This was originally written for the Xmas gift exchange and is still over at qaf_giftxchnge It was written for the truly fabulosa sexy_pumpkin and in my summary at the time is "a future fic where Gus is getting married, leading Brian to contemplate his own relationship with Justin & attitude towards marriage..." Anyway, I guess a lot of you will already have read it oh dear flist, but for those who didn't, here it be...
Father of the Groom
To his reckoning, Debbie's backyard had not changed in thirty-six years. There was something both depressing and comforting about that. He’d hidden behind that same hedge on the high-school nights he’d waited for Michael to make his escape; squatted on his heels with a bottle of stolen vodka under one arm, pants obscenely tight and t-shirt already plastered to his back with sweat after the frantic bike-ride over from his own house, returning hours later, stumbling into piles of half-raked leaves, incoherent with alcohol and drunk on sex. He’d thrown up (more than once) - just there - under that tree, he could still remember the acidic burn at the back of his throat and Michael’s anxious hand on his back as he’d bent over, feeling the lining of his stomach practically rip apart as he puked violently, numbing the ache and nausea with more cheap vodka…
“Why do you always end up out here?”
The familiar voice yanked him from the impromptu trip down memory lane and he tilted his head back, angling an elegant stream of smoke and his answer into the inky-colored sky: “Why do you always follow me out here?”
There was a small huff of acknowledgement from behind him and he turned to watch Justin emerge from the kitchen; pulling the door shut with a hard tug, cutting off the flood of warm yellow light. "You know, they do know what they're doing Brian."
"You think so?"
"Yeah. Gus isn't a kid anymore. He's twenty one." Justin leaned against the side of the house, eyeing him with that annoyingly knowing you may be twelve years older than me and officially middle-aged but I am still more mature than you look. It was a look that Brian always found himself responding to with a keenly-felt eye-roll.
"Sure, not a kid."
“Yeah, not a kid. I was twenty two when you proposed to me, you seemed to think I was capable of deciding whether or not I wanted to get married at that age."
"That was an entirely different situation. We’d known each other for years. They've been together three fucking months." He sighed in exasperation, immediately reliving the moment only ten minutes ago, when Gus had turned a beaming expression on his assembled immediate family to proclaim: "I'm getting married!" The declaration had been met by a predictably soap-opera worthy second of silence, broken dramatically by Lindsey's sobs and Debbie's screams of delight and, on his part, a sudden and overwhelming need for a cigarette. "Anyway, I seem to remember we never went through with it." There was a pause as he took a final drag on his cigarette, acrid and harsh, filter practically burnt away.
"So what are you going to do?" Justin approached him slowly, scuffing his feet against the concrete, his tone lowered in deference to something: the past and the wedding-that-wasn't, the present and Gus' proverbial bombshell, or just his own love of the dramatic.
"Nothing." He dropped the word succinctly, his eyes locked on the remnants of the smoking butt between his two fingers. "He’s twenty one, he can do what he likes. I'm not going to fucking forbid him or something."
"No, that would be pointless." Justin put one hand on his arm; Brian glanced down at him, his face looked curiously ghostly in the light, eyes drained of their usual blue color. "It'll be okay Brian. He's a good kid and Buffy is a great girl."
"How do we know that exactly? We barely know her, Gus barely knows her. They've never even fucking lived together!" He pulled away from Justin; bending over, he dropped the now extinguished butt into one of Debbie's dead plant pots. "And, most importantly, I resent my kid mating with the sort of people who would name their child after the heroine in a fucking vampire show!”
“I can’t believe you're objecting to this marriage on the grounds of the fiancée’s name! Actually – no scratch that, I can believe it, knowing you…"
"You know it's not just that," he replied tightly.
Justin looked at him then sighed, approaching him again; moving to twist one arm around his back, pressing his forehead against his shoulder. He glanced down at the familiar tangle of blond hair, almost fluorescent against the dark wool of his coat, a sudden memory of cradling a toddler-aged Gus in his arms surged into his head: brown messy curls and snotty tears staining his best shirt. He swallowed, resting one hand gently on Justin's shoulder.
"I was surprised too - no, I was fucking shocked when he told us," Justin admitted with a shaky laugh, "but we have to go along with it. He needs to make his own path. You know I'm right Brian."
"Of course you're right. And I told you - I’m not going to forbid him or say anything to him, but Jesus! It's a fucking crazy idea. Am I the only one who sees that? He's twenty one - he can't possibly know that he's going to be with this girl for the rest of his life."
"Why not? I knew I wanted to be with you for the rest of my life after the first night."
"That's called loosing your virginity Sunshine."
"I think the fact that we're still here proves that it was more than that."
He turned a wry face on him: "Well, you’ve always been weird." A hand came out to punch him loosely on the arm and he laughed, a quick bark of amusement. "Stop making this about us. This is about my kid - my stupid fucking kid… didn’t want this for him…” He trailed off, shrugging tightly, aware of Justin’s sympathetic eyes. He schooled his face into a careful mask and steadied one hand on Justin’s shoulder, steering him back inside.
"What are you doing here?" Brian frowned as his eyes alighted on the hunched shape in his office chair.
Slowly the shape uncurled itself to reveal his son, enveloped in a well-fitted leather coat. "I came to see you of course. Your assistant let me in."
"Remind me to fire her later, will you?" He stalked towards the window, tweaking the blinds with irritable hands.
"Stop being such a drama queen." Gus tossed his hair out his eyes and slouched elegantly into the $1200 Eames chair. He crossed his long thing legs and stared at Brian, face scrunched into a petulant shape, hair falling once again in a picturesque frame around his face.
"You've got ten seconds before I throw you out. And sit up properly for fuck's sake."
A martyred sigh was expelled from the pouting lips as he fidgeted into something resembling a decent non-sciatica-inducing but less aesthetically-pleasing sitting position. "I want to know why you're pissed about the wedding. And don't try to pretend like you're not, cause I totally know you are. It's upsetting Mom."
"Is it?" He raised sarcastic eyebrows. "Well maybe she shouldn't be calling me every time she decided on a new shade for her outfit - and by the way lemon is not a good color on her - or every time she changes her mind about the invitation list or the seating plan or some other fucking detail I don't give a shit about!"
"She's excited about it, unlike you," retorted Gus sharply through narrowed eyes.
"What makes you think I'm not excited about your impending nuptials? I am paying for them after all." He strode towards the desk, tilting the chair - his chair to one side, causing his son to spill out of it with a muffled curse.
"Christ Dad! If you don't want to pay for it then don't! I told Mom we were both happy to get married in fucking Vegas - all this - this wedding shit - it's for her! Don't feel like you're obliged to pay for it."
Brian repressed the urge to laugh: the idea of his son, the label-loving, always-perfectly-coiffed Gus, the boy who made his father buy specially high thread-count sheets for his dorm room then sulked for weeks when they were inevitably stolen on laundry day, being happy with a quick-shot ceremony in Vegas was truly hilarious. Justin would piss himself when he told him.
He glanced at the boy's face: Gus was scowling prettily, eyes narrowed and flashing in anger and something else... hurt? He could see it now, behind the familiar glare, he felt a twinge of unwanted guilt begin to nag at him… but Jesus, what did he fucking expect? Approval? He wanted to get married at his age? With what? No job. No fucking degree… yet… never at the rate he was going! He bit his tongue, pushing back the recriminations, steadying his voice: "I don't feel obliged. It was an offer fairly made."
"Well don't fucking throw it back in my face then!"
"Okay, I get it." He swallowed back the retort already on his lips. "I'm sorry, alright?"
Gus nodded with a vigor that reminded him of Mel at her most ball-breakingly self-righteous. "Good, so you should be. Look, Dad, I know you think I'm crazy and that I'm making a mistake -"
"I didn't say that," he replied, keeping his voice neutral.
"You didn't need to!"
"I’m not going to pretend I’m ecstatic about this Gus -"
"So why did you offer to pay for it in the first place?"
Well, that should’ve been obvious: if they had to go through with this ridiculous fucking charade then goddammnit they were doing it with some fucking style and class. He sighed exasperatedly, raising his eyes to the tall glowering shape leaning over him. "That would be because I love you and I respect you and your ability to make frankly weird and fucked-up decisions such as wanting to get married at the age of twenty one to a girl you've known barely three months. For example!" Gus opened his mouth to contradict him and he hastily raised his hand cutting him off with one of his best parental looks, "But… I see that this matters to you and you’re obviously very determined, so against my better judgment, I'm going along with it."
"I am determined and it does," Gus tempered his voice slightly, "matter to me I mean. I really care about Buffy Dad. I want us to be together forever. I love her." His expression segued into a plaintive faraway smile at which point Brian strongly resisted the impulse to bang his head repeatedly against his ($8000) desk cursing Lindsey's love of romantic literature – his genes would never have produced such an expression on anyone's face.
He repressed his gag reflex and plastered on a fake smile. "I’m beginning to realize that. Now what do you want? I have a conference call in five minutes."
Gus pouted for a few seconds before eventually answering in a quick rush of words: "I want you to help me select menus. And wine. And a tux. Mom is driving me crazy. And she has no taste. You have taste. It has to be good."
Okay, so maybe not all hope had been lost. It seemed the boy had picked up something over the years; or alternatively, he was totally playing him… Either way, he felt oddly proud as he returned his son’s hopeful smile. "Well I could've told you that."
The smile widened with a flash of white teeth and a charming toss of the hair. "God, you're so easy. Anyway - great! Can you, like, make appointments with your tailor and shit? I'd be really grateful." He slid off the edge of the desk, taking long-legged strides towards the door. "Oh and do it soon - we've got the date and the venue fixed now, it’s gonna be Christmas Eve!"
He shuddered. Christmas Eve? Of all the trite, commercial-soaked, sickening festivals they could’ve chosen…
He supposed he should be grateful it wasn't fucking Valentine's Day.
Brian watched Justin. His body was pressed tightly against the trick, hips pushing in quick jolts, snapping forward and rolling back. The lights played across his skin, pale and luminescent, sparkling with sweat and short fair hairs. He dragged his eyes away and glanced downwards, the mouth wrapped around his cock was still there, though he was barely aware of it, working automatically with a strange leathery technique. He felt his mouth move in a shape of distaste and quickly caught himself, turning back quickly to Justin and his trick: focusing on the clean white line of Justin’s shoulders as he thrust, forehead pressed against the trick's back, expression hidden from view...
Around them, the music pounded with an incessant gut-wrenching thump, reverberating off the walls and the floor, seeping through every muscle of his body, cabalistic, animalistic, decadent... The shimmer of naked torsos, bronzed and silent, white silk soaked walls, thick red candles giving off their starry eye-watering light. He could feel his erection threatening to wilt as the trick’s leathery tongue grazed, no, fucking dug at his cock, clumsy and supremely unerotic. He twitched unhappily and closed his eyes, attempting to picture the lights above their bed: steel blue bars, delicious cream-colored sheets, Justin’s fingers splayed across his stomach, nails sharpening, digging into his flesh, blond head in his lap, perfect lips wrapped around his cock... He reached down with one hand, needing to feel the soft slide of Justin's silky hair through his fingers, wanting to feel the hard familiar shape of Justin's skull against the pads of his thumbs; instead the head below him was bald, closely shaven and definitely the wrong shape.
He snapped his eyes open, fantasy broken, and looked needfully towards Justin and his trick; Justin's eyes were still closed, his face screwed up in concentration, taught and tense; he watched him shudder, hips jerking, panting, a slow blush of bliss flooding his face... he felt himself smile, relax and finally... he came, jerking and spilling down the guy's exhausted mouth. He tucked himself back into his pants and watched Justin draw carefully out his trick's ass, exchanging words with him as he snapped off the condom, dropping it into the tray of a passing slaveboy.
“It was very... Greek, like a Greek-themed porno, or one of those toga parties you're supposed to have in college. Not that I ever went to one," Justin commented as they waved away the doorman's suggestion of a taxi. "I was too busy having sex with you when I was in college."
"Indeed you were."
"Yes. A far better way to spend my college years than toga parties! They probably had girls at them and straight sex, though maybe not so much at PIFA.” He frowned thoughtfully, “Gus would know. He's exactly the sort of kid that would go to a toga party, though he'd probably insist on some sort of embargo on low thread count sheets. I can imagine him hosting one, hey, wasn't he majoring in Classics at one point?"
"One of his many majors," Brian replied shortly.
“Hmm. So how’s it going - the big wedding plans?”
“You spoil him Brian.”
“Yeah, I know. But I’m not having my son get married in a cheap tasteless ceremony.”
“Heaven forbid!” Justin gave a mock gasp, catching his eye. Brian felt the smile tug at his lips as Justin laughed, slipping his hand into the crook of his arm. “So you haven’t managed to convince him to give the whole idea up?”
"Well, he gets his stubbornness from you. Amongst other things."
Brian snorted but said nothing, their feet tracing the familiar streets. It was quiet, though by no means deserted, convenience stores and the occasional bar still alive, spilling cold fluorescent light across the sidewalk. The occasional raucous screams of hilarity issuing from corners, taxis blaring past, freed at last from the daytime constraints of fellow road-users. He glanced down at the fingers curled around his arm. "Did you have fun tonight?"
"My trick was hot."
"He was alright. You were hot. With him."
Justin raised his eyes, a smile drawing slowly across his face, “Was I?”
“Yes. And don’t pretend like you didn’t know it. They were all watching you.”
"Hmm, maybe that might've been true five years ago... now, not so much."
"Bullshit! You barely look thirty and with that candlelight - low enough for any fucker to get laid… I should know." He pressed his lips together, memories of the faceless trick beneath him, perfunctory and disappointing, expression of relief as he pulled away: Job done. Who's next?
"Brian -" Justin glanced up at him, eyes suddenly sober, "that is bullshit. You’re still the hottest guy I’ve ever seen and you know that I always prefer to fuck you with every light on."
"So you can see every line and wrinkle? Every proof of my advanced age?"
"So I can see the face of the person I love." Brian wrinkled his nose. "And it's hardly like you were the oldest guy in there - there were loads of guys way older than you! That's why they hold these things -"
"So old rich closet-cases can get a nice piece of ass..."
"Remind me why we went?"
Justin shrugged. "Habit? Or a change? A variation on you and me or you and me and a hustler?"
Brian said nothing for a moment then glanced at Justin; he was walking quickly, feet drumming the pavement in rapid strides; he'd learned years ago how to match his shorter strides to Brian's own so now there was no disparity, keeping pace automatically, perfect, synchronized...
"I like you and me."
"You like anonymous sex too." Justin darted him a pondering look. "You used to."
"Maybe not so much anymore." He spoke quietly, considering the words. Anonymous sex: sex with the unknown, strangers, faceless men, bodies, holes really, orifices, fuck toys. He'd been sixteen when he'd first discovered Babylon: its beautiful faceless men with their perfect bodies and he, the most beautiful of all... Now he had a son, older than he had been then and he was rejecting that life, discarding it before it had truly started for him, and choosing something else: marriage, partnership, togetherness. He felt disjointed, repulsed, remembering the lights as they played across his aging skin, managing to come only when he conjured up pictures of his lover in his head.
"Brian, what are you saying?"
"I'm fifty years old Sunshine, I never expected to get to this age. I have a son who's getting married, I have a multi-million dollar business, three fucking offices to run, I have... you. I don't need it anymore. But for you, if you want -"
"I don't want," Justin stated firmly. "It's fun now and then, a change, but I don't really care. You and me, you know that's all I need, all I've ever needed. You know that Brian." They had stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, eyes locked on each other's faces. Brian huffed out a laugh, mouth crooking into an amused shape. Justin grinned and reached out one hand to grab him by the arm, pulling him closer, "For fuck's sake you stupid prick - it's been twenty fucking years!"
"Twenty one," he corrected.
"Right, twenty one." Justin grinned widely and leaned into his chest. He wrapped his arms around him, squeezing him hard, he could feel Justin still grinning against his jacket, then his wet lips on his neck, nuzzling at the underside of his jaw. He shivered deliciously, his cock beginning to stir as he pulled Justin closer.
"Brian," Justin breathed, "let's get home... now." Head tilted back, he was staring at Brian with slightly dilated pupils, familiar wicked glint in his eyes.
Brian nodded and stuck out one arm: "Taxi!"
4. Clouded pearl
"I never got why you and Justin didn't get married," Gus commented airily as he winked at his reflection in one of the many mirrors. He tossed his hair nonchalantly over his eyes and struck a pose.
They were in the VIP client rooms of Brian’s favorite tailor: all oak-paneling, crimson brocade love seats and guilt-edged mirrors. Looks like something out of a Toulouse Lautrec painting – like a 19th century whore’s boudoir, Justin had commented on his first visit. He'd bought him a suit for his first gallery opening, a tiny place in SoHo that had featured two of his paintings. Justin had loved that fucking suit, he’d worn it to every opening he’d had for four years, unwilling to give it up until it literally fell apart at the seams during a cocktail party… Today, though, it was a different story, Gus was in his element with this many mirrors, and there was champagne, produced with alacrity by Nigel, the master tailor, recognizing a good deal and a potentially great order when he saw it.
He looked up from the sprawl of high-end men's magazines littering the crimson upholstery, "That looks good on you." In truth, most of the tuxes had looked good on him – as far as looks went Gus was a lucky mix of his and Lindsey’s genes, resulting in one of the “beautiful people” and, to his own personal amusement, one of the vainest people he’d ever known. Maybe he should be warning Buffy now that her husband-to-be was likely to spend twice as much time in the bathroom than she did, gazing at his own reflection in narcissistic awe.
He glanced back at his son, he was still preening away happily. In truth, it was comforting to him that despite Gus’ many fuck-ups (changing his major three times, stealing Lindsey’s car and running over a gas station attendant's foot, calling the Drama teacher a cunt when he didn’t get the lead in the high school musical, being caught smoking pot in the school cafeteria, flunking math and then refusing to attend Summer school, screwing up Kinnetik‘s mainframe trying to download porn during a much-regretted and mercifully brief internship, to name but a few) he could still reassure himself and Gus’ sobbing/raging mothers with the comment: “Well, at least he’s not ugly.” A sentiment that had never mollified Mel: “Trust you to be so fucking shallow!” Of course, secretly, she was just sore that her own daughter had not been blessed in the looks department (or the height department for that matter), though he would never profess this opinion in Michael’s hearing.
"Hmm, I think the sleeves are too short," Gus scrunched up his nose, raising his arms into a Christ-like pose. "And you're avoiding my question."
"It can be altered."
Gus turned back to the mirror. "You're still avoiding Dad."
"Considering the number of marches and demonstrations your mothers have dragged you to over the years, you should know very well that gay marriage is still illegal in most states."
"In Pennsylvania. Not in New York. You still live there most of the time don't you – you could do it there?" He turned a piercing gaze on Brian, "You almost did get married once. Mom told me."
"Yes and we decided not to go ahead with it."
“Oh… well, I guess it’s not for everyone, huh? You guys have been together, for, like, forever – all my life anyway, I guess it doesn’t matter after all that time…”
"We had... our reasons." Reasons like Justin leaving to go to New York... That had been it: the reason. Justin leaving him… “On second thoughts, I don’t think I like the color."
"Oh," Gus frowned, lifting one arm again, "but clouded pearl is one of our theme colors."
“Clouded what?” Brian couldn't prevent the sneer from drifting across his face. “Christ! Well - you wanted my opinion and now I’m giving it: no clouded pearl.”
Gus’ frown deepened, “Okay, what color do you think then?” He tossed the jacket onto a nearby couch with an operatic flourish. “The bridesmaids’ dresses are going to be British racing green.”
“Jesus, does your fiancée hate her bridesmaids?"
"No... Wait, yes, three of them she does. And JR. No one likes her, except Mel and Uncle Mikey and Grandma Deb. I think even Mom secretly doesn't like her."
Brian repressed the urge to snigger and looked up at him: "How about slate gray?"
“Hmm,” Gus nodded thoughtfully, kicking off the pants. "I'll go with whatever you think Dad. But make it good, and expensive." He bent to pick up his glass of champagne, standing in just his underwear and a form-fitting t-shirt. "Expensive clothes always fit better."
"Right," Brian gave him a wry look, "thanks for the tip."
"Mmm, I like this champagne." He took a long gulp, strutting towards the other side of the room; he began leafing through the row of hanging tuxes, talking eagerly, "I think if I'd gotten my way, we would've gone for lilac - for the bridesmaids. Very few people can pull off green, particularly a strong bold green. Perhaps we could order this champagne for the reception? We want to have plenty on hand for when Buffy and I make our entrance," he held out one arm to his invisible future wife, swooping elegantly across the room in what was evidently a demonstration and one of the feyest things Brian had ever seen (and that included Emmet Honeycutt in drag). "You'll all be milling about and talking and drinking champagne - and we'll walk in - man and wife!" he raised one arm dramatically, holding out the half-empty glass. "Anyway, cheers Dad."
Brian raised his glass, "Cheers." He took a long sip and smacked his lips with a musing look. "I think we could swing for something better than this."
Gus met his eyes and grinned, tossing his h air elegantly out his eyes. "Great. Something embarrassingly expensive."
The house was quiet as Brian slid the car up the driveway with a spray of gravel. He killed the engine and remembered with a jolt that Justin wasn't home. Instead, preferring to stay on in New York to attend an opening, meet with his agent and other such vital things that were evidently more important than being right here right now where he could bitch at him about demanding clients, stupid employees and demanding and stupid sons, then cheer him up with a bracing fuck and restorative blowjob. But he wasn’t here. So that wasn’t going to happen. For a brief moment, he imagined himself reversing out the driveway: accelerating away to the Pennsylvanian turnpike, covering the 300 plus miles to Manhattan, pulling up at the apartment and slipping into bed beside a warm sleep-flushed Justin. The image was seductive... very seductive but he forced himself to push it away; he too had things to do, accounts to work on, a breakfast meeting, conference calls and a lunch engagement with a potentially very impressive new client, not to mention more wedding-related fun and shenanigans with Gus.
He slammed the car door shut, feeling the veil of a bad mood begin to settle over him as he crunched across the gravel to the front door, unlocking and disabling the banshee-esque alarm with a slap of his hand. He moved from room to room, turning on lights as he passed. In the kitchen he reached automatically for the TV remote, switching the channel to the rolling news as he rescued the vegetable casserole Rhona, the housekeeper, had prepared, from the enormous refrigerator.
The anchor's voice droned on in the background as he set the microwave, leafing through the pile of mail on the kitchen table: bills, flyers, boring crap not even worth opening, except... wait... he picked out an interesting looking embossed black envelope, turning it over in his fingers. He rested it against the marble countertop, slitting the envelope open with a knife. A stiff piece of card fell out, black, thick, gold-edged and sumptuous-looking, written in matching gold lettering with suitably impressive flourishes: THE PRINCE OF DECADENCE REQUESTS THE PLEASURE OF YOUR COMPANY AT HIS EVENING OF SEXUAL SPLENDOR...
Jesus, the Prince of Decadence seriously needed a decent copywriter. He sniggered and dropped the invitation back on the countertop as the microwave pinged behind him. He retrieved the plate of food, grabbed the Pittsburgh Gazette with one hand and slid onto a stool. He opened the newspaper and began to read slowly, picking half-heartedly at the meal with one of the forks Jennifer had left them when she’d moved to California to pick grapes for her new husband, Clive’s wine business. Okay so maybe she wasn’t actually picking the grapes, so much as enjoying the vast amounts of money they brought into the business, he’d been astounded to read the projected figures Clive had shown him, he should definitely be seriously thinking about investing in…
The sound of the front door crashing closed reverberated through the entire house jolting him out of his train of thought. A familiar voice called out: “Bri?”
Ted appeared in the doorway, sheaf of files held armor-like against his chest. "Did you know you have every light on in this place? You'll get a fine if they catch you again."
Ted chuckled and posed the sheaf of files by his right elbow, sliding onto the stool opposite him. "I had a great meeting with O'Leary's people."
"Did you? Is she willing to sign?"
He produced a piece of paper from the sheaf with a flourish and a smug expression. "She signed."
Brian's face shifted into a wide grin, irritable mood dropping away. He prized the paper from the other's outstretched fingers, "Theodore, you old dog, how the fuck did you do that?"
"That would be the infamous Schmidt charm."
"Haven't I told you not to revert to the black arts in our business deals?" He shifted his voice into a mock whisper: "Someone's going to catch us one day."
Ted rolled his eyes, smug expression still firmly in place. "You're just jealous you weren't the one to get her to sign on the dotted line."
"I would've been if I hadn't been in fucking Scranton, asshole of the world that it is - but, it's nice to know you can deputize for me - when the need arises."
"I've been deputizing for you for years. It'd just better be reflected in my bonus this year."
"Well if it isn't, you only have yourself to blame. That's your department."
"Yeah, yeah," Ted shook his head and indicated the half-eaten plate of food with a hungry expression. "Are you eating the rest of that?”
“Help yourself.” He didn’t bother looking up, all attention focused on the contract Ted had miraculously managed to magic from the previously elusive Senator O’Leary. He perused the print carefully, hearing the scrape of cutlery in the background as Ted began to eat with hungry abandon.
“So where’s Justin tonight?”
He raised his eyes and frowned suspiciously, “What do you mean: ahh course?”
“Hence the lights. And the TV.” Ted waved his fork in the general direction of the TV screen, blaring ignored in the corner behind them. “Classic behavior from one such as yourself accustomed to not living alone – turn on all the lights and switch on the TV for company, even if you're not watching it.”
Brian snorted contemptuously. “I lived on my own for years.”
“You’ve lived with Justin for twice that time.”
“Your point being?”
"Nothing, nothing at all Bri! Just making an observation. As a single person used to solitude, I don’t feel the need to light up my condo like a Christmas tree or to turn on the TV just for the sound of a human voice –“
“No, that’s why you have an invisible cat.”
Ted chuckled and heaped another mound of mushrooms onto his straining fork. “Touché.”
Brian eyed him with distaste, placing the contract on top of the pile of paperwork. “You eat like that and you’ll need a top up on that lipo.”
“For your information, I have an appointment for several procedures in two weeks, just in time for your son's wedding. So from now until them I’m going to eat like a true gourmand... Are you planning on getting something done yourself? As the father of the groom, it might be a good idea? Brow lift? Chin?”
“Are you suggesting I need surgery Theodore?”
“Wouldn't dream of it Bri."
"Count yourself lucky you scored with Senator O'Leary or I'd have you fired for that comment. Instead, as a token of my esteem..." He picked up the black, gold-embossed invitation card, waving it under Ted's nose.
"Shit! You got an invitation to the Prince of Decadence party? I've been trying to score one of those for weeks! And I don't mean to sound ungrateful but are you sure you don't want to go? This is the event of the season. Don't tell me you and Justin aren't going?"
"We're not going," he replied succinctly. Ted gave him a shrewd glance. "What?"
"Nothing, nothing," he spooned another forkful of casserole. "Shit - if only it were in another couple of months - I'd have my new face and... Are you sure you don't want to go?"
Brian sighed in exasperation and slid off the stool, sometimes Ted could rival Debbie with annoying tenacity. Surely he'd originally hired him for his ability to keep his mouth shut, not to contradict any of his decisions; that and the general sycophancy - what had happened to that? "New priorities. Justin and I - we don't do this anymore - don't give me that fucking look!"
"What look? I'm just envious, is all." Brian pulled the refrigerator door open, removing a beer and a bottle of water. Ted was looking at him with a mixture of sympathy and envy. "Sometimes I wonder how things might've turned out if Blake hadn't -" he broke off and sighed, accepting the water from Brian with a nod of thanks. "Maybe I wouldn't be the lonely old loser I am now."
"You're not a loser," Brian slid back onto the stool, popping the beer open. "I know for damn sure that if it hadn't been for you - we - Kinnetik wouldn't be where we are now..."
Ted raised his bottle with a flourish: "The best Ad Agency on the East Coast?"
Brian grinned and clinked his bottle against Ted's. "Too fucking right." They drank in silence for a while, Ted eventually heaving himself off the stool.
"I guess I should be getting back?"
Brian nodded. "Breakfast meeting. I expect to see you 7am sharp."
"When am I ever late for you Brian?" He turned to go.
"Hey - you forgot this," Brian stood, crossing towards him with the invitation. "Take it."
"I - I'm not sure..."
"Yeah you are, one of us has to continue being young and fabulous forever... though God knows I'd never have thought it would be you, Theodore Schmidt."
Ted plucked the invitation from his fingers with a smile, "Yes, well, we can't all be married men like you... Thanks. See you tomorrow."
Brian watched him walk away, feeling suddenly sober. He walked quickly back into the kitchen, grabbing his cell phone from underneath the pile of folders and papers. He scrolled through the voicemail, eventually locating one and pressing speaker: Hi, it's me, they want me to stay over another night... call me, I want to hear your voice... The voice drained away and he scrolled to the next message: I'm gonna be late, Mom called me - she’s in the city and she wants to meet us on Saturday for lunch - say you can do it, we haven't seen her for ages, apparently Molly is thinking of leaving Jeff! Uh - shit - sorry - nearly got flattened, uh - anyway, what was I going to say? Yeah - can we meet at eight at Bertorelli's instead - it's that bistro place over on Hudson..."
He watched Gus sip the brandy leisurely, sloshing it around his mouth, eventually swallowing with a loud smack of his lips. He twisted his head towards him, the slightly wilted posture betraying his inebriated state. "That was good. Lets order that one too."
"That was brandy. You don't serve brandy at a wedding."
"Huh," Gus pushed his tongue into his cheek and crooked one end of his lip in a way that was scarily familiar - like looking in a mirror at a distorted (and much younger) reflection. "Let's do it anyway. Huh, Dad? Dad?"
He repressed the urge to roll his eyes and considered his son again. "You know, wine tasting isn't supposed to be an excuse for getting wasted."
"Yeah, yeah, I know, you're supposed to spit it out," Gus made an incoherent lunge across the table, fingers grasping for the discarded metal bucket, "in here." He thrust it under Brian's nose. "Though you didn't do that either.”
“That’s because I never swallow Sonnyboy.”
Gus pulled a face. “I so didn’t want to know that.”
Brian laughed at his son’s disgusted expression. “It’s the secret to a happy relationship.”
“Oh,” Gus’ face got suddenly serious, a crease developing between his eyebrows. “Oh, I need to know stuff like that - you have to tell me Dad. Me and Buffy - I’m serious about her Dad, I really love her…”
“I know you do.”
“Right, right,” Gus nodded eagerly, fingers playing with the stem of his discarded finger-smudged wine glass. “And I want to know how you do it - you and Justin, you’re still together, and you’ve been together forever. Tell me how to get it right.”
Brian pulled his eyes away from Gus’ almost pleading face; he felt suddenly odd, disjointed… discombobulated, no that was just another lame synonym, he felt unfixed. Gus was still staring at him, eyes wide with alcohol and belief. His dark long eyelashes framing his cheeks as they’d done when he was young, lying asleep in his small big-boy bed, fists tight around his sheets. His boy. His Sonnyboy. Giving himself to someone else, tying himself in a permanent lasting bond to someone who was just not good enough and could never be good enough; not for his boy, his stupid, idiot but thank-God-not-ugly, precious beautiful boy.
“I don’t know Gus. It just - you just find the right person.”
“But how do you know if you’ve got the right person?” persisted Gus. “Mom and Mel - they must’ve thought they were the right person for each other and look what happened to them! I know Buffy is the right person - but she, I’m not sure if she thinks that about me.”
“If she doesn’t think that then she shouldn’t be marrying you,” he replied shortly. Stupid unworthy girl, with bad taste, no color sense and a stupid fucking name! He cradled his high-ball glass in one hand, fingers smudging the thick glass, pushing the anger from his tone. “Look, Gus,” he raised his other hand to the boy’s shoulder (he’d learned many years ago to never touch The Hair), squeezing him gently. “If she wasn’t sure then she wouldn’t have said yes. She said yes so she obviously feels the same way.”
Gus raised his eyes and nodded, a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. “Yeah, yeah, you’re right.” He reached for his glass, taking a long swig. “Shit, I really like this stuff. Let’s get some anyway, huh? Just for us?”
Brian watched him and smiled, feeling his fingers tighten on the bony shoulder. “Yes, why don’t we? It’s not like I haven’t already spent the entire GDP of Albania on your big day?”
“Oh come on, you’ll love it! It’ll be the best day ever! And everything will look great and fabulous!” he raised one hand, describing an epic arc, hair tumbling over his eyes in a seductive rumple. “And everyone will comment on how tasteful and elegant and refined the whole thing is!”
Brian watched him with an ironic smile. “I have no doubt they will.”
Gus laughed and jogged him with a lanky elbow. “I’m pleased now that Alex couldn’t be my best man Dad, it’s great that you can do it instead! You’ll probably have a much better speech anyway, Alex can be a complete fucktard sometimes. Though try and make it more interesting than the ones you do at the Kinnetik Christmas party, they’re kinda boring.”
“Thanks, I’ll bear it in mind.”
“Why do you always end up out here?” The refrain was a deja-vu, familiar and mocking.
He turned to watch Justin tugging the door closed with an impatient heave. He held out one welcoming arm, saying his lines: “Why do you always follow me out here?”
Justin smiled and slid under his arm, tilting his face to stare up at the sky. “I think it’s going to snow.”
“I think you’re right.” He dropped the remnants of his cigarette to the floor, grinding it out under his thick sole.
“It’s fucking freezing out here Brian, let’s go back inside.”
“No.” He pulled Justin tighter against him. “Not just yet.”
“Okay, but you have to warm me up.”
He opened his coat, wrapping its thick folds around Justin, feeling the other’s arms creep around his back. “Better?”
“Mmm.” Justin nodded, pressing his lips against the underside of his chin. “Do you remember that night ages ago when we stood out here when that senator came to visit Deb? She’d helped out with some shit at school for me – shit! I can’t remember now what it –“
“The Gay/Straight Alliance.”
Justin sniggered. “Yeah, that’s right, the Gay/Straight Alliance, shit! I can’t believe I forgot about that! I remember standing out here though with you – sharing a joint...”
“It was snowing,” Brian muttered quietly.
“Yes, if it snows today that‘ll make the photos very picturesque. Are you sure you didn‘t arrange it on purpose?” He chuckled and shook his head, “God, I can’t believe Gus is getting married in an hour! You‘re going to have a daughter-in-law. It still seems unreal.”
“It won’t last.”
“It won’t last. He’s too young.”
“He’s older than I was when you and me -”
“As I think I’ve mentioned before, you were weird. An anomaly. A freak.” He popped his tongue over the words, savoring them as they left his lips.
“Your freak.” Justin turned his head, soft smile tugging at his mouth as their eyes met. He rolled his eyes and snorted lightly, hand snaking around to Justin’s hip, fingers tracing a pattern against the soft material of his dress pants. “He does love her Brian.” Justin brushed his fingers against the side of his face. “And she loves him. I‘m sure of it.”
“Yes. And even if she doesn’t, it’s none of our business. He loves her and this is what he wants.”
They lapsed into silence, Brian ran his hands down Justin’s shoulders, his arms, elbows, sides, grasping his hips lightly then going up again, slowly, languorously, his shoulders, the nape of his neck until his fingers cradled the back of his head, black-gloved hands amongst the blond hair, still barely flecked with gray.
“Um, Brian what are you doing?”
Brian stared into the familiar eyes, blue and clear in the pale winter light. He lowered his head, nuzzling the edge of Justin’s ear, cold to the touch. “We should get married.”
“We should get married. You and me Sunshine.”
“Like a double wedding? I think this is a bit late notice, even for you!”
He resisted the impulse to roll his eyes. “No, not today. Obviously. And double weddings are always such a cliché. I mean in our own ceremony.”
“Are you serious?”
“Are you saying yes?”
“Fuck Brian! I don’t – why, why now? Is it because of Gus? I thought this didn’t matter. You and me – we don’t need it. We don‘t need marriage or rings or any of that bullshit, we‘ve managed perfectly well without all that!”
“No. We don't. But – the last time I proposed to you it was because it was what I thought you wanted and I wanted to make you happy.” I finally thought of a good reason to do it... The words come back to him in a rush, but now… he could feel himself saying this all the wrong way, his usual loquacity and ease with words fading away in the face of Justin’s suspicious expression. Last time… it had been easy, he’d known the words to say, okay, so he’d actually fucking rehearsed the words to say, secure in the knowledge that it was what Justin wanted… But now – maybe he’d made a mistake, a royal fucking fuck-up and Justin didn’t want –
“I know,” Justin’s face had softened, cold fingers tracing a line across his cheek, a gentle caress. “And you did – you do – always – you don’t need to –“
“Hear me out.” He felt abruptly irritated with himself and he grabbed the other’s hand, squeezing it, warming it, “This time – it’s what I want. It’s what will make me happy.” He pulled a face: awkward, and probably ridiculous in a fifty year old man, but… “You don’t have to say yes. It won’t change anything between us. We can just carry on as before.” He felt his voice break slightly, “I don’t want to loose that.”
Justin was staring at him blankly, his eyes wide with disbelief, "Brian..."
He swore loudly and pulled away from Justin, Gus was leaning half out the kitchen window, hair perfectly tousled and tux neatly buttoned. "It's time to go! The car's here!"
"Fuck!" he exclaimed under his breath. He turned, waving one imperious hand at his son. "We're coming! Go get your shit together Gus!"
Gus scowled prettily and withdrew his head. Sighing in exasperation, he turned back to Justin: "We'd better fucking go."
"No - no, wait! Brian..." One hand came out to clutch his jacket, pulling him backwards. "I want to answer the question."
Brian looked at him, then shook his head, pressing his lips together, "Well, be quick, we've gotta go. There‘s a strict timescale we need to keep to."
Justin sniggered, a slightly hysterical sound. "I'm saying yes, you anally retentive idiot! Course I'm fucking saying yes!"
"Oh." Brian felt the grin spin across his face, unchecked. "Well, that's... good."
Justin laughed out loud and threw his arms around him. "God, I love you, you’re such a freak! You say I am - but you!"
The smile was still tearing at Brian's mouth, so wide it threatened to cause permanent damage (not to mention wrinkles); uncaring, he lowered his face, mouth meeting Justin's in a long, languorous, perfect...
"DAD! I TOLD YOU THE CAR WAS HERE! We've got to go! Stop fucking groping each other for a minute and get your asses in the fucking car!"
Brian pulled slowly away from Justin with a martyred sigh. They turned in synch to take in a furious Gus, framed in the doorway, glowering at them with something that very much resembled the patented KinneyDeathGlare.
"All right, I told you we were coming."
“Good, because we’ve got to go NOW!”
He held out one hand for Justin to take, pulling him inside, pausing to give Gus a contemplative look.
"What?" snapped Gus.
"Uh - Sonnyboy, your hair -"
"What?" A look of sheer terror flew into Gus' eyes as he raised trembling hands to his perfect-as-ever coiffure. With a tremor of his lip, he dashed away, evidently in quest of a handy mirror.
"That was evil." Justin was looking at him, trying to hide a smile. "You're evil."
"I'm lovely." He grinned wickedly and lowered his hand to squeeze Justin’s ass. “And you love me - you promised to marry me. You can’t take it back now.” He raised both eyebrows meaningfully.
Justin smiled and leaned into him, “Lucky for you that I don’t want to.” He looped one arm around Brian’s waist, pulling him into another kiss.