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The Conquered - Chapter 22: Doors and Windows

***** Don *****

It was almost impossible to pull myself out of bed, and out of Seb's arms, Monday morning. Three nights of having to be quiet, and sleeping on a bed that had inadequate support, left me horny and desperate when we got home. The suitcases were in the front room, where I'd dropped them before carrying my husband to the bedroom and making up for the lack of sex. My husband. The thought still made me smile like an idiot. I stroked Seb's ring for a few moments, wanting to wake him and continue what we'd been doing last night. I got up instead, showered, dressed in my security uniform, and kissed Seb lightly before trying to head for work. He less than subtle attempts to keep me at home almost worked.

The week between Christmas and New Years was always dead at work. Still, the building was open and needed to be kept safe. Around nine o'clock, my phone rang. "Hello?"

"Don, this is Keith Landers. Is it possible for you to get thirty minutes or so to come up to HR?"

All my happy, soft, contented feelings sank like a stone to a cold, aching pit in my stomach. "When would be good for you?"

Keith laughed. Would someone about to fire you laugh? "On the Monday after Christmas? Any time between now and five."

That much was true enough. Our heavy time was between eight and ten in the morning, the lunch hour, and again after four in the afternoon. "How's Ten?"

"Great. My assistant is on vacation, so just knock." He hung up.

I stepped out of my office. "Jolene?"

She looked over at me from the security monitoring station. We were staffed lean over the holidays, but I'd managed to keep everything covered without asking for double shifts. "Yeah?"

"I've got to go up to HR in about an hour. You have everything covered?"

She laughed. "Unless we have a riot of post Christmas, jobless elves, yeah, I think I can handle it." She looked at my ring. "Let me see that?"

Oh shit. Oh well. I stepped over to the monitoring station and held out my hand. "Just a ring, Jo."

"Yeah, and I'm Ashley Judd." She looked at it. "Who's the lucky woman?"

I sighed. "Lucky man, actually."

Jolene blinked. "You're kidding. You?"

I shrugged. She started laughing, and I frowned. "What?"

She pulled out her wallet, flipped to a picture, and held it out. "That's my wife, Caroline."

I looked at it. The picture was taken on a cruise, possibly last year, and Jo looked really happy. The woman next to her was a blond bombshell. She didn't look anything like a lesbian. I looked at Jo again. She was butch, but not dikey. Her hair was short, but still feminine, and though I knew she could kick the ass of anyone who gave her grief, I'd hired her because she didn't look like she could. "She's beautiful."

Jo smiled. "Thanks. Carol's a rare find." She tucked her wallet away. "So, who's the lucky guy?"

Yeah, I had a wrinkled, abused photo that Seb's mother took of us when we visited LA over the summer. I pulled the sorry shit thing out, and passed it over. "His name's Sebastian. I popped the question over Christmas." She grinned, and I raised my eyebrows. "Okay, so I didn't ask. I just slid the ring on and assumed he'd say yes."

Jo shook her head, handing me back the picture. "Men. You guys have no clue about romance." She nodded at the picture as I tucked it away. "He's a nice looking man."

We both just smiled. I never did have good gaydar. It certainly didn't extend to lesbians. "Maybe we should get together some time."

Jo smiled. "Sure. It's tough doing couples things when you aren't certain who's going to freak out."

I looked at one of the monitors, and rolled my eyes. The last thing I wanted was to deal with Crazy Bert. "You had to mention striking elves didn't you."

Jo looked at the monitor and groaned. "Oh no, not Bert again."

"Call down to Brad and tell him I'm on my way." Poor old guy. We kept trying to get him into a shelter, but it never lasted. Before the Comdex building was constructed, the lot had been an old vacant industrial building that a lot of homeless used. Bert never could figure out that Comdex wasn't the same place.

I got to the HR office ten minutes late. The place was half full at best. I looked at the wall plaque as I knocked: Keith Landers, Executive VP - Human Resources.

"Come in, Don."

I pushed open the door. "You wanted to see me?"

He gestured at a chair as he finished typing something into his computer. "Take a seat, Don." He clicked a few times with his mouse, and then turned to me. "I've been looking over your employment records."

I frowned. "Uh huh?"

"I noticed you put in a change of address back in March, but you haven't changed your relationship status."

I blinked. "What do you mean?"

Keith looked at his paperwork. "Do you consider yourself to be in a committed relationship?"

I frowned, and held up my hand. "Yeah, I'd call it pretty committed."

Keith looked at my ring for a second, nodded, and marked on a couple of the pages he had on his desk. "Does Sebastian have insurance?"

"Uhm... he works for small investment company, only five employees. They have life insurance and catastrophic health."

Keith nodded again. "You wouldn't happen to know his social security number, would you?"

"Uh, no."

He shrugged. "No matter, you can take the paperwork home. He has to sign anyway."

"What are you talking about?"

Keith looked at me. "Comdex has a very clear human resources policy, Don. We can not discriminate on race, creed, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. This means all employees, and their partners, are eligible for the corporate benefits plan."

I blinked. "I thought you were..." I shrugged. "Never mind."

Keith smiled. "You thought I was going to tell you we didn't need a gay man as our head of security?"

I nodded. "Your surprised reaction a couple weeks ago left me wondering."

Keith shrugged. "I hadn't pictured you as gay, but that wasn't why I was surprised. I keep pretty close tabs on the records of our department heads. I hadn't remembered you as being partnered, and I was worried someone hadn't updated your records."

"Oh." I looked at the pages he had been marking on. "What are those?"

"Updated insurance forms, employee records, life insurance benefits. I filled out as much as I could, and I've highlighted where we'll need more information from Sebastian."

"We really get partner benefits?" I couldn't believe he was handing me something that officially acknowledged my relationship with Seb.

He frowned. "When was the last time you looked at the employee handbook?"

I shrugged. "When I was hired as a guard... seven years ago?"

He huffed. "Why does everyone think things never change." He stood up. "Come on, I'll get you an updated copy."

"Why are you doing this?" He looked at me funny, and I shrugged as I stood. "I mean, the company would save money just to leave me single."

Keith frowned. "Your job is to keep our employees safe in their working environment. My job is to assure our employees are rewarded, fairly and without prejudice, for working at Comdex. I leave the reducing of people to numbers to the accounting VP. My job is about people. You weren't getting the benefits due you, probably because no one told you and you didn't think to ask."

Health benefits, life insurance, Costco membership, and the ability to join the credit union. There were forms to sign for all of it. Keith got me the updated handbooks. I just looked at it all, trying to get my brain around it. "I really don't know what to say."

Keith clapped me on the shoulder. "I'm just doing my job, Don. If you want to thank anyone, you should thank Mary."

I blinked. "Huh?"

"She commented to me after meeting you and Sebastian, that it was a shame you weren't given the same acknowledgement as straight couples were. It reminded me that, at least at Comdex, you do."

I smiled. "Thanks, Keith."

"You'll be bringing Sebastian to the New Years Eve party down at the Westin, right?"

I shrugged. "We hadn't talked about it. We were probably going to spend a quiet evening at home."

"You two should come down, Don." When I frowned at him, he smiled. "Okay, I'm being particularly vicious, but I can't help it." I still didn't follow, and he laughed. "You are one of the primary topics of conversation the single women have around the water cooler. I'd pay good money to see their faces."

I grinned. "You are vicious."

"They deserve to be shaken up a little."

I looked at the paperwork and handbook. "I wouldn't want to be the only gay couple there."

Keith smiled. "You won't be. I know for a fact there are at least three others attending."

I sighed. "I can't promise anything, but I'll ask Seb."

"Great. I hope you come. I know Mary wants to meet you two again."

I got back down to the security office, still mulling over everything Keith had said. Jo looked at my face and the paperwork, and frowned. "What's wrong with you?"

I blinked. "Oh, nothing. I just had my reality turned on it's ear, that's all."

Jo frowned. "They didn't fire you did they?"

"No. I just didn't expect to be called into HR and chastised for not making use of the employee benefits program." I shrugged. "Did you know they have partner benefits for gay and lesbian couples?"

Jo shook her head. "No. How'd they find out you were gay? Hell, I didn't know you were gay."

"Seb and I bumped into the head of HR and his wife while we were shopping a few weeks ago. It kind of came out."

Jo thought about it. "I'll have to talk to Carol. It'd be great to get her on something. She's a cosmetologist, and the salon can't afford insurance."

"Well, if you decide to do it, definitely talk to Keith. He's pretty gung-ho about the whole, equal benefits thing."

"Thanks, boss." She emphasized the title, and winked.

***** Sebastian *****

I so didn't want to get up Monday morning. I was pleasantly achy and languid while I watched Don pull on his underwear, pulling it past his knees, skimming over his ass and tucking himself in place. By the time he got his pants on and buckled, I wanted him back in bed, doing all those delicious things he'd done during the night. As he straightened his jacket, I curled around my pillow, lying on my back, feigning sleep.

Don leaned over me, kissing me lightly and my arms wrapped around his neck. "Stay in bed."

Don chuckled as his lips caressed mine, following the line of my jaw to my earlobe, biting into it. "I'd love to, but I can't."

I wanted to pout, but didn't. "I'm not working today, but I understand." Then I threw back the covers so he could see that it wasn't just morning wood. I slicked my finger around my foreskin, taking my excitement and smearing against Don's lips. "Go to work, just don't forget me."

Don moaned as he flicked his tongue to taste his lips. "I never do."

With another not so brief kiss, Don was out the door. I was just too comfortable to get out of bed. My back was stiff, my ass was sore, and I could smell Don on the sheets. I fell asleep almost immediately.

It was late morning when I blinked awake and stared at the clock. I stretched, rolled onto my back, and staring at nothing in particular. It was time to get moving. I flicked on the TV as I headed for the shower. The first story caught my attention. There was an anti-graffiti campaign in the city, and the director had absconded with the funds. The graffiti made me think of Taylor and Andrew. I stood under the spray, wondering how I'd feel if my home had been defiled. I shuddered as I rinsed the last of the shampoo from my hair.

Dripping naked, I grabbed the phone and dialed Taylor. He was off for Christmas, I could help out. "Taylor? It's Seb."

Taylor's calm voice became warmer, replacing the cool, professional `hello.' "Seb, what are you doing out of bed? I thought you'd keep your fiancé pinned."

I chuckled. "Don't I wish, but he had to work today."

Taylor laughed and I could see him shake his head. "Married. I can't believe it. That's great. Wanna go shopping for your trousseau?"

I snorted out, "Fuck you! I ain't wearing pink silk pinafores. I don't care what Don says."

"Do tell?"

I laughed; I'd used that line on him more than once. "Actually, I was calling to see how Sean's doing?"

The laughter was gone instantly from his voice. "He tried to leave last night, but Andrew talked him out of it."

I immediately knew it was the right thing to do by calling. "Why'd he want to leave?"

"I only got part of the story this morning before they left for work. But, it seems Sean's dad has a gun, and Sean's worried for our safety." A gun? My gut clenched at the very idea of living with that kind of fear. Not that Sean's dad would do it, but the idea. No wonder the kid tried to run. "How'd he talk Sean out of it?"

Taylor chuckled. "He didn't. Last night we had a big cuddle fest with the three of us." His laugh grew deeper. "I woke up this morning to go jogging with Sean humping my leg. He's a horny teenager alright."

I started laughing. "Does Sean know?"

"Nah. I got out of there before he woke up."

"Good. I know Sean, that would kill him." Then I started laughing. "The boy's gonna be a heartbreaker."

"I know. Gotta love him."

"Yeah. I do." I paused as my smile faded. "I assume Andrew is working his ass off at the gym to keep Sean from leaving. Want some help painting the house today?"

Taylor sighed. "I'd love it. I called the glass guys, but they won't be able to do anything until the first week of January. I'd like to have it all taken care of before Andrew drive's Sean down to Florida for school."

"What color was the spray paint?"


"Got any primer?"

"Nope. Plenty of the house color, but nothing to cover up the spray paint." He paused. "I've got to go rent some outdoor propane heaters. Can't paint a frozen wall."

I toweled myself the rest of the way dry while I held the phone between my ear and shoulder. "I'll go pick up the primer on my way over. Please tell me its acrylic."

"Yeah, it is."

"I'll be there by noon." Before I hung up, I snapped my fingers. "Have you had breakfast?"

"Yeah. I was going stop by to see the boys at lunch, but I think the errands will kill that idea."

"Want something greasy?"

"You read my mind. Burgers and shakes?"

"Of course." I arrived at Taylor and Andrew's twenty minutes before noon armed with greasy food and enough acrylic primer to paint a battleship.

Taylor was out near the garage, struggling to get the heaters in place. The things were a good two feet taller than he was. I helped him set up and light the heaters, and then got the ladder. We spent the half hour it took for the heaters to warm the area eating our greasy comfort food and talking about anything but the job.

Taylor threw the Steak and Shake bag in the trash can. "Ready?"

"Yep." I slurped down the last of my shake and dumped my garbage.

We had just gotten the cans open and wet brushes when a contractor's truck pulled up. Taylor set his brush down after taking off as much primer as he could. "Glass contractor. Needs to measure the windows."

The back of the garage was easy. I slapped on the primer while Taylor dealt with the glass repair man. By the time they measured the kitchen door and den room windows, I'd primed all the spray paint on the garage. My blood boiled as I saw some things sprayed on the back of the house. "Repent now," wasn't that damaging. The "child raper" part made me ill. Poor Sean.

Just as the contractor left, Buck's truck rolled up. Grace and Buck got out and nodded in my direction as I finished up the primer. Grace left Buck for a moment and went inside. A minute later Taylor came out and helped Buck pull the plywood out of the truck. Andrew was lucky to have family like them.

Grace came outside with two mugs of steaming heaven while I closed up the cans and dropped the brushes in a bucket of hot soapy water. "You look like you could use this. It's cold enough out here."

"At least it isn't snowing." The coffee slid down my throat, warming me from the inside out. "It'll take time for the paint to dry."

Grace nodded. "Thank you for helping our boys, Sebastian."

I smiled. "That's what friends are for."

We wandered over to Buck and Taylor as they began screwing the boards up over the plastic and blankets.

"Best just to put the boards right over the insulation, Son," Buck told Taylor. "Hopefully you'll have new windows before the worst of the weather hits."

"The bastard had to pick when it's freezing. We can't paint more than one wall at a time." He shrugged as he let go of the fastened board. "I couldn't afford enough heaters to do the whole house."

The primer wasn't going to look good, but it would do until a full paint job could be done in the spring. I shrugged. "Well, I've got the week off. I'll just be back tomorrow for more quality time."

"And you will bring the boys over to our house for dinner, Taylor," Grace insisted. "The last thing you need to do is spend time trying to cook when you have more important things to worry about."

"Yes, Mom," Taylor whined, smiling as he did it. He hugged both of them before they left.

"See you around eight, Son," Buck called before they got into the truck and wheeled away.

I wrapped my arm over Taylor's shoulder. "How are you holding up with all this?"

Taylor blew his breath up so it ruffled his bangs. "If I had to face this alone, I'd be a wreck. But with Andrew, it isn't so bad." He laughed as he looked at me. "Actually, what helped most was the cuddle fest. Holding and being held really made me feel safe. You know?"

I nodded. "Sure. When things got bad, Tonio and I would cuddle together. Not that things ever got bad, but when you're six and the noises are scary, it's better together than being apart."

"Exactly." We went back inside and talked about our respective Christmases.

I looked at my watch and realized we'd been talking, for hours. We went outside and I helped Taylor put everything away, kissed him on the cheek, and waved as I drove out, speeding home.

I was in the shower, scrubbing paint from my nails when I heard Don come in the bathroom. I expected the curtain to open and Don to join me, naked and hard. When a few moments passed and nothing, I shut off the water. Pulling back the curtain, I saw Don leaning against the bathroom counter, staring at nothing. "Don? What's wrong?"

He looked up at me, shaking himself out of thought, a smile blossoming across his face. "Nothing. Not a thing."

I grabbed the towel and started drying myself. "What's going on then?"

Don kept staring at me, a silly grin on his face. "You won't believe what happened to me today."

"Colin Ferrell came into your building and chained himself to the metal detectors until you satisfied him?"

Don started laughing. "What?"

"That's something I wouldn't believe happened to you today."

Don moved up and took the towel, drying off my back, nipping at the back of my neck. "Smart ass."

When he started drying my ass, I squirmed. "What happened?"

"You remember Keith from the mall?" I nodded. "He called me into his office today."

I turned around, taking the towel and slinging it around my waist. Not that I was modest, but this didn't seem like a moment to be running around naked with my jubilant boyfriend. "And what did he say?"

He shook his head in wonder. "My company offers same sex benefits. He wanted me to get your info for adding you to my insurance."

I shrugged. "A lot of companies do. Since gay couples can't get married, it's a way to offer similar benefits to all its employees."

Don laughed, still shaking his head. "When he called me in there, I thought for sure I was fired. I'd been terrified ever since he saw us in the mall. But he was cool about it." He took my face in his hands and stared at me. "I've been so afraid for so long. Now that people know, and don't seem to care, it throws me."

I kissed him lightly. "Isn't it nice to live without fear?"

He tossed his head back and laughed as he picked me up in a huge hug. "Damn straight it does!"

I melted as the last piece seemed to slip into place on this first layer of the jigsaw puzzle of our lives. My man knew how to let go of his fears, and to face them. I didn't think I could love him more, but I did. "I love you."

He kissed me deeply, drawing my bottom lip between his teeth, carrying me towards the bedroom. "I love you too." As he took off his jacket and undid his tie, he smiled at me. "Waiting until March seems far too long. I want to marry you today." His shirt dropped to the floor, then his pants. "When you sign all the insurance forms, we'll be as legally connected as we can be in this country."

Don kept his underwear on as he sank to the bed on one knee, covering my body with his furry one, pressing me into the mattress as he kissed me. "I love you Sebastian."

My towel disappeared as I kissed him back. "I love you too, Don."

A few hours later, cuddled under the blanket and eating delivered Thai food, Don kissed me between bites. "Got any plans for New Years?"

I set my plate aside and cuddled against Don's chest, twirling a lock of his chest hair. "No. Not really. Taylor asked us over, if we didn't have plans."

He looked down at me. "When did this happen?"

"Today, while I helped him paint over the graffiti. I'm going back tomorrow to help some more."

Don scrunched down in the bed so he could face me. "You went over there and did that?"

I shrugged. "Yeah."

He kissed me, deeply then pulled back, his eyes moist. "I love you, Seb. I was planning on helping Andrew over the weekend if I could. The situation sucks."

"They're okay. I promise." I kissed him then caressed his face. "What about New Years?"

He grinned sheepishly at me. "Want to go to the company party? Let me show you off?"

I started to laugh. "When you come out of that closet door, you do it at a full run don't you?"

He shrugged, blushing a bit, and making me smile. "I guess."

I cupped his face as I rolled us over so I lay sprawled on his chest. "When and where is this party?"

"Downtown at the Westin, it starts at eight with dinner."

I chuckled. "Is it formal?"

Don looked at me and laughed. "I don't know. I've never gone. I'll find out tomorrow."

I nipped his chin and hugged him, settling my head against his chest. "I'd love to go. I'd be proud to be shown off to your coworkers."

Don kissed my hair and rolled me under him, pinning me. "They're going to love you."

I pulled him down for a kiss, melting under his lips. "Just remember, you love me more."


***** Taylor *****

So much for a relaxing vacation, I thought as I repositioned the last of the area heaters. Three days of painting, waiting, and refilling propane was a pain. At least Andrew's home owner's insurance came through. We still spent five hundred bucks, but the rest of the cost for the window replacements, heater rentals and paint was covered. Of course, dealing with the insurance company, as the partner of a gay man, was a no win situation. I found that out later in the morning.

"No, I'm sorry, but we will need Mr. Jackson's to come in and fill out the paperwork." Mariella was a nice enough woman, but at the moment she was my latest frustration. "You aren't on the mortgage?"

I shook my head. "No, we haven't refinanced."

"Then I'm afraid Mr. Jackson will need to come in to file the claim." She smiled at me apologetically.

I left ready to kick a few legislators for not providing gay people with domestic partner rights. I picked up my cell and called as I pulled out of the parking lot.

Sean answered the phone. "Goals and Dreams, personal training and fitness, this is Sean, how may I help you?"

I chuckled. The kid was a natural charmer when he wasn't nervous. "Hey, Sean. Is Andrew available?"

"Hey, Taylor. Let me check." He covered the phone, and after a moment he came back on. "Yeah, he just put his client on the treadmill."

Andrew's voice came on a few seconds later. "Hey, Hot Stuff, how's it going?"

I rolled my eyes, and tried not to sound frustrated. "Do you have any free time today?"

"Yeah, I had a cancellation at two, so my lunch hour is now two hours."

Thank God. "Good. You need to go and sign the insurance claim."

"I thought you were going to file it."

I stopped at the light and shook my head. "Welcome to the wild and wonderful world of gay relationships. I can't sign the forms because I'm not on the mortgage, and I'm not your wife."

"That's bull shit."

"Them's the rules."

"The rules suck."

I pulled through the intersection, arguing with the hands free speaker system. "I didn't make them, Andrew." I paused, and sighed. "When you get back from Florida, we should talk to Tom. It would be so much easier if I were a girl."

Andrew snorted. "You wouldn't be in my house if you were."

Gay men. I just didn't get them. They're as bad as straight men about the whole "ick, eww, yuck, I don't do that". Cheesecake or beefcake, it was all good in my book. Sometimes I missed women. Not often, but I really did love a nice pair of tits. Not to mention, there was a certain satisfaction in having a woman crying out from multiple orgasms as you licked and kissed your way through the bush. I sighed. "Yeah, whatever. You deal with the insurance."

"We eating at Mom's again tonight?"

I grinned. "You'd think we'd lost power and had the house ripped away by a tornado. The kitchen is fine."

Andrew chuckled. "I take that as a yes?"

"Grace Jackson, mother hen." I smiled. "Yeah, we're having dinner there. I'll bring you a change of clothes. You can shower at her house."

"My last appointment is at seven, so we'll see you at about eight thirty."

I paused, and then lowered my voice. "Have you thought about my idea for Sean?"

There was a lull on the line, and then Andrew spoke in a neutral tone. "Yeah, yeah I think its a good idea."

I grinned. "He's right there isn't he?"

"Yep, that's right. We'll see you tonight, Babe."

I laughed. "Okay. I'll go look for the title."

"Good luck." He hung up.

Three hours later, I sat in the office/exercise room with two dozen sorted stacks of files around me. Andrew was anal about his client records, but his personal papers were a pit of paper cut hell. "Equipment warranties in the credit card statement file?" I mumbled a few obscenities as I moved the offending documents to the correct folder.

"Hey, Littlest Big Brother!" Moira's voice rang out from the kitchen.

Could I kill her on principle? Her humor was just cause, right? "I'm in the torture chamber," I called out, not sure if the fitness equipment or the filing system was more torturous.

Moira wandered in, shaking off her coat. "Lucky you got the primer finished yesterday. It's kicking up out there."

"Oh damn. I left the heaters on." I scrambled outside and turned off the portables. They'd served their purpose, but I'd wanted to make sure the primer had a good chance to dry before returning them.

Moira looked at the back of the house briefly before following me back in. "I can't believe someone would do that. It's just so wrong."

I nodded. "It is hard to comprehend. Hate and fear are pretty powerful."

"Think Sean's dad is a closet case?"

I snorted as I hung our coats. "How did you come up with that?"

Moira shrugged. "I remember reading that a lot of homophobes are actually people who are scared of their own submerged desires."

I laughed. "I'm sure a some are, but that's a cop-out explanation from the gay community. It is as ridiculous an explanation for hate as someone saying a white-supremacist hate's colored people because he fears he has a drop of non-white blood in his heredity, or that member of a Muslim extremist group is actually a closet Christian."

Moira frowned. "So, what is your explanation, Mr. Counselor?"

I shrugged, heading back into the office. "Most people fear that which they don't understand, or is different. Anything that threatens the way a person sees the world is a danger, at least in their perceptions. One Catholic Priest molests little boys, and all gay men and all priests are suspected pedophiles. What if gay men really do only want to fuck and be fucked, indiscriminately? Wouldn't that bring down the moral, social fabric of a community that lets 'them in'?"

"But being gay doesn't make you an amoral slut."

I nodded, settling back down with my paperwork. "Yeah, I know. But hate and fear have very little basis on truth, and a lot of basis on opinion and hear-say."

Moira looked around at the stacks. "What hit here, Hurricane Taylor?"

I grumbled. "I'm trying to figure out your brother's filing system." I pointed at the neat stacks of client records. "His personal training practice is immaculate." I gestured at the remaining chaos about me. "It's all this I'm lost in."

Moira shook her head and knelt down to help. "So, what are we looking for?"

"Title for his truck."

She grinned. "He's finally going to get rid of that dinosaur?"

"It's a good, solid, dependable truck, Moira." I loved that truck. It was like Andrew. At first glance a person couldn't see the heart and soul of the vehicle. Like it's owner, the abuse hadn't destroyed the engine.

"So why look for the title?" She began thumbing my reorganized folders.

"We're giving it to Sean, and Andrew's going to get a new one."

She smiled. "You guys are so good to him. If I were a lost kid, I'd want you two as my faerie godfathers."

I laughed. "That's what he got... one huge faerie godfather and a half-faerie dad to boot."

Moira picked up a couple of the files I'd ruled out and flipped through them. In five minutes, she pulled out the document I'd been searching for. "Here you go."

I shook my head. "Where was it?"

"Car Receipts."

"Huh?" I looked at the folder of repair logs, tire purchase documents, shocks, batteries. "Why the hell would it be in there?"

She shrugged. "Thank Mom for our thinking I guess. All car documents involving maintenance, purchases, repairs, etc. are put in one file. That way you don't have to search for anything. Just pull out the file and BING, you have your vehicle information."

I grumbled. "I'd have put a title in a safety deposit box along with the deed to the house, birth certificates, and such. One file for 'important paperwork'."

"Want help putting this stuff back in the filing cabinet?"

I sighed. "Yeah, thanks."

It took us less than a half hour to put everything in its place. We sat in the kitchen, looking out at the snow as it fell ever thicker through the air. Moira sipped her hot chocolate. "Tom and I are renting a condo up near the slopes. We wanted to know if you and Andrew would come out for a weekend to ski or snowboard?"

"That sounds like fun. When?"

"Third weekend of January."

I walked over to the calendar. "The Fifteenth?"

"Yep. We'll be up there the thirteenth through the sixteenth."

I nodded. "Looks clear, but I'll have to check with Andrew." I grinned. "I'd love to see his ass in some tight ski pants."

Moira laughed. "You'll be lucky to get him to wear anything but jeans with long underwear beneath."

I sighed, knowing she was right. "Well, I guess I'll just have to be satisfied wearing mine."

Moira smiled. "You have ski outfits?"

I nodded. "Oh yeah. I haven't gotten into snowboarding, but I have my ski boots and clothes. I just rent the skis for the trip. For how infrequently I get to the slopes, it isn't worth owning them. By the time you pay for tune ups, waxing, and such, you might as well just rent if you're only going a few times."

Moira looked in the direction of the garage. "I think Andrew has a dust-covered snowboard somewhere. The competitive shit bought one and used it twice after I got married to Tom. Tom loves to snowboard."

"What about you?"


I smiled. "So the two of us will be swooshing while the guys are attacking the moguls?"

"That's the idea."

"Sounds like a plan."

***** Don *****

"I can't believe you conned me into this," I groaned as the tailor at Men's Warehouse checked the fit of my new tuxedo.

"Oh shut up. You look great." Seb was one to talk. I nearly creamed myself when he came out in his tux. My man knew how to wear clothes.

"At least we can wear them for the wedding," I conceded.

"Yeah, all we have to do is get the right ties and cumber buns or vests when the colors are agreed upon."

I rolled my eyes. "You'd think our mothers were long lost sisters."

"Dios mio," Seb agreed, "Que horrible!"

I loved listening to him talk in Spanish. There was something sexy about the way his voice changed when he switched to the Latin speech. The first time he seduced me in Spanish was incredible. The way the words rolled off his tongue as he whispered love and lust to me while he fucked me into a spunk-depleted coma was a turn on I couldn't imagine before. Now, all he had to do was start talking to me in Spanish, with that come-hither tone, and I was ready to present my ass for servicing. Fortunately, his tone wasn't anything close to "come-hither", so I didn't obscenely distend my pants.

"Yeah, I agree. It was bad enough with Angelina trying to see us happily settled. The two of them are a nightmare." I looked in the mirror and had to admit that the tux looked damn good. European cut was the way to go if you had narrow hips and wide shoulders.

"I think you gentlemen are ready for your party." The tailor smiled at the results, and Tony, our personal clothing consultant, nodded in agreement.

I looked at my watch. "Two hours 'til the party starts." I looked at Seb. "What do we want to do? It won't take more than thirty minutes to get downtown."

"We could always go downtown and walk the park. The holiday lights will be gone in a few weeks."

I looked at the coats we'd come in wearing. "Tuxedo's, a winter coat and a bomber jacket. Why does this not make a pretty picture?"

Seb grinned. "Well, we are in a clothing store."

I sighed. "Tony, we need overcoats."

Tony smiled, his pure whites glowed in contrast to his chocolate complexion. "Right this way. We have several styles to choose from." He looked at us. "I assume you'll want coats with removable liners so you can wear them away from the arctic?"

Seb nodded. "Absolutely."

Impromptu plane tickets to Wisconsin, rental cars, tuxedos, and now new coats. I really didn't want to see the credit card bill in January. I didn't even look at the total as I signed over my right nut and two loads of sperm for fashion. We drove downtown, used valet parking at the Westin, and then wandered the park and the shopping district as we killed time before the party. We got back to the Westin about fifteen after eight.

The doorman glanced briefly at our interlaced fingers, and then pulled open the door. "Welcome to the Westin."

"Thank you," I replied. "Do you know where the Comdex party is?"

"Yes sir, the party is in the Ambassador Ballroom. Third Floor. You can get there by the elevators or you can use the escalators in the mezzanine."

"Thanks." We stepped through.

"Have a good evening."

"Wow," Seb sighed as we walked into the mezzanine. "Swanky."

"Yeah." I was a bit awestruck myself. I'd never been in a five star hotel before. Marble floors, chandeliers, statues, fountains, and lounges on each level we could see. I looked at the glass elevators. "Looks like it doesn't matter if we take the escalators or the elevator, we'll get a good view."

"Let's take the escalator." Seb grinned. "Takes longer."

I squeezed his hand. "Sure."

We took our time riding up to the third floor. There was no missing the Comdex crew. We came around the walk way as Jolene and Carol stepped out of the elevator. Though I wasn't into women, Carol could make a gay man look twice. She looked stunning in her dark green velvet dress. Jolene looked good in her scarlet, satin dress.

"You're looking like a girl," I commented as we came up to them.

Jolene laughed. "Who'da thunk?" She smiled from Carol to me. "Carol, this is Don, my boss, and his fiancé Sebastian. Guys, this is my better half, Caroline."

"It's a pleasure to meet you," Carol said, extending her hand.

Seb took it, turning his palm up in a fluid motion that left the back of Carol's hand exposed. He kissed it, and then smiled. "The pleasure is ours."

"Smooth talker," I grumbled, before shaking Carol's hand. "You'd think he's straight, wouldn't you?" Carol laughed. "Nah, too smooth. Gay men know now to treat a woman right."

Jolene looked us over appreciatively. "They wear clothes better too. Don't you two look like fashion templates?"

I grinned. "Keith said formal. Can't get much more formal than these." I thumbed at our tux jackets.

Carol winked at Jolene. "Let's enter with a splash. You with Seb and me with Don?"

Jolene laughed. "You're an evil bitch, you know that?"

"You love me that way."

Jolene sighed. "True, I do."

I looked at Seb and he grinned. I put out my arm. "May I escort you to the ball, miss?"

"I'm much obliged, sir." Carol's southern affectation nearly broke my serious facade.

We walked in, Carol on my arm and Jolene Seb's, and we were met with more than a few curious and appreciative glances. I spotted Keith and Mary at a table near the dance floor. They stood as we approached.

"Don!" Keith smiled at us, his lips quirking up with humor at our apparent choice of dates. "Change of plans?"

"No, but a man can't leave women like these to enter a party unescorted."

Mary smiled at Keith. "You should take lessons from them."

Keith grinned. "You're making me look bad, guys."

Introductions were made all around and we sat down with our actual spouses. Putting on a show for fun was one thing, but I wasn't going to lose out on under the table hand and foot play.

Mary grinned at Carol. "You are, at this moment, the most hated woman in the room."

Carol blinked. "Oh?"

Keith laughed. "Not only have you put the majority of the women to shame by wearing a basic but elegant outfit, you walked in with the most sought after bachelor at Comdex."

Carol grinned. "Poor girls." She looked at Jolene. "How will they survive it?"

Jolene shrugged. "It's difficult, I'm sure." She grinned. "I think Don's got a few enemies too. I saw a few lustful glances aimed at my wife."

Keith sighed. "And I'd wanted to see the reaction when you guys came in hand-in-hand."

"Don't worry," Seb teased, smiling at me. "If they play the right music, I think I know someone who will be unable to resist a slow dance or two."

My stomach growled in response to Seb's remark, and I laughed. "I won't be doing anything if I don't get some fuel."

Mary smiled. "I'll be happy to go with you up to the buffet. I hate going to those things alone."

"Food issues," Keith apologized, but blew a kiss at his wife.

"Not hardly, Mr. Midnight-snack." She stood up. "Anyone else want the first course?"

Seb stood, and Carol looked at Jolene. "I've been on my feet all day. I think I'll stay off the 'cruel shoes' for a while longer."

"I'll get you something." Jolene stood. "I'm starved."

We ate, and talked, and laughed. Jolene told us how she met Carol at the salon, and then later at a concert, and a third time at the mall.

"After that, I figured I was meeting this woman for a reason." She smiled at her wife. "Fate."

Carol smiled. "Stupid woman thought I wasn't interested."

Mary looked up and nodded at the doors. "Well, you win the bet."

I turned and looked at the doors. Matthew Lawrence, the Executive VP of Operations, was taking off his coat. I looked from Mary to Keith. "What bet?"

She shrugged. "I really thought he'd bring Howard. Keith said he wouldn't. At least this year he didn't bring someone from the secretarial pool."

I blinked. "Matthew Lawrence?"

Keith shrugged. "Howard is the sweetest man. I know it kills him every time Matt declines to acknowledge him."

"How'd you find out?"

"Someone has to complete the paperwork for beneficiaries. He had me do it instead of one of the other people in the office."

I looked sadly at Seb, took his hand and squeezed it. "I'm sorry."

He smiled. "You've worked through a lot, Don. One step at a time, right?"

Just then, the DJ swapped to a slow dance set. I looked at Seb, while still holding his hand. "Caution to the wind?"

He laughed, but I could see how much it meant in his eyes. "Sure, twist my arm."

"Excuse us, ladies and gentleman, but I have a fiancé to woo."

"Knock yourself out," Jolene teased.

We walked onto the dance floor, drawing more than a few looks, and I slid my hand behind Seb's back. There was just something about having him in my arms, moving against me, as I guided us about the floor; the whole world vanished when we were there. All there was was the music, our heart beats, and Seb's eyes. By the time the slow dance set was over, several other couples had joined us. Four straight and one other gay couple wove their way slowly around the floor, swaying to the music.

Seb's eyes sparkled as the music shifted to a Latin beat. "Care to take off that jacket and move to something closer to my beat?"

I grinned. "You're on."

We slipped off our jackets, slung them over the backs of our chairs, and were back out on the floor. I may have been the King of Slow Dance, but Seb was the King of Latin Steps. He could move around me like a May Pole, hips moving in ways Elvis had never dreamed of, and make me sweat in ways that had nothing to do with exercise. I had images of Seb, sans shirt, grinding away with me wearing only a sarong. We were going to have to take a trip down to Mexico. I wanted him like that. We took a break after a few songs, and returned to the table.

"You two looked great out here," Jolene commented as we sat down.

"My man knows how to move," I praised as I grabbed my water.

Carol laughed. "I don't know, you seem to know how to work the floor too."

"I'm just a two-step boy," I replied, sipping my water. "He's got that whole Latin hip thing going for him."

"Drink your water and take a compliment, Don." Seb rolled his eyes. "He is impossible to give a compliment to."

"Am not."



"Absolutamente," Seb chuckled, his voice dipping dangerously close to his "come hither" tone.

I grumbled, "Bastard." He knew I wouldn't be able to stand if he kept that up.

Mary laughed. "Does he use that voice for sex?"

Seb blinked. "What?"

I smiled. "Oh yeah. He has this sexy way he says stupid ass things in Spanish. As far as I know, he's saying I have a fat ass and a face like a pig, but he says it all the right ways."

Seb grinned, leaning close. "Tu tienes un asno grande y una cara solamente que un cerdo podría amar."

I smiled, wanting to suck face at that moment. I loved Seb's voice, but most of all I loved making him moan.

Jolene laughed. "Oh God, that's priceless. He really can make that sound sexy."

Keith returned to the table, followed by Matthew Lawrence. "Matt, I'd like to introduce Don and Seb, and Jolene and Carol."

I stood, extending my hand. "It's a pleasure to meet you, sir."

Matt flinched. "Sir?"

I gave Keith an oops look. "What else do you call one of the heads of the company?" Back paddle, Don, back paddle.

"Good cover." He smiled as he ran his fingers through his silver-white hair. The man was in his late fifties, but other than the whiteness of his hair, he didn't look a day over forty-five.

Seb looked up. "Thank you for having a party where Don could be himself, Mr. Lawrence." He smiled at me, and then back at Matt. "He won't say it, but it really means a lot to him."

Matt looked at Seb for a moment, his smile failing him. "Yes, I'm sure it does." He managed to recover most of his smile as he looked around. "I should spread the wealth of my attention. Office politics and such." He looked at all of us again. "Have a happy New Year."

"You too."

Matt walked over to another table to meet and greet.

I looked at Seb. "Ouch. That was a swift kick to the balls there, slick."

Seb frowned. "I was being thankful. I wasn't making an underhanded comment."

Keith shrugged. "Just hit a little close to home I think."

The conversation lagged until the music changed to slow dance again. Mary stood up. "Don, would you care to dance?"

I blinked. "Uhm..."

She laughed. "Keith has two left feet, and they are always on mine."

I smiled, and Seb shrugged. Just because I didn't want to have sex with a woman didn't mean I didn't enjoy their company. I hated gay men who were anti-woman. "Sure."

Mary and I danced through a couple songs, and then the earlier activity, food and drink hit my bladder. I smiled as we finished the dance. "I've got to take a nature break."

I escorted Mary back to the table, kissed Seb on the temple as I went passed, and found my way to the restrooms. As I came into the men's room, I heard Matthew Lawrence talking to someone on his cell.

"... I want you here..." He looked up at me as I entered.

I smiled and moved to one of the urinals for relief.

"No, you don't need to..." He looked at me again, nervously. "I'm sorry. I'll come home."

He listened, with the phone pressed against his ear, while I finished, flushed, and washed my hands.

"Yes... I mean it."

I didn't intend to stay, but there was something in his voice that held me there as I kept my hands under the water. In the mirror I saw tears in his eyes.

"I love you too." Matt hung up and looked at me.

"Sorry." I finished with the water and reached for a towel.

"Not your fault. I should have gone outside." He clipped his phone on his belt.

I decided to press my luck. "Is he coming?"

Matt blinked. I could imagine that was how I looked the first time someone caught me with Seb. After a moment, he nodded. "Yes." He came over and washed his hands. "Guess it takes one to know one, huh?"

I smiled. "Something like that." I damn well wasn't going to let him know his HR manager's wife had spilled the beans.

"I envy you, Don. You have a man you love and you aren't afraid to let the world know." He turned off the water and reached for a towel. "I wasn't that lucky at your age."

I shrugged. "I wouldn't say I'm not afraid. I only came out to my parents last week." I smiled at his surprised expression. "I've been in the closet since I was I was fifteen."

"How'd that go?"

I chuckled. "They already knew. I felt like an idiot." I smiled and held up my ring. "Mom's insisting on a church wedding." I rolled my eyes. "Never thought that would happen."

Matt shook his head and sighed. "Times have changed. When I was your age, I was determined to live a normal life. I was married at twenty-two, had two beautiful kids by the time I was twenty-five, and had a failed marriage and alimony by twenty-eight."


He nodded. "It was unfair to Julia to keep up the facade. We'd been friends through high school and college, and for her at least it became more. I thought it'd be enough, but it wasn't." He sighed again. "At least the divorce was amicable. Seven years later, I met Howard." He smiled. "The man was dialing my number before I realized I was waiting for his call. That was in the early eighties. With AIDS looming on the horizon and the social backlash from the seventies, we kept it quiet."

We walked back out and stopped along the walkway, looking out over the mezzanine. I smiled. "Over twenty years, huh?"

He smiled. "Twenty-two." His smile didn't last, and he looked down at the people below. "Twenty-two years of me publicly denying our relationship. The man must really love me to put up with that for so long."

I nodded. "Seb told me he'd wait for me, but he wasn't going to live in the closet with me." I still got choked up thinking about that night. "I knew I couldn't live without him, so I came out."

"How long ago was that?"

"Last March." I smiled. "Seb says that at this point, I've hit the ground running on the way out of the closet."

Matt smiled. "All I wanted, as I watched you two and the other couples on the floor tonight, was to have the guts to be there."

"So you've kept it hidden from everyone?"

He smiled. "My children know, of course, and I'm certain Julia does. She remarried before I met Howard. Ben's a good man; he's a much better husband than I was." He chuckled. "It was my grandchildren who broke the 'wall of silence' about Howard and me. They just started calling him 'Pap-pap Howard' one day."

"That's adorable."

Matt smiled. "He's so good with them. You'd think they were his kids."

"There you are," Seb called as he came out of the ball room.

I straightened up. "Just talking with 'the Boss'."

Seb walked up, and I draped my arm over his shoulders. He slid his arm around my waist and squeezed. "I began to think you'd been flushed."

Matt laughed. "No, just being supportive to an old man."

Seb smiled. "Charity work, huh?"

"Your mouth is going to get me in so much trouble."

He leaned in, chuckling. "My mouth already does."

Matt laughed. "Keep it clean, boys. I wouldn't want to challenge my blood pressure meds."

Seb looked at Matt. "I apologize if I said anything to offend you at the table."

Matt frowned. "You didn't." His gaze returned to the mezzanine and I saw him shift his weight.

I looked down and saw a man crossing the ground floor. He stepped onto the escalators as Matt pushed away from the railing. Matt looked nervous. I reached out and squeezed his arm. "Don't hyperventilate."

Matt chuckled. "You'd think this was our first date." He watched Howard get onto the second escalator, and their eyes met. Matt came around us and was closest to the escalator as Howard came off. He smiled as Howard looked at us. "Thanks for coming."

Howard finished unbuttoning his coat, and shrugged. "I didn't have time to put on something formal." He wore a blue, pinstriped suit. "I hope office clothes will be alright."

"Howard, I'd like you to meet the head of Comdex security, Donald Klein, and his partner, Sebastian..." Matt looked at us.

"Rodriguez," Seb answered, smiling.

"Sebastian, Don, this is Howard Grant, my partner of twenty-two years." He said it as if he'd been saying it for a lifetime, but I could see by the set of his jaw and the tension in his shoulders, that he'd just forced himself to say something he'd been struggling with for quite a while.

Howard looked stunned. He extended his hand to us after shaking off the surprise. "It's a pleasure to meet you."

Matt took a deep breath and let it out. He smiled at Howard. "I'm still waiting for the morality police to show up."

Howard smiled. "You've got your head of security here. They won't get very far."

Seb looked at his watch. "I came out because we're closing in on the New Year."

Matt looked at Howard, and Howard smiled. "We don't have to go in, Matthew. I'm perfectly happy to ring the new year in out here, or down stairs, or on the street."

"No," Matt said as he reached out and took his husband's hand. "You've waited twenty years and drove twenty minutes through the snow to get down here. I can walk twenty steps to finish this."

Howard didn't say it, but the look in his eyes was enough to make anyone melt. He loved his man. It was the look Seb gave me the morning we became a couple. Though they released hands as the four of us walked back into the ball room, Howard kept close to Matt. We returned to the table with five minutes to spare.

Mary came over and gave Howard a hug. "I'm so happy you're here." She wiped a tear way as she pulled back and then gave Matt a hug. "I knew you'd melt some day, you stubborn old goat."

Matthew hugged her and then shook Keith's hand. "Thank you."

Keith smiled and winked at us. "We had some help."

The DJ came over, microphone in hand. "Five minutes, Mr. Lawrence."

Matt smiled at us. "Show time." He squeezed Howard's shoulder for a moment before walking out on the dance floor. He held up his hand, and the DJ put on a jingle-ling to get everyone's attention. "Hello everyone. For those of you who don't know me, I'm Matthew Lawrence, your Executive VP of Operations at Comdex."

There were several calls of "Hi Matthew" and whistles. He smiled, waving them to be silent as he checked his watch.

"The last few years have been times of growth and change for Comdex. No more so than at present. Culture is changing, in and out of the board room. You have helped us change with the times, weather adversity, and grow in more than profits."

We cheered. It felt like a pep ralley back in school.

"The most important part of any company is the people who comprise it. Not just the employees, but the entire extended corporate family. If it weren't for the husbands, wives, and domestic partners, many of us would not be able to put in the long hours, hard work, and dedication necessary to keep a business like this strong." His eyes met Howard's. "I want to thank you, the silent and seldom seen parts of our lives. Without you, none of this would be possible." He lifted his champagne glass. "To our families. May we never take you for granted."

Howard just held Matt's eyes as Matt sipped his toast to the man he loved. Mary wiped away a tear before lifting her glass and saluting the toast with the rest of us. Keith kissed her cheek. I looked at Seb, and pulled him in close. We only kissed for a moment, but it left me flushed.

As the cheers and salutes ended, the DJ tapped Matt on the shoulder.

Matt checked his watch and smiled. "I almost missed my duty," he laughed, and we all chuckled with him. He handed his glass to the DJ, and kept an eye on his watch. With a nod of his head, we all began the New Year's Chant. "Ten, Nine, Eight, Seven, Six, Five, Four, Three, Two, One." Horns, rattles, and music blared as we cried out, "Happy New Year!"

I laughed, spinning Seb around has I hugged him to me. I looked into his smiling face, and realized I wanted twenty-two more years of that moment. "You've made this the best year of my life."

Seb grinned, blinking away his tears. "To a life time of the best years of our lives."

Our champagne glasses were on the table, but I didn't need one. I had everything I needed in my arms. I bent down and whispered into his lips, "I'll drink to that." I drank him in, forgetting about the party, the buzzers, and the celebration. My New Year's wish had already come true. All I had to do was enjoy it.