"Well, I don't know why you put up with it," was Daphne's comment when Justin's rant finally came to an end.

"I don't have much fucking choice," he grumbled.

Then he sighed.

"It's not like they mean any harm, they just don't understand. And they don't realize how it makes me feel. "

"What about Brian?" Daphne asked.

Justin huffed. "He just shrugs it off. Tells me to ignore it. Acts like it doesn't bother him."

He paused, then went on. "But, Daph, I know Brian. I know him a lot better than any of them do, no matter what they think. And it does affect him. Not the way they might think. But it kind of reinforces that his friends don't think that he's capable of having a "real" relationship."

"It must make him feel like they don't believe he really deserves one," Daphne observed acutely. "That sucks."

"Yeah, it totally does. But I don't have a fucking clue what to do about it."

He sighed again and then glanced at his watch. "Sorry, have to go. I promised Deb I'd work a shift this afternoon, she's short because everyone's come down with colds and flu. If I don't go in she'll be working at least a double shift and trying to do two people's work on each of them."

"Okay. I've got shopping of my own to do and I've promised to put in some time at the hospice this afternoon. I mightn't be qualified yet, but I can at least take a few temperatures and help with that sort of stuff. But while I'm playing doctor, I'll give your little problem some thought. Who knows what I might come up with?"

They stood and hugged before they separated to head off to their different duties. Justin spent a moment thinking how lucky he was in his BFF. Not only had she always been a stellar friend, but she was an all-round amazing person. He knew she spent a lot more time than she ever mentioned volunteering at Vic Grassi House because every time he went there himself, the guys were always talking about how cute she was, and how she made them feel better just by walking in the room. She also volunteered on a kids' helpline and somehow fitted these activities in around her medical studies.

The only downside was that she made him feel like a total pretender. He promised himself that in the New Year he'd up his own hours at the hospice. Brian supported it with generous donations (although Justin wasn't supposed to know that) but he couldn't do that yet. But he could at least support it with his time. He owed that much to Vic, if nothing else.



Meanwhile, Daphne headed for the Mall where she bought a couple of small gifts and then, as instructed by one of Brian's "stealth" emails, visited the bakery across the road from the Mall and collected the boxes of mince pies and cookies that were destined for the Hospice. As promised, there was a car waiting for her when she came out and she was just about to get in when she saw the old guy. He was standing outside the bakery, peering at the goodies in the window with a look of such wistful longing on his face that she couldn't bring herself to simply walk past him.

"I have a spare mince pie," she heard herself say. "Or a cookie. Or … is there something else you'd really like? Maybe something hot. I think they sell soup. Think of it as a Christmas present."

He stared at her for a moment and then smiled. He was missing a few teeth, she noticed, but his smile still held an incredible amount of sweetness.

"That would be very kind," he said softly. "Some hot soup would just hit the spot."

She smiled back at him, relieved that she hadn't offended him, or triggered some kind of incomprehensible outburst (which had happened to her before when trying to help a "street person").

"Well come in with me, and pick out what you'd like," she said.

"I don't think I'd be welcome in there," he said, but there was no offense in his tone, just a matter-of-factness that for some reason made her want to cry.

"Well, today you're with me, and if they give you any grief, they'll have me to deal with."

Her spirited reply made him laugh, but he still shook his head. "Why get people all riled up over nothing?" he responded. "I'll do just fine out here."

She was going to argue, but realized that she had no right to force him to fight battles he clearly wasn't interested in, so she went back into the shop, bought the largest cup of soup they had, as well as a coffee, a roll, some mince pies, a couple of cookies and a slice of apple pie. She took her food out and was about to offer to find somewhere to sit with him while he ate it when the impatient honking of the car horn reminded her that her transport was waiting.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I really have to go. Will you be okay?"

"I'll be just fine," he said, walking with her towards the car. "You've made an old man's wish come true."

She smiled at him, and then, obeying some impulse that she didn't really understand, leant forward and kissed his cheek.

"Have a happy Christmas," she said.

"Oh, I will," he responded. "I will now. And you too."

Reluctantly she got in the car and headed off.

The old man stood on the pavement, looking after her for a while. Then he nodded.

"Okay," he said. "Okay, let's see what we can do."



That night, Daphne was going through her emails when she came across an odd one. It didn't seem to have a sender and at first she was about to trash it, mindful of virus warnings and not opening the door to crazies, when she looked again and saw that the sender field actually had her cousin's name. She figured she must be more tired than she'd thought and opened it.

"Make a wish!" the email advised. And provided a link for her to click on.

She was still reluctant, but the text below, which was clearly from her cousin because he greeted her with the horrible "Daffie Chuck" nickname that he'd taunted her with all through her childhood, urged her to try the "make a wish" thing because it was totally amazing and maybe it would help her pass her exams. It waffled on about a whole heap of stuff, including his plans for Christmas day and the current status of his love life, but she ignored all that and impulsively clicked on the link.

There was a short list of instructions, the first of which was "Be careful what you wish for."

The instructions went on to say that she should take the opportunity to make a meaningful wish seriously and not waste it on the frivolous or the worthy but impossible (like world peace). 'The wish should be clear and personal', the instructions advised. 'If not for you, then for someone close to you, someone you know well enough to be able to make a wise wish for them. But be mindful that you may be affecting their life.'

They finished with an admonition that if she told anyone what she'd wished for, it wouldn't come true.

For a moment Daphne sat in thought, then, with a somewhat fierce grin, she started typing.

When she'd done she hit the "submit" button.

Then, yawning, she turned off the computer, laughing a little at herself for her gullibility in believing even enough to take the time to write out her wish.



The next day she got a phone call from Justin, burbling away in typical Justin fashion about what had happened the previous evening, just before the end of his shift.

"Seriously, Daph, it was the weirdest thing. We were in the diner – Brian was just having a coffee while he waited for me to finish my shift, and Michael and Ben came in.

"Ben was saying that the GLC were already talking about what they wanted to do for Valentine's. He said that they're sick of holding "singles" nights which are meant to give single gays a chance to meet and develop meaningful relationships, but usually just turn into hook up nights for people who don't like going to the clubs."

He broke off while Daphne snorted derisively (sounding just like Brian, Justin realized in some corner of his mind).

"Anyway," he went on quickly (cutting off her 'What the fuck did they expect?' response that was also a lot like Brian's), "they're thinking of having a couples dinner instead – but only for couples who've been together for at least six months or longer. To "celebrate real love" or some shit."

Again Daphne snorted, and again he cut her off.

"I asked who was going to judge whether people were "together" or not, and Michael went on to say something about how couples that are really together don't fuck other people and then he suddenly stopped talking!"

He made the announcement in a dramatic tone that told her she was meant to see this as something fairly earth-shattering, but just why eluded her – or tried to. "So?" she asked.

"I don't mean he stopped, exactly," Justin said with something very like a giggle. "It was more like suddenly he couldn’t talk. He kept opening and closing his mouth and just nothing was coming out. He got really red in the face and started coughing, and then he asked for a glass of water, and started to complain about not being able to talk and his voice was fine.

"It was the weirdest thing," he finished.

Daphne was uncharacteristically silent.

"Well?" he prompted.

"Well, what?" she responded automatically, her brain spinning.

"You're the doctor, what do you think happened?"

She took a deep careful breath. This was crazy. It couldn't be happening. So if it wasn't really happening, she didn't need to say anything. And if it was really happening …

Well, she decided, if it was really happening she didn't want to mess with it, so she couldn't say anything.

"Justin, I don't know. He might have had some kind of throat spasm or something. Maybe if he'd just come in from the cold, his body was reacting to the sudden heat. Who knows?"

Before he could ask anything else, she said, "I have to go. I've got a class in a few minutes."

That was true. But mainly she just wanted a little time to think.

Making a wish didn't make things happen. The whole idea was ridiculous. Wishes just didn't come true.

Did they?



In the diner again for a late breakfast, Michael was still grumbling to Emmett about the way his voice had suddenly cut out the night before. Debbie sat down at his table, announcing that she was taking a break, and shouted for Kiki to bring her a coffee and a Danish.

"You should go to a doctor," she urged. "It could be serious."

"But it's fine now," Michael whined. "He'd think I was crazy. It's not like my throat is even sore."

"So what happened?" Debbie asked.

"Well, Ben was telling Justin about the GLC's plans for Valentine's Day."

"Valentine's?" Debbie exclaimed. "Can't they at least wait until after New Year's?"

"Well, they wanted to get an early start," Michael explained vaguely.

"What he means is," Emmett cut in, his tone tinged with more than a little sarcasm, "They held a secret meeting so that they could get their plans for a cozy couples' night up and running before anyone got wind of what they were up to in case other people preferred something a little less … restrictive."

"How did you know?" Michael squeaked. "I mean …"

"Oh, pish!" Emmett replied. "Do you really think there's anything function-related in this burgh that I don't get to hear about before the cat can lick his whiskers?"

Michael sighed. "They're just tired of having these nice plans that turn into some kind of …"

"People having fun?" Emmett asked drily.

"So what happened?" Deb interjected, doing her best to get the conversation back on track and away from dangerous ground. She was aware that once more (just like when he'd been with David) Michael's one track mind had become so focused on his own happy-suburban-couple existence that anything else, including the lifestyles of his oldest friends, was considered unacceptably second rate. Debbie knew his current attitude was both hurtful and increasingly annoying to more than one of those old friends; a fact of which Michael himself was, of course, totally oblivious.

"Well, Justin piped up about who was going to judge who was a "real couple" or something so I …"

And just like that, he stopped talking.

He swallowed, tried again. Looked scared. And then said, really loudly, "Why can't I talk?"

Which made everyone in the place look at him and then laugh.

Debbie blinked at him. "Are you okay, honey? I'll get you some lemon tea and honey.'

"I don't want lemon tea and honey," Michael pouted. "I want to know what's going on."

He discussed what might be going on at length for what seemed like hours, boring the pants off everyone around him, until some twenty minutes later Justin came in to collect his wages for the last couple of days.

Emmett haled his arrival with relief and invited him to sit with them.

"It happened again," Michael told him, as soon as he sat down. "I suddenly couldn't talk again. And then, just like that, my voice came back. Something is going on."

"Like what?" Justin asked.

"I don't know. But there's something. It's spooky."

"Daph says it might be because of the cold weather. That your throat is just reacting to the sudden temperature changes when you come indoors."

Stubbornly, Michael shook his head. "No, it's not that. It's like … it's like there's a force stopping me from saying things."

Justin and Emmett exchanged a look and did their best not to fall about laughing. Clearly Mikey had read one too many comics this time.

(Strangely, in this they were doing him an injustice, but they weren't to know that.)

Debbie rejoined them. "Well, I think it's nice to think of having a couples' dinner for Valentine's," she said. "That's what it's really all about."

Justin and Emmett exchanged another look. "The thing is, Deb," Emmett said, "That couples can have a nice cozy dinner for two anywhere they like. The point about the singles' event is to provide something for the people who don't have someone to cuddle up to on Valentine's."

"And," Justin put in, "it's totally fucked that the little sub-committee at the GLC think they've got the right to decide who's a "real couple" or not and therefore worthy of coming to their little soirιe."

"Well, it's not like you and Brian would …"

And once again Michael's voice cut out.

But Deb was already making her own point and didn't immediately realize what had happened.

"Well, honey, given that Brian wouldn't be caught dead at a GLC event, I don't know why it matters so much to you."

Justin huffed. "I just don't see why other people, who know fuck all about us, get to judge our relationship based on their ideas about what a relationship should be."

"But, honey," Deb tried to explain as Michael still struggled to speak, "As long as you're both still f…"

And then her voice cut out as well. For a moment. Then she gasped, "Fucking Hell!"

Then she seemed to be shocked into silence – not so much by her voice disappearing, but ironically by it just as suddenly coming back.

But by then Michael's whine was in full flight once again.

"Now do you believe me?" he said. "It's happening to Mom too."

Suddenly his eyes narrowed and he glared at Justin. "It's you. You're doing something."

"What the fuck are you talking about?"

"Every time anyone says anything about you and Brian not r…"

And his voice cut out again.

Justin giggled. He couldn't help himself.

It was totally ridiculous, he knew. It was just some throat thing going around that Deb and Michael had both caught and by some weird assed coincidence it kept kicking in whenever they mentioned him and Brian. But it was totally hilarious that Michael thought it was something he was doing. Like he could control the cosmic forces that would have to be brought into play to shut Debbie up if she had something she wanted to say.

"Michael, honey," Emmett did his best to be the voice of reason, "You know it can't have been Justin. He wasn't even here when it happened before. It's just … well, it must be some kind of … "  He broke off, and then said slowly, more as if he were trying to convince himself than anything else. "It must just be coincidental. That it happens when you talk about Brian and Justin, I mean."

Then abruptly he got up, saying, "Well, I for one have places to go and parties to organize. I'll see you all later, I'm sure."

Emmett, who'd seen a thing or two back in Mississippi needed time to think.

Justin also left, not able to keep a straight face with Michael still glaring daggers at him, apparently convinced he'd worked some kind of voodoo.

It was just too funny. He couldn't wait to let Brian in on the joke, but given how busy he was at the moment, that would have to wait until he got home from work.

Meanwhile, he could always share it with Daphne.

He called her and arranged to have coffee. She stared at him fascinated as he told her the story and was just as amused as he'd been over the fact that Michael was blaming the whole ridiculous chain of coincidences on Justin.

"Oh, that's hilarious," she giggled. "That's just so …"

"Michael?" Justin suggested.

She laughed harder and nodded. "It's so funny!" she wheezed.

Of course, Daphne had more reasons than Justin knew for seeing the funny side of whatever was going on.



Brian, when the joke was shared with him, gave a typically understated snort of amusement and simply grinned, "Fucking Mikey!" as he pulled Justin into the main room for a 'welcome home' fuck. It would be their last chance to fuck outside the bedroom for a while. The girls were arriving the next day to stay over Christmas and New Year.

Although Michael had of course been keen for them to stay with him, with Hunter home also, there would have only been one room for the girls and the two kids to sleep in, and only two bathrooms between five adults and two children. So it wasn't really nearly as practical as having them at Britin where there were ample bedrooms, each with its own ensuite bathroom.

Brian had put up with Justin's busy plans to make sure that the house would be comfortable and welcoming for their guests, imperfectly concealing from his partner his own keen anticipation at the prospect of having his son staying with them for over a week. He grumbled for the sake of it, but helped Justin strings lights outside the house, and tasteful drapes of red fabric and winter greenery in the hall and the main room; he'd even assisted in choosing and installing a tree, ready to be decorated. He'd refused to do any supermarket shopping, insisting that it was much easier to order online, but when the delivery van arrived with the heaps of food and drink and other supplies that Justin seemed to think were necessary to feed them all for a few days, he'd dutifully helped Justin stack them in the cupboards and fridges. And though he'd refused to go anywhere near the Mall, he'd been the one who had spent hours online choosing decorations for the tree and arranging for them to be delivered. They were sitting near the tree now awaiting the arrival of the kids to join in the decorating.

In fact, Brian's only real concern had been that having the girls and the kids staying at Britin would mean endless entertaining of the masses; but to Brian's relief, Deb insisted on having them all at her place Christmas Eve; Christmas Day would be spent between Michael's and Deb's; and Jen had invited anyone who wanted to come to her new place on New Year's (Brian was resigned to attending, but planned on spending as little time as possible before heading to Babylon), so his only hostly duties (aside from not killing Melanie) would be to allow everyone to gather for drinks tomorrow night.



Although the girls weren't expected till around 2 pm the next day, Debbie and Carl predictably arrived even earlier, Deb being determined to see her granddaughter as soon as possible; and Michael and Ben with Hunter in tow, arrived not long after. So Brian heard first hand their version of the "weird thing" that kept happening every time they mentioned Brian and Justin's relationship.

Michael even demonstrated.

"Every time I try to make the point that you and Justin don't r…"

And his voice cut out.

Of course, it returned again to join Debbie's in chorus, saying how weird the whole thing was and although they knew it couldn't really be Justin (that had been Deb), Brian had to admit that something very strange was happening.

Ben, who had been trying for days to bring his own calm Zen-Ben reasoning to the problem, sighed, and tried once more to explain his own theory that they had both developed a psychological block.

"You've convinced yourselves that it's going to happen, and so it happens," he said.

Not that they listened to him.

Michael even sent Justin into fits of stifled laughter while he outlined all the online research he'd done which had told him that it was probably some kind of voodoo. Or hypnosis. Or something.

"I told you Blondie was bad news," Hunter kicked in, always happy to stir the pot. Carl sat sipping his coffee and nibbling Justin's mother's Christmas cake, trying to pretend he wasn't there while the lament and exclamations went on … and on and on … around him.

It reached the point where Brian was actually glad to welcome even Melanie just to shut them all up.

The girls finally arrived at around 5, only three hours later than planned. Despite Brian's offer to organize plane tickets and to pick up the tab for any excess baggage, Mel had insisted on driving down. By the time they arrived, everyone was tired, grumpy and not exactly in a Christmassy frame of mind. At least, the three females felt that way. Gus seemed to re-energize as soon as he stepped out of the car.

If there was a momentary spasm of shyness when he first saw his father and Justin it had vanished by the time he'd been shown his room – decorated carefully to suit a young boy, but also to allow him to do some growing up without the room becoming outmoded within a few months. From then on he seemed to feel right at home and for the rest of the night (indeed, the rest of the visit) he haunted his father's steps and when he couldn't find his father, haunted Justin's instead.

After a hot drink (made by Justin under Gus's supervision) and a cookie, the kids were ready to do some serious tree decorating, and despite interference and advice from what Brian referred to as 'the fucking peanut gallery', by the time they sat down to eat an early dinner, it was done; perhaps looking a little less than professionally produced, but twinkling brightly before the windows in the main room topped by both a star and an angel (hung one below the other). Held aloft in Brian's strong hands, JR, guided by Justin, had placed the angel and then Gus, sitting on Brian's shoulders, had placed the star.

Ted and Blake and Emmett arrived while the decorating was being done and Ted shared quietly with Blake the observation that he didn't think he'd ever seen his boss, the man he'd of late come to see as a true friend, look happier or more content. Blake, who felt a strong debt of gratitude to Brian on his own behalf for how much he'd helped rebuild Ted's confidence after his dance with crystal, agreed. And laughed with the others when Gus, still perched on Brian's shoulders, held up a scrap of mistletoe and demanded that his father kiss the young blond who'd been an essential part of his father's life for as long as Gus could remember. Brian grinned his tongue in cheek grin and Justin actually blushed, which made Brian grin even wider. Gus nearly slipped off his shoulders while his father kissed his young partner, but they caught the boy between them and Gus laughed with joy. A joy reflected in the eyes of the two men who loved him.

After dinner and baths the tired kids were, with a bit of a struggle, both tucked into bed where they fell asleep almost before the lights were switched off, and the adults settled down with a glass or two of wine or whatever else took their fancy from Brian's extensive cellar, to catch up with what had been going on in their lives.

Of course Michael took the floor once again to tell the girls all about the "weird thing" that made both him and his mother lose their voices.

He was going on once more about how it only ever happened when they started to talk about Brian and Justin's relationship, when Brian suddenly, uncharacteristically, cut him off.

"You know what, Mikey. I know how you can stop it from fucking happening."

"How?" his oldest friend demanded. "I can't find anything online that …"

"Just shut the fuck up about Justin and me," Brian said, an edge in his voice. "I don't give a shit what you think about the way we live our lives but you seem to believe that just because we don't play happy homo families we don't have a fucking "real relationship"."

"Well," Mel chimed in, unable of course to resist. "Of course you don…"

And then, to her utter shock, she was silenced. She sat, blinking rapidly in shock while those of the others who hadn't seen the effect before gaped at her – not sure whether to laugh or to call an ambulance.

"See!" Michael shrieked in vindication. "See what I mean? Just like I said, as soon as anyone dares to say that of course Justin and Brian aren't really a c …"

And was cut off.

By then Mel was shrieking her own outrage, and Justin, suddenly finding it not so funny anymore, got up abruptly and left the room.

With one scathing look at his friends, Brian followed him.

"What's up with them?" Deb demanded. "Rude little shits to just walk out on their guests."

Ted started to say something about it being perfectly understandable when Emmett jumped in.

"Can you hear yourselves?" he asked. "Have you been listening to what you've been saying?"

"We can't say anything," Michael whined. "That's the point."

"Michael, I've explained. You just think you can't. If you …"

"It doesn't matter why it's happening," Emmett cut in. "Ben might be right that it's all in your head, or you might be right that Justin's put some kind of voodoo on you. But what's important is that it keeps happening. All the fucking time."

"Exactly!" Michael said self-righteously. "I can't even say what I think without …"

"Michael, listen to yourself. Listen to me. It happens ALL THE FUCKING TIME!"

"What the fuck?" Mel's voice was strident. "What's going on here? If Kinney thinks …"

Emmett huffed in exasperation. "I don't know what's going on. But if Michael's right and it does happen whenever someone sounds off about Brian and Justin's relationship, then ... "

"But how …?"


"What the fuck has Kinney done?"

Emmett raised his voice again to cut through the voices raised in indignant protest. "The how or the why isn't what's fucking important!" he said, almost shouting.

Ted nodded and, as Blake squeezed his hand in support, cut through the protests from most of the others. "Emmett's right," he said. "The point is how often it happens."

"Exactly," said Michael. "It happens …"

"Every time you say something negative about Justin and Brian's relationship," Emmett nodded.

"The point is how often you seem to be doing that," Ted finished for him.

The others looked at each other. Lindsay bit her lip. Hunter grinned. Carl sat silent, wisely determined to stay out of it if he could.

"That's not the issue," Melanie fumed.

"I think it's exactly the issue," said Emmett. "You're even doing it here. In their home."

Ted and Blake nodded.

Unexpectedly Ben agreed.

"They're right," he said. "If someone came into our home, sat eating and drinking the food and wine we'd provided and then sat there telling me that Michael and I don't have a "real relationship" for some reason that is entirely in their own head and based only on their opinion … I don't think I'd be very happy about that."

"But that's different!" Melanie and Michael said almost in tandem.

"Why?" Emmett demanded. "Because you've been through some kind of ceremony that doesn't even have legal status in this country?"

"Because … because we're committed to each other," Michael said.

"And you think Brian and Justin aren't?" Emmett queried. "They've been through more shit than the rest of us combined and they're still together."

"But they still fuck around," Mel protested.

Emmett gave her a look.

"At least they don't cheat on each other," he said pointedly.

She went brick red but then shut up, feeling the walls of her glass house shiver a little.

Debbie had been unusually quiet during all this, obviously doing some serious thinking.

Then she said suddenly, "Okay, here's what we'll do …"

'This is going to be interesting,' Ted thought to himself. He gave Emmett a look. Blake squeezed his hand again in silent encouragement.

"We'll see how many times it happens in the next few days," Debbie said. "We'll keep count."

"Seriously?" Mel asked.

"Seriously!" Debbie stated firmly.

"But why, Ma? What's that got to do with …"

"Because if you're right and it does happen every time we mouth off about Brian and Justin and it's happening so often that it's a major fucking drama for us, think of how much worse it must be for them," Debbie said.

Emmett, Ted, Blake and Ben all nodded; relieved that at least someone was getting the point. Lindsay tried to look virtuous as if this were all nothing to do with her, and Mel and Michael scowled.

Hunter and Carl just looked on, impartial observers, although Carl's lips were curled into a proud smile. This was the Debbie he loved.

Deb went on, making it clear what she'd come to realize while she'd been thinking things through.

"Melanie, you may not like Brian, but you're supposedly fond of young Sunshine. How do you think it makes him feel when you open your mouth and all that comes out is negative shit about him and his boyfriend? And Michael," she gave Michael a quick slap on the head, "Brian's supposed to be your best friend but all he hears from you is shit about how he doesn't have a real relationship; like you think that he's such a useless human being he's not capable of it. As if you know what goes on between those two behind closed doors. Like you … like we … all think we're so perfect we've got a right to judge them."

"But Ma, what good's counting going to do," Michael demanded. "It won't stop it happening."

"Maybe not. But maybe if we all have to count how many times a day we lose our voices because we've been bad mouthing their relationship it might make us stop and think before we do it."

"And if you stop trash talking them, the voice thing will stop happening," Emmett said with conviction.

So when Brian and Justin came back into the room (looking maybe a little rumpled, but with Justin's smile restored), it was to find a much more subdued group than they'd left. They even got an apology and a hug each from Debbie before she ushered her son and his family out the door.



Of course, the pattern of making ill conceived and ill considered comments about the nature of the relationship between the man with the reputation as Liberty Avenue's hottest stud, and the younger one with the reputation of being the twink who'd "tamed" him was deeply ingrained and wasn't broken overnight.

But over the next few days Justin noticed that he wasn't hearing those endless remarks about how their admittedly unconventional relationship was somehow less "real", less committed, than those of their friends. Even the occasions when one or other of their friends were suddenly stricken to silence became fewer and fewer.

Truth to tell, even Michael had been a little shocked when Ben (who did most of the counting for him) pointed out how often those silences had occurred. And between Ben pointing out how often he saw fit to comment on Brian and Justin and they way they lived, and Deb slapping him round the head every time he did it in her hearing, plus the frustration he felt when it happened, he gradually learned to mind his tongue.

Justin could hardly believe it, as he explained to Daphne when they caught up at Jenn's New Year's party.

"It's been amazing," he said, his famous smile lighting the room. "It really is like someone had cast a spell on them. And I'm sure Michael still thinks it was me. But who gives a shit? It's just fucking amazing that they've finally shut up."

She giggled, happy to see her friend so happy. "I'm sure it wasn't you," she said.

And she was.

She didn't understand herself exactly what had happened. But it had to be more than coincidence that the wish she'd sent off into the internet ether had been that something would happen to make people stop hurting her best friend by saying thoughtlessly spiteful things about his relationship with his partner.

So she felt like she could take some credit in making her beloved friend's life maybe just a little easier. He'd been through so much; he deserved to be able to be happy with Brian in his own way without everyone having their say about it.

What Daphne never knew, though, was that it hadn't really been her wish that had helped her friend; that had just provided a focus. The wish had come her way and had been granted because of her kindness and unselfish generosity when she'd encountered a tired old elf who had been feeling that the spirit of Christmas was sadly lacking, and wondering whether there was anything of it left or if it had been completely drowned out by acquisitiveness, greed and self-indulgence.

Santa had really enjoyed that soup.

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