Justin turns twenty-one in California and decides to make Los Angeles his permanent home. Brian makes claims to not being able to get away, so Jennifer and Molly help Justin with the move. He meets an art director named Tom on Rage that gives him good head in his trailer and then brings him to his gallery at the Third Street Promenade.

“This is Justin,” Tom says to the curator. “Take down some of that imitation Warhol crap and make room for a new artist.”

Justin starts to protest; he doesn’t even have a rough sketch of anything that isn’t Rage-related, but Tom stops him with a smooth smile. “Hey, relax. You’re going places, and I want them to start here.”

It turns out that Tom wants a fuck of a lot more than that. He expects Justin to repay him for gallery exposure by accompanying him to each and every media event involved with Rage, and Justin soon grows tired of it. They’re not boyfriends, Justin thinks, and he doesn’t owe anything to anyone.

Brian, of course, completely approves of Justin using Tom for as much as he can get and then discarding him. “Isn’t that what they do out there, Sunshine?” he asks one afternoon on the phone. Justin can hear him snapping his fingers at Ted – or maybe Cynthia, but Justin doesn’t think Cynthia would stand for that – and wonders randomly what Brian is wearing.

“Yeah, they do,” he sighs. “I guess I’m just not the using type.”

“You used me for my money,” Brian says to him, and then to someone else, “Oh, for fuck’s sake! That’s the old copy, where in Christ is the new one? Jesus.”

“Yes,” Justin says seriously, playing with the straw of his frappuccino. “I used you for your money. Because you’re ugly and bad in bed.”

“Santa doesn’t bring Christmas presents to little boys who lie.”

“So I should go to the promotion thing with him tonight, or what? It’s for People Magazine.” Justin doesn’t know why he’s consulting with Brian, especially after their let’s not make any sort of promises talk that was Justin’s idea, but Justin guesses that talking to Brian once or twice a week isn’t a commitment.

“What’re you gonna get out of it?”

“He promises to put up six of my prints.” Six sounded like a lot more when he wasn’t trying to convince Brian – or was it himself? – that it was a good deal.

“All right, listen,” Brian sighs. “You need to decide if you’re going to whore yourself. Once you come to that decision, every other decision after that will be easier. Now you’ll have to excuse me while I go look for the fucking new copy that was supposed to be on my desk forty minutes ago. Why do I pay these people, I do everything myself anyway.”

Brian hangs up abruptly and Justin sits with his cell phone in his hand for a long time.

* * *

Justin eventually decides that whoring himself is only advantageous to a certain extent. He lets Tom put his prints up for a month, and then refuses to go to any more restaurant openings or movie premieres or ribbon cuttings. Tom makes all the right Hollywood noises about Justin never working again, and Justin fearfully believes him until Brett makes a wry face and claps Justin on the shoulder.

“If everyone who’s been told they’re never working in Hollywood again really didn’t? This place’d be a ghost town.”

Justin feels better after that. So much better, in fact, that he goes out that night to the Viper Room and fucks a tall, African-American actor. The actor hints he’d be willing to go home with Justin for a repeat performance, but Justin declines.

He doesn’t bring any of them home to his bed.

* * *

He talks to Brian again in March.

“Did you guys get lots of snow?” Justin knows they did; he follows the Pittsburgh weather reports almost weekly on the internet.

“Yes. A whole fucking blizzard of snow that turned shit-brown as soon as it hit the ground.” Justin can hear him swallow something and pictures Brian turning the phone away from his mouth.

“There’s no winter here.”

“How nice for you.”

“Um, well. I guess you’re going out soon? It’s like nine o’clock there.” Justin doesn’t know why or how the conversation turned uncomfortable.

“Yup,” Brian says, and Justin doesn’t know what to do next, so he ends up babbling a lot of nothing in an effort to steer the situation back towards normal. Brian is less than receptive.

“All right,” Justin says finally, “I’ll put you out of your misery. Go do whatever you do these days without me.”

“It’s a miracle I even survive,” Brian replies, and then the dialtone is loud in Justin’s ear.

* * *

The night outside his small apartment is usually intrusive in its silence. He chose a place in the exclusive Hollywood hills because Brett told him to – although Justin thinks the time is coming when he’s probably going to stop listening to Brett – and people pay for the quiet here.

He doesn’t like it.

Justin misses the noise, the sound of cars on the street below the loft, the occasional neighbor shouting. He remembers there used to be a pair of cats that would sing to each other on the street before their howling ended in hisses and spits. Justin wonders about the cats a lot, when it’s too quiet in his new place, and when the moon comes just over the ridge and shines in his window. The moonlight doesn’t illuminate a wooden floor or stainless steel, but carpet and white painted walls instead.

That’s fine with Justin. He thinks it is, anyway, because it’s too complicated to wonder whether or not he’s lonely for Brian or just plain fucking lonely, so he makes everything fine in his head.

* * *


Justin turns twenty-two, and Brian remembers when he sees Justin’s picture in the Calendar section of the Los Angeles Times.

Justin stands with his back to the camera but his head turned toward it, and Brian blinks at his expression. Brian has not seen that wary, caged look on Justin’s face since Justin tried to walk down a crowded Liberty Avenue after getting hit in the head with a blunt object.

Brian wants it to be a trick of the camera, or maybe the lighting. He looks at the picture for a long time, ignoring the B-list celebrities that crowd the shot. When he decides that he can’t make Justin’s expression into anything but what it really is, Brian decides maybe he can find something to do in Los Angeles for a week or two.

* * *

California turns out to be everything Brian expects, and yet nothing at all like he anticipated. The people are pretty and glassy-eyed except when they’re trying to cut a deal or climb higher on the social ladder; then their expressions turn sharp and feral. Brian reserves judgment.

He spends his first night at the Montrose and asks the concierge where he can find entertainment. The concierge provides it himself in the form of a blowjob in the hotel restroom, then points Brian in the direction of a club or two on Sunset. Brian finds them easily and passes the hours with a bar full of gay men who could just as easily be at Babylon. He hopes the rest of LA isn’t this predictable.

The following night, Brian sits behind the wheel of his rented silver Mercedes and calls Justin. Justin’s voice is dull and lifeless when he answers, but Brian thinks maybe that’s just the connection.

“So what’s there to do in Hollywood?” he asks, in lieu of a hello.

Justin doesn’t answer for five seconds and Brian wonders if his shitty cell phone service is acting up again, but his display shows four strong signal bars.

“Brian?” he asks finally, puzzled.

“Who the fuck else?”

“Other people call me, you know.”

“I’m sure. So, you got one of those fancy movie parties to go to, or what?”

“No,” Justin replies, and Brian can’t decide if the listlessness in his voice is due to exhaustion or just apathy.

“Ah, a quiet night at home, then.” Brian starts getting slightly annoyed that he has to fish for information.

Justin snorts derisively. “Right. There’s no such thing. I’m meeting friends at Exodus at ten.”

“It’s ten-thirty.”

“Oh, fuck! Later.”

Brian watches the “call ended” text flash on his display for a minute and ponders calling Justin back just so he can return the favor of being hung up on.

He calls information instead.

* * *

The small club is not far from his hotel and he finds it easily. Most things in Hollywood are meant to be found, Brian discovers, which is why people migrate there in the first place.

The music is too loud, but the men are pretty. Brian thinks about cruising a lithe, dark-haired one before he spots what he really came here for, and ignores the sultry stare from the trick. Heading toward the smaller side bar, he leans his elbows on the counter next to Justin. “If you buy me a drink, I’ll let you blow me.”

Justin freezes for a fraction of a second, then turns slowly. “Brian fucking Kinney,” he says, staring. “What the fucking fuck.”

Brian is momentarily satisfied with that response. “Ad convention,” Brian says calmly, by way of explanation. “Don’t think I’m here to see you. That would just be sad for everyone.”

“Too late,” Justin says, with narrowed eyes. “You called to find out where I was.”

“Oh, right,” Brian muses. “Well, that was an afterthought.”

“Thought I might be able to entertain you?” Justin asks, and takes the drink the bartender slides toward him. Brian watches as he knocks the shot back with a practiced hand and remembers when Justin would nurse one beer for an hour.

“Thought you could point me in the direction of someone – or someones – who need the Kinney experience. The guy I fucked last night was either a virgin or pretending to be one. Why the hell he would pretend that, I have no idea.” Brian shakes his head in disgust, remembering.

“Because he can put on his resume that he acted the part.” Justin’s gaze darts around the club, his eyes never lighting on one thing for too long, and Brian wonders if he’s on something.

“Looking for someone?”

“No. Well, yeah. Kinda. Just a guy I was supposed to meet.” Justin checks his watch and Brian notes it’s an expensive one.

He realizes that Justin is less than ecstatic to see him and finds that reaction unacceptable. “Don’t try to hide the fact that you’re thrilled I’m here,” Brian tests, and Justin sends him a glare that Brian’s not ready for.

“Whatever, Brian. You’re the one who was here last night and didn’t tell me.” He doesn’t have to say And you fucked someone else first, but Brian hears it anyway and feels a flash of triumph.

He moves into Justin’s space, fitting his body into familiar curves and planes, and despite his obvious reluctance, Justin fits back. “Don’t play the jilted lover,” Brian murmurs in his ear, and then tongues it. “Jealousy doesn’t become you.”

Justin arches his neck slightly to allow Brian better access. “Shows how much you know, asshole,” he replies, but there is no fire in his words.

“They got a back room in this place?” Brian is hard in his jeans like he hasn’t been for a year.

“No,” Justin says. “The bigger clubs do, but not this one.” He rolls his hips into Brian’s, pressing into him, pliant and warm. Brian wonders about the sudden change of heart but decides not to look a gift fuck in the mouth.

* * *

Brian assumes they’ll go to Justin’s, but for some unknown reason, Justin refuses to take him.

“It’s a mess,” he says vaguely, and Brian knows it’s just an ineffectual excuse. Justin never gave a shit about ‘mess’ before. But when Justin cups Brian’s dick over his jeans and squeezes lightly, Brian doesn’t really care where they fuck as long as it happens in the next ten minutes.

They make it to the room but not the bed, instead using the small chaise lounge in the sitting area of the suite. Brian manages to get Justin’s pants off one leg and his own cock out of his shorts, and curses when he remembers the lube is in his suitcase.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” Justin pants, looking over his shoulder at him. “Just use spit, I don’t care, Brian. The condom’s lubed.”

And judging from Justin’s erection, Brian can see he means it, and he’s pretty damn grateful. He coats himself liberally and slicks Justin as best he can, trying to block out the sound of Justin’s small whimpers in order not to embarrass himself by coming all over both of them.

“Oh,” he can hear Justin breathe, as he slides in carefully, and Brian thinks that’s an understatement.

It’s familiar and strange all at once, and Brian suddenly realizes that in the past three hundred and sixty-five days, he’s missed this on every single one of them. He’s fucked and he’s been sucked but none of it was with Justin, blond golden Justin with a tight ass and tighter technique.

Justin, who lies flat on the chaise beneath him, all four limbs spread eagled and his fingers reaching and clutching the sides, his ass rising to meet Brian’s thrusts. Justin, panting and sweating and arching his neck back, begging for Brian to lick at the perspiration coating his skin, and Brian really doesn’t like the fact that “I missed you” is on the tip of his tongue. He figures if he had missed Justin, he would have known it before now.

This is what he really missed, he thinks, as he feels his balls tighten and his stomach contract. Just this. Just sex.

And apparently Justin has missed it as well, if his gasps and moans are any indication, and Brian puts his forehead between Justin’s shoulderblades and comes so hard that he can’t stop shuddering. Justin’s answering groan sounds very far away.

Brian can’t move for minutes, and when he finally tries to disentangle himself, he discovers he is already hard for the second time. He guesses that’s probably not something he should waste, so he discards the first condom and sheaths himself in another. A single thrust finds him back inside the warmth, despite Justin’s protest.

“I can’t,” he says feebly, but Brian notes he’s already rolling his hips into the couch. “Not yet.”

“Yes,” Brian says emphatically, putting his cheek next to Justin’s damp one. “Again. Right now.” And suddenly it’s imperative that he connect with Justin in this way; it’s more than imperative, it’s a necessity, and Brian can’t concentrate on that too much because it might mean something that he can’t form words for.

But Brian knows Justin has always heard what he doesn’t say.

Justin angles his hips upward, rising almost to his knees, and Brian can easily reach around and grab his cock. It’s as stiff as the first time, belying his weak “not yet”, and Justin grits out, “Harder. Harder, Brian, goddammit. Please.”

He has more control the second time, and Brian does not give in to Justin’s demands until they’re both straining for release on quivering muscles, until Justin finally lets out a choked cry and begs him to finish. Even then, trembling at the edge of his orgasm, Brian feels a certain reluctance to end it and break the tenuous connection.

His body disagrees, however, and when he hears Justin’s sob of relief, Brian comes for the second time in fifteen minutes.

* * *

They sleep for a while, limbs tangled together, and Brian wakes from a half-doze to find Justin watching him intently.

“What the fuck are you staring at.”

“I’m starving,” Justin explains. “I was trying to wake you with the powers of my hunger.”

“Jesus Christ, I’m caught in a time warp. You haven’t changed.” Brian reaches over to grab the room service menu from the nightstand and thrusts it at him. “Here.”

But Justin ignores the menu and looks at him curiously. “Do you think that?”

“Think what? Don’t order anything with cheese or carbohydrates.”

“That I haven’t changed.”

Brian looks him up and down. “Your ass is still round. Your dick is still hard. You still eat like a pig after sex. Looks the same to me.” But he feels a little guilty, because he knows that’s not what Justin’s getting at, and Brian can see plain as day that Justin’s not the same as when he left Pittsburgh.

Justin laughs a little, his eyes losing that resolute look. “Then I guess we both haven’t changed, according to each other. Sounds about right.”

“You’re damn right I haven’t changed. I do not have one gray hair and I can fuck like a freight train.”

“You haven’t kissed me.” Justin says it quietly, examining his thumbnail.


“You didn’t kiss me hello.”

Brian sighs, irritated. “I was wrong. You have changed. You’re now a woman.” Justin just looks at him, his eyes clear like rain, and Brian’s irritation dissipates. “Christ. Come here.”

He leans up on one elbow and meets Justin’s mouth halfway, claiming and apologizing at the same time, tasting familiar lips and soft tongue and letting Justin nip at him once in chastisement. Brian kisses him until Justin is pliant and warm beneath him, until he is gasping for breath and the smile has returned to his face. Brian touches a finger to Justin’s nose.

“There’s your fucking hello.”

* * *

A day and a half later, Brian finds himself packing his suitcase while Justin sits naked on his hotel bed. He ignores the point that they somehow never made it to Justin’s apartment and concentrates instead on the fact that Justin keeps rapidly blinking his eyes.

“If you cry, I will never fuck you again.”

“It’s allergies,” he snaps. “Also, it’s dry in here. You’ve kept the air conditioning at like sixty the whole time.”

“Okay,” Brian says, in the most condescending voice he can muster. He zips his carry-on closed and sits down on the unmade bed. “So is this game finished yet?”


“This,” Brian gestures at the window, through which Santa Monica is visible. “This whole thing at playing California boy. Are you done?” It makes perfect sense to Brian that his impromptu visit should have sparked some realization in Justin.

Justin stares at him. “I’m not playing.”

“Oh, fuck me. You’re small-town, Justin. Western Pennsylvania born and bred. I can see it in your eyes. I saw it in the picture in the paper.” Brian keeps his voice calm, as if speaking to an unpredictable wild animal.

Justin recoils from him. “Is that what this is? A rescue mission?”

Brian realizes his mistake but is too frustrated to care. “God. This is pathetic. Are you coming home?”

Justin shakes his head. “Brian,” he says carefully, “I am home.”

Brian leaves him sitting alone in the middle of the bed.

* * *


Justin turns twenty-three and gets a letter from his mother.

Dear Justin,

Hello, sweetie. I was so proud to see your write-up about your paintings. That reporter seemed to like your art, as he should. Please save any more clippings. Debbie has been after me to give her one to frame for the diner.

Would you like to come home for your birthday? I know it was last week (did you get the message I left?) but it’s never too late for cake and presents. Brian has mentioned that he seems to have an excess of frequent flyer miles from business trips for work. He did not ask me to tell you, but I heard him mention it to Michael when Michael wanted to come out a couple of months ago to see how the Rage sequel was coming along. I assume he would be more than happy to let you use them, but then again, with Brian we should never assume anything.

Let me know.

Lots and lots of love,


He goes home, but he buys his own ticket.

* * *

Daphne picks him up from the airport, and Justin is momentarily struck by how beautiful she is. He’s always known that Daphne was pretty, but her prettiness became ordinary when he saw it every day.

Now she is smiling and confident, no longer punching him in the arm when he makes her laugh but nudging him gently with her elbow, and Justin wonders when she got so gorgeous. He asks her.

“What happened to you while I’ve been gone?”

She giggles and blushes and pays the parking attendant. “I dunno. Maybe you should come home more often.”

Justin doesn’t answer.

* * *

They go to Daphne’s, and Justin is impressed with her little apartment in Squirrel Hill. “How do you afford this?” he asks while looking out at the tree-lined street.

“I turn tricks,” she says casually, and winks at him. Justin isn’t sure she’s joking.

Dinner is pizza and cold beer, and it’s a refreshing change. Sometimes Justin thinks if he has to eat any more finger food at gallery openings or go out to sushi for business dinners, he might vomit all over the people he is supposed to impress. Then again, they’d probably think he had some “in” illness like anorexia and admire his dedication.

He picks off all the pepperoni from his slice and eats it with his fingers. “So when’s the surprise party?”

“Tomorrow night,” Daphne laughs, not bothering to deny it, “but don’t let on you know or Debbie and your mom will kill me. And probably Emmett too, since they left most of the details to him.”

“Yeah, okay. I’ll practice clutching my chest in shock.”

“You’re not having a heart attack, Justin, you’re being surprised by your loved ones. Work on it.”

“So, um. Anyone else going?” Justin winces inwardly at how lame it sounds.

“Yes, other people have been invited.” Daphne smiles at him enigmatically.

“And I’m assuming other people did not give an answer whether they will be there or not.” Justin feels stupid for discussing it in these terms, but it keeps it at a distance he is comfortable with.

“Have you not spoken with other people while gallivanting around Los Angeles?” Daphne narrows her eyes at him.

“Other people did not answer my voice mail messages.” Justin feels a little guilty about that, since the messages he had left for ‘other people’ were less than friendly, but at least he tried to make contact. It’s still more than he can say for ‘other people’.

“Whatever,” Daphne sighs. “Wear something nice.”

“Um, Daph? I sort of have a favor to ask.” Justin has considered the request for days, ever since deciding to make the trip home.

“No, you cannot wear my green sweater. Get your own.”

“Ha. No, listen, really. Okay? Are you?”

“Listening. Can I have that last piece?”

“I don’t care. Okay, Daph, now you have to help me out here. Daphne? Stop stuffing your face and listen. You cannot let me have sex with Brian. ” Justin says the last part in a rush, anxious to get it out and more anxious still for her response.

Daphne stops chewing. “Oh, right,” she says, and her voice drips with sarcasm. It alarms Justin.

“No, Daph, come on. I’m not kidding around here.” Justin doesn’t like the desperate tone he can hear in his voice, but he has to count on her for this, because he sure as hell can’t count on himself.

Daphne throws her last pizza crust into the empty box and levels him with her most sensible look. “Justin, come on. First of all, think about what you’re asking me to do. If I get between high voltage and its power source, I’ll be electrocuted. Second of all, that’s just crazy talk. You and Brian haven’t seen each other in nearly a year. You think the both of you can walk into a room and not come within ten feet of each other?” She shakes her head and sighs. “Better rethink that.”

Justin does. He bites the side of his thumbnail for a minute while he and Daphne stare at each other, and then says slowly, “Okay. I get what you’re saying. But Daph, there really is an important part that I need your help with.”

“What part.”

“Do not let me leave with him, Daphne. Do not. I don’t care how many times I tell you it’s okay, I changed my mind, whatever. Daphne! Are you listening?” Justin runs a hand through his hair in frustration.

“You’ve said my name like ten times in the last five minutes. Yes, I’m listening, Justin. I get it. But if I’m going to be the best friend ever and save you from Brian Kinney’s magic mojo, you could at least tell me why. You have a boyfriend or something out there? You didn’t tell me that.” Daphne manages to look interested and hurt at the same time.

Justin fills his cheeks with air and blows it out slowly, trying to think of the best way to put things in perspective. “No, there’s no boyfriend. I just … I just can’t go to Brian’s, Daph. I can’t have sex with him there, and I definitely can’t have sex in his bed. I wouldn’t even let him come to my place last year. Just … don’t let me, okay?”

Daphne scrunches her nose up and regards him thoughtfully. “I remember a time when you made me help you beg, steal, and borrow your way into his bed.”

Justin laughs ruefully. “Me too.”

* * *

Justin pretends to be sufficiently surprised enough to fool the important people. He doesn’t think his mother and Debbie suspect a thing, but Michael catches him in the kitchen and accuses, “You knew.”

“Yep,” Justin agrees, searching the refrigerator for another Coke.

“Daphne told you!”

“Yep,” he says again, and when Michael starts to sputter, Ben rescues Justin.

“Michael,” he explains reasonably, “Justin is twenty-three. That’s a little old for a surprise party.”

“You’re never too old for a surprise party!” Michael looks horrified at the thought, so Ben kisses him.

“I’ll throw you one for your next birthday.” Ben winks at Justin, who gratefully uses the chance to escape.

“Cake!” Debbie announces upon his return to her living room, and then, “Well. Wouldya lookit what the cat dragged in.”

Justin knows whom she’s talking about before ever turning in the direction of her voice, because where Brian’s concerned, Justin always knows. He looks toward the foyer where Brian is hanging his black trenchcoat and thinks about telling Daphne to forget everything he made her promise.

Especially when Brian looks at him with a wry expression and tongue in his cheek and says, “Hello, Sunshine. How’s twenty-three feel?”

“A lot like twenty-two,” Justin manages, and when Brian brushes past him to get to the alcohol, Justin has to close his eyes against the scent of his aftershave.

* * *

Brian gets blindingly drunk and Justin pretends not to notice.

It gets a little hard to pretend, however, when Brian starts leering at him from across the room. Justin shifts uncomfortably and sends a warning look Daphne’s way. He is distressed when she ignores it.

And harder still when Brian progresses from leering at a distance to rubbing up against Justin in the hallway, the alcohol making him reckless in a way that Justin knows is not common for Brian. That realization in itself makes Justin want to hit him, because even after two years of not living and breathing Brian Kinney, Justin still knows his every nuance.

“You got time for a fuck, Sunshine?” Brian whispers in his ear, his voice low with lust and whiskey. “Or do you not do that any more?”

Justin uses his thumb to trace the scratches on the small table in the hall, trying to gain time to steel himself against Brian’s onslaught. Somehow, he thought Brian would be more understated. “Subtle. Age catching up with you?” he snaps, then regrets it, but Brian just laughs.

“You’re not fooling anyone, least of all yourself. Why the battle of wills, Justin? I’m horny; you want to get fucked. Don’t tell me otherwise.” Brian splays his legs slightly and nudges his crotch into Justin’s hip.

“I can’t leave,” Justin almost pleads, and hates the desperation he hears.

Brian looks astonished. “Leave? Where did you think we’d go?”

“To the loft,” almost tumbles out of his mouth before he realizes that Brian is not inviting him home. Justin thinks he’s relieved. “Uh … I dunno. To Babylon or something.”

“That’s a long way to go for a piece of ass when there’s a perfectly good bathroom right here.” Brian says everything with characteristic confidence, and Justin finally raises his eyes to look at Brian’s face.

His eyes hold a mixture of amusement and arousal, and Justin wonders when he got so turned on himself. His own cock is throbbing in his khakis just from Brian’s proximity, and he knows Brian’s seen it because he fits a hand in between them and squeezes. Justin has to put a shoulder against the wall to steady himself.

Two years, Justin thinks, two fucking years and it’s still about Brian. It’s always been about Brian.

* * *

Brian fucks him in Debbie’s downstairs bathroom. He turns Justin against the wall and props one leg up on the toilet seat, and takes him swiftly.

Justin scrabbles for purchase against the cheap wallpaper, feeling Brian’s forehead drop to his shoulder and his fingers gripping the soft skin at Justin’s hips. “Look,” Brian growls, and Justin turns his head to the side and looks.

He can see everything in the mirror over the sink, and Justin barely recognizes himself, neck arched, mouth parted. He wonders vaguely if he’s looked like this the thousands of times they’ve had sex; his eyes half-glazed and his tongue moistening his bottom lip. Brian is watching him intently, a single bead of sweat dampening his temple.

“Look,” Brian murmurs again. “Remember it. Remember that when you go back to your cold fucking bed in Los Angeles, and then try to tell yourself that this isn’t home.”

And even as his climax threatens to send him to the floor on his knees, even while Justin throws his head back and comes all over the wall, he manages to grind out, “Not … anymore.”

* * *

Brian shows up at a convenient time to take him to the airport, much to Justin’s surprise. He looks sideways at Daphne, who says simply, “I asked him to take you. I’ve got Pilates.”

So Justin hugs and kisses her goodbye, knowing she’s going to go back inside and make herself dinner and not go to Pilates, but it’s sort of okay.

They ride in silence, Brian’s dark mood enveloping both of them, and reach Justin’s terminal with twenty minutes to spare. Justin slings his duffel over his shoulder and shoves both hands in his pockets. “Thanks,” he says, for lack of anything else.

Brian leans against the passenger side of the car. “I’ve been doing some thinking.”

“Great,” Justin says seriously. “That always means something good.”

A muscle jumps in Brian’s jaw, but he ignores the sarcasm. “I’m done with this,” he says. “I’m done with asking you to come home.”

Justin can’t help it. A bark of laughter escapes him. “Asking me? Since when have you ever asked me to come home? You’ve tried demanding me and telling me and fucking me, and not once have you ever tried being proud of me, Brian!”

Brian’s eyes lower briefly, then raise to Justin’s face again. “That should go without saying.”

Justin sighs, disappointed but unsurprised. “That should never go without saying.”

“You don’t need my approval,” Brian says sensibly. “I don’t have to hold your hand and pat your head and tell you I’m proud of you. I’m not your mommy.”

“No,” Justin says slowly, “you were my partner. And it might have been nice to hear.” He steps forward and leans up to press a kiss against Brian’s cheek. “I can’t miss you for the rest of my life,” he says, and leaves Brian looking mutinous and sullen.

* * *


Justin turns twenty-four, and it takes Brian three trips to three doctors to figure out that it might be better to move to a warmer climate.

He spends a lot of time looking at the x-rays and talking over the “options”, which don’t sound to Brian like options at all, but more like necessities if he wants to, you know. Stay alive. And when his doctor strongly suggests for the second time that he see a specific oncologist at the University of California Los Angeles, Brian thinks maybe he should listen.

He looks at the dog-eared page in his address book for a long time, eyes tracing the telephone number he memorized three years ago, and wonders if there’s any possible way he can do this without contacting Justin. Then Brian considers the ramifications of accidentally running into him in LA, and knows that possibility is far worse.

Brian calls Justin’s apartment when he knows he’ll be at work and leaves a curt but functional message.

* * *

Justin calls him back at an indecent hour the next morning.

“It’s not even nine,” Brian grouses by way of greeting.

“I’ve been up for half an hour,” Justin dismisses. “Like a normal person.”

Brian snorts at ‘normal’ and scrubs a hand over his face. “So, uh. You got my message.”

“If you could call barking into my machine a message. You know, I haven’t talked to you in like five months. The least you could do is not be a coward and call my cell, which you know I’d answer.” Justin sounds put out, which is really the last emotion Brian would expect from him after this long, but then again. It’s Justin.

He ignores the ‘coward’ part, which is probably just taunting anyway. “Yeah, sorry. Had a conference call waiting. So you’ll be around for dinner Thursday night?” Brian beats a pattern against his sheets with restless fingers, wondering if maybe this wasn’t such a smart idea after all.

“Um, okay. Dinner’s good. Why are you gonna be here, again? I don’t remember what you said on the machine.”

“I didn’t. Meet me at seven at that crappy Mexican place we went to last time.”

“Seven-thirty,” Justin says blithely. “I have a small showing that afternoon at five.”

“They pay you to show your dick?” Brian asks, but is secretly pleased to hear that Justin’s exposure continues to grow.

“It’s pictures of yours,” he snaps back, and Brian hangs up on him.

* * *

He gets out of the airport and notes it’s still smoggy and crowded and the people still like to pretend they’re too important for everyone else. He especially loves it when they wear their sunglasses inside and look like their phones are surgically attached to their ears.

Brian thinks he’ll fit in just fine.

He stays at the same hotel just to prove to himself that the last time doesn’t matter at all; nothing about his last visit here affects him. Including the two solid days he spent fucking Justin. His cock twitches in response to the memory, but Brian chalks it up to the fact that he hasn’t gotten any head since Tuesday night. He should remedy that.

Brian showers, washing the smell of circulated airplane oxygen away, and dresses casually in loose-fitting jeans and a black t-shirt. He pulls on boots, checks his hair in the mirror, and at the last minute remembers a small splash of cologne. Then he wonders why he’s primping for Justin anyway, and glares at his reflection.

* * *

Justin is waiting for him when he gets there and the first thing Brian notices is the length of his hair. He has to clench his hand into a fist to keep from touching the silky strands when Justin rises and hugs him tightly.

“Hey,” Justin says simply, and grins at him. He is blonder and tanner, both a result of the strong southern California sun. A faint dusting of freckles crosses the bridge of his nose, and for the first time, Brian thinks maybe Los Angeles suits Justin.

“Hey,” Brian answers. “I need a drink.”

“Their margaritas are strong.”


Justin orders drinks and dinner in halting Spanish. Brian is grudgingly impressed. “You been taking lessons?”

Justin shrugs one shoulder. “Sorta. The family that moved in next door is Mexican. They have me over for dinner sometimes. Their kids started teaching me all the swear words before Rosa – the mom – heard them and insisted they teach me real Spanish. They mostly just laugh at my accent.” He stops for a minute, then continues. “But now I can ask for a blowjob in another language.”

It brings a reluctant smile to Brian’s face. “Glad to see you’re getting some form of education.”

Enchiladas with rice and beans appear before them, and Brian relishes the spiciness. They eat in companionable silence.

His plate is clean before he realizes how stuffed full he is and he pushes it away with a groan. “God. What did you do to me.”

Justin looks longingly at Brian’s last flour tortilla. “You done?”

“I’m done for the next three days. Ugh.” He motions at the tortilla and Justin takes it happily, rolling up salsa and rice inside it.

Brian watches Justin carefully while he eats, trying to gauge what he should tell him and how much Justin needs to know. Then he figures that he’s not saving either of them by dancing around it. When Justin finally sits back with a sigh and throws his napkin on the table, Brian clears his throat. “So, I’ve got something to do in California,” he starts.

“Of course you do,” Justin says reasonably. “Why would you come out here otherwise?”

Brian ignores the passive-aggressiveness. “I’m here to see a doctor.”

Justin goes motionless for a fraction of a second before blinking twice. “What for?”

“Why do you think?”

“For follow-up or something. Right? Like, like … follow-up.” Justin nods as if convincing himself.

“No.” Brian is much calmer than he expected to be.

Justin opens his mouth, then closes it again. He picks up his napkin and worries it with his fingers. “Brian. It can’t – you can’t. You were better.”

Brian parrots back everything his doctor in Pittsburgh had told him. “It’s not the other testicle. There’s only a one- percent chance of that happening, apparently. So my balls are safe. Relief, isn’t it?” He grins at Justin, who doesn’t smile back.

“Just tell me.”

Brian sighs. “Radiation can cause cancer to appear in other areas.”

“But it was supposed to fix you!” Justin is indignant in his confusion, his eyes searching Brian’s face for any sign of visible illness.

“And there you have the fucking definition of ‘irony’,” Brian says. “They say it’s a secondary cancer. In my colon. Of all fucking places.”

“Colon cancer,” Justin says slowly. “The radiation that cured your testicular cancer gave you colon cancer.”

“Very good,” Brian tells him, and signals for another drink.

* * *

Justin brings him home.

The significance of it escapes Brian until they’re actually standing in Justin’s small living room and Brian realizes Justin’s been occupying this space for nearly three years.

“You didn’t take me here last time,” he says casually, examining a small sand sculpture on Justin’s mantel.

“No,” Justin agrees, and stands in the middle of the floor. Brian looks over his shoulder at him, and for the first time all night, Justin resembles the tentative teenager that Brian met seven years prior.

Brian approaches him slowly, moving closer until they stand toe to toe and he can look down at the top of Justin’s sun-kissed head. “Why not?” he asks, and he sees Justin’s lashes against his cheek when he closes his eyes.

“Because this is mine,” Justin says quietly, and his fingers come up to play with the fabric of Brian’s shirt. “This is mine. And you weren’t letting anything here be mine, Brian. It was like you were my dad or something, just letting me play around until I wanted to come home, and you weren’t respecting me or anything I was doing here.”

Brian feels instantly defensive before he recognizes it as truth, so he forces his jaw to unclench and he waits.

“So when you came, I didn’t bring you here because I didn’t want you to make fun of it. I wanted to have something that was mine when you left, a place that you’d never seen and didn’t know anything about. Maybe that was just wishful thinking, I don’t know. Because I was really fucking lonely, and when you left, I wished so bad that I’d had the memory of us here together. And I didn’t.” Justin ends in a whisper, his fingers hooking into the belt loops of Brian’s jeans.

“And now?” Brian’s shoulders are tensed, waiting for Justin to unleash the inevitable pity about his illness.

“And now … I don’t want to be lonely like that. I thought if I brought you here, when you left, at least I’d be lonely with memories, instead of lonely without them.”

Perhaps it’s because Brian is so damn grateful that Justin made it about himself instead of Brian – whether accidentally or on purpose, he doesn’t care – but Brian has to kiss him then. He fists his hands in Justin’s hair and brings his mouth down, tasting the salt and lime and tequila from Justin’s margarita, forcing his tongue inside and biting at Justin’s lips.

They make love on the floor.

Justin starts to turn to his stomach but Brian urges him back over, pushes Justin’s knees towards his head and enters him from the front. Brian wants to pretend it’s just a better position, gives him more friction, but when he looks down into clear, morning-blue eyes, Brian knows that’s not why. He doesn’t fuck anyone else this way.

And when Justin pulls his lower lip in under his teeth and groans in the back of his throat, Brian doesn’t know whether to curse or bless the disease that brought him here.

* * *

He goes to his appointment the next day with Justin in tow. He makes Justin stay in the waiting room.

“A few months,” Brian tells him that night at dinner. “The course of treatment is a few months.” He forks an asparagus spear and ignores all the butter it was sautéed in.

“So … you’ll have to move out here,” Justin muses.

“Looks that way. Good, I need some new ass. And they need me, which they’ll soon find out.” Brian tries to sound nonchalant about the fact that he has to pack up his whole fucking life and move it three thousand miles.

“Stay with me.” It isn’t a plea or request, just a simple statement. Justin levels him with an honest gaze.

“I was thinking I’d get somewhere in Bel Air,” Brian says casually. “Close to the hospital.”

“I’m close to the hospital.”

Brian drops his knife and sits back in his chair. Justin stares at him from across the table, his pasta forgotten. “I suppose you are,” Brian says, and Justin nods.

“Brian,” he says, and Brian thinks he’s going to say something life changing, but Justin merely takes a deep breath. “Stay with me.”

Brian considers him, Justin’s expression serious and quiet. The silence stretches out. “One month,” Brian concedes finally. “We’ll try it.”

* * *


Justin turns twenty-four and a half and realizes that a single month that was supposed to be easy has turned into six rough ones.

He thinks things might be progressing a little more smoothly if Brian didn’t insist on trying to orchestrate his entire life in Pittsburgh by phone. Justin listens to him shout at Ted.

“That’s insane! Pure insanity! How the fuck could you lose them! Jesus. I have to come home. My business is going to shit, Theodore, no thanks to you and your goddamn reluctance.” Brian paces the kitchenette, all fifteen feet of it. Justin watches from the counter.

“Fine,” he says at last, and jerks the refrigerator open. Justin watches him root through the bottles of water and cans of energy drinks and knows he’s looking for beer that’s not there. “Fine!” he barks again. “If you don’t call me tomorrow after the meeting, I’m putting a hit out on you. I know people.” And he clicks off, slamming the phone down on the formica countertop. “There’s no beer,” he grouses, exactly the same way he grouses every week.

“Brian, God,” Justin sighs. “Of course there’s no fucking beer. You’re not supposed to have it. Drink a Red Bull. Or I can make you a protein shake.”

Brian snatches a Red Bull and stalks into the living room. He stomps back into the kitchen after a minute and fixes Justin with a stony gaze. “We’re moving.”

“What? Where?”

“Anywhere that has more than nine hundred square feet of living space,” Brian fumes, and gestures wildly at the tiny kitchen.

Justin eyes him warily. “And how will I afford it when you go back to Pittsburgh?”

“I’ll send you alimony,” Brian declares, and disappears again.

Alone in the kitchen, Justin looks at the ceiling and smiles.

* * *

Their weeks are busy. Justin works most days, putting in hours at his studio or the small gallery that shows his art. Brian spends most of his time on the phone or his laptop, either shouting at poor, beleaguered Ted or sending him fierce emails that Justin can see are punctuated by a lot of capital letters and exclamation points. Justin wonders if it’s possible to have a virtual heart attack in an email.

Thursday mornings are the day they sleep in.

Justin doesn’t work and Brian takes a morning off from the gym and his computer, and they sleep till ten or later with no interruptions. Brian’s cock pressing into his hip is what usually wakes him up, a lazy, sleepy grin on Brian’s face. Justin pretends to be too tired.

“No,” Justin moans, covering his face with his pillow. “Brian, jeez. Wasn’t twice last night enough for at least eight hours?”

“It’s been nine hours.”


“Christ, Justin, you need fucking Viagra at twenty-four years old?” Brian pretends to be disgusted.

It’s the opening Justin always waits for. He lifts up the covers so Brian can see his erection tenting the sheet and raises an eyebrow at him. “Yeah, I got your Viagra,” he always says, and then Brian laughs and kisses him good morning, and Justin gets an unnamable feeling in his chest that he used to equate with love.

He doesn’t call it just plain ‘love’ anymore. He doesn’t know what it is, because after three years of not being with Brian, Justin finds that their dynamic has changed. It’s … easier, somehow, and yet not, because Justin used to be able to define what it was he felt when Brian kissed him or smiled at him or gave him a pat on the ass. He can't define it any more, but Justin doesn’t think it’s a bad thing.

He likes Thursdays.

* * *

Michael visits and brings Gus. He and Justin manage to keep the Gus part a secret from Brian all the way up until the time they get off the plane, and Justin misses Gus’s reaction because he’s watching Brian’s.

Justin sees him notice Michael first and watches as a corner of his mouth quirks up and his eyes soften. Then, when Michael pulls Brian’s son out from behind him, Justin observes Brian crack a rare, real smile. “Sonny Boy,” he murmurs, and glances down at Justin. Justin is oddly embarrassed, but Brian just puts a hand on his shoulder and squeezes.

After waking up the next morning in Justin’s old sleeping bag on the living room floor, the first place Gus wants to go is of course Disneyland. Michael is equally as enthusiastic. Brian shoots Justin a “you go instead of me and I’ll blow you” look, but Justin smiles winningly and pretends not to understand him.

“Sure, Gus,” Justin says, “Disneyland’s cool. You wanna go on the fast rides with me?”

Gus looks uncertainly at Brian. “Maybe I could go with Dad,” he tells Justin, and Brian’s defeated look makes Justin grin like a lunatic.

* * *

Disneyland is hot and crowded, which makes Brian even grouchier than Justin had anticipated. Fortunately, Gus and Michael are too enthralled with the commercialism to notice, but Justin spends the day in a state of constant tension resulting from Brian’s attitude.

The only time the snarl leaves Brian’s face is when he gives Justin a quick grope during a dark ride. “Don’t,” Justin whispers desperately, when Brian’s hand snakes into the top of his shorts and finds his hard dick. “Brian, seriously, I don’t have anything to clean up with – oooh, God, that feels good – c’mon, this ride’ll be over in like thirty seconds. Please? Oh God, you have to stop.” He sucks in a deep breath just before Brian extricates his hand with an irritated sigh.

“This is supposed to be an amusement park.”

“For children!” Justin shifts in a desperate attempt to hide his erection as they emerge into bright daylight.

Brian mutters something unintelligible.

“I’m hungry,” Gus announces in true eight-year-old fashion, immediately after exiting the Teacup ride.

Brian, who had refused to go anywhere near “a ride that smells like puke”, glances with distaste at the nearest hot dog cart. Justin intervenes quickly.

“There’s pizza and pasta over on the other side,” he suggests. “And salads and stuff.”

“Pizza!” Gus howls, and pumps his fist in the air.

“You okay?” Michael says, and Justin looks around to see Brian turning slightly green.

“I’m fucking fabulous,” Brian snaps, and glares at the Mickey Mouse ears on Michael’s head. “Did you have to buy those?”

“Me and Uncle Mike wanted to be the same,” Gus tells him, and motions at his own mouse ears.

“Mentally, you are,” Brian assures him. “Come on. Let’s go eat disgusting theme-park pizza so you can throw it back up on some roller coaster. Preferably on Uncle Mike.”

Gus laughs delightedly. “You’re funny, Dad.”

Justin snorts. “Yeah, he’s a riot.”

Brian waits until Michael and Gus are far enough ahead before dragging Justin in for a hard kiss and a smack on the ass. “I need twelve blow jobs to make up for the indignities of today. Get ready.”

“Just twelve?”

“One an hour, starting tomorrow at ten a.m.”

“You have radiation at two.” Justin regrets the reminder immediately, but Brian ignores it.

“Then you’ll blow me twice before I go.” Brian grins down at him confidently and Justin, right there amid the noise and the crowd and the sticky ground, feels the familiar flash of something that always overwhelms him with Brian.

He would have called it “love” in the old days. But now, he doesn’t know what to call it, because it’s stronger and more constant than what Justin used to know of love, and while the mere thought of it doesn’t awe him any more, the permanence of it does. He would never have associated the words “permanence” and “Brian” together, but Justin guesses that things change even when they appear exactly the same.

He looks up at Brian and stands on tiptoe to kiss him. “We’ll start with one an hour and see how long you last,” Justin says, and Brian laughs out loud.

* * *

Brian proclaims the day over when Gus starts getting irritable around ten-thirty. Justin secretly thinks that Brian’s more irritable than Gus is, but he values his head attached to his neck and doesn’t say anything.

Justin takes one look at the rings of exhaustion under Brian’s eyes and pushes him toward the passenger side.

“I can drive,” Brian protests, while Michael and Gus wrestle in the back seat.

“Save your energy,” Justin tells him, and motions toward his still-hard cock. “My balls are blue, no thanks to you, and you’re going to do something about it.”

Brian gets in the car and raises an eyebrow. “Demands get you nowhere. Try asking nicely.”

“Fuck you.”

Justin maneuvers the 5 freeway easily and delivers them all to his tiny place in less than forty-five minutes. Gus falls into a sound sleep immediately after crawling into his sleeping bag, and through the thin walls, Justin can hear Michael and Brian in the kitchen.

“You’ve lost weight,” Michael says.

“Yeah, it’s great,” Brian replies. “The all-radiation diet. They could make a killing if they marketed it.”

“Brian, come on,” Michael says quietly, and Justin has to strain to hear. “Is it bad? What are you not telling me? What does your doctor say?”

Brian doesn’t answer for a long time and Justin almost thinks he isn’t going to. But then he does, his voice low. “If there’s something to tell, I’ll tell. Okay? But I’m not getting into my feelings and emotions with this, Mikey. I let that happen last time, and it was a fucking weakness I couldn’t afford. Besides, I’ve got Justin to do all the emotional shit for me.” He laughs a little, and Justin closes his eyes.

“Justin’s handling it okay?” Michael doesn’t sound condescending, merely curious.

Brian snorts. “Yeah. Little fucker. Some days he handles it so well that I just want to fucking scream at him, to tell him to cut out the Martha Stewart routine with the homemade soup and fresh-squeezed juice and all that crap, but he just laughs at me. He fucking laughs! Goddamn little bitch.”

Justin muses that only Brian Kinney could make “little bitch” sound like an endearment.

He stops eavesdropping then, his guilt getting the better of him, and after a while Brian comes into the bedroom.

He lies in bed and listens to Brian’s nightly routine. After years of sharing the same space, Justin can picture it with his eyes closed. Quick check in the mirror for gray hairs; inspection of pores to ensure their smallness; grimace at the developing lines around his eyes. He plucks a stray brow, examines the whiteness of his teeth, trims any hair that dares to sprout on his chest, and with one last glance at his reflection, turns off the light.

“You’re like a woman,” Justin says, as Brian crawls in bed with a thankful sigh.

“Not so much,” Brian replies, and drags Justin’s hand over to rest on his cock.

“Well, not that part.” He leans over for a kiss. “Night.”

“What? Good night? What happened to ‘oh Brian, my poor aching balls’?”

Justin grins at him in the dark. “It’s fine, I was kidding. Go to sleep.”

“Oh no, Sunshine. I’ll finish what I started, thanks.” Brian gets a purposeful look in his eye and Justin’s dick jumps involuntarily. “Don’t tell me you’re going to try to sleep with this,” he snorts, and puts a warm hand around Justin’s erection.

“Not anymore,” Justin mumbles, and lies back.

He expects Brian to slide down and take him in his mouth, and is surprised when he doesn’t. Brian stays where he is, stroking him lazily, using a small dab of lotion from the bottle under the bed. There’s nothing much else to do but enjoy it, so Justin does, letting Brian jerk him off and wondering when Brian paid enough attention to be able to copy Justin’s own technique.

Brian makes him last for a long time, longer than Justin thought possible after sporting a hard on all day, and finally he has to arch his neck on the pillow and whisper “Brian, please, I’m dying here.”

“I know,” Brian murmurs back, and rests his forehead on Justin’s cheek, but still refuses to let him come. His touch is light, enough for Justin to want to strain into Brian’s hand, but not enough to give him release. He tries putting a hand over Brian’s to encourage him, but Brian stills. “No,” he says firmly. “Don’t touch. Let me.”

So Justin lets him. He holds his breath and clenches his ass and grinds his teeth, and when Brian leans over and whispers, “Good boy,” Justin lets go and comes hard enough to see flashes of light behind his closed eyes.

* * *

Three days after depositing his son and best friend on a plane back to Pittsburgh, Brian comes home two hours late from radiation and announces he’s found them a place to live before retreating to the bathroom to throw up. Justin stands outside the door and asks questions in between bouts of puking.

“Where? Is it close to my studio?” Justin pictures the small art studio he rents by the half-year, and hopes he gets more than ten students for his next round of lessons.

“You could walk there.” The door muffles his voice.

“Oh, cool. Where is it? Near the hospital?”

“Westwood. Christ, let me puke in peace, please!” Brian manages to sound exasperated despite his nausea.

Justin drums his fingers against the doorjamb until he hears the toilet flush and Brian emerges, pale and tired. “Go lie down,” Justin directs him. “I’ll bring you jello.”

“Fuck jello,” Brian mumbles, but he goes.

Justin scoops a portion of the cherry jello he made this morning and brings it to the bedroom. Sitting on the bed, he sets the bowl on the nightstand and studies Brian, who lies with one arm over his eyes.

“You could have taken your shoes off,” Justin chides, and is satisfied when Brian gives him the finger. The days when Brian is too weak to fight back are the ones that worry Justin.

Brian toes off his shoes and kicks them over the side of the bed. He holds out the arm not over his face and Justin willingly curls up next to him, absorbing his warmth. “This sucks worse than before,” Brian says. “Or maybe I just don’t remember.”

“Tell me about the new place,” Justin urges, and starts drawing comforting patterns on Brian’s stomach.

“It’s bigger than this piece of shit.”

“Hey. This piece of shit was affordable for me. Plus, it was m-”

“I know,” Brian interrupts. “It was yours. Heard it.”

“So don’t bash it. How big is the new one?” Justin is still unsure how he feels about giving up his apartment merely because Brian demands it, but he figures he’ll think about it when Brian isn’t lying next to him, shaking and sick.

“Fifteen hundred square feet. Still a box, but at least it has two bedrooms and a kitchen that doesn’t make me feel like I’m in jail.”

“What’s it cost?”

“Don’t worry about it.” Brian heaves a sigh and turns to his stomach, usually a sign of impending sleep.

“Brian,” Justin warns him, “don’t start that shit with me. What’s it cost.”

“Twenty one hundred,” Brian mumbles drowsily.

“Twenty one!” Justin casts a glance around his bedroom that only costs him a thousand a month.

“Calm down,” Brian yawns. “It’s not a problem.”

“Not a problem! That’s my entire monthly salary! And what if not as many people sign up for class next time? And no paintings sell? And Michael hasn’t sent me last month’s check for the comic yet, which means next month’s will be late too, oh man, Brian, I just don’t think-”

Brian opens one eye and reaches out a hand to place over Justin’s mouth. “I said, it’s not a problem.”

He pushes Brian’s hand away. “Uh-huh. Okay.” Justin stares at the ceiling overhead and bites the side of his thumbnail.

“I’m opening an office here.”

Justin turns his head slowly to see Brian watching him with a straightforward expression. “An office. Like, a Kinnetik office, you mean?”

Brian shrugs. “It’s easy enough to do. I’m going fucking nuts here.”

“But … your office at home? What are you going to do with it?” Justin doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“I will throw all caution and common sense to the wind and let Theodore run it.” Brian winces slightly as he says it and swallows hard.

“Ted? For real?”

“He has Cynthia. She could do it on her own.”

“Um … wow. Okay. I didn’t know you were thinking of being here that long.” Justin feels something that resembles giddiness until Brian clears his throat and starts to talk again.

“Plans change. I can’t go back to Pittsburgh yet.” He turns to his back again and folds his hands on his abdomen.

Justin knows what it is then; it comes at him all at once and causes his stomach to roll. “Why not,” he asks quietly, and is proud of himself for not squeaking it.

“It’s spreading,” Brian says matter-of-factly. “The cancer’s spreading. They call it stage three now, when it spreads to the lymph nodes. I have to have surgery and then chemo. For eight months. But chances are good I won’t have to have a colostomy. Isn’t that just fucking great?” He laughs bitterly.

Justin stares at him, his mind completely blank. “Um,” he manages, before his throat closes and prevents further speech.

Brian looks over. “Don’t you fucking start,” he warns. “Just don’t.” He reaches over and urges Justin to climb up and stretch out on top of him, so Justin goes. “It’s supposed to be one of the best goddamn hospitals in the world. So let’s see them live up to it.”

Justin nods quickly, biting at the inside of his cheek, and presses his face into Brian’s neck.

* * *


Justin turns twenty-four and eight months and Brian can no longer ignore the reality of his life.

The surgery and resulting chemotherapy are scheduled and Justin gets a pinched look around his mouth whenever Brian talks about it. Brian starts to talk about it more just so he can watch Justin’s mouth turn white at the corners. Then he feels guilty for instigating, which eventually turns into anger, and a new round of arguing starts.

Brian’s tired of it.

“Listen,” he says to Justin, who sits across from Brian’s desk in his new leased office, “I’m not going to say this again. So open up those pretty ears in that pretty head and fucking listen.”

Justin looks up from the rough sketch he’s drawing of the California Kinnetik logo. “Listen to what?”

“To me. To what I’m going to tell you, because goddammit all, Justin, if I can’t count on you for this, then I’m packing up all of my shit tonight and moving back to goddamn Pittsburgh.”

Justin raises an eyebrow and remains silent.

“I have stage three colon cancer. I have to have surgery to remove one and a half inches of my colon, followed by eight fucking months of chemotherapy, at which time I will most likely lose all the hair on my head. I need you to treat this like reality, Justin, like it’s really going to happen, instead of pretending that I’m some fucking superhero like your comic and the powers of my homosexuality will beat the illness.” Brian stands and places his hands flat on the surface of his desk.

Justin looks at him, pencil still poised in his right hand, tip still touching paper. “I know it’s reality, Brian,” he says slowly. “I live with you. I see the goddamn vitamins and the medicines and all the other crap the doctor piles on you.”

“But you aren’t looking at me!” Brian shouts, startling them both. “You have to look at me, Justin, you have to equate all the goddamn information you look up on the internet every night – oh, Jesus, don’t look so surprised, I know what you’re doing online – with me. All the not-pretty shit you read about is going to happen to me.”

“Not necessarily,” Justin says, and it only infuriates Brian more.

“Justin,” he grinds out, in an effort to remain calm, “you have to deal with it. Because if you don’t deal with it now, you’re going to fall apart like some fucking pussy later, and if that happens, I will freak the fuck out.

It’s the closest he can come to admitting to the boy in front of him that he needs him, and Brian’s jaw starts to ache from clenching.

Justin blinks twice and Brian can practically hear the wheels in his head turning. “It’s always all about you,” he says with a ghost of a smile, and Brian lets out the breath he’s been holding for weeks.

* * *

It gets better for Brian after that. Mentally, in any case, because physically, his life turns to shit and he wonders why all cancer patients don’t just off themselves and be done with it.

Having to take laxatives and an enema the night before surgery does nothing to lighten his mood, even when Justin tries to play naughty nurse. “I think not,” Brian snaps at him when he waves the tube in the air. He grabs it from Justin and slams the bathroom door in his face and figures that some indignities just have to be endured alone.

The surgery is completed and “roughly successful”, according to the doctor, and although Brian doesn’t want to know how rough is roughly, Justin does.

“What’s that mean,” he demands the day after surgery when the doctor comes in to peruse Brian’s chart. “Why wasn’t it just plain ‘successful’?”

The doctor makes noises about bleeding and leakage and all the horrible side effects that Brian has already read about ten times, and Justin gets a mutinous look on his face. “That won’t happen,” he tells the doctor, and Brian rolls his eyes.

* * *

Radiation treatment has nothing on chemotherapy, Brian discovers.

“Once a week for the first four months,” his doctor tells him over the rim of his glasses. “Then possibly once every other week after that. We’ll see.”

Brian tells Justin to fuck off, no, Justin isn’t taking a day off work just to drive him to the fucking hospital to watch poison be pumped into his veins.

Justin disagrees. Vehemently. “You’re an ass,” he tells Brian, and snatches the keys from his hand. “Are you insane? This isn’t like radiation, Brian, where you can waltz out of the doctor’s office and have a good two hours before you start feeling sick. Chemo’s different.”

“How would you know?” Brian makes a grab for the keys but misses.

“You said it yourself, you saw me reading all that shit on the net. I did research, okay, when you were out busy getting sucked or something!” The indignant look on his face is enough to make Brian laugh.

“Oh, poor, hen-pecked Justin,” he coos, and ruffles Justin’s hair. “Worried about me puking on your sweater?”

“I’m wearing yours,” Justin replies blithely, and walks out the front door holding Brian’s car keys.

Six hours later, cheek pressed against the bathroom floor and his lunch in the toilet, Brian hazily thinks that maybe Justin better drive him the next time, too.

The only single saving grace about the entire thing is the fact that Brian does not lose his hair. He expects to, of course, and every morning he searches his pillow and the shower drain for dark clumps, but they never appear. Justin seems more relieved than he is.

“There’s different kinds of drugs now,” he informs Brian after examining one of his endless websites. Brian's sort of tired of seeing “cancer” in his list of computer bookmarks, but lets Justin have his fun.

“Thank God for small favors,” he mutters, and avoids looking at his wan reflection in the mirror.

* * *

“You may resume normal sexual activity after six weeks,” his doctor tells him cheerfully at his one month checkup.

“There’s nothing normal about my sexual activity,” Brian remarks dryly.

“You’re a gay man, Mr. Kinney. The reality is that you won’t be able to have anal intercourse for six weeks.” The doctor looks neither uncomfortable nor embarrassed, and Brian wonders to how many gay men he’s had to say the same thing.

“I don’t have anal intercourse. I give it.” He ignores Justin’s cough from the chair in the corner.

“Regardless,” the doctor says, and Brian thinks he gives Justin a sidelong glance, “no sex. Two more weeks.”

“Guess I’ll just puke and sleep to pass the time, then,” Brian says. “Nothing different than the past month.”

“See you next week, Mr. Kinney.”

* * *

One of the things Brian loves the most about California – and the place where his disease doesn’t fucking matter – is the beach. He spends long hours in the sun despite Justin’s protests to use a good sunscreen.

“You think I’m worried about skin cancer?” he asks, squinting up at Justin from his towel on the sand. Justin concedes his point.

The sun turns Brian’s skin golden and smooth and adds natural highlights to his hair. Brian finds them spending more and more time there, and he goes alone with his laptop when Justin has to teach. Sand becomes a permanent accessory on their kitchen floor.

“I want you to throw my ashes in the ocean,” he finds himself saying one lazy afternoon when the tide is low and the seagulls circle. “I want it to be tragic and sad.”

Justin’s pencil stills over his sketchpad. “You mean, when you’re like, ninety years old? You’ll be all shriveled by then. You’ll barely make enough ashes to fill a matchbox.”

“My dick alone could fill an urn,” he replies, and turns to his back. “And ninety’s pushing it a little.”

“Eighty, then,” Justin says determinedly, and doesn’t look at him.

“Justin,” he says to the sky, “you promised.”

“So did you,” Justin whispers back, and Brian barely hears him over the waves.

* * *

Eight months of treatment slides into ten, and then twelve, and Brian looks at his calendar and realizes it’s been three fucking months since he’s even been to his office or the gym or anywhere that isn’t his bedroom or the hospital.

He can’t remember the last time Justin hasn’t looked at him with red-rimmed eyes and a crease between his brows.

He doesn’t know the last time he had a meal that didn’t taste like charcoal in his mouth.

He can’t recall the last time he even sat behind the wheel of a car.

But the one thing Brian does recall with stunning clarity is the last time he fucked his partner, and it plays out in his head a lot. Brian uses it as sort of a “comfort zone” kind of thing, something one of the nurses had suggested during a particularly bad bout of vomiting after treatment. “Find a place in your head that’s yours,” she suggested, while handing him a cup of ice chips. “Think of something that’s pure pleasure, something no one can take away from you. It’ll help, I promise.”

And it does. Brian thinks of it often, regardless of how he feels. They had fucked in the living room and then in the shower, sliding against each other with soap and conditioner making everything slick and warm and sudsy, and Justin standing spread-eagled against the tile. Brian had lubed both of them up so thoroughly that he didn’t even have to push to get in, just one tiny little nudge and he sort of slid into Justin with the tiniest of thrusts.

Brian remembers Justin’s half-breath, half-sigh; it had reverberated in the small glass shower space and come back around to fill Brian’s ears, and Justin had reached down to squeeze Brian’s thigh with urgent fingers. The water had rained down, leaving tiny pools in the hollow between Justin’s neck and shoulder, and Brian leaned over to close his lips around the space. Justin had tilted his head then, allowing Brian more access, and he began to suckle the skin to bring blood to the surface and leave its mark.

Justin reached around, Brian remembers, and captured one of Brian’s hands. He had put Brian’s hand on his cock while Brian took his time with slow, measured strokes, and Justin began to thrust into Brian’s fingers. “Now,” Justin had murmured, and then again. “Now, right now.” And without warning, Brian had come instantly, only vaguely aware of Justin shuddering under him at the same time.

Justin had turned around and taken Brian’s condom off while Brian stood and let him, his hands trembling, and Brian remembers kissing Justin under the spray until it turned cool. “You’re so fucking hot,” Justin had said, and Brian searched his face for any signs of facetiousness. He didn’t detect any false compliments, only honesty, and Brian found himself grateful.

It had been nine weeks.

* * *

He finds himself hospitalized when he gets strep throat and the doctor discovers he doesn’t have enough white blood cells to fight off infection. Neutropenia, they all call it, but by now Brian doesn’t give a fuck what the hell is wrong with his useless body. He’s tired.

Justin spends days next to his bed, leaving only to find food that he won’t eat or sodas he doesn’t drink. Brian wants to tell him that Justin’s getting too skinny to fuck, and then realizes the irony and doesn’t say anything at all.

He remembers his business every once in a while and tries to ask how Kinnetik’s faring. “Am I bankrupt?” he whispers one afternoon, and Justin looks over from the television that he’s watching with no sound.

“Yeah, you’re destitute,” Justin answers with a wan smile. “I let it all go to shit and spent your money.”

Brian’s just thankful that Justin still knows how to respond to him, and closes his eyes.

He’s tired.

* * *

The fourth night in the hospital, Brian comes wide awake and sits straight up in bed. Justin looks up from whatever he’s doodling and frowns. “What’s wrong?”

“I want to get up,” he tells Justin, “I want to look out the fucking window.” He throws back the covers and makes a move to get out of bed, conveniently forgetting that he hasn’t stood on his own in four days.

“Wait, why?” Justin’s sketch drops to the floor, forgotten, and he bolts to the side of the bed. “Slow down, hold on. What the fuck, Brian, tell me what’s the matter!”

“Nothing’s the matter,” Brian snaps at him, and his voice sounds hoarse in his ears. “I just want to look out the goddamn window! ” And he can’t explain it any more than that, just the sudden, compelling urge to see the outside, even if it’s only the parking lot with endless rows of cars and palm trees.

“Okay, okay,” Justin says hurriedly, “here, hold on to me. Slow down, you’re going to fall. Is the floor cold? You want slippers?”

Brian ignores his nervous chatter and takes the six steps to the window, leaning heavily on the sill with both hands and studying the sky. He can barely see the sun slipping down, and wishes he was watching it at the beach instead of a sterile, cold sickroom. But it’s enough, and all at once the crushing weight on his chest is gone, and he sighs.

He turns back to bed on his own, with Justin hovering right behind, and manages to slide under the blankets. “Okay,” he says to Justin, and smiles. “Okay.”

“Brian,” Justin says, his voice catching. “Brian, you’re fine. You’re okay. Right?” He turns around and drags his chair closer to the bed, sitting on the edge and catching Brian’s hand in his own. Brian opens heavy eyes to look at him.

“Yeah, I’m fucking perfect,” he answers, and just wants to sleep.

“You’re okay, you’re good,” Justin continues, and Brian doesn’t have to open his eyes again to know he’s crying. Justin’s probably spent the last month crying.

“You’re good,” Justin repeats, “you’re fine. We didn’t go through all the crap of being apart for you not to be fine, it’s fine. Everything’s good.”

Brian wants to tell him that he’s repeating himself and it’s getting boring but doesn’t have the heart. Or the energy. So he pries his eyes open once more and focuses on Justin’s face, ignoring the way his eyes shine with tears and his nose runs. “Yeah, Sunshine,” he manages. “Everything’s good.”

* * *

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I ... I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.

Justin turns twenty-six and three months on a Thursday.

There’s no one to lay in bed with, so he gets up before nine and goes through the motions of straightening the apartment, ignoring the clean dishes in the dishwasher because he just doesn’t feel like putting them away.

Heavy, threatening clouds tell him it’s a perfect day for the beach, so he goes.

Early spring is still too chilly for locals and too soon for tourists; the only people he sees are the occasional surfer or weird guy with headphones and a metal detector. They all ignore each other.

The marine layer hangs around for most of the day and the sky looks like slate. Justin likes it. He thinks maybe he’s kind of weird for liking the overcast days better than the bright, sunny ones, but. Things aren’t really the same as they used to be.

He scans the empty horizon and then the soft shore under his bare feet, looking for a flat shell. He finds one peeking out from its blanket of sand and retrieves it, brushing it against his khakis and rubbing his fingers across its smooth surface. With one quick jerk, he heaves it into the ocean and watches it skip three times before sinking, and feels satisfied.

The rain starts as he’s leaving, so he sits in his car for a while to see it make splatters on his windshield. He leans forward and looks up to the left, scanning the cliff for the house. It sits right on the edge, all glass windows and clean white stucco, and Justin wishes he could sit in the living room of that house one day and watch the rain fall on the ocean. He figures most people would want to watch the sunset, but he’d rather see the storm.

* * *

He goes to the small Whole Foods market on the way home to find something for dinner and the cashier smiles at him. Justin remembers her from the times he and Brian shopped together.

“Alone today?” she asks, and rings up his peaches. Justin absently hopes they’re good, it’s kind of early for them.

“Oh,” he says when she repeats her question. “Yeah.”

“Some days are like that,” she sighs, and hands him his change.

“Yep,” Justin replies. “Some days are.”

He ducks back out into the rain and crosses the street to his car, cradling his groceries close to his chest and wishing for his jacket.

Home is quiet and still, the rain beating a steady staccato on the windows, and Justin sort of wishes they had originally gotten a top unit instead of a bottom so he could hear the rain on the roof too. But things are how they are.

Dinner is spaghetti with pesto sauce and sliced peaches for dessert, which turn out to be surprisingly sweet despite it not quite being their season. Justin puts away his leftovers for tomorrow and reminds himself to re-learn how to do a better job of cooking for one instead of two.

He draws for a while, trying to remember how the house on the cliff looked in the rain, and then tries a sketch of what he thinks the ocean would look like through the house’s vast living room window. He thinks he might have come close.

The rain still falls and Justin goes about his evening routine like usual, moving about in the empty space as if he’s always been alone. He answers email, watches tv, goes to the freezer and takes four spoonfuls of raspberry sorbet. Thinks briefly about going out; he hasn’t been to Motherlode for a while. Then he remembers he doesn’t really do that anymore, and decides instead that it’s bedtime.

Justin crawls naked in between crisp sheets and listens to the rain on the window.

* * *

He feels the warmth before he hears the whisper. “You didn’t leave the front light on, you little shit.”

Justin lifts his head from the pillow, looks back over his shoulder. “Brian,” he murmurs, and turns to envelope him in a fierce hug. “You’re supposed to be home tomorrow,” he says into Brian’s neck.

“Finished by six. Got on a flight at eight. I nearly killed myself on your portfolio by the front door, you know.” Brian rests his forehead against Justin’s and closes his eyes.

“Hungry? There’s spaghetti. I made too much again.”

“Ugh, no. Too tired to eat.” Brian heaves a sigh.

“You shouldn’t have gone,” Justin scolds. “Now you’re exhausted.”

“I couldn’t let Theodore do it alone for this one. His voice still cracks when he gets nervous. God. I’ll probably have to go back and sign the deal, too. Shit.”

“But you didn’t have to come back tonight! You should have at least waited till morning. The doctor said ‘modified activity’.” Justin sifts his fingers through the soft hair at Brian’s nape.

“Yeah, but I’m out of Pittsburgh,” Brian shrugs. “That makes it all worth it.”

“I don’t think so. I think you missed me.”

“I missed your cock,” Brian replies, and reaches down to cup it.

“No. You missed me. You missed me,” Justin taunts softly. “Didn’t you.”

“I’m home, aren’t I?” Brian looks half-digusted, half-pleased.

“Yeah.” Justin cups Brian’s face in his hands, studying him in the dark. “You are.”

“So show me some fucking appreciation.”

Justin puts the invitation to good use. Sliding out from under Brian’s weight, he pushes him to the bed and rids him of his pants. Brian lies loose and compliant, his head tilted to watch, eyelashes nearly touching his cheeks.

He nuzzles Brian’s cock with his nose, his forehead, his chin. Breathes in the life and warmth, tastes it with his tongue, relishes Brian’s indrawn breath and fingers tangling in Justin’s hair. Lowers his mouth and samples the soft head, tongue teasing Brian’s slit and making the hand on his head clutch at him.

Justin could keep at it all night because he loves it; he loves the smell and touch and taste of it, and only because it’s Brian’s. But Brian starts thrusting his hips and biting back hard, gutteral groans, and Justin is too lost in the heady knowledge that he always knows how to make Brian come, until finally Brian says his name in a harsh whisper. Justin pauses in his ministrations and looks up.

Brian crooks a finger, motioning to him, so Justin crawls back up to see Brian holding the condom from the nightstand drawer. “Thought you were tired,” he grins, and Brian rolls his eyes.

“I am. So put it on and do what you do.” Brian manages to sound bored even though Justin can see his cock straining against his stomach.

“You’re so easy,” Justin chuckles. “A little bit of head and you let me do whatever I want.”

“I’m about to rescind my offer.”

“Just turn over.”

Brian turns to his side, legs separated, and Justin uses lubricant liberally on both of them. Brian looks back over his shoulder and brings Justin’s head down for a sharp, clean kiss right at the moment of entry. Justin almost comes right there at that second, and Brian smiles against Justin’s mouth because he knows it.

“Bastard,” Justin whispers, and jerks forward to hit Brian’s sweet spot.

Brian breathes in. “Don’t call me names when I’m letting you fuck me.”

“You’re not letting me. You’re enjoying me. You should know the difference by now.” He puts his mouth on Brian’s shoulder and nips at him hard enough to leave teeth marks.

“Whatever. Just do the job.” Brian reaches behind him and captures Justin’s hand, bringing it over to secure it around his cock.

Justin holds him, weighs him, brushes his thumb over the tip and milks a clear drop of pre-come, then does it again. One more time after that, not moving. And once more, until Brian clamps down on him with the hand not gripping the sheets and says, “Justin, Christ.”

“I’m doing the job.”

“Do it faster,” Brian grits out, and pushes back.

So Justin moves, feeling Brian stretch and contract around him, already forgetting the loneliness of the past three days. Long strokes out, short ones in, until both of them are writhing together and the sheets are damp beneath them. Justin hooks an ankle around Brian’s calf, drawing him closer, and Brian slams a hand down on Justin’s thigh and squeezes.

He wants to say Brian’s name but can’t do anything except lay his mouth against Brian’s neck, tasting his sweat and concentrating on the pleasure starting to radiate in waves. Justin hopes distantly that Brian’s close to coming because he just can’t hold it off any more, it’s been three days and a lifetime and Brian will always make him feel like this.

And then it doesn’t matter, because his ears are buzzing and his breath is coming in short pants, and Brian throws his head back and hisses Justin’s name as he comes over their hands. One more short, sharp thrust and Justin is whimpering and rolling his bottom lip under his teeth and coming forever.

He pries his heavy eyes open after several silent minutes and feels Brian’s heavy, deep breaths against his chest. Justin tries to pull out slowly, without waking him, but Brian feels the loss and shifts sleepily.

Justin discards the condom and brushes a kiss against Brian’s forehead. “Sorry. Go back to sleep.”

“You don’t want to go again?”

Justin snorts and settles into him, putting a hand on Brian’s chest to feel the sure, steady beat of his heart. “It might kill you. You’re still recovering.”

“A little twink like you? Doubtful.” But Justin doesn’t have to look up to see the smile.

A random thought occurs to him, and even though he’s tired, even though he knows Brian’s worn out from traveling, he wants to say it. “Hey,” he says, raising his head and touching Brian’s cheek.


“I don’t like it when you’re gone.” It sounds childish and silly, but Justin can’t figure out any other way to make it sound better.

Brian glances downward. “I know.”

“It’s the alone thing,” he explains, and thinks Brian probably won’t get it.

But he does. “I know, Justin.”

“Um. Okay. You promised before … um, before you were better? … that I wouldn’t be alone,” he says in a rush, and squeezes Brian’s hand tightly.

“I know I did,” Brian answers, and his voice is warm and smooth in the darkness. “You won’t be.”

Justin believes him.