Changes 12

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This is a gay adult story with the consequent language and images. If homosexuality and/or sexually explicit themes offend you then do not continue. If these are illegal in your area, then you have my sympathy, but you proceed at your own risk.

This is a work of fiction, and as such the characters are not bound by the usual dictates of modern society. Unsafe sexual practices can be undertaken with impunity only in the world of fantasy. In reality, it is your obligation and your right to play safely, sanely and healthily.

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When Ian woke the next morning, it was at the disturbance of Veronica, his live-in temporary nurse. He shook the sleep slowly from his mind and began to sit up in bed.

"Hey there, you know you're not supposed to do that without help!" she admonished cheerfully.

"Yeah, I know, but I can't lie here all day."

"That's what I'm here for, give me a second and we'll have you out of bed. Your parents are already up and about - they're on the back deck having breakfast. It was all I could do to stop your mum coming up here."

"Sorry about that," Ian said quietly. "I suspect she's going to make both of our lives hell for the time she's here."

"Don't you worry about me," Veronica said with a smile. "I can look after myself, and she only wants what's best for her son. You should be proud and grateful to have such a caring family."

Ian grimaced, remembering his confession to his parents of the previous evening. "I hope so," he said, more to himself than anything.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Well, I told them some things last night that I don't know how they're going to handle."

The nurse looked down at her charge like a mother hen fussing over her brood. "If you're talking about being gay, then I don't think you have anything to worry about!"

"What? How do you know?"

"I heard your folks talking this morning. Seems that you've simply confirmed what they'd guessed some time ago." She stopped, looking thoughtful, and went on. "Ian, it's probably none of my business, but it seems to me that your parents are fine with your sexuality. If anything they seem relieved that it's out in the open. They really are good people, and you're lucky to have them."

"Thanks, V," he said, letting out a long breath. "I appreciate it."

Half an hour later, Veronica had Ian washed and dressed and downstairs, helping him to a chair beside his mother, then heading for the kitchen to prepare some light breakfast for her patient. Despite her reassurances, Ian faced his parents with a mixture of nervousness and apprehension, unsure of how, or even whether, to rekindle the conversation of last night.

"Hi, Mum, hi Dad," he said weakly.

"Good morning my boy," his father smiled.

"How did you sleep, darling?" asked his mother quickly.

"Fine, fine," he said. "I'm sorry if I crashed out on you, but I was exhausted."

"Very understandable," his mother opined sagely. "It's we who should be saying sorry, for keeping you up, and for putting you through the ordeal of reliving the whole story."

"No," Ian said quickly. "It had to be told. I wasn't keeping it from you for any reason other than to have you not worry when you were so far away. But I did want you to know the truth - the whole truth - as soon as I could speak to you both, face to face."

The young lawyer looked from his father to his mother and back again, trying to read their thoughts. He drew a long breath and unintentionally lowered his eyes.

"Mum, Dad, I'm gay. I know we covered that last night, but I had to say it, to say the words to you out loud." His mother began to speak, but Ian held up his hand, silencing her. "Please, let me get this out. I'm gay! It's not something I chose, it's not something I even wanted to admit to myself for a long while, but it's the truth and I can't change it. I hid it from you, from my friends, from myself for a long, long while, and hiding it hurt like hell, but I couldn't bring myself to face the reality until I met Geoff.

"He showed me that being gay isn't something you have to hide; that it isn't something to be ashamed of. After he was killed I promised myself that I would stop all the pretending, and that if people couldn't accept me for who and what I am, then that was their problem and not mine, but I wasn't going to change or pretend for them." He stopped for a moment, and looked up again, directly at each of them. "I love you both, and I hate the thought that I might be hurting you or disappointing you, but I want you to know the real me." With that, he slumped lower in his chair, a look of imploring on his face as he waited for their reaction.

A long moment of silence ensued, remarkable in itself for anyone who knew Ian's mother. Anne Sterling looked long and hard at her son before glancing sideways for confirmation from her husband, who squeezed her hand in acknowledgment. She cleared her throat and reached for Ian's hand, holding it tightly in her own.

"Ian," she said softly, sincerely. "I doubt that you could ever do anything to hurt us or disappoint us so badly that we would abandon you. We have suspected that you were gay, even known it deep down, if we're being honest, for a long time. But despite what you may think, we don't live in the dark ages. We know that being gay is not something you choose, not something you can control. It's what you are, and we love you. Yes, I'm disappointed - disappointed from a selfish point of view that you won't be giving me grandchildren; disappointed for you, that you won't know the joy and the pain of bringing up children. And I'm hurt too, hurt that you felt you couldn't tell us before, that you had to go through so much pain alone, without our support or our help. Disappointed that we never met the man you fell in love with, and hurt because you are hurting so badly from what has happened."

She sat forward, so that she was holding hands with both of her men, and went on.

"I'm proud of you, Ian. Not because you're gay - that just happened, so you can't take any credit for it ..."

Ian permitted himself the slightest of smiles.

" ... but I'm proud of you because of who you are now, who you have become. You are successful, mature, and honest; and I am so happy to be able to call you my son, and to be able to share your life, all of your life, with you."

Before the young man could respond, his father now spoke, another unusual occurrence in the Sterling family.

"Ian, I won't pretend to you that I would have preferred it if you were not gay. But that isn't because I don't love you, or because I think being gay is wrong. The only reason I would have you any other way is because, despite the advances our society has made in recent years, I know that gay people still suffer, are still marginalised and treated differently, and hurt as a result. I hate the thought that my son will be disadvantaged in any way simply because of who he is. As I understand it, the current theory is that being gay is a genetic disposition, which means that you have your mother and I to thank, or to blame depending on your point of view, for the way that you are."

With that comment he allowed himself a chuckle, and Ian and his mother joined in, breaking the seriousness of the moment to some extent. But Richard wasn't finished yet.

"My son, if there was, if there is, anything I could do to help you avoid the hurt and the pain you will know, I want you to let me know and I will do what I can. All I want for you is to be happy, to find yourself and be proud of what you find." He moved forward, wrapping his arms around his son's shoulders and holding the younger man tightly. "I love you, Ian," he whispered quietly.

Ian's eyes filled with tears. He hugged his father back, and with some discomfort which he ignored, he spread his arms to include his mother as well. "I love you both, so much I can't tell you!" he said.


Over the next two weeks, Ian and his parents mended some bridges, and shared many hopes and dreams as they got to know each other all over again. He recounted for them the whole story of his relationship with Geoff, the police involvement and flight, the trip to Melbourne and the awful detour into Canberra on the way back, with its tragic consequences. His physical wounds healed remarkably quickly, and before long he was able, with the doctors' blessing, to forego the need for a nurse to be with him except for a daily visit to check on him. The young lawyer felt as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders as he was able to truly relax and speak his mind with his family for the first time in years.

Nick and Tina were also constant visitors to the house during that time, enduring light-hearted jibes about helping Ian to deceive his folks, and generally keeping the tone upbeat and bright. Nick managed to renew his acquaintance with Ian's parents, and Tina very quickly became a close friend and adopted daughter to Mr and Mrs Sterling, earning their affection and respect for her level head and down-to-earth nature, and her obvious admiration and love for their son. She had a number of private conversations, especially with Ian's mother and out of ear-shot of Ian himself, along the lines of trying to find ways to match Ian up with a suitable man, someone to take his mind off Geoff Carruthers; someone to give him the love and companionship he so desperately needed.

Maggie, Ian's employer, also called in at one stage, and was introduced to his parents. She spent some time that morning getting to know them, and left feeling much better about Ian's circumstances generally. She made sure she had Anne and Richard Sterling's contact numbers for future reference, and assured them that Ian's position was secure - that his being gay was completely irrelevant to his work.

When the time finally came for the elder Sterlings to return home, both they and Ian were sad at the parting, but feeling much better about the renewed relationship between son and parents. Neither Ian nor his parents had ever felt so close to each other as they did now, and Ian vowed that he would not let any gap grow again between himself and his mother and father. For her part, Anne Sterling had quietly enlisted a spy, in the form of Tina, as an added precaution to ensure that she was kept fully abreast of Ian's life and any problems.

They made their farewells at Ian's home, rather than the airport, with a taxi waiting outside.

"Mum, Dad," Ian said as he held them both in his arms. "I just want to say 'thank you', for being so understanding and so accepting. I don't know what I would have done if you'd rejected me."

"It's us who should be saying thanks," his mother replied. "Thank you for letting us into your life, for sharing yourself with us again. Too many children shut their parents out, and both sides end up the poorer for that!"

"I love you!" said Ian with misty eyes.

"I love you too, darling," his mother stammered.

Richard looked at his son with a smile on his face. "I'm proud of you, Ian," he said. "And I love you!"

"I'll call you as soon as we're home," his mother promised.


Over the next month and a half, Ian steadily improved, needing to be visited by the nurse less and less frequently. Nick and Tina conspired with a number of mutual friends to visit him as often as possible, to keep his mind off Geoff, and to keep him focussed on getting well. Maggie called in several times, ostensibly to seek his advice or assistance on various matters, but in fact to check up on him. And Michael Sciutta also stopped by a couple of times, clarifying certain points and checking the information that Ian had given him concerning Geoff's business contacts, as well as acting as a go between for his federal colleagues who were preparing the case against the men who had killed Geoff and wounded Ian, readying it for hearing in Canberra.

But even with the constant flow of people, Ian soon became restless. He was stuck at home most of the time with little to do. He began to pester the doctors he saw regularly, insisting he was well enough to return to work, and finally they agreed, specifying that he only engage in light duties, but conceding that he could start spending time in the office once again.

Ian rang Maggie with the news, eager to get back to his desk as soon as possible.

"Maggie, I don't know if you have the official confirmation yet, but I've been cleared to come back to work, so I'll be in first thing tomorrow," he said enthusiastically.

"You'll do no such thing!" she declared. "I do indeed have the medical reports, and they state `light work only'. Since today is Wednesday, I don't want you in here until Monday, and even then it will only be for a half day. After that we'll see how you go!"

"But ..." he began to protest.

"That's my best offer, Ian!" she said forcefully. "Take it or leave it."

"Oh ... okay," he said resignedly, cursing her silently for what he saw as undue caution. "I'll see you Monday morning then."

"And not too early either!" she added as she rang off.


Despite his determination to get back to 'normal' as soon as possible, Ian didn't get into his office until after 9.00 on that Monday morning. He suspected, quite rightly, that Maggie would be furious if he disobeyed her and showed up early, and at the last minute, whilst he was dressing that morning, he had an attack of nerves at going back. It would be the first time in months that he had seen many of his work colleagues, and suddenly he began to wonder just what stories had been circulating in that nursery of gossip known as the secretarial pool about his absence.

So it was with a little apprehension that he arrived, and looked nervously out of the elevator doors as they opened to the familiar sign of "Armstrong and Sorensen, Solicitors". Karen the receptionist was seated at her usual place, all smiles and politeness as ever.

"Good morning, Karen," Ian said, feeling self conscious.

"Good morning, Mr Sterling," she replied breezily, as if he hadn't been away, then added, almost as an after-thought, "Welcome back."

"Thanks!" Ian breathed a sigh of relief. Maybe this wasn't going to be as difficult as he'd imagined. He made it to his own office with only a few nodded smiles to several people, and without the need to enter into any real conversation. Almost before he could drop his briefcase onto the desk or shrug off his jacket however, Jill, his secretary was at the door.

"Welcome back, Mr Sterling," she said with a smile. "It's great to see you on deck again."

"Jill," Ian admonished, "What's this 'Mr Sterling' business. Please, call me 'Ian'."

Her smile widened. "Sure thing, boss!" she laughed, and he joined her. "But really, Ian, it's so good to have you back. How are you feeling?"

"Fine, honestly! In fact, I've been going out of my mind with boredom for weeks. I could have been back at work ages ago but for the over-zealous caution of the 'powers-that-be'. You know what doctors are like - always so careful."

"One of those 'powers-that-be' is only following those same doctors' orders, and so should you," said a familiar voice from behind Jill's back. The secretary stepped back quickly to reveal Maggie Jones with a fake but determined frown on her face.

"Oh, Ms Jones, I'm sorry ... I didn't realise you were there," Jill said quickly.

"That's alright Jill," Maggie said reassuringly. "I just want a quick word with our Mr Sterling, then you can catch up on things with him when I'm finished," she smiled.

Jill excused herself, pulling the door closed behind her and leaving Maggie and Ian alone.

"You're quick off the mark!" Ian declared.

"I left specific instructions with Karen to notify me the moment you arrived," she confided. "Ian, I thought you'd like to know what the situation is here with regard to your absence. Officially, you've been on extended sick leave and bereavement leave in accordance with your entitlements, just like any other employee." She allowed herself a knowing smile before she went on. "Unofficially, the gossip is that you were on a weekend trip to Canberra when a client called you for help because he had your number in his phone. You arrived in time to witness his murder, and were attacked and then chased before managing to contact the police and have your attackers arrested. I understand you're something of a hero!"

Ian winced. "But that's not the full story, and I'm no hero ..." he said uncomfortably.

"I know, but that's what is being said. It's up to you who you tell the full story to; what you correct and what you choose to leave out. Jim Rogers knows the whole story, and is keeping an eye on the police case, and ready to help you if you need it."

Ian nodded. Jim was a good friend, and specialised in criminal law. "Anyone else?"

"Jill," Maggie answered with a single word. To Ian's look of surprise, she added, "She was the first one to be told about what had happened. She took the initial call from Nick, and she's a damn fine woman, Ian. I think you can trust her with just about anything."

He smiled. "Okay, I'll take your word for it."

"And Dave Johnson knows the full story as well," Maggie added breezily.

"Dave?" Ian looked startled. "But Dave works in Probate and Estates," he said uncomprehendingly.

"That's right! There are a few matters you need to consider. I have some things to do now, so take your time getting back into it, and don't let Jill give you too much to do first up. I have scheduled a meeting for us - you, me and Dave Johnson, in my office at 12.30. He and I will explain more to you then, okay?"

"Unh, okay," Ian agreed, puzzling over this new development, as Maggie walked out and left him sitting there in confusion. He was still in the same position when Jill's reappearance brought him back to reality. She was holding out a cup of steaming coffee to him.

"You okay?" she asked with genuine concern.

"Yeah," he nodded vaguely, shaking himself back to attention. "Sorry, Jill, just lost in thought."

"Well, on specific instructions from above, I have managed to rescue two files which should rightfully be yours," his secretary bristled, business-like. "I doubt they'll keep you busy for more than an hour at most, but that's all you're allowed for the time being."

Ian grimaced and took the sheaves of paper from her. "I'm not an invalid," he muttered, half to himself.

"I know, Ian, but you've been through a hell of a time, so you need to ease back into things," Jill answered.

He looked at her thoughtfully, remembering what Maggie had said. "Jill, come in and close the door, please."

She nodded silently, surprised at this unusual request, but did as asked. Ian motioned her to a seat opposite him and looked at her enigmatically as she settled herself.

"What are people saying about me, really?" he asked.

Jill coughed a little at the directness of the question. "Most of them are simply saying you were injured when you got caught up in a row between a client and some crims. That's the official line, and the majority are buying it."

"But not everyone?"

"Well ... there are a few who think there's more to it than that. I even heard one fool theorising that you were crooked yourself, that you got stabbed in some deal that went wrong, but no-one else believes that."

He looked at her again, taking his time as he sorted out his questions. "Jill, I know you know the whole story - Maggie told me."

She nodded again, unsure of where he was leading.

"I'm gay."

His secretary reddened slightly, beginning a feeble protest. "Ian, I ..."

Ian interrupted her quickly. "There are going to be a few changes around here," he said. "I'm gay, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise anymore. But I need to know how you feel about that, honestly."

"Um, how I feel about the fact that there are going to be changes?" she asked, still a little confused.

"No, how you feel about me being gay. Are you upset, surprised, disgusted?"

Once more Jill flushed quickly before she looked him directly in the eyes. "Of course I'm not disgusted! Or upset, except maybe a little that I didn't realise earlier, and that I have probably been just as guilty as anyone of assuming otherwise, and trying to push you into relationships you weren't interested in. Surprised? Yes, maybe a little at first, although with hindsight it all makes sense, and I should have seen it before. You just never let anything personal show, Ian. You were hardly the hand-bag toting effeminate stereotype."

He laughed at that, then became serious again. "No, and I never will be. But that's not all there is to being gay."

"I know that, boss. And if you want to keep your personal life secret then I respect that. But people gossip - they always have and always will. And it's the nature of us that we like to see others we admire happy. That's all I ever tried to do when I suggested women you might like to date."

"Things are going to change," Ian re-affirmed. "I don't want the intricacies of my private life becoming the topic of conversation around the water-cooler, but I'm not going to hide who I am anymore either. If someone asks, I'll tell them."

"And if someone asks me?" Jill pressed him.

"You can either plead ignorance and tell them to ask me directly, or use your judgment. If my being gay is relevant, then there's no reason for you to lie or to refuse to tell them, although I can't imagine why it would be relevant to anyone around here."

His secretary had a mischievous look in her eye when she answered. "How about if the one who is asking is good looking, rich, and wants to ask you out on a date?" she said with a laugh.

Ian smiled back at her. "Somehow I don't think I'll be in the dating mood for some time," he said sadly.

"Oh, Ian, I'm sorry."

"No need. Thanks for the suggestion, but I'm just not ready for that yet. Now, I'd better get some real work done, okay?"

"You're the boss," she said as she stood to leave.

"Yeah, I wonder," he chuckled.


The work that Jill had given him, allocated by Maggie, taxed him very little, and Ian was pretty well finished with it in just over an hour and a half. He finished up with dictating some notes and was just about to start looking for something else to do when Jill appeared at his door again.

"Just reminding you that you have a meeting scheduled with Ms Jones and Mr Johnson in Ms Jones' office shortly," she said.

"Oh yes, that's right. Do you know what it's about?" he asked.

"No idea. Maggie Jones' secretary rang me on Friday afternoon and told me to schedule it for you."

"Okay, thanks Jill."

Ian wandered casually around to Maggie's office, wondering why one of the solicitors who practised almost exclusively in the area of deceased estates would be meeting with him, and why Maggie had felt it necessary to divulge all of Ian's details to him. It wasn't that he was upset that Dave Johnson would know - Ian got along well enough with Dave. It was simply that Ian couldn't make the connection between Dave's work and his problems.

He didn't have to wait too long to find out. Almost as soon as the three of them were seated around a large table in Maggie's office, she began.

"Ian, first of all, you're here as a client and not as a lawyer or an employee. So you ask the things a client asks, and you'll be treated that way. We won't be asking for any upfront contribution to fees, but if you go ahead Dave will be charging you at the normal rate as if you were any other client, costs payable at the completion of the matter."

"What matter?" Ian asked, even more confused.

"The Estate of Geoffrey Carruthers," David Johnson announced, as if it were obvious.

"What? I don't have anything to do with Geoff's Estate," Ian protested.

Dave looked at Maggie with surprise, but she nodded easily at him and turned to Ian.

"Yes you do. At the time of his death you were his partner ..."

"Ex partner," Ian interrupted, but Maggie ignored him.

"You were his partner, and you have been nominated as such on all of the autopsy and coroner's reports, as well as on the Federal Police file concerning his death. That was why they released his body to you for burial. Inquiries by both the police and by our own private investigators show that there are no living relatives or other possible claimants to his Estate. He had no siblings, no children, and both of his parents are dead. He made no Will that we have been able to discover, which means he died intestate." She looked at Ian carefully, watching for any signs of distress. She knew how hard it must be for him to have this all brought up again.

"Ian, that means that unless you apply to be appointed Administrator of his Estate, the Public Trustee will do so, and all of his assets will be forfeit to the State." Maggie stopped there and waited for some reaction.

Ian sat quietly in the chair opposite her, his thoughts churning around inside his head. He didn't want any of Geoff's assets, but to have the bureaucrats deal with everything so coldly as they would, and to swallow up everything he had into State Government coffers upset him too. Finally he spoke up.

"But I was no more than his ... uh, boyfriend, for a short while," he said, blushing at the admission despite his resolve to be more open about his sexuality.

Dave Johnson now took up the explanation. "You and he lived together up until the time he left Sydney, and he did that because he was on the run from the police. So strictly speaking he did not actually break up the relationship at that time. And you were with him at the time he died, returning with him to Sydney as I understand it?"

Ian started to open his mouth but Maggie jumped in. "Ian, don't say anything yet. Let Dave finish before you make any comment. I may have some suspicions about what you're thinking, but there's a lot to consider here, and a very fine line to tread."

Chastised but silent, Ian nodded for Dave to continue.

"Because there is no-one else who would make any claim on the Estate, all you need do is sign a declaration that at the time of his death, you and he were in a de facto relationship."

"But a homosexual relationship?" Ian asked, unable to hold his tongue.

Dave looked surprised, and Maggie tutted gently. "Ian, you haven't been keeping up to date with the changes to the Probate statutes! The relevant laws were changed in New South Wales quite some time ago now, to include same-sex couples in the definition of 'de facto relationships' for the purposes of Estates and Probate."

"Which means that as the de facto partner of an intestate person, you are automatically entitled to the vast majority of his Estate. All of it, in fact, if there are no other possible beneficiaries," Dave added.

"I'm not after his money. I never was!" Ian said softly, sadly.

"No, but do you want the government to get it?" asked Maggie.

"How much are we talking about?" Ian asked.

"Well, that's a little unclear just yet," Dave said. "I've made some enquiries with the New South Wales Police, and as I suspected they will be making a claim against some assets under the Proceeds of Crime legislation. But it would appear that such a claim will be limited to funds held in company names for which Mr Carruthers was the sole shareholder, and where there is no feasible explanation for those funds having been acquired by legitimate means. How far they get with that I'm not sure - it's outside my area of expertise." Dave stopped a moment while he checked the papers in front of him again. "But leaving those amounts aside, the funds in accounts which could reasonably have come from his legal investments, together with the real estate properties he owned and various other assets which the police don't seem interested in, add up to a total of ... just under nine million dollars!"

Ian's jaw dropped. He looked from Dave to Maggie and back to Dave again. "I had no idea," he said, when finally he could speak again.

"There's another two million dollars or so which the police will be claiming as I mentioned," Dave added.

"I wouldn't challenge that!" Ian declared immediately.

"Then you'll do it?" Maggie asked.

"I don't know," Ian said. "I'll have to think about it."

"Don't wait too long," Maggie warned. "The police need an Administrator appointed in order to make their claim against the Estate, so if you don't do it soon, the Public Trustee's Office will."


Ian sat in his kitchen, perched at the bench and looking out of the glass doors into his yard, but he wasn't seeing his garden at all. He had excused himself from the meeting and gone home early in a daze. Nine million dollars! Geoff's legacy to him? Or blood money?

He didn't know what to do. He was lost and alone all over again. Somewhere deep inside he heard a voice - his own voice - declaring that he wouldn't let things get the better of him ever again, that he would share his life and his feelings with his friends. Almost absently, he dialled Nick's number and Tina answered.

"Hi, Ian," she said brightly. "You're lucky you caught me. I'm usually not home yet, but I had some things to do, and finished early, so here I am."

"Uh, that's great, Tina," Ian answered uncomprehendingly. "I was wondering if you guys were doing anything this evening?"

"No, I don't think so. Is everything alright?"

"Yeah, but I could really use a chat, talk something through with you, and I don't seem to have the energy to get up and out."

"Of course," Tina responded quickly, sensing the confusion in Ian's voice, and trying to disguise her own concern. "I'll come over straight away. I'll ring Nick at work and tell him to go directly to your place instead of coming home, okay?"

"Yeah, thanks," Ian said softly before hanging up again without any further comment.

Tina was on his doorstep in less than fifteen minutes. In that short interval, Ian had gathered himself together to some extent, and even had the foresight to ready coffee for his visitors. When he opened the door to her, Tina looked him up and down carefully, and breathed a silent sigh of relief to herself. He didn't appear to be as upset or in trouble as she had suspected.

Nick had left work as soon as he got Tina's call, and was no more than five minutes behind her, so that he arrived before she and Ian had completed the usual pleasantries, or sat down to their drinks. Ian poured a coffee for his friend as well, and the three of them settled onto comfortable chairs, Nick and Tina looking expectantly at the young lawyer.

"I need your advice," he began as he drew their attention. "Geoff has left me in yet another difficult position and I want to know what you think."

Intrigued, the couple pressed him to go on. Ian quickly explained what Maggie and Dave had put to him about his possible claim to Geoff's estate, the ease with which it could be done, and the need for a little exaggeration or bending of the truth to state that he and Geoff were partners when he died. He finished with a tired "I don't know whether to make the claim or not."

Tina looked at him, hard. "It seems to me," she said at length, "that although you may not have been partners at that time, strictly speaking, you have certainly been acting like his partner ever since, and beforehand too. You've gone through all the grieving and worry, all the hassles and hurts, just as if you were his partner, so there's no real lie in saying you were."

"But I had finished with him," Ian argued. "I had told him we were through, that I wouldn't be seeing him again after we got back to Sydney."

"Maybe, but things may have changed," Tina said. "On the other hand, making this application means putting yourself through the whole rigmarole again. Maybe it's better if you just walk away and forget it, for your own good."

Ian was torn. "But then all of his things, all of his money and property, just goes to the government. There's nothing left of him at all. It's all just swallowed up."

"How much are we talking about?" Nick asked at last. Ian hadn't mentioned any figures to them yet. Tina's ears pricked up at that - it hadn't occurred to her to ask for specific amounts.

Ian looked from one to the other, and in a very small voice, so quiet they could barely hear, he said, "Nine Million!"

"Holy shit!" Nick whistled.

"Oh, Ian ..." Tina said, her eyes widening in disbelief.

The three sat in silence then and looked blankly at each other as the ramifications sank in for all of them.

"I think you should take it," Nick said at last. "Call it 'compensation' for what he put you through. Besides, the last thing you want is to just hand it over to the government."

Tina nodded. "Yes, I think you should take it, too. But use it to make amends, to make Geoff's life mean something - donate it to a charity in his name or something like that."

Ian looked from one to the other, digesting their words. After a long silence, he smiled just a little. "You're right! I think I will do something like that."


The following day Ian called around to Maggie Jones' office first thing in the morning, and was shown in without any questions from her secretary.

"Maggie, I've notified Dave Johnson already," he said with a smile. "I'm going ahead with the application to be appointed Administrator of Geoff Carruthers' Estate."

"Excellent, Ian," she beamed. "I think it's the right thing to do, from several perspectives. And I won't lie to you that the fees we'll collect from an Estate of that size will look very nice in my ledger as well!"

He grinned widely at that. "Then, I hope you'll be happy to hear that I want to engage the Firm's services in another matter as well, once the Estate goes through."

"Oh?" she said, raising one eyebrow in curiosity. "Please sit down, 'Mr Sterling', and tell me how we can help."

"I'd like advice and guidance in setting up a charitable foundation ..." Ian began.


An hour later, Ian Sterling had finished being a client, and was returning to his office to become a lawyer again, since that was what he was paid for. After his meeting with Maggie Jones he was feeling very good about himself and the world, and he whistled softly as he made his way through the building. A quick stop at the firm's in-house library to collect some research on a matter he was looking at, and then the rest of the morning could be given over to finally getting back into some real work.

Standing between the shelves of legal volumes and commentative articles, Ian was flicking slowly through the pages of a loose-leaf service when the sound of voices drifted across to him. Two young men were talking in one corner of the room, out of sight from where he stood.

" ... and I said to him 'why don't you just fuck off back to Oxford Street with your poofter mates, and leave the rest of us normal guys alone?'," said one voice.

"Bloody typical," replied the other. "It's bad enough that the queers have their own bars and stuff. But it makes me wanna heave when they start hangin' around pubs where real people go to drink. They're just out to get you, you know. Turn you into one of them!"

"Shit yeah," agreed the first speaker. "And christ only knows what you can catch from 'em. AIDS and all that other stuff!"

"Yep. They should all be locked up together, away from society."

Ian felt the flush of blood in his face, and a tightness in his chest. He reached one hand out to steady himself against the stacks as he listened with disgust. His first reaction was to get out of there, to hide and hope the feelings of shame and embarrassment would go away. But his new-found pride in himself, and his resolve to change things began to surface, and the fear was quickly replaced with anger. Gripping the book he had been reading tightly in one hand, he stepped out from the aisle where he was standing to see who these two were. Both of them young men, one he recognised as McManus, a research assistant. The other was unfamiliar to him.

"You two!" he said in a voice filled with icy anger.

"Oh, yes Mr Sterling?" answered McManus, looking up innocently and smiling.

Forcing himself to remain calm, Ian looked at them and realised neither of them were aware they had done anything wrong. "I want both of you in my office in 15 minutes, do you understand?"

"Err, yes Sir," McManus answered, perplexed by the unusual request.

Ian turned on his heel and went to his room, where he took a few minutes to relax and settle down as he waited for the young men to show up. He alerted Jill that he was expecting them, and asked her to come into his office with them when they arrived.

A soft, polite knock at his door announced the arrival of the young men. Jill led them into Ian's office while Ian remained seated. "Mr McManus and Mr Dickson to see you, Mr Sterling," she said in her most officious tone, before moving to stand to one side of his desk. Ian looked up at them and sat back in his chair, but did not offer them a seat at all.

"Mr McManus, I am familiar with you, but Mr Dickson, I don't seem to know you. What is your position in this Firm?" he asked quietly.

"Um, I'm a law student, Sir," answered the now nervous young man. "I work here two days a week as a research assistant. Only started last month, while you were away."

"I see." Ian looked sideways to his secretary and gave Jill a wink the boys could not see. "I was unfortunate enough to be in the library earlier, and to overhear your conversation. To say I was disappointed and angry that employees of this firm would speak in such terms is an understatement. Disgusted is a word which springs to mind."

"Mr Sterling, I ..." began McManus, but Ian silenced him.

"Do not compound your mistake, Mr McManus," he warned. "I am trying to be fair and reasonable about this. Given your positions here, I think some research by both of you is appropriate. Mr McManus, I want you to prepare for me a detailed analysis and summary of the Anti-vilification laws, specifically with regard to the issue of homosexuality. And Mr Dickson, since you are studying law, you might like to give me a fully researched and notated precis on the defamation laws in this State, PLUS an opinion on the effect of a conviction under the Anti-vilification laws that your friend is researching, where the convicted person is applying for admission to practise law."

Both men stood there speechless. Jill did her best to suppress a smile of satisfaction. Ian went on. "Of course I expect these things to be done in your own time, and to be on my desk within 48 hours." Ian finished.

Finally the student, Dickson, found his tongue. "But Mr Sterling, Sir, we were only talking amongst ourselves, and it was just a discussion about gays!" He spat out the word 'gays' as if it had a bad taste.

Ian contained his fury as best he could. "Firstly, Mr Dickson, in my opinion, your discussion amounted to both vilification of homosexual men, and defamation of one in particular, although I will be interested to read your submissions in two days time. Secondly, this 'assignment' of mine is in lieu of my reporting both of you and your conversation to personnel or to any of the partners - but my secretary is here as a witness to this conversation should that become necessary. And thirdly, gentlemen, I am gay, and more than offended by what you had to say. Now get out of my office. I will expect your reports early Thursday morning, failing which I shall be seeing one of the partners to discuss proper disciplinary action."

Summarily dismissed, the two boys quickly took their leave, and once they were gone, Ian leaned back again, letting out a long breath. Jill stuck her head back in again.

"You want me to minute all of that, boss?" she asked.

"Absolutely, Jill. Every word." He looked up at her again with a concerned expression. "I wasn't too hard on them was I?"

"No way!" she declared with vehemence. "They got off lightly. I'll get someone to keep an eye on them, make sure they do the research in their own time like you said, as well."

"Thanks, Jill."

"You know that they will spread the word like wildfire that you're gay?"

"Uh huh," he nodded. "But I think this was one of those relevant situations we were discussing."

Read next part

This story is a fantasy, it is not real and only happened in my imagination. YOU MUST REMEMBER that in the real world, you can DIE from having unsafe sex. It is your right and your duty to make sure that condoms are always used, whether you are giving or receiving. It doesn't matter how good looking or how ugly he is, and it doesn't matter whether you are top or bottom, USE A CONDOM