THANKFUL

"A Queer As Folk USA Alternate Stream FanFic"

by Gaedhal

Parts 4-6

The other episodes in "The Angel Stream".

Part 4

Pittsburgh, Halloween 2005

"Omigod!" cried Emmett as he and Ted walked into Babylon for the annual Halloween Tricks and Treats Party. "This is going to be so much FUN!"

"Yeah," sighed Ted, wincing at the ear-splitting level of the music. "Whoa, boy -- Fun, fun, fun."

"Come on, Teddy," Em urged. "Don't be such a big party pooper! I've been looking forward to this FOREVER!"

Ted had to admit that was true. Emmett had spent weeks planning his costume. He knew that he had to top past years when he had appeared as Aretha Franklin, Reba McEntire, Jackie O, Cho Cho San the Geisha, and his own personal favorite, Barbra Streisand. He thought about doing one of the Great Divas of the Past, but any queen in town could easily impersonate Judy or Bette or Madonna or even Mae West. Besides, Darren was planning on coming as Joan Crawford in 'Mommie Dearest' and Emmett didn't want anyone to think he was copying him by going 'classic.'

Since he was tall and knew he could carry off a giant wig, a gold sequined and feathered gown, and a huge pair of platform shoes, Em decided to go as the Eighties Retro Ru Paul. It was truly inspired!

Ted, who looked forward to Halloween about as much as he looked forward to a root canal, was wearing his leather gear. After an extremely short period of time as an old college friend's B&D/S&M suck pig, Ted had packed away his leather chaps, jacket, and cap, and now only took them out once a year for Tricks and Treats.

"I wish you'd picked another costume, Teddy," said Emmett. "This is the fourth year in a row you've worn those old leathers. Everyone's already seen them!"

"So what?" Ted shrugged. "No one is going to be looking at me anyway. Especially with you next to me, honey-bunny."

"That is SO sweet!" Em cooed. "I just LOVE you to pieces!" Emmett gave Ted a kiss and a big hug. "Look! There's Michael and Ben!"

Leaning against the bar were Captain Astro and Galaxy Lad, a.k.a., Ben and Michael Novotny-Bruckner. The couple had also worn those same costumes for a number of years, but Michael loved dressing up as the two superheroes so much that Ben didn't have the heart to suggest something else, even though his Captain Astro tights were more than a little ratty.

"Wow, Em!" Michael exclaimed. Between the platforms and the blonde bouffant wig, Emmett looked about seven feet tall. "That's some outfit! How high are those shoes?"

"Oh, five or six inches, give or take a bit," Emmett said as he proudly struck a pose.

"How do you walk in them?" asked Ben.

"Just like you get to Carnegie Hall, sweetie! Practice, practice, practice!" Em explained.

"I didn't know Diana Ross was supposed to be that tall," said Michael, noting what looked like Emmett's heavy use of spray-on tan.

"Diana Ross?" Em recoiled. "Michael, you're impossible! Don't you know Ru Paul when you see her?"

"Oh, sorry." Michael glanced at Ben, who shook his head. "I guess I'm not up on my drag queens. You look nice, too, Ted."

"Yeah, whatever," Ted replied. He'd already motioned to the bartender and was clutching a safe bottle of Perrier. Halloween was one of those holidays when Ted wished he could still have a drink. Booze made the forced merriment seem a little less coerced. And this year felt especially forced. The shadow of Stockwell's 'Family Friendly Pittsburgh' was hanging heavily over Babylon. No one could miss the heightened presence of the Anti-Sex cops or the extra squad cars patrolling Liberty Avenue.

"Where's Brian and Justin?" asked Em. "I want them to see my Ru Paul before the Costume Parade!"

"By this time in the old days Brian had already been to the backroom a couple of times," Michael pointed out. Brian didn't make a big deal about any holiday, treating each one the same way he treated most things -- with studied indifference. "But I haven't seen him yet tonight. Maybe they aren't coming."

"Oh, they're coming all right," Emmett asserted. "Justin told me that he was working on his costume, but he wouldn't tell me what it is. He wanted it to be a surprise!"

"I think you're in luck," said Ted. "Because here they are."

"SWEETIE!" Emmett yelped as the pair approached the bar.

"What do you think, Em?" Justin grinned and turned around so Emmett could see the full effect.

He was wearing a pair of white Calvin Klein briefs, running shoes, and two large, white, fluffy, and awkward wings that were strapped to his torso. The wings were heavier than Justin had anticipated and he had the constant sensation of being tipped over backwards, but all in all he thought the costume was a success. In fact, that's why he and Brian were late -- Brian thought it was such a success that he couldn't wait to get it off him, which meant Justin had to get cleaned up and dressed all over again after they finished fucking.

"You look so CUTE!" Emmett maintained. "It's the PERFECT choice!"

"Yeah, baggy underpants are such a fashion statement," Brian snarked. Then he ordered double Absoluts for the two of them.

"You didn't seem to mind earlier," Justin commented, raising his eyebrows.

"I was only interested in what was UNDER the underpants," Brian replied. "You should have seen Angel Boy trying to get into the Jeep with those wings! Fucking forget it!"

"I had to take them off and put them back on when we got here," Justin admitted. "And it's starting to get really cold outside. You don't realize how cold until you're standing on the sidewalk in nothing but your briefs! I had goosebumps on my goosebumps!"

"I can vouch for that," Brian added. And to the amazement of everyone, he leaned over and put his lips on Justin's bare shoulder, sucking at an imagined bump. "Very tasty!"

"So who are you supposed to be, Bri?" Ted sniffed.

Brian was dressed in a faded pair of 501's, a black sleeveless shirt with silver snaps, boots, and a black leather jacket.

"I'm Brian Kinney," he stated flatly.

"Come on, Brian!" said Michael. "You're supposed to be in costume! Like us!" He pointed to the Galaxy Lad 'G' on his chest and then at Ben's Captain Astro get-up. "Pretty cool, huh?"

"When you're Brian Kinney, you don't require a costume," Brian pronounced. "Halloween is all about boring people indulging in their fantasies and revealing who they really want to be besides their own dull selves. But it's obvious that I don't need to pretend to be anyone else. I'm exactly who and what I want to be."

"You're so full of shit, Brian!" Emmett scoffed.

"Spoken by a grown man dressed like a fucking Las Vegas nightmare!" said Brian, eyeing Emmett's platform shoes, feathers, and wig. "Better to be myself than full of delusions like some queers I know. What's the matter, Emmett? I thought you'd be decked out as the Happy Homemaker this year. Or Martha Stewart. And that Theodore would be dressed as Ward Cleaver. Or a pathetic dickless fag. No, wait -- that's what he is every day. So, how IS your little Vine-Covered Cottage? Trash-compactor working okay?"

"It's working just FINE, thank you!" Emmett huffed. "Jesus, Brian! It's Halloween! Can't you have a little fun like a normal person?"

Brian looked around at all the costumed revellers. "I seem to be the only 'normal' person here." He bolted down the rest of his Absolut, set his empty glass on the bar, and grabbed Justin's elbow. "Come on, Angel Boy. Let's dance."

On the dance floor Justin sighed as he leaned against Brian. "It's a Halloween party, Brian," he murmured. "What's the point in tweaking Emmett? He's only trying to forget all the shit he has to put up with the rest of the year. The shit all of us put up with."

"But that's the thing," Brian said. "We put up with it. And THEY give us shit because they can. And because they know we'll put up with it. Because we're only fags."

"You do what you can do," said Justin. "And the rest you just have to deal with. That's what you've taught me, isn't it?"

"Be quiet now," Brian said, closing his eyes and clinging to Justin. The crowded dance floor suddenly seemed to hold only two. "I need your magic, Angel Boy. Spread those wings around both of us."

Justin smiled in contentment. "I will."

***

Part 5

Pittsburgh, Halloween 2005

The highlight of the Tricks and Treats Party was the Costume Parade.

On the raised, lighted platform at the end of the dance floor all of the contestants took their turn at showing off their costumes -- and soliciting the approbation of the audience, who would ultimately decide the winner. This solicitation usually took the form of twirling, dancing, vogueing, flirting -- and sometimes, for the more daring competitors, a little more.

"Very little!" snarked Brian, as a guy dressed as a gladiator thrust his pelvis at the hooting crowd.

"Here comes Emmett!" said Michael. "He really looks great!"

Em strutted across the stage, only tripping slightly as one of his platform shoes caught on an uneven spot. But Emmett caught himself and grinned his gap-toothed smile as he flounced and showed off his golden gown with its sequins and feathers. Godiva would have been proud, he thought. Not too bad for a skinny white boy!

There was a lot of loud clapping, especially from the contingent leaning against the main bar, but nowhere near enough to win.

"Emmett could be Ru Paul himself and still not win," Brian pointed out. "No queen, no matter how great the costume, is going to get enough applause from this horny group."

"Maybe I should get up there!" said Justin, getting into the spirit of the competition. "What do you say, Brian?"

"Over my dead body!" Brian huffed. And he wasn't kidding. It was bad enough to have a bunch of guys gape at Justin's baggy underpants on the dance floor, but to let the twat climb on stage and have all of Babylon ogle his surprising large bulge was NOT an option.

A muscular bear in full leather gear stomped across the stage to a barrage of catcalls. He stood and scowled at the crowd -- and then opened his leather pants and flashed his dick as the place erupted in cheers. The bear grinned and took a bow.

"That was a mistake," Brian asserted, shaking his head. "A big fucking mistake!"

"All in good fun, Bri," said Ted, who was impressed by the bear's performance. "No harm done."

"You think so, Theodore?" Brian glanced around. "I supposed you think that Stockwell doesn't have a bunch of his goons in here just waiting to close this party down? Showing your dick is against the law in 'Family Friendly Pittsburgh,' in case you happened to forget -- even in a gay club on Halloween!"

But the bear had opened the floodgates and the next three competitors all took out their cocks and waved them at the raucous assembly. The one with the largest 'applause' was declared the winner.

As the winner, a barechested blond in a silver g-string and nothing else, accepted his prize -- a gift certificate at Slings & Eros -- he couldn't resist showing off his attributes once more. But this time he began stroking his cock as the crowd went wild, urging him on.

That's when a loud whistle sounded. And Stockwell's cops were suddenly on the stage and at every door.

"No one move!" ordered a tall policeman in a long leather coat. "This club is now officially closed under Section 493, Subsection 10, Promoting Lewd and Immoral Behavior!"

Then someone screamed and all hell broke loose inside Babylon.

"Shit!" Brian cried. He didn't wait another moment, but grabbed Justin by the arm and dragged him through the confused mob, looking for an exit that wasn't blocked by Stockwell's goons.

Brian instinctively headed for the old backroom. He knew there was a storage room just off the entry -- and inside that storage room was a firedoor that opened on the rear alley.

"Where are we going?" cried Justin as they were buffeted by panicked men seeking a way out of the building.

"Hang on to me!" Brian ordered. "And don't fucking let go!"

Brian pulled at the door of the backroom, praying that it was unlocked. It opened and he and Justin slipped through. It was pitch black inside, but Brian knew the place like the back of his hand. He felt for the storage room, found it, and led Justin in. Then he moved to the far wall, following the dimly lit Exit sign. He shoved hard on the handle of the door...

And they were outside. The fire alarm began ringing madly behind them.

"Hey! You two!" a harsh voice called.

"Don't stop," Brian exhorted as they raced down the alley towards Liberty Avenue. "Unless you want to spend the night in the Queens Tank with half of the queers in Pittsburgh!"

"But what about Michael and Ben?" Justin asked. "And Emmett and Ted?"

"They'll be okay," Brian said, hoping he was right. "But I can't afford to be arrested again -- and I won't let them arrest you, no matter what!" They paused for a moment at they approached the street. "Take off those fucking wings! Hurry!"

Justin's trembling fingers unhooked the straps and let the wings fall to the ground. He shivered, wearing nothing but his briefs and running shoes.

Brian took off his leather jacket and Justin hurriedly slipped it on.

"Come on!" said Brian. "The Jeep is parked at the top of Barker Place. Let's fucking move!"

Liberty Avenue was chaotic, as men in costume darted every which way, trying to avoid the patrol cars and policemen who were spread out up and down the street. A brace of police vans stood waiting to transport the night's catch downtown.

They had almost reached the Jeep when a dark figured loomed in front of them, blocking the way.

"Let's see your I.D.!" he barked. He was a hard-faced older man with a gray crewcut and on his jacket he wore the emblem of the Anti-Sex Squad. One of Stockwell's infamous Stormtroopers. "Make it snappy!"

Brian took a deep breath, shielding Justin behind him. "Certainly, officer." He took out his wallet and presented the cop with his license.

He glanced at it and frowned. "Kinney, huh?" he snorted, tossing the license back to Brian. "I know that name. You're Jim Stockwell's pet faggot."

"I ran the advertising for his mayoral campaign," Brian replied, trying to keep control. It wouldn't do to lash out at this prick. It wasn't only his ass on the line, but Justin's, too.

"And what about you, Blondie?" the cop said sharply. "I see you back there, hiding behind your boyfriend."

"I... I don't have my wallet with me." Justin was horribly aware that he was standing half-naked on the sidewalk without any I.D. -- two crimes in 'Family Friendly Pittsburgh.' "But I'm 22. I swear I am."

"We haven't done anything wrong, officer," Brian said, his voice even. "We're on our way home. That's all."

"Are you trying to tell me that you weren't in that faggot club that we just raided?" the cop snapped.

"We're on our way home," Brian repeated. He put his arm around Justin and pulled him close.

"What happened to Blondie's clothes? Is he an underwear model? Or did you win him in a Halloween contest?" the cop guffawed. "You a hustler, kid? You work Liberty Avenue?"

"No," Justin spoke up. "I'm a student. Please let us go, sir." Then something clicked in Justin's memory. "I mean, sergeant."

"That's better," said the cop, grinning wolfishly. "I like a boy who's polite." He got out his walkie talkie and turned away, speaking into it.

"Brian," Justin whispered. "That's the cop who stopped me last August. After I left the diner. Remember? He asked to see my I.D."

"Are you sure?" Brian murmured.

Justin nodded. A chill wind had whipped up and he was trembling violently now. "I'm certain. It's the same guy."

"Don't say anything else," Brian warned.

Justin hid his face against Brian's chest. Brian stood strong and still, but Justin could hear his heart beating wildly.

The cop turned back to the pair. Brian stared at the man's remorseless face. His eyes were cold and dead-looking. Brian shuddered, as if a cat had walked over his grave.

"You two pansies get the fuck out of here," he commanded. "They need me over at the club. We got bigger fish to fry tonight. But don't let me catch you without your I.D. again, Blondie. Or else you and me will take a little ride. Just the two of us. You know what I mean?" Then the cop laughed.

The sound of that heartless laughter chilled Brian to the bone. He clutched at Justin protectively.

Then Sergeant Kenneth Rikert stalked away, heading back towards Babylon.

***

Part 6

Pittsburgh, November 2005

"So, Brian," said Gardner Vance. "It appears we're at an impasse."

"We don't have to be, Gardner," Brian returned. "It's simple -- all you have to do is agree to my terms. And I'll be back in my office tomorrow."

"Simple?" Gardner huffed. "You think these terms are simple? You want me to delete the non-compete clause. You want complete control over your own accounts. You also want me to ignore your personal behavior -- no matter how egregious it may be -- as long as it does not impact your work at Vangard. And you want me to initiate benefits for same sex domestic partners, not just for you, but for the entire agency."

"Seems reasonable to me," said Brian. "Not only reasonable, but fair."

"Fair?" Gardner laughed humorlessly. "Because all of these things are to your advantage. What's in it for me? I am, after, still the founder and CEO of this company. I should be getting something out of this."

"You are getting something," Brian asserted. "You're getting me. And, in case you haven't noticed, you've been losing accounts -- MY accounts -- because the people you've replaced me with can't do my job. Vangard touts itself as one of the best agencies in the country, but can you really say that at this moment? You lost the Sutton account outright. You lost Dandy Lube. You're on the verge of losing Eyeconic Optics and Brown Athletics. And I know you especially don't want to lose Brown, do you, Gardner? That's your prize account -- an account I got for you when you couldn't get it yourself!"

"We're not about to lose Brown," said Gardner through clenched teeth. "Who told you that?"

Brian smiled. "I have my sources. Leo Brown isn't happy at all. He wants to know what's going on. He wants to know why I'm not here, handling his account."

"If you're such a great ad man, then why hasn't some other agency snapped you up, Brian?" Gardner hissed. "Why are you here, trying to strong-arm me, instead of relaxing in a large office at a new agency on Madison Avenue?"

Brian bit his lip. There was the rub. The great unsaid.

"Because you've been poisoning the waters, Gardner," Brian said slowly. "You've been spreading dirt about me all over the industry. Yes, some of it is true, but other things are pure bullshit -- and you know it! Yes, I'm gay! So the fuck what? But I'm not a criminal! I'm not a loose cannon! I'm a guy who knows his worth and wants to be valued for how I do my job, rather than condemned for how I live my life. Maybe that's impossible in Pittsburgh under the Stockwell regime, but I'm still willing to try. I'm still willing to work with you. But if you aren't willing to work with me, then cut me loose. But give me my fair share. I've contributed to this partnership and you know it."

"And what if you and your little boyfriend had been arrested the other night at that club you frequent?" Gardner offered. His eyes were flinty. "What's it called? Babylon?"

"My personal life is no one's fucking business but mine!" Brian felt his face getting hot. "Mine -- and my partner's. My REAL partner's"

"That remains to be seen," Gardner said sourly.

"And how to do you know that I was almost arrested?" Brian asked. "How do you know I was even at Babylon for the Halloween party? If I wasn't, in fact, arrested, then there's no record that I was there. Unless Jim Stockwell's goons and spies are reporting on me -- and he's passing on the information to you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about, Brian," Gardner replied. "I think you're a little paranoid."

"Paranoid my ass," Brian nodded. "But you'll notice that all the charges against the men who were arrested that night ended up being dismissed. Dismissed because they were like everything about Stockwell's high-handed tactics -- total fucking horseshit!"

"You're talking about one of our most esteemed clients," Gardner said sternly. "And a close, personal friend of mine."

"Yeah, he said that about me, too." Brian stood up and put on his leather jacket. "And look where it got me. So, what's it going to be? Am I returning to this happy realm? Or are you going to pay me off so I can get on with my life?"

Gardner went to the door of his office and opened it. "My lawyers are still considering all of our options. They'll be in touch."

Brian walked through the door. Justin, who had been cooling his heels in the outer office, leapt to his feet.

Brian raised his eyebrows. "Gardner, you remember Justin."

Gardner Vance sniffed, but extended his hand. "Certainly. How are you, young man?"

Justin took Vance's hand and shook it firmly. He detested Brian's boss, but he also remembered his country club manners. "I'm fine, thanks, Mr. Vance."

"Don't forget to remind your lawyers about the partners' benefit," Brian added before he and Justin went out. "I know I'm not the only one at this agency who could make use of them. Look around, Gardner -- because we're everywhere, whether you like it or not."

Brian gave Vance an ironic grin and guided Justin out the door.

"What was that about?" Justin asked as they got into the elevator. "About partner benefits?"

"Something for Vance to think over," Brian replied. "Well, it looks like we'll be driving to Boston instead of flying and staying at a Motel 6 instead of at the Four Seasons. Do you mind?"

"Not at all," Justin said truthfully.

"You really don't, do you?" Brian marvelled. The elevator stopped at the lower level parking garage and the two of them headed for the Jeep.

"Nope." Justin buttoned up his pea coat as they walked. "My parents always had plenty of money. We belonged to the Arcadian Country Club and lived in a big house in an exclusive suburb. At Christmas and on our birthdays Molly and I used to get tons of expensive gifts. We always stayed at really nice hotels when we went on vacation. I went to St. James' Academy and then to Dartmouth -- and my dad paid cash for me to go to both places. But in the long run it was all fucking meaningless. My father pretends I don't exist, my mother practically bursts into tears every time she sees me, and I almost never see my sister at all. I'm working as a waiter at the Watermark instead of at Taylor Electronics -- but I don't give a shit. I'd rather be a waiter and be able to pursue my art than work with my dad and make a lot of money doing something I hate." They stopped next to the Jeep and Justin unlocked it. "And I'd rather be with you, Brian, no matter what. Even if we were living in a crummy apartment instead of the loft. Or sleeping on a mattress on the floor. As long as I was sleeping next to you, that's all that matters to me. Really."

Brian shook his head. "I'm almost starting to believe that."

"You better believe it!" Justin exclaimed. "Now get your ass into the Jeep! I'm taking you to lunch -- my treat!"

"Ever heard the term 'bossy bottom'?" Brian laughed. "I think I'm truly and royally fucked!"

"You think so?" Justin grinned. "Just wait until we get home!"

©Gaedhal, December 2006.

Posted November 5, 2007.