Justin knew about Brian Kinney, of course, long before he’d met him. And about Nicolay Berkhov. Brian and Nico were the power couple of gay Pittsburgh; both tall, slender, sexy, rich and successful. Kinney was the partner in a top advertising agency, Berkhov a model with an international career – mainly print, with an incredibly high media profile – high enough to have fashion houses all over the world ready to fall over themselves offering him work every time he showed the slightest interest in sauntering down their catwalks.

Their sexual prowess – both individually and together – was legendary; and so were their fights. Although, from what Justin had heard – and once had witnessed from the balcony at his favorite club – the public fighting at least mainly consisted of Berkhov turning on a performance worthy of the most flaming drama queen, and Kinney ignoring it, or turning his back on his lover to find his next trick.

The last thing young Justin Taylor had ever expected, or intended, was to become in any way involved with either of them.

But then the Vanguard-Kinney agency decided that they wanted to use some very sophisticated computer animations for a new campaign and, as they didn’t feel they had the skills in house, they approached the graphics company Justin was working for and before he knew it, he’d been assigned to the project.

That’s how he first met, and gradually came to know, Brian Kinney.

At first their relationship was purely professional. Brian, for one, wasn’t looking for any more complications in his life than he already had – juggling the demands of his high stress job; the competing jealousies of Michael, his ‘best friend’, Lindsay, the mother of his child and her shrew of a partner; not to mention the insanity of his relationship with Nico – the relationship he’d never wanted and seemed powerless either to escape or make work. Nico was dynamite in bed, and could be charming and fun but was also infuriating and obsessively demanding, and was always, always, incredibly high maintenance.

No, Brian Kinney was not looking for further complications.

As for Justin Taylor, he was recovering from the demise of his first real relationship and had absolutely no intention of getting involved with anyone else in a hurry - least of all someone who was effectively his boss. And a “married” – or at least partnered – boss at that. Besides, he and Kinney came from different worlds. One on side – Justin Taylor, just out of grad school and struggling to find a job in his chosen field that would allow him to keep a roof over his head and start paying off some of his student loans, dressing and eating as cheaply as he could and treating himself to one night out at Babylon every couple of weeks, with a limit on one alcoholic drink or two bottles of water because any more would demolish his precarious budget; on the other side, Brian Kinney – so well established in his field that he had already won a partnership in the top agency in the state, dressing in Armani and Prada; eating, Justin was sure, in all the best restaurants or thinking nothing of spending the equivalent of Justin’s grocery money for the week on a single takeout meal whenever he wanted; and as for Babylon - Kinney owned the place. No … there wasn’t any risk that they would have anything more to talk about than the design of the project.

But as they worked together, Brian and Justin gradually discovered that, all appearances to the contrary, they actually had more than a little in common.

For a start, they were both highly intelligent and creative and they shared a similar work ethic: they were both perfectionists, driven to strive towards the achievement of excellence, regardless of the effort or hours involved.

For Brian, the fact that if he gave young Taylor directions they were carried out perfectly, to the letter, was a welcome relief. The ad exec was often hard-pressed to find anyone in his own art department who didn’t believe that near enough was good enough. That certainly wasn’t the case with Taylor. If anything, he was even more critical of his work than Brian and willing to work whatever hours it took to make sure that the final design was as good as they could both imagine it being.

They also shared a sardonic and somewhat off-beat sense of humor; a fact borne in on Brian one afternoon when, after a particularly difficult meeting with the client, his own caustic comments on the mental processes and possible sexual proclivities of the client’s marketing team en masse, and the Marketing Director in particular were not met with shocked or bemused silence or worse, a polite nervous titter, but by a choke of genuine laughter and a response that capped his own for insight and honed-steel wit.

All of this meant that they worked well together and enjoyed challenging each other and themselves to develop a completely kick-ass campaign; an aim desirable to both of them in and of itself, but which would be made even sweeter by the fact that it might even silence the carping critics of the marketing team.

Of course neither of them were blind; they each recognized in the other a highly desirable sexual partner. But neither of them were willing to risk screwing up the dynamics of such a productive working relationship to indulge in one night of fucking – no matter how stellar the sex might promise to be.

Justin, in particular, was wary of any involvement with Brian outside of their professional lives. He knew Brian was in a relationship – however open and volatile that relationship might be. And he’d been hurt too much himself by his ex’s cheating to lightly become “the other man”. He and Brian occasionally met at the diner before work – he had to eat and Brian needed his caffeine fix, and it gave them a chance to plan their work for the day. So, though he’d met a few of Brian’s friends there, and had even been introduced once to Nico, those breakfasts were the only contact he had with Brian outside of the office.

So that’s as far as it might have gone, but for two things – one was the big fight Brian and Nico had just before Nico upped-stakes and headed to New York; and the other was Brian’s discovery that Justin could actually hold his tongue about what he knew about the fight and keep the juicy details to himself. A form of restraint with which Brian was totally unfamiliar – anyone else he knew would not only have been in his face about it, but would have broadcast all the details to everyone they knew.

The fight, to Justin who’d been a reluctant witness, seemed to blow up out of nowhere. He wasn’t to know that it was the culmination of a long-running battle between Brian and his lover. Nicolay had been pushing for many months for them to move to New York, or London, or anywhere that was at least “half-way civilized”. Brian, under few illusions about how committed either of them really were to making what laughingly passed as their relationship work, was reluctant. He’d been made partner in his firm only three years ago, and it had only been last year that his name had been added to Gardner Vance’s in the firm’s title. He suspected that one of the reasons that Vance had made that concession was that he was gearing up to retire; and when he did, Brian planned to be in a position to make an offer that would allow him to become the managing partner, and maybe let Vance keep a small share of the company which would provide him with a nice little income to help him enjoy said retirement. He was reasonably confident that he could manage the financial aspect, and, as he believed that it would benefit Vance as much as himself, he was also confident that Vance would agree; in fact, he strongly suspected it was what Vance had had in mind when the “-Kinney” and been added to “Vanguard” in the company records.

While it was true, as Nicolay had pointed out ad nauseum, that New York was the epi-center of the advertising world, it was also true that there was no way that Brian would be able to be in the position of effectively owning his own agency if he left Vanguard-Kinney to become a junior partner, at best, in a big New York agency. And Brian had had no intention of effectively starting over again – having to prove himself, having to develop the contacts and relationships that would allow him to make miracles happen; like the relationship he now had with the most gifted graphic artist he’d ever worked with. No, Brian had very little to gain, and a lot to lose, by heading for New York right now. He was determined that if ever he did decide to take on New York it would be on his timetable, not Nico’s.

Brian had always known that eventually Nicolay’s ambitions and his own would clash and force them in different directions. He was amazed that they’d lasted this long. They’d been together for nearly five years and Brian would have been hard-pressed to say why. For himself, it had been a mixture of the sex (which was admittedly incredible), the ego boost from knowing that this famous international model was prepared to keep coming back to Pittsburgh just to be with him, and, which said it all really, the fact that there had been little real emotional involvement required on his part. Nicolay seemed content to accept all the passionate sturm and drang he himself stirred up constantly as a substitute for “love” – an emotion Brian wasn’t sure he knew anything about. Well, except for his son. He loved Gus; but that was different. “Love” in the stereotypical romantic sense seemed to him to be complete bullshit. And living with Nicolay, he hadn’t had to pretend to feel it. All Nico had wanted from him was for Brian to be hot, beautiful, successful in his own right and to look absolutely stunning when Nico lured him to New York or Chicago to appear at some “do” together. And, of course, to be able to satisfy him sexually; the one thing in their relationship Brian had never had any difficulty with.

For the rest, he’d put up with all the dramas and Nico’s endless demands for his time and attention because … well, because it kept everyone else at bay. It meant that he didn’t have to listen to his friends preaching at him that he should ‘settle down’, find his perfect man, all that bullshit. To the eyes of the world, he’d already done that. And if the eyes of the world were dazzled by a complete fiction – well, that just proved what a crock the whole thing was.

Most especially, it had kept Mikey at bay. Once he and Nico had become an established couple, Michael had been forced to give up on any delusions that he might have once had that Brian would one day turn around and “see” him as a potential partner. It had been difficult at the time, but in the long run Mikey had benefited most from Brian’s relationship with the model, because he’d finally found someone who loved him, Michael. Someone who saw him as the sweet and lovable man he was meant to be, and was helping him become that man – not the jealous, fearful (and therefore spiteful) shadow of himself that he’d been when he’d spent his life hankering after Brian.

But, of course, Justin knew none of this. He’d deliberately shut his ears to the gossip about Brian and Nico – well, as much as he could, anyway. He did know that they had an “open” relationship, and that the model was sometimes out of town for months at a time, doing shows in Paris and Milan, London and Tokyo; but he always seemed to come back, so Justin assumed that there must be a really strong, if unconventional, relationship between the two men.

He was wrong, as it happened, but he couldn’t be expected to know that, and it was a long time before he really worked it out.

The night the fight happened, Justin and Brian were working late, doing final tweaks on the animations for the third of ads they wanted to show the client next day. At around eight pm Nicolay stormed into the office and the shouting began. At first, that was mainly Nico, but finally Brian lost his own temper and started doing his fair share of the yelling.

Justin tried to excuse himself as soon as it became obvious what was going on, but Brian snapped at him to stay put and keep working. He steered his lover into the corridor where the argument continued. Justin tried not to listen, but when he heard his own name he couldn’t help himself. To his shock, he realized that Nico was actually accusing Brian of having an affair with him. Considering that he and Brian, aside from one handshake when they’d first met, had never even touched, the accusation was totally ridiculous.

Again, he tried to block them out and concentrate on his work, but their voices in the stillness of the empty offices were shockingly loud, echoing down the corridors, and it was very difficult not to know what was being said.

When the other reason for the argument penetrated, Justin stopped even trying not to listen. Nico was planning on moving to New York and wanted Brian to go with him. He was absolutely furious that Brian was refusing to even consider it. From what Justin could understand – Nico when in a rage became terribly Russian or whatever he was, and almost incomprehensible – Nico had been offered a contract with a New York-based designer, to be the “face” of their brand. Which meant that he would need to be available for them on an almost daily basis. He couldn’t understand why Brian wouldn’t take the opportunity to spread his own career wings in New York. It was where everyone who was anyone wanted to be.

But the more passionately he argued his case for their moving there together, the more Brian yelled that he wasn’t going fucking anywhere just to be Nico’s arm candy.

Justin finally gathered that the argument was a long-standing one, and he realized that Nico had come to the conclusion that there had to be a reason why Brian would be willing to give up all the golden opportunities available in New York to stay in Pittsburgh “of all outlandish places”, and it had to be that he was interested in someone else. So, given that he seemed to be spending all of his time with “this Justin” … well, Nico had drawn his own conclusions.

Justin didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. But he couldn’t help but find it fairly hilarious that he was considered any kind of competition to a glamorous model internationally famous for his beauty and sex appeal.

He wondered, of course, what the real reason was behind Brian’s refusal to move. But it was none of his business, so when Brian returned, having finally managed to persuade Nico to leave, it was to find Justin once more deeply absorbed in making the changes they’d discussed. Brian didn’t make any reference to what had happened, so Justin didn’t either and they simply went on with their task of preparing for next day’s presentation.

Justin was a little surprised at how easily Brian seemed to forget all about Nico and concentrate on the pitch. He wasn’t to know that Brian was a past master at putting aside emotional turmoil – banishing it from his mind, if not his heart.

Brian was more than a little surprised himself that Taylor didn’t even mention the blow up with Nico, but incredibly grateful for his silence; Justin’s quiet acceptance of the fact that whatever was going on was none of his business came as an enormous relief to Brian’s over-stretched nerves. To be allowed the luxury of just putting it aside and re-focusing on his work was exactly what he needed, but hadn’t expected to get. Any of his other friends … well, he supposed that young Taylor was some kind of friend … would have been all over him offering comments, advice and admonitions; the fact that Taylor seemed to consider the whole thing none of his business was something outside Brian’s previous experience. It wasn’t his business, of course, it wasn’t anyone’s but Brian’s, but that wouldn’t have fucking stopped anyone else.

So, despite any misgivings over Justin’s ability to keep the juicy gossip to himself, Brian decided that the best way forward was just to behave as normal. Which meant that when they finally finished, he suggested they meet at the diner for breakfast as usual to go over the details of exactly how they intended to present the ads to the client.

By the time Brian got home, Nico was long gone. “His” side of the closet was empty (at least we can stop arguing about the fucking space, Brian reflected), his toiletries missing from the shelves, and his few personal items had vanished. Brian was a little surprised to find just how little impact Nico’s leaving actually made on the look and feel of his home. But then, it had always really been his home. Nico had moved in – for the months of the year that he spent in Pittsburgh – rather as if he were staying at a hotel: always prepared to move on with very little effort or disruption.

He resigned himself to the fact that by the time he got to the diner the next day, the story of their fight and Nico’s departure would be the talk of gay Pittsburgh. Well, so the fuck what? He’d just face it down, like he’d done everything else in his life.

But when he walked in, despite Justin already being there, sitting with Emmett, and despite Deb being on duty, nothing was said, no one mentioned anything and Brian realized with something of a shock that young Taylor had actually kept his mouth shut about what he’d seen and heard.

This was practically a first in Brian’s universe; even more astonishing than Taylor’s silence the previous evening. If anyone else he’d known had been in Justin’s place last night they would not only have been unable to resist yapping it to fucking death at the time, but by this morning they would have told at least one other person (and probably more) who would have told … well, Debbie, at least, and then everyone would have known. But clearly Justin hadn’t taken the opportunity to be the one in the know, the center of attention for a while at least; and Brian could only be profoundly grateful.

He’d been braced to show his most impassive front in the face of their exclamations and faux sympathy, so to be able to just sit and drink his coffee and go on with the important work of landing this client gave him an incredible feeling of … not just relief, but somehow … support. He found it hard to recognize that feeling; it wasn’t one he was terribly familiar with, but that’s really what it was.

Justin smiled at him, Emmett started prattling on about some party he was planning and Deb came and plunked his coffee down in front of him, smacking his ear as she did and reminding him that he and ‘that other skinny asshole’ (her usual method of referring to Nicolay) were expected at her usual family dinner on Friday night. When even that comment didn’t draw so much as a raised eyebrow or knowing smirk from young Taylor, Brian was over-whelmed by a flood of gratitude so intense it felt like he was drowning. Or flying. He couldn’t tell.

Maybe that’s when it started. When the virtually unacknowledged attraction between them turned to something else.

The meeting with the client went brilliantly, of course.

Not only was the full marketing team present, but so was their CEO, and when she clearly showed that she loved the ads, from the concept to the execution and was all for getting the campaign off the ground immediately, even the Marketing Director was forced to smile and congratulate them. Brian and Justin (whom Brian had insisted join the meeting to receive his fair share of the accolades he’d been absolutely certain their work would receive) shared one brief glance of vindictive amusement, before Brian set the wheels in motion for the contract to be prepared and Justin excused himself to get back to his own company.

He couldn’t quite work out why, instead of feeling elated by the success of the campaign he’d put so much work into, he felt kind of flat, even a little depressed.

He supposed he must just have been tired, however, because by mid afternoon he was feeling much more like himself. He refused to acknowledge that this change just might have been brought about by the text he’d gotten from Brian during the afternoon.

‘Celebration. Tonight. Papageno’s. V-K’s tab. Pick you up at 8. Wear something decent.’

Justin supposed that all of the team who’d worked on the ad would be there. Or at least Gardner Vance. But at least it would mean that he kind of got to say a proper ‘Goodbye’, or whatever, to Brian. They weren’t going to be working together anymore, after all. They might bump into each other occasionally at the diner. Or even at Babylon. But that would be different. They wouldn’t … well, talk to each other, or anything. He’d be just some kid that Brian kind of knew.

He refused to let that make him feel depressed again. Tonight he was going to get dressed up in his one decent outfit (courtesy of the generous cash gifts he’d gotten from his mother and his grandparents last birthday and had refused to spend on something sensible), and enjoy the best meal he was likely to eat for the next five years.

‘And enjoy being with Brian’, some treacherous part of his heart whispered, but he refused to listen.

After all, Brian and Nico had been together forever – years and years. It had been awful for him when he’d split with Ethan, and that had only lasted a few months. Brian, no matter how good a show he was putting on, must be devastated. He wasn’t going to be looking for another relationship for a long time; if ever. Justin kind of knew that Brian wasn’t someone to whom it came easily to let someone close to you. Now that he’d been so badly hurt, he was going to be even more reluctant. So there was no point in even thinking about him as some kind of … well, … possible … something.

He was just out of bounds. Plain and simple.

But at least they could share a meal, even if it was with other people, and maybe talk a little; and laugh; and he could look at Brian’s beautiful face; and …

‘Oh, fuck!’ that treacherous part of his heart whispered a little louder. ‘Face it, Taylor, you’re falling for him. Fall-en for him, even. Oh, fuck!’

Well, it didn’t matter. They weren’t working together any more. They weren’t anything together. So if he could just resist making a fool of himself tonight, then … he’d be okay. Well, maybe not okay, but not totally pathetic either.

He’d given himself all kinds of pep talks by the time Brian arrived to collect him, but he wasn’t sure they’d done all that much good. Especially when he saw Brian. Justin was used to seeing Brian in business wear; or in the stuff he’d glimpsed him in sometimes at Babylon. But tonight Brian wasn’t wearing a suit and tie, and he wasn’t wearing club clothes either. He had on charcoal grey pants and a slim fitting black silk pullover with a v-neck under a long line black leather coat. A white silk scarf was draped around his neck and Justin didn’t think he’d even seen a more attractive man in his whole totally pathetic life. He had to concentrate just to stop himself from openly drooling.

That he himself looked not unattractive in black pants and a blue cashmere sweater that almost exactly matched his eyes didn’t even occur to him.

It did occur to Brian. But he’d taught himself weeks ago to ignore the fact that young Taylor was a totally delicious morsel that he’d normally have heels over head without thinking twice about it. So after taking a moment to supposedly fumble with the lock so Justin could open the door and get into the car, but actually to adjust his pants, he went right on ignoring it. Or trying to.

Of course, asking someone to dinner, picking them up, taking them to one of the best restaurants in town, talking and laughing with him all through their tête-à-tête dinner and then driving him home again, might look to some people like a date.

Brian refused to even consider that it could be seen that way.

Justin tried desperately to remind himself that it was nothing like a date. It was just a celebration between two colleagues who’d worked hard to land a very lucrative contract. The fact that there was no one else there to share the celebration didn’t mean anything. Nor did the fact that, the excellent food aside, he had such a great time. Even the fact that Brian seemed to enjoy himself as well didn’t mean anything. Brian took clients to dinner all the time. He was used to pretending to enjoy himself in their company. Of course, he probably didn’t laugh quite this much with clients. And definitely not at the kind of humor that he seemed to share with Justin. But still …

All too soon for Justin they were pulling on their coats and were headed out to the car.

All the way back to the apartment building he debated how he should say “goodnight” to Brian. Say ‘goodbye’, really.

He couldn’t very well turn around in the car and shake hands … that would be weird and awkward. He supposed he should just say ‘thanks’ and get out and maybe turn and give a little wave before going back inside.

It would be out of the question to ask Brian if he’d like to come in for coffee.

Wouldn’t it?

Of course it would.

That would make it feel like a date.

And a kind of awkward first date at that.

No … ‘thanks’, get out, little wave, walk away. That was the way to go.

But even having decided, Justin kept on stewing.

He wasn’t to know of course that Brian was holding the same debate with himself.

All through dinner he’d watched Justin’s beautiful face as he smiled and sparkled while their conversation meandered through topics as diverse as to who had really deserved their “best director” Oscars in the past few years (and who’d had the biggest fashion disasters at the ceremonies); whether Modernism and the minimalist designers had any relevance in a post Post-Modernist world gone mad on gadgets and conspicuous consumerism; and Barack Obama’s chances in the up-coming elections.

Brian had never really known what it was like to have a friend with whom he could have such a wide-ranging discussion. His best friend, Mikey, was … well … limited in both the range of his interests and in his willingness, or maybe his ability (Brian thought a little guiltily), to extend that range. Ben, Michael’s partner, was erudite enough, but his (to Brian) ridiculously PC-zen stance on everything, coupled with a more than generous dose of smugness, was enough to drive Brian to say and do totally outrageous things just to try to dent Ben’s much-vaunted zen-like calm. Those conversations typically didn’t go well. There was Ted, of course, who was smart enough. But he tended to focus on money, opera and the latest home-building activities he had going with his partner, Blake, all of which were, to Brian, several slashed wrists beyond boring. Emmett was sometimes a surprise packet, but as they were rarely alone together, and both seemed to feel a little awkward when they were, their conversations had always been rather hit and miss. And fuck knows, he and Nico had never had much to actually say to each other.

So to sit for hours, sharing a meal and a bottle of wine and be able to relax and find the conversation flowing easily and naturally, full of spark and interest and challenge and yet somehow comfortable and compatible on some deep level … that was new to Brian.

He didn’t, he discovered as the night wound to its end with waiters conspicuously clearing tables all around them, want to say ‘goodbye’ to young Taylor just yet. The thought of only ever seeing him in company at Babylon or, worse, the diner, was … well … it wasn’t a good fucking thought. That’s all.

Of course, if the client decided to do a follow-up campaign, then it would be natural to ask for him to work on it again. But that could be fucking months away.

He could ask him if he’d like to go to Babylon instead of going home, but that wasn’t what he fucking wanted.

Brian wasn’t sure what he did want.

Which was making him feel kind of pissed off.

If he wanted to fuck Taylor, he should just do it, Brian told himself. They weren’t working together now. He was sure that Taylor would be up for it, given the right encouragement; and Brian could be very encouraging.

But that wasn’t really what he wanted either. Fucking Justin and then walking out would just make running into him at the diner or Babylon even more fucking awkward and …

‘What the fuck is wrong with you?’ Brian demanded of himself. ‘You’re behaving like some smitten fucking lesbian.’

But that didn’t help either. He was drowning in totally uncharacteristic indecision when he saw the poster. And was saved.

“Brian! Did you see? They’re having an Andy Warhol film festival.”

“Yeah. Saw it.” He paused for a moment to be sure he could keep his voice casual, and then said. “We should go.”

He was rewarded with a smile that, even glimpsed from the sideways glance that was all he could manage in the post-game traffic he was currently navigating, was bright enough to dazzle him.

For some reason, they were both a lot more relaxed for the rest of the drive to Justin’s place, as they discussed which films they really wanted to see (basically, anything with Joe, and especially Lonesome Cowboys), and made plans for Justin to check out what was screening when and call Brian so they could arrange the times and dates.

There was one little moment of hesitation when the car drew up outside Justin’s place. For a moment he really, really wanted to give Brian at least a little kiss on the cheek or something to thank him for the evening. But that would be … weird, right?

For his part, Brian, his eyes suddenly seeming transfixed by those beautiful red lips, suddenly wanted more than he could remember wanting anything, to taste them.

But Justin was already climbing out of the car, and the moment was lost. Although Brian did get another one of those smiles and a little wave before he drove away.

By the time they’d seen two of the Warhol films, gone to an exhibition at the Sydney Bloom Gallery where Lindsay worked (‘it’s a freebie’ Brian had explained), laughed themselves silly at a performance by a stand up comic who was a friend of a friend of Justin’s friend Daphne, and even watched a hockey game from one of the boxes (another freebie, courtesy of the agency’s latest client being a Pens sponsor), they’d both given up needing to feel like they had to find excuses to spend time together.

Finding special events to go to morphed into going to dinner – along with the occasional movie, or even a show if the right one came along. Going out to dinner over time became sometimes staying in to dinner – usually takeaway or occasionally Justin would cook. They’d lie around on the floor or the couch and smoke a joint or two and watch a DVD if they felt like it, or just talk or listen to music and just be together.

Inevitably, after one of those evenings they wound up in bed. It wasn’t planned, or even really intended. It just happened. But neither of them fought all that hard to prevent it either. One minute they were laughing over some dumb “reality” show, and the next they were reaching for each other instead of the Pad Thai, and …

Afterwards, there was a little awkwardness, but since neither of them could even contemplate not having the other one around they just had to work out a way past that.

So they fucked again that night, and Brian slept in the bed that he’d always told Justin was too fucking small, and could now say that he’d definitely proved the point, because they had to sleep all smooched up together or one of them would have fallen out of the bed.

The next morning was a work day and with the rush to get up and showered there was no time for awkwardness. Brian had to go home to get clothes, so Justin headed for the diner. He didn’t really expect Brian to join him there, but it was nice when he did, and no one seemed to notice anything unusual, so they just sat together, as always, and held their own conversation about stuff to do with design and advertising, as always, and the world went on.

For the first few days they both tried to pretend that the sex wasn’t happening and that nothing had changed. And in some ways, nothing had. But in others …

For the first time, Brian understood what being in a relationship could be like (if this had been a “real” relationship, of course).

This was nothing like the thing with Nico.

Well, except that the sex was, if anything, even hotter than it had been with his ex.

But everything else couldn’t have been more different. There were no dramas. There weren’t even any of the dramas with Mikey and with Linds that had been a feature of his early days with Nico. He supposed it was because both of them had moved on in their lives and so they were more willing to let Brian get on with his. Or maybe it was because Justin had become a fixture in his life weeks before either of his friends had even really realized it.

By the time he and Justin actually became lovers, the little twat had managed to bond with Mikey over comics (they seemed to be planning to have a try at writing one together) and he’d bonded with Lindsay over art (she was encouraging him to get a portfolio together and submit it to her boss); plus by now they were both used to Justin appearing at the diner or at Babylon or even at Deb’s family dinners and it took them a while to realize that now when he appeared it was usually with Brian. Of course, he’d always talked to Brian and kind of hung out with Brian, but now he arrived with Brian, and left with Brian and one day Mikey realized that when they left together, Brian’s arm was usually draped around the kid somewhere and Lindsay saw them walking hand in hand down the path to the gate when they’d dropped Gus off after a trip to the zoo and Emmett saw the little kiss Brian gave the blond outside the diner when he was heading off to work after their usual breakfast and Ted noticed that Justin had been put on Brian’s list of ‘always to be put through’ callers at the agency. So gradually the penny kind of tottered into the slot and Brian’s friends realized that, without them having any say in it at all, he was clearly in another relationship.

With Nico, the beginning had been intense and dramatic and had provided gossip fodder for the whole of Liberty Avenue.

With Justin, Liberty Avenue didn’t catch on until long after it had happened, so the gossip didn’t really have a chance to get off the ground – it was out-dated before it even began.

With Nico – everything had been a drama. With Justin, although he could definitely be the little ‘drama princess’ Brian sometimes teased him with, it was all much easier. Brian never felt he had to live up to some fucking image that Nico wanted to present to the world. He could just be Brian and that seemed fine with Justin.

They had rows. Or at least disagreements. Justin found Brian could be a total asshole, often without really trying, like when Justin suggested that maybe they could have dinner or something with his mother and sister one night, and Brian had acted as if that was the most outrageous thing he’d ever heard, and walked out and probably had gone to Babylon or somewhere to fuck his way through a dozen guys that didn’t have fucking mothers. It wasn't Justin's fault that his mother, having heard from Debbie at a damned Pflag meeting that he was seeing someone, was demanding to meet the guy. But Brian was such an asshole over the whole thing that Justin wondered whether their whatever-it-was would be over before the meeting even happened.

And Brian discovered that Justin could be as stubborn as a lingering STD, like when he insisted that Brian should come over and meet his fucking mother and sister and sulked for a week until Brian agreed.

But there were none of the public scenes that Nico had seemed to delight in.

If they disagreed, it was in private, and to the best of Brian’s knowledge, Justin didn’t go whining to anyone about how badly Brian treated him. Well, maybe his BFF, Daphne, but that’s what hags are for.

Anyway, Brian knew how to charm Daphne, and she was totally on his side. She’d told him (after making him swear never to let Justin know she’d told) what a total asshole Justin’s last boyfriend had been. And Brian, though he’d made a token effort to deny the implication in that “last boyfriend” phrase, had listened and told her, quite honestly, that clearly the guy was a total dick, because otherwise he would never have let Justin go.

At first, the story of how Justin had walked out on Ethan because the flautist or fiddler or whatever couldn’t keep it in his pants worried him.

He and Justin had never had the whole “M” word discussion and Brian was still tricking occasionally. Not often, he didn’t seem to have the time much any more. For all he knew, Justin was too. He told himself that he’d never promised Justin anything different, but …

Being Brian, he decided the only way to deal was to either ignore the issue completely, or tackle it head on. Deciding he’d rather know now and get the whole fucking thing out in the open even if it meant that they … well, broke up or something lame like that … he went for the “head on” option.

“Daphne says you walked out on Ian because he fucked around.”


“Ian … Ethan … whatever.”

Justin shrugged. He hadn’t been expecting this conversation and he wasn’t sure how to explain how he felt. It wasn’t like he hadn’t thought about them becoming monogamous. But he knew Brian wasn’t ready for that. He wasn’t sure he was himself. He tried to find the words to articulate his feelings on the matter.

“It wasn’t so much that he fucked someone else,” he said. “It was that he’d made such a big deal over us being exclusive, and how much he loved me and all that shit and then the first time he had some fanboy come up and hit on him, he just forgot all of that and went for it.”

He shook his head, feeling again the anger and frustration he’d felt with Ethan the night it had all come out, the night the kid had turned up at their door with roses in his hand.

“No, it wasn’t even that. It was that when I told him I’d seen him with that kid he denied anything had happened. And even when the kid turned up at my home looking for him, he still expected me to just … ignore it. To act like he’d never made the promises, never broken them and never fucking lied about it.”

Brian looked at him steadily, his own heart suddenly beating very hard. Because Justin seemed to be saying that it wasn’t the fucking on the side, per se, that had been the problem; and if that were true …

“It wasn’t the fuck. That was … that was nothing. It was the lying, and the broken promises, and the total fucking refusal to even accept that he’d broken them, that he’d fucked up, and he’d lied and then he just expected me to accept it all as if none of it had ever fucking happened.”

He took a deep breath.

This could be make or break with him and Brian and he needed to be really clear about how he felt. He wasn’t the kid who’d been such an idiot over Ethan any more.

“I know you still, you know, trick. I don’t care about that. It’s got nothing to do with …”

‘With us’ he’d nearly said. But maybe Brian wasn’t ready to hear that. Maybe he’d never really be ready to hear that. They were just fuck buddies, after all. Kind of.

Well, not to Justin. But to Brian he figured they were.

“With me,” he finished.

To Brian’s surprise something in that statement didn’t sit at all well with him.

But he wasn’t quite ready to admit that he didn’t like the idea that what he did or didn’t do was ‘nothing to do’ with Justin Taylor; not quite ready to concede, even to himself, that he wanted to be very much Justin Taylor’s business.

“As long as I don’t have to watch, what you do with your dick when you’re not with me … that’s up to you.”

Brian wondered if Justin expected him to say the same. Well, he probably could say that. Maybe.

Although if young Taylor expected him to say that it was none of Brian’s business who Justin let fuck his ass when he wasn’t with Brian, he’d be waiting a long fucking time.

Brian knew that was completely irrational, but he managed to shrug off the implications of such a ridiculously lesbianic feeling as jealousy.

However, somewhere deep in the most hidden recesses of the heart he would have liked to deny possessing, there was the hint of another emotion as well. Not guilt, he didn’t believe in that shit. Or even regret. But something … some ghost of a suggestion that he didn’t somehow like Justin having such low expectations of him, of this … whatever the fuck it was. Of course, Justin shouldn’t have any fucking expectations of him at all, but …

Resolutely, Brian shrugged off all these unaccustomed and unwelcome thoughts and uncertainties and focused his energies on how to make sure that Justin got on with the task Lindsay had given him of putting together a portfolio of his work to show to her boss.

Sydney Bloom, whatever Brian thought of him personally, was a highly respected gallery owner. Brian had seen a number of Justin’s sketches and was the pr … well, the owner of one of his paintings. Justin had been reluctant to give it to him at first. He seemed to believe that Brian was only saying he wanted it to fucking “be nice” or some shit. Little twat should know better.

But Brian didn’t believe in hiding lights under bushels. He knew Justin was talented – the ad campaign had proved that, but he’d had no idea of the range and scope of his work until they’d become close and he’d started to see bits and pieces around the place every time he went to Justin’s apartment. The work he’d managed to persuade Justin to part with – having originally offered to buy it, which had simply horrified Justin – was an astonishing painting in blues and purples and deep deep crimson. For some reason it had moved him deeply when he’d first seen it and he’d had to have it. It now hung proudly in the loft. There was another, lighter piece which he was hoping Justin would get the chance to exhibit somewhere, so that he could buy it for his office. If not, he’d have to find a way to get him to accept some money for it – tell him that it was a business expense or some shit.

Meanwhile, Justin was still fucking about instead of getting his works properly photographed and presented.


Brian decided enough was enough.

He made some calls and then texted Justin. (Little twat couldn’t argue with a text, Brian would just ignore any responses.)

‘Be home tonight. I’ll be there by six. And have everything you want to show Sydney around.’

He was there just before six – with a photographer who’d done some work for the agency and was hoping for more. Not to mention hoping for something else from Brian. He wasn’t going to get that, but he didn’t have to know that right now.

Brian also had a professional portfolio which he thrust into Justin’s arms as he swept into his apartment carrying the lighting equipment needed to get the required shots.

Before Justin’s bemused eyes Brian and Trevor (really? Justin found himself thinking. Trevor?) organized his work and methodically went through taking shots of everything Brian thought should be included. At one point Brian went back to the car and came up with his painting, telling Justin that it could be included in what he showed Sydney, and was available for exhibition if required, but he wasn’t giving it up, and he didn’t care what anyone offered him for it.

Justin thought he was kidding, but he wasn’t sorry to have a decent photo of the work. He’d been really reluctant to give it up at all, and couldn’t have to anyone but Brian, because it was a painting of them. Or rather, of Justin’s feelings about them. He wondered if Brian realized that. He didn’t suppose it mattered, because what was important was that Brian seemed to genuinely like it.

By the time Trevor left - somewhat disappointed, because he’d been hoping for a three-way – Justin had a decent set of images of his work, which Brian promised to have converted to slides for him because “those fucking art-assholes are still living in the last fucking century”.

He felt a little overwhelmed, but Brian caught the back of his neck and said firmly, “Listen to me. Are you listening?”

Justin nodded, unable to master his voice. He was surprised to find himself fighting against a tendency to tears like some pathetic little faggot that Brian wouldn’t have spent two minutes with.

Brian bent his head a little to look straight into his eyes.

“What you do with this shit … that’s up to you. But if Lindsay thinks it’s good enough to show her boss, you should listen to her. She’s not going to make herself look stupid by sending him some lame-assed shit that looks like it’s been painted by a complete retard.”

Justin hadn’t thought of that, but it did make sense.

Maybe he could at least take some of his stuff. Hopefully Lindsay’s boss wouldn’t make him feel like a complete idiot. He might at least get some constructive criticism from someone who knew what they were talking about.

He smiled at Brian, a little shakily, but very warmly.

“Thanks, Brian,” he breathed.

“Oh, that’s not how you’re going to thank me,” his … whatever … responded, gently pressing on his shoulders.

Justin laughed, and shrugged away from him. “Not here, come into the bedroom.”

“Now where’s the fun in that?” Brian challenged.

“Well it’s more fun for me than getting rug burns all over my knees and my ass like I did last time from this cheap shit carpet,” Justin shot back.

Grinning, Brian followed him, explaining his apparent capitulation by saying, “Wouldn’t want to damage your most valuable asset.”

Justin wiggled that asset at him to give him encouragement, and Brian responded, tackling him to the bed. Laughing, they kissed and Justin commenced to show Brian just how grateful he was for Brian’s help and support.

He truly was. He hadn’t experienced that kind of support for a long time. Well, maybe from Daphne, but that was different. Ethan had certainly never made him believe that he was a talented artist who should be showing his stuff to galleries and making a living from his art. For Ethan, it had all been about his own talent … Justin’s prime function in life had been to sit back and admire, not to strive and achieve for himself.

As he drifted off to sleep later, Brian’s arm draped over him, and the echoes of Brian’s usual grumbles about how fucking small his bed was still in his ears, Justin realized that right from the beginning Brian had respected his work. He’d gone out of his way to make sure that Justin got recognition for everything he’d done for the advertising campaign – with the client, within Vanguard-Kinney and with Justin’s own boss.

Now Brian was saying, “Go for it!” in this other field, and doing everything he could to help him do that.

That thought warmed something deep inside Justin. Maybe Brian did care for him … a little bit, anyway. So maybe later … when he was over Nico – if he ever got over Nico – then …

He tried to shut out that thought, that hope. But his treacherous heart wouldn’t let him.

That night he dreamed about a future with Brian. But right when they were about to get a place together, settle down together, there was a knock on the door, and although Justin fought to get to Brian to stop him opening it, he was suddenly caught in that horrible slow motion feeling of dreams, and Brian opened the door to find Nico standing outside.

Justin woke up with tears on his cheeks.



Christmas came and went, and New Years, and they were still together. Justin supposed Brian was still tricking, although he couldn’t imagine when he’d find the time or the energy for that matter. But he reminded himself of all the stories he’d heard about Brian’s sexual prowess and did his best not to hope, not to start to believe in the future. Justin thought he’d been hurt over Ethan. He knew now that that had been mainly wounded pride. If, when, this thing with Brian ended it was going to leave a hole in his heart so large that all the Ethans (and Ians and Evans and Eddies) in the world would never find a way to fill it.

And always, always, he lived with the fear at the back of his mind that one day Nicolay Berkhov would realize what a stupid fucking mistake he’d made and come back to claim the man who’d loved him.

And how could anything Justin had or was compete with what Nico offered?

Then, in the first week in February, Justin got a phone call.

He was shaking a little when he finally hung up, and couldn’t resist calling Brian.

“She wants to see me,” Justin squawked down the phone at him, knowing that he was starting at the wrong end of the story. “She wants me to come to New York and meet with her.”

Brian had been about to snap a command at him to get himself together and make some fucking sense or get off the phone and let him deal with the latest crisis (when he owned this fucking agency some people were going to be out on their asses faster than a sixteen year old virgin comes). But then the “New York” part penetrated and he stopped himself. Ever since New Year he’d been putting off a much needed trip to New York to catch up with two clients and potentially snare another. It wasn’t because he didn’t like New York, but somehow … he just hadn’t wanted to go right now.

But if Justin had to go there … well, it would make sense for …

He shelved that thought as Justin babbled on at him: “She runs a small gallery in the Village, and she does one show every year with artists that have never exhibited anywhere before. She calls them ‘Virgin Viewings”.

Brian couldn’t resist a snort.

“There’s one next month and Sydney sent her some of my stuff and she says she can hang one, maybe two pieces, if I’m interested.”

Brian found himself smiling … well, yeah, damned right … fucking proudly. The kid was a genius. He’d always known that … right from the beginning.

Justin had thought Sydney had just been letting him down gently when he’d said that there was nothing he could offer at the moment, although the gallery would be holding an “Emerging Artists” show later in the year, and he’d hoped Justin would consider allowing them to hang some of his pieces then. But obviously he’d been sincere. And clever. Showing a total unknown was one thing, but showing someone whose work had already received favorable notice in New York (that Justin would receive favorable notice in New York, Brian pretty much took for granted) … Brian figured Sydney Bloom was every bit as devious as he’d suspected. And in this case it was working to Justin’s benefit. He’d be keeping a fucking close eye on him in the future though. No one was going to rip his Sunshine off if he could fucking help it.

“So she needs me to go there as soon as possible,” Justin’s disjointed narrative was winding up. The enormity of it all was sinking in, and he realized how totally overwhelmed he felt at the thought of going to New York to deal with a gallery owner there. Not to mention at the thought of being in New York on his own. The thought of being away from Brian. The excitement started to seep away to be replaced by a vague feeling of dread.

“We’ll leave Saturday morning,” Brian stated firmly. “We can spend the weekend having a look round, do some shopping. You can meet with her on Monday, while I catch up with the people from Klosters, then maybe we could both meet with that bitch from Eyekonics on Tuesday. I know she fucking loved the work you did for that other client, and I’ve got an idea for something along those lines to show off their stupid fucking glasses.”

And if you come along to the meeting with Eyekonics, I can write your fare, and at least some of the accommodation, off to the agency, Brian thought to himself.

Justin stared at him, feeling the excitement flood through him once more. New York. With Brian. That would be … amazing. Suddenly the idea of dealing with the gallery owner didn’t seem nearly as scary.

He found himself smiling brilliantly as they agreed to discuss the details that night.

The excitement stayed with him for the rest of the week; it stayed even after their plane had landed in New York. Right up until they left their hotel and headed out for Brian, at least, to do some shopping. It was when they stepped through the door of the Hugo Boss store on Broadway that things changed.

In his Old Navy cargo pants and GAP jacket Justin felt totally out of place. This was the sort of place that Brian belonged in, but not him. This was the sort of place that Brian would have come to with Nico. And at that thought the excitement ebbed, washed away by a vague sense of dread. Nico!

Nico lived in New York.

Nico would shop in these sort of stores.

And eat at the sort of restaurants Brian had been talking about on the plane. Brian had probably gone to some of them with Nico.

Nico would go to the clubs that Brian was thinking of visiting that night. Nico would hang out in all the sorts of places they’d been planning to visit.

Maybe, knowing that, Brian had even unconsciously made those plans hoping to see him.

And if he did …

Justin didn’t know how he got through that day. Or their evening spent at two of New York’s hottest clubs.

He did his best to keep a smile on his face, make it seem like everything was normal, but all the time the feeling of dread was growing. Somewhere on this trip they were going to bump into Nico, he just knew it.

Brian must have sensed that something was wrong, but he probably put it down to nerves over the meeting Justin had arranged at the Gallery on Monday. Occasionally he would make some reference to Justin becoming a star on the New York art scene, or something equally ridiculous. Justin supposed he was trying, in his Brian-esque way, to reassure him.

But there was no reassurance he could offer that would allay the real reason for the loss of sparkle in Justin’s eyes. And of course, Justin couldn’t possibly explain what was really wrong, what he was really afraid of. Brian would not only go into denial over the feelings he must still have for Nico, he’d be revolted by what he’d see as the ‘lesbianic’ nature of Justin’s emotions. It would probably be enough to make him give up on this … whatever it was they had … completely. Even without Nico’s intervention. And if they did run into the model … well, Justin behaving like a stupid jealous little faggot would just push Brian back into his arms that much faster.

For his part, Brian was doing the best he could to understand how nervous Justin must be feeling over his gallery opportunity, and also to try to distract Justin from his fears. Brian was sure the meeting was going to go well. The fucking owner would never have asked Justin to come to New York just to tell him his work wasn’t worth hanging. If the little twat would just relax and be himself he’d be fine. He decided that they should try to get tickets for a performance of Chicago on Sunday night. He knew Justin had liked the movie, and was sure he’d enjoy the stage show even more. Brian himself actually enjoyed the dark, sardonic nature of the story and the music was okay … at least it wasn’t all fucking saccharine and sugar like some of the other shows on Broadway.

They strolled down to the theater after a post-breakfast fuck, and were just leaving, having successfully purchased two premium seats for that evening’s show (among those kept in reserve in case any VIP decided at the last moment they wanted tickets and happily sold to the hottest men the ticket assistant had seen in a month of boring working Sundays), when Justin’s worst fears came true.

They crossed the road from the theater and there, walking towards them, his head in the air and an arrogant smirk on his face, was Nicolay Berkhov.

The three men stopped and stared at each other. Justin, seeing the beauty and the confidence of the man in front of him, so well-matched to the even more beautiful man beside him, felt his heart breaking. He had no idea what to do. He wanted to crawl into the gutter, find a drain and let himself slip down it into the stinking darkness beneath the city. Even that would be better than this.

He heard Nico’s voice say just the one word, somehow managing to fill it with all the power of a summons, “Brian.”

He heard Brian’s voice, quiet, level, but with something trembling underneath, “Hello, Nico.”

He wanted to turn and run.

But then Brian’s arm encircled his shoulders, and Brian’s voice went on, “You remember Justin.”

Nico’s eyes narrowed, and Justin realized he was furious. He was taken aback by the blaze of anger he felt from the man. Unconsciously, he leaned a little closer to Brian, and felt that warm arm holding him, supporting him.

Through the haze of confused emotions he heard Brian’s voice again, “Well, Nico, it’s been real, but we have to get moving … things to do, places to fuck …”

Nico’s chin lifted even further, if that were possible, and he sneered a little at them both. “Of course, don’t let me delay you. When you are visiting such a great city, you tourists need to make the most of every moment.”

It was clearly meant to be a terrible insult, but its inadequacy made Justin want to giggle. Or maybe it was just the feeling of relief. Nico moved past them and turned a corner and he found himself breathing heavily and, ridiculously, on the verge of tears.

“What the fuck’s the matter with you?” Brian asked, sounding genuinely bewildered. He pulled Justin close and forced his head up to face him.

When he saw the tears spilling from those beautiful blue eyes, something in him, some hard icy shell, broke apart. His face softened.

“What the fuck?”

Justin shrugged, fighting for composure.

Brian shook his head at him.

Cupping Justin’s face in his hands and looking down into his eyes, he said softly, “You little twat.”

Justin felt the urge to giggle again. He was sure it was hysteria. He had to try to keep it together. Brian must think he was totally losing it.

Brian stuck his tongue into his cheek for a moment and then, smiling slightly, pressed his forehead against Justin.

“You,” he said. Just that one word.

Justin stared up at him. What did that mean? What was Brian saying? He … what …?

Brian rubbed his nose across Justin’s and just before he kissed him, said once more, “You.”

Halfway through the kiss, Justin finally got the message. For a moment he pulled back a little, but only to free his arms so he could throw them round Brian’s neck and hang on tightly as he hungrily pressed his mouth to Brian’s.

There were still tears spilling down his cheeks when they finally drew apart so they could get some air into hungry lungs, but he was laughing.

Brian nodded. “That’s fucking better. Stupid twat.”

He wrapped his arm around Justin’s neck and they started walking down the street back to their hotel.

“I thought …” Justin faltered.

Brian shook his head, not looking at Justin, although still keeping a tight hold on his young lover.

“What the fuck would I want with some arrogant fuckwit with nothing to recommend him but his pretty face and what’s in his pants?” he demanded of the New York street at large. “When I can have the next fucking Andy Warhol.”

Justin did giggle then, suddenly feeling like he could take on the world.

“Besides,” Brian said, gracing Justin with a mischievous sideways glance. “You’re not bad looking and you’re a better fuck than he ever was.”

At that, Justin laughed out loud, and when he saw the street stall he insisted on stopping and buying Brian some red roses.

It was Valentine’s Day after all.


Happy Valentine's Day! For those who don't recognise where the plot comes from, it's from a Roy Orbison song. Here's the link. The clip is worth watching, just to play 'spot the face' among his backing singers and band.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xdlucQm0L0


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