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Wyrd
Chapter 5: “At Last”

Oh yeah yeah, and you smile, you smile
Oh, and then the spell was cast
And here we are in Heaven
For you are mine at last ~ Etta James

The sixth time Justin met Brian, he wasn’t sure he was looking at the same man he’d seen only a few months before. Standing just outside the loft door he stared at the skinny, haggard looking man across from him with a slack-jaw and a coil of dread worming around in his stomach.

Brian wiped his hand over his face, cocked his head to the side and slowly blinked. “Justin?” he asked in a raspy almost needy voice.

Brian’s appearance frightened Justin but hearing his name spoken that way made a deep ache of protectiveness overwhelm him. He stepped across the threshold, pulled Brian into his arms and pleaded, “Tell me, Brian. Whatever it is, tell me. It won’t matter. It won’t change anything with us.”

Brian stiffened as he got over the shock of feeling Justin’s warm body, hearing him speak to him, it was definitely real and not some fucked up, chemically induced hallucination. He backed away from Justin, panicking inside as he realized that Justin had come to Pittsburgh for answers he wasn’t ready to give. He couldn’t believe that Justin was there. He really hadn’t thought that Justin would unexpectedly fly half-way around the world after he’d blown him off. His palms were sweating, his heart was racing and he was trying to come up with something to say but he was absolutely speechless.

Justin looked back at the open door and then back at Brian. “So, can I come in then?” he asked softly.

Brian found his voice and gestured, “Shut the door.”

Justin closed the door behind him and then slowly approached Brian. “Are you going to tell me?”

Brian threw his hands up. “I think you should start explaining things first. Like by telling me what the fuck you’re doing here?”

He’d caught Brian off-guard and Justin knew that Brian’s defensive mechanisms were kicking in. He just hoped he was strong enough to disable them. “I came because it’s my spring break and I figured that for whatever reason you cancelled at the last minute, I might as well find out what that was by coming to you.”

“My reasons aren’t any of your fucking business. If I wanted you to know, I would’ve told you.”

“You really think that I don’t deserve an answer?”

“You don’t actually expect me to give you one, do you? I’m a coward, right?”

“So you listened to my messages,” Justin said, shoulders slumping. “I shouldn’t have called you a coward. You’ve always been honest with me, except now.” He slowly stepped toward Brian and said softly, “I came all this way because I know there’s something really good between us. And I know that you think so too; and I know something had to be really wrong for you to just cancel and then not talk to me. That isn’t you.”

This was all wrong. Justin Taylor was not supposed to be in Pittsburgh and he definitely wasn’t supposed to be in his loft asking questions Brian couldn’t bear giving the answers to. “You don’t know who I am,” Brian said, his tone softer than he intended.

Justin crossed the distance between them and put his hands on Brian’s very slim waist. He shook his head slowly form side to side and then met Brian’s eyes. “What don’t you want me to know?” He skimmed his hands up Brian’s back and could easily feel every bone and he suddenly knew what it was Brian was hiding.

A police officer had come to his house to tell him about his parent’s accident, he didn’t remember much about it, but whenever he did think about that terrible day, he recalled asking the man, ‘Is my mom okay?’, and that had been the hardest question he’d ever asked.

The question he needed to ask Brian rivaled the one he’d asked the officer but he forced himself to speak the words, “Are you positive?”

“No,” Brian huffed and his lips quirked in a painful grimace. He took a deep breath and then blew it out, ruffling Justin’s hair as he did. “I had testicular cancer.”

“H…h…had cancer?” Justin stuttered out in a quaking breath. He felt no relief knowing that Brian wasn’t positive, because cancer was…. It was fucking CANCER!

***

Justin’s eyes opened and he drew in a deep breath. “What the fuck happened?” he asked, breathing heavily as he sat up.

Brian regarded Justin with an unreadable expression. “You passed out.”

“For how long?” Justin looked around them and then back at Brian, wiping the wetness from his face.

“For just a second,” Brian said.

“Did I hit my head?” he asked, feeling a little dizzy. “Why am I wet?”

“I caught you before you hit the floor and then I splashed a cup of water on your face to wake you up.”

“Fucking jet-lag,” Justin groaned, getting to his knees and then slowly standing. “This shit happens every time I fly. I’ve been off the plane for hours now without anything happening so I thought I was over it. I guess the adrenaline rush I was on wore off.”

“You pass out after every time you fly?” Brian asked in a teasing tone while standing to face Justin.

“I get light-headed and dizzy from jet-lag and stress,” Justin said. “Hearing my boyfriend has cancer…”

Brian interrupted, “Had.” He ignored the boyfriend reference entirely.

Justin squinted and looked Brian up and down. “Right. Well, that shocked me and the stress of the last couple of days… I need to sit down.”

Brian kept close to Justin as they walked over to the sofa and commended himself for not telling Justin about the cancer sooner if this was how he reacted to it. “They got it all, I had radiation and now I’m going to be fine.”

“Christ, Brian, why didn’t you tell me before?” Justin asked when they were both sitting down.

“I was going to be fine,” Brian said. “Look how you reacted. It’s a good thing I didn’t tell you over the phone, don’t you think? You might’ve passed out on the balcony and fallen to your death in true drama queen fashion.”

“I’m not a fucking drama queen,” Justin said angrily. “I’ve got jet-lag. If you would’ve told me before I wouldn’t have reacted like that,” Justin told him pointedly. “You know me better than that.”

Brian shrugged, knowing deep down Justin was right, but he didn’t want to admit it. “How did you even find out where I live?”

“If I answer that question will you answer mine?” Justin asked.

Brian rolled his eyes and nodded.

“Fine. I found out from Ted.”

“I’m going to…”

“You’re not firing him. It wasn’t his fault. Daphne and I did a little scheming to get a dinner meeting with him today and when he saw me he recognized me and he said you’ve talked about me. A lot.”

Brian groaned. “You really aren’t making his case for continued employment any better.”

Justin managed a small smile. “You won’t fire him for helping me find you. He’s a good friend and, from what he said, I’m guessing he’s the only person in your life that even knows about the cancer, isn’t he?”

Brian nodded. “He’s nosy and he happened to be around during my incoherent moments so I have no idea what I may or may not have said about you or anything else. Some of it may not be true.”

“Right.” Justin gave Brian a big smile. “Whatever it is you’ve said about me, it was enough for him to trust that I wasn’t some stalker and to forgive me and Daphne for manipulating him into meeting us.”

“I’m not too sure you aren’t a stalker,” Brian replied.

Justin sighed and ignored Brian’s comment and asked, “Were you ever going to tell me if I hadn’t come here and demanded to know what was wrong?”

“At some point… maybe,” Brian admitted.

“So… I still don’t get it and I don’t think you were afraid of my reaction, Brian…”

“You’ve lost your parents,” Brian interrupted. “I know you. You worry. If I don’t answer an email or call you once a week, you worry and think I’ve gone and got myself killed by going home with the wrong trick or getting into a bar fight.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Justin said angrily. “Something happened and it isn’t only because of the cancer. You don’t break commitments easily and there’s a reason you cancelled the trip way you did, probably hoping that I’d be so pissed I wouldn’t ever want to see you again. The way I see it, there are only two options that make any sense. One, you were in fact fucking around with me, stringing me along, having a laugh at all the future plans we were making and getting off on knowing you’d soon break my heart, because you never wanted fuck all to do with me in the first place. Or two, you really did want to go to Ibiza, you wanted to be with me, despite the fact that you look like shit, because that didn’t matter to you as long as you got to come to Ibiza. But then… this… this thing you’re not telling me came up and whatever it is, it is making you think that we shouldn’t be together. So… tell me, which one is it?”

Brian stared at Justin, wondering just what the fuck he’d done to deserve the special kind of hell in which he was now residing. He had no one to blame but himself. It was a stupid decision all around to think he could conquer cancer and its after affects in less than two months time and even more idiotic to think he could have any sort of relationship with a college student who was at his sexual peek and had his entire life ahead of him when his own life was pretty bleak at this point.

He had hoped to call Justin in a few days and tell him about the cancer but fudge the details. And if that wasn’t going to be enough of an explanation for him cancelling the trip, then he’d do what the selfish part of him had resisted before… and let Justin go. Now he didn’t know what the fuck he was supposed to do and what was right for Justin, not when he was sitting beside him, looking so hurt and angry. He decided that he’d have to make him leave, because he knew the alternative, telling Justin the truth, wasn’t… couldn’t be an option. If Justin knew the truth, he’d say it was all right, he’d pretend not to care… at first… and there wasn’t any guarantee that he was going to get any better and he didn’t want to subject Justin to that. That was why he’d cancelled, he’d faked Justin out and he was ashamed of himself for doing it and so there was only one choice.

“Whatever you came here for, it’s not going to happen. You need to go back to Ibiza and take that spot NYU offered you.”

Justin surprised himself with how easily he was able to pretend that Brian’s words didn’t slice through him. “So, it was option one, then? You were using me… you were bored and thought fucking around with my hopes and dreams was amusing? You never intended to see me once I moved here and now you want to hurt me so badly that I won’t want to come back to Pittsburgh, because you know that it was already going to be hard coming back here for me anyway?”

It was a funny thing, loving someone, being in love with someone, if that’s what it was that could define how Brian felt about Justin. The emotion was so strong, so all consuming, that it had the power to make him inflict vast amounts of pain onto Justin and himself without really doing much of anything at all.

Justin provided normalcy in his hectic, ‘scary as fuck because I could die’ world. Justin soothed him without knowing it, he balanced him out when the world spun too fast around him, even if only for during their phone conversations. But usually it was Justin’s face he pictured when he closed his eyes and begged a god he didn’t believe in to not let him die, to let him wake up the next morning because he hadn’t told Justin yet. It was one of Justin’s stories, his soothing deep voice that Brian would conjure when sleeplessness turned into hysterical exhaustion and Brian had held onto that voice when he slipped under the anesthetic spell the day of the surgery. He’d dreamt of Justin standing beside him next to the operating table and Brian wasn’t aware of anything but him.

Weeks went by and all the sex talk and pictures Justin sent Brian could do nothing to get a rise from his cock. It hadn’t bothered him, in fact. He still planned to go see Justin in Ibiza even if he was temporarily impotent, not that he’d ever admit to Justin that all the times they’d had phone sex he had been faking his orgasms. But he was sure that it was because his body had been through hell and all he needed was a ‘pick me up’ in the form of a little blue pill, to remind his cock what direction it needed to face. So confident that this extreme measure would do the trick, and wanting to give his cock every opportunity to react on its own before resulting to this, he waited until there were only a few days left before his flight.

The morning when he went to his doctor and confessed his major problem, he’d been optimistic as he requested the solution drug. Reluctantly, his doctor gave him a prescription and then… Brian waited and waited and two hours after the time in which he was supposed to get results, he was in fact extremely horny but nothing much happened to his cock. It wasn’t hard. It would stir, but before it could reach anywhere near full erect status, before he could properly jerk himself off, the sick thoughts would come, images of things he wasn’t even awake to see during surgery, his imagination playing with him, reminding him that he had been diseased and imperfect. And that was when he cancelled his trip to Ibiza. If Viagra couldn’t get him hard, if Justin’s husky voice and naughty images couldn’t help him get an erection, then it was likely that nothing would.

It would be so easy to confirm Justin’s statement. He wouldn’t even have to say anything. Just nod. And Justin would be gone. But Justin had been there for him all the way, even without knowing it and he hadn’t realized how difficult it would be to let Justin go. Even though it was hard for Brian to admit that he’d fallen in love with Justin, it was even harder to stand before him and lie to him about it..

 

And so…

“Option two.”

Justin blinked.

Brian placed his hand on the back of Justin’s neck and leaned his forehead close to rest it against Justin’s. “I take option two. The… ‘I’m a coward and a liar and something happened that has to do with the cancer and is the reason why I cancelled my trip’ option.”

“What is that reason?” Justin asked softly.

***

It wasn’t as humiliating as Brian thought it’d be. No, it was worse… much worse. And Justin’s reaction to it, once the wheels started turning in his pretty little blond head, was what made telling the truth suck so much.

“I just don’t get it!” Justin ranted. He stopped for a moment, stared at Brian with a ‘you’re a fucking idiot’ glare and then began pacing again, letting out puffs of air as he walked back toward Brian, stopped and said again, “I just don’t get it.”

Brian gave Justin a bored expression when he received the fifth ‘stop and glare’ and admitted, “Me neither.”

Justin paused, placed his hands on his hips and smirked. “You do realize how insane you are, don’t you?”

Brian was certain that he was only this crazy because Justin had made him this way. “You…”

“Brian,” Justin cut in, “you faked your orgasms!” Justin said angrily. “I don’t like that you didn’t tell me about the cancer, it was a really shitty thing to do, but I know why you did and can understand it on some level. I even understand why you didn’t want to tell me that you’re having trouble getting it up.”

Brian was becoming angry now. He didn’t appreciate the admonishing tone in Justin’s voice and the way he said ‘trouble getting it up’ was so blasé, it was as if he really didn’t think that was a big deal at all. Brian understood Justin’s anger, he’d expected it, but it wasn’t like he did it on purpose. He’d wanted to get an erection, had even had a half-stiffie a few times during their phone sex calls and at the time, he felt frustrated, but he also didn’t want Justin to think he wasn’t turning him on.

“I don’t understand why you didn’t just tell me you weren’t into it instead of making me go on and on, telling you my fantasies, describing to you how I would touch you and kiss you and fuck you and you told me… you told me that you were turned on, you told me you’d come and you were lying!”

Brian couldn’t let this go on any longer, he’d had a shitty week, an even shittier last two days and no matter how much he cared for Justin, he wasn’t going to sit quiet and let him behave like a dick head. “Maybe I didn’t fucking tell you because I was actually trying to get it up!” Brian roared, standing up from the sofa and striding up to Justin. “Did you think about that?” He stepped even closer, invading Justin’s personal space but still shy of touching him. “Maybe the whole time I was stroking my cock, touching myself and imagining it was you, wishing it was you doing it.” All the anger Brian felt over the last two months was now barreling out of him. “I was turned on and every last fiber inside of me wanted you, wanted to come for you. Hearing you get off while I tried to, that was better than not coming at all!” He tilted his head down and leaned so close to Justin’s face that the sides of their noses were touching. He was going cross-eyed staring into Justin’s dark blue eyes and he could feel Justin’s breath against his own lips. “Do you get it now?” he asked, his words now husky and soft, his heart beat loud in his ears and….. What the fuck? Brian stumbled backward two steps and looked down at his crotch and then slowly raised his head, appreciating the body standing across from his like it was the first time he’d seen it. Justin’s dick was in the same state as his own, his large hard cock pushing against his tight jeans. When he looked up at Justin’s face, his cock pulsed as his eyes zeroed in on Justin’s full lips, his mouth hanging open, glistening with saliva, his gaze fixated on Brian’s lower half.

Many mouths had wrapped themselves around Brian’s cock before, many men who had sucked him had told him and shown him how much they loved cock, especially his. He even knew a guy in college who practically followed him around waiting to suck him off. He’d seen men display an insane amount of enthusiasm for sucking cock. But Brian had never seen or experienced anything like this.

He was so far gone, he barely recalled Justin dropping to his knees and somewhere in there his pants were yanked down and his cock was freed from his underwear. It was done quickly and Justin had taken him into his mouth and throat all the way down in one smooth swallow. Brian had no idea how long Justin had been bobbing his head and working him to an orgasm, but it didn’t matter… he was seeing stars and he didn’t even try to hold back. He cried out when he came, his hands digging into Justin’s hair for leverage as his body swayed and shook. He groaned in displeasure when Justin’s head began to back out of his grip and his cock was exposed to the air once again, hanging semi-hard in the v of his open pants, glistening with Justin’s spit.

“You tasted wonderful,” Justin said, breathing heavily. He smiled up at Brian and reached out to tuck his cock back inside his pants but Brian’s hand grabbed his wrist and stopped him.

“Get undressed,” Brian said, releasing his hold on Justin.

Justin sucked in a sharp breath and his body shivered from the demanding needy tone in Brian’s voice. His dick throbbed and he pushed his hand inside his jeans to grasp it while replying, “Okay.”

Brian had thought that it would be a big deal for Justin to explore his body and notice the changes, but Justin’s touch felt too good for him to even conjure up any feelings of inadequacy. His cock was behaving once again and with Justin so hot and horny for him, it didn’t take him long to go from one orgasm to getting hard again and reaching for the next.

They didn’t talk too much, using the time in between rounds of fucking to eat and rehydrate themselves. Justin made a phone call home and texted Daphne and Nico to let them know things with him and Brian were okay. Brian called Ted to ream him out but to also make damn sure that when the time came for Brian to introduce Justin to the gang that Ted would know what not to say about him and Justin’s relationship and to in his own sarcastic way, thank Ted for his role in bringing them back together. Even during their break from sex, all the while their eyes stayed on one another, filled with desire and awaiting the next act.

***

In the morning, Brian woke to the smell of coffee, his body felt sore like it did every time he woke up but today at least he could equate it with all the fucking he’d done the night before and not because he’d felt sick. Bleary-eyed he pulled on a pair of briefs, smiled when he saw Justin sitting in the living room sketching, dressed in his silk robe, the sunshine streaming into the room, and Brian couldn’t deny how right it felt to wake up to that site. After relieving himself, washing up, and brushing his teeth he went in search of Justin and the coffee. But as he turned to go down the stairs he saw that Justin was no longer on the sofa, he was standing in front of the open loft door and Debbie was standing in the hallway, holding a dish of food.

“Where’s Brian?” Debbie asked, sidestepping Justin and entering the loft.

“Uh…” Justin quickly shut the door behind the woman.

“I’m right here, Deb,” Brian said.

“Morning?” Justin said, awkwardly.

Brian rubbed his hands over his face and wondered if Debbie would just go away if he just got back into bed . Or, maybe he could just run her off by demanding Justin to join him in the shower for a morning fuck… not that he was quite up to it yet. Before he could make a decision, Debbie slammed the tray of food onto the counter top and asked, “He’s a little young for you, don’t you think?” She turned back to Justin and said softly, “Honey, you should probably get home to your parents…”

“I’m twenty-one,” Justin said haughtily. Brian had talked about Debbie and by pure description alone he immediately knew this was the same woman. He thought about telling her that his parents were dead but thought better of it and bit his lip.

“What brings you by so early?” Brian asked, stepping down the stairs of the bedroom while glaring at Debbie. The last time he’d seen her, she’d smacked him and he’d been pretty sure that he wasn’t going to see her again until he apologized for what he’d said… or least for the way he’d said it.

Debbie pointed to the breakfast casserole that sat on the counter, just waiting to be cut. “Last night, when I was going through Vic’s things, I found the recipe for this on a little piece of paper in one of his books. He called it, ‘Brian’s Breakfast Casserole’, and I remembered you and him making it one morning when he’d visited while he still lived in New York. Now stop stalling and tell me who this kid is, because he’s obviously not just a trick or you’d have kicked him out the moment you were done with him.”

Brian rolled his eyes. “Maybe you interrupted something just starting?”

“Not even you get up this early to go out and find a trade,” Debbie said, she looked at Justin again. “Who is he?”

He is standing right here and would be pleased to introduce himself,” Justin said, walking over and holding out his hand to Debbie. “I’m Justin Taylor.”

The name sounded a little familiar, but Debbie couldn’t pinpoint why. She shook Justin’s hand and said, “Debbie Novotny.”

“I know,” Justin told her. “Brian’s told me a lot about you.”

Debbie took a step back and appraised Justin. “Well, aren’t you a cutie.”

Justin blushed. “Thanks?”

“What are you doing with Brian?”

Brian walked over to Justin and put his arm around his waist. “I told you about Justin, Deb…”

Debbie snorted. “Honey, I may be getting old, but I know that I would’ve remembered if you’d told me about him.”

“I have,” Brian said and figured he might as well get it over with. They hadn’t talked yet about what was going to happen with them but he knew that Justin would be in his life and he might as well start with Debbie by introducing him into it. “Justin is the friend that I visit in Ibiza,” he explained.

“Friend?” Debbie asked incredulously. “From the looks of you, I’d say you’re a lot more than friends.”

“I don’t think that’s any of your business,” Justin said.

Debbie laughed. “Well, you’re not as innocent as you look, are you?”

“No, he’s not,” Brian said. He knew Debbie wouldn’t just leave it at that, though, and if he wanted to get her out of the loft and be alone with Justin, he’d have to tell her the truth. “Justin is my…boy…” Boyfriend? No. He couldn’t use that word, it was too juvenile. “He’s my partner.” That had obviously been the right thing to say because he felt Justin squeeze him closer and he received a beaming smile from him.

“You’re serious?” Debbie asked in astonishment. She thought that Brian might’ve found a fuck buddy… but a partner! That was just too good to be true.

“Yes,” Justin answered her proudly.

“And how long has this been going on?” Debbie asked.

“Well we’ve known one another for…”

“It doesn’t matter,” Brian interrupted Justin. “Now, Justin just arrived yesterday and we haven’t seen one another for a couple of months so if you wouldn’t mind leaving…”

“I am not leaving!” Debbie cut in, shaking her finger at Brian. “Not until you explain to me just what the fuck happened to the Stud of Liberty Avenue and why you’ve been keeping this a secret.”

“He’s still a stud,” Justin said.

Brian snorted and told Debbie, “Justin wasn’t a secret. You knew what I was comfortable with telling any of you and I’m sure, once you walk out of here, what you’ve now figured out won’t be a secret anymore.”

“Well, if it’s not a secret, then you won’t mind if I have breakfast with you two and get to know Justin better.” Debbie took Justin’s hand and led him over to one of the stools. “You sit down, sweetie, and I’ll cut you a piece of the casserole. I want to hear all about you.”

Justin gave Brian a ‘save me’ expression, having no idea how much he should tell the woman.

“It’s all right,” Brian said, sitting down beside Justin, resigned to his fate.

Fate. The concept he’d never believed in, but felt like he now had no choice but to accept as a genuine influence in his life.

***

Brian closed the loft door and then rested his head against it. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck!”

Justin cautiously approached Brian and curled around him, clasping his hands on Brian’s chest. He stood on his tiptoes and whispered in Brian’s ear, “Yes, yes, yes...”

Brian snorted and turned around in Justin’s arms. “For once, I wasn’t talking about sex.”

Justin shrugged. “I know,” he said, jutting his hips against Brian’s crotch, “but I figure that we better do it now before all your friends show up here, wanting to meet me.”

Brian lo--- liked the way Justin’s mind worked and how well he could read his needs. He wanted to fuck Justin, but he also knew that he wouldn’t have a condom on his cock before the first call came. The moment he thought that, he heard his cell phone ringing. “As much as I wanna fuck you right now, I’ve got to answer that. It’s probably Mikey and I might be able to buy us some time so we can do the meet and greet on our own terms.”

Justin nodded. “All right, I suppose I’ll give my uncles a call while you answer that.”

Brian kissed Justin once real fast before going up to the bedroom to answer his phone.

Justin watched him for a minute before retrieving his phone from the pocket of his pants and dialing Matt’s number. “Hey,” he said when his uncle picked up.

“What’s going on, Justin? We’ve been worried sick about you.”

Justin suppressed a laugh at how parental Matt sounded. “I called last night and talked to Aaron.”

“But you didn’t tell him what was going on,” Matt said. “He told me all you said was that you were fine and you were staying with Brian.”

“So why are you worried sick?” Justin asked.

“Just because you said you were with Brian didn’t mean that things were all right with you two. So tell me, what is going on with him. Why did he cancel and why…”

“He had cancer,” Justin interrupted quietly. “Look, I really can’t talk about it now… but I’ll fill you in when I get home.”

“When will you be coming home?” Matt asked, worriedly. “I don’t like you being on the other side of the world.”

“I lived here for almost my whole life,” Justin said. “I’m fine. I promise, I would tell you if I wasn’t. We still haven’t talked about how long I’m staying but if it works out, I’ll probably stay until spring break is over.”

“As soon as he isn’t in the same room as you, me and Aaron want you on speakerphone and we want details,” Matt said.

“I’ll try,” Justin said, glancing up to the bedroom at Brian, caught his eyes and smiled. “But I don’t know when that’s going to happen.”

“Just be safe,” Matt cautioned.

“I will be and I’ll call you tomorrow, all right?”

“Okay.”

“Tell Aaron and Molly I love them.”

“I will. Justin?”

“Yeah.”

“Are you going to go to the cemetery?”

Justin forced away the pain he felt just thinking of doing that. “No and I don’t know if I will.”

“Just call if you need to talk about anything, all right? I don’t care what time it is here. I love you and you know I’ll listen.”

“I know. I love you too, Uncle Matt. Bye.”

“Bye, kiddo.”

Justin hung up the phone and closed his eyes as the last memory of his parents came to the forefront of his brain, paralyzing him with sorrow.

“Justin?”

He opened his tear-filled eyes and saw Brian standing steps in front of him. “Sorry,” he said in a crackly voice while wiping his eyes with his palms.

“Are your uncles upset that you came here?” Brian asked.

“No,” Justin said and tried to smile. “Matt asked if I planned to go to the cemetery and it just brought back some memories.”

Brian pulled Justin into his arms and ran his hands up and down Justin’s back comfortingly. “Bad memories?” he asked.

Justin shook his head no and kept his face hidden against Brian’s bare chest. “I think the good ones hurt just as much as the bad ones.”

Brian understood that completely. He wasn’t good with emotional stuff, but he knew that Justin needed more than comfort right then, he needed to talk. “Let’s go sit down and you can tell me about it,” he said and added, “if you want to.”

Justin pulled away from Brian. “You want me to talk about it with you?”

“Don’t sound so shocked,” Brian said, taking Justin’s hand in his and pulling him to the sofa.

“Wait… what about your friends? Who was that on the phone?”

“It was Mikey, just like I thought. The moment Debbie left, she called him. She was still in the elevator when she did,” he said, rolling his eyes. “He was freaking out, of course. Thought I’d gone insane, said he was coming over for an intervention, but I managed to convince him to call off our friends. Told him Ted had met you and you definitely hadn’t given me a brain transplant. I agreed to meet him and the rest of my friends at Woody’s tonight.”

“Oh.” Justin wanted to meet Brian’s friends, but he hadn’t expected it would mean all of them at once.

“You don’t want to meet them?” Brian asked. “Not that I blame you but when we talked about you moving here you said you couldn’t wait.”

“No, I do want to meet them,” Justin said quickly. “It’s just that… what if they don’t like me?”

“Debbie loved you,” Brian said, as if that was all that mattered and pulled Justin down onto the sofa beside him.

“But what if your friends don’t? I mean… Brian, you and I… we’re not exactly a conventional couple and they don’t really know anything about me. They think I’m just some fuck buddy of yours.”

“Not now they don’t,” Brian admitted. “Or… by the time we meet them they won’t. Debbie will have sung your praises to each and every one of them by eight o’clock tonight; she already did to Michael, which is why I was able to get him to believe that I hadn’t gone bat shit crazy.”

“But…”

Brian put his hand over Justin’s mouth and shook his head. “If they don’t like you, then they can go fuck themselves, but believe me, I’m not worried.” Brian realized how odd that was. “No more talking about me. Tell me what you were thinking about before.” He was acutely aware that he sounded like a lesbian but he’d remedy that by fucking Justin as soon as they were done talking.

“I was thinking about the last time I saw them both. My mom and dad always went grocery shopping together on the first Monday of the month. They would leave at the crack of dawn, it was this weird thing they did together. Over the years, it was one of the only things my parents did to spend time together unless they were going to a dinner at the country club or some other business function. My dad liked shopping early because he didn’t have to deal with crowds and my mom liked it because she said that’s when the fruit and vegetables were the freshest. That morning, they both came in my room to wake me up and tell me they were leaving.” Justin sighed and wiped away his falling tears. “It didn’t matter that I wasn’t a little kid anymore. Every one of these mornings my mom would wake me up by running her hands through my hair and kissing my forehead until I opened my eyes. Occasionally she woke me up like that on other mornings, but those Monday mornings my dad would be there standing beside my bed too, watching my mom and me with this really tender look on his face that I rarely ever saw from him. I remember her smiling at me even when I bitched and moaned about having to watch Molly. We didn’t have school but Molly would be awake by seven and I hated waking up early. My mom just laughed at me, used to my bitching, kissed me goodbye and said she loved me. My dad didn’t kiss or hug me, we hadn’t done that in a long time unless it was at Christmas or something, but he said he loved me to, said they’d bring home lunch, told me goodbye and… and that was it.” Justin gave up trying to reign in his emotions and began sobbing. “That was the last time I saw them before the wake.”

Brian pulled Justin into his arms and held him tightly. He wanted to tell him how lucky he was that the last thing his mother had told him was that she loved him, that even if his father had been a prick, he at least said goodbye to his son. Brian was acutely aware of how much different Justin’s childhood had been from his, how much more he mourned the loss of his parents while Brian couldn’t fathom grieving for his parents in the same way. But that didn’t matter, pain was pain, no matter what it was born from and he knew that Justin had never fully dealt with the loss of his parents. He’d been whisked away to a paradise that had numbed him from the grief and he hoped that now that Justin was facing the loss, it would make it easier for him once he came back to Pittsburgh for good. That thought alone should’ve scared Brian into doing whatever he could to get Justin away from him, but instead he just held him tighter.

“I miss my mom,” Justin said, calming down a little while burrowing further into Brian’s embrace. “And even if my dad was an asshole… I think, I think I miss him too.”

“I know,” Brian said, rubbing circles on Justin’s back. “I know you do.”

***

“It definitely isn’t Ibiza,” Justin said, gazing around Liberty Avenue, his arm wrapped around Brian’s waist.

Brian threw his head back and laughed. “No, it isn’t.” He stopped in front of the stairs to Woody’s and told Justin, “Remember that you met Ted at Kinnetik, okay?”

“I got it,” Justin said.

Brian laced his fingers with Justin’s and led him up the steps to Woody’s. He couldn’t believe what he was about to do and wondered just how he’d gotten from sharing one day with Justin in Ibiza to sharing his life in Pittsburgh with him. He wasn’t going to be a pussy and run from it now. What would be the point? He wasn’t ashamed of the feelings he had for Justin. He was proud that a man as talented and gorgeous as Justin wanted to be with him and he was going to proudly show him off.

***

Ben, Michael, Ted, Emmett, Lindsay and Melanie had arrived at Woody’s early and occupied a pair of tall tables near a corner of the room. Three of the six had previously met or seen pictures of Justin, but none of them had ever seen ‘Brian and Justin’. Whatever conversation they’d been having immediately ended the moment the pair walked into the bar and a lot of other conversations going on with the other customers halted too.

Brian and Justin were beautiful and held vast amounts of sex appeal on their own, but together they could make anyone wish they were a gay man who might have a chance to be with them. Of course, that didn’t apply to their friends… maybe.

Still, even Melanie, a self-declared cock hater felt their appeal. “They look good together.”

“I’m actually drooling,” Emmett admitted as Brian and Justin walked toward them.

“He’s so young,” Michael observed. “Ma said he was young but he looks like a teenager.”

“He’s twenty-one,” Ted told them.

“He looked older in his pictures,” Lindsay commented.

“Brian looks happy,” Ben said.

“Who wouldn’t be with that cutie?” Emmett said just before the couple reached their tables.

Justin smiled at the group of friends. “Hi.”

“This is Justin,” Brian said and then proceeded to make the rest of the introductions of his friends.

“So how did you two meet?” Emmett asked Justin.

“We met in Ibiza,” Justin said, taking a seat beside Brian.

“Well, we know that,” Lindsay said, laughing. “I don’t think Brian ever told us how exactly you met.”

“We met on the balcony our suites shared,” Justin clarified.

“And was it love at first sight?” Emmett implored, sighing.

Brian rolled his eyes. “No fucking way. Do I seem like someone who falls in love at first sight?”

“Up until today you didn’t seem like a guy who falls in love at all,” Michael said.

“Of fuck off, I didn’t fall in love with him at first sight,” Brian said adamantly.

“Doth protest too much?” Emmett said, grinning. “Though I didn’t fail to notice that you didn’t say you weren’t in love.” He batted his eyelashes. “This is just like a romance novel I read where…”

“It wasn’t love at first sight,” Justin interrupted. “I knew I wanted Brian, but I was seventeen the first time we met and he was...”

“An asshole,” Brian supplied, not wanting to discuss his own age.

“That’s not hard to believe,” Melanie quipped.

“Wait a minute, if you met when you were only seventeen then that was four years ago!” Michael squeaked. He narrowed his eyes at Brian and asked, “You’ve had a boyfriend for four years and didn’t think you should tell us?”

“We weren’t boyfriends then,” Justin told the man.

Michael huffed and crossed his arms over his chest. “That’s right, Brian casually mentioned that he had a fuck buddy in Ibiza.”

“I never said that,” Brian pointed out. “That’s just what you all concluded when I talked about Justin.”

“Because the only things you said about him had to do with the studs you two fucked together,” Michael said.

“Well, not exactly,” Lindsay said. “Mel and I… we knew Justin was more than just a fuck buddy because…”

“We are sitting right here,” Brian said annoyed. “Michael you can ask me whatever the fuck you want to know.”

“Fine.” Michael huffed. “Why did Mel and Lindsay know about him and not me?”

“I told Justin about Gus loving the trip to Sea World and so Justin…”

“Gus knows about your boyfriend!” Michael interrupted Brian.

“Jesus, would you keep your voice down and stop interrupting him?” Justin asked. “And my name is Justin and I’m right here so please stop talking about me like I’m not.”

Michael’s face reddened and he glared at Justin. “Excuse me if I’m a little surprised to find out that so many people in Brian’s life have known about a huge secret that my best friend has kept from me.”

“You sound angry, not surprised,” Ted said, having previously remained quiet. Not only did he like Justin, but he, more than any of the gang, knew how much Brian cared about Justin.

It was no wonder to Justin why Brian hadn’t told Michael about the cancer.

“I am angry,” Michael admitted though his tone was softer. He asked Ted, “You knew about Justin too though, right?”

“I knew as much as you did about him, until yesterday,” Ted said. He didn’t like lying, but he wouldn’t betray Brian and Justin’s trust. Telling Michael that he had known about Justin and Brian’s true relationship before would only make things worse.

“Can we move on to the good stuff?” Emmett implored.

“Yes,” Ben agreed, “tell us how exactly you two got together.”

“It isn’t some big romance story,” Brian said. He placed his hand on Justin’s leg and squeezed it. “Justin and I had fun together and one thing…”

“Led to another,” Justin finished Brian’s sentence.

“And because Kinnetik’s been busy and I don’t have the time to take off from work, Justin decided to spend his break from school here with me instead of me going to Ibiza.”

“You flew all the way around the world to spend your break with a man you’d only met a few times?” Melanie asked.

“I’m from Pittsburgh originally,” Justin told her.

“Really?” Emmett asked.

Justin nodded and kissed the side of Brian’s face. “Yeah, small world.”

“Now it does sound like a romance novel,” Ben teased.

“So you don’t live in Ibiza?” Lindsay asked.

“No, I do. My sister and I moved to Ibiza to live with my uncle and his partner about six years ago.”

“Why?” Melanie said. “From what I’ve heard of the place, Ibiza doesn’t seem like a good place to raise children.”

Brian felt Justin tensing, pulled him close and told her, “His parents passed away so they went to live with his uncles.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Lindsay said.

“Me too,” Melanie said, taken aback.

Before anyone else could voice the same Justin said, “Ibiza may be a gay Mecca but it is very family friendly. Molly loves it there and it’s a great place to live for anyone. I’m going to miss it.”

“You’re moving?” Melanie asked.

“Yes, my uncles have sold the resort they own and we’re moving back to Pittsburgh this summer,” Justin said. “They are going to buy a house there too so we can go back whenever we want to.” He directed his attention to Melanie and Lindsay. “I’ve told Brian how much Gus would love it there. Maybe sometime this summer you could get away and we could go out on our boat and go whale watching together.”

“We’ll see,” Lindsay said. She liked Justin, but she wasn’t that confident that his and Brian’s relationship would see the summer. It wasn’t that she didn’t want that for Brian, she just had a hard time accepting the fact that Brian was so willingly in one and wondered if he’d actually fully processed it himself.

Michael sighed. “You still haven’t explained why the girls and Gus knew about you, Justin.”

“I sent pictures of a boat trip I went on to see whales,” Justin said simply. “Brian showed them to them.”

“You didn’t think I’d be interested?” Michael asked Brian.

“They were pictures of whales, except for Justin,” Brian said. “Lindsay and Melanie happened to be there when I was showing him. Unless you’ve acquired the same obsession with whales that Gus has, I don’t think they’d interest you. Now can we please forget about the whole ‘secret boyfriend’ bullshit and get some drinks?”

“Sounds good to me,” Justin said. He looked at Emmett, “I’ll buy a round. Can you help me carry them?”

“Sure,” Emmett said and slid off his stool.

Once they were at the bar Justin ordered the drinks and as the bartender filled the order he took the opportunity to ask Emmett about Michael. “I know they’ve been friends for a long time, but he seems so negative. Doesn’t he want Brian to be happy?”

“Of course he does,” Emmett said. “But he’s very protective of him and to learn that Brian has this part of his life, a very big part of his life that he hasn’t shared with him…”

“But he didn’t tell you and you don’t seem as upset,” Justin said.

“That’s because I haven’t always been in love with Brian. Michael has been since he was a teenager and for most of his adult life, even though he has Ben now those deeply buried feelings are coming to surface. Before it was easier for him to move on because Brian didn’t do relationships with anyone but now he knows he does. Don’t worry, he’ll get over it and you have nothing to worry about because neither one would ever actually do anything about it. Michael is married Ben.” He pointed toward the tables. “Look, Brian’s probably telling him right now what a shit he’s been acting like and threatening to take you and leave if he doesn’t stop being an ass.”

Justin looked over at the table and saw the scowl on Michael’s face was being replaced by a look of embarrassment. He wondered just what Brian was saying to the man. “I want him to like me but I just hope he doesn’t think Brian is going to share every single thing about our relationship with him, you know? Some things are just for us.”

Emmett smiled. “You’re hot, but it doesn’t take a genius to know that isn’t the reason Brian is with you.”

“What do you mean?” Justin asked.

“Brian’s a very private person,” Emmett said, “and yet I’m sure you might already know him better than any of us. He’s with you because you’re alike in the ways you need to be and opposite in the ways that compliment one another’s personalities.”

Justin guffawed. “You’ve only known me for like fifteen minutes and you think that?”

“I’m very perceptive,” Emmett said. “Take for instance the fact that Brian hasn’t been regaling us with backroom or bathhouse tales for the last couple of months. No one else has even realized it, but Brian’s stopped tricking, hasn’t he? His view on relationships isn’t the only thing that’s changed but his view on sex too. Shortly after he came back from Ibiza in January he stopped going out dancing and tricking. He looked like shit and everyone else keeps telling him to stop working himself so hard, but I don’t think that’s it. He was lovesick and he’s gone monogamous.”

Justin’s eyes widened. He didn’t know what to say to Emmett. Sure, Emmett was perceptive but he had it wrong. Only, he didn’t know how to tell Emmett that because if he did, then he would have to also explain the reason Brian hadn’t been tricking and had looked like shit. Thinking quickly he said, “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t enlighten anyone else to that. We were just giving it a test because we thought it’d make it even hotter once we finally did fuck again. But honestly, Emmett, we like tricking and I don’t think we’re going to be monogamous.” Justin was sure that once he moved to Pittsburgh he wouldn’t need anyone else but he was never going to demand monogamy from Brian.

“Oh,” Emmett said, “I never thought of that. So, did it make it hotter, going without completely until you saw one another again?”

“Yes, it did,” Justin said honestly. “But you’re not going to tell anyone else about your observations, are you?”

“Of course not,” Emmett said, collecting the tray of beers and mixed drinks from the countertop while Justin paid the bartender.

“Thanks,” Justin said to both the bartender and Emmett. They arrived back at the table and it was obvious they’d all been talking about him, but he didn’t care as long as Brian wasn’t upset about it.

“So, Justin,” Lindsay said, “Brian says you’re an artist.”

“Yup.”

“And you’ve applied at PIFA,” Ted said. “That’s a great school.”

“Yes and I’ve also applied at other schools, CM and some out of state, but PIFA…” he turned his attention to Brian, “and any in Pittsburgh will be my top choices.”

“Awww…” Emmett swooned.

“What kind of art do you do?” Michael asked.

Justin smiled at the man, happy that he was taking an interest in him in a way that had nothing to do with Brian. “I like many different mediums,” he said. “There are so many different types of art and ways to express what I feel, that I don’t want to limit myself.”

“So you draw?” Michael asked.

“Sure,” Justin said. He grabbed a pen from the center of one of the tables and a blank scrap of paper that were placed there for Karaoke. “Would you like me to draw something for you?”

Michael nodded enthusiastically. “A superhero.”

“Captain Astro?” Justin asked.

Michael’s eyes got huge. “You know Captain Astro?”

“Oh great,” Brian groaned, “you’re a dork.”

Justin playfully hit Brian and asked Michael, “Who doesn’t?” He quickly sketched out a drawing of the superhero. “It’s a shame he wasn’t officially ‘out’ though, wasn’t it?”

“There is a lot of gay subtext in comic books,” Ben said.

“And in movies, books…” Ted trailed off and wondered, “Is it even really subtext or are we just supposed to believe that it is?”

“Of course,” Melanie said, “the de-gayifying of the arts is rampant in society and history.”

Ben nodded. “Even though homosexuals are responsible for most of the…”

“Oh god,” Brian cut in, “can we not talk about that crap tonight? Christ, if I wanted to take your class, Professor, I’d enroll in CM and take it.”

“And fuck all the college boys while you’re at it,” Justin said, waggling his eyebrows.

“I think I’ll stick to fucking one college guy,” Brian told him.

Justin smiled brightly and passed his finished sketch to Michael. “What do you think?”

“That’s not Captain Astro,” Michael said, confused.

“That’s Captain Gay,” Justin said, tapping on the big letter G on the superhero’s chest. “Defender of Queers everywhere.”

“So when are you moving here again?” Michael asked excitedly.

Brian bit his lip, stopping himself from saying, ‘Not soon enough.’

“Why?” Justin asked.

“Because I want to know when we can get started on making our own gay comic. We can write it together and with your talent…”

“You want to start a gay comic with me?” Justin asked in surprise.

“That’s not a bad idea,” Ted said. “The gay market is ripe for something original like that.”

“Yes,” Michael said. “Brian did tell you I own a comic book shop, didn’t he?”

“Sure,” Justin said. “He also told me that you guys used to read and collect them.”

“Mikey collected them,” Brian corrected. “I simply indulged Mikey by reading them with him.”

“Sure, Brian,” Melanie said, “that’s why you gave Gus your collection for Christmas this year.”

 

“Bitch,” Brian grumbled.

“So, do you want to?” Michael asked Justin.

“I guess we’d have all summer to see if we could come up with a good first issue,” Justin said.

“Don’t spread yourself too thin,” Brian advised, “you’ll still be at my beck and call.”

“Of course,” Justin said.

“Is that a yes?” Michael asked, thrumming with excitement.

“Yes,” Justin said, a wild look in his eyes as just the thought of creating something new encompassed him.

Brian ruffled Justin’s hair and then reached across to do the same to Michael’s but was stopped by all the gel the man had styled it with. “It’s good to see you boys getting along so well.” He grabbed Justin’s arm and pulled him off the stool. “I hate to break it up, but we’ve got to go.”

“But you haven’t finished your drinks,” Lindsay said.

“You’ve only been here for a half hour,” Ben added, looking at his watch.

“Justin will be here for two weeks, I’m sure we’ll see you again soon.”

Justin had sort of wanted to get to sketching on ideas for the superhero for their comic, but the look of possession and want in Brian’s eyes trumped his need to sketch and he was ready to put his passion into creating something else. “Bye! It was so nice to meet you guys,” he said as Brian dragged him toward the entrance of the bar.

***

The first day of Justin’s second week back in Pittsburgh, he and Brian picked up Matt from the airport. He had found a house he liked online. Justin had gone with the realtor to look at it and after giving Matt his approval that the home’s photos showed reality, Matt had decided to go to Pittsburgh and see it for himself and, if he liked it, buy it.

Justin hadn’t done any driving in the U.S., so he’d relied on Daphne and Brian to take him wherever he’d wanted to go while he was there. Pittsburgh had grown and changed dramatically since the last time Matt had been there, so Brian took the afternoon off work to pick up Matt and go house shopping with the three of them. They met the realtor at the house in Shadyside. It was a three bedroom, four baths Victorian home. Brian personally hated the décor but he kept his mouth shut, it’s not like he would be living there.

“It’s not as big as I thought,” Matt said once they ended the tour. “But the kitchen is stunning, cherry wood cabinets and a six burner stove! And Aaron will love the master bathroom with its claw foot tub and I can just imagine us grilling on the deck out back. But still, the square footage could be a problem.”

“The basement is finished,” the realtor said hesitantly.

“I know and that would work for extra space but the bedrooms are closer together than I thought,” Matt said. He looked at Justin. “Have you decided whether or not you want to get an apartment or if you’re going to live with us?”

Brian bristled. This was the first time he realized that Justin wasn’t going to be living with him. They hadn’t talked about it and, frankly, Brian really hadn’t thought about it until that moment, but he realized that he wanted Justin to live with him.

“I know I’m kind of old to be living with my parents,” Justin admitted and blushed. “It’s just that I’ve never really lived on my own. At the resort, you guys were so close by and I don’t really know Pittsburgh… not as an adult. I don’t know if I’m ready to live by myself.”

“Would you be uncomfortable having a room so close to Molly’s?” Matt asked.

“No, of course not,” Justin said. “But I guess I won’t have much space to paint or…”

“Then this isn’t the one,” Matt interrupted. He turned to the crestfallen realtor and asked him, “Do you think you can get some more listings to show us this week?”

“Of course,” the realtor said.

“But Matt,” Justin protested, “you love this home! Your eyes lit up and you got happier with every room you entered. I can always just rent some studio space somewhere. If you love this home you should buy it.”

“I guess that could work,” Matt said, grinning. “Do you think Aaron will like it?”

“He liked the pictures online, didn’t he?” Justin asked.

“He did,” Matt said. “This is the listing that jumped out at him first.”

“Then maybe I should let you give your partner a call,” the realtor said. “If he agrees, we can draw up an offer this afternoon.”

Matt nodded and opened his phone. When Aaron picked up he began the conversation by telling him, “It’s perfect.”

***

Later that night, Brian tied his condom and tossed it in the trash, his back to Justin he said, “There’s an alternative to living next to Molly, you know.”

Justin sleepily cuddled against Brian’s back and kissed along his spine. “I know, but you heard me, I don’t want to live alone. Not yet.”

Brian let the silence between them drift on for a few minutes before he found the words he’d wanted to tell Justin since the moment they came back to the loft. “You don’t have to live alone.”

“What?” Justin asked, going still, his mouth hanging open against Brian’s skin.

Brian flipped himself to his side and stared at Justin. “You heard me.”

“You… you want me to move in here?” he asked in shock.

“I asked, didn’t I?” Brian said.

“Did you ask?” Justin asked, unsure.

Brian’s eyes darkened. “Look, if you don’t want to, then…”

“Are we ready for that?” Justin asked. “I mean… we’ve been in a long distance relationship until now and I don’t want to fuck anything up by moving too fast. I’m worried that you’re not ready for what this would mean.”

“Whatever kind of relationship we’ve been in doesn’t matter,” Brian said softly. “It matters which one you want to have with me now. You don’t want to live alone and I… I’m ready.”

“To live with me?” Justin asked.

Brian nodded.

“But here?” Justin asked, now completely awake. He sat up and looked around the loft. “It’s not that I don’t like your home but it’s you.”

“And what’s wrong with that?” Brian asked, sitting up too.

“Nothing,” Justin said, looking back into Brian’s dark eyes. “But I want it to be me, too.”

“Then you can make it you,” Brian said, “in moderation. It’s just stuff… it’s a designer loft, but if you’d be uncomfortable living in it the way it is, then I’d be open to some changes.”

“You’ve been open to a lot of changes lately,” Justin observed.

“And from where I’m standing they’ve all been good changes,” Brian said stiffly.

“They have,” Justin said and kissed Brian slowly before drawing away. “You’re a wonderful man Brian and I’m glad you want to share your home with me, but I don’t want you to think I’m invading your space and, as wide open as the loft is, there isn’t much defined space. I mean, there’s no privacy, none at all.”

“So you don’t want me to make room in my drawers for your drawers?” Brian asked, trying to keep his tone level when he felt so pissed because he’d embarrassed himself.

“No,” Justin said urgently. “I want to have a dresser of my own next to yours and in this space we can’t do that. Look, I have the money… we could buy a place, together.”

“You want me to sell the loft?” Brian asked. He really didn’t know if he was ready for that, but he wasn’t ready for the alternative either. Shadyside was too far away and if Justin did get an apartment and a separate studio who knew when he’d see him.

“I don’t want you to if you don’t want to,” Justin said. “Look, maybe I should just move in here and we can see how the loft works out first. Maybe I’m the one that’s moving a little too fast.”

Brian could accept that. “Okay.”

“So yes,” Justin said, pushing Brian onto his back. “I want you to make room for me,” he whispered. He placed a kiss over Brian’s rapidly beating heart. “And I want you to make room for me right here, too.”

Brian gently gripped Justin’s hair and pulled his head up and slyly grinned. “You’re a romantic twat.”

“But you love me anyway,” Justin said and went back to kissing Brian’s chest.

Brian didn’t deny it, but he couldn’t yet say it, so instead he grabbed Justin’s hand, placed it back over his heart and told him, “I already have.”

Justin grinned at Brian and straddled his crotch. “You are so going to get the fuck of your life for that remark.”

“Really?” Brian put his arms behind his head.

Justin laughed. “So you’re just going to lie there?” he goaded.

Brian pushed Justin to the side of him, spread his legs a little and leered at him. “I thought you said I was going to get the fuck of my life? And for the record, I’m not going to just lie here while you do it.”

Justin gulped and his cock became harder than he remembered it ever being in the span of a heartbeat. Brian was the hottest man he’d ever seen, but lying back, his legs spread, made him look so fucking wanton. It turned Justin on like nothing ever had before. “Okay,” he said, his voice husky. He grabbed a condom from under the pillow and the lube from the nightstand. “You’re sure about this… about everything?”

Brian had done a lot of stupid things in his life, but he didn’t regret most of them. He took risks in almost every facet of his life, but had failed to do so in his personal life and that could’ve cost him Justin but he wasn’t going to let that happen. Taking a risk with Justin felt better than any other thrill seeking he’d done in his life combined. “Yeah. I’m sure.”

***

Before Justin and Matt left to go back to Ibiza, Daphne and Brian accompanied them to the cemetery. Brian and Daphne hung back at first, giving Matt and Justin some time alone first.

“When Justin called me to tell me they died,” Daphne began quietly, “I couldn’t even understand him because he was crying so hard. I thought that maybe he’d told his parents that he was gay or something like that. He never told me, but I always knew, so I just figured that he’d finally found the courage and they’d rejected him.”

“His dad would’ve,” Brian said quietly.

“Yeah,” Daphne said sadly. “He hated Matt and Aaron. Hell, he probably would’ve blamed it on them if he knew.”

“So you don’t think he did?” Brian asked her.

“No, Craig lived in his own little world and saw people how he wanted to. He used to make me so uncomfortable because he’d say things like… ‘One of these days Justin will see what a good girl you are,’ or tease us whenever Justin would close the door to his room when we were alone in there. But his mom, I think she knew the truth, and so did my parents. They didn’t care that we spent the night together and slept in the same bed together. Molly and Justin came to live with us for a few weeks until Matt and Aaron could get everything in order for them to move to Spain. He was a mess inside but tried to hold it together for Molly because unlike him, she didn’t even really know Aaron or Matt. Justin emailed them and saw them without his father’s knowledge when they’d come for a visit but Molly didn’t. Jennifer thought she was too young and didn’t want her to have to lie. She begged to stay in their house and when she realized it was being sold, she begged my parents to stay with them.”

“Did Justin want to stay here too?” Brian asked.

“Yes, but he loved Matt and Aaron and knew that he would eventually like living in Ibiza. But actually, he hated living in Ibiza until the day he met you. Even though he said you treated him like shit. He called me that night on the phone and he said you were the hottest man he’d ever seen. It was the first conversation we had on the phone since he moved that he sounded happy and the first one we had where he didn’t tell me that he wanted to come home.”

“I was a dick to him,” Brian said, recalling that first meeting perfectly.

“Yeah, you were. He was crying, sketching a picture of his mom. It was his mom’s birthday and he told me he’d cried all day until he saw you. After that, he was inspired, happy and drew a picture of you.”

“Shit.” Brian’s heart ached and he almost wished he could go back and change the conversation he’d had with Justin that day, but that would’ve meant that everything else would’ve changed with it and they might not be where they were now. He realized that every year he and Justin had met it had been close to Jennifer Taylor’s birthday and Justin had never told him.

“The years before he’d called and cried for hours talking about her, but that year, he just talked about you.”

“Justin said he liked being in Ibiza,” Brian said, confused. “He said it made it easier being there right after his mom and dad died than being here.”

“It did,” Daphne said, “in some ways. But he wasn’t actually happy there. He made friends, but every phone call we had, he talked about coming back to live in Pittsburgh as soon as he graduated high school, but then his opinion on Ibiza changed. You healed him, even if you didn’t realize it.”

“Not completely,” Brian said, gesturing toward where Justin and Matt were kneeling. Justin had healed him, but he didn’t think of anything he did for Justin in the past or could do now. “Is he going to be all right living here again?”

Daphne’s looked at Justin who was sitting in front of his mother and father’s shared headstone, his body bent forward, his sobbing loud enough to be heard from the road yards away. “He will be,” Daphne said, wiping away her tears. “You’ll help him,” she said. “I think you should go up there now.”

“I don’t know,” Brian said uncomfortably. Matt had his arm around Justin and looked to be taking care of him just fine. “I don’t think I should.”

“The last time I was here with him was the day before he left to live in Ibiza. He talked to his mom and told her how much he missed her, but then he started listing off all the things she was going to miss in his and Molly’s life. He came out to me that day. And her… I guess. He told her, ‘You’re not going to meet any of my or Molly’s boyfriends, our first loves, or get to meet the men we’re going to spend the rest of our lives with.’” Daphne patted Brian’s back, drawing his eyes to hers. “Brian, I know you’re two of those things and you just might be all three. I understand that being here is uncomfortable, no one wants to be at a fucking cemetery, but Justin needs you.” She gave him a push and told him, “Go let him introduce you to her.”

Brian took a deep breath and as he walked closer and closer to Justin, he heard Justin’s sobs had subsided and he was talking softly.

“Watch over Brian, Mom. If there is a heaven and you’ve got any pull up there… don’t let him get sick ever again, okay? I really need him. I love him and I know he loves me. I want to live with him, I want to love him and I want to do something totally weird with him like going shopping at six in the morning with him. If you get a birthday wish, will you wish for him to be healthy?”

“Justin,” Brian said, once he was a few steps away from the two men.

Matt turned to look back at Brian first, his eyes bloodshot from crying. He stood up and looked back at the grave. “I’ll come back soon, sis,” he said. He walked toward Brian and placed his hand on the man’s arm for a moment, before walking back down to the car.

Justin seemed to not even acknowledge that he was there, so Brian said his name again, “Justin.”

Justin craned his neck to look at Brian before staring at the headstone again. “Mom, this is him. This is Brian.”

Brian dropped down beside Justin on his knees, curled his arm around his partner and said in a choked tone of voice, “It’s nice to meet you, Jennifer.”

In that moment, Justin knew that whatever happened, wherever he lived once he returned to Pittsburgh, he would be okay. He had Brian and Brian had him. They could conquer anything together.

July 2004

Aaron kissed Matt’s cheek as he steered their boat into the open water to the location where the whales were most abundant this time of year. “I didn’t think we’d be back here so soon after moving,” Aaron said.

“Me neither,” Matt agreed. “I like Pittsburgh, but nothing beats the Mediterranean at Sunset. Plus, you know Justin can’t steer this thing and we couldn’t leave it up to Brian to do all the sailing. No one else has ever even been on a boat before!” he said in disbelief.

“Poor Ted,” Aaron commiserated with the man who was leaning off the side of the boat throwing up over the edge.

“Take these,” Justin said, holding out two Dramamine tablets to Ted.

“I’ll be fine,” Ted said. “I don’t take drugs unless they’re prescription antibiotics.”

“They’re safe,” Justin assured.

“Take them,” Brian said, coming up behind Justin and wrapping his arms around his waist. “Or you’ll end up scaring off the whales and I’ll kill you if my kid doesn’t get what we promised him.”

“Fine,” Ted relented, his shaking hand slowly taking the pills from Justin and then dry swallowing them.

“They should kick in soon,” Justin said reassuringly and helped Ted walk over to the bank of seats in the center of the boat. “If you just look out and focus on the horizon it’ll help.”

Ted did as instructed and felt the waves of nausea instantly abating. “Why didn’t you tell me this trick before?”

“We tried,” Justin said. “But you were too busy puking as we pulled away from the dock.” He felt bad for the man but couldn’t help but laugh. He’d never known anyone to get seasick before the boat had even pulled out into open water.

“Poor Teddy,” Emmett commiserated, coming to sit by his friend.

“Daddy! Justin!” Gus shouted, his words barely heard over the wind. “Look, the whales!”

Justin and Brian walked back over to the ledge where Gus was being held securely by Lindsay, looking like an adorable turtle wearing the expensive life jacket Brian had bought him.

“Take a picture!” Gus told Melanie. “Take one of me, Jus, Daddy, and the whales.”

Brian, Justin and Gus smiled for a few photos until Melanie became eager to look at the whales which were breaching the surface of the water. Matt cut off the engine and everyone gathered around the ledge of the boat to see the pod of whales surrounding the boat.

“Wow!” Gus exclaimed. “Did you see that, Grandma?” he called to Debbie.

“I did kiddo,” Debbie said, completely in awe with the amazing ocean mammals.

“This is better than seeing the Eiffel tower in Paris,” Michael yelled out.

“I’d have to agree,” Ben said, kissing his partner’s cheek.

“It’s pretty good,” Brian whispered in Justin’s ear, sliding behind him to wrap his arms around him. “Tonight, when we get back to that ridiculous mansion your uncles call a villa, I’m going to…”

“Fuck me senseless, I know,” Justin cut in.

“That’s not what I was going to say,” Brian said.

Justin laughed and wiggled his ass against Brian’s crotch. “One day, we’re taking the small boat out together and you’re going to fuck me out here in the open water.”

“Sounds good to me,” Brian replied.

“God,” Justin sighed, “it’s all so beautiful.”

Brian stepped away from Justin and stared at him, his blond hair colored pink, purple and orange from the sunlight; he looked a lot like the seventeen year old kid he’d met four years ago. He couldn’t believe that they’d gone from that to being where they were now, on a small yacht with their family and friends, enjoying the beauty of nature. It was unnerving, but it was also exhilarating and Brian felt alive. They might end up fighting and needing to find an apartment with space and privacy, but for now, they didn’t need any space at all. They were together and Brian was, for once, optimistic they’d remain together and happy.

Fate had gone to so much trouble getting them together in the first place and as long as Brian and Justin loved one another, it wouldn’t allow anything to destroy them.

Pressed together on a boat, surrounded by the people they loved, neither of them had never felt more alive.

“I love you,” Brian spoke softly into Justin’s ear.

“You’re such a romantic twat,” Justin teased, looking up at Brian, his eyes watery.

“Takes one to know one,” Brian said.

That wasn’t the last time Brian said or did something romantic for Justin, but it was the last one he ever admitted to, because it was hard to deny doing it when the wind had carried his words to the ears of everyone else aboard the boat.

The End