The ego is not master in its own house.
--Sigmund Freud, A Difficulty in the Path of Psycho-Analysis

Being entirely honest with oneself is a good exercise.
--Sigmund Freud, Origins of Psychoanalysis

"It's your turn," Denise says and elbows him toward the edge of their bed. With love, no doubt. Extra hard because it comes with extra love. "There's milk in the freezer if she's hungry." She pulls the covers up around her cheeks and rolls toward the wall.

Brad rouses. Now he hears the ruckus from the baby monitor. It's been his turn for the past five months, but that's okay with him. He figures that Denise did it all on her own for nine months. Then there was the delivery, breast feeding and…well, the rest of it. He figures this is the very least he can do to help out.

Denise agrees. It is the very least that he can do, she says.

He straightens his pajama top and his feet hit the floor. Barefoot, he pads down the hall to the nursery. Bradley has pulled up against the bars of her crib and is squalling at the top of her lungs. At eight months, Denise says that she's getting heavy, but Bradley's no effort for him. With ease, he tucks her into the crook of one arm and she quiets. Football style, he carries her to the kitchen and tells her some of his late-night private thoughts while he warms the bag and preps the bottle.

When he settles into the rocker with her and watches her transfixed on his face, everything that once seemed like troubles or cares just falls away. Before she was born, he never knew what it was like to love this much. He tips the bottle and rubs her back and thanks the God that let her be born to him.

If he were a mother, he could never give up breast feeding. It would be hard to explain on her first day of school, but he'd make his case somehow. How could any woman voluntarily surrender a bond like that?

With subconscious reflex, he hugs her tighter against his chest.

When Denise gets up at sunrise, she finds them both asleep in the chair. She puts the bottle in the washer, carries Bradley back to bed, and lies down for just a half-an-hour more.

Funny, she was never this tired before--not even when she worked all day.

Brad comes home late that night. Bradley is already in bed, but Denise is not.

She pulls back before kissing him, the incipient pucker turning into a sniff. "Have you been drinking?" The accusation is the first greeting out of her mouth.

"We had a staff meeting over beers. I was expected to go. I was expected to have a beer. Like everyone else, I did. I didn't even finish it." He hadn't. Concentrating on not pushing as he passes her, he sets down his trial bag and makes his way to the bedroom. He's not that tired, but it's too late for the gym, so maybe the best thing is to just go to sleep.

But she follows him, still talking. "If you're drinking, you're going to get fired again. Where would you go then? There's no place lower than the D.A's."

He elects to ignore the dig. He doesn’t want to fight, and he certainly doesn’t want to explore the actual answers. "I'm not getting fired. Dan was sitting two chairs away downing beers and trading anecdotes with me all night. The place was probably his idea. In fact, this meeting was in part my three month performance review, and it was stellar."

In fact, his three month review had been last week. It had been stellar, but he hadn't chosen to tell her about it yet. No particular reason--the time just never seemed right to talk.

Brad peels of his jacket and continues to undress for bed.

"You're on a program; there could be action against your license--"

"For Pete's sake, Denise, what do you want me to do? Take a breathalyzer?" He's stopped mid-button.

"I want you to be well."

Denise sounds as tired as he suddenly feels. "I don't mean to fight," she continues. "Maybe you don't remember how bad it was while you were drinking, but I do, and I don't want to go back to that. I can't go back to that and I can't let our daughter go back to that. I'm worried about you."

"Worried about me, or worried about yourself? Worried I'll fail my responsibilities to this family yet again? I screwed up, Denise. I screwed up; I'm not proud of that, but I'm fixing it, and you and Bradley have never gone without because of me. And never will. How long are you going to keep throwing that one mistake in my face?"

"That's not fair. Worried about you is worried about us. Worried about me. We're a family; we're supposed to be in this together. Don't you get it, Brad? It's not just about you any more."

She leaves the bedroom, quietly closing the door behind her with a soft click. He would have understood her better if she'd slammed it and yelled.

He climbs between the sheets trying to remember when in his life it ever has been just about him.

Bradley was not even three months old when it happened. Denise woke in the middle of the night to the sound of the shower running. She followed it to the master bath and opened the door to a cloying cloud of alcohol- infused steam. Glass shards lay sprayed across the floor in a bog of coagulating blood with a ruined Kentucky bourbon label clinging to a few of the larger ones as if for dear life.

In the stall, her husband leaned against the wall sobbing as if his heart would break.

"Brad, are you drunk again?" It was after four. No way he could be sober in time for work. Blind fury rose before her eyes.

Then she considered all the blood.

She jerked open the stall door. He was unhurt but for a trickle curling out from under one apparently otherwise intact foot. However, he was hairless below his eyebrows except for a Rorschach-like patch of hard to reach stragglers mid-back. His and hers razors lay fallen against the shower drain: the blades of one choked up and dead, the other nearly so.

"What did you do?" she said. "Why?"

"I don't know," he replied to one or both. He looked as lost as she'd ever seen anyone before.

"Denise--" He reached for her, slipped, and fell to his knees. The reverberation of the thud echoed painfully in her ears.

"I'm sorry, but I can't take care of the both of you." She turned off the water and pressed a towel into his hand. He let it fall to the stall floor where it filled heavy with water, hairs and blood.

"I'm sorry," she repeated, "My baby needs me. I can't do it any more. You're going to have to be a grown-up and get out of this yourself." Either that, or just get out. It was beginning to alarm her how little it mattered to her and Bradley which one he chose.

Leaving her bloody slippers at the edge of the tile, she went to dig out the Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers printout and left it by his phone.

It was not what he expected a shrink's office to look like. It was light and airy. A big desk separated doctor from patient, and the only couch was in the waiting room.

"So tomorrow's your first day with the D.A.'s office. How does that make you feel?"

Brad ruffled himself in the chair. He still itched where the body hair was growing back--which was pretty much everywhere. It seemed like there should have been a hair-shirt joke in that somewhere, but he could never manage to ferret one out.

"It's not where I saw myself at this stage in life, but I accept that I've made mistakes, have to pay the consequences of them, and earn the respect and trust of colleagues and clients back again. The sooner I begin, the sooner I remake my reputation and move back up to better things. I say: Let's get on with it."

"That's a very commendable and positive attitude, but what I asked was: How does that make you feel?"

Brad weighed the question. It was not one he wanted to answer, but his working theory was that it was like the LSATs: when he'd answered some critical mass correctly, he'd get a pass and be released from these weekly sessions. So with that goal in mind, he swung at every one.

"Uncomfortable. Uneasy. Not about the job. I could do A.D.A. cases blindfolded, but how do I fit in? Will I be perceived as too good based on my résumé or not good enough because of how I got there? Will that affect my assignments, my chances to get noticed, my chances to get rehired by a private firm? My whole life I've believed that hard work and doing the right thing will pave a man's path to success, but this time I'm not so sure. This time I wonder if my little...detour might have changed the road map."

Actions are infinitely easier to vocalize than feelings, and so he hoped a professional would recognize one within the other. "You know, I already laid out my clothes for tomorrow. I spent almost an hour going back and forth over which suit I should wear. How expensive should the shoes be. I spent over thirty minutes just picking out a tie.

"Do you want me to slow down if you're going to start taking notes?" Brad raised his eyes to the rapid scratching of the pen.

"I'm fine. Your tie, you say?"

Brad chuckled. "Yeah, my old boss had a thing about them. He wore the most amazing ties, and always noticed ours. He said much of a lawyer's power of intimidation lies in his tie. I always tried to buy mine to go along with whatever type he currently-- You're sure you don't want me to slow down?"

"He's not alone in that thinking. Freud considered neckties to be phallic symbols."

Brad fingered his clip-on. "No way Denny put that much thought into it. I doubt he knows anything about Freud--except maybe what Anna looks like naked. There are only three things he knows about: litigation, easy women and cigars."

"You were friends with Denny?"

"Friends? Yes, well, no. Friends doesn't begin to cover it. Denny: I love him. He's like my father, my best gun buddy and the most beautiful prom queen I've ever seen all rolled up into one."

Brad strains his neck to see the notepad. "You don't have to write that down about the prom queen. I mean, like a paragon you put up on a pedestal to aspire to...but you know that never in a million years could you ever--

"That's a lot of notes about Denny? Aren't these sessions supposed to be about me?"

"Of course. Tell me more about why you chose the clothes you did."

Brad resisted the urge to scratch his balls and wondered how many more of these sessions they were going to make him sit through in order to prove he didn't need to be here.

Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers had saved his license, his marriage, but help had not been in time to save his job. Brad doesn't hold it against anyone beside himself. Had he been the one voting, he would have axed any partner performing as badly and acting as erratically as he had those past six months.

He'll follow the state program because that's the deal to keep his license. Except for these bogus psychobabble sessions, he doesn't really mind. Following rules because they're there has always come naturally to him. And since he's been back at work, the shrink's been great about fitting him in around his court calendar. Brad has the unpleasant feeling it's no big deal because so few of the shrink's other lawyer assistance patients have calendars to work around.

People have said variety of unkind things about him over the years, but he's never been called stupid. Brad notes that trend with others in his situation, and takes it as a warning.

"How did you feel being in a bar with people drinking?"

"I didn't even think about it. It was a casual staff meeting. We were expected to order a beer. I did. I had a couple sips, nothing that would show up the next day. No big deal. Denise wants to turn everything into one, but this isn't." Brad rocks back in his chair.

"Some might see her interest in your recovery as a positive."

Brad lets his body language acknowledge as much.

"How long is it that you've been dry?"

"November third. That's--" Brad thinks. "Twenty-two weeks. Twenty-three."


"I'm telling you, it's not a problem. I don't even like drinking. I don't even know why I started back then. I never liked it."

"That's the part that concerns me. If you don't know why you started, how can you make changes to keep from starting again?"

Of all the dumb questions. How do you keep from picking up a drink? A cigarette? A book? How do you charge into a combat zone or how do you not go into a casino? Like his drill sergeant said, you don't think about the what or why: you just tell your body what to and you do it.

Brad takes comfort in the realization that he has the answer to what is below being an ADA: being a behavioral therapist.

But they sure do go through a lot of pens.

Brad hardly ever remembered his dreams before, but he nearly always does now. They play out with the clarity of a DVD in full color with surround sound and special features. His internist said that was one of the side effects of the Zoloft. That and something men don't usually associate with little blue pills these days. The latter hadn't been an issue to speak of. Things had changed since the marriage--since Denise had had the baby. His buddies say a lot of women got that way after--to be understanding and not push her. He never does, great guy that he is.

So that side effect isn't a problem, but the dreams--the dreams are sometimes enough to wear him out.

Most times he dreams he is in combat under fire. Cannons pound, rifles fire, missiles soar over head and arc back down to ground. All around there are explosions, the acrid smell saltpeter and earth. He awakes in the morning, heart racing, body at alert, skin sticky with sweat.

"You all right?" Denise asks. Her voice holds real concern, yet she never suggests he stop taking the pill.

"Yeah. Yeah, just another dream." He wipes his face, kisses her and gets up to start his day.

"A case against your old firm. How do you feel about that?"

"There's nothing to feel," Brad says. "The legal process is an orchestrated adversarial system. There's nothing personal about it. It's like professional wrestling. We all do the jobs we're paid for--that job that the clients deserve and expect--then we all go out for drinks together afterward."


"It's an expression. I have no problem trying a case against Denny. In fact, I'm looking forward to seeing him again."

"And the other lawyer on the case? The friend of Denny's?"

"Alan Shore." Even Brad hears his own voice grow cold. He's not surprised at the accusation that follows.

"You don't like him. Why do you think that is?"

"It's not that I don't like him. It's more that he doesn't respect himself. He does all these terrible horrible things to live down to the miserable self-image he's painted internally, and yet he can't see it. He's so focused on himself, that like the Emperor with--or without--his new clothes, he can't see far enough away to assess his own actions. It makes him very unpleasant to be around, and no, I don't like to be around him."

Actually, Alan had mellowed considerably in his time at the firm, and most of what Brad had said, if true once upon a time, no longer was. But the first rule of warfare is "Better wrong than retreat" and so Brad sticks to his statement.

"That's very insightful."

"Thank you. I like to think I've learned some things in my time here." He hopes the hint wasn't too obvious.

"And that's the only reason you dislike this friend of Denny's?"

Brad has the grace to look uncomfortable, but he suspects that backpedaling is even worse in psychoanalysis than in regular war. "That's right."

"Hmm." The pen begins scratching for the first time this session.


"Brad! Soldier!"

Brad tries to give him an enormous hug, but he's not fast enough. Denny gets the hug started first and Brad is left more in hug receive mode than give.

"Alan." Once released, Brad really tries with a smile and a sincere palm. After all, he's supposed to be starting over.

"Bradley." Alan offers back an eyebrow and a snotty tone but no hand. In some ways it's like he's never left. Brad's not sure if that's good or bad.

"But…what are you doing over here? The D.A.s office?" Denny gestures to the wrong side of the aisle. "Don't you work for me?"

The noise Alan makes reverberates through the awkward pause.

"You fired me, Denny."

"I did?" Denny gives a look of consternation. Or conceivably it's constipation... which often amounts to the same thing.

"Your firm did. Don't worry," Brad hastens. "I deserved it. I had…was having...problems. I'm better now."

"Good. I'm very glad to hear it." Alan's staring directly into his eyes, and Brad finds to his surprise, that he is the first one to turn away.

"It's really good, really good to see you again." Brad clears his throat. "I was wondering: what are you doing tonight?" As an afterthought, he includes Alan with turn of his head.

"I'm picking up Denny's Wii."

"His wee?" Brad's eyes dart between the two of them.

"His Wii. Wii." Alan repeats it for emphasis.

"You're picking up Denny's wee-wee?" Brad puzzles and tries to focus.

"Well, Wii Fit." Denny clarifies.

Alan looks smug, not that there's anything new there, but still.

"I'm...sure you do."

"Why do you ask?" Alan is staring at him again. Or still.

"No reason. I thought maybe we could catch up, but there's plenty of time."

Brad drops all thought about inviting himself over that evening. Instead he makes an early night and plays with his daughter, but in bed, thoughts of Denny's wee-wee intrude upon his drifting off.

He decides the shrink doesn't need to know about that.

"I had a new dream the other night," Brad says.


"No. Completely different. This was fountains. I was surrounded by great big fountains towering and arching and spraying all around me. There must have been twenty of them, all of them shooting over my head. I should have been soaked to the bone, but I wasn't. I just stood there and watched them--they were so beautiful. And I caught some in my mouth.

"That's a good sign, right?" Brad says, as the pen starts moving furiously again. "Better than combat? You guys say that water is like a cleansing or a rebirth in a new life."

"Something like that."

Brad waits until the pen is laid down again.

"She asleep?" Brad asks as he kisses Denise hello.

"Mm-hmm." Her hands are moving under his shirt and her pelvis against his thigh.

His penis is at attention, but he orders it at ease.

"I'm going to go say good night. I won't wake her up, I promise," he adds in response to Denise's stabbing glare.

When he finishes with Bradley, Denise is in bed. The lights are low and something smells good, like vanilla or maybe pears.

Brad flips on the TV to TBS.

"I'm thinking about going back to work," Denise says.

"You don't have to do that." He's putting pajamas on now. His old man pajamas she'd called them back at the beginning. "Bradley needs you, and I'm making more than enough."

"I didn't say I had to. I'm telling you that I'm thinking about it," Denise says. "Or now are you planning to order me not to think?"

Now he looks at her, really looks at her. She's wearing that white lace teddy he always liked. She's more than got her figure back from having Bradley, but her hair hasn't lost any of the shine. Funny how he can fight and admire her body at the same time. One of those paradoxes of the mind.

"Think whatever you want. You always do. But I have closing arguments in the morning, and I need to be rested. That's real." He yanks back one half of the covers and curls up on his side.

"Denny, Alan." Brad shakes over his loss as a good sportsman should. "Good job, and good seeing you again."

"Good seeing you." Denny slaps him on the back. "We should get together soon, pardner." He pours himself a last glass of water from the pitcher on the defense table.

"About that," Brad says, "I'm free tonight. What are you doing?"

"Domesticity," Alan answers with an oblique grin. "Shaking the sheets, stowing sausages, polishing doorknobs, cleaning the kitchen, and so forth." He holds a completely straight face. Then he takes the glass from Denny and rinses his throat.

Brad gives them both a funny look before striding out of the courtroom.

"What’s the matter with him?" Alan asks.

"I don't know." Denny drains the last from the glass and sets it down. "First time seeing two guys, one cup?"

"How did the case go?"

"We lost. I lost, but it was to Denny, so…" Brad lets the sentence trail off. "Doesn't count. Everyone knows that. I handled it well. I'm satisfied. Denny's never lost a case, you know."

"Still, that would bother a lot of people trying to rebuild."

"Well…I did have another dream."


"No, water again, but different. There were snakes."


"Sea snakes. I was floating in this warm valley between the waves, when all of the sudden, I was dragged under by dozens--hundreds--of these thick, white sea snakes. I fought against them, but they dragged me down. But instead of drowning, I popped back up gasping for breath and dripping wet.

"That's good, right?" Brad asks as the pen comes to the end of one page and starts on the next. "Cleansing through experience." His LIT 101 prof had had a thing about water imagery, and Brad figures lit, psych--all that artsy-fartsy stuff has to be pretty much the same.

"Mmm." A page flips, and the pen starts again at the top.

"I'm thinking I might go back to work." Denise makes the announcement over dinner.

"I told you, you don't have to. I'm doing fine. I should be getting a performance bonus next month and a raise at the end of six." Brad's the one feeding Bradley in her highchair, his own meal growing colder by the minute.

"Who said 'have to?' Maybe I'd prefer to be in a nice, neat office where people look up to me rather than up to my elbows in spit-up and number two all day. Maybe I'd like to talk to some intelligent people who respect me for something other than the snack food that comes out of my breasts. Maybe I'd like to think about something other than diaper rash and Teletubbies for a few hours a day. Did you ever consider that my decision might possibly be about me and not you?" Denise tosses down her fork.

"We've talked about this--"

"You've talked about this. You've made it very clear you want a traditional Cleaver family, and I tried it your way. I did. I've tried it for more than eight months. But I don't like it. I'm not your mother. We aren't your parents. What worked for them can't work for me, for us. I gave it a fair try because I love you and because I said that I would. I have to live the life I want, not some ideal of what someone thinks I should want. We all do.

"You too, Brad. It's not the end of the world not to want to be the man your father wanted to be. Think about it. Would your father ever have spent an evening feeding a baby? What else will you miss out on if you arbitrarily decide to live out your entire life the way that you've decided he thinks everyman's life should be?"

"How do you feel about your wife going back to work?"

"I think it probably scares me," Brad says.

"Scared that she won't need you any more?"

"No, scared for her. I had this dream about it. I was surrounded by buildings-- skyscrapers, monoliths--towering way up into big, billowing clouds. I couldn't find Denise. I was frantic, looking for her, calling her, but instead all those buildings came tumbling down on me.

"Do you think it has something to do with 9-11?" Brad asked. He thinks it's pretty obvious that it does, but it makes him sound self-aware and he wants to fill time until the pen come to a halt.

"What do you think?"

Brad tries to unobtrusively check his watch.

"Don't worry; I think we're getting close to done."

"Denny, it's Brad. Brad Chase. How are you?" Absently Brad juggles a baseball in one had. "I was wondering if I could come over tonight. I need to get out of the house. ….Netflix? Sounds good. How long's your queue and what does it look like these days?....Alan's handling your queue? Why would you--?" Brad turns the phone away for a second and thinks. "You know, maybe we should do this some other night. Have a good one." Brad tosses the baseball into the garbage can for two points and hangs up the phone.

The walls are closing in. He's got to get out of the house.

Lawyer bars wouldn't be so bad, Brad thinks, if it weren't for all the lawyers in them. The problem is, that's about the only place Brad knows to go. When stressed, people fall back on the familiar whether or not they consider it good. He can't remember where he heard that, but it explains why he's sitting down in the smell of smoke and stale alcohol, although they both make him equally uncomfortable these days.

"Well now, if I didn't just draw me an opening with the prize quarter horse in this rodeo. That's what I say." Something slick, oily and probably very bad for the planet slides in to the chair beside Brad. "Melvin Palmer." Melvin extends a hand.

"Brad Chase. How's it going?" Brad returns the minimum shake: fingertip grip, down once and detach. With his tone he tries for polite but distant. Jordan, Iran, Korea, Uranus...

"My daddy always told me you could spot a prize stallion by the set of his tail. I've been watching your tail all night, and I must say, yours is setting fine, that's what I say. I've always had the greatest admiration for daddies. How 'bout you?"

Brad blinks. There's a hand on his thigh.

"Let's go see if my daddy's theory was right." When he leans close Melvin's breath reeks of bourbon without mixer. Now his palm's cupped against Brad's crotch.

Brad moves Melvin's wrist with just enough force to showcase how much force he holds in reserve has but elected not to use. "No thanks. I've got court in the morning." He pays for his club soda and leaves.

It's not even 9:30 when he gets home. Denise is on the sofa in her nightgown and reading. She looks up, surprised but pleased.

Yes, he's sure she's pleased.

"Bradley asleep?" He kisses her like he used to.

"Um, hum." He draws her by the waist into the guest bedroom and takes her the first time first hard and fast, the second time like a Sunday afternoon.

"I made love to my wife last night," Brad says, with the air of the Marines raising the flag atop the mountain of Iwo Jima. "I know how your practice model utilizes sexual relationships as a marker for overall psychosocial health and global functioning, and how you seem to be particularly focused on my marital relations, so I thought I'd get that out in open and maybe we can make this a quickie. I'm in trial this week. I've got a lot to do." He rocks back in his chair and watches the flag wave.

"Actually, I was going to ask you how you felt being out in a bar with colleagues drinking around you, but since you brought it up, let's start with sex with your wife. Tell me, why do you think that's at the forefront of your mind?"

The pen stands poised at the top of a blank page.

He was at work for Bradley's first steps. Denise records it, and they watch it together over and over, his arm around her shoulders. When Brad realizes he is crying, he tries to turn his head so that she won't see.

When the recording is switched off, Denise breaks the news.

"I've decided to go back to work. Paul Lewiston offered me a part-time associate's position at his new firm, and I took it. I'll be interviewing nannies starting tomorrow."

"I think after the nanny starts, after you're sure--we're sure--that she'll be good with Bradley, I think that I should move out...for now."

There is a long pause.

"I think that's probably a good idea." Silently, so silently, tears run down in streams.

"I wish there was something I could say to convince you of how much I love you." He struggles with the question of whether it would be worse to try to hold her now or not to.

"I know you do. My first husband, he lied to other people but never himself. At the time I thought there was nothing worse than that, but I know different now. And I can tell the difference. When you say you love me, I believe you. I just wish I were still young enough to believe that love can be enough."

He throws both arms around her, and she falls into his chest, sobs coming now in great, throat-wrenching heaves, and he clutches her with all his might.

The tiny apartment feels much too big for one. It's two whole days before he gets Bradley, and he can't for the life of him remember what he did with his time before she was born.

He's worked out like a dervish, cleaned everything there is to clean, surfed the channels until his thumb's numb, finished every Tom Clancy novel he brought with him assuming he'd never have time to read.

He picks up the phone and dials.

For once Denny doesn't answer with his names.


Too late, Brad notices it's almost eleven o'clock.



Alan? "Alan, is Denny there?"

"The adjoining pillow. Won't be a sec."

"Denny Crane."

"Denny. Brad Chase. I didn't wake you, did I?"

"No, not even sleepy. We just finished tying the knot."

"Tying the knot? With Alan?" Some things made more sense when he was getting drunk and passing out every night. "You wouldn't be pulling my leg?"

"Course not, man! It was my idea. I…I mean, Alan asked me to sleep with him, but I came up with the idea of us getting hitched."

In the background, Brad hears Alan snort.

"Well, Denny, I don't know what to say except congratulations, and I appreciate your trust in confiding in me. I'd send a gift, but I suppose you don't need another toaster." He tries for the weak joke to cover his confusion. He really thinks things were simpler during the Desert Storm when all you had to know to understand the world was that oil and America were good and everything else could take its chances.

"We could use a supply of extra jelly." Brad hears Alan quip in the background and he makes a face.

"Did you call about something, Soldier?"

"Oh, I, uh-- I was just hoping to shoot the breeze, but clearly this isn't a good time. I'm interrupting your--" He thinks about what he's interrupting and drops off mid-sentence. "Really, congratulations. I mean it. I know I come off a little stiff sometimes--"

Brad catches something about "like an I-bar up shoved up his backside."

"--but I love you to death, I wish you the very best, and I'd like to buy you both a drink sometime to celebrate. Good night."

Just before he clicks off, he hears Alan gripe, "Well you should have thought of that before I finished roping you up."

Brad sometimes thinks the world is a great big cosmic joke that everyone beside him read the punch line to in a fortune cookie or something, and he is getting really, really tired of being left out.

Alone with his thoughts, he just stares at the wall, willing the answer to appear.

Bradley's toddling on her own and has said her first words: mama, bang-bang and "boll" for bottle, in that order. Miles away, a police van pulls up at the jail and empties out its haul for the afternoon, a bevy of hand-cuffed protesters in leather, denim and every gay pride item ever made, sold, envisioned or feared.

Brad towers over the most of them, so although his pink feather boa is trailing drooping down his back, he manages not to trip but to keep it pinched between neck and shoulders until his hands are freed in booking.

"Can I keep it?" he asks. "It's cold in here." He looks down. Where a stainless steel hoop stands erect in a fresh piercing, his nipple is throbbing a bit.

"Sorry, Dorothy. I hear you Special Ops guys are lethal with these. Can kill a man before they even see you coming." The officer confiscates the boa. He seems to be thinking about the hoop, but decides not to mess with it in the end.

"My phone call," Brad says.

"900 numbers are blocked," the cop says.

Asshole. "Alan," Brad calls into the phone. "I need your help. I've been arrested."

It's not that Brad is reluctant to tell him what for, but one of the organizers had decided that holding the demonstration on April Fool's day might get them extra attention, and Brad knows how this will sound over the phone on April 1.

"I'll tell you when you get here. Would you please just come? I really need your help." Brad hangs up the phone and holds his head high for the cat-calls and whistles on the march to his holding cell.

Alan sits across the table from him.

Brad is in a leather harness covering not much other than a Marine's best friend. "Semper Fideles" is written in lickable fingerpaint across his chest, one letter in each color of the rainbow. Fortunately, he's managed to borrow a denim bolero vest from some kind soul. Unfortunately, it is about two sizes too small.

It also has "No body knows I'm a lesbian" in neon lavender bubble paint emblazoned across the back and a rather demure (considering) glittery pink triangle over one breast.

"If you're going to ridicule me, I'd just as soon you went ahead and got it over with so we can move on to the charges and our response. We all have our needs. I have mine; you have yours. Go on; get it done with. I can take your mocking me, but I'd like to get out of here as soon as possible." Brad's lips are as tight as his pecs still are, and his nipple ring quivers with each emphasis.

"Bradley," Alan says to him. "Of the multitude of thoughts tumbleweeding through my head at this situation, I assure you that none of them are remotely related to laughter or ridicule." He seems as sincere as Brad has ever seen him. Not that that's saying much, but recently Brad's been less confident about exactly what he does know about anyone.

Brad softens, but not too much. He's been suckered by Alan too many times before. "Actually, I'd prefer you did mock me. I'd find it reassuring to…feel that nothing has really changed because of this."

"Oh, rest assured: I still find you the same insufferably arrogant, self-righteous ass I always have. But as for laughter: when a person has to work and claw to be who he is--who he wants to be--that's a cause for admiration and encouragement, not ridicule. So, like it or not, you're going to have to settle for grudging respect. Now, as for these charges--"

"Penny ante," Brad says. He's more relieved at the subject change than he cares to admit. "Everyone else they arrested was for property damage. They only picked me up because they recognized me, and it's no secret the chief of police wants the D.A. out of office. They're trying to use me to embarrass him. If I'd been Brad Chase, accountant, they never would have bothered with me."

"Likely so. And yet you are guilty. There are 10,000 witnesses and several dozen news video tapes. It seems that a plea and a fine--"

"I can't. I can't have this come down on my boss. I can't lose this job. I can't. That's why I called you instead of Denise. She could have--would have--handled a plea for me, but…I need this to go away completely."

Alan considers. "I'll need Denny--his contacts. He'll need to know something of the particulars, including those he may find distasteful and may make your future relationship with him awkward. I take it that discretion on your activities and sexual politics is not of primary concern to you?" Alan nods toward the chest finger-paint.

Brad furrows his brow. "Why would Denny--?"

"It cannot possibly have escaped your notice that he is an unrepentant homophobe."

"But...I thought-- Aren't you and he--?" Brad stops trying. Hasn't the whole point of the past year been that none of that stuff matters?

He takes a breath and starts over. "Tell anyone you want to. Put the story on the Internet, for all I care. As long as it's about me and has no reflection on my job, office or the D.A. I'm not ashamed of who I am, or what we did. I didn't hurt anyone or anything. The civil rights violation needed public attention and we got it. We got it. Tell anyone. Tell everyone."

"Good," says Alan. "I believe we can make this work." He closes his legal folder but keeps his gaze on Brad's chest.

"What?" says Brad. He eyes Alan with suspicion and pulls one flap of the vest across his pecs in an amusing but ultimately futile effort to cover himself.

"If you're not going to be needing that outfit Friday night--" Alan licks his lips.

Brad's chair scrapes the floor as he pushes back and jolts to his feet. "Guard!"

Brad wakes up minutes before the alarm goes off. He mashes the off button and nudges the warm body at his side. "Wake up."

There's no response.

"Wake up," he repeats, louder this time. He moves his mouth beneath the sheets and begins to nip.

"I'm up, I'm up!" comes the playful response. Tonio pulls Brad's head up to his lips in the interest of sparing his nipples.

"Ugh, morning breath."

"Ugh, cock breath." Tonio rolls his eyes.

They kiss again, this time for real.

"What time is it?"

"Six." Brad turns the clock around as proof.

"Oh, no. You kill yourself jogging if you insist on it; I'm going back to sleep. See you tonight." Tonio pulls the covers back up over his head.

"That's what I need to tell you about. This is my weekend with Bradley--my daughter. I'm picking her up right after work. It's probably better if you stay at your place until Monday. Not that you're missing much at the park with a one-year old." Brad hops up and into running shorts.

"Sure," Tonio says. "Sure. I get it. Her mother have problems with the boyfriend?"

Brad gives a ruefully laugh. "Not like you mean. An unemployed actor waiting tables who dodged selective service and hangs posters in support of saving the gay whales from acid rain and has no long-term interest in a woman: you'll be lucky if she doesn't try to marry you."

"Oooh. I never thought of you as the bitter type."

"No." Brad does a double-take, surprised that not everyone automatically sees the vision of Denise that's in his mind. "She's the most incredible woman I've ever met. She just… has this way of picking the worst possible men for her."

Tonio flips out of bed and rummages the carpet for his shorts. "My college therapist said that a female persona, if childless, will feed her id by picking love interests not as partners, but those who need to be nurtured."

"Really, is that what he said happened to you?"

"No. He said I'm a flaming faggot." Tonio beams a smile at him and Brad laughs, reveling in how plain good it feels.

"I take Bradley back to her mother's at eight on Sunday. I should be home by nine if you want to come by then."

Tonio flops back on the bed beside him. "Hey Brad, I don't want to make waves with you and her mother, but if you mean it... I know it's only been three weeks and I don't want to freak you out or anything, but when I came out--really came out to myself--my one regret was that I'd never have kids. I've always wanted them. I'd kinda like to stay. I'd like to meet her."

For the first time in, well, maybe ever, Brad think that maybe he really can have it all.

He remembers the parade of his father's girlfriends each one looking about the same as the last, but each pronouncing his name a little differently, always wrong.

Denise was right. His daughter will have better than that. He slips the apartment key around his neck.

"That's great," Brad says, but not this time. "I barely know myself well enough to try to be two people at the same time. When I have her, I have to be there for her absolutely. Maybe in a few months--" If you're still around...

Brad smiles and rubs his hand across Tonio's abs. "I'll be back in thirty or so. If you take a shower now, I can drive you home on my way to work."

"I'll take the bus," Tonio says and rolls over. "I can't do Sunday. I close for Leo, but later in the week, okay?"

"Okay," Brad says. He kisses him one more time, then sets out for his run, his head filled with ideas for Bradley for the next two days.