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THE STARS ARE BRIGHTLY SHINING
A Brian and Justin Christmas Story

From me to all of you, have a wonderful holiday! Love, Randall

This story picks up the Christmas after Season Five ended. You can presume that Season Five ended exactly as it did and that it's been approximately a year since Justin left Pittsburgh.

New York City was tricked out for Christmas. One small hang up. A transit strike had made it less than thrilling to visit. Or for that matter, to live there. Despite Lindsay's starry predictions, Justin was finding it slow going, his first year in New York. The Art World, such as it was, was getting along quite well without him, thank you very much. Everyone he knew who did this for a living, told him he had a very lucky start. A respectable gallery in Soho was hanging a couple of his pieces, and he had a one man show in a less-stellar gallery four months ago where he sold several works. His reviews had been good. But if not for the residual money he had left from his "Rage" days, he'd be looking for a real job to fund his painting.

That outcome was inevitable, at this rate. He hoped money he'd receive from family members for Christmas would stretch that necessity. At least the transit strike was keeping him trim, causing him to walk off any seasonal over indulgence that tempted him, although the Bohemian parties he was invited to offered very little in the way of culinary temptation. In this crowd, no one had money.

He was living far from the luxury of Brian's loft and Brian's bankroll and…Brian. He stopped in front of a window at a Ralph Lauren spin off in the Village that was called "Rugby". He was less interested in the clothes inside, that he couldn't afford anyway, than he was in letting the gut-punch he always felt when he thought of Brian fade away. Brian. The biggest mistake of his life.

Brian was his first love, his first lover.

Brian was willing to give up everything for him, including his soul.

Brian was the ache that never went away.

Many thought Brian was the mistake of his life because he let himself get caught up in the beauty, sexuality and glamour that was Brian Kinney, putting his own life on hold for too long and sacrificing too much of his own dignity to put up with Brian's escapades. But for Justin, he knew the mistake he made with Brian was leaving him. Maybe it was the right thing for Brian, he believed it was, and maybe it was the right thing for himself, he believed that too, but how could something so right feel so horribly wrong?

He figured the impact of Brian would fade in time. He wouldn't miss him like a severed limb, he wouldn't compare every man he met to him, always unfavorably, he wouldn't replay the last night they spent together over and over in his head. But he was wrong, again. Getting over Brian just wasn't happening.

They talked, more in the beginning than lately. They saw each other once when Brian came to the city on business and called him. They had sex in Brian's hotel and it was typically great, but…there was a distance and that made Justin sad. Brian was protecting himself as only Brian could do and the barriers were up. The calls became infrequent and shorter in duration. The walls became more impervious.

So much for the hope of a long distance affair. Justin supposed he never really believed that and obviously, neither did Brian. He knew Brian had no shortage of male company, he never did, and Justin could get laid at will, too, but something was missing. That connection he felt with Brian just wasn't happening again with someone new.

His cell rang. He recognized the number of the Soho gallery. "Good news, Justin," the proprietor, a sleek and beautiful Japanese woman announced. "I sold Red 54. I thought with the holidays around the corner, you could use the cash. So come by in the morning and I'll have a check for you."

"Great!" His mood improved dramatically. "How much?"

"Full sticker."

Even better! That would extend his horizon even farther than he imagined. "Who bought it?"

"The same collector who demands anonymity."

At first, Justin wondered if Brian was buying his art just to keep him afloat, but he showed her a picture of him and the owner confirmed the man who bought the paintings looked nothing like Brian. Encouraged by the sale, Justin walked into Rugby's, bought a long black woolen scarf with white skulls and crossbones woven into it, and wrapped it around his neck as he left. A silly gift to himself, but sometimes you needed that kind of thing, just to keep going. As he walked towards his flat, he impulsively flipped open his mobile and called Brian's number. He got voice mail and sighed, leaving a brief message: "Hi, it's me. In case we don't talk, Merry Christmas."

Lame.

Brian would probably look at his phone and say "What the fuck?" before pressing delete. Justin kept walking as a light veil of snow began to fall, wanting to get home before it hit.

Brian was on his cell, negotiating with the limo company. "Look, I use you people all the time. If you ever expect me to use you again, you'd better have your ass here at this hotel in a town car at 9:30 in the morning, as arranged. I have to get to La Guardia."

"Mr. Kinney," the man with the thick foreign accent explained, again. "It's beyond my control. The city will not allow limo's in between the hours of five a.m and one p.m. We'd lose our license!"

"Then how am I supposed to get to my plane?"

"Cabs are running."

"Cabs are running with four or five people in each one!"

"The rules are if you get a cab, and you're going to the airport, they don't have to stop for other passengers as they do in town."

"The trick is getting the cab in the first place, as you well know. Look, what'll it cost me? Double your price."

"Mr.Kinney, you're a very good customer. I wouldn't hesitate to send a car if I were able. It's not the money. It's the rules the city has imposed. I have no choice."

Brian hung up with a curse, falling back on his bed. Beyond the windows of this sleek hotel was the neon artistry of Times Square. At that moment it held no allure for him. He was frustrated by his inability to lock in his ride to the airport. If he missed his plane, God knows whether he could book another in the Christmas rush. He could end up stranded here, and the main pain of that was Gus. The girls were back from Toronto for the holidays as of tomorrow, and he wanted to see his son.

He had planned to hit a few clubs in Chelsea tonight, but now he was in a bad mood, so that plan held less appeal.

An idea struck him and he retrieved the Yellow Pages and began calling rental car companies. He would drive back. He soon found out stranded New Yorkers who ordinarily shunned cars had rented everything available. Companies also rented cars in order to shuttle their workers. His great idea fizzled. He called back the limo service.

"Okay, how much if you pick me up at one and drive me to Pittsburgh?"

They negotiated and when he was satisfied with the number, he closed the deal. Only after he hung up did he see that there was a message waiting. He replayed Justin's Christmas greeting and smiled. Justin. The biggest mistake of his life. Love, as he knew all along, sucked. Justin, who was savvy enough not to go through with a ceremony that was probably doomed from the beginning. Justin, who saved him from that horrible mansion in the `burbs, Justin who did the right thing by leaving, although at the time it seemed so terribly cold.

Justin, who broke his heart.

Brian didn't allow himself to obsess about that heartbreak very often. It wasn't healthy for him. He had better things to do with his life. He had his business, his club, his friends, his son, and lots of pretty, pretty boys to fill his time. Mooning over the lost love of his life was counter productive and not in his nature. He had his cry the night Justin left. That was it. He never cried again.

He was lonely, sure, but lonely was an old friend to Brian. He knew lonely very well and he could cope with it. It hurt, but he dealt. He thrived. And most of the time he didn't think about it. He didn't let the calls and the occasional plans with Justin continue because that just prolonged the pain.

Brian got up, changed from work clothes to soft jeans, a trim cashmere sweater, boots, a leather coat and a cashmere scarf wrapped twice around his long neck. He shared a cab with two New Yorkers who had been to an office party and were still celebrating. As they sang off key carols, he called Justin, who answered.

"Merry Christmas to you, too," Brian said.

"Hi! Are you at a party?"

"No, I'm in a taxi with some rejects from the Andy Williams Christmas Show back up choir."

Justin laughed. "What happened to your car?"

"Nothing. I'm in New York. I had a business meeting and now I can't get out. Limos were running when I arrived, but they've been restricted. I booked one to drive me back to Pittsburgh tomorrow at one. Gus is coming to town. I have to get back."

Justin was quiet, and then, "I don't suppose you'd let me hitch a ride? I couldn't afford a ticket, and now it's really too late to get one, but it would thrill my mom if I surprised her by showing up."

Brian hesitated and then felt angry at himself for that selfish hestitation. "Sure. Can you get to the W on Times Square by one?"

"I will. What are you doing now?"

"Getting some dinner and then I thought I might hit a couple clubs."

"Sounds good."

Silence, no invitation forthcoming. The revelers got out of the cab, so it was suddenly peaceful. "So, I'll see you tomorrow, then?"

"Right. At one."

They disconnected and Brian wondered if sushi was such a good idea, after all, since he suddenly seemed to have a lump the size of Texas in his gut.

Brian leaned back against the wall of the backroom, his eyes closing as the handsome young man slipped a hand down his torso and opened his belt. He felt the pulse of sex throbbing in his groin as the guy groped for his cock and pulled it out.

"Nice one," he observed and Brian smiled.

"So they tell me."

The man sank down to his knees and popped Brian's cock into his mouth, fellating him with great expertise. He reached in his open jeans to cup his balls and Brian had that moment of insecurity when he wondered if a lover would identify his prosthesis. No one ever did, but still he feared the imperfection. Brian let his long fingers thread the guy's dusty blond hair and then he clamped the back of his neck, pushing him forward slightly, feeling his dick dip deeper into his throat. The man sucked. Brian shot. Now came the awkward part.

The best outcome was that the man would just walk away. The worst was that he might want to exchange numbers or more. This one stood and wiped his arm across his lips before he said, "You want to go somewhere and fuck?"

Brian considered it, but it was complicated. He was leaving tomorrow, Justin was meeting him at the hotel, he just didn't need the hassle. "No," he answered bluntly, as he rebuttoned his fly.

"Okay, well Merry Christmas. See you around."

"Yeah, right."

Brian walked out into the late night. That was his second trick of the night. His first had been a nice, slow fuck at another club. Now this. He was done, for now. It took awhile to get a cab, and he had to share it with a couple of drag queens who went on and on about how hard it was to walk in the snow in stilettos once they got the message that Brian wasn't going to play.

This cab sharing was a real pain in the ass. He just wanted peace. He got none. The cab let him out at his hotel and he went upstairs, laid out his clothes for tomorrow, showered, packed, and went to bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep. New York was such a difficult city. So dependent upon mass transit and city workers who picked up the trash and other underpaid minions who tended the infrastructure. A big, sprawling, fascinating, frustrating place.

"Kinney, you're crazy," he said aloud and then opened a bottle of Ambien and swallowed one, knowing that sleep was too elusive to come to him unaided.

At one o'clock, the next day, Brian went downstairs, paid his bill, and saw Justin sitting on a low couch in the lobby, bundled in a puffy coat and a very nice black scarf, with an overstuffed duffel beside him. He gave Brian that thousand-watt smile and Brian melted inside. Damn, it still hurt. He waved, walked over to him and Justin stood to be embraced. He pulled Brian close as Brian rested his cheek against Justin's golden hair, his eyes closing as he inhaled his proximity.

The embrace went on for a moment, and then Brian reluctantly let him go and Justin did the same. "You look good," they said at the same moment and they both laughed. The limo driver interrupted, loaded their luggage and soon they were in the back seat of a comfortable town car, headed for the highways.

"So Gus is coming into town?" Justin leaned against the back of the seat, stretching his legs out in front of him. Brian was too tall to be able to stretch out completely, but he was comfortable enough.

"Yes, today. They're driving in from Toronto."

"Great. I talk to Lindsay every once in awhile. Sounds like they're doing okay."

"I guess so."

"Did you have fun last night?" Brian caught a slight edge to that inquiry and he shrugged.

"Define fun."

"You know what fun is, Brian."

"I guess so," he didn't want to talk tricks with Justin. "How goes the career? Nice scarf by the way. Lauren's new line."

"How did you know that?"

Brian gave him a look. "I keep up. Skulls are his new thing."

"I got it at a little shop called…"

"Rugby. Yes, I know. I have the account."

"You have the Ralph Lauren account?"

"I have the Rugby account. He wanted to have a fresh perspective for his new line."

"Wow. That's big."

"It's been something, that's for sure. And you?"

"I sold a painting yesterday. It was a big one, expensive. It should keep me in canvas for awhile. Some secret collector. He wants to remain anonymous. For awhile, I thought he could be you."

"Why me?"

Justin smiled. "To keep me in canvas."

"Ah," Brian laughed. "Your hidden benefactor."

"Yes. But the gallery owner confirmed it wasn't you."

"Sorry about that."

"I'm not. It makes the purchase more legit. So, how is everyone?"

"Sadly the same," Brian said with a laugh.

"How's business at Babylon?"

"Booming."

Justin winced. "Bad double meaning there, Brian."

Brian groaned. "I didn't even think of that. Sorry."

"They never caught the bomber did they?"

"They never will. They aren't even looking. What's a few dead fags and dykes to them?"

"That's so wrong."

"I know. I keep pushing it in their faces, but they don't hear me anymore."

Justin reached over and squeezed his hand. "I miss you, Brian."

"I miss you, too."

"I love living in New York, even when it's hard and I'm starving, I know I need to be here. But I miss you so much sometimes."

Brian nodded. "I know you need to be here too."

They didn't release their hands as Justin said, "Do you ever think of me?"

"Don't go girly on me, Justin. We left it where we left it. Let's not get maudlin in retrospect."

"I think of you every day."

"Bullet dodged?"

"Not funny."

Brian stared out the window, letting the silence stretch but still holding his hand. "I think of you every day, too," he finally said. Silence. He glanced at Justin who was staring out the other window. Brian could see the moisture glimmering in his eyes. Love sucked, it truly did. He squeezed his hand. Justin looked at him, blinked, wiping a tear that broke free with the back of his hand.

"I'm opening an office in Manhattan," Brian said. "I signed the papers on the lease yesterday. It's in Tribeca."

Stunned, Justin asked, "Why?"

"It's time."

"But…why?"

"The Lauren account was a big impetus. But you know, you were also a big part of it."

"Me? How?"

"Not because I'm following you here, nothing that pathetic, but because of your courage. I know the epicenter of advertising is in Manhattan. I've always known that I need to be there. I tried to go there more than once, but I failed. And then you risked everything because you knew you had to be there, too. Only you did it. With little money and no real income stream. I wondered if you'd be back when times got tough, but you've stuck it out. I admire that. I figured if you had that kind of nerve, I was a total pussy not to take the flyer when I had some fat accounts lined up. My risk is a lot smaller than yours, my payoff less in question."

Justin wove his fingers through Brian's. "Will you live in Manhattan?"

"I'll get an apartment, but for now, I'm keeping my place in Pittsburgh too, and keeping my office open there. I may go back, may move everything to the city. Just have to see how it plays."

"Does everyone know?"

"No one knows, but you, me and the real estate people."

Justin felt something within him explode with joy over the idea that Brian Kinney could be moving to Manhattan. Maybe it meant nothing for them, maybe it meant everything. At least it was something. Some movement, some hope. "Can we see each other?"

Brian smiled. "We're seeing each other right now. I don't know, Justin. I'm going to be really busy getting the business going and I won't have a lot of time and energy."

He nodded. He knew how Brian processed possibilities and he didn't want to corner him. "I understand."

"But…" Brian circled back. "Sure, we can have dinner sometime. Maybe take in a play. I want to go to your gallery exhibitions. We'll play it by ear."

I never stopped loving you, Brian, Justin thought to himself. Never.

Brian met his eyes. I never stopped loving you, Justin, he thought to himself. Never.

Miles passed in silence and their hands remained clasped on the seat between them. Finally Justin said, "I saw the painting in the trunk before he closed it. I guess he picked it up before he got us, right?"

Brian shrugged. "You saw a painting wrapped in brown paper. I was going to ship it but it seemed stupid to incur that cost with all this room going to Pittsburgh."

"I know the size of Red 54 and I know how she twines the paper with pink twine. Who buys them for you?"

Brian shrugged. "Does it matter? An agent. But I don't buy them because I worry about your success. You'll succeed just fine without my help. I buy them because I like them."

Justin smiled. "I have sold several to people who aren't your agent, you know."

"No doubt. It's my Christmas present to myself," he flipped Justin's scarf. "Like that."

"Merry Christmas, Brian," Justin leaned across the gap to kiss him. Brian leaned back, letting it happen. Their eyes closed in familiar bliss. Neither of them knew what might happen with Brian in Manhattan. Maybe nothing. Maybe they killed the spark for good when Justin left. Maybe they'd resume an affair and be even more broken when it ended. Or maybe, just maybe, this time they'd make it.

"O holy night, the stars are brightly shining…" the lyric played in the car. There were no stars in the afternoon sky, but the car was full of stars labeled hope, potential, love, passion, and faith. They reflected in Justin's smile. They reflected in Brian's eyes. No one else could see them, but they knew they were there and the only thing to do was to try to trap them and make them remain shining, lighting their way into the unknown darkness that was their future.

THE 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