upset him - especially at Christmas. He'd thought he'd been prepared for Michael's also; thought that being forewarned that his "friend" was going to be firmly on the Munchers' side would make him forearmed - or at least armored. But he found it still hurt. He sat silent in his office while Michael railed at him, his pain evident only in his particularly wooden expression and the haunted look in his all too expressive hazel eyes. Determined not to give way to the hurt, he chewed hard on the inside of his cheek, using that physical pain to protect him from the emotional pain his friend showed no hesitation in inflicting.
Five minutes after Michael had finally hung up on him, Ted came quietly into his office and put a cup of Starbucks latte in front of him. Brian didn't look up at first, but Ted went on standing there in silence, so at last he forced his head up, lip curled into a self-mocking sneer.
"So which one of them asked you to put your fucking job at risk by getting in my face over this?" he asked.
Ted was silent for a moment, but then said quietly, "I just wanted you to know that I think you're doing the right thing." Before Brian could respond he grinned slightly and, holding his hands up in sign of surrender, finished quickly, "And I know it's none of my business, but I wanted to say that."
Brian found that he hadn't been prepared for that. It got to him more than anything else had done this morning. For some ridiculous reason he suddenly found it hard to speak.
He nodded instead, then forced out, "Why thank you, Theodore."
Ted smiled at him and left, phase one of his mission accomplished.
Back in his own office, he picked up the phone.
Meanwhile, across town, Emmett let Deb rant for a while and then, when she finally seemed to have run out of steam, said in the soft drawl that usually indicated he was in earnest about what he was saying, "Well, you know, Deb, Brian is Gus' father."
"Well he doesn't act like it," she spat.
"Do you think Mel gives him much opportunity to?" Emmett asked.
She was about to respond with another attack on her absent son-figure, when her innate honesty forced her to consider the question. She sighed.
Emmett, taking the opening, sat down at the table and she sank into a chair opposite him.
"I mean, if Brian had been over there all the time, wanting to see Gus, wanting to take Gus out … how do you think Mel would have reacted?"
Debbie gave a sad laugh, she didn't have to answer.
Emmett shrugged. "You know, he gave up his rights to Gus to get those girls back together the first time they split up. Lindsay told me when I was living there. He said Gus should have two parents who loved him, and loved each other. He was thinking of Gus then."
"And he agreed to let them take him to Toronto, even though he stood out against it at first," Em reminded her.
Her eyes filled with tears this time. She wished Michael had resisted as well; she missed her granddaughter.
"Now he just wants to spend a little time with Gus at Christmas."
"Well, he can just go to Toronto with the rest of us."
"And leave Justin alone in New York," Emmett prompted.
She sighed again. "There's no need for him to threaten to cut off the money," she said, a last ditch effort to convince herself that Brian really was being an asshole.
Emmett shrugged. "Seems to me," he drawled softly, "that those girls want it all ways. They want to be Gus' parents, and not let Brian have any say in how he's brought up, or even where he lives. Hell, honey, Brian can't even see Gus without their say-so. Seems to me like they only treat him like Gus' father when it comes to the money. And then they take everything they can get. And let me tell you," he said very quietly, leaning close, "Teddy wouldn't dare give me details, but from what he says, they get a lot."
Debbie considered this. She always was one to fight for the under-dog and up until this point she'd naturally assumed that to be the girls, but Emmett was making her re-think that a little.
He didn't say much more, just stretched and murmured as he stood, "I've always thought Brian was worth a little more than just what's in his wallet."
Or in his pants, either, he thought as he went upstairs to call Teddy and let him know that Deb was at least thinking about things.
For two days the pair of them worked quietly behind the scenes. Ted called Mel and after letting her rave for a while he proceeded with quiet good sense to point out that Brian had no legal obligation to pay them any money for Gus at all, and, while he had never shirked the moral obligation to support his son, maybe he'd just had enough of that being such a one-way street. Mel was infuriated, of course, with his response, but the dyke partner at the law firm where she was doing para-legal work till she could qualify to practice law in Canada had been much more blunt about how little hope she thought they had of forcing Brian to continue to support them, when they had been so adamant about his non-status as a parent. And since they would not make it through Christmas without his money (given that neither of them had found particularly well-paying jobs in the wake of their ill-considered flight to Canada), she was forced to face the bitter truth that she might just have to give in to what she saw as his extortion.
Meanwhile, Lindsay spoke to Justin who made it very clear whose side he was on, and when she whined that Brian should think about Gus, told her bluntly that maybe she was the one who should start doing that.
Emmett, who she went to next for support, was less abrasive, but also indicated that he didn't understand why it was such a big deal for Brian to want to spend some time with Gus over the holidays. "And, honey," he said, "You know he couldn't leave Justin all alone in New York. You wouldn't want him to do that, would you?"
Lindsay knew, and Emmett suspected, that somewhere deep inside that's exactly what she wanted, but she murmured, "Oh, Emmett, of course not. But surely Justin could get a day or two off."
She knew perfectly well that Justin had to work Christmas Eve, and be back at work the day after Christmas, but much of her anger over Brian's actions was fueled by his choosing to spend Christmas with his young lover, rather than with them, his family; and in her mind it was somehow Justin's fault.
"Well, no, honey. He's been lucky to get this job at a good gallery, but he's low man on the totem pole, so he's the one who has to come in and make at least a token appearance in the office every day between Christmas and New Year's. And Brian knows as well as he does that it's worth going along with that. You know they've promised him they'll hang a couple of pieces in their next young artists' show."
She did know, and on her better days tried hard not to resent it.
She knew Justin was far more talented than she'd ever been. But why did that mean that he got to have everything else as well? He got the job at a "good gallery" in New York, while she got part time hours teaching art to pre-schoolers; he got to go to important openings mixing with the cream of the New York art scene, while she got to go to parent-teacher meetings; he got to spend Christmas at a luxury hotel, while she and Mel struggled to pay the bills just to keep their tiny apartment heated; and, of course, … he got Brian.
She forced her thoughts away from that.
But despite all her avoidance she was forced to acknowledge the fact that without Brian's money, Christmas would be grim indeed.
Back in Pittsburgh, Michael was astonished when he walked into Debbie's kitchen still railing about what an asshole his "best friend" was being, to find his mother had done a complete about face.
"He just wants to spend time with his son, Michael," she snapped at him, giving him a clout over the ear for good measure, "what's wrong with that?"
Ted, who had been summoned so that Debbie could interrogate him on just how much money Brian did send north to Toronto every month (and who was keeping his mouth firmly shut about that while at the same time making it clear that he thought the amount was more than generous), tried pouring oil on troubled waters, saying, "Do you really think he doesn't miss Gus?"
Michael snorted. "Not enough to make him go to Toronto to spend time with him at Christmas. Oh, no, he has to go to New York to get his dick sucked."
Debbie gave him another harder clout, which made Ted and Emmett both wince.
"He wants to spend Christmas with Sunshine," she said. "And so he should."
Michael shrugged irritably, still unable (or at least unwilling) to see why Brian would abandon his family to spend time with an ungrateful brat who had done nothing but fuck things up ever since he'd appeared in their lives.
Support for Debbie came from an unexpected quarter.
"Tell me, Michael," Ben said suddenly. "If I couldn't leave Pittsburgh at Christmas … would you go to Toronto, or would you stay with me?"
Michael's weak, "That's different" fell into, and was swallowed by, a gaping silence.
Emmett and Ted shared a look. The same thought crossed both their minds … it would depend, not on JR, or on Ben, but on whether Brian went to Toronto. That, of course, was what was really bugging Michael. Not that Brian wanted to remove Gus from Toronto - Michael didn't care about that; but he did care that Brian wasn't going to be there. Like Lindsay, Michael was deeply resentful that Brian was choosing Justin over spending Christmas with them.
"He should think about Gus," Michael insisted.
Ben bit his lip, but couldn't resist asking, "Are any of you really thinking about Gus?"
Michael sputtered indignantly, but Debbie nodded in agreement with Ben's implied criticism. "Damned right!" she said. "I bet those girls haven't asked Gus if he'd like to spend Christmas with his Daddy."
"Seems to me," Emmett added, "that all we've heard about is what Melanie wants, or what Lindsay wants. No one's talking about what Gus wants. And I bet he'd love a trip on a plane and some time in New York with his Daddy and Justin."
"And it's not like Brian will be on his own," Ted added his little mite. "He's hiring a full time professional Nanny to make sure that Gus is well looked after."
"I don't see why it's okay for Lindsay and Mel to insist that they want Gus at Christmas, but when Brian wants some time with Gus on the holidays, he's a 'selfish asshole'. He let them take Gus out of the country …" Emmett put in.
"After Lindsay guilted him into it," threw in Michael, despite himself getting caught up in this different point of view on the matter.
"And he's pretty much supported them ever since because they took off without even having a plan about how they were going to support themselves, let alone two kids," Ted observed, still horrified that the two women could have done such a thing.
"Now he wants to spend a few days with his son, and he's the "selfish" one," finished Debbie. Suddenly her eyes clouded over. "I'm just so glad he has been able to help out. The thought of my little JR all the way up there and those girls with hardly any money coming in …"
She sniffled, and Michael shifted uncomfortably. "Ma, you know I send them what I can, but …"
"Oh, honey, we all know you do what you can," she said. "But the fact is that if it wasn't for Brian …"
"So how can we help make this happen?" Emmett asked.
For a moment, they were all silent.
Then Ben said, "Well, it seems to me that we need a compromise that everyone can live with. What about if …"
Brian was a little surprised in the end, about how easily it all worked out.
He had no idea of how many phone calls had been made on his behalf; no notion of the gentle persuasive pressure that had been placed on Lindsay to convince her that in letting Brian have Gus for a few days she was forging even stronger ties with him; to convince Mel that in giving her permission for this to happen she was actually strengthening her bargaining position for the future if Brian should decide he wanted more involvement in his son's life; to delicately suggest a compromise position that perhaps everyone could be happy with.
When Lindsay called and said that while she really wanted to spend Christmas Eve with her son, perhaps he could fly down to Daddy on Christmas Day and spend the week in New York with him and Justin, Brian could hardly respond to her, his voice was suddenly so choked.
Because Christmas Day was the one day of the Holidays that Justin had free, Brian didn't really want to spend it on a plane. But it was finally agreed that his carefully chosen Nanny would fly to Toronto on Christmas Eve. She would visit Lindsay and Melanie in the afternoon and get to know them and Gus a little. Then spend the night at a hotel, meet them at the airport next day and fly with Gus to New York.
Brian had booked a suite at a quiet, but expensive hotel; Justin would join him there the day before Christmas Eve and on Christmas Day they would meet Gus at the airport. Gus would have a week with his Daddy in New York, with Justin joining them whenever he could escape from work.
Then, on the Monday after New Year, Brian would fly back to Toronto with Gus, then on down to Detroit to meet with a client there before heading home.
Brian and Justin spent hours at their computers, hooked up by Skype and webcam, making plans for the week. Brian organized with the hotel to have a tree installed in their sitting room, and Justin promised to shop for "tasteful" ornaments so they could decorate it themselves. They agreed that they would shop for toys together once Brian got to New York, but also planned a trip to FAO Schwarz with Gus. Brian booked best seats in the House for the latest Disney show. Justin insisted that they had to take Gus on the `round Manhattan' cruise - said he would never forget seeing the New York skyline for the first time with his Daddy. Brian had an answer for that, organizing hire of a private launch, with an experienced guide. But, after a weak attempt to persuade Justin that Gus would never even remember going, he resigned himself to the prospect of being among the hordes visiting the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building. They both agreed that Gus was too young to understand about Ground Zero, but that he would like to visit Central Park (and, Justin insisted, eat at Tavern on the Green "Brian, we have to! Gus would love the lights and stuff"); and maybe see at least a few things at the Met - the Mediaeval armored horses, and the Egyptian temple, for instance. The Frick was small enough that a small boy wouldn't feel overwhelmed, and even on a winter's day, Justin knew Gus would be fascinated by the way the light from those amazing Turners gave a golden glow to the whole west gallery. There would be horse drawn carriage rides and skating at Rockefeller Center; maybe even a hockey game at the Gardens. Plus anything else Gus might like to do.
For the first time in years Brian found himself looking forward to Christmas.
And when his Sonny Boy came through the door into the Arrivals area, and, after one shy moment's hesitation, ran straight into his arms calling "Daddy! Daddy!" he felt it more than made up for other, less than stellar Christmases from his own childhood.
Sitting by the tree that night, a tired Gus in his arms, listening `just one more time' to Justin reading the story of the little drummer boy, Brian looked around at the mess - the discarded wrapping paper, the empty plates from their room service dinner, the jumble of new toys and clothing. While part of him was relieved that someone else was going to do the cleaning up, part of him felt almost cheated of that parental privilege. He decided that what he really wanted next Christmas was to find a way to share Christmas at home with his lover and his son, and, then once Gus was put to bed, for him and Justin to do the cleaning up together.
He realized he'd begun to truly believe that a future with this kind of love, and quiet joy was a possibility for them. After all, he never had got around to selling Britin.
Meanwhile, for the first time in his life, he was finding Christmas a truly magical time, and the week with his little family stretching ahead of him, glittered with possibilities for enchantment.
But although Brian felt deeply thankful for this wish he'd been granted he never did find out how hard a group of Christmas fairies had worked on his behalf to make it all happen.
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