Love's Not Time's Fool - Part 1
When Brian Kinney retired, he withdrew from the world; and
the world barely noticed.
Most of his friends had moved away. Or died.
Brian's birth family he'd abandoned years ago. His father and mother had both died before he'd turned forty; his sister had followed not long after and her sons, his nephews, Brian wouldn't have recognized if he'd passed them in the street. He had no idea (and less interest) if either of them had ever spawned.
Brian's closest friend Michael, the almost-brother he'd known since his teen years, had out-lived his beloved husband Ben by only a few years; he'd just seemed to fade away, stripped of the will to live once Ben had died. Michael's mother, Debbie, the closest thing Brian had ever had to a Mom was long gone, along with her husband Carl. Michael's adopted son had found living in Pittsburgh too hard after Michael went, so Hunter had moved to Philadelphia, where he'd gone to college. Brian hadn't seen him since.
Ted, the man who had started out as the butt of many of Brian's barbed jokes yet had over the years become his most trusted confidant as well as his business partner, had retired a few years back and moved to Palm Springs. Emmett, the flamboyant queen who had for years been the fourth member of their little group (back in the days before love and fatherhood and the responsibilities that come with success had forced them out of their prolonged adolescence) had moved his party planning business to the West Coast years ago, and was still The Name behind any significant Hollywood event.
Lindsay, the mother of Brian's child, had moved long ago to Canada. His son had grown up there, hardly knowing his father except as a remote figure who could, apparently, be relied upon to cough up money whenever it was needed (Gus had managed three overseas school trips thanks to his Dad's generosity) but was rarely heard from and hardly ever seen.
So outside of the business world, there wasn't really anyone to notice that when Brian moved into the huge mansion in West Virginia he basically stopped seeing anybody except the couple who looked after the house and grounds. Even they didn't actually see him all that often.
They had their own small cottage in a corner of the estate. Jorges, who did the gardening, hardly ever entered the house and saw only the odd glimpse of his employer through the windows, or on the rare occasions when Brian would venture out to enjoy the gardens that he paid so much to maintain. Albrecht, who did the cooking and most of the house-cleaning, knew Mr. Kinney's habits and would do his best to work around them. He would clean the bedroom and other upstairs rooms in the morning while Brian swam or worked out in the pool area; and then clean all the lower part of the house in the afternoons while Brian spent long hours in the room across the hall from the master bedroom; the one with the huge windows that Mr. Kinney for some reason always referred to as "the studio". Sometimes Albrecht couldn't help wondering what Mr. Kinney did in there for hours upon hours every day. He'd had a whole batch of artist's equipment installed in the room only a week or so after he'd moved in, but he never seemed to use it. Maybe he read or went online, caught up with the news; Albrecht was never sure. Sometimes Albrecht was prepared to swear he heard voices from that room, so perhaps Mr. Kinney used the entertainment system which had outlets in many rooms and could be accessed from any of them using the remotes.
Meals, Albrecht would prepare and would leave on the dining room table, using the "alert" system that was also installed through the house to notify Mr. Kinney when they were ready. Sometimes they would be eaten, sometimes not.
Except for dinner. At the same time as he'd brought in the easels and painting racks and other things for the painting he never seemed to do, Mr. Kinney had had the small room next to the studio converted into a second, more intimate, eating area. At the same time, he'd had a "dumb waiter" installed, so Albrecht would send dinner up to him using the dumb waiter.
Those meals were nearly always eaten. In fact, sometimes it seemed to Albrecht that in the evening Mr. Kinney ate almost enough for two. But if he over-indulged a little, the results didn't show.
Despite having turned sixty, Mr. Kinney was still an attractive man - tall, slim, dark hair lightly touched with grey, and the most amazing hazel eyes sometimes dark as muddy peat, sometimes almost green; but always deep and beautiful and somehow disconcertingly gentle for a man who had a reputation as a total shark in business. He'd had another reputation too, once upon a time. Even now mention of his name among the older members of Pittsburgh's gay community brought a reminiscent gleam into their eyes especially if they'd been one of the lucky ones to have earned his attention, however briefly. Jorges and Albrecht volunteered at the GLC on a regular basis, and they'd heard the stories that the older men were happy to share; the couple had agreed from the beginning that if Mr. Kinney wanted a little companionship from either or both of them, that it would not be an intolerable hardship to give it to him. Not that Mr. Kinney had ever asked.
When he'd first come to live full time at the house, he'd had regular visits from a very beautiful (and discreet) young man who had come to the house two afternoons a week.
But after around a month those visits had stopped. Albrecht and Jorges thought that there might have been some kind of altercation because the day after the last visit when Albrecht had gone into the studio room to clean he'd found broken glass all over the floor. He'd never worked out where the glass had come from, or what it had contained, but the contents must have been a strange vivid green. They had actually stained a small portion of the polished boards. Albrecht had been almost afraid to tell Mr. Kinney, but when he'd finally plucked up the courage and taken him upstairs to show him, Mr. Kinney had just gotten this strange little smile, almost a smirk, on his face and had told him not to worry about it.
The stain was still there. Once Albrecht had tried to cover it with a rug, but he'd found the rug tumbled against the wall the next morning, as if it had been thrown there; and he'd never dared to put it back.
So this was how Brian Kinney lived, once he'd retired from running his incredibly successful chain of businesses severely alone, barely seeing another living being from one week's end to the next.
Albrecht and Jorges thought it was an incredible shame that someone as beautiful as Mr. Kinney must have been had never apparently found anyone to share his life with. They agreed that such deep loneliness wasn't good for anyone. It was a wonder, they said to each other, that it didn't drive Mr. Kinney completely mad, being all alone in that big house.
Brian Kinney sometimes wondered if he was completely insane.
Sitting in his favorite chair, watching the blond young artist practically throw paint that both did and didn't exist at a canvas that was both blank and vividly colored, he thought that he must be. But then the beautiful blond would turn and smile at him and he'd decide again, for about the millionth time, that he just didn't care.
It was ridiculous, and crazy, and totally typical of his whole fucked up life that at sixty something he'd fallen in love for the first time in his life; and not only was the "object of his affection" more than forty years younger than him, he was a damned ghost.
In fact, he'd been a ghost for over thirty years.
Hell! even if they'd met when the fucking kid was still alive there would have been nearly twelve years difference in their ages. It still would have been Well, no matter. It would never have happened. His beautiful ghost had been a well-brought up WASP boy who would never have found himself anywhere near the orbit of the big bad wolf that Brian remembered himself being at around 30.
In any case there was absolutely no fucking point in dwelling on "what ifs". He hadn't met the kid back then. He'd met him now, when he was just about at the end of his life. Brian didn't need any doctor to tell him that with his medical history and his bad habits, not to mention his whole fucking genetic makeup, he wasn't likely to make "old bones" as his almost forgotten grandmother would have said. Well, not as old as most people with his kind of wealth did in this age of readily available medical miracles - well, preventions and cures that were readily available to the very wealthy at least. And Brian was very, very wealthy.
Sometimes, lying awake at night, supposedly alone in his bed he never had slept much, and as he got older his insomnia had actually worsened Brian would wonder just how this whole fucking crazy thing had started.
It wasn't until a little while after he'd moved in that he actually "met" the ghost, as it were.
But he supposed it had really started the day that he'd first seen the house.
It had been a bleak winter's day, about two years ago, and he'd been cursing himself for even thinking about travelling all the fucking way to West Virginia to look at some lame-assed mansion. It's not like he had any ambition at all to buy a place like that. He was an urban-ite through and through. He had no idea why he'd let the estate agent talk him into even looking at it.
What he should be doing was looking for a place down south somewhere. Somewhere warm, where he could get away from Pittsburgh's winters.
Ted had just moved down to Palm Springs and had co-erced Brian into a visit for his "house-warming" party. It had been pleasant enough there, he supposed. Warmer than Pennsylvania, that was for fucking certain. But the problem was the place was full of other fucking old people who'd retired down there to get away from the snow in Chicago or Boston or even Portland.
Well, okay, there had been some hot young talent around. Brian might be too old to hit the clubs anymore but he still enjoyed looking. And he had money enough to be able to pay for discreet services as often as he felt inclined. His pride found such an arrangement far more acceptable than either risking rejection or settling for less than his former standards.
But overall his trip to Palm Springs had felt flat to him. It hadn't come close to convincing him that his future lay in the warm south. Instead, he'd sent out feelers to a couple of real estate firms and for some reason one of them had sent photos of this huge fucking mansion in the wilds of West Virginia. He'd almost dismissed it out of hand, but something
He'd found himself next day on the phone to the agent and that had resulted in a drive, through a gentle snowfall, to the house.
Brian remembered the curve of the drive and the way the house seemed to call to him. Not that he'd admitted that to himself at the time. At the time he'd told himself that he liked the classical lines of it, and that after the sense of crowding that he'd felt in Palm Springs, and that he was beginning to feel in Pittsburgh if the truth were known, he liked the sense of space.
The main room downstairs with its open fireplace gave him the shivers for some reason. But the room above it high ceilings and floor to ceiling windows had, even on that cold, grey day, seemed warm and full of sunlight. He'd felt instantly as if he'd come home to some place that he loved. And he felt as if well, no matter. It just made him feel happy, or some shit.
If the truth were known he'd pretty much bought the house just so he could come back to that room.
Mind you, it had taken a while for all the pieces to fall into place.
To start with, the house had been empty for years. A couple of times it had come close to being sold, but something had always gone wrong at the last minute. Nothing had gone wrong this time, however, and the sale went through smoothly, but having been empty for so long, the place had needed a lot of work, so that was one reason why it took a while for him to actually move in.
Plus, extricating himself from the day to day running of his range of businesses had not been as simple as just switching off his communications units. He'd built up his not so little empire from nothing purely with his own brains and drive and nerve (and, okay, with a modicum of assistance from Theodore whose finesse with the finances might have helped a little). If the only thing he could ever really do for his son was to hand that empire on to him, then Gus wasn't going to inherit a shitload of problems if Brian could work out ways to prevent them. Key positions had to be reviewed, strategies and fail safes put in place. He had to be confident that things would hang together long enough to allow Gus time to decide whether he wanted to take the reins himself, or let the businesses run themselves and just rake in their earnings.
But eventually, one grey day in what should have been spring, everything was done, finalized, signed on a myriad of dotted lines and he'd driven once more out to the house and had entered it, feeling almost torn between a sense of intense anticipation and a deep nervousness about what he was going to find there.
He couldn't have said what it was he expected. Let alone what he secretly, in some deep part of his heart hidden even from himself, hoped for. He just knew that something had wanted him to move in to that house. And it had made him want it too.
So when he'd first entered the hallway, and looked around he'd felt not disappointment, but a sense of anti-climax. The house was okay. The designer and renovator had done a great job in the short time he'd given them. It looked good and would be comfortable enough, but there was nothing that
The house, to his eyes, had seemed as palely grey as the day outside.
Oh well, he'd figured at that point. I can always sell it again.
He'd spoken briefly to the two men that he'd hired to look after the place and look after him, he supposed. At least to the extent of keeping him fed out here where from his extensive range of takeout menus wouldn't be much use to him.
He'd agreed on a dinner menu and then had gone upstairs to his bedroom to check that all his clothes had arrived safely and had been properly hung or folded with the care due to their pedigree. A little to his surprise he couldn't fault the way they'd been looked after. For the first, but definitely not the last, time he congratulated himself on making such a good choice in his staff. It took a queen to understand a label queen's needs where his clothing was concerned.
Satisfied that all was well in his wardrobe he'd removed his Prada boots and traded his Armani for an old soft pair of jeans and a black shirt then he'd wandered along the upper hallway till he came to the big room he remembered from that brief first visit.
He'd found his heart pounding for some reason as he opened the door; if this room didn't live up to his memories of it he might as well sell the house now.
For just a moment as he stood on the threshold he was aware of bitter disappointment as the room appeared in the fading daylight to be bleak and cold.
But then, almost as if a switch had been flicked, suddenly it seemed once more filled with that warm yellow light he'd remembered so well. Looking back now, he remembered stepping inside the room and feeling as if as if he'd been greeted by someone who had been waiting for him for a long time. More, someone that he'd been waiting to come home to for a long time.
It was totally fucking ridiculous!
He'd thought that then, and he still thought it now.
But it hadn't felt ridiculous.
It had felt like blinding, unvarnished truth.
Justin Taylor had been dead for over six months when he found the house.
He'd died in a "robbery gone wrong" according to the police records, and his killer had never been identified.
Actually, he'd been beaten to death with a baseball bat as he walked to his car after a night class at the community college that had been his only educational option when his father had thrown him out not long after his eighteenth birthday. If the police had in any way been interested, they would have checked up on one Christopher Hobbs, who'd attacked Justin a few years earlier on the night of their Senior Prom. But with a bigot named Stockwell in the Mayor's office, and a like-minded old buddy appointed as head of the city's police department, there was no way that any time was going to be spent investigating the death of another fag. One less to pollute Stockwell's "family friendly" city was the way City Hall had looked at it.
So Chris Hobbs who, having found that Justin was living not far from his latest girlfriend's place had first taken to harassing him in the street, then to trying to blackmail him into giving him the odd blow job, and when neither of those had worked, he'd decided to take out his frustrations and fears using yet another baseball bat. This time he'd been successful.
Justin didn't really remember much about it, fortunately. Or rather, he remembered, but it seemed like a story that had happened to someone else.
Even of those few months immediately after his death, he had only a few scattered memories. All he'd seemed to do was to drift, endlessly, with no real sense of his surroundings; everything had seemed grey and formless and all he'd been conscious of were loneliness and cold.
But after months of this lonely nothingness suddenly, with shocking abruptness, the house stood out, vivid against the indeterminate grey of the indistinct fog that surrounded him at all times.
He'd never seen the house before he was sure, and yet somehow it was familiar.
He knew this house. He had been or was or could be happy in this house.
For the first time in his drifting, he had a target, and he prepared for a struggle to direct his drifting towards that place.
But it wasn't a struggle at all. As soon as he willed himself to move that way, he was there, standing at the gate.
With visions of all the ghost stories he'd ever heard going through his mind, Justin attempted to simply pass through the fence assuming that the physical barrier would be no barrier to him.
To his surprise, he wasn't able to do so. He was stopped as surely as if he'd attempted to run through the physical fence back when he was still alive. He hadn't crashed into the fence, it wasn't quite like touching, there was no sense of actual contact. There was just resistance. As if he'd come up against an intangible force field.
That gave him pause. In his dream-like drifting, he hadn't had to interact with anything from the physical world before and he was at a loss how to do so now.
He found himself sort of leaning on the gate looking yearningly at the house, longing to be able to see inside, when abruptly he was standing in the hallway and looking up the stairs. He tried walking up and found it difficult to exactly direct his movements; but when he simply thought of being at the top, there he was.
He got distracted a little then from actually exploring the house while he practiced this amazing new form of locomotion. Look at the garden and want to smell the roses zip, nose right in the rose bush; look back at the house and think about looking out of the topmost window zip, a moment of vertigo where he went suddenly from looking up to looking down. It was a lot of fun. But he realized that practicing a movement more like walking was, in fact, a better way of moving around the house itself; at least it was if he wanted to actually have a chance to take in the house properly.
He loved what he found; especially the big upstairs room with the floor to ceiling windows that captured all the afternoon light. It cried out to his artist's soul. He longed to be able to draw and paint and create in that room.
But for the longest time all he could do was aimlessly wander the corridors. Sometimes the house was lived in, mainly it was not. It didn't seem to Justin to make much difference. None of the occupants seemed to sense his presence; and their presence hardly affected him. He neither saw nor heard any of the inhabitants, not even vague shapes or outlines; not even the tiniest whisper of sound or flicker of movement; they may as well not have been there. The only way he could sense whether the house was inhabited or not was that sometimes the furniture and possessions changed, or vanished completely. Even when there was furniture, it was grey and misty in contrast to the solid reality of the house.
He remained remote and lonely.
There was only one thing that did affect him during those years and it was something so ephemeral, so strange and so unpredictable that most of the time he thought it was his imagination playing tricks, or the soul deep loneliness of his isolated existence finally getting to him. Every now and again it seemed to him, that the house changed. He would walk into his favorite room and it would no longer be empty or filled with indeterminate grey shapes the bric a brac, clutter and detritus of the current inhabitants' lives. On those occasions, when he walked into the room it was filled with easels and paints and brushes and charcoals and racks for drying paintings and racks for stretching canvas and they were not vague grey shapes, they were almost as solid and real to him as the house itself. The only thing he didn't see, never saw, were the paintings themselves. But whenever his aimless drifting took that unexpected twist and he came into that room he would immediately feel as if he had finally come home after long travels. In fact, on those occasions the whole house felt more home-like.
Even more strangely, at those times Justin was almost aware of the house's residents. He never actually saw them, but sometimes he caught the echo of their voices, or a trace of laughter; sometimes even momentary scents and sounds that carried a frisson of passion. The voices sounded male to him, and somehow even those faint echoes seemed always to resound with affection, with love. Justin had no doubt that there were two of them, that they were both men, and that they were lovers.
He was torn between wishing that version of the house would appear more frequently and being glad it didn't. Drifting alone in endless solitude was one thing, hovering on the brink of awareness of others but not able to clearly see or hear them, let alone contact them, that was a different kind of torment; it was truly painful. Yet it was somehow comforting too. At least it reminded him that once he'd known love and friendship and companionship. Even if not the kind of love these two clearly shared.
When those strange moments faded and the house resumed its usual aspect, he was even more conscious of his alone-ness.
He wondered about them, of course. Wondered who they were, and how they'd met and whether they'd live in the house before he found it, or whether they lived in it now in some kind of alternate reality that paralleled his own. He couldn't be sure, but it seemed like they'd been living in that other version of the house for a long time. He wished that he could see them, just once. He found that he didn't envy them their togetherness, their love that was obvious even in the traces and echoes that were his only impression of them. He was glad for them; glad that someone had found happiness in this house that was both his refuge and his prison.
He daren't leave the house. The memory of the aimless drifting of that period immediately after his death was truly horrible now that he had at least the walls of the house to orient himself, and to give his existence some kind of context and meaning. If he had to be some kind of ghost, it was better to haunt a house than to just wander endlessly through some entirely featureless grey void. And if he left this house, what if he never found anywhere else and couldn't find his way back here?
No, Justin decided. It was far better to stay here. At least "here' had some meaning. Out "there" was formless and devoid of everything that could even hint at meaning.
This state of affairs went on for a long time. Justin was aware of time passing, but could not have said how many days or weeks or months or years had gone by.
But then one day the door to the house had opened and for the first time Justin was conscious of someone entering. He was taken aback and not sure what to do. Part of him wanted to hide in the cellar or the attics. He had no idea why. No one had ever seemed to see him, no one had even shown the faintest sign that they were aware of him being around. But something told him this man he knew it was a man, though he couldn't say how he knew would be different. That was a scary thought. Different might be good. Or it might not.
But strong as the instinct was to hide, the instinct to seek out this man and see if, for the first time in all these lonely eons since his death, he could make contact with another human being was even stronger. He found himself moving towards his room and then, in an instant, he was there, hovering just inside the doorway in amazement.
He could see the man!
At least, he couldn't exactly see him, but he could sense him, see a kind of outline. What some hippy-type would have called his aura, Justin supposed.
Although he didn't think it was exactly that. It was more that he saw the space the man occupied as being different from all other space. As if this man were different from all other men.
He couldn't see features or hair color or clothing, but he could see that the man was tall and slim and that he moved like a man used to commanding attention.
He had Justin's attention all right!
Now if Justin could only get his.
For those first few frustrating days, Justin's attempts to make contact seemed doomed to failure. He tried touching but that didn't work. His hand didn't pass through the guy, it was blocked by the man's body, but there was no sense of touch, and as the man didn't react, Justin had to assume that he didn't feel anything either. He'd even tried walking right through the space the man occupied, but that also failed to achieve any sense of contact.
He tried speaking to him, shouting even. He tried to "think" his way into the man's head, concentrating every essence of his being into the effort to make mental contact, but nothing. He even tried looming over him as he slept at night, trying to make his way into the man's dreams. But if that was in any way successful, there was no indication of it in the man's behavior.
He was becoming increasingly depressed by these repeated failures and one afternoon, as the man sat at the computer desk he'd installed in Justin's room, completely oblivious to the latest attempt to get his attention, Justin had found himself sinking down onto the chaise longue across the room from the desk in something very like despair.
As he did, two things happened. One was that he found himself actually sitting. For the first time he was actually able to "sit" on a piece of furniture. He realized then what his obsession with making contact with the man had led him to ignore. As it had been in that other version of the house, he could see, could even touch, the furniture. At least, he couldn't exactly touch it, but as with his first experience with the gate of the house, it offered a sort of force-field resistance that allowed him to interact with it in a way; and the result was that he could essentially "sit" on it.
The second, occurring simultaneously, was that the man suddenly said, "Hey, don't fuck with the light, I'm working here!"
Justin jumped up again from the couch in shock.
The man had spoken almost as if he knew that he, Justin, was there.
Or at least that something or someone was.
Justin's heart leaped in hope.
"That's fucking better," the man said approvingly. "I don't know what the fuck you are, but I like it when you bring the sunshine inside for me."
Justin felt tears well up in his eyes and wanted to throw himself at the man's feet in gratitude.
He didn't know what the man meant by the sunshine, but he knew that somehow the man sensed something. He'd pushed his chair back from the desk, and was looking around the room.
Justin had no idea how it would feel after this long, so lonely, time, to have someone speak to him; to know that someone, anyone, acknowledged just that he existed. It brought a sense of relief, of joy, so profound that he thought his heart might break with it, swell, like the Grinch's, till it was just too big for his non-body to hold.
He crossed the room and kneeling, kissed the man's fingers as they lay relaxed upon his knee. Again, there was that sense, not exactly of touch, but of resistance, of something and, heart thumping, he rested his forehead against the place occupied by the man's thigh.
To his astonishment and bewildered joy, he felt the man's hand clumsily brush across his head.
"Don't cry, Sunshine," the man whispered. "It makes the sunlight go away, and the world's a dark enough fucking place."
And that was how it began.
Later, Brian couldn't remember any precise moment when he'd consciously acknowledged that there was someone in the room with him.
But he supposed it must have happened on or before that afternoon when
He'd been working on his computer in that upstairs room that always seemed filled with sunlight even on the greyest day.
What he'd become aware of first was the gradual fading of that light.
But the fading had been accompanied by such a profound sense of sadness, of despair, that it had been almost palpable. And it was a personal sadness, it somehow had, or was attached to, or generated by, a personality. And not his own.
It had brought to the forefront of his mind the sense of companionship he'd always found in this room, and he'd reacted instinctively, speaking to that "companion".
Typically, his first reaction hadn't been one of comfort but of acerbic protest.
But it had had an instant effect, and the light, the warm golden light he'd grown accustomed to, had returned.
But the feeling the emotion that he'd felt, hadn't dissipated. It had changed, from sadness to a sort of joyous relief, but it had still been incredibly intense.
For just a moment he could have sworn that something brushed his hand; then that sensation had been replaced by some kind of sensation in his thigh, as if a head had rested there.
That was crazy, he'd known it was crazy; still knew it.
But the emotion had swirled around him, stronger than ever, and he'd reacted instinctively, responding neither to the relief nor the joy, but to something much more familiar. Whatever, whoever, was in that room with him, they were as deeply, profoundly lonely as he'd been for most of his life. It was a feeling with which he'd been too long familiar to be mistaken, and he'd found himself totally unable to resist offering whatever comfort he could.
Clumsily, he'd attempted to pat the head that seemed to be resting on his thigh.
It had been an odd sensation.
There hadn't seemed to be anything physically there.
And it hadn't been like in the ghost movies where his hand fucking tingled as it passed through something cold.
In fact, his hand hadn't seemed to pass through it at all.
There'd been a sense of some kind of resistance not exactly physical, but still strong enough to make it seem like he'd been stroking something.
The light had been wavering at that point, between grey and gold and once more he'd protested. He'd hardly been aware of the words he'd used, but he'd been more than aware of their effect. For a moment there'd been stillness, then the head, or whatever, had moved and he'd felt the unmistakable feeling of lips pressing against his palm.
His hand had reacted instinctively, curving to cup the face those lips belonged to, and as it did, the face appeared.
A beautiful face, even if the eyes had been a little red and puffy, and it had been attached to what had seemed to be a rather attractive body. Not that Brian had been able to see that clearly as it had been crouched on the floor at his feet.
He'd known that he should have been shocked. Should have been leaping out of his chair, calling for a doctor or a priest. Or both.
But instead he'd found himself staring at that face.
He'd known that he'd never seen it before. He would have remembered that mouth if nothing else.
And yet and yet
But then the face had suddenly moved, the body it was attached to leaping to its feet.
"I can see you!" it had gasped. "You can see me!"
It had seemed terrified and astonished by both those statements. Which, Brian had considered, was totally ass-backwards. He'd been the one who'd suddenly found himself face to face with a fucking ghost. Why the ghost was fucking terrified had been beyond him.
But then he'd thought about how he must look to the ghost, who apparently hadn't actually been able to see him till now. He'd guessed that it must have been a shock to find that the hand this kid, really had been kissing belonged to an ancient fucking faggot, old enough to be his grandfather.
Brian had, in that moment, felt deeply wounded; betrayed, even.
He'd stood and had been about to stalk from that fucking room, vowing never to fucking go back there and to sell the fucking house as soon as
But then he'd gotten a glimpse of the kid's face, alight with a joy so blinding that Brian had been mesmerized into immobility.
"You can see me!" he'd repeated. "Can you hear me too?"
"I'm not fucking deaf, of course I can fucking hear you!" Brian had snapped.
The kid had laughed then, a rich, joyous explosion of laughter. Then he blinked and for a moment he'd looked stunned. Then he'd laughed again.
"I'm laughing! I'd forgotten I'd just forgotten," he'd said wonderingly. And Brian, who hadn't found himself laughing much of late years, had felt a sense of kinship so deep that he'd remained in the room. Okay, so he was an ancient fucking scarecrow that this kid would never regard as anything except some kind of friend. At least he could be that. If he'd left at that point, Brian had known, the kid would be back to having nothing, apparently.
He'd sat down again, suddenly exhausted, unable to find voice to even ask what the fuck was going on.
But it hadn't mattered.
The kid Justin had made up for it. All Brian had to do was to croak out an occasional answer when Justin's ramblings turned into the form of a question.
He'd introduced himself, and asked Brian's name and then had told Brian how he'd come to the house and how something had made him stay. He'd asked what the year was, and then calculated how long ago he'd died.
"Wow!" he'd exclaimed. "I'll be fifty this year. I mean, I would have been."
He'd seemed to realize then that some of the people he'd known would also have died in the intervening years, especially his family.
(Later Brian had checked, and found out that both of Justin's parents were dead, and that his little sister, herself now in her forties was living in Boston, married to a guy she'd met in college and they had three kids. Brian had even found her social media profile, complete with interactive vidcom. He'd gained access by amending his own to include details that allowed him to introduce himself as an old friend of the family. Justin had been able to provide him with enough family information to make that seem feasible. So Brian had shown him the little vidcom clips that showed her, and the kids, and they'd found out that she'd named her youngest after her "beloved brother who died much too young". That had touched not only Justin, but Brian himself, more than Brian had expected.)
But all that was later. On that first afternoon, Justin had haltingly told Brian that he was gay, and that he hoped that was okay. What on earth either of them could have done about it if it hadn't been who the fuck knew, as Brian had pointed out to him later. He'd told Brian how his father had kicked him out of home when he'd found out he was gay after he'd been bashed in the head after his Prom. He'd been lucky, he'd told Brian, that he hadn't died then. It had happened at his best friend's house when he'd driven her home; she'd been his date for the Prom. He'd been saved by the fact that she'd left her wrap in the car. She'd turned back to get it and had called out to him when she'd seen the guy with the baseball bat raised to strike. It meant that it had struck him only a glancing blow, although that had been bad enough.
He'd said a little about how difficult it had been for him after that. His parents had divorced and he'd lived with his Mom after he'd been released from hospital. His motor skills had been fucked, he'd suffered headaches and mood swings and all sorts of shit. It had been nearly two years before he'd been able to get himself together enough to get some kind of job, and six months after that he'd started classes at the local community college to try to get some kind of degree at least.
And then the guy had come after him again.
"He was a total freak-oid," Justin had said. "I mean, he supposedly hates fags, right? But he tried to blackmail me into giving him a blow job by threatening to tell my boss that I was gay. Like he would have cared. He was an old queen who pretty much told me when he gave me the job that he liked having some eye candy around."
Just like me, Brian had thought.
"Did they ever catch him?" Brian had asked.
Justin had shrugged. "How the fuck would I know? I told you, until I saw the house there was just nothing. And even here I could see the house the walls, the floor, ceiling, windows and shit, but nothing else, except these kind of vague shapes. I couldn't exactly read newspapers you know?"
The dinner buzzer had sounded then to let Brian know his dinner was ready, interrupting their tryst.
That was when they'd discovered that it was only in that room and in the ones close to it, that they could actually see and hear each other.
As they'd moved past that range, they'd still been conscious of each other's presence, but only as a sort of sensation of someone being there.
"Fuck!" Brian had exclaimed.
"Shit!" Justin had agreed.
Brian had gone downstairs and fetched his dinner up to the room.
Justin had practically salivated over it, telling Brian that it was the first time he'd actually smelled food "in like, forever".
To his delight, he'd found out that not only could he smell, he could also taste. He'd managed to snag a piece of roll from the plate and to his delight had actually maneuvered it into his mouth.
After that first mouthful, there had been no holding him back, and Brian had pretty much sat and watched as his meal simply disappeared before his eyes.
They were both to discover as time went on that the longer they spent together, the more Justin was able to interact with the physical world. It was as if Brian's belief in him somehow made him more "real". But that first evening together had been one of discoveries.
"So you're like, gay, right?" Justin had asked, once the meal had been completely demolished and Brian was relaxing on the chaise longue with a glass of Beam.
Tongue in cheek, Brian had nodded.
Justin had bitten his lip, looking at Brian through his bangs.
"So would you have you know wanted me? When I was alive, I mean?"
"Sunshine, when you were alive, I was already in my thirties. You wouldn't have wanted me."
"You're kidding, right?" Justin had said. "Brian, I "
"Anyway, it's academic," Brian had gone on quickly, determined to make this clear right at the beginning. Rejection was bad enough; there was no way he was going to risk being rejected by a fucking ghost!
"I'm old enough now to be your fucking grandfather, so it hardly matters what you "
"Seriously?" Justin had asked. "So how old are you?"
Brian winced, but managed to admit that he'd turned sixty two years ago.
Justin had seemed astonished. "But you can't be!" he'd protested. "Brian, seriously, you can't be!"
"Sunshine, I think I fucking know how old I am!"
"But you when I look at you, you look well, you know young. Hot.
"Yeah, well, maybe you just haven't seen anyone young for so long you've forgotten "
Justin had laughed again. Already Brian was half in love with that laugh.
"Brian, seriously, you don't look any more than about thirty. That's what I see when I look at you. I told you. You're totally hot. If I'd met you "
He'd stopped then and to Brian's complete and utter fucking amazement, he'd blushed scarlet, and for the first time since he'd appeared under Brian's hand, had turned away, moving to the other side of the room.
"What? What the fuck?"
At that point something had clicked in Brian's mind. He'd thought about the kid so closeted his father hadn't known he was gay till the first bashing had happened, taking his fag hag best friend to the Prom as his "date". He'd thought about what Justin had told him of the time after the bashing, how he couldn't bear to be touched, and had been afraid to go out. Considered the struggles Justin had described that had been involved in just getting to work, and to classes.
Fuck! The poor fucking kid hadn't even had a chance to get laid before he'd been
He'd risen from the couch and moved across the room to where the boy stood leaning against the wall (although not quite actually touching it), obviously struggling not to cry.
He'd put his hand on the kid's shoulder, only to have it shrugged away.
"Justin," Brian had attempted.
"I died a fucking virgin, alright?" Justin had snapped at him damply. "I'm totally pathetic. You can't tell me anything I dont' fucking know, so don't pretend that you think you're too old for me, or I'm too young for you or what the fuck ever. Just be honest and tell me that you don't fucking want me!"
And that had been when Brian kissed him for the first time. Not a chaste grandfatherly kiss, but a kiss that almost re-defined the art.
He hadn't intended to kiss him at all, let alone like that. It had just happened.
But it had felt so fucking good, and Justin certainly hadn't seemed to object, so he'd done it again.
It hadn't been, that first night, quite like kissing someone well, real, alive, at least.
As with the hand on hair thing, it had been more a sense of resistance than of physical contact, but there had been something else about the kisses that had made them different from any of the millions of kisses Brian had shared with thousands of men during his lifetime. He'd told himself that it was just because he'd never kissed a ghost before. But the truth had been, the truth was, that kissing Justin involved more than just lips and tongues and teeth. Kissing Justin, even that first night, involved an organ that, for Brian Kinney, usually only experienced any sexual activity as a form of cardio-vascular exercise. Not with any of the men he'd kissed back in the day had Brian Kinney's heart ever been involved the way it had been from that first kiss with Justin.
They hadn't tried sex that first night.
It had all been just too weird.
When the second kiss had ended, Justin had smiled at him in a way that had brought the sunlight back into the room, even though outside the windows the stars were shining. Then he had stroked Brian's face, a sensation that both of them almost felt.
Then he had said softly, "See what I mean? Hot. Beautiful. Fuck! I wish I had met you when "
Brian hadn't seen any point in going down that path, so he'd headed back to the couch and his abandoned drink. This time Justin had followed and sat next to him. Somehow it had seemed natural for him to steal a sip from Brian's glass. That had been the end of any coherent exchanges between them that night. Turned out that while Justin's phantasmal body could do something with (digest?) food, it didn't deal at all well with alcohol. Justin had wound up pretty much passed out on the floor, and Brian had spent a ridiculously long time working out how to manipulate the body that he couldn't actually touch, onto the couch. He'd left him there, covered in a blanket and had sought his own bed, desperately needing time to persuade himself that the whole fucking experience had been some kind of prolonged hallucination.
That idea had been knocked out of the ball park when after a night filled with ridiculously romantic dreams, he'd woken to find the blond boy lying beside him, watching his face.
"You can see me!" the kid had trumpeted jubilantly when Brian had woken and blinked in something like outrage that the fucking hallucination was still around. Was actually lying in or on or something his fucking bed with him.
"I hoped you'd be able to, because I can see you. I guess this room is close enough to my studio."
"Your what? It's my fucking house and that is not a studio, it's my "
"I know, I know," Justin had soothed. "But I think of it as my studio. When I first went in there I thought how amazing it would be to paint in that room. So that's how I think of it. I bet that's why we can see each other there because I've painted you there so often. Or I would have, you know, if I'd been alive while I've been here. If I'd lived here with "
He'd broken off suddenly, his eyes widening. "I bet I did. I bet that's who they are!"
Brian shoved past him to get off the bed. He had no idea what the little twat was talking about and it was way too early for any of this shit. He needed coffee.
He pulled on a robe and headed downstairs, knowing that Albrecht would have some waiting for him.
He couldn't see Justin follow him, couldn't hear him, but he'd known he was there, just the same.
He'd even felt his disapproval, his envy even, when he'd sat down deliberately at the dining room table and had a quiet and uninterrupted cup of coffee. But he hadn't been able to face the disappointment he was sure was on Justin's face, so he'd taken the practically unheard of step of seeking out Albrecht in the kitchen and asking if he could have his breakfast on a tray.
Albrecht had been happy to oblige, delighted that Mr. Kinney was actually eating for a change. He'd finished his whole dinner last night and now wanted more than his usual coffee and juice for breakfast. He'd insisted on carrying the tray upstairs, and Brian, curious about what Albrecht would see and hear once they reached the studio, had let him. Justin had appeared as soon as they got close to the room, hovering over the tray of fresh bagels and ham, fruit and juice and coffee as if he were ready to snatch it out of the servant's hands. But Albrecht had apparently seen nothing. He apparently hadn't even heard Justin's fervent, "Brian, I love you!" as he'd left the room and Justin had been free to fall on the food.
Brian, wishing he'd thought to get another cup, had managed to snag the glass at least and poured some coffee into it, sinking down at his desk with a rueful grin. "Looks like it's just you and me, Sunshine," he'd said.
Justin, an expression of something like ecstasy on his face as he'd sipped at his first coffee for over thirty years, nodded.
"How the fuck have you survived," Brian had demanded, "without eating when you're obviously some kind of fucking bottomless pit of hunger."
Justin had grinned at him round a mouthful of bagel and replied, "I don't really need food. I mean I don't get hungry or anything it's just oh, man, I've missed the taste!"
He swallowed and said thoughtfully, "Actually, I don't think I could have done anything like this before yesterday. I wasn't "here" enough, if that makes sense."
"Sunshine, none of this makes any fucking sense," Brian had responded tartly.
"Yes, yes, I think it does. I think that's what the other house is all about."
And ignoring Brian's "what the fuck's?" and "are you fucking kidding me's", Justin had described the whole business with the "other" house that he'd sometimes inadvertently visited.
"I think they're us," he'd finished up. "Us in a kind of alternate reality where, I don't know, obviously I didn't get killed. Maybe we met and because I was with you, I wasn't where Hobbs found me, so he didn't get a second chance or something. And then we came to live here. And I think we've been living here all this time."
Brian, predictably, had told him it was total bullshit.
But even Brian couldn't help but wonder.
In any case, before too many days had passed he'd found himself ordering the easels and racks and fucking canvases that Justin had described as being in that other studio.
He'd also cleared out the bedroom next to the studio and ordered a small intimate dining setting so that he and Justin could at least have dinner together. Albrecht never came upstairs in the evening, so that seemed safe enough. After exploring the width of the wall cavities, he even ordered the installation of a dumb waiter, so that there was no reason for Albrecht to even need to bring up the food.
They also discovered that, since the pool and workout area lay directly below the studio, Justin could make his presence felt down there as well. Brian could barely see or hear him down there, just vaguely make out a sort of glow in the space that Justin occupied. And Justin couldn't actually swim. His one attempt had left him breathless with indignant frustration because he'd been completely unable to make any headway through the water at all; but he was happy to sit perched on a sun lounge and sketch Brian endlessly while the older man worked out still intent, even now, perhaps more now than ever, of maintaining some kind of physical fitness regime.
The whole art thing was one of the weirder aspects of the whole bizarre situation. Justin could paint on the canvases that Brian had purchased for him. And the paints disappeared, right enough Brian was forever ordering replacements. But the canvases remained, to Brian, for the most part frustratingly blank. At times, out of the corner of his eye, he caught tantalizing glimpses of vivid color, but when he turned his head to look directly at them, the color vanished, and the canvases appeared as pristine as the day they had been purchased.
It was the same with the sketches. Pencils and charcoal wore away, but all Brian ever saw of the result of their demise was an occasional glimpse of line and form.
But it made Justin happy. Brian would never forget the look on his Sunshine's face when the first carton of materials had arrived, full of sketchbooks and crayons, charcoals and paints and brushes. He'd been incandescent with happiness, and had snatched open the first sketch book with all the eagerness of a five year old at Christmas. When he'd found that he could actually manipulate the pencil and create for the first time since his death, the face he'd raised to Brian had been wet with tears but glowing with wonder and gratitude.
Brian's own heart had throbbed at the sight.
If there was any particular moment when Brian had realized that he, the supreme cynic, the one whose life-long creed had always been "I don't believe in love, I believe in fucking", had fallen deeply irrevocably, in love with this golden boy ghost, it was that one.
Because the emotion that he felt when Justin looked at him was a profound thankfulness that he'd been able to bring that joy to his lover's face.
They had become lovers by then. Of a sort.
Well, they'd had sex.
Brian wondered sometimes what anyone would have thought if they'd walked in while Justin was riding his cock. Or giving him a blow job. Or worse, when Brian, determined not to let age dictate their activities, hoisted the boy's legs to his shoulders and fucked him face to face.
It was a strange sensation. Still not quite like touching. But still feeling something. And they both got off, so they must be doing something right.
The first time he'd automatically reached for a packet of condoms, and Justin had laughed at him.
Brian had to admit he'd probably been right to. Having sex with a ghost had to be the ultimate in safe sex.
Brian had needed some persuading to even try actual copulation, but Justin had been eager to experiment and it hadn't taken all that much persuasion on his part to seduce his older lover.
That age thing had been, of course, the main factor in Brian's reluctance. No matter how many times Justin reassured him, he still felt like an old perv when he thought about the scarecrow he saw in the mirror every day fucking this beautiful boy. But, as always, Justin got his way.
Sometimes, in the moments afterwards, when they'd lie close together and Brian could almost imagine that he felt the warmth of another body next to his, Brian wondered if Justin was right. Maybe in some other life they had met, had fallen in love, had come to live in this house together. Maybe that explained what had drawn them both here, and explained the connection between them.
Because there had to be some fucking explanation.
Brian had, of course, plugged into the vidcom and looked him up. Justin Taylor, born November 29th, 1982; died October 23rd 2003.
All the details fitted exactly with what Justin had told him. Well, except that the police had treated it as a routine mugging gone wrong, and had made little if any attempt to find the killer. That hadn't surprised Brian. He remembered Pittsburgh in those days after Stockwell's election. He'd also remembered the colossal sense of betrayal that he'd felt when, after the election, it had been carefully explained to him that he wouldn't be heading up any New York expansion, that neither Vance nor Stockwell felt that he'd be an "appropriate" fit.
In other words, he'd sold out all his own fucking principles only to get royally screwed as soon as the election was over.
Well, Vance and Stockwell had both paid for that.
When Vance had appointed that dickhead Brad to head up the New York branch, Brian had taken him to court, alleging discrimination. Not based on his sexual preference, there had been no law back then to protect him. No, he'd alleged it was because of his marital status or lack thereof. And he'd won. Vance's lawyers had argued that the "marital status" provisions were intended to protect women from being discriminated against, but the statute had no wording around gender or actual status, only that it was illegal to discriminate based on whether or not you were married. Vance had found it very difficult to explain why he'd appointed a fairly junior account executive with half of Brian's experience and none of his awards rather than his junior partner to such a critical position and Brian had walked away with a shitload of cash and a release from his partnership agreement, including the shredding of the non-competition clause. He'd started his own agency a month later, and within the year had won from Vance three key client accounts. Vance had been out of business three years later.
In the next Mayoral election, he'd offered his services to an Independent candidate who had a good track record on gay rights and she'd won in a landslide.
The first thing she'd done as Mayor, at Brian's quiet prompting, had been to insist on re-opening an old investigation into the deaths of a number of street kids and young male prostitutes. The result of that had been not just to see Stockwell disgraced, but to put him behind bars for perverting the course of justice.
But Justin had died during the Stockwell years, and Brian had no doubt at all that no attempt had ever been made to identify the killer. In fact, if they had found out it was Hobbs, they'd probably have given him a medal.
Brian had also checked on Hobbs.
What he found made him frustrated as Hell. He'd planned to make Hobbs' life a misery, but he didnt get the chance. The asshole had married and divorced three times, had declared bankruptcy because he couldn't make all the alimony payments, had taken to gambling to try to get some cash and wound up on the wrong side of the ledger with the wrong sort of people. He'd disappeared, only reported missing because he'd missed some payments, and eventually his body had turned up in the Susquehanna, missing a few fingers and with a hole in its skull as well as two broken knee caps. Brian's only satisfaction was that it obviously hadn't been an easy death.
But the primary result of all this research was to confirm everything that Justin had told him about himself. Which meant that either Brian was having some weird flashback to newspaper articles he couldn't ever remember reading, or else
Or else his little ghost had once truly been Justin Taylor.
And was now truly a ghost; living, or whatever the fuck ghosts did, in Brian's house.
And sleeping, or whatever the fuck ghosts did, in Brian's bed.
Not to mention eating Brian out of house and home, and using the fucking top of the range shit Brian had paid a fortune for painting fucking masterpieces that Brian would never even fucking see.
Oh, and fucking and sucking and
Making him, at his advanced age, "fall in love" like some pathetic schoolboy.
With a kid just past his twenty-first birthday or else, not quite fifty, depending on how you looked at it.
Either way, it was fucking ridiculous.
He'd even given in to the little twat over the his "personal service provider".
Justin had been painting happily as usual during the afternoon, when the very beautiful Asian boy arrived as usual at 3pm. Brian had forgotten it was a Tuesday, and had just slipped quietly from the room to meet the guy at the head of the stairs and steer him, for a change, into one of the spare bedrooms. He'd barely gotten his pants undone when he'd become aware of Justin's presence, and after that the whole thing was doomed to failure. His "provider" was deeply apologetic as Brian, frustrated and embarrassed had ushered him out, and he'd barely reached the upper floor again when there'd been an almighty crash from the studio.
He'd run in to find the easel over-turned and the glass jar that Justin rinsed his brushes in smashed on the floor. He must have been using green paint, because the water was forming a vivid green pond on the pale floor boards.
"Who the fuck is he?" Justin had practically screamed.
Brian had been almost too taken aback to respond at first, but it wasn't long before the whole thing escalated into a full scale row. There had been shouting (from both of them) and pouting (from both of them) and angry sex.
These had been followed by sulks (again - both of them) and then apologies (both) and kisses and some kind of agreement that if Brian absolutely had to have some other guy suck him off he wouldn't do it at the house.
As he never fucking left the house anymore Brian recognized that that provision pretty much meant that he was promising monogamy, but at least there was a kind of get out clause to act as a sop to his pride.
In fact, if the truth be known, his pride had received a massive boost from Justin's reaction.
The fact that in his sixties he could draw this kind of jealous explosion from a much younger lover (never mind that that lover was a fucking ghost) did wonders for his ego and for his sex drive. Justin was left plotting how to find an excuse to throw that kind of tantrum again, because clearly Brian had totally relished it.
But now here Brian was, involved in this ridiculous, and completely fucking wonderful, relationship with a fucking ghost
And his son was about to visit him for the first time in years.
Gus had come to Pittsburgh to discuss his future, including his possible role in his father's business empire.
And how the fuck he was going to juggle keeping Justin happy without Gus getting suspicious or at least thinking his father had totally lost his mind was more than Brian could begin to imagine.
He bet the Brian that lived in that other universe never had these kind of problems.
But he supposed that if the Justin that Brian lived with was anything like his Justin, he'd have found other ways to drive Brian crazy and keep him insanely happy at the same time.
He hoped so, anyway.
He figured that even thinking that was a sign that Justin was getting to him. Back in the day he'd have had no patience with such lesbionic waffling.
Now was different.
Now he was different.
For the first time in his life he was happy.
He wondered if Gus would notice.
Author's Note: Yes, that really was the end, so far at least. In case you're wondering, the titles from Shakespeare's sonnet 116 - the one that starts off
"Let me not to the marriage of true minds
I've always thought there's something in there that makes me think of Brian and Justin.
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