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[personal profile] kachelofen

AN: Longish one-shot (~13K). Set seven years post-series. The title is perhaps a little misleading. And it has nothing whatsoever to do with Valentine’s Day.



Justin looks lovingly at his husband, who is flitting around the large kitchen, preparing breakfast. He never thought that he would end up in New York one day, married to a gorgeous man, some *cough* years his senior, who insists on making him breakfast on Sunday mornings. They’ve been married for just a few months now, one of the first couples to tie the knot when it became legal in New York. He’s still a little bummed that they weren’t the first couple to do it.

His life has changed in so many ways since he moved to the city seven years ago that he has to pinch himself sometimes to make sure it’s all true. He came here for his art, which never really got off the ground, not in the way everyone expected it to. But he’s a partner in a very successful graphic design company, makes more money than he ever would with his paintings and he loves his job. New York has been good to him, including accepting him as one half of a very influential gay power couple. And who would have thought how much fun that would turn out to be?

“Did you sleep well?”

“How could I not, after the night we had? You were on fire.”

That earns him a half-indulgent smile and he feels vaguely admonished by that. But then his eggs and toast are delivered with orange juice and a kiss and he forgets all about it. In the living room, his cellphone goes off in his pants with a nicely understated buzzing and he hurries over to the couch, where he left them last night. He’s expecting a call from his friend Josh and hopes to wheedle an invitation to Judge Simmons’ birthday party at the end of the month out of him. Josh is the judge’s son and it would be great if they could get an important invitation because of him for once. But when he checks the display, he hesitates a little.

“Is it Josh?”

“Debbie.” Justin sighs and watches the other man pull a face that makes him laugh a little despite himself. Walking back, he presses the button to connect the call. “Hi, Debbie.”

“Hey, Sunshine. How’s the Big Apple?” She always starts their conversations like that. Although they don’t talk all that often, barely ever, in fact.

“Same as always. How are you, Debbie?” He used to ask her how Pittsburgh was, but it only encouraged her to tell him how everyone he’s ever known was doing. He prefers to keep it to just her.

“Fine. Getting married.”

By then, he has returned to the kitchen table and he puts his orange juice back down in surprise. “You and Carl are getting married?” He ignores the gagging noises from the other side of the table. “When did that happen?”

“It hasn’t happened at all yet. We’re tying the knot next month. On the 29th. And you’d better be there if you know what’s good for you.”

Justin picks up his fork and carefully avoids looking up. “You want us to come to your wedding?”

“Of course, Sunshine. It would mean a lot to me if you could come. And that husband of yours as well.”

“Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure.”

“Then I’d be delighted.” He is surprised how true that is. Then he remembers whom he’s talking to and says, “We’d love to come. Thank you.”

“Good. I’ll send you an invitation. Fuck. Gotta go, toast’s burning. Toaster’s fucked again.”

And with that the line goes dead. Justin puts the phone down and looks up, meeting a pair of angry eyes.

“Did you just accept an invitation on my behalf?”


“You know how I feel about Debbie.”

“Yeah, I know. You don’t have to come.”

“I might not even be free. You know how busy I am.”

“I said you don’t have to come.” He smiles seductively and gets up to slither over to the other man and straddle his lap. He knows this never fails to yield results of some sort or another. “But I’d like you to. I’ll make it worth your while.”

There’s a chuckle and a hand slides under his shirt, stroking his back. “You’d better. And this is unfair practice. You know I can’t resist you like this.”

“Really?” Justin leans back a little and bats his eyelashes in an exaggerated fashion, while wiggling his ass. “And are you going to bring me up on charges, councilor?”

“Later. Eat your breakfast.”

Justin grins and returns to his seat. He usually manages to get his own way, always has, at least since he’s been with Rich. Meeting the gang for the first time in five years will be so much more fun with one of New York’s finest defense lawyers in tow. He’s quite looking forward to it.


“Ma...! How could you?” Michael doesn’t like the sound of his own voice much right now, but he can’t help it. Ben says that the only time he whines nowadays is when he speaks to his mother. They’ve both been spinning theories about what that means, none too serious because Ben is far too diplomatic for that. Michael still doesn’t know why he falls back into that tone sometimes.

“What?” Debbie puts her hands on her hips and gives him a challenging look.

“Have you thought about how it’ll make Brian feel?” He’s already caving in, like he always does when she doesn’t placate him but stands her own ground. Come to think of it, when has she ever backed down from an argument?

“Brian won’t care. Or if he does, he’ll cope. He always does.”

That’s very true. But Michael still feels put out on Brian’s behalf. He doesn’t want to think about how very high school it is to hate someone because they’ve hurt his best friend. But if growing up means being okay with that, then he’s happy to behave like a teenager any day.

“Of course, he will,” he says sullenly. “But he shouldn’t have to.”

“I want Justin there.” Debbie’s voice has gone a bit softer now. “He was a part of the family for so long, that you can’t just write him off. Besides, I’ve invited Jennifer, so I can hardly leave Justin out.”

Michael wonders why he seems to be the only one who can’t forgive Justin. Ben, who’s sitting next to him in the diner booth, gives his thigh a consoling squeeze and Michael looks at him unhappily. He knows that relationships break down all the time, and he’s the first one to admit that having one with Brian Kinney isn’t the easiest undertaking in the world, but still, he can’t just accept it.

When he looks up, the object of their discussion, or at least one of the objects, saunters into the diner. He’s immaculately dressed in some designer clothes Michael can’t name, ready to take on the advertising world for another day, and he looks as stunning as always. Michael hopes that on the big day, this will be enough to make Justin have regrets, but it’s unlikely. Because Justin will be bringing his husband and no longer care about Brian. Michael tries not to think about how that will make Brian feel. Somehow the fact that Brian never talks about Justin makes it all so much worse.

“Coffee and toast. Easy on the butter,” Brian says to Debbie, as he slips into the seat opposite.

“You want anything on that toast?”

“Empty calories, Deb. Empty calories.”

“More like tasty calories,” she replies. “By the way, I’ve invited Justin to the wedding.”

Michael groans inwardly because he was hoping to break it to Brian gently and most certainly not in public, but he limits himself to watching his best friend as he neatly folds his coat onto the bench seat next to him. He almost misses the slight setting of the jaw because Brian has his head turned away, concentrating on his task.

“And is the social butterfly able to attend or can’t he fit it into his busy schedule?” He sounds as nonchalant as he always does when the subject comes up and then grins at Debbie.

“He said he will.” She smiles softly at him and then shoots Michael a see? look, which is wasted on him because he’s still watching Brian.

“Ah well, I always say, a wedding’s just like an orgy, the more the merrier,” his friend quips.

“As long as you don’t turn my wedding into an orgy.”

Brian gives her an innocent, mock-affronted look, as if he can’t imagine why she would say such a thing to him, of all people, and Debbie walks away to get the orders, smiling and shaking her head at the same time.

When Brian looks at Michael, he gives him a single slow blink, acknowledging his concern, before he starts talking about the bitch of a client he has to take out for lunch today. And Michael resigns himself to accept Justin at his mother’s wedding because Brian wishes it. He couldn’t promise that he would be able to be civil to the guy for his mother’s sake, but he will do it for Brian. And it would be so much easier to bear if Brian would just once acknowledge that Justin did him wrong.


Watching Michael fuming and pacing, Emmett has a distinct feeling of déjà vu. It’s almost like the early days when the twink-who-wouldn’t-go-away could incur Michael's wrath by his mere presence. Or seven years later, when the same no-longer-a-twink would have been in serious danger of bodily harm if he’d come anywhere near Pittsburgh. Luckily he had the good sense to stay away until now.

Emmett has always liked Justin. There was something so very wholesome and heartwarming about the boy – until the fateful night of his prom. And even afterwards, after a long spell of physical and emotional recovery, he was like a breath of fresh air in their little group. Emmett took particular pleasure in seeing the great Brian Kinney squirm and break all his rules, while pretending to do no such thing. Until the day that he broke, that is, and then it was no fun at all anymore.

Nowadays, Emmett spends more time with Brian than he does with Michael or Ted. It’s more by necessity than choice because Brian has never really stopped insulting him in his own inimitable style and while Emmett is aware that he doesn’t really mean it, it does grate on him occasionally. He knows that Brian respects him for never hiding who he is, but Emmett is aware that he never had a chance to pass for something he’s not and just made the most of it. Now, Brian on the other hand, could be whomever he wants people to believe he is and just chooses to be himself. For that, he has earned Emmett’s respect in return. That doesn’t mean that they’re compatible.

But all his other friends have paired off, and even the new ones that he’s made over the years, have a tendency to do that, so in the end, he and Brian are always left on their own. He thinks Brian’s alright. When push comes to shove, they keep each other safe at least, by making sure they get home okay when they’re fucked-up. They’re friends, but Emmett can’t get to grips with Brian’s unpredictability. He can be very harsh when something sets him off. Emmett admires his drive and determination, but they aren’t close. And given a choice between Brian and Justin, Emmett would choose Justin any day.

So he watches Michael rant about his mother inviting Justin to her wedding and secretly thinks that he’s quite looking forward to seeing him. It has been a long time and from what he hears, Justin has become quite a fixture in the New York gay scene – and not in the sense that Brian’s a fixture in the Pittsburgh gay scene. Justin has standing in the other gay scene, the one that contains socialites and celebrities, movers and shakers and hangers-on. Emmett is quite familiar with that scene by now from his brief stint as the Queer Guy on TV and his very successful catering business. Mostly it suits him. And it would be nice to occasionally have someone to talk to who’s interested in those people as well because none of his friends are, nor would they fit in. Although in Brian’s case, it’s definitely another choice.

“What did Brian say?” he interrupts Michael in mid-rant.

Michael cards a hand through his hair, which is starting to grey at the sides, and flops down next to him on the couch. “What do you think? Nothing, as usual.” His voice has gone quiet all of a sudden and Emmett much prefers this sad Michael to the angry one. When he’s angry, it’s difficult to see that it’s all about his concern for Brian and not about Michael's own feelings.

“Maybe he really doesn’t mind.”

“He minds.” In all likelihood, Michael’s confidence is well-founded. After a few minor hiccups in their relationship, he still knows Brian better than anyone. Their friendship has always made Emmett a little envious, although he and Teddy have reached a level again that almost rivals it.

“I just can’t see why she even wants him there. I thought she had more loyalty than that.”

“She’s always loved Justin. He lived with her and Vic for months and after his prom, she never lost that feeling that she should protect him somehow. None of us have.”

“Well, it’s not as if he invited any of us to his wedding.”

“Maybe it was all a bit rushed. They did get married just a few days after it became legal.”

“Or maybe he was just ashamed of us, now that he’s with that big-shot lawyer and in the fucking New York Times every other week.”

“I can’t believe that.”

Emmett has lost so many people in his life – friends, family and lovers alike – that he prefers to think of Justin as absent rather than gone. New York may only be a short flight away, but if it has proved unreachable even for Brian, it’s no wonder Emmett never made the journey himself. He can’t blame Justin for not wanting to return to a place that has the quality of quicksand. Not that Emmett minds it all that much. He is, if not happy, then at least content where he is. Pittsburgh beats Hazelhurst any day of the week.

“Yeah, well, you always see the best in people. Let’s hope he deserves your confidence.”

“It’s your mother’s day. Let’s play nice, shall we?”

“Oh, I don’t intend to play at all. I intend to make sure that I sit as far away from the little bastard as possible.”

Emmett thinks that might be for the best.



Ted flinches a little and then instinctively pulls his head in when he hears the clacking of Cynthia’s high heels before she swoops into Brian’s office. In recent years he has become more concerned with Cynthia’s outbursts than with Brian’s. Brian is like the proverbial dog, more bark than bite, but Ted’s not entirely sure, even after all this time, if the same goes for his personal assistant.

“You bellowed?” she asks sarcastically and gives Brian a withering look, completely ignoring Ted in the chair next to the desk.

“Where’s the file for Mighty Mints? I told you I need it this afternoon.”

The Mighty Mints account isn’t really big enough to have Brian in a flutter or to even warrant his personal attention. Ted has always suspected that Brian is only interested in it because they moved their business from Vanguard to Kinnetik about three years ago. Brian seems to have the ambition to put Gardner Vance in his place whenever he can. Mostly he can and, to be fair, Vance started it by deliberately targeting Kinnetik accounts.

“If it’s not on your desk, then it’s probably on your other desk, you know, the one at home?”

Brian groans and takes a deep breath. Then he gives Cynthia a smile as sweet as it is false. “Could you send someone to go and get it for me, please? It’s on top of the printer.”

“Will do.” Cynthia seems amused rather than annoyed and grins at Ted before she sweeps back out.

There’s silence in the office as the door closes gently, guided by the mechanism that prevents it from either slamming or remaining open. With tempers flaring between Cynthia and Brian on a regular basis, that precaution has become necessary before one of them shatters the glass. Ted massages his jawline with his thumb and forefinger and looks at his boss. Brian, in turn, is staring at the computer screen with pursed lips, but his eyes aren’t moving, so he’s only pretending to read. Ted decides to wait.

“Debbie's invited Justin to the wedding,” Brian volunteers after a while, without looking at him. It seems like a random remark, but maybe it’s meant as an explanation for his short temper or his memory lapse concerning the file. Or it could be the pre-cursor to a conversation. It’s always difficult to tell with Brian.

“I know. Emmett told me. Is it a problem?”

“Well, I dare say she’ll have to rearrange the seating arrangement.”

Ted smiles a little because Brian will never change. Even when he wants to talk, he really doesn’t. Some time ago, Ted realized that he and Brian have become friends by default. He likes to think there’s fondness among the mutual respect, but he knows that he’ll never replace Michael. Michael’s there for all the fun stuff, Ted is for everything else. There are things Brian can’t discuss with his best friend, because Michael’s too emotional. Brian can’t always handle that. Mostly he can’t handle talking at all, or maybe he simply doesn’t want to, but when he does, Ted is there.

“Yes, I can see how that’s the only effect his attendance will have on proceedings. Will he attend?”

Ted hasn’t seen Justin in years. It stands to reason that he must have been in Pittsburgh in the five years since he and Brian went their separate ways, but he’s never been to any of their old haunts. Not that Ted is around those much either. He’s far happier spending his time at the opera or with friends or quietly at home with Blake.


“And how many raises will you have to give Cynthia between now and the big day because of that?”

“Hey, I may be gay, but Cynthia isn’t. My winning smile will always be enough.”

Ted knows that’s true, but not because Cynthia has some secret crush on Brian. It’s more about the years they’ve been working together, just like it is with Ted. Brian would never treat any of his other employees with anything less than complete professionalism. Being on the receiving end of his shouting is almost a sign of affection with Brian.

“I’m sure. And how’s Justin’s presence going to affect… uhm… where you’ll sitting?” Ted has got quite adept at avoiding the obvious pitfalls in conversations with Brian. The last time he asked Brian about his ‘feelings’, he got a lecture about an abusive father and a frigid mother and he hasn’t tried the frontal approach since. Stealth is the name of the game. It’s not so much about tricking Brian into talking and more about giving him the option to avoid it, if that’s what he needs.

“I’ll be there,” Brian says laconically.

“You’d better be. You have to hand Michael the Kleenex.”

Brian laughs. “That, too. Or restrain him.”

“Is he on the warpath again?”

“Never left it, I’m sure. Just pitched a bivouac by the side of the road.”

Ted isn’t looking forward to Michael meeting Justin again – and even less to Brian meeting him again. It’s not as if he’s not aware how hard Brian had to work to get over the guy, quite literally, because he worked almost nonstop for months after the break-up. Personally, Ted would be happy to never see Justin again. He has nothing against him personally. For all the time they spent around each other, he hardly knows the guy, but he doesn’t like upheaval and Justin has always meant that, right from the beginning.

“Well, that sounds like fun.”

“It’s a breeder wedding, Theodore, and on top of that, half the guests are going to be cops. It’s not as if there was ever any fun to be had to begin with.”

Ted doesn’t quite know what to say. He can’t decide whether he should pursue this or leave it be because Brian’s signals aren’t clear.

“Has Faraday sent the contract?”

Alright then, so Brian isn’t quite ready to talk yet. It suits Ted just fine. He never thought he would see the day when he would feel sorry for Brian Kinney. It’s not an enviable position to be in because Brian would kill him for even thinking it and Ted isn’t so good at hiding his feelings. He looks down at his papers, shuffles them about a bit and gets his head back in the game.


Debbie gives a huge sigh when she sees Michael pore over the seating arrangement. She gets up to five with the count in her head – a little further than expected – before her son explodes.

“Are you fucking crazy? You can’t sit Brian at the same table as Justin! What’s the matter with you?”

Pulling the piece of paper out of his hands before he can rip it in his fury, she puts it back on the shelf. “Brian and Emmett happen to be the only ones coming solo. Emmett said he wouldn’t mind sitting with Justin, so Brian will have to sit there, too.”

“Then sit Justin and his sugar daddy and Benedict Arnold Honeycutt somewhere else, for fuck’s sake. Brian won’t mind sitting on his own. Isn’t it enough that he has to see him? Now you want him to have to talk to him as well? What’s Brian ever done to you?”

Brian,” she says pointedly, “has specifically told me that he has no objections whatsoever. And that should be good enough for you as well.”

Debbie knows that inviting Justin has the potential to ruin her whole day. But she has loved the boy almost from the first time they met and she desperately wants him to be at her wedding. Just for one day she wants to forget her disappointment in him, that doesn’t so much stem from his break-up with Brian as from his behavior after that. Would it really have been so hard to keep in touch more?

She’s neither stupid nor willfully blind. She knows how hard this will be for Brian, even if he would rather bite off his tongue than admit it. Maybe asking him if he would be all right with sitting at the same table was a bit unfair, because Brian would never acknowledge being uncomfortable with any situation. But when she gave him the seating plan for his approval, she couldn’t shake the feeling that maybe he wanted to have an opportunity to speak to Justin. God knows, that they would never talk again otherwise.

Her wish is for them to be friends, even if she knows that’s not likely to happen. But if it were possible, then maybe it would be good for Brian, too. She never saw him so happy as when he was with Justin, despite trying to hide it for the longest time. If he could have just a fraction of that happiness back, it has to be worth a try. That doesn’t mean that she’s not worried about reopening old wounds. But Justin will be at her wedding either way and she might as well give them the chance to make peace or find closure or whatever the fuck they call it nowadays.

As far as she’s concerned, there shouldn’t be a need for any of that in the first place. She doesn’t really get it. To split up after all they went through seems as much like an utter waste to her now as it did five years ago. They were good for each other. At her age she knows that when you find someone, you don’t just give up because the grass is greener somewhere else or because you want to play in a different playground.

“Brian would never admit it and you know it,” Michael says quietly.

She hates it when he gets quiet and upset, rather than loud and plaintive. Sometimes she thinks the time after the break-up was as hard on Michael as it was on Brian. He’s always lived too much in Brian’s pockets and finds it incredibly hard to watch him suffer. But on the other hand, she’s glad about them being so close because Brian is like a son to her and she so often can’t reach him when Michael can. After more than twenty years, they’re still doing a good job of looking after each other.

“Have you considered that maybe Brian wants to talk to Justin?”

“God, I hope not.” Michael flops onto one of her kitchen chairs. “I just don’t want to get him hurt again, Ma.”

Debbie smiles sadly. “I know. You’re a good friend, Michael, but this is one thing that Brian will have to do for himself. You can’t make it easier for him. None of us can.”

“I know,” Michael says unhappily and puts his head on his crossed arms on the table. “But I still wish I could.”

Debbie strokes his hair a little and wonders if maybe she did make a mistake.


Brian has lived his life in blissful ignorance. It isn’t the ignorance of the uneducated, who don’t know any better, or the uninitiated, who never get to look behind the scenes. If anything, he knows people better than he would like, but for the longest time he managed to never let some truths touch his life. Then Justin came along and made him take a good long look at himself, however much he resisted. And for a while – a brief moment really, compared with the rest of his life – he was happy with that.

Now he’s back to willful self-deception, which isn’t only so much harder the second time around but almost impossible when all his friends seem to want to remind him of that other time. As if he hasn’t faced up to the truth yet. He has. He has looked it square in the face, acknowledged that, yes, he really made a complete ass of himself over Justin and that it was fucking hard to get over it. He just hasn’t drawn the same conclusions from it that the others have.

There’s no blame. He doesn’t take any of it and he most certainly doesn’t apportion any. That’s easy for him to do because he’s the only one who never believed it would last in the first place. Not really. And because there’s no blame, there’s no regret and no anger. After a short period of time – short being a relative term here – when he felt the need to anaesthetize himself with alcohol, drugs and fucking, he managed to move on without too much damage. Now he anaesthetizes himself the way he did before Justin came along, he simply refuses to think about it.

It helps that he’s very busy at work, that his son is at an age now where he demands his presence in his life and that he still doesn’t have much of a problem pulling guys on a nightly basis, although he’s shifted his age bracket up a little. He knows that part of his life won’t carry on indefinitely or even for much longer and recently he’s been trying out a fuck buddy or two. He just hasn’t found any yet who hold his interest long enough or are willing to keep it quite as casual as he would like it to be.

But on the whole, his life is moving in ripple-free circles and he likes it that way. He can’t abide drama anymore. He also doesn’t like surprises, so Debbie telling him that she invited Justin gives him at least a chance to prepare himself. He knew she would anyway. The real surprise is that Justin accepted the invitation.

Now, if only his friends would go back to the way they talked about the wedding before, with a mixture of excitement and mockery, his life could carry on being ripple-free. But they have taken to stopping their conversations suddenly when he approaches or to speak about the event in such serious tones as if they were all going to a funeral. It’s not conducive to him finding his equilibrium in preparation. The fact that he needs to find it at all is trying enough for him.

It’s Ted who broaches the subject one morning about two weeks before the day. “Are you sure you don’t mind?” he asks after they’ve been discussing how many cars Kinnetik’s carpool should put on for the event. “I mean, Blake and I wouldn’t mind swapping seats. We only know one other person at our table anyway.”

“I’m sure,” Brian grumps, strangely relieved that somebody is finally treating him like he’s a guest at the wedding, not some kind of untouchable leper. “Besides, I’m not moving away from sitting with Gus.”

Ted frowns. “Actually, I was thinking more along the lines of moving Justin and whatever-his-name-is away from your table, not you. Why should you move?”

Why indeed? Brian feels somewhat touched by Ted’s natural assumption that it should be Justin who should yield, not Brian and he tries to ignore the small glee in him that Ted genuinely doesn’t know the husband’s name. He knows that this is probably his last chance to arrange for Justin to be just another person in the room for him to ignore, like he’s planning on doing with all the strangers there. But he’s surprised to realize that he not only doesn’t mind, but is actually looking forward to it.

“It’s alright. Emmett said he’d like to sit with Justin. And his name is Richard McKinnon.”

Ted grins at that but doesn’t make any obvious jokes and just nods. Brian briefly puts a hand on his arm in a silent thank you and leaves it at that.


On the day before the wedding, Daphne is lounging on her couch and kind of misses that Justin is too concerned about his designer clothes nowadays to join her. She misses a lot of things about Justin and sometimes, when she has time to think about it, she admits to herself that meeting him isn’t the same any longer. But for now, she’s just glad that he’s here, that he agreed to come to her house – which is a mess that never gets tidied in between morning sickness and looking after a one-year-old – and that his husband decided that a trip to suburbia isn’t for him.

Daphne doesn’t really know Richard all that well, but what she’s seen of him, she doesn’t like. She acknowledges to herself that it may just be because she likes Brian so much. She thought Brian was to die for when she met him for the first time, but when he came to their prom, she was smitten, not so much with Brian himself but with BrianandJustin. She saw him at his best that night, making Justin so very happy by dancing with him, and at his worst, staring into space with dead eyes and not caring about his tear and blood stained appearance. It’s not something she’s ever likely to forget. Sometimes she wonders if Justin would ever have given Brian up if he could remember that night.

“So how do you feel about seeing him again?”

Justin shrugs, but she can see how tense he is. “He’s just one of the other guests. I haven’t seen most of them in years.”

“True, but you haven’t been fucked six ways from Sunday by any of the others, so it’s not quite the same.”

“Daph,” he says admonishingly. He sounds almost like Richard when he does it. She wants to ask him if he’s really that bothered by the word ‘fuck’ nowadays or if it’s just because he’s worried she might use it in front of his husband. To be sure, Richard would never use such a crude expression.

“I‘ll probably just see him across the room and he’ll pretend not to see me. Which is ultimately better than him making lame innuendos in front of Rich.”

“You used to like his lame innuendos.”

“Yeah, well, I was young and stupid.”

“Well, you’re certainly no longer young.” She grins at him to take the sting out of her words and he grins back at her. Justin never suffered from low self-esteem.

“I saw him last year, you know,” she says then.

“Brian? When?”

“At our anniversary dinner. He was sitting a few tables away with some clients, so I didn’t want to disturb him. I thought he didn’t see us, but after he walked his clients out, he came back in and chatted to us for a bit. Henry liked him a lot.”

Brian did his utmost to be affable that night, or maybe he was just his usual self. If she didn’t know what an utter shit he can be from listening to Justin’s woes over the years, she would have to assume that he’s never anything but flirty and friendly, because so far, whenever she’s seen him, he’s always been that – except for that time when he just carried on fucking some guy on his couch. After Brian left, they found out that he’d paid for their meal. When she called him the next day to thank him, he played it down with a simple, “It was your anniversary. You two look happy. You should always celebrate achievements,” as if that explained everything.

“You never told me that.”

“You never want to talk about Brian, so I don’t.”

“What did he look like?”

“The usual. Gorgeous. Stunning. Like a god.”

“He turned forty-one last year, Daph.”

“Brian will be stunning when he’s seventy, mark my words. And anyway, you’re thirty, and still look like a teenager.”

“Twenty-nine,” Justin says automatically and it’s true for another month.

There’s a pause, while both of them watch her young daughter chew on a teething ring with abandon. Daphne wants to keep talking about Brian but she knows it’s pointless. Justin finished with that subject years ago, when he met Richard, who first became his mentor and patron, then his lover and finally his husband. He introduced Justin to a gay world which was radically different from Brian’s, more suited to Justin’s upbringing and disposition. And most of all, Richard was easy. It’s probably just the romantic in her who wishes that things could have worked out with Brian. After all, Justin seems content.

“We’re looking for a surrogate,” he says suddenly.

“For you or for Richard?”

“Richard first. And if we want another one, I’ll be the father.”

And why doesn’t that surprise her? Richard is the type who would feel the need to have his own genes passed on. What a loss to the world if they didn’t. “Are you going to take time off work?”

“Of course.”

She knew the answer before she even asked the question. Despite his well-paying job, Justin sometimes seems like a kept boy to her. And it would be a miracle if Richard took a sabbatical – like Henry will when the baby she’s carrying at the moment will be six months old. She can’t wait to get back to work. And she can’t quite imagine Justin sitting at home, playing daddy on a full-time basis. What would he do with all that pent-up energy that he’s even now just barely keeping under the surface?

“What?” Justin asks a little challengingly after a while. He hears a lot of criticism nowadays where none is voiced or intended. Or maybe he hears just fine.

Daphne swallows her doubts and the sadness Justin’s visits always engender nowadays and asks him the question that‘s been on her mind for a while. “Are you happy, Justin?”

He seems a little taken aback, but has himself under control quickly enough. “I’m a partner in my own company. I live in a penthouse apartment in Chelsea. I attend every social event worth attending. My husband and I got to be in the list of the top 1000 gay men. We have two holiday homes. And Rich worships the ground I walk on. Why on earth wouldn’t I be happy?”

“Are you even listening to yourself? Those are just trimmings. There’s no substance there at all.”

“And what is substance, Daph? Having as much sex as possible? Going to clubs every night? Being the stud of Liberty Avenue?”

“I wasn’t talking about Brian. I was talking about you, Justin. I wanted to know if you’re happy, not how full your social calendar is or how rich you are. Do you feel the same with Richard as you did with Brian? I’m not saying that you should go back to Brian if you don’t. I’m just asking. Are you as happy now as you were when you were happy with Brian? Because that’s kind of the benchmark, isn’t it?”

She knows she’s gone too far before she even finishes speaking. Justin has risen from his chair and picked up his jacket. “I don’t remember ever being happy with Brian. He was such hard work that the happy times were too short to stick in my memory. All he ever did was fuck. And fuck up. You only think he’s great because you weren’t there. I love Rich and he loves me and he’s not afraid to show it or say it or stand by it. I’m sick and tired of everyone always implying that Brian was the love of my life. He wasn’t. Rich is.”

Daphne doesn’t say anything, nor does she get up to accompany him to the door. The old Justin would be back the next day or the day after and everything would return to normal over cookies and ice cream. She’s not so sure about the new Justin. But then again, she doesn’t want the new Justin and she can’t have the old one back. Still, she’s glad she asked. She’s tired of skirting around the important questions.


*A/N: Arbitrary break because the damned thing’s too long again. Note to self: try and curb your verbosity.*

Part Two here:http://kachelofen.livejournal.com/25200.html


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