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BETWEEN THE SESSIONS
(after session 8, part II)
by Randall Morgan

Ok, I promised this, sort of. This is the second part of the Between the Sessions following session 8. Too much angst to cram into one little BTS episode, I guess. I hope you enjoy it...get out the hankies! R.

Brian was surprised to enter his loft and find that Justin was not alone. Leo Chang and some young, punk looking kid, wearing a nose stud and an eyebrow ring, were there with him. Justin's artwork was displayed on almost every available surface. They were eliminating contenders for the gallery show, and placing the winners in a large leather document carrier. Justin was in his element, enthusiastic about Leo's interest in his work and self-critical about how deserving a certain piece was for display. He barely looked up when Brian entered the room, and Brian thought the one glimpse he did get was chilly. Or was that his guilt coloring his response? Brian acknowledged Leo's greeting with a perfunctory grunt and dropped his leather garment bag on the bed, too tired to unpack. He sat down on the edge of the mattress, kicking off his shoes and staring at the floor as he waited for an energy surge that never came.

"He's hot," the punk kid, Leo's assistant, who called himself Mars, even though his real name was Marshall, said about Brian in an appreciative aside to Justin, who glared at him.

"Yeah, he thinks so too."

Leo giggled at that remark. "Boys, come on, let's get this done. I have dinner plans and I'm sure Brian and Justin would like to be alone."

Justin rolled his eyes and helped finalize the choices. Leo called a brusque goodbye to Brian as they left with a full portfolio. In the hallway, Leo kissed Justin on both cheeks and said, "Don't blow it, baby. I know how you feel right now. You want to kill him. But that's just what Jeffrey is hoping you will do. That you'll make it impossible for Brian to stay home. Suck it up and don't make it easy for him."

"You're right, Leo. I want to kill him. Even more than I want to kill Jeffrey."

"Understand. But it's exactly the way we discussed, baby boy. Either you kick his skanky ass out and let the good doctor have him, or you fight to keep him. If you decided to fight, which you say you have, then be smart about it. Trust me, Jeffrey will be smart. He'll play him like a violin."

Justin smiled at Leo's unknowing reference to another dark chapter in the story of his relationship with Brian. "I'll try, Leo. I have to win this one. I gave up a lot for Brian. I don't intend to be left at the doorstep."

"You go, boy."

Justin watched him leave, and then took a moment to steel himself before he went back into the loft.

Brian had stripped down to his jeans and an undershirt, smoking a cigarette and sipping a whiskey as he perused a pen and ink drawing spread out on the dining room table. "Why didn't you include this one? It's good."

Justin shrugged, stacking the rejected art into a loose pile, adding the drawing Brian was admiring to the heap. "I only have ten slots. It's not that good."

Brian looped a finger in Justin's waistband and pulled him closer. "Don't I even get a kiss?"

Justin sighed and pecked him on the lips, then moved away and returned his work to the large box where he stored it. Surprised by the coolness of his greeting, Brian stared at him in wonder. "What's your problem?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean, you call that a kiss?"

Justin turned to look at him. Brian looked weary, a little pale. Was it the long trip or was it something else that zapped his energy. "My mouth, your mouth, yeah, Brian, that's a kiss," he said, trying not to think of where Brian's mouth had been.

"Whatever!" Brian responded, frustrated, going over to his computer and snapping it on with a flourish. He went to email and opened the latest from Michael.

CPTASTRO: Ass hole! LOL! LOL! You STILL haven't called me! Is Justin not giving you my msgs or what?? He was in a pissy mood. Trouble in paradise? LOL! So anyway, I get in on FRIDAY. That's THIS CUMMING FRIDAY! I forgot exactly when, but I'll look at my ticket and tell you later. Remember when we went to NY to find Justin when he stole your credit card and ran away? Who would think you two would be living together there now! Of course, who would think you two would be doing anything together, now? Romeo and Romeo, what a love story! LMAO! The great Brian Kinney is not even CLUBBING??!! When I told Em that, he spit out his coffee! He didn't believe me. I don't believe me. That is, I don't believe YOU. Vic and Mom say hello and ask when are they invited to visit? LOL! CALL ME COMMA ASSHOLE!! M.

Brian glanced at the phone, but before he could pick it up, a message bubble appeared. He had mail from Doc Walk. Jeffrey. He confirmed Justin was busying himself in the kitchen, and then opened it.

Jeffrey wrote:

Hi, baby. Did you make it home safely? We did. I already miss you and it's pure torture knowing how close you are, and yet how far away. It was magical, the time we had together, Brian. Total magic. You are a sexual shapeshifter, an erotic marvel. I know we've both been around, but my God, that was cataclysmic! I can close my eyes and taste you, feel you, smell you. I can still feel your touch on my skin, taste the salt of your cum, experience the sweet pressure of your lips. I miss you even though it has only been hours, not days or months or years. Why does it feel so long ago? Now, turn your head and close your eyes and put your fingers in your ears and don't listen to this... I absolutely adore you, Brian. Goodnight, Sweet Prince, Jeff.

Brian started to hit the delete button, but he couldn't. He copied the message into a file, then deleted the original. Why did he do that? He wasn't sure. He just knew he would read it again, someday. He couldn't send it to cyberspace purgatory. After a brief hesitation, he wrote to Jeffrey:

Hi, Jeff. I made it home safely. I'm dealing with a lot of internal confusion right now. I need a little space. You were wonderful. That's the problem. I know what you're feeling, believe me. I'll call you. Love....delete delete delete delete...

He signed it just as "B." with no final salutation.

He sent it, signed off, having lost his interest in his other mail. He noticed Justin was rooting around in his garment bag and he walked over to him, grabbing his arm to get his attention. "What are you doing?"

"Unpacking. I'm going to do laundry later. I thought I'd get your dirty clothes." He picked up a book. "Ulysses? You're reading about Greek gods?"

Brian took the book from him and put it down on the table beside the bed. "It takes place in Dublin in the early twentieth century. It's a classic."

"La dee da," Justin quipped, and then held up a turquoise box tied with a white satin ribbon. "Tiffany's? What's this?"

Brian sighed and fell back on the bed, his arms crossed behind his head. "It's for you, brat."

"No way."

"Way."

"You bought me a present? From Tiffany's?" Justin's smile was chilling. "Guilty conscience?"

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean?"

"Let me think, the last time you bought me a present...oh yeah, that would be the hooker for my nineteenth birthday."

Brian sat up, grabbed the package out of his hands, carried it into the kitchen and threw it in the trash bin. He then opened a bottle of water and drained it, refusing to meet Justin's eyes as he followed him and retrieved the box from the trash. "Why are you being such a DQ?"

"Why are you being such an ungrateful brat?"

Justin bit his inner lip to keep from asking how grateful he should be when Brian comes home from shagging some fucking doctor for two days. He was playing it cool, as Leo suggested. But he felt anything but cool at that moment. Instead of blowing up, he untied the ribbon and opened the box, removing a smaller velvet box that was nestled inside. He snapped it open, looking first at the contents, and then at Brian, who shrugged. It was a small sterling silver perpetual calendar. The month of December was showing, and he picked up the card that read, "December 23-January 4th. Save these dates. B."

"What does that mean, `save these dates'?"

"You never got that trip to Italy that Emmett wanted you to have. So I thought we'd see it together. Rome, Venice, Florence, Amalfi coast, Portofino, all of it."

"You're taking me to Italy for a couple weeks? You're taking off work that long?"

"I haven't had a real vacation in...well, never, really. Yes, I'm taking off work. They can survive without me for awhile. And Christmas season is slow. All the hype goes in before the holidays."

Justin was too stunned to respond at first. Finally, he said, "What about school?"

"I checked. NYU is on break until the thirteenth which is when the new semester starts, so that's when you will be starting. Plenty of time to recover."

Any other time, Justin would have been thrilled by this gift. Beyond thrilled. Not only to see Italy, but to see it with Brian. Right now, it felt like guilty reparation which made him feel sad and scared. His eyes filled with tears that Brian misunderstood, thinking he was touched by his thoughtfulness. Brian took him in his arms, felt his back stiffen. When he bent to kiss him, Justin turned his face away.

"What is wrong with you?"

"I can't do it," Justin said, blinking, a tear tracing his cheek. He left Brian's embrace and sat down on the couch, staring at the fire in the hearth. Brian followed him over there, confused.

"Can't do what? Go to Italy with me? Why not?"

"I can't play it cool. I can't act like nothing's wrong. Leo's right, that's exactly what I should do, but I can't, Brian." Brian felt an instinctive tightening in his gut. "What does Leo have to do with anything?"

"Nothing, really. He's just been a friend to me. He's trying to help. Level with me, Brian. How was your little rendezvous with Jeffrey?"

For a split second, Brian considered lying. He weighed his chances of getting away with it and decided not to even try. He was a lot of things, but a good liar, he wasn't. He poured them each a drink and handed one to Justin before sitting in a chair facing him, one long leg thrown over the arm of it as he struggled to find words that didn't seem to matter. "It wasn't planned. We didn't put our heads together and decide to meet each other out of town."

Justin said nothing, using the alcohol to steady his nerves and wiping his tears on the sleeve of his shirt. Brian was wrenched by the pain on his beautiful face, pain he created, but he knew better than to try and comfort him right now. "It started before that, when Jeffrey said something to me on the computer and I never responded."

"What did he say?" Justin asked numbly, and Brian sighed, staring down at his bare foot where it tapped a nervous rhythm on the hardwood floor.

"That he loved me."

Justin winced. "You said you would tell me if it changed."

"I'm telling you now."

"Why didn't you respond?"

"I didn't know what to say."

"Why not?"

"Because I'm in love with you, Justin."

Justin smiled sadly and shook his head, getting up to refill his empty glass and picking up a napkin to use as a handkerchief, unable to stop these fucking tears, despite his struggle to do so. He sat down again, staring straight ahead. "Man, those words would have been like music to me not long ago."

"And now?"

"And now I wonder why you didn't just tell him that, Brian? Why not just say, sorry, Jeffrey, baby, but I have a lover!"

"I did tell him that, Justin."

"When? With your cock down his throat or up his ass?"

Brian sighed, lit a cigarette. "I went there to tell him that in person."

"So you didn't have a business meeting?"

"Yes, I did have a meeting, but I also planned to see Jeffrey, to explain why I was not responding to him."

"Why couldn't you tell him that when he got back to New York?"

Brian shook his head. "I don't know. I just knew I had to do it right away."

"What bullshit."

He nodded. "Maybe. Maybe it is. But that was my motive."

"That's what you told yourself. Your motive was to find him and fuck him, which you've been wanting to do since you first met him! Are you going to sit there and tell me you never fucked him?"

Brian lit a cigarette, inhaled deeply. "No, Justin. I'm not going to tell you that. I did fuck him."

"Finally! The big unrequited passion is satisfied! How was he? As good as you thought he would be?"

Brian shook his head. "Don't do this."

"Do what? Express anger over my lover fucking this cocksucker who has been after him from the very beginning, just as I knew he was? You kept telling me you were `just friends'. What bullshit!"

"We were friends, Justin. We are friends. The sex was a mistake."

"Oh, it was a really big mistake, Brian. Almost as big as the mistake I made in moving to New York and leaving my boyfriend for you! Because you made it seem as if you couldn't live without me! Now, I'm not even here for a month, and you're screwing around with someone you have feelings for! You have feelings for him, Brian! If he was some trick, I wouldn't feel this strongly about it. I know how you are. But he's no trick, is he? He's meaningful to you. Where the fuck does that leave me? What the fuck am I doing here? What role do I play?"

Brian's hand vibrated nervously as he took another draw on the cigarette. Externally, he appeared perfectly calm. Internally, he was fragmenting.

"Justin, nothing has changed. I want you here, with me. I love you. I want to make my life with you. I'll admit I have feelings for Jeffrey. What they are, I'm not sure. But I did tell him I loved you and that you were my partner. That the fact I fucked him changed nothing."

"Swell. And what did he say to that?"

"He said it changes everything."

"You know what, Brian? He was right. It does change everything." He stood up and walked to the bedroom, stuffing random clothes into a nylon athletic bag. Brian followed him.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm not staying here."

"Don't be melodramatic, Justin. It's late. We don't have to talk. I'll sleep on the couch. Just stay and calm down."

"Fuck you, Brian!"

"Where will you go?"

"What business is that of yours?"

Brian felt panic grip his gut in a vise. He could scarcely breathe. He was shaky and his heart was pounding at a sickening rate. "Please don't do this, Justin. Let's talk."

"I have nothing to say and nothing you say will make a fucking bit of difference."

Brian felt his lower lip quiver, his eyes fill with tears. Then it happened. The ice began to flow. His ancient protective device kicked in and began filling his veins with cold, soothing ice water. His heart rate dropped. His face cooled. His jaw set in a hard, unyielding line. The emotion behind his eyes went flat, as if he had flipped off an energy source and replaced it with numb neutrality. He could not allow himself to lose control, to display his vulnerability. He had to feel nothing at all, that was the only way he could cope. He learned this defense as a boy, and he used it often over the years. Emotions were bad. Feeling nothing was good. No pain, no panic. Ice.

"In that case, you'd better go," he said coolly and Justin looked up and saw the mask of the old Brian, handsome and impenetrable.

"Tell me something, Brian? Was this all about revenge? Was it your plan to pry me away from the man who stole me from you? Once you had me, you planned to fuck me over? To show me how much it hurts? Because if that was your plan, bravo. You win."

Brian raised a single brow, his only change of expression. He said nothing.

Justin grabbed his coat and left, slamming the door shut behind him.

Brian sat there for a minute, then stood, feeling his protective shell of ice shatter, as if hit by a mallet. He lurched into the bathroom and threw up everything he had eaten that day, sinking down to the cold tile floor. He just sat there; one arm thrown over the porcelain can as he began to weep silently, unable to stop the emotions that he had tried so valiantly to contain.

"Brian?" Lydia's voice was like a life preserver tossed out on a surging sea. He grabbed at it, trying to form a cogent sentence, feeling completely out of control.

"Help me..."

"That's why I'm calling. I got the message from my service. What's wrong?"

"Can't...breathe...sick...shaking."

"Ok, Brian, calm down. It's an anxiety attack. Do this. Sit down in a comfortable chair. Lean back. Close your eyes. Feel the muscles of your face start to relax. Your forehead smoothes out, your eyes are lightly closed. Your lips are parted slightly, but relaxed and long. Feel your chin grow slack. Breathe deeply. Let it out. Breathe again. Let it out. Unclench your fingers and feel this calm move through your whole body. Your heart begins to slow down, beating softly, steadily but slowly. Your stomach expands, relaxes as your ribs lift and make room for it. Your abdominal muscles grow soft, responding to gravity. Let your body sag. Breathe. Relax. Let go of the tension. Picture that farm in Amish country, your dog, and your grandparents. Feel safe and loved and innocent." A few moments passed in silence, and then she said, "Can you talk to me now?"

"I think so," while he wasn't the iceman, the frenetic panic had subsided. Brian had been terrified by it, never before experiencing such a breakdown of control. Being out of control was his greatest fear. He had no choice but to seek help from the one person who might understand what was happening to him.

"Did something occur, Brian, or is this an anxiety attack without apparent cause?"

"Something happened."

"What?"

"Justin left."

"Why did Justin leave?"

"Because I fucked Jeffrey."

"He caught you?"

"I told him the truth."

"How long has this been going on, Brian?"

"It just happened."

"Have you chosen Jeffrey?"

"No! He left me! I didn't want him to leave!"

Lydia sighed. "Ah. That's more complex than it may seem to you right now, Brian. But first things first. Are you suicidal?"

He started to express anger over that inquiry, but reconsidered and simply said, "No."

"Are you drinking?"

"I had a couple, but I'm not drunk. I threw it up, anyway."

"Is there an all night pharmacy near you?"

"At the end of the block, yeah."

"I'm going to call in a prescription. I'm only giving you two pills, because I'm not confident in your state of mind. But it will be enough to calm you down and let you get through the night. I'm moving some appointments and I want to meet with you first thing in the morning, okay? Be there at eight thirty."

"Lydia, I can't handle this," he said softly, rubbing his fingers through his hair as she sighed.

"Yes you can, Brian. We'll handle it together. Now get me the number for that pharmacy. When you get the pills, take both of them with water, no more alcohol, and go straight to bed. They'll knock you on your ass. Set your alarm to be sure you get up for our appointment."

Brian gave her what she needed, then hung up, pulling on his shoes and coat as he prepared to walk zombie like to the corner and retrieve the drugs that he hoped would send him into instant oblivion.

Leo Chang opened the door to his swank Tribeca duplex, surprised to find Justin standing there, looking all of twelve, gripping his gym bag in both hands. "I didn't know where else to go," he said softly, then began to cry. Leo sighed and ushered him inside, handing his bag to a quietly inquisitive Bill as he embraced Justin with paternal tenderness.

"You came to the right place, kid. The play it cool thing didn't work out, huh?"

"I tried!"

"Of course you did." He led him into the main room dominated by a Blue Period Picasso that was hung over the fireplace as bold as a print, which it decidedly was not. Bill poured Justin a drink, and then left them alone, accepting a silent plea from his lover for a little privacy. Once Justin was calm, he told Leo everything that transpired between Brian and him. Leo sighed and shook his head. It was easy to counsel cool, but it was difficult to achieve it, especially when one was only twenty.

"Justin, you are more than welcome to stay with us tonight. But darling, I think it's a strategic mistake unless you intend to scrap the relationship altogether. You're leaving the field open for Jeffrey, and you're doing it when Brian is most vulnerable. Are you good and over him?"

Justin sighed, feeling as if he suddenly weighed a thousand pounds, all of it on his chest. "No."

"But?"

"Tell me something, Leo. Why are you rooting for me instead of Jeffrey? Isn't he your friend?"

"Ok, follow me, goldilocks." Justin trailed him into the kitchen which was two stories tall with cooking surfaces a chef would envy and a glassed in cabinet of Leo's favorite, often rare, herbs. "We're going to talk turkey, so we have to nosh."

"I'm not in the mood for Chinese," Justin grumbled and Leo smiled.

"I'll write that off to your temporary insanity. Of course we're not having Chinese. We're having the Feldman family remedy, Jewish womb food."

"Who is the Feldman family?"

"Bill Feldman, my partner!"

Justin sat on one of the tall stools fronting a granite counter. He watched Leo remove some cheese blintzes from the refrigerator, explaining Bill prepared them earlier in the evening. They were his one good dish as a chef. Leo warmed them and covered them with a strawberry puree. Justin wasn't planning to eat, certain he couldn't keep anything down, but after one taste, he cleaned his plate and asked for more. As they munched a second serving, Leo said, "Look, here's the thing about Jeffrey. I first met him before he was with Freddie."

"That model you told me about?"

"The same. Bill and I had been together for almost ten years at the time. We were very happy, but like any couple, we had our moments. Along comes Jeffrey. He was an intern, rotating through Bill's specialty. He's beautiful, brilliant, talks Bill's coded language, and just happens to be gay."

"Uh oh. He did Bill?"

"Not exactly. But Bill developed a little crush on Jeffrey. He would deny it to this day, but he did. Every other word was Jeffrey this or Jeffrey that. I was working with Jeffrey's parents on some major art acquisitions, thanks to Bill's entrée, so I had to be nice."

"You hated him?"

"Let's just say I wished he would be a brilliant and handsome young doctor on another continent. Preferably one without phones."

Justin smiled and ate the remains of a blintz that Leo abandoned, after receiving the nod from Leo to go ahead. "What happened?"

"I finally called Jeffrey on it. I said it would appear Bill was infatuated with him. What did he intend to do about it?"

"What did he say?"

"He laughed. He said he knew Bill had a case on him, but I didn't need to worry about it. Bill was not hot enough to interest him on a purely physical level, and since Jeff wanted to go into pediatric oncology, Bill could do him no professional good. So, I should relax. My man was safe, and the crush would pass."

Justin exhaled slowly. It seemed like a shitty thing to say, but he wasn't sure why. "Did it?"

"Oh yes, Bill recovered his senses soon enough. Bought me that Picasso as a peace offering. Who can be angry with that kind of man? But I always resented Jeffrey's sense of absolute entitlement to Bill, if he so wanted him. It was only the fact that he didn't want him that saved my ass, I suppose. Obviously I had no hope of competing. The worst part of it? His arrogance was valid. If he felt differently about Bill, I most likely would have lost him. And then where would I be? I can't imagine my life without my lover."

Justin leaned back on the stool, suddenly sated. "The difference here is that he DOES want Brian."

"Yes, a very big difference, dear. But there are two other factors here: first, you are a major beauty. There is no man you can't compete with one on one in the looks department, including the lovely Jeffrey. Second, you and Brian are still new. You haven't hit the doldrums yet. You still have that hot to trot thing going on and also he adores you. If anyone could defeat Jeffrey at his game, it's you, Justin. Question is, is it worth it to you?"

"You mean is Brian worth it to me?"

"Yes, that's what I mean."

Justin winced, feeling tears threaten again. He blinked them back, determined not to give in to his emotions. He wanted his head clear as he considered the question Leo posed to him. He wasn't sure he knew the answer, not now, not when his emotions were so raw and he felt so betrayed.

"Take your time," Leo insisted. "It's a big decision." He began loading their dishes into the dishwasher.

"I guess I should sleep on it if you're sure I can stay here."

"Of course you can, Justin. My pleasure. Come on, I'll show you to a room." Leo had no problem playing host to Justin, but he hoped that Justin's painful ambivalence was not going to render his decision moot. Knowing Jeffrey the way he did, leaving Brian alone and bleeding for just one night may be all it would take for the tenuous arc of a relationship balance to tilt precariously out of Justin's control.

Next

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Beginning
July 25, 2004