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The Seven Stages of Brian and Gus

THE SEVEN STAGES OF BRIAN AND GUS

STAGE ONE: BIRTH

The back of his head fits perfectly in the palm of my hand.

He weighs less than my Hugo Boss leather jacket.

His limbs are spindly and his feet and hands are incredibly tiny.

His skin is Barbie pink.

His features are small but his eyes, of no known color are huge and project a solemn wisdom.

He is the ugliest, most beautiful thing I have ever seen.

He looks at me, I look at him, and I know.

I know that one thing is certain: the party's over.

Brian had so many impressions the first time he held Gus in his arms, that he couldn't categorize them fast enough for coherence. He no longer felt disconnected from the rest of the world. His days of being a solitary man were officially over. He knew if he fucked up now, he was not the only one who would be hurt. Without a father, this innocent little creature, who never asked to be born, would be more vulnerable to the wolves that would inevitably try to gnaw at his throat someday. Who would protect him from harm, if not Brian? His two mommies? Wasn't that what the daddy was supposed to do? Protect babies from wolves? Even his own father, the sorry bastard, must have protected Brian when he was small, Brian reassured himself. Or did he? Even wolves have to eat.

"Jesus," he thought to himself. "I'm the daddy. Christ! How did that happen?" He recalled a sunny afternoon, three-quarters of a year ago, when he took off early from work and drove his Jeep to a clinic located at the address Lindsay had given him. Once there, he was shown into a small room. The nurse left him alone with a container, and he turned it over and over in his hands, as if reconsidering his agreement. He sat in an uncomfortably upright chair, unzipped the trousers of his Armani suit, and took out his cock. He thought of last night's trick as he began to masturbate. Backroom, Babylon, hunky young guy in leather pants and no shirt, on his knees in front of Brian, lavishing Brian's erection with attention. Brian pumped his hard-on more rapidly as his tension built, reminding himself to aim it into the cup when the moment came, rather than letting it blast freely, the way he preferred. He never gave a single thought to Lindsay or to the purpose for this exercise as he streamed three strong jets of semen into the pearly white interior of the cup.

Brian sat there for a minute, allowing the pleasure to pass and his erection to flag. He then snapped the cover on the cup and zipped up. He took a minute to wash the residue off his hand at the sink, before smoothing through his chestnut hair. He gave his reflection in the mirror a critical appraisal. Brian considered his extreme good looks more of a tool than anything else. They were a weapon when he wanted sex and they were a vote in his favor when he was at work. Maybe that was unfair to the more facially challenged, but facts were facts. He noticed the sex flush deepened his ruddy, Irish skin and he wondered why he felt a little self-conscious. He could get off in a room filled with men, but jacking off in this sterile little cubicle with a nurse impatiently awaiting his brew was strangely embarrassing.

He was reminded of when he was a boy, and he had to ensure he kept the sounds of his masturbatory ventures quiet so his parents, one wall away, wouldn't overhear him. He walked out, handed the nurse the cup, and then forgot about it until he got the call from Lindsay, telling him it "took". Now, nine months after that session, the result of his whipping himself off writhed in his hands. Suddenly seven pounds, ten ounces felt as heavy as an iron ball and chain. Brian handed the baby back to his mother, and took a moment to say the right things to Lindsay. He was beginning to panic. He was not yet thirty, but for the first time in his life he felt...old. He'd never been responsible for anyone other than himself. He despised his own drunken, philandering, homophobic, abusive father. He couldn't do this. He didn't even know where to start.

Brian poked an index finger at the hateful little ball of responsibility. The baby reached out and closed his tiny fist around that digit. Brian was reminded of the intense thrill he got when some trick squeezed his cock. This was different; not sexual, but just as intense. "This thing is mine," he thought. "My genes determined his gender. My genes gave him those perfect feet. Everyone tells me I have perfect feet. My genes gave him that nose and his lips that are exactly the color of mine. He is at least fifty per cent mine, physically. My blood runs through his veins, my intelligence fuels his mind, he is me without the flaws, the fuck ups, the painful lessons, the failures. He has a chance to get it right, where I got it wrong."

Brian careened emotionally from viewing his son as the death of his youth, to seeing in him his own immortality. For even after he died, a part of him would survive in this baby. Just as his long-dead grandfather was still alive through Brian. His brain was firing emotions at him so fast, he couldn't process them all. He needed to do something physical. He needed to get a grip on this whole baby thing. He finally escaped and ran, RAN down the hospital corridor. He was enjoying this reminder that he could still function as a young man that his muscles were strong and his energy still flowed.

Michael followed Brian to the roof of the hospital, watching in horror as Brian impulsively climbed up onto the ledge, staring down at certain death. "End it now," Brian seemed to be thinking. "Before you fuck him up, before you ruin his life, before you do to him what your father did to you! End it now!"

"What are you doing?" Mikey disrupted Brian's self-hectoring.

"I'll jump!" Brian threatened when Michael hesitated to join him on the ledge. Michael feared he meant it. He had never seen Brian act so crazed. So Michael reluctantly joined him, leaning against Brian's strong body to allay his fear of falling. Michael's teasing banter about being Lois Lane to Brian's Superman brought Brian back to earth. He smiled and kissed his oldest friend, realizing it was too late to break the Kinney curse, even if he jumped. The taint was already there, in the baby's DNA. Returning to ground, Brian reasoned there was only one thing left to do that would calm his anxiety: sex and drugs.

Where was that blond twink he met earlier tonight? What was his name again? Brian's "other" baby, the one the lesbos were so crazy about. Hot little thing. Jordan? Houston? Justin? Yeah, Justin. Maybe this night wouldn't be so bad after all. Brian still had a cherry to pick. Justin was somebody's little boy, somebody's son, somebody's baby, Brian reminded himself. He shook those feelings out of his head and chased them away with disco drugs.

Sentimental bullshit. They could have their precious baby back after he got through with him tonight. A little wiser, a little sore, but a lot more experienced. That's not all bad. But the other baby...the little one with Lindsay. Brian knew he couldn't give that one back. That one would be a part of his life forever; like a barnacle on a boat.

Michael dropped Brian and Justin off at Brian's loft and took the Jeep home, since Brian was too tweaked to drive. "Take me to heaven, kid," Brian whispered to the blond twink as they rode up in the elevator. Right now all Brian wanted to do was to forget this night in the oblivion of Justin's virginal ass.

STAGE TWO: CHILDHOOD (Six years later.)

Brian stood apart from the parents of the other students in Gus's first grade class. When Lindsay first told him that each child was supposed to stand in front of everyone and talk about a family member, and that Gus had chosen Brian, he was stunned. Why and what would he say?

"His choice," Lindsay said with a slight smile. "And you'll know what he says because you're supposed to be there to hear it and to remark about your son."

Brian could think of no way to get out of it, once he saw how enthusiastic his son was about the report. So he stood there with the other featured family members, his face burning, nervously shifting his weight from one foot to the other. God only knew what Gus would say. Well, he was about to find out. Gus was a little taller than his classmates, skinny, a striking combination of Lindsay's coloring and Brian's features. Brian ached for him having to stand up in front of all these people, but Gus seemed unbothered by it.

"My Daddy is taller than other daddies, and skinnier. He goes to the gym and works out at home to keep his tummy flat. My Daddy sometimes wears a red shirt with his suit. Other daddies wear white or blue shirts. I like red. My Daddy knows how to dance and drives an old Corvette. My Daddy cusses and then tells me not to tell my mommies. I have two mommies, but only one daddy. My Daddy is teaching me to talk in Italian. Right now I can say "Prada", "Dolce and Gabbana", "Versace" and "Armani". I'm not sure what those words mean, but they aren't cuss words. My Daddy lives in a loft, not a house. He didn't like his neighbors so he bought their loft and tore down the walls to make his loft even bigger. I have my own room at my Daddy's loft and my own computer and Playstation.

"My Daddy makes up advertisements for television and magazines. It was my Daddy who made up the Red Demon. You know, he's that cartoon character who talks about Cherry Coke on television. My Daddy said that advertisement will pay for my college. My Daddy calls me Snuffleupagus. He says it's a made-up word. My Daddy makes up a lot of funny words. My favorite thing he says is when he gets mad and goes, ‘Son of a betcha thought I'd say it.'

"My Daddy's partner's name is Justin. He lives in the loft with my Daddy. Justin's an artist and he paints in a studio in the loft. He says he's kind of like a brother to me and kind of like an uncle, but he's really just my Daddy's partner. My Daddy said he has Justin for a partner, instead of a wife, because he's gay. Gay means happy in a special way. He said if anyone makes fun of me because my Daddy is gay, I should beat the Shinola out of them. Shinola is another word my Daddy made up.

"Girls think my Daddy is very handsome, but he doesn't care. He only cares if Justin thinks he's very handsome. One time my Mommy said my Daddy is a "waste of good beef". But he's not really made out of beef, because he's not a cow. At night, when my Daddy tucks me in when I'm staying at the loft, he kisses me and then he sings an Irish song to me. He said he learned Irish songs from his grandfather. Sometimes those songs make me sad. My Daddy said not to tell anyone he sings to me, because they may think he's not cool. But I think his singing an Irish song to me is one of the coolest things my Daddy does.

"I want to grow up and be just like my Daddy, and I want a partner just like Justin, but I want her to be a girl instead of a boy. My Daddy says I may grow out of that phase and then he laughs. Come up here, Daddy."

Brian froze at his invitation. Walking up to face a roomful of bewildered six year olds, a teacher with a tense smile and an assortment of appalled parents and grandparents was worse than when he walked into Justin's senior prom. Gus slipped his hand into Brian's, which gave him courage. A man can't be a coward in front of his adoring son. Brian cleared his throat. This was more intimidating than addressing the Board of Directors of Coca-Cola and convincing them a demon was not necessarily a bad thing.

"My son Gus has a secret power that none of you other guys share," Brian could tell by their rapt expressions that his initial pitch worked. Now to reel them in. "Whenever he enters the room, even if it's midnight on the darkest night of the year, he can make the sun shine. The sun shines in his smile, when he tells me he loves me this much." He held his arms far apart. "The sun shines in his eyes when he looks at me like I'm a superhero. If I feel sad or tired or grumpy, I can squeeze a little sunshine out of Gus by hugging him or tickling him or asking him to sing a song for me."

"Gus taught me not to be afraid of being a grown up. I used to believe that growing up was the worst thing that could happen to someone. I wanted to be young forever. Then Gus came along. I had to grow up if I was going to be Gus's dad, so I did. And every year that I knew Gus, I grew up a little bit more.

"The funny thing is, as I grew up, good things happened to me. My partner, Justin, and I put a life together. I started doing the best work of my career. I learned to appreciate my friends. But most of all, I learned what a joy it is to have a kid like Gus to teach me how to be a good man."

"I never made up the words Snuffleupagus or Shinola, but the fact that Gus thinks I did is one thing that makes him special to me. Because in Gus's eyes, I AM a good man. I guess that was never important to me before, but it is now. Now I want to always be a good person in my son's opinion. I want him to brag about me for the rest of his life. And I want each of you to know how lucky you are to have Gus in your class, and to always be sweet to him. If you aren't, I'll kick your ash cans!" They all laughed at that false threat.

"Daddy," Gus interrupted. "Sing one of your Irish songs to the class."

"I can't do that, Gus."

"Please Mr. Kinney," the teacher was won over. "Just a few lines."

"Tell you what, I'll sing it to you, Gus," Brian lifted him up and sat him on the edge of the teacher's desk. Gus beamed at his father as Brian sang the haunting ballad, "Danny Boy", altering the words as he always did. "Oh Sonny Boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling...from glen to glen and down the mountain side...the summer's gone and all the leaves are falling...'tis ye ‘tis ye must go and I must bide.

"But come ye back when summer's in the meadow...or when the valley's hushed and white with snow...till I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow...oh Sonny Boy oh Sonny Boy, I love you so..." The room was hushed. Men like Brian were not supposed to have a strong, melodic baritone on top of their other assets.

Gus hugged him as the class offered polite applause and the adult women in the room cried. Even the teacher. As he told Gus goodbye and walked out to his car, Brian felt strangely proud of himself as well as inordinately proud of his kid. He called Justin on the mobile. "Gus outed us to his class."

Justin laughed. "Since we've all gone to teacher's conferences and were interviewed by the principal before he even enrolled two years ago, it's hardly a surprise, is it?"

"Did you know ‘gay' is a ‘special way of being happy'?"

"Works for me," Justin replied with a laugh. "Come home early and I'll show you how special it can be."

"He's a great kid, Justin."

"I know. He is."

"And he thinks I'm swell."

"I know. You are."

"How did that happen?"

"You grew up, Brian."

"Scary monsters. I even sang in front of his class."

"Really? Why not? You have a beautiful voice."

"The fuck I do."

"You know you do."

"Maybe all those years as a choir boy paid off," Brian replied with a chuckle.

"It sure taught you how to give great head."

Brian smirked at his joke and then glanced at his watch. "I think maybe I will come home. The office can survive without me for one afternoon."

"I'll be waiting."

"You'll be naked," he hung up, smiling, content with his little corner of the universe at long last.

STAGE THREE: TEENAGER (Ten years later.)

It happened gradually, not all at once. By the time Gus turned sixteen, Brian was convinced that his son had mutated into a monster. His beautiful little boy with the sunny smile and sweet, loving nature had been replaced by a tall, gangly, spotty, foul-mouthed, intolerant fiend. He was disobedient with Lindsay and Mel, and he tested Brian constantly. They fought when there was no reason for battle and everything about his parents and their partners seemed to rub Gus the wrong way. They knew nothing, they understood nothing, and they didn't care. In short, Gus had entered the terrible teens.

Homosexuality was a perfect target for his teenaged angst. By claiming to hate gays, he could invalidate all of the principal adults in his life, at once. "I hate you!" Brian showed no change of expression as Gus told him exactly how he felt. Brian held out his hand, waiting for his son to follow his instructions. Gus crossed his arms over his chest, refusing to do what Brian demanded. Brian wiggled his fingers as if to rush him. "NO!" Gus protested. The battle was on, again.

"Don't make me take them away from you by force, Gus," Brian said in an utterly calm voice. "Because I will."

Gus paused, as if to analyze the relative power of them both. He decided that even though Brian was forty-something now, he could still kick his son's ass. Gus resented that fact. Weren't men Brian's age supposed to get fat and soft? Brian still worked out, still wore the same size belt that he wore when he was in his twenties, still caused women to turn and stare when he walked by. "Because they don't know he's a cocksucking faggot," Gus thought to himself. But Brian was a cocksucking faggot who had enough physical strength to overpower his son. Gus fished around in his pocket and pulled out a set of keys, dropping them in Brian's hand. Brian peeled off the car key and handed the others back to Gus; keys to his loft, to Lindsay's house, to various lockers.

"You may as well keep the key to the loft, too, because I'm never coming back to this fucking place!" Gus challenged Brian. They were in the loft now, a slick, huge space that was featured on the cover of Architectural Digest last month. Brian kept buying out other occupants' space until he had two whole floors of the building on Tremont. Half of the lower floor became Justin's studio. His old studio space was converted into a larger bedroom and sitting room for Gus. While Brian recognized Gus was being a drama princess, his threat still stung. Brian put the car keys on the table and said,

"That's your choice, Gus. But I warned you, if you ever drove that car when you've been drinking or otherwise chemically altered, you won't be driving it again for six months."

"You are so fucking hypocritical!" Gus took a verbal swing. "When you were young, you were always drunk or drugged and having sex with any guy who'd let you, even in public places, like a complete god damned faggot!"

Brian smiled slightly. He wondered which of his so-called friends he could thank for that little history lesson. Gus glared at his father, hating it when he tried to upset him and Brian just took it in stride. He hated a lot of things about his father, lately. He hated the way Brian wore jeans and looked good in them. He hated the fact Brian still had all of his hair, even though it was turning gray around the edges. He hated the fact Brian could wear a y-back shirt and show off muscles Gus didn't have. He hated the fact every girl Gus ever introduced to his father told him that Brian was fucking gorgeous. Then they acted like idiots around him. Even when they knew he was a big queer. Most of all, he hated the fact Brian was queer.

"How dare you speak to your father that way?" Justin came in from his studio, wearing paint spattered overalls that made him look about twelve instead of thirty-three. Gus hated him too. Sometimes he wondered how much fault Justin shared in turning Brian into a cocksucker. Maybe if Brian had never met Justin, he would have outgrown the gay thing long ago. They had no idea how embarrassing it was for Gus to bring his friends around here, only to witness the affection between his father and his father's partner. Even when Brian and Justin tried not to show any signs of their relationship around Gus or his friends, they failed in small ways. Their hands would touch, their eyes met, sometimes there was a little hug or kiss, or Brian would slip and call Justin "baby".

"I wish both of you died of AIDS when I was still a kid!" Gus blurted. Brian reflexively drew back his hand as if to slap his son, but Justin grabbed Brian's arm and held tight until that impulse passed. Brian winced, disgusted by his flash of extreme anger. The look of fear on Gus's face reminded him of when he was that age and his own father was about to smack him.

"Sit down, Gus," Brian said with forced calm.

"I don't want to sit down."

"Sit down anyway." Brian's icy tone was non-negotiable. Gus thought of that look on Brian's face a minute ago, and didn't press it. He sat down on the couch, his legs and arms crossed to make his body into a tight, hostile ball. Brian sat on a suede chair, facing Gus, with Justin standing behind him, massaging his neck and shoulders. Most of Gus's friends' parents had been divorced at least once. Why were these two still together?

"You're right, Gus. I was a wild man when I was younger. I drank too much, used too many drugs, and was promiscuous."

"So it's okay for YOU," Gus sneered at him.

"Hate me all you want, Gus. Hate me, try to shame me for being queer, or for being wild, or for being a hypocrite, but you can never stop me from loving you or from doing what's best for you."

That speech took Gus by surprise. A glimmer of the little boy returned for just a moment, the boy who felt so beloved by his handsome father, the father he adored. Those emotions confused Gus and made him feel defensive.

"I'm old enough to know what's right and wrong," Gus declared and Brian sighed.

"Maybe, but not old enough to act like you do. I told you when I gave you that car that it came with three conditions. First, no drinking or drugs and then driving. Second, no reckless driving. Third, keep your grades up. If you can't do those three things, the car is mine for six months. You fuck up twice and I'll sell it so fast you won't even know it's gone."

"But my grades are good and I've never had a single ticket!" Gus defended himself. Brian leaned forward to emphasize his words.

"You got tanked and you slid your skinny ass behind the wheel. It's a miracle you didn't kill yourself or some innocent bystander. The car is impounded for six months. Get the fuck over it."

"That's not fair! How am I supposed to get to school?"

"Between Lindsay and Melanie and Justin and me, I think we can cover your transport to and from school and soccer practice."

"And are you going to drive me on dates too? That would be a first. Brian Kinney on a date with a girl!"

"You won't be dating for six weeks, that's the other part of the punishment," Brian said, ignoring his silly attempt at an insult. "When you do start dating again, I suggest you find a responsible friend to double with."

"Fuck you!" Gus exploded angrily and Brian shrugged off Justin's restraining hands. He walked over to his son, who cowered against the couch as if expecting the beating he had never had.

"Brian..." Justin warned, but Brian didn't hit Gus. Instead he placed his hand alongside Gus's cheek and said,

"Don't ever say that to me again. I'm your father. You owe me a modicum of respect for that fact alone. But I also love you and it hurts me very much when you say that. You may forget it tomorrow, but I never will. Not for as long as I live."

Gus felt his lower lip quiver as unexpected tears threatened. He struggled to contain them. "I hate you," he said softly and Brian smiled.

"No, you don't. But even if you did, I love you. Always have, always will. You can't change the tides, Gus, and you can't make me love you any less."

Gus met his father's intense, hazel eyes and sighed. A tear broke free to be absorbed by Brian's fingers.

"It's not fair, Daddy," Gus's tone of voice had changed. "One mistake? No one ever did that to you when you were young."

"No one cared enough to do that for me. You're lucky."

Gus stared at Brian's handsome face that had some features like his own, only a lot better. He was so confused. Part of him loved his father, even idolized him. Part of him hated Brian. He couldn't reconcile the two competing emotions. "I didn't mean it about AIDS, Daddy."

Brian sat beside him, smiling slightly. "I know."

Gus hesitated, then rested his cheek against Brian's shoulder as Brian snaked an arm around him. They were silent for awhile, and then Gus said, "Three months?"

"Six," Brian responded.

"Four months and I won't date for seven weeks instead of six?"

"Keep it up and it's going to seven."

Gus smiled, wondering how much time he could knock off his sentence for good behavior. Even Brian Kinney could be bent. Brian read his son's expression and he knew just what he was thinking. "I will not be played. Ask Justin. He's tried it often enough." Gus glanced at Justin, who rolled his eyes, silently acknowledging that he had been successfully playing Brian for years.

Justin retreated to his studio, certain the worst of it was over. At least for now. Détente had descended on the Kinney men. The terms of their negotiated peace were something he left to them.

STAGE FOUR: COLLEGE (Two years later.)

Brian looked up as Gus came out of the office where he'd been interviewed for admission. His grades and outstanding SAT scores had given him entrée to multiple top flight universities, but this was his favorite of all the ones they'd visited. He wanted to be a doctor, so a pre-med degree from the right university would go a long way in ensuring his admission to a good medical school. It was a small, elite college with an unblemished reputation for individual attention and a brilliant faculty. The tuition was outrageous, but money was no problem for Brian. Anything for his kid's future.

Gus bussed Brian's cheek as his father stood to greet him. Odd, Brian thought to himself. Gus didn't do that often. Not anymore. American culture frowned on displays of affection between men, and the fact that Brian was gay further complicated the usual barriers. "Where's Justin?" Gus asked. Brian nodded towards the door.

"He wanted to stretch his legs, which means he's looking for a place to buy a snack. He has an appetite like a raptor. How did it go?"

Gus shrugged. In the sunlight, Brian was struck by how like him Gus had become, a striking reminder of the power that once was the young Brian Kinney. Same height, same weight, same physique, but Gus's hair was blonder, like his mother's, and his eyes were brown, as were hers. Brian suddenly felt like a decrepit old man pushing 48. Okay, maybe not totally decrepit, but he might as well be. Once they were outside, Brian lit a cigarette. Gus took it from between his lips and ground it out, causing his father to sigh. The nicotine patrol was on duty.

"Dad, you promised me you would quit smoking when I graduated from high school."

"You haven't officially graduated yet. I still have a couple months."

"If you don't care about yourself, think about Justin and me. We're being subjected to your second hand smoke, which is deadly."

"Let it go, Surgeon General, I get it. Why are you being so cagey about the interview?"

"I'm not," Gus said with a shrug as they walked in the general direction taken by Justin. "I've been thinking though...I may not want to go here, after all."

I glance at his familiar profile. "Since when?"

"It may be too small, and what's wrong with Harvard? Harvard is a great school."

"Nothing's wrong with Harvard except you felt it was too big and too damn cold in Boston. You wanted small, individualized classes."

"Maybe you were right. Maybe Harvard will have more punch on a med school application."

"That was before you produced all this evidence about how highly rated this university is by the medical schools and how many great doctors trained here. What's going on?"

"Nothing, Dad! Jesus! I thought the whole purpose of visiting these campuses was to be sure about the choice we finally make. Some won't make the cut. Am I not supposed to be evaluating and re-evaluating as we go?"

Brian smelled bullshit. After Gus's exorcism, around age sixteen and a half, from teenaged monster back to the wonderful person he always knew Gus would be, his son gave up trying to fake Brian. But a little sleight of hand was suddenly back, and Brian wondered why. "Hey, there's Justin over there on that bench, eating an ice cream cone. Why don't you join him? I left something in the building. I'll catch up with you guys."

"What did you leave? I'll go get it, Dad."

"I'm not so feeble that I can't walk back to the building, Gus."

"I know you run several miles a day, Dad. I'm not calling you feeble. I just thought..."

"I'll join you in a few."

Gus watched Brian return to the building they just left. He suspected something was going on, but he knew better than to try and stop Brian when he was on a mission. In the building, Brian leaned both palms on the desk of the secretary of the dean of admissions who had just interviewed Gus.

"I'm Brian Kinney. My son was just interviewed, and I need to talk to the dean."

"Sorry, sir, but he's tied up this afternoon."

"Well, I came all the way from Pittsburgh, so I'll bet he can free up five minutes for me."

The secretary gave up as Brian persisted, and finally the dean agreed to see him. The dean looked at Brian as if he smelled something funny and it wasn't Brian's Kiehl's grapefruit soap.

"How may I help you, Mr. Kinney?"

Brian sat down in one of the leather chairs facing the man's desk, neutralizing the fact he was towering over the little prick by at least a foot. "My son really wanted to attend your school, even though Harvard and several other top colleges have already accepted him. Then he meets with you and suddenly he doesn't want to attend. I'd like to know why that is."

The dean looked uneasy. "Gus is a very bright young man."

"That's a given. He aced the SAT's and will be the valedictorian of his class."

"Of course academics are just part of the equation. We look for other indicators of success. Extra curricular activities, community work..."

"He was editor of his school paper, president of his class, moderator of the Gay-Straight Student Alliance, captain of the soccer team, and he is active in PFLAG and does volunteer work at the AIDS hospice."

"Yes," the dean leaned back in his chair with that smug look on his fat little face that Brian felt invited a fistful of knuckles. "He seems to be a shining star...in the GAY community."

"What are you getting at?"

"Mr. Kinney, we're a very small, conservative school, comprised mainly of students from upper income families who embrace similar values. While we welcome racial diversity and are proud of our male/female ratio, we've found it divisive to encourage lifestyle diversity among our students."

"Lifestyle? Gus was raised as an upper class brat. I'm the senior managing partner of one of the largest ad agencies in the country. My clients include Coca-Cola and Nike. I have a flat in New York City, a summer place in the Hampton's, and a building in Pittsburgh that I've converted into a single family home. If you'd like to see my investment dossier, I think you'll find that I can more than afford your tuition."

"It isn't your financial status, Mr. Kinney. It's the fact that Gus is gay."

Brian gulped, staring in wonder at this troll. Could he really be saying that? "Gus isn't gay."

"How could you not know it? Just look at his extra curricular choices. I hate being the one to reveal it to you, but he's most definitely gay. Our student body is not large enough to absorb that kind of lifestyle. How would the parents of the boy he will share a dorm room with feel about it?"

Sometimes Brian allowed himself to forget how far the cause had not come. When he was slapped in the face with rampant homophobia, like this, he felt surprised, betrayed and angry. Externally, he appeared calm. "You could isolate the queers from the normal people. Maybe put them in a little camp and stick pink triangles on them so no one would be mistaken about their sexual orientation. Worked before. What was that guy's name again? Adolph something, wasn't it?"

"Mr. Kinney, I assure you..."

"Don't assure me. Gus is straight as steel. But if he weren't, why would that be a valid basis for excluding him from an education?"

"Because we're a private school that subsists on our tuition, alumni gifts and financial sources other than governmental, so we don't have to open our doors to just anyone."

"You mean you don't have to admit those lousy faggots? Look, Gus is involved in gay friendly activities because of me. And his mother."

"What do you mean? You forced him into those organizations?"

Brian restrained himself from reacting. "He chose to join those organizations himself, and he did so because he's so intent on fighting intolerance that he perceives to be directed at his parents."

"I don't understand."

"His mother and I are both gay, not Gus. We are also in long-term, stable, loving relationships. Gus was brought up to believe intolerance against any non-harmful person is wrong. That's why he's in those organizations. Because he respects his parents and our respective partners."

"But..." the man obviously couldn't believe what he was hearing.

"Did Gus tell you he was gay?"

"No, but he didn't deny it."

Brian smiled. Of course he didn't deny it. To deny it would be to suggest there was something horrible about being gay, and Gus wouldn't do that. "Then let me deny it for him. I assure you, despite the evil influences of his adoring mother and devoted father, he grew up to be heterosexual."

As Brian walked across the beautiful campus on this glorious afternoon in the early spring of his 48th year, he was so proud of his son that he could sing. Not only was he willing to give up this university, but he also refused to diminish his mother and father by denying that he shared a sexual orientation with them. Gus had come a long way from his short-lived homophobia at age sixteen. Brian saw him sitting there with Justin, who looked almost as young as his son, despite the fact he would turn thirty-five this year. Brian threw his arms around Gus and sang a bar of his favorite song, "Oh Sonny Boy, oh Sonny Boy, I love you so!"

Gus laughed and pulled free. "Did you shoot up or something?"

"I wish," Brian leaned over Gus to kiss Justin, tasting the residual of his chocolate mint ice cream. Gus groaned at his father's weight across his chest and pushed him back.

"Get a room, you two!" His teasing was good-natured and Justin beamed at Brian.

"Why are you so high?"

"It's all fixed, Gus. You'll be accepted here. I appreciate what you did, but I fixed it. I told him you were straight and you were just protecting your parents."

Gus frowned; an expression that was so like Brian's that he felt as if he were looking into a very kind mirror. "Why did you do that?"

"I know what you were doing, Sonny Boy, and it's sweet, but you can't give up your dream to go to school here to make some stupid point. It's fixed."

Gus rolled his eyes. "Dad, you are such a fucking control freak!"

"I hear that," Justin agreed, ignoring Brian's glare.

"Why do you say that?"

"You always have to FIX everything for me, Dad! Well guess what? I can fix my own messes now. You have to let me make my own mistakes and learn my own lessons."

"But..."

"I don't want to go to this fucking school, Dad. After meeting that jerk and seeing what his attitude is about gay people, why would I ever want to come here and why would I ever let you spend your hard earned money on tuition at a college that invalidates your life?"

Brian stared up at him and tried to come up with an answer that just wouldn't evolve. "Uhh...."

"So let's get the hell out of here, and get to work on that informational package for Harvard. Did you see how long that thing is?"

"But you said Boston is too cold."

"Like Pittsburgh isn't? I survived there my whole life. Come on, guys, we need to get going."

He walked ahead of them and Justin slipped his hand in Brian's as they followed. "You've got a great kid, Bri."

Brian nodded his emotions too tender to trust his voice. He did have a great kid. How did that happen? How could someone as fucked up as he was, with such a horrible example of a father as his own role model, end up with such a great son? Lindsay, Mel and Justin could only do so much. And now Gus was leaving home, going away to college, the beginning of the big separation that would mark the remainder of their lives.

"I'm not ready," Brian said softly and Justin smiled and leaned into him slightly as they walked.

"We'll get through it, Brian. Together. Just like we got through every other phase of his life that we weren't ready for. Starting school, learning to drive, dating...we managed. And we'll manage this."

Brian looked over at him and smiled. "Have I told you lately that I love you?"

"No," he responded with a big grin. That's what Brian always said instead of simply saying to him "I love you". It had become a totem with them. Brian squeezed his hand as Gus looked over his shoulder at them and smiled. Brian's beautiful baby boy. He wanted the time back, but since that was impossible, he was grateful for what they had and looked forward to the future with a little fear and a lot of hopeful anticipation.

STAGE FIVE: MARRIAGE (Ten years later)

Brian sat on the edge of the bed in the Penthouse Suite of his favorite hotel in Soho. The suite was on two levels, connected by a wrought iron circular staircase. The bedroom was up, the main rooms down. He could hear the activity below, but he refused to move. Tap, tap, tap, he heard Justin's step on the metal stairs. Justin entered the bedroom wearing a tux. In Brian's mind's eye Justin became that ingénue of seventeen, the boy he lifted off the floor and swung in his arms in front of everyone at Justin's senior prom. Brian knew in reality Justin had become a middle aged man, mid-forties, a little paunch, some thinness on top, but he still had that killer smile. He would always be that blond baby to Brian.

"You're not dressed," Justin correctly observed.

"That's right."

"We don't have all day, Brian."

"Have fun. I'm not going."

"The fuck you're not going."

"The fuck I am!"

"You can't do this to Gus."

"I'm doing it FOR Gus. He cannot marry that girl. I don't know how else to get through to him. He won't listen."

Justin sat beside Brian on the bed, stroking his back over the thick terrycloth of the hotel robe. Brian knew all of his tricks. He wouldn't let him get around him this time. As much as Brian loved Justin, he was adamant. Gus's future happiness was at risk. "Of course he won't listen, Brian. He's in love. Would I listen when people told me to stay away from you? That you could never commit? Could never be monogamous? Could never love me? No. I took the risk. And we've been together for how long now?"

"Don't remind me. It's different, anyway."

"No it isn't. No one looking at us back then would believe we could craft together this incredible relationship. Fuck them, we proved them wrong. Now it's Gus and Lauren's turn to prove us wrong."

"And if they don't?"

"Then we'll be there to pick up the pieces and help Gus get going again."

"She's a spoiled rich bitch who wants a brilliant doctor for a husband. Gus is perfect for her Barbie Dream House. He's good looking; he's a star resident, facing an unlimited future. He has family money. Central casting couldn't have done a better job. But there's no passion in that woman, no warmth. Just an icy beauty and that incredible façade of sophistication and class."

"Brian!" Lindsay called from downstairs. She and Mel were staying across the hall in a slightly smaller suite, at Brian's expense. The two of them had spent most of the morning in his own domain. Brian finally had to escape the constant yapping and fluttering by fleeing to the bedroom. Women and weddings were a lethal brew, even when the women were dykes. "Someone here to see you."

Brian kissed Justin and started downstairs, catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror as he walked by. "Jesus, time is cruel," he thought. He'd kept the same weight he had when he was nineteen, but it redistributed no matter how hard he fought to keep things intact. At fifty-eight, he realized one can still look human, but not much more than that. His legs seemed kind of thin to him, despite daily runs and the fucking bow flex. His stomach was still flat, but his pecs and abs sagged a little. He still had his hair, but it was grayer than brown. A little nip and tuck around the eyes and the jowls helped maintain an illusion of his youthful good looks. He wore pewter-framed glasses all the time, if he wanted to see. He couldn't remember the last time some good looking guy seriously cruised him. Even though he wasn't interested in cheating, it was nice to be cruised.

"You're not dressed?" Lindsay said and Brian glared at her. They say women either keep the face or the figure after fifty. Linds opted for the face. She was still beautiful, but there was a lot more of her to admire. The mother of the groom wore French blue, and it was flattering on her, a simple column of crepe and satin. Her partner Mel, still a size four in a silk pants ensemble the same color as Lindsay's dress had more wrinkles on her face than a shar-pei.

Standing there, nervously eyeing the action was a petite girl in jeans and an oversized cotton sweater. She had acres of red-gold hair and a spray of freckles across her upturned nose. The face of Ireland, Brian's grandfather would have said. She was no great beauty, but she was like a breath of fresh clover in this place.

"Mr. Kinney?" She asked with a smile that lit up her features and upgraded cute to pretty. "I'm Erin Murphy. May I talk to you a minute?"

"Sure. Mind if we step outside on the terrace? I could use some air."

"Brian!" Lindsay tapped her watch and Brian glared at her and escorted his visitor to the terrace that offered a view of Soho and beyond.

"I know you're busy, but...I work with Gus."

"You do? At the hospital?"

"Yes, we're both residents. He talks about you all the time. He really loves you."

Brian smiled. "Mutual."

"He looks like you."

"Some say so. Only better."

"He told me you were staying here. I live a couple blocks over, near the hospital."

She obviously was having trouble saying what was on her mind. He put a hand on her shoulder. Christ, she was small! "What's on your mind, Erin?"

"I uh, was going to go to the wedding. I really was. I told Gus I would go, but...something's come up, so...I can't," she wrinkled her nose, as if to shoo away an invisible fly that landed on it. "I just can't." She sucked in her lower lip and her pale brows knitted together. Brian realized she was on the verge of tears. He winced, knowing he wasn't good at this kind of thing as he put his other hand on her shoulder.

"Are you alright?"

She shook her head, disturbing all that glorious hair that settled around her face. Tears streamed down her dappled cheeks faster than she could wipe them on the back of her hands and here he was with no handkerchief. Brian offered her the absorbent sleeve of his terry robe and she dabbed at her eyes and face with it. "Will you give him this?" She pulled a tiny square from a pocket of her jeans. It was wrapped in silver paper, about the size of one of those super small discs that hold hours of music. "I recorded all of the songs we both like, the stuff we listen to at work and on break or just to relax. It took me forever. I want him to have it." Her voice quivered like Jell-O and Brian felt a sudden paternal urge to crush her in his arms and reassure her about life. He took the disc and slipped it in his pocket. "Are you in love with my son?"

She looked up at him with the startled amber eyes of a fawn. She could only nod.

"Well what's wrong with him, then? How could he let you get away?"

"Have you SEEN Lauren?" she asked with a grimace, and he thought of the tall, elegant brunette who would soon share his surname.

"I like to think of her as ‘Morticia'."

For the first time, Erin's lips curved into a smile. "She's beautiful, and she's perfect for someone like Gus."

"What do you mean ‘someone like Gus'? How is Gus different?"

"You know, Mr. Kinney."

"Brian."

"Okay, Brian. He's gorgeous and talented and brilliant and sweet and he'll be famous one day, probably cure cancer or something. He needs a wife who knows how to make a beautiful home and raise beautiful children and be his social other half."

"Does he? I thought he needed someone who understood him and loved him, just like the rest of us." Erin shrugged, clouding up again. He sighed. "Does Gus know how you feel about him?"

She looked stricken. "Please don't say anything. He thinks we're the best of friends. I don't want to lose that. But I can't, I just CAN'T go watch him marry someone else." She began to cry for real, and he pulled her into his arms and held her gently as she cried. Tiny little bird of a girl, her heart pounded against him as her body was wracked with sobs. This is all he really wanted for Gus. A woman who loved him this much. A woman who understood who he was. The fact that Brian couldn't make it happen was so horrible that he felt a sort of rage set in, a seething anger because his brilliant son couldn't see things as clearly as he did.

"Don't give up," he whispered against her golden red hair, "Wait for him."

At the church where the wedding was to be held, Gus stared at Justin in disbelief. "What do you mean?"

"Just what I said, Gus. He's not coming."

"But...why?"

Justin shrugged, trying not to hurt his feelings, but Gus knew the answer to his own question. Brian couldn't stand Lauren. His father thought she was a cold fish and emotionally unavailable. Gus accused him of projecting traits from Brian's own youth onto her. Sometimes the father he idolized could be so damned stubborn, he just wanted to strangle him.

"Where is he, Jus?"

"If I know your old man, and I do, he's at the King Cole Bar in the St. Regis. That's where he always liked to hang out when visiting Straightville."

Gus glanced at his watch. "That's only a block from the church. I can make it. If I'm a little late, cover for me."

Justin smiled. "Good luck, kid."

Gus kissed his cheek and tore out of the church. He sprinted the distance, knowing he was faster than traffic for the short haul. He thought he must look like a fool, walking into the ultra-chic St. Regis in cutaways, with a sprig of white flowers pinned to his lapel. He went straight to the bar where the Maxfield Parrish painting of the jolly old King and his court overlooked the bar. Due to the early hour, it was almost deserted. He found Brian, dressed as Gus was, sitting at a back table, talking to someone.

At 58, Brian gave Gus hope. People always said he looked like his father, and Brian was still trim and handsome. If only he wasn't so damned stubborn! As he reached the table, Gus was stunned to see that his drinking companion was Erin Murphy, Gus's friend and in his opinion, one of the best pediatric residents in the hospital. She looked stunning, a far cry from the tiny girl in hospital green scrubs. Her dress was a plain emerald green silk sheath and her wild mane of red hair was smoothed back in a chignon. Gus had no idea how they hooked up, or why they weren't at the church, but they both seemed to expect him when he walked up.

"Erin? I see you met my dad."

She looked up at Gus and offered him a radiant smile. He never had a quarrel with that smile. "He's wonderful, Gus, everything you said and more. And you look lovely all dressed up."

"You too," Gus said awkwardly as his dad waved him into a chair.

"We have to go, Dad."

"Yeah, yeah, have a drink with us first. You aren't on duty. Calm the nerves."

"I'm not nervous."

"I am. What'll it be?" he called over the waiter and Gus ordered a neat whisky. He supposed one couldn't hurt.

"If I have a drink with you, will you come back to the church with me?"

"Sure, sure, whatever. Erin was telling me how you saved the life of that little twin."

Gus winced. "She saved his life. I handed her the utensils."

"Liar!" She said with a laugh. "He was bleeding out and you stuck your hand right in his leg and pinched off that artery. I'm not sure he would have held out until we could clamp him."

Gus shrugged. "I remember his twin brother wailing in the background, because he was the one who shot the arrow. God, what people give their kids to play with. Erin, remember when that little girl came in with poisoning because her mother let her play with the bleach bottle, saying it had a childproof cap so what's the problem?"

"I wanted to pour bleach down that stupid mother's throat to see how she liked it."

"Oh, that would be good. Hippocratic oath be damned," Gus teased her.

"Shut UP," she teased back with a smile.

"YOU shut up!" Gus countered and Brian just sat back and smiled as he took it all in.

Time passed in that way and the bar started to fill up. One drink turned into three, maybe more. Gus looked up and Justin was on his way to their table, where he kissed Brian, and sat down beside him. Suddenly Gus remembered he was supposed to be getting married. He glanced at his watch, which had to be wrong! Gus jumped up, but Justin waved for him to sit down, which was good, since he was a little dizzy. Erin giggled, but then Erin had been giggling a lot for the last half hour.

"Everyone's gone home," Justin said. "I guess you missed your wedding, bud."

Since it was two hours past the altar time, Gus wasn't surprised. "Why didn't you come down here and get me?"

Justin laughed. "And ruin your day? No. Man, I have a lot of catching up to do." He ordered a drink.

"You didn't tell anyone I was here?"

"I wasn't sure where you were," he lied with a shrug. "I just said you ran out of the church in a panic."

Gus laughed. "You two think you're so smart. I can get Lauren back, you know."

"Why would you want to?" Brian insisted. "Look at me and tell me you love her the way I love Justin, and you want to spend the rest of your life with her and I will personally call her and take the blame for this."

Silence descended over the table and Gus sighed. "I can't tell you that."

"Exactly. Get your head straight before you try something like this again. Come on, Justin, we have a fancy ass suite across town. Let's go see if we can still do that hotel sex thing at our advanced ages."

Justin downed his drink, and stood, looping his arm through Brian's, who was surprisingly steady on his feet. Gus looked at Erin to see how shocked she was by that statement, but she was beaming at Brian. She got up and threw her arms around his neck. Gus wondered about his dad, who was very affectionate with him, and with Justin and a handful of other old friends, but very stand-offish with strangers. Especially women. And yet he hugged her back as if she were an old lover. They kissed, sweetly, and he said, "Remember, you call me anytime you want to go to the beach and our place in the Hampton's is yours."

Gus stared at him in surprise. He never loaned out his beach house. Even Gus had to plead with Brian to use it. Gus supposed he'd offer her his flat in Manhattan if Gus weren't already freeloading there. It wasn't as close to the hospital where they worked, but it was free and about a thousand times nicer than anything Gus could currently afford. Nice enough that Lauren wanted to live there. "Poor Lauren," he thought. "God, what a creep I am."

"Night, Brian," she called after him. ‘Brian', Gus wondered? "Nice to have met you, Justin." ‘Justin'?

"When did my dad and his lover adopt you?" Gus asked her as the other two men left and they were alone.

She smiled at him and again, he was struck by her transformation. Or was it just him? Was he just seeing what he wanted to see? "Gus, you are such an idiot," she said and he nodded, agreeing with her as he ordered one more round.

STAGE SIX:GRANDCHILDREN (Three years later)

Brian was reading in the large, open floor plan second floor living area of the loft when the phone rang. He looked up as Justin rushed to answer it. They knew Erin was in labor, and they planned to travel to New York in the morning to visit the proud parents and greet Brian's first grandchild. He wondered if this was Gus, with the news, and he smiled when he heard Justin say, "Hi Gus! Yeah, he's right here...acting like he's not nervous."

Brian glared at him as Justin offered him a playful wink. "Any news?" Erin was early, but not so much that either of these physician parents seemed worried. Brian shook his head, not pressing the point that maybe he should be the first to hear the news. Suddenly, Brian saw Justin's smile vanish and the phone slipped from his hand. He quickly picked it up, turning his back to Brian who was already on his feet. Brian took the receiver from Justin and said, "Gus, it's Dad. What's wrong?"

"Baby's gone, Dad," Gus said in a tightly controlled voice. For a moment, Brian thought he meant the child had gone missing, but when the truth sank in, he sat down heavily in a chair, reaching for Justin's hand. Justin gave it to him, squeezing tightly. Tears streaked his lover's face as Brian sighed.

"Erin?"

"She'll be fine. Daddy, can you...could you come here tonight? I...uh...I'm having a hard time with this."

"On my way," Brian said, hanging up as he pulled Justin into his arms and held him in a long, silent embrace.

At the hospital, Brian found his son leaning against the wall, wearing those awful green scrubs he'd seen him in so often. His heart broke for him. Here he was a pediatric surgeon of growing reputation, married to a pediatrician, which must increase their sense of failure three-fold. Brian wouldn't let Justin come with him to New York. Justin was so upset, and Brian knew that he would need to be the strong one. Seeing Justin cry always tore him up. Lindsay could follow with Justin in the morning, but Brian took the company jet that night which allowed him immediate travel. Sometimes it paid to be the boss.

Gus looked up at him and all of his confusion, anger, fatigue and pain reminded Brian of when Gus was a small boy and the world didn't work out quite the way it was supposed to do. Brian said nothing, just opened his arms to his son, who walked into them, holding him so tightly Brian could scarcely breathe. He could tell Gus was crying by his breathing, and by the heaving of his body, but he made no sound. Brian held him and stroked his back, forcing himself to remain cool. They stood that way until Gus regained control, and then sat down together on the vinyl couch in the waiting room. Gus's hands were clamped between Brian's. Brian saw his son's tear-streaked face and had to swallow hard to keep from caving.

"How's Erin?" Brian asked and Gus sighed.

"Physically, she's fine. Emotionally, she's numb. Totally numb. She has had no real reaction at all. It's scary."

"Maybe it hasn't sunk in yet."

He shook his head. "I dunno. It wasn't supposed to be like this, Dad."

"I know, Sonny Boy. Tell me what happened."

"It's called premature placental separation. Life threatening to the mother because of the threat of bleeding to death, and usually fatal to the baby. Of course she was only eight months along, so the baby should have been strong enough to..." he shook his head. "They think his lungs were underdeveloped and they just couldn't get him to breathe. He went code blue and they couldn't bring him back. Erin was out of it, because they had to put her under to do the repairs surgically. She never saw him, but I did. I'll never forget his tiny face," he began to cry again, and Brian rubbed the back of his neck, gnawing his lower lip to keep control.

"I know I have to be strong for Erin, and I have been, Daddy, but..."

"You don't have to be strong for me."

"I know," he took Brian's handkerchief and used it. "Will you talk to her? You know how much she loves you. I think it will do her a lot of good to see you."

"Of course I will, son. Is she in a room or in recovery?"

"A private room, a suite really. Everyone at this hospital knows her and loves her, because of her pro bono work with indigent kids as well as the fact we did our residencies here. They are treating her like a little princess."

"Which is what she deserves," Brian steeled himself as they walked along the corridor. Babies and evidence of babies were to be seen everywhere on this floor. What a horrible torture this must be for her, Brian thought. At least her room is at the very end of the hall, which he believed to be a blessing. He heard no newborn cries at this junction of the building. He had no gift for her, no flowers, not taking the time to stop and buy, not certain of the protocol.

Erin looked like a kid in that big hospital bed, her arms stringy where exposed by the floral print hospital gown. Whole blood was flowing into an IV along with bags of clear fluid. She was very pale, making her red hair even more vivid, and that basketball she had been carrying around under her shirt was suddenly deflated. On women as small as Erin, pregnancy seems an impossible burden. "Brian!" She said with unexpected cheerfulness, opening her arms to him. He walked into her embrace, mindful of her needles and tubes. She hugged him tightly and said with a smile, "As always you smell so good, and you look wonderful."

"Uh, you too, kid. How you feel?"

He sat on the edge of her bed while Gus slumped in the corner chair. Lots of flowers had already shown up. She was beloved. Brian gripped her hand in his. Her smile didn't flag. "A little queasy, a little weak. That's just from the anesthetic and the loss of blood, though. I should be up and walking around by tonight. I won't have much appetite until the IV is removed. You flew all the way in from the Pitts to see me? You are so sweet. Gus, honey, go get your dad a Coke."

"I don't..." Brian started to say, but her look told him to shut up, that she wanted to talk to Brian alone. Gus left and she squeezed Brian's hand gently.

"Brian, I'm worried about Gus."

"He's worried about you too, honey."

"Me? I'm fine. But he's doing this whole brave warrior thing, and you know what a softie he is."

Brian began to see the denial shining in Erin's eyes. This is what had his son so worried. "How about you? You're the one who's been through a physical grinder as well as on this emotional roller coaster."

"I'm just fine, Brian! A little sore, but that's normal. They gave me a shot to dry up my milk, so my boobs stopped hurting. Too bad really. I liked the way they looked, first time in my life I needed a bra," she chuckled and Brian shook his head.

"Erin, there was nothing you could do. It's not your fault."

She looked away. "Women have babies every day without a hitch; you'd think...my sister has had six kids in six years, all perfect! I guess I..." she stopped. "Look, my doc said everything is intact and there's no reason why we can't have another go at it. We're young. You'll get that grandchild yet, old man."

Brian nodded. "Sure you will, I know that, but for now, you're entitled to be sad about what you lost."

"I don't need to be sad. I'm okay. I'm a doctor, I know these things happen. Gus is the one who needs your reassurance. I never saw the baby, it's like it never existed. It's just gone."

"Erin, not it. He. The baby was a boy."

"I DON'T CARE!" she suddenly flashed angrily at him. He was glad to see a reaction. "I don't care what it is! It's dead! It's not anything! It never existed! Why don't you just get out, Brian? Just go take care of your son."

"Because I'm taking care of you."

She met his eyes and her pain was so extreme, so THERE that it took his breath away. It's a pain men can't fully comprehend, Brian realized. Because men don't carry the baby next to their hearts. Men felt loss and raged and mourned, but what must it be like for the woman with the empty arms when the baby doesn't survive? Brian could only guess at the depth of her devastation. "I never even saw him," she whispered. "I never saw my baby."

Gus interrupted them and Brian left the Coke on the bedside table as he took his son out into the hall. "Where's your baby now?"

"Waiting to be transferred to a funeral home, Dad. Why?"

"She needs to see him."

"I don't think that's a good idea. I know it is often done at the moment of stillbirth, but she was under the gas when he passed away. It's been hours. Why do it now? She can see him when we have the service."

"She needs to see him now. You have them wrap him up in blankets and handle him as tenderly as they can and bring him to his mother. You understand, Gus? If you aren't up to it, I'll do it myself."

Gus met his father's eyes and nodded. "I'll take care of it."

An hour later, Brian stood by the window in the hospital suite while Erin held an impossibly tiny bundle wrapped in blue blankets. Only his little face was visible, pale and still, and a brush of red hair, gleaming under the low lights in the room. She wept softly, rocking the baby against her small frame while Gus pressed his forehead to her cheek, his arm stretched around her shoulders. Brian could feel the tears fall silently down his face as he listened to his daughter-in-law mourn the death of his first grandchild. Brian had never felt so helpless and so sad, and never had he needed the soothing touch of his partner more than he did at that moment. He regretted making Justin stay behind and wondered if any of them would ever be happy again.

Later, Gus thanked his father for forcing the issue, and asked if he would sing Danny Boy at the small, private service they planned for their baby. Brian told him that of course he would, but he wasn't sure if he could get through that song. "You can do it, Daddy," Gus insists, reading his reluctance. "Do it for me, and for Erin, and for little Daniel. Please."

Brian did it when the time came, pausing to compose himself only when he reached the final verses, "And when ye come, and all the flowers are dying...if I am dead, as dead I well may be...Ye'll come and find the place where I am lying...and kneel and say an ‘Ave' there for me..."

"And I shall hear, though soft ye tread above me...and in my grave shall linger sweeter be...then ye shall bend and tell me that ye love me...and I shall sleep in peace until ye come to me."

Eighteen months later.

"Brian, put the pacifier in his mouth," Erin encouraged the grandfather as he stood before the priest holding his grandson while the baby was christened Brian Aidan Kinney II. This smallest Brian is dressed in flowing white lace, an heirloom gown from the Old Country that was brought over by Erin's people. His face is as red as his hair as he screams his displeasure over the whole event. When his grandfather plugs his mouth with the pacifier, the baby stops screaming and sucks it gratefully. Brian smirks to himself, thinking that only his progeny would be soothed by something to suck on. He notices a few things about this newest member of his clan.

His head fits perfectly in the palm of his hand.

He weighs less than Brian's old Hugo Boss leather jacket.

He was the ugliest, most beautiful thing Brian had ever seen.

Brian glanced at Gus who wiggled his eyebrows at him, knowing how much his father hates church rituals and how uncomfortable he is to be holding this precious tiny thing in his arms. What he can't know is how incredibly OLD Brian feels to be a grandfather, at last.

Later, at the party in their townhouse in Soho, Justin took Brian aside, kissed him, and pressed up against him as he did the night Gus was born so many years ago. "How you feeling, grandpa?"

"Good enough to kick your ass," Brian responded and Justin kissed him again.

"Good enough to fuck my ass did you say?" Justin teased and Brian pinched his nicely rounded ass. The thing that would surprise most people, and that even surprised Brian, is that they still fucked, often, not allowing less than perfect bodies or erections that were sometimes aided by Viagra to stop them. No longer did blue lights bathe their perfect forms in a heavenly glow. Sometimes utter darkness can be a friend. But the heat was still there, and so was the love.

"Later, you slut," Brian whispered to him and Justin said,

"Can you believe how fat Mikey has gotten?"

They both looked towards Brian's oldest friend and smiled at his rotund appearance. "I always knew he would go to fat," Justin observed and Brian laughed. The jealousy between them was never totally resolved.

"It's sweet that he came into the city for the ceremony. Be nice," Brian kissed him again and wandered upstairs, to the nursery. Erin had outdone herself. Murals of Peter Rabbit and his gang decorate the walls, and toys were clustered on surfaces while a padded rocking chair faces the bed, across from the changing table and chest of drawers, all painted pale blue. Brian noticed a little white teddy bear next to the lamp, and he picked it up, remembering a day with a hard cramp of pain in his heart. This little bear decorated the flowers he sent to Daniel's service. Gus has entered the room quietly and he took it from Brian's hands and placed it back where it was.

"Erin feels as if Danny is watching over his baby brother by way of this little bear, Dad. She's never forgotten. Neither of us has. Nor will we. Danny will always be there in our hearts."

Brian nodded and took him into his arms, holding tightly to him. "Mine too."

"I love you, Dad."

"I know. I feel the same way."

"You've always been there for me. And I will always be there for you."

Brian pushed him back to arm's length, reading the expression in his eyes. "What?"

"I talked to Frank at the Mayo last night, Dad." Frank was the specialist Brian saw, based on his son's recommendation. Gus had Brian's permission to discuss his medical tests with his treating physicians, not wanting anything important to be lost due to Brian's lack of medical expertise.

"And?"

"It's uh..." Gus winced, struggled for control. Brian stared at him, suddenly cold.

"Cancer," Brian finished the sentence for him. Gus nodded. Brian sighed and sat down in the rocking chair, staring at his hands. Old man's hands, thin and reedy. When did that happen? "How bad?"

"Bad," Gus said as he walked over to his father and placed his hands on his shoulders. "It's spread from the lungs to the lymph system. Those fucking cigarettes."

Brian patted his hand gently. He was neither surprised nor terribly frightened by his pronouncement. He knew it even before he went to Mayo, lying to Justin about a business trip. "What happens now?"

"We don't give up. There are alternative treatments, a million things they can do that weren't around when your dad got sick. And Erin and I will be with you every step of the way."

"Bullshit. You have a baby to think about. I don't want his earliest months to be marred by having some sick old man hanging around. I've got money. I can pay for people to take care of me. And there's Justin...CHRIST! Justin." Brian pinched the bridge of his nose as he thought about how hard this would hit his partner. "Promise me you'll always keep Justin in your family, see that he is part of every holiday and that you visit him and let your baby know him!"

"Daddy don't, please stop. Don't." Gus knelt before Brian, a parody of all the boys who once knelt at his altar, worshiping his glorious manhood. Now his son knelt there and pressed his cheek to his thigh as he began to cry. Brian numbly ran his fingers through his son's hair and wondered how it all came down to this.

STAGE SEVEN: DEATH (Six months later.)

Gus heard his father moan in the next room.

"I'll go," Erin said, but he stopped his wife from getting up. She was pregnant again, and had been queasy and very tired. Caring for a little one and carrying another while tending to a dying man was really too much to expect of anyone.

Gus had placed his practice on hold, while Erin was still on leave from hers. Neither one would have it any other way. They wouldn't miss Brian's last weeks on earth in pursuit of money that, because of Brian, they would never need. They moved into the house on Tremont, practically filling one of the four stories with all the paraphernalia needed to support one small six month old baby. They slept in Gus's old room next to his father's suite, on the second floor. There was plenty of room to have the baby's crib in there with them. The presence of an elevator made it possible for Brian to travel all four floors once the stairs became too much for him to handle. Now he was confined to bed. Dying.

Gus went into his room, greeted by the glow and beeps of the monitoring equipment. The time had come to progress to a twenty-four hour nurse, he realized, rather than just the morning to evening shift currently helping with Brian's care. Brian asked to be allowed to die at home, and he could afford that expense. He made Justin move to the third floor guest room when he saw how exhausted Justin was from sharing the same space night and day. But, most nights, Justin drifted down to Brian's room anyway, and slept on the regular bed next to Brian's hospital bed, unable to bear the separation. That night he had crashed upstairs, utterly worn out by a bad day for all.

Gus looked at his father in this unreal light and his heart ached for him. All that remained of his handsome exterior was the bone structure, tightly drawn with a thin layer of flesh that barely seemed to cover the bones. He still had his hair since chemo wasn't an option, and his eyes, dulled by morphine, sometimes rekindled that ancient spark.

"Hurting, Daddy?" he asked, pulling up the chair beside his bed and taking his hand. It felt like five pencils in a chamois glove. The skin was bruised from cutdowns and leads. Gus touched his lips to Brian's knuckles. He knew the pain was excruciating, and the only alternative now was to medicate Brian into oblivion.

"A little. Thirsty."

Gus picked up the water bottle, Evian, of course, with a straw, and slipped the straw between Brian's parched lips. He could only manage a sip or two and even that went down with a spasm of coughing that sounded as if it would split him in two. Gus rubbed Brian's cracked lips with a layer of Carmex, and then retrieved the morphine from a small refrigerator in the corner where his meds were stored. He filled a syringe to be injected into his lead. Brian stopped him.

"Talk to me a minute, Snuffleupagus."

It was three a.m. Gus's body was screaming for rest, but he gladly agreed, resting the syringe on the table. Brian could watch television from his bed, listen to music, even have books on tape read out to him; all with the push of a button, but he was too sick now, even for that.

"How's that baby?"

Gus smiled. "Little Brian is wonderful. Sitting up on his own. Remember when you saw him this afternoon?" Gus stroked his hand gently as they talked. Brian looked confused. The narcotics made Brian's memory tricky.

"No, when was that?"

"It doesn't matter."

Brian grimaced and stiffened against the bed as another wave of pain rolled through him and he winced. "Daddy, let me give you the shot."

"I don't want it. I'll be asleep for good soon enough. It makes me fall into a black hole."

"But there's no pain."

"No pain in death, either. Just talk to me, Gus. Remember when I went to your first grade class?"

Gus smiled. "I remember everything we've ever done, Daddy. And I'm sorry for the times I was horrible to you."

"I'm sorry for what I did to you and Lauren."

Gus look surprised. "Lauren? Why?"

"Don't get me wrong. I love Erin more than I could ever love a daughter. But it wasn't right for me to interfere."

Gus laughed. "Sure it was. You just helped me face the truth the way you always do."

"Gus, you know you and Erin and the kids will never want for anything. I have plenty of money going to you."

"I know, shut up, Daddy, I don't care."

"You shut up. Oh SHIT! That hurts so FUCKING MUCH! I feel like that guy in ‘Alien' with a monster about to shoot out of my chest!"

"I'm injecting you."

"Stop. Not yet, it's passing."

"Dad, please..." Gus mopped the blood that oozed out next to the oxygen feed in Brian's nostril. This sporadic bleeding from his nose or ears or even from the corner of his mouth was a harbinger of impending death. His body had lost the battle, and was shutting down.

"Listen to me. I left Justin this house and the place in Vermont. You get the apartment in New York and the house in the Hamptons. It will be nice for your children. I hold the mortgage on Mikey's shop and house and I expect you to forgive it. He needed the money when he got in a bind. He would never let me forgive it out of foolish pride."

"Not now, Dad."

"Please let me talk. There's an annual stipend going to your Mom until her death and then it reverts to you. I've already set up trust funds for Justin and your children. Promise me you won't try to set aside any of my bequests."

"You even have to ask?"

"Most of all, promise me you'll take care of my Justin. Except for his sister, you're his only family. He adores you and Erin and baby Brian. Never forget him just because I'm gone. He's going to be so lost, so....lonely..." a tear traced the sharp bones of his face and Gus wiped it off. "We've been together for so long, through so much. I hate leaving him all alone."

"He will never be alone, Daddy. I love Justin too."

"Good. I met my two babies on the same night. My whole life changed. Christ!" Brian gripped Gus's hand in a vise as the pain slammed into him. "Sing to me, Gus. Please! Make it go away for a minute, just sing to me."

"I can't sing the way you do, Daddy."

"I can," Justin came in, wrapped in an Indian blanket robe as he sat on the other side of Brian after kissing his lips. Justin grasped Brian's hand in his and began to sing Danny Boy. Gus cried quietly in the semi-darkness, as Justin's voice never quavered. "...then you will bend and tell me that ye love me...and I shall sleep in peace until ye come to me..." Justin nodded at Gus who stood up to administer the morphine into the pump. Brian intervened.

"Let me talk to Justin for a minute before you nuke me. Give him the syringe, he knows what to do. You can come back in a few. Go on."

Gus handed Justin the shot and turned to go as Brian said, "Gus, I love you."

"I love you too, Daddy."

After his son left the room, Brian smiled up at Justin. The pain was so intense it felt as if he were burning from the inside out. "Now honey," he said softly and Justin sighed.

"Are you sure?"

"Now, before he comes back."

"Brian, I love you. Now and forever."

"I love you too. Now and forever, baby. Always have, always will."

Justin injected the morphine into the pump the way he has been shown to do it a thousand times. He leans over and kissed Brian as the narcotic seeped in to put out the fire and bring on oblivion. He smoothed Brian's silver hair from his forehead and kissed him there too. They had this discussion weeks ago. Brian asked for his assistance when the time was right to put him out of his misery and allow him some dignity in his passing. At first Justin refused, insisting he would never be able to end Brian's life. But Brian convinced him it was the ultimate act of love, and he would hold on for as long as he could, so they left no valuable time together on the table.

"Brian, one last time, are you sure?" Justin said as the narcotic drifted into Brian's bloodstream.

Brian managed a smile. "Do I have to tell you everything twice? Come on, Sunshine, move your ass."

"My fine ass," Justin said with a teary smile and Brian nodded, reaching up to touch Brian's face one last time.

"Your fine ass...indeed..."

Justin took three other syringes from the pocket of his robe. They had been stored over time, shots never administered. One by one he injected the contents into the line as Brian held on as long as he could, watching Justin's face in the darkness. Justin then shielded the needle tips and returned them to his pocket. He climbed up on the bed with Brian, stretching out alongside his wretched bones, just like when they were young. As Brian's pain receded and the final shut down began, Brian recalled moments and flashes, just like they said could happen. So many of those moments included his partner. Most of the good ones, very few of the bad. Justin held Brian as the joys and pains of Brian's incredible life dissolved into the dark, sweet nothingness of eternity.

You can't bury a man with the stature of Brian Kinney quietly and privately. His funeral drew an enormous crowd. His true friends and family were dwarfed by the captains of industry, politicians, gay activists and others who knew him by his work and his good deeds. His death made the front page of the business section of the New York Times. While the family asked that donations be made to various gay-centric charities that Brian supported in lieu of flowers, every florist in Pittsburgh must have been emptied of stock. Of course none of that mattered when they were in such terrible pain over the loss of the strong center of their lives. Gus was not sure how he got through the funeral mass and the burial, especially when the choir at the church sang Danny Boy in the sweet angelic voices of so many young boys.

Erin usually held him up through trying times, but she was so crazy about his father that her loss was almost as extreme as his own. Justin seemed numb, as if his body was attending, but his mind was elsewhere. He didn't even cry, just stared straight ahead, his face pale and set. Gus knew how agonized he was, he had heard him sobbing every night since Brian's death in the room he shared with Brian in their house on Tremont. Gus couldn't find the words to comfort him.

The gathering at that house following the burial was limited to Brian's true friends and family. They all relaxed and ate catered food served by handsome waiters and drank champagne from Brian's wine cellar. They shared funny stories about Brian Kinney, many of which Gus had never heard. His mom was going through a picture album with Emmett, pausing often to giggle and reminisce. Michael, becoming progressively more drunk, cranked up the music, and took Erin aside to ask if he could have the portrait of the naked man Brian had always displayed in his loft. She politely reminded him the house and everything in it belonged to Justin now. Where was Justin?

Gus went upstairs and knocked on the closed door to his bedroom. No answer. "Justin, it's Gus."

"Come in," he said and then asked him to shut the door as he entered. The hospital bed was gone, all the equipment was out, and the room was how it had been before Brian became so ill. Except that the refrigerator was still in the corner. The door was open and Gus went over to it and noticed the meds were missing. He glanced at Justin.

"Where's all the morphine?"

"Don't worry, Gus. I'm not planning some dramatic exit. Erin cleaned it out earlier today and unplugged it so it could be taken away. You'll have to ask her what she did with the drugs."

Gus sat beside him on the bed and Justin looked at him with such agony that Gus could only take him in his arms and hold him tightly. "You feel like he once felt," Justin whispered through his tears.

"I'm so sorry, Justin. I know how much this hurts, how much you'll miss him. I'll be there for you. Erin and I will always be there."

"No," he leaned back, resting his head against the pillows, staring up at the ceiling. "You can't be. You should never speak to me again, either one of you. I killed him, I killed your father."

"Cancer killed my father, Justin."

"No, you don't know..."

Gus reached out and took his hand, forcing Justin to look at him. "I do know. I'm a doctor, remember? I know, Erin knows. We don't talk about it, but we know. And we're terribly grateful to you."

Justin stared at Gus as if he couldn't comprehend. "What do you mean?"

"You think we enjoyed watching him suffer, knowing it was only going to get worse? Knowing the end would be agonizing and strip him of all his dignity? Here we both are, crazy about this man and in control of the instrumentality that would end his pain once and for all. We know what to do and we have the goods to do it, and yet we stand by and watch him suffer because we've been trained to help, not to harm, and it's so hard to get past all that."

"Gus..."

"Let me finish. I know my Dad. He made up his own mind about when the time was right and he asked for your help. And because you love him so much, and because you were so brave, you gave him that release. Erin and I know enough about it to be able to recognize a drug overdose, when placed in context of that final night. But who else would question the death of a terminal patient? One as ravaged as Daddy was? No one. They presumed it was the cancer, and of course, it WAS the cancer, Justin. And that's all anyone knows or needs to know."

"I'm so sorry, Gus," he grabbed Brian's son in an intense embrace and Gus held onto him, both weeping for the man they loved so differently but so completely. Erin slipped into the room and joined them in a three-sided embrace, all of them crying until it seemed there could be no more tears left in the world. One by one they regained composure, emptied a box of tissues, and then stared silently into space. They huddled on the big bed like furtive lovers after the fact, with nothing left to say.

"You should move to New York, Justin," Erin finally spoke. "Your artwork is so popular there, and the art scene is so active. You'd be closer to the family, too."

He smiled at her. "I plan to spend a lot of time there, but I have to live here, Erin. This is my home, the home I shared with Brian for decades, the place that contains most of our memories. If I left here, I'd be completely adrift. As long as these walls surround me, I'll feel close to him."

"I understand."

"You know, when Ted had that heart attack several years ago and dropped dead on the spot, Brian told me, that's how he wanted to go. Bang! Here today, gone tonight. No pain. I hated seeing him suffer the way he did, but I'm grateful for every wretched minute we had with him, even at the very end. I'd trade it away to spare him that agony, but selfishly, it was better for us, because we had time to prepare for the end."

"Are you going to be okay?" Erin asked softly and Justin sighed.

"No, but I'll survive. I thought about how I would sum up all these years I spent with Brian Kinney. What would best describe the ups and downs and all the pleasures and the heartbreak? How do you tie up a relationship that lasted as long as ours did?"

"Did you come up with an epitaph?" Gus asked him, raising himself on his elbow to watch as Justin responded with a smile. Gus knew that in Justin's mind, he was re-running their life together, events that included Gus and many more that didn't. His lover, his partner, his protector, his sweetheart. How can anyone sum all that up in an epitaph? Justin smiled at Gus and said,

"Yes, Gus, if I had to give someone a summary of my life with Brian Kinney, it would be this," his gaze became distant, lost in some dream of yesterday, some memory he didn't care to share as he whispered, "It was ridiculously romantic."

Gus slipped his arm over Justin's shoulders and smiled. Justin and Gus became part of Brian's life on the same night. Who would believe that the Brian Kinney of legend before that night changed his life could inspire such lifelong devotion from his partner and such admiration and appreciation from his son? Hedonistic, selfish, vain, Gus heard all of those descriptions of the old Brian, mostly from Melanie. He'd seen glimpses of it in Brian across the years. He had no illusions about his father's perfection. No one is perfect. But his own epitaph for his Dad was that Brian Kinney was a good and loving father. A devoted and caring partner. A true friend. A good man. A financial success who never forgot his roots. A charitable heart. A man of compassion. Gus knew he would visit Brian's grave frequently, just to feel close to him. Every time he came to Pittsburgh, he would go to see his dad. And he would bend and tell him that he loved him, so Brian could sleep in peace until Gus came again.

END

Disclaimer: The television show Queer As Folk and its characters are the property of Showtime and CowLip Productions. No money is being made. Stories and discussion are intended purely for the entertainment of fans of Queer as Folk, the Brian and Justin characters, and Randall's writings.
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Beginning
July 25, 2004